Racing Roundtable: Kentucky Jockey Club, Golden Rod, and other Thanksgiving weekend results

November 28th, 2023

This week the Roundtable discusses the winners of the Kentucky Derby and Oaks prep races at Churchill and other notable performances from the Thanksgiving weekend.

What are your takeaways from the Kentucky Jockey Club?

James Scully: I came away encouraged by Honor Marie, who improved stretching out to two turns and established himself as a promising Kentucky Derby prospect. He provided trainer Whit Beckman with his first stakes winner, and the Honor Code colt displayed a more dynamic turn of foot after a pair of grinding efforts in sprints. About three lengths back in seventh after six furlongs in 1:13.40, Honor Marie blew past rivals to win authoritatively by a two-length margin, completing the final five-sixteenths more than 1 1/2 seconds faster than Golden Rod (G2) winner Intricate a race earlier. Longer distances appear favorable for Honor Marie – his dam never raced in a sprint and counts 1 3/4-mile St. Leger (G1) winner Rule of Law as a half-brother – and the up-and-coming juvenile received commendable 96 Brisnet Speed and 102 Late Pace numbers. 

Vance Hanson: The top two finishers in the Kentucky Jockey Club entered the race with some class questions: Honor Marie having graduated from the maiden auction ranks and Real Men Violin having needed five starts to get his first win. However, their performances show how quickly some two-year-olds can progress. Honor Marie, especially, looks like an exciting prospect after making a winning rally from the tail of the field without the aid of a strong pace. The longer distances of the key Kentucky Derby preps at Fair Grounds figure to suit him.

Ashley Anderson: The stakes-experienced runners proved to be suspect in the Kentucky Jockey Club, with none of them finishing in the money. Honor Marie won by more than two lengths in his stakes debut, while second-place finisher Real Men Violin was coming off a maiden victory in his fifth career start. Third-place finisher Stretch Ride also had no prior stakes experience but was unbeaten from two starts ahead of the Kentucky Jockey Club. Fourth-place finisher Risk It had previously finished second in the Iroquois (G3), while fifth-place runner and favored Awesome Road was entering off a seventh in the Breeders' Futurity (G1). Stakes-placed Dancing Groom came home a distant sixth, and Nomos, who had raced in turf stakes, finished last of eight.

As for Honor Marie, his pedigree is packed with stamina, but may be lacking some speed, making him potentially best fit for the Belmont's 1 1/2-mile distance. He could likely next target the Lecomte S. (G3) at Fair Grounds, and it'll be interesting to see how the Honor Code colt progresses from here.

How strong of a Kentucky Oaks prospect is Intricate?

JS: Intricate looked good dominating the Golden Rod (G2), leaving odds-on favorite Thorpedo Anna in her wake as she rallied from just off the pace to win going away by a 5 1/4-length margin, and the Gun Runner filly has excelled in a pair of two-turn starts for Brendan Walsh. Pretty Mischievous finished third in last year’s Golden Rod before going on to win the Kentucky Oaks (G1) for Walsh, and Intricate will enter her three-year-old season with lofty expectations.

VH: Although she benefited from an ideal trip, tracking in behind a solid tempo set by West Sunset (who had beaten her sprinting first out), Intricate looked very assured winning the Golden Rod in comfortable style. Now 2-for-2 over 1 1/16 miles, the daughter of Gun Runner appears a very live Oaks contender for Brendan Walsh. Indeed, she's farther along at this stage than Walsh's 2023 Oaks winner Pretty Mischievous was at this time a year ago. Unlike that stablemate, it doesn't appear nine furlongs will be stretching her limits, and the Fair Grounds series of preps seemingly might go through her.

AA: She's certainly one to watch and has an enticing trainer/jockey pairing in Brendan Walsh and Tyler Gaffalione, who teamed up to win the Oaks last season with Pretty Mischievous. Intricate finished fifth on debut when sprinting six furlongs, but when stretching out to 1 1/16 miles in her second start, she won by 3 1/2 lengths when facing nine rivals. This time out, she defeated unbeaten Thorpedo Anna by 5 1/4 lengths, and her Brisnet Speed figure jumped from 82 to 92 in the effort. Intricate is most likely headed down to Fair Grounds, taking a similar path as Pretty Mischievous last year, and is the filly to beat as of now.

What else caught your eye over the holiday weekend?

JS: Otello, a son of Curlin trained by Christophe Clement, debuted at a tricky one-mile distance at Aqueduct last Friday. The chestnut broke alertly before dropping back to midpack, and Otello came with a nice move on the far bend only to be bottled up turning for home, attempting to force his way outside before being redirected to the rail, and he offered a sharp turn of foot once clear to seize the lead and score by a neck, netting a respectable 91 Speed rating. Otello figures to benefit from the experience and looks like a colt who will appreciate longer distances moving forward.

Legalize showed improved speed at second asking on Saturday’s Stars of Tomorrow II program at Churchill Downs, reeling off fast opening splits before drawing off in upper stretch of a seven-furlong maiden special weight. The Cherie Devaux-trained colt registered a fine 98 Speed rating for the 1 1/2-length decision. A $500,000 two-year-old purchase by Constitution, Legalize is bred to appreciate longer distances – his second maternal dam, Summerly, won the 2005 Kentucky Oaks – and the speedy chestnut appears likely to stretch out to two turns for his stakes debut next time. 

VH: The late-developing Howl improved her record to 2-for-2 when taking the $100,000 Safely Kept S. at Laurel for three-year-old fillies last Saturday. Heavily favored against a suspect field, she successfully stretched out to seven furlongs and won by a safe length despite lugging in a bit late. Trainer Brad Cox could run her next in the La Brea (G1) on opening day at Santa Anita Dec. 26, and regardless of how she performs there, she looks an intriguing prospect for the older female sprint division next season.

AA: Steve Asmussen runner Track Phantom broke his maiden at Churchill on Nov. 25 in his third start and won by more than four lengths in a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight event. The Quality Road two-year-old finished third on debut to stakes-placed Stronghold in a one-mile maiden special weight, and then was a half-length second to Kentucky Jockey Club runner-up Real Men Violin in his second start, a one-mile maiden race on a sloppy Churchill track. This time out, Track Phantom romped to victory when stretching out farther and beat 11 rivals with a final time of 1:44.72, just barely slower than Honor Marie's winning time (1:44.31) in the Kentucky Jockey Club that day. Track Phantom is out of the Into Mischief mare Miss Sunset, a graded stakes-winning sprinter, and has both speed and stamina in his pedigree. He'll be one to watch going forward along the Road to the Kentucky Derby.