Kentucky Derby Report – Thrilling conclusion to major qualifiers

April 13th, 2023

The Blue Grass (G1), Santa Anita Derby (G1), and Wood Memorial (G2) concluded the eight major qualifiers in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series, each race awarding points on a 100-40-30-20-10 basis to the top five finishers, and a 20-horse field has taken shape for Churchill Downs on May 6.

One minor qualifier remains, Saturday’s Lexington (G3) at Keeneland, for which points are available on a 20-8-6-4-2 basis. Louisiana Derby (G2) runner-up Disarm, who currently ranks 26th on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard, is the lone runner in the 11-horse field who can move into the main body of the Kentucky Derby field. Disarm needs to finish in the top three, as the 6-point tally for third would move him to 18th on the list and knock Jace's Road out of the top 20.

The 1 1/8-mile Blue Grass marked the second stakes appearance for Tapit Trice, who got into gear late recording a two-length victory over suspect competition in the March 11 Tampa Bay Derby (G3), and the Todd Pletcher-trained colt continued to advance with a superb win. Slow from the starting gate, the gray Tapit colt hustled to reach fourth by the midway point of the first turn, establishing a stalking position within striking range of the leaders.

Tapit Trice moved closer on the far turn and set his sights upon Verifying turning for home. Grade 1-placed as a juvenile, Verifying stepped forward after a fourth as the favorite in the Feb. 25 Rebel (G2) at Oaklawn Park, tracking the Blue Grass pace in second before surging to the lead in upper stretch. The Brad Cox-trained son of Justify dug in gamely when confronted by Tapit Trice, battling determinedly to the wire.

The top two were separated by a neck on the wire, as Tapit Trice got the upperhand in the final yards along the outside, and both colts registered a 102 Brisnet Speed rating, one of the top numbers this year.

Tapit Trice appears well-suited for the added ground of the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby, and his progressing form will be appealing to bettors. He’s a serious win contender, and the trip will be important for the late runner.

Verifying enhanced his credentials significantly with the top-class effort, and his ability to make his own trip with tactical speed – Tyler Gaffalione may look to show the way if Verifying breaks running – is favorable given the lack of early speed lining up for the race.

In the Santa Anita Derby, Practical Move made an early move to the lead up the rail to take a short lead on the far turn, momentarily surging clear in upper stretch, and he survived a pair of challengers in deep stretch, holding by a nose on the wire over Japanese invader Mandarin Hero. Skinner missed by a half-length on the far outside after rallying into the frame.

Practical Move looked the part recording convincing wins the San Felipe (G2) and Los Alamitos Futurity (G2), both races generating triple-digit Speed ratings, and he responded admirably to adversity in the 1 1/8-mile Santa Anita Derby. The 1 1/4-mile distance remains at least a minor concern for the son of Practical Joke, but there’s no doubting Practical Move’s standing.

The Santa Anita Derby has produced four of the last 11 Kentucky Derby winners, and Practical Move leads the way out west. He has the ability to race up close to the pace before offering his best.

Mandarin Hero will benefit from a U.S. prep race. Every international contestant this century has been unprepared for the environment at Churchill Downs shipping straight overseas, but that won’t be the case for Mandarin Hero. He’s had the opportunity to acclimate and will be the most dangerous member of the international contingent in my estimation, earning a 100 Speed rating in the Santa Anita Derby. However, Mandarin Hero will need at least four defections over the next three weeks to make the field from 24th in the standings.

Skinner is better-situated to make the Kentucky Derby field following an improved performance, ranking 21st on the leaderboard. A maiden winner in mid-February, the John Shirreffs-trained Curlin colt wasn’t a factor rallying belatedly for third in the San Felipe, but Skinner launched a menacing move on the far outside along the far turn of the Santa Anita Derby and had every chance to get by in the final sixteenth of a mile.

Three horses battled to the wire in deep stretch of the 1 1/8-mile Wood, and 59-1 Lord Miles got up on the far outside to record a nose upset. Hit Show, the 8-5 favorite, is Kentucky Derby-bound after just missing in second between horses, but Dreamlike won’t have the points to qualify after winding up another head back in third.

All three horses made contact in the final stages, as the winner survived a stewards’ inquiry, and Lord Miles and Hit Show appear likely to be rating off the pace in the Kentucky Derby. They’ll need to keep moving forward to make any impact.

Bubble horses

Four horses with serious Kentucky Derby aspirations reside on the bubble, just outside the 20-horse cutoff line, and while Disarm will determine his fate in Saturday’s Lexington, there’s still hope for Skinner, Cyclone Mischief (22nd), Major Dude (23rd), and Mandarin Hero.

Rich Strike ranked 27th the day after the Blue Grass, Santa Anita Derby, and Wood last year, and the 80-1 upset winner had seven horses drop out of consideration, the last coming just before scratch time the day before the Kentucky Derby, to secure his spot in the field.