Kentucky Derby Maiden Watch: Triple Crown nominee Summer Cause breaks through

February 27th, 2023

The Kentucky Derby (G1) is barely more than two months away, but Triple Crown nominees are still busy breaking their maidens and emerging as possible Run for the Roses contenders.

The latest name to emerge is Summer Cause, a Christophe Clement trainee who has already knocked heads with some good horses. In his Nov. 6 debut racing one mile at Aqueduct, Summer Cause ran second while finishing ahead of Tapit Trice, one of the current Kentucky Derby favorites. On Dec. 17, Summer Cause ran third behind Tapit Trice and Slip Mahoney, the latter being an expected starter in the upcoming Gotham (G3) on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.

Summer Cause was beaten again on Jan. 21 at Tampa Bay Downs, finishing second by a neck in a one-mile and 40-yard maiden contest. But he finally broke through when stretching out over 1 1/8 miles at Gulfstream Park last Sunday, tracking splits of :23.72 and :47.85 from fourth place before rallying gradually to win a maiden special weight by half a length in 1:51.51.

A son of accomplished turf miler Summer Front out of the Arch mare Our Cause, Summer Cause might appear at first glance to be bred for success on grass. But Summer Front is the sire of Ete Indien, who won the Fountain of Youth (G2) and placed in the Florida Derby (G1) and Holy Bull (G3) on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, so it’s not unheard of for Summer Front to sire talented dirt runners. Perhaps we’ll see Summer Cause turn up in a Road to the Kentucky Derby prep race this spring.

There are a couple of other three-year-old maiden winners we’ll highlight from last week, even though neither is nominated to the Triple Crown. The first we’ll mention is King Russell, a Ron Moquett trainee who showed tenacity to win a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight on Saturday at Oaklawn Park.

King Russell was beaten in his first four starts, most notably recording a runner-up finish behind future Risen Star (G2) runner-up Sun Thunder in a one-mile event at Oaklawn. But King Russell found the winning formula in his fifth start, launching a rally from 4 1/2 lengths behind splits of :23.69, :48.20, and 1:13.35 to prevail by a neck.

A son of Grade 1 winner and Preakness (G1) third-place finisher Creative Cause, King Russell stopped the clock in 1:45.91 over a sloppy track. It wasn’t the quickest final clocking, but the runner-up pulled 3 3/4 lengths clear of the rest, so King Russell deserves credit for running down a rival who wasn’t particularly wilting down the homestretch.

The other maiden winner we’ll highlight is Nineteen Oysters, who debuted in a 6 1/2-furlong maiden special weight for New York-breds on Friday at Aqueduct. The Chad Summers trainee was overlooked at odds of 7-1, but capitalized on quick fractions of :22.55 and :46.76 to rally from midfield and obliterate his pursuers by 8 1/4 lengths in 1:19.24. Nineteen Oysters is a son of hot young sire Bolt d’Oro and looks ready to jump into stakes competition—if not an open stakes, then at least a stakes for New York-breds.