Racing Roundtable: Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks trails

February 14th, 2023

James Scully, Kellie Reilly, and Vance Hanson take a look at the latest developments along the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Kentucky Oaks (G1) trails in this week's Racing Roundtable.

Which was a better Kentucky Derby prep: the Withers (G3) or the Sam F. Davis (G3)?

James Scully: The Withers rates top billing because it was the faster race. Hit Show elevated his Kentucky Derby stock recording a 5 1/2-length victory in the Withers, and the son of Candy Ride may continue to show more off his stakes debut for Brad Cox. Litigate possesses a regal pedigree for longer distances, and has two-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Todd Pletcher in his corner, but the colt's 1 1/4-length score in the Sam Davis netted only an 87 Brisnet Speed rating, the slowest of 10 Kentucky Derby qualifiers in 2023. The son of Blame still has upside — Litigate was making only his third start and first at two turns — but he has ground to make up on Hit Show from a Speed rating perspective.

Kellie Reilly: Although the Withers lacked strength in depth overall, Hit Show delivered a more convincing Derby-style performance than Litigate did in the Davis. Hit Show was traveling best at every point, and as soon as he got into the clear, he put the race away with authority. The well-bred son of Candy Ride obviously stays very well, but he's no plodder, having bolted up in his seven-furlong debut at Keeneland. He might be undefeated right now if he hadn't whiffed the start in his Churchill Downs allowance, won by future Lecomte (G3) third Confidence Game from eventual Holy Bull (G3) winner Rocket Can. In contrast, Davis winner Litigate beat a bigger field, but in workmanlike fashion. A few of his rivals are probably better than they showed, e.g. Remsen (G2) victor Dubyuhnell, who was virtually eliminated by early trouble. My instinct is that the Davis result is a case of "who was best on the day." The more exciting Todd Pletcher colt to run at Tampa over the weekend was Kingsbarns, now 2-for-2 after his Sunday allowance romp.

Vance Hanson: Hit Show's performance in the Withers was the best by a three-year-old last weekend, and it wasn't even close. Indeed, I found the Sam F. Davis possibly the weakest Derby prep seen this cycle. At a time of the season when serious Derby candidates should be earning Brisnet speed ratings well into the 90s or cracking three digits, Litigate's 87 isn't going to put a scare into many opponents, nor will the horses that finished behind him. The Withers' impact on the Derby hasn't been all that much either since it became a wintertime prep, but as an individual, Hit Show looks a more promising candidate at this point.

What did you make of the upset result in the Suncoast S.?

JS: A wire-to-wire winner of the Alcibiades (G1) two starts previously, champion two-year-old filly Wonder Wheel had the speed to send from her innermost post, but that wasn't the game plan. Dreaming of Snow, who was exiting a fourth in the seven-furlong Gasparilla S. on Jan. 14, beat the odds-on favorite to the lead, and the 30-1 longshot would not be caught. I didn't see the upset coming, but it's interesting to note that Wonder Wheel received an 89 Speed rating finishing a neck second. That's the same number she earned winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1).

KR: I never would have divined Dreaming of Snow's upset. It wasn't as shocking, however, that the anticipated clash between Wonder Wheel and Julia Shining didn't materialize. Julia Shining was going to be too dour to outpace Wonder Wheel, who figured to have the tactical advantage. Less expected was Wonder Wheel's stalling when she was poised to pounce. In hindsight, this wasn't the first time that Wonder Wheel was overturned off a layoff. She lost the Spinaway (G1) after a two-month break last summer, so perhaps she could have been forecast to come up short here. But the contrarian-minded had more plausible upset candidates than Dreaming of Snow. She'd looked exposed by her prior stakes losses at Tampa. But she reached a different level as the pacesetter on the stretch-out to two turns, and trainer/co-owner Gerald Bennett noted afterward that Dreaming of Snow was thriving at present. It was a perfect (snow)storm for her, catching the principals in circumstances favorable to her.

VH: I wasn't surprised that both Wonder Wheel and Julia Shining failed to win the Suncoast. My gut was telling me beforehand that both were likely vulnerable, though I would have been hard-pressed to come up with the actual winner. Tampa is a quirky track and a lot of good horses have failed to reproduce their best there — Royal Delta in the 2011 Suncoast being a prime example. Also, the race is a means to an end, with more prestigious prizes like the Ashland (G1) and Kentucky Oaks (G1) coming up. However, excuses aside, I'm beginning to question both fillies' Oaks credentials. Despite her dominating Breeders' Cup score, Wonder Wheel has never struck me as one of the swifter division champs of recent years. Certainly not on par with an Echo Zulu, to give one example. And Julia Shining is not as advanced at this stage of her career as her sister Malathaat, and it seemingly might take her a bit longer to reach her full potential.

Any surprises from the betting in Pool 4 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager?

JS: Bettors were captivated by the brilliance of Hoosier Philly, who was bet down to 11-1 from 50-1 on the morning line. Only two-year-old male champion Forte took more money among individuals. Big and fast, Hoosier Philly should be listed at 1-5 odds for Saturday's Rachel Alexandra (G2) against fillies, which will determine whether she steps up to face males in a major Kentucky Derby qualifier. The 2023 Kentucky Derby has a wide-open feel with less than 12 weeks remaining until the first Saturday in May, and Hoosier Philly illustrated that point in Pool 4.

KR: The boomlet for Hoosier Philly was a surprise. As exciting as she is, her reputation and possibilities exceed the bare results on the track so far. Her Brisnet Speed figures aren't in all-star territory just yet, there's a boatload of colts out there with enticing profiles, and most of all, everything has to go exactly right for Hoosier Philly to contest the Derby rather than the Oaks. It would be fantastic if that all comes to fruition, and we get to see a superstar taking on the boys on the first Saturday in May. But as a betting proposition almost three months out, 11-1 strikes me as pretty short odds to take. Nor did I foresee the degree of drift on Instant Coffee, who closed at 22-1. Pegged at 12-1 on the morning line, he was 15-1 in Pool 3. Those odds were arguably lower than warranted, so his Pool 4 price has the feel of a market correction.

VH: The plunges that resulted in Hoosier Philly closing as the second individual choice at 11-1 required a big leap of faith on the part of bettors that participated. Faith that she will return and win the upcoming Rachel Alexandra impressively and that the crop of colts will continue to look beatable. Faith that, in the event of those two things occurring, her connections will give her a shot to qualify for the Derby in her second outing of the season, rather than sticking to the Oaks route. While visually impressive, Hoosier Philly hasn't yet done anything in my mind to justify accepting a mere 11-1 on her in Pool 4.