Kentucky Derby Report: Southwest flash, Cyclone set for Holy Bull

February 2nd, 2023

The second of four Kentucky Derby qualifiers at Oaklawn Park, the Jan. 28 Southwest (G3) featured the return of Arabian Knight, a spectacular wire-to-wire maiden winner on the Breeders’ Cup Saturday undercard in his career debut. The odds-on favorite continued to impress on the stretch out to two turns, dominating the 1 1/16-mile Southwest by 5 1/2 lengths with plenty in reserve. Arabian Knight did not earn qualifying points due to Churchill Downs Inc.’s suspension of trainer Bob Baffert.

Barring a trainer switch by Feb. 28, which would be necessary to qualify for the first leg of the Triple Crown, Arabian Knight may aim for the Preakness (G1) on May 20. The $2.3 million two-year-old purchase still has something to prove after leading wire-to-wire over a sloppy track in the Southwest, but Arabian Knight looked special in his sophomore opener.

Red Route One was blocked repeatedly when attempting to rally in the stretch of the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) last fall, winding up a close fourth, and the confirmed closer left himself plenty to do in the Southwest, racing last of eight though the opening three-quarters of a mile. The Gun Runner colt offered a fine late kick to be a clear second, picking 8 points toward a Derby berth while registering a career-best 90 Brisnet Speed rating. He is eligible to keep progressing for Steve Asmussen.

Jace’s Road, one of two Southwest contestants for Brad Cox, did not run back to his 5 1/2-length win in the Dec. 26 Gun Runner S. at Fair Grounds, offering a bid on the far turn before weakening to fifth in the stretch. But the wet track was a concern, given how Jace’s Road failed to fire as the favorite in the Street Sense S. last fall, finishing last over a sloppy track.

Corona Bolt, the clear 5-2 second choice for Cox, didn’t break sharply and never made any impact checking in sixth. He deserves another two-turn opportunity on a fast track.

Late start

First-out maiden winners in late January are up against it in terms of the Kentucky Derby, but Mage looks like one to follow. He didn’t break on top in last Saturday’s second race at Gulfstream Park, a 7-furlong maiden special weight, but quickly hustled to the front along the inside. He took serious pressure from another runner keen on the early lead, finally shrugging off his rival and opening a clear advantage nearing the conclusion of the far turn.

The Gustavo Delgado-trained colt drew off into the stretch, winning by nearly four lengths, and the chestnut son of Good Magic netted a whopping 101 Speed rating. That’s a big number for this year’s crop, and Mage ran more than a second faster than the winner of the Inside Information (G2) later on the program. And the speedster is bred for longer distances. Mage’s dam, Puca, was a stakes-placed router. Her half-brother, $1.5 million earner Finnegans Wake, winner of the Woodford Reserve (G1) and 1 1/2-mile Hollywood Turf Cup (G2), rated as a deep closer who couldn’t get warmed up at distances under a mile.

Weekend preview

Three qualifiers were scheduled for this Saturday (Feb. 4), but the Withers (G3) has been postponed due to extreme cold and rescheduled for Feb. 11.

That leaves the Holy Bull (G3) at Gulfstream and Robert B. Lewis (G2) at Santa Anita, but the Lewis won’t award points since all four entrants are trained by Baffert.

Eight will line up for the 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull, which is worth 35 combined points (20-8-4-2-1), and Cyclone Mischief won’t face the stiffest competition in his stakes return. Seventh in the Kentucky Jockey Club, the Dale Romans-trained son of Into Mischief rebounded stylishly in a one-turn mile allowance at Gulfstream on Jan. 8, netting a commendable 99 Speed rating for the 5 3/4-length decision. Cyclone Mischief won’t face any stakes winners in the Holy Bull.

His main rivals include Legacy Isle, disqualified and placed second after edging out longshot Dreaming of Kona in the Jan. 1 Mucho Macho Man S.; and Lord Miles, who adds blinkers following a rallying third in the Mucho Macho Man.

Todd Pletcher has a pair of exciting prospects in Saturday’s eighth race, an entry-level allowance at a mile, who would be top contenders in the Holy Bull. Shesterkin, a superb first-out winner by Violence, is listed as the 8-5 morning line favorite. His stablemate, Tapit Trice, is listed at 9-5 after overcoming trouble to win break his maiden in a fast time.