Racing Roundtable: Kentucky Derby 150 and Oaks takeaways

May 8th, 2024

The Racing Roundtable reconvenes to discuss Mystik Dan's win in the 150th running of the Kentucky Derby (G1) plus Thorpedo Anna's Kentucky Oaks (G1) victory, which gave trainer Kenny McPeek and rider Brian Hernandez Jr. a rare Kentucky/Oaks double.

What were your thoughts on the 150th Kentucky Derby?

James Scully: Mystik Dan received a great ride from Brian Hernandez Jr., who established position just behind the leaders and cut the corner turning for home, and the trip was key to the colt's success. Mystik Dan surged to a clear lead in midstretch and remained in clear while his rivals to the outside, Forever Young and Sierra Leone, bumped repeatedly over the final three-sixteenths of a mile, and the Kenny McPeek-trained colt held courageously to prevail in the head-bobbing photo finish.

Forever Young had every chance turning for home but could not get past the winner between horses. Sierra Leone loomed large after taking the overland route into the stretch but started lugging in, eventually winning the photo for second. It was a tough beat for supporters of both horses.

McPeek appears Hall of Fame-bound off the historic win, completing his own personal sweep of the Triple Crown after taking the 2020 Preakness (G1) with Swiss Skydiver and the 2002 Belmont (G1) with Sarava. The 61-year-old Lexington native became the first trainer since Ben Jones (1952) to sweep the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby in the same year.

Vance Hanson: This was certainly the most exciting finish to a Derby that I've ever witnessed in person, and probably the closest involving three horses in a century and a half. As the field entered the final half-mile, I turned to a colleague and noted what a great trip Mystik Dan was getting in behind the leaders while saving ground. It certainly made a difference in the end as those spare inches were enough to hold off Sierra Leone and Forever Young.

Given he was much closer to the fast pace than either of those two, it was no surprise to see him getting very leg weary in the final furlong, and perhaps being a son of miler Goldencents he will normally find anything beyond nine furlongs a bit of a stretch. Generally, though, a worthy winner.

Sierra Leone is still arguably at the top of the class and perhaps would have eked out a win if he had been able to run more straight instead of trading brushes with Forever Young in the final quarter-mile. Catching Freedom, my top selection, ran an okay fourth, but is simply a cut below the top three. Fierceness blew cold after a slow start and lacks in reliability what he has in talent on his best day.

Ashley Anderson: My biggest takeaway from Derby 150 was the performances of both Japanese runners, Forever Young and T O Password. There was little surprise in Forever Young's formidable finish, just a nose behind runner-up Sierra Leone, who came home a nose behind Mystik Dan. Forever Young was unbeaten entering the Kentucky Derby and looked a much stronger chance than Derma Sotogake or Mandarin Hero from last year's Run for the Roses.

What may have come as a surprise to most people was the fifth-place finish of T O Password. However, those who paid attention to the Kentucky Oaks undercard on Friday may have noted T O Password's workmate T O Saint Denis flying out of the gate in the 1 1/16-mile Alysheba (G2) before faltering to finish second to First Mission. After seeing T O Saint Denis set fast fractions (22.96, 46.77, 1:10.45) in the Alysheba, I expected a big effort from T O Password, who started far back in the Derby but rallied late to finish 1 1/4 lengths behind Mystik Dan.

Both Forever Young and T O Password showed Japan is getting closer to a Kentucky Derby win, and I suspect we'll see it happen soon, as they were a photo finish away from collecting the garland of roses in 2024.

What were your takeaways from the Kentucky Oaks?

JS: Thorpedo Anna brilliantly carried her speed in the Kentucky Oaks (G1), dictating terms on a short lead before drawing off in the stretch to a 4 3/4-length decision. And considering that was just her second start of the year, the daughter of Fast Anna looks set for a terrific season. She trained superbly in preparation, with McPeek saying he wouldn’t be afraid to run Thorpedo Anna against males in the future, and July’s Haskell (G1) looks like a viable target. Thorpedo Anna has now captured four of five career starts by a combined 26 1/4 lengths.

VH: Thorpedo Anna was a logical winner and has been very dominant in all of her victories, though I'd have to think the sloppy conditions enhanced her superiority to some degree as others seemingly struggled. Just F Y I ran to her works but was simply second best on the day, and it will be fun to see these two rematch at Saratoga over the summer. Regulatory Risk is likely a notch below those two, but could be an interesting Alabama (G1) prospect over 1 1/4 miles. Ways and Means is probably more of a one-turn type, while Tarifa and Leslie's Rose are capable of better down the road.

AA: While Kenny McPeek and Brian Hernandez Jr. were both winless in the Derby and Oaks prior to last weekend, it was much less of a surprise to see the two pair up to win the Oaks with Thorpedo Anna. The Fast Anna filly was 3-for-4 entering the Oaks, with her lone loss a second in the Golden Rod (G2) at Churchill last November, when she was coming off just two weeks of rest. A hip bruise delayed her return as a three-year-old, but she prevailed in her sophomore debut with a four-length victory in the Fantasy (G2). Over a muddy track in the Kentucky Oaks, I expected Just F Y I to have the advantage over Thorpedo Anna, who had yet to race on an off track, but the McPeek trainee looked sharp and professional in her gate-to-wire win and earned the second-best Brisnet Class Rating of the week, second to Next, who won the Isaac Murphy Marathon Overnight S. by 11 1/4 lengths on May 1.

What else caught your eye during opening week of Churchill Downs' spring meet?

JS: Program Trading returned from a five-month layoff with a sterling performance in the Old Forester Turf Classic (G1), gamely edging fast-rising turf star Naval Power by a head. I thought Program Trading’s win in December’s Hollywood Derby (G1) was the top performance by a three-year-old turf male last season, and the Chad Brown-trained colt looks poised to keep advancing off the strong comebacker. 

VH: One horse who impressed me over the weekend was Cogburn, who broke like a rocket from a very wide draw and eventually dominated the Twin Spires Turf Sprint (G2). It was his fourth win in five turf appearances, and he looks like the potential U.S. horse to beat later this year in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint (G1) at Del Mar over a sharper five furlongs. Cogburn's 2023 season was highlighted by a win against eventual Breeders' Cup scorer Nobals, so the Steve Asmussen trainee has the form lines to be a major player on that international stage.

AA: Louisiana-bred Star Guitar mare Ova Charged impressed in her Churchill Downs debut while facing open company in the Grade 3 Unbridled Sidney. The six-year-old had been dominant at Fair Grounds over the winter and early spring, winning four straight stakes, two on the dirt and two on the turf. Back in March, she romped to a 12 1/2-length victory in the Page Cortez S. in New Orleans against Louisiana-breds and got her second try against graded stakes company last Friday. Her only other graded stakes appearance resulted in a second in the Victory Ride (G3) at Belmont in 2021. But this time around, she went straight to the lead under Florent Geroux and held off a late challenge by Secret Money to win the Unbridled Sidney by a quarter of a length. Ova Charged is now 4-for-4 this season and 13-for-16 for her career. She's also a full-sister to UAE Oaks (G3) winner Manama Gold, who was eligible to be supplemented into the Kentucky Oaks field and should be a strong contender for Todd Pletcher's barn moving forward.