Racing Roundtable: Encino's Lexington win, the Jenny Wiley, and more

April 17th, 2024

The Racing Roundtable discusses Encino's chances in the Kentucky Derby (G1) should he make the 20-horse field, Grade 1 action from the weekend, and more.

How do you rate Encino's chances in the Kentucky Derby if he runs?

James Scully: Encino will be up against it from a win perspective and he doesn’t look fast enough yet to defeat quality rivals over 1 1/4 miles in the Kentucky Derby, but the progressing colt deserves consideration for any vertical exotic wagers. I like the versatility he’s displayed winning three consecutive races, splitting an off-the-pace win in the John Battaglia Memorial around gate-to-wire triumphs over maiden and Lexington (G3) rivals. And after a couple of hard-fought wins, it was nice to see Encino have another gear when challenged in upper stretch of the Lexington, drawing off to score by about a length. 

Vance Hanson: On the bare form, Encino is probably a horse I'd use underneath in vertical exotics in the Derby, rather than consider as a win contender. With that said, I appreciate this colt's versatile running style and, even though he has not yet raced beyond 1 1/16 miles, his pedigree is excellent for 1 1/4 miles (his dam is a half-sister to Street Sense). Also, in a year when only Fierceness has stuck out on speed ratings, inconsistently at that, there is perhaps not much separating an improving colt like Encino and some of the others likely to take a lot more money.

Wouldn't it be ironic if Godolphin were to capture their first Derby with a horse that was not considered one of the race's leading lights?

Ashley Anderson: Encino has progressed with each career start and now rides a three-win streak following his gate-to-wire Lexington (G3) win. I like his versatility — he's able to win both on the early lead or sitting back off the pace and closing late — and he held off a challenge by The Wine Steward in the stretch run of Saturday's Derby prep. However, Encino will need a bigger Speed figure to win the Kentucky Derby. The three-year-old's last-out Brisnet Speed rating was a 95, and he'll need something in the triple digits to contend with the likes of Sierra Leone, Encino's stablemate Catching Freedom, or Resilience, but I do think Encino has excellent potential and will continue to step forward as the season moves forward. He also has the pedigree to enjoy classic distances, as the Nyquist colt is out of a Bernardini mare who's a half-sister to 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense.

What are your takeaways from the weekend's Grade 1 action?

JS: In the Apple Blossom (G1) at Oaklawn Park, Adare Manor rebounded stylishly from a runner-up finish in the March’s Beholder Mile (G1), rolling to a 5 1/2-length score on the front end. The classy five-year-old recorded her fourth consecutive graded stakes win at a 1 1/16-mile distance, and I would like to see Bob Baffert ships her east for upcoming engagements instead of beating up on overmatched rivals out west. Her main Apple Blossom competition, Wet Paint and Taxed, never fired from off the pace, resulting in longshots filling out the trifecta, and Adare Manor earned a 98 Brisnet Speed rating.

The Apple Blossom used to be held in early April, which allowed distaffers to come back for the La Troienne (G1) on Kentucky Oaks Day a month later, but Oaklawn now makes connections choose between races by scheduling it so close to Kentucky Derby weekend. And that’s going to hurt the Apple Blossom this year.

The La Troienne will have champion older female and Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) winner Idiomatic, champion three-year-old filly and Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner Pretty Mischievous, up-and-coming Azeri (G3) winner Tiny Temper, and Xigera, who concluded last year with romping wins in the Fallas City (G3) and Mother Goose (G2). It should be a dynamite race.

VH: I have to give props to one of my favorite horses at present, Master of the Seas, for his excellent season debut in Friday's Maker's Mark Mile (G1). There were concerns that the slower ground would cause some difficulty, but it proved no hindrance whatsoever. Trainer Charlie Appleby revealed that, rather than be shipped back home to Britain, Master of the Seas would stay in the U.S. with the intent of campaigning here all season in advance of a title defense of the Breeders' Cup Mile (G1) at Del Mar. That's great news and infuses a lot of excitement into the older male turf division.

Master of the Seas is tentatively pointing toward an appearance in the Turf Classic (G1) at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day, so a mouthwatering showdown between he and I'm Very Busy, the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) and Muniz Memorial (G1) winner, is on tap. U.S. turf racing these days simply doesn't get better that!

AA: I was impressed by Beaute Cachee's win in the Jenny Wiley (G1) at Keeneland. The five-year-old went off as a 26-1 longshot in the 1 1/16-mile turf test and was the longest shot among Chad Brown's four-horse contingent in the field but proved best on Saturday. Entering the event, Beaute Cachee, who began her career in Europe, lacked a win at the group/graded level but was coming off a good third in the one-mile Matriarch (G1) at Del Mar, where her stablemates and Jenny Wiley race rivals Surge Capacity and Fluffy Socks finished 1-2. It was easy to assume both of those runners and Jenny Wiley morning line favorite Gina Romantica would perform better than Beaute Cachee on Saturday, but the rider switch to world-class jockey Frankie Dettori should have been a clue. Dettori made the decision to go to the front early and guided the gray mare to a 1 1/2-length win over post-time favorite English Rose and recent Pegasus World Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) heroine Didia. The victory also handed trainer Chad Brown a record-extending seventh victory in the Jenny Wiley and his sixth in the last seven years.

What else caught your eye?

JS: Forever Young arrived at Churchill Downs over the weekend and is getting used to the new surroundings. I thought he looked superb galloping at Churchill Downs Monday and expect him to train forwardly in the weeks to come, impressing onlookers and lowering his final price on Kentucky Derby Day. The highest-rated juvenile dirt horse ever in Japan, Forever Young has a presence to him – the unbeaten star knows he’s the goods – and he’s clearly a major win contender based on talent. His bandwagon will continue to grow over the next 2 1/2 weeks and Forever Young will help bring up the price on Fierceness and Sierra Leone, with three horses taking serious win money in the 20-horse field.

VH: I'm not sure what kind of racing future she has, but Ready for Shirl turned in an eye-catching debut win at Keeneland on Saturday for owner-breeder Charles Fipke and trainer Roger Attfield. The three-year-old filly stormed home to a 3 1/2-length win after conceding as much as 10 1/2 lengths after the first quarter mile, which is never an easy task for an inexperienced sort.

It remains to be seen whether she'll develop into a graded quality type, like the rest of her family, but this win has undoubtedly elevated her broodmare prospects. A half-sister to Grade 1 winner Shirl's Speight, she's a daughter of Breeders' Cup winner Perfect Shirl and a granddaughter of Grade 1 heroine Lady Shirl. The latter is the ancestress of top-level performers Shakespeare and Lady Speightspeare.

AA: Skelly, one of the top sprinters in the country, rebounded from his second in the Riyadh Dirt Sprint (G3) in Dubai to win the Count Fleet H. (G3), defending his title from last year at Oaklawn. The Practical Joke five-year-old has been absolutely dominant at the Hot Springs, Arkansas track and now owns a 9-7-1-0 record there. The Steve Asmussen trainee was competing against familiar rivals on Saturday, including stablemates Ryvit and recent Whitmore (G3) winner Jaxon Traveler, plus graded stakes scorer Tejano Twist. But they were once again no match for Skelly, who rolled to a three-length win in a meet-best time of 1:08.82 for six furlongs. Following the race, Asmussen said Skelly is ready to face tougher competition and will point him toward the Alfred G. Vanderbilt (G1) at Saratoga and the Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1) in the fall. Asmussen also collected his record-extending sixth victory in the Count Fleet on Saturday, while Skelly's rider Ricardo Santana added a seventh win in the Grade 3 race.