Kentucky Derby Top 10: Lose the battle, win the war

March 10th, 2020

Three major Road to the Kentucky Derby prep races were contested across the country Saturday. All three saw promising young colts win by daylight margins, yet the horse who impressed me most was one of the runners-up.

Which Kentucky Derby (G1) contenders caught your eye last week? Here is how the weekend action changed my view of the Derby trail.

1. Nadal

He wrapped up his preparations for Saturday’s Rebel (G2) with a blazing 5 furlongs in :59.60 Sunday at Santa Anita. It was the fastest time of the morning for that distance.

It’s time to see if this imposing son of Blame can live up to his lineage and stretch his speed around two turns.

2. Tiz the Law

Losing a bit of training time doesn’t seem to have made a big difference for Tiz the Law, who clocked 5 furlongs in a bullet 1:01.90 on Sunday at Palm Meadows.

The form of his Holy Bull (G3) victory received another subtle boost when fourth-place finisher Relentless Dancer—beaten 18 3/4 lengths—returned to occupy the same position while, beaten just seven lengths this time, in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2).

3. Honor A. P.

Although he was beaten in the San Felipe (G2), I loved Honor A. P.’s runner-up effort as much or more than Authentic’s victory. In his first start in nearly six months, Honor A. P. was reserved in mid-pack through the early going, then launched a sustained rally on the far outside to finish just 2 1/4 lengths behind Authentic.

Honor A. P. was clearly best of the rest. He finished 3 1/2 lengths clear of Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) winner Storm the Court. With this gutsy comeback run under his belt, Honor A. P. could be poised for significant improvement over the next two months. He may have lost the battle, but he can still win the war.

4. Authentic

The Sham (G3) winner raced much more professionally in the San Felipe (G2), where he led all the way to score by 2 1/4 lengths in a sharp performance. If there’s one element of his performance I might knock, it’s that he cruised along on an uncontested lead from start to finish, though it’s partly a testament to his speed and talent that he was able to secure such an ideal trip.

Now we have to wait and see if this undefeated son of Into Mischief can carry his speed over longer distances.

5. Sole Volante

I thought Sole Volante ran deceptively well in the Tampa Bay Derby. In a race largely dominated by speed horses, Sole Volante was the only deep closer to make an impact. He launched a sustained rally into quick-finishing fractions to nab the runner-up spot.

According to Trakus, he sprinted the final five-sixteenths of a mile in a quick :30.62, and I liked the way he charged up the inside around the far turn and down the homestretch. It was an effort he can build on.

6. King Guillermo

You can argue the slow early pace of the Tampa Bay Derby was beneficial to the pace-tracking King Guillermo, since fractions of :23.89, :48.16, and 1:12.00 allowed the three pacesetters to hang on and finish first, third, and fourth at odds of 49-1, 19-1, and 21-1.

But give King Guillermo credit for capitalizing on this ideal setup, because he roared clear of his rivals down the homestretch. He came home in :30.63 to win by 4 3/4 lengths, with a 102 Brisnet Speed rating.

The transition from turf to dirt clearly made a difference for King Guillermo, who is bred from top to bottom to thrive at classic distances. Stretching out over 1 1/4 miles should be to his benefit.

7. Charlatan

He fired off another stiff workout Sunday at Santa Anita, where he clocked 6 furlongs in 1:12.60. He’s nominated to the Rebel, though the Oaklawn Park condition book also lists a 1 1/8-mile allowance race for 3-year-olds on the Saturday agenda. This race could give Charlatan an opportunity to stretch out in distance without jumping straight into stakes company.

8. Ete Indien

He returned to the Palm Meadows work tab Sunday, where he cruised an easy half-mile over the turf course in :50.85. In terms of speed figures, his victory in the Fountain of Youth (G2) was similar to his runner-up effort in the Holy Bull, so he may need to take a small step forward if he’s going to turn the tables on Tiz the Law in the Florida Derby (G1).

9. Cafe Pharoah

He’s in command of the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby, with 30 qualification points to his credit, and he can lock up the series if he wins the March 28 Fukuryu going 1 1/8 miles at Nakayama. An alternative would be to travel abroad and contest the March 28 UAE Derby (G2) in Dubai, which would be a stiffer test.

10. Gouverneur Morris

The form of Gouverneur Morris’ casual Feb. 14 allowance victory received a big boost when runner-up Untitled returned to finish a gallant second in the Gotham (G3). Gouverneur Morris himself returned to the work tab on Saturday, going 5 furlongs in 1:01.79 at Palm Beach Downs.