Kentucky Derby Report – Speed rules in Louisiana, Japanese trio added to mix

March 30th, 2023

Three of the eight major qualifiers in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series are in the books, and large fields are set for the $1.25 Arkansas Derby (G1) and $1 million Florida Derby (G1) this Saturday.

Here’s a quick review of last weekend’s action.

Kingsbarns broke on top and established a clear lead by the backstretch of the 1 3/16-mile Louisiana Derby (G2), dictating terms on a slow pace before spurting clear into the stretch of his stakes debut. He saved plenty for late, registering a 109 Brisnet Late Pace figure after completing the final three-sixteenths of a mile in 18.20 seconds, earned a career-best 98 Speed rating for 3 1/2-length decision.

Now unbeaten from three starts for Todd Pletcher, Kingsbarns will face a different pace scenario at Churchill Downs. He didn’t face the deepest competition at Fair Grounds, and won’t be exiting one of the faster prep races, but his ability to make his own trip looks like an asset this year. The speedy son of Uncle Mo didn’t make his career debut until mid-January, and Kingsbarns is eligible to keep advancing over the next six weeks.

Two Phil’s took to the Tapeta at Turfway Park, rallying to win the 1 1/8-mile Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) going away by 5 1/4 lengths, and his 107 Speed rating is the top figure for a Kentucky Derby qualifier this year. Runner-up in the Lecomte (G3) and third in the Risen Star (G2) at Fair Grounds, the chestnut Hard Spun colt romped by 5 1/4 lengths in the Street Sense (G3) at Churchill Downs last fall over a sloppy track.

The big question is his ability to negotiate 1 1/4 miles over a fast track at Churchill. Larry Rivelli noted that Two Phil’s moved forward on the synthetic track, and the trainer said he’s hoping for a wet surface on May 6. Two Phil’s has become more push-button as a midpack stalker this year, and regardless of conditions, he remains a contender for a least a minor award in the Kentucky Derby following a sharp final prep race.

Derma Sotogake changed tactics in the 1 3/16-mile UAE Derby (G2), showing speed from the rail to seize the early advantage, and drew off in the stretch to a 5 1/2-length win. The Japanese swept the top three positions, as Dura Erede chased in second throughout and Continuar recorded a non-threatening third, and three Japanese runners may be headed to the Kentucky Derby. The winner, and probably the runner-up, earned enough points from the UAE Derby to earn a spot at Churchill Downs, and Continuar’s connections accepted the automatic spot through the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby series.

The winner appears to relish longer distances, and Derma Sotogake stopped the teletimer in a swift 1:55.81 (missing the track record by .63 seconds), but international runners haven’t fared well in the Kentucky Derby without a U.S. prep race.

Sunday’s Sunland Park Derby (G3) offered 50 points to the winner, and Wild On Ice could be Kentucky Derby-bound following a 35-1 upset.

Previews

A romping winner in the Fountain of Youth (G2), Forte appears set to establish himself as a prohibitive Kentucky Derby favorite in the 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby (G1). The Pletcher-trained colt will seek his fifth consecutive stakes win from an unfavorable post (11), but the Violence colt appears to be facing soft competition.

I’m not keen on his main rivals on the morning line, and West Coast Cowboy (20-1) is a longshot I’ll consider using underneath Forte in vertical exotics. A debut maiden winner, West Coast Cowby’s numbers have increased significantly in two subsequent starts, his fastest race coming when stretching to two turns with a third in the Holy Bull (G3). I also give Jungfrau (20-1), who lost all chance early in a troubled stakes debut, a chance to make an impact underneath for Bill Mott.

A more competitive field of 11 is set for the 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby, and it will be interesting to see how the betting is sorted out. Risen Star winner Angel of Empire and Fountain of Youth runner-up Rocket Can will receive support shipping in, and Sham (G3) winner Reincarnate is the likely favorite following a troubled third in the Rebel (G2) at Oaklawn Park.

Red Route One adds blinkers off back-to-back seconds in the Rebel and Southwest (G3), and the Steve Asmussen-trained son of Gun Runner should appreciate the added ground and projected favorable pace scenario Saturday. I give him the edge with Tyler Gaffalione.