Racing Roundtable: Deterministic makes splash in stakes debut, Dornoch scores again, and more

March 5th, 2024

This week, the Racing Roundtable rates Dornoch's win in a scratch-laden Fountain of Youth (G2), Deterministic's win in his stakes debut in the Gotham (G3), and the Kentucky Oaks (G1) picture.

Did we learn anything from the decimated Fountain of Youth?

James Scully: No, it was encouraging to see Dornoch return with a victory, but his top three rivals (Locked, Speak Easy, and Victory Avenue) were scratched and I don’t see how the Fountain of Youth (G2) helps Dornoch win the Kentucky Derby (G1). He lacked professionalism in the previous outing, surrendering the lead when veering in and hitting the rail in midstretch of the Remsen (G2) and then re-rallying to win, and Dornoch appeared to be goofing off Saturday, coming under a hard ride on the far turn when receiving a stiff challenge from a seemingly overmatched rival and then refusing to switch leads until deep stretch. He didn’t run fast (94 Brisnet Speed rating) and we’ll learn more about Dornoch’s Kentucky Derby chances in the final prep.

Vance Hanson: We learned that the Remsen continues to be an undisputable key race, though the performances we've seen from all the next-out winners from it have not equaled or bettered their respective performances in the Aqueduct feature. What that means is, without more convincing steps forward in their final Kentucky Derby preps, Dornoch and Sierra Leone are likely to be overbet in the big dance.

It was a real shame the Fountain of Youth field fell apart so much throughout the day. There was an opportunity for it to be one of the more meaningful preps we've seen so far this cycle, but it left me with more questions than answers.

Ashley Anderson: To me, the Fountain of Youth handed Dornoch an easy win, with a number of the strongest win contenders scratched from the field, including Speak Easy, Victory Avenue, and Breeders' Futurity (G1) winner Locked. Dornoch had his way, setting pedestrian early fractions to go gate to wire in the 1 1/16-mile Kentucky Derby prep, where he beat just four rivals. Second-place finisher Le Dom Bro was ninth in the Remsen (G2) to Dornoch back in December and finished runner-up to Frankie's Empire in the Swale S. last out. Frankie's Empire returned off that victory to finish third in the Fountain of Youth, and the fourth-place finisher, Real Macho, had no prior stakes experience. Last-place runner Dancing Groom continues to be an also-ran against stakes competition. Dornoch's Brisnet Speed figure in the Fountain of Youth came back a 94, four points lower than his Remsen number, and trainer Danny Gargan said he exited the Fountain of Youth well. I'd like to see him against tougher competition, and still consider this full-brother to Mage vulnerable on the first Saturday in May.

How impressed were you by Deterministic's win in the Gotham?

JS: I ranked Deterministic second in my Kentucky Derby top 10. The colt will have only three starts if he makes the 20-horse field at Churchill Downs, and his final prep and first two-turn attempt will be important, but Deterministic may be good enough to make a serious impact despite his inexperience. By Liam’s Map, Deterministic broke better than in his career debut last summer, and after coming under a hard ride from Luis Saez on the far turn, the Christophe Clement-trained colt found his best stride in the stretch, displaying a fine turn of foot to blow past a rival and win comfortably by 1 3/4 lengths.

The Gotham has had little relevance as a Kentucky Derby prep since Secretariat, but I came away thinking this year could be different, as both the winner and runner-up (Just a Touch) appear to have plenty of upside moving forward. Deterministic looks built for longer distances and his female family is geared toward stamina, but he still has to prove his affinity for longer distances.

VH: There wasn't much substance to the field and the sloppy conditions perhaps hurt the chances of some, but at least Deterministic showed solid progression from two to three winning the Gotham. Given the fact he had only one prior race and hadn't run in nearly seven months, that was a pretty credible performance for one of the sport's most respected trainers in Christophe Clement, who has yet to run a horse in the Kentucky Derby. Barring anything unforeseen, he should have one now. We've seen horses like Mage, Justify, and Big Brown win the Derby off three prior starts, so I wouldn't put it past Deterministic improving enough over the next couple of months to potentially follow in their footsteps.

AA: Returning off a seven-month layoff, Deterministic showed a good late kick to rally for a two-length win in the Gotham, his second career start and stakes debut. The Christophe Clement trainee graduated on debut in a seven-furlong maiden special weight at Saratoga and earned a 90 BRIS figure in the effort, and he clocked a 99 in his three-year-old debut while defeating 10 rivals in the one-mile Gotham. Deterministic faced stronger competition than Dornoch, beating out Brad Cox pupil Just a Touch and multiple stakes winner El Grande O. The added distance of the Wood Memorial (G2) should not be an issue for Deterministic, but classic distances are a question mark for this son of 2015 Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (G1) victor Liam's Map out of a Speightstown mare. Sprint distances and routes up to 1 1/8 miles may be in his wheelhouse, but his performance in the Wood Memorial will give us a better idea of his capabilities. Assistant trainer Miguel Clement noted after the race, "I don't think the distance is an issue with him whatsoever. We always thought he wanted to go long. The longer, the better."

Did either prep shake up the Kentucky Oaks picture?

JS: Not in a positive way. Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) runner-up Jody’s Pride returned with a smart win in the Busher S. over a one-turn mile at Aqueduct, winning at odds-on in a short field, but the true test will come when she stretches out in distance. The Davona Dale (G2) put the chances of a pair of fancied Kentucky Oaks (G1) contenders in jeopardy, as champion two-year-old filly Just F Y I was scratched due to a fever and well-regarded Leslie’s Rose sustained her first defeat finishing third at 3-10 odds. 

VH: The biggest development in the Kentucky Oaks didn't come from the result of any of the preps, but the late scratch of Just F Y I from the Davona Dale really puts her behind the eight ball in making the Oaks in the best and most ideal position. We've had a horse like Malathaat win at Churchill off of a single prep, but at least that filly had experience winning over nine furlongs at that point. History is generally not on her side anyway, as the last juvenile champion filly to repeat in the Oaks was Silverbulletday 25 years ago.

AA: I considered the Busher S. victory by Jody's Pride more significant to the Kentucky Oaks picture. Last seen finishing a neck second to Just F Y I in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1), Jody's Pride won by 2 1/4 lengths on a muddy track against six rivals in the one-mile event for three-year-old fillies. Her BRIS figure came back light (85), just one point lower than Fiona's Magic in the Davona Dale (G2), but Fiona's Magic got a fast track at the same distance at Gulfstream and beat just five rivals, most of them lacking stakes experience. With the scratch of Just F Y I in the Davona Dale, Fiona's Magic's toughest competition was unbeaten Leslie's Rose, who was moving up in class for her first stakes start. Second-place finisher Into Champagne is a promising Into Mischief filly who last won the six-furlong Glitter Woman S., but the other three runners in the field were lightly raced and had no prior stakes victories.

The scratch of Just F Y I also shakes up the Oaks picture, as the Justify filly has yet to make her three-year-old debut and will now need to find another prep in March or April ahead of the Kentucky Oaks. The Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies winner is sixth (40 points) on the leaderboard, but her delayed return as a three-year-old leaves concern over her ability to win the garland of lilies.