Kentucky Derby Maiden Watch: Speed Runner runs to his name

December 11th, 2023

Two-time Kentucky Derby (G1)-winning trainer Todd Pletcher already conditions Fierceness, the early favorite for the 2024 Run for the Roses. But Pletcher’s contingent of possible Derby contenders keeps getting deeper.

On Friday at Aqueduct, Pletcher sent out Speed Runner to win a 1 1/8-mile maiden special weight. Coming off a third-place finish in his debut sprinting at Aqueduct, Speed Runner relished stretching out around two turns, pressing slow fractions of :24.34, :49.61, and 1:14.86 before accelerating nicely (final three furlongs in about :37.30) to wear down the leader and prevail by a neck in 1:52.18.

A son of 2017 Horse of the Year and hot sire Gun Runner, Speed Runner has plenty of options for joining the Road to the Kentucky Derby. One possible target is the 1 1/8-mile Withers (G3) on Feb. 3 at Aqueduct, which would allow Speed Runner to stick to the same track and distance as his maiden win.

Also on Friday, Oaklawn Park kicked off its annual racing season, and one of the highlights was a six-furlong maiden special weight with possible Kentucky Derby implications. The winner, Texas Town, led through splits of :22.14 and :46.26 before turning back a challenger to prevail by a neck in 1:11.63.

Trained by Chris Hartman, Texas Town is arguably bred for speed more than stamina, though sire Speightstown is responsible for a bevy of Grade 1 winners over the Kentucky Derby’s 1 1/4-mile distance. Racing fans are advised to watch and see what happens if/when Texas Town stretches out around two turns.

Oaklawn’s Saturday card kept the action going with a pair of one-mile maiden special weights. The first division went to Searcy. The Brad Cox trainee failed to factor in his first two starts on the Kentucky circuit, but Searcy found the competition more suitable at Oaklawn, settling 1 1/2 lengths behind fractions of :22.87 and :47.15 before engaging in a prolonged homestretch battle to beat the pacesetter by a nose in 1:39.35. The stoutly bred chestnut gelding is a son of Good Magic, the sire of 2023 Kentucky Derby winner Mage.

The second division went to Mikealicious, a son of champion and Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) winner Blame. Trained by Mike Maker, Mikealicious wasn’t in any hurry early on, settling as many as 5 3/4 lengths behind fractions of :22.62, :46.44, and 1:12.18. But the final quarter-mile elapsed in a slow :28.47, so Mikealicious was able to rally steadily down the homestretch and prevail by three-quarters of a length in 1:40.65. It was a productive move forward off his first two defeats sprinting in New York and Kentucky.

We’ll also give a quick mention to Carpis, who outran his 34-1 odds when debuting in a six-furlong maiden special weight for Louisiana-breds on Saturday at Fair Grounds. The son of Star Guitar led by at least two lengths at every call, setting fractions of :21.63 and :45.29 on his way to victory by 2 1/4 lengths in the respectable time of 1:10.94. The chestnut gelding has potential for trainer Sam David Jr.