Racing Roundtable: Older females and the Kentucky Derby

April 26th, 2022

Fillies and mares were in the spotlight last weekend, but you can feel the excitement rising as we inch closer toward the 148th running of the Kentucky Derby (G1). editors James Scully, Kellie Reilly, and Vance Hanson review the action that was and look ahead at what will be in this week's Racing Roundtable.

How does the older female division look to you after the Apple Blossom H. (G1) and Doubledogdare (G3)?

James Scully: Saturday flattered the older female division, as Letruska, Malathaat, and Clairiere all left a favorable impression. Champion older dirt female Letruska was in top form defending her title as the Apple Blossom highweight, winning convincingly wire-to-wire. Clairiere ran well for second considering the pace scenario and short field, and she appears set for a successful four-year-old campaign. Champion three-year-old filly Malathaat, who is a physical presence among rivals, returned in fine order, recording an easy comeback win in the Doubledogdare. I'm excited to see what's ahead.

Kellie Reilly: Reigning champion Letruska retains divisional leadership after her Apple Blossom repeat, but Malathaat is poised to take her crown. Although she wasn't facing a rival of Letruska's caliber in her Doubledogdare comeback, Malathaat's rapid surge took even Johnny Velazquez by surprise. She responded so quickly to the Hall of Fame rider that she got to the front a shade too soon and started lollygagging. Malathaat and Letruska are likely to clash in the Ogden Phipps (G1) on Belmont Day, where Letruska's early speed could prove too great an advantage going 1 1/16 miles around one turn. But as the season progresses, and they renew rivalry around two turns, Malathaat might have the measure of the champ. I'm taking Apple Blossom runner-up Clairiere as a classy yardstick: Look at how well Clairiere closed, from a tactically difficult position, on a lone-speed Letruska at Oaklawn. Extrapolate that to Malathaat in her wheelhouse, and a changing of the guard is likely.

Vance Hanson: Despite the modest speed figure earned for her win in the Doubledogdare, I'm a long-term buyer in Malathaat. However, in the short term, I think Letruska might remain leader of the division at least through the Ogden Phipps in June. Although Malathaat won both of her one-turn starts at the beginning of her career, my gut tells me the advantage in a race like the Ogden Phipps could go to the speedier Letruska. A lot will depend on who else shows up, but history suggests few others are going to want to take on this pair, especially for only a $500,000 pot. The story between the two could look very different by the end of the Saratoga meet.

What else caught your eye over the weekend?

JS: Casa de Goat, a three-year-old Twirling Candy filly homebred for Elm Racing, made a smashing career debut at Keeneland on Saturday, drawing off to win by a widening 12 3/4-length margin as an odds-on favorite in an about seven-furlong maiden special weight. Trained by Brad Cox and ridden by Florent Geroux, the filly is named for Mr. Man, the Cox barn resident goat, and Casa de Goat looks very promising.

KR: Unbeaten Unanimous Consent promises to be a force on the sophomore turf scene. In Saturday's Woodhaven S. at Aqueduct, the Chad Brown trainee quickened off a slow pace to win going away. Yet another successful Tattersalls October Yearling Sale purchase by Klaravich Stables, the British-bred was unearthed by bloodstock maven Mike Ryan for about $200,000. Unanimous Consent is from the first crop of European champion Almanzor, who twice beat Found (the Breeders' Cup Turf [G1] and Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe [G1] heroine), and he descends from the family of great stayers Le Moss and Levmoss.

VH: The ceiling remains high for French import Chez Pierre after running his unbeaten streak to five races in Saturday's Henry S. Clark S. at Laurel. Owned by Lael Stables, of Barbaro fame, and trained by Arnaud Delacour, Chez Pierre won for fun by 5 1/2 lengths and earned a 101 Brisnet Speed rating in the one-mile grass test. While Grade 1 tests like the Fourstardave H. at Saratoga and the Woodbine Mile might come into play later in the season, interim targets might include the May 21 Dinner Party (G2) at Pimlico (formerly the Dixie) and the July 2 Wise Dan (G2) at Churchill Downs. Chez Pierre looks very smart, indeed.

Have any developments in the past week made you reassess the chances of anyone in the Kentucky Derby?

JS: A pair of Brad Cox runners, Zozos and Cyberknife, are thriving in preparation, recording smooth six-furlong workouts followed by impressive gallop-outs last weekend. Zozos may have more to offer following a good second to Epicenter in the Louisiana Derby (G2). The dark bay colt appears built for the 1 1/4-mile distance, and his speed should ensure a good trip. Cyberknife, who will probably have to work out a trip from off the pace, also appears to be moving forward after a convincing win in the Arkansas Derby (G1).

KR: Since my international scouting report on Crown Pride was posted on April 5, the Japanese shipper has ramped up his training at Churchill Downs, and advertised his chances of making the superfecta. His workout times don't catch the eye on paper, but that's less important than the fact that he's finishing strongly and moving very well over the surface. The only blip was when he was surprised by the bell in the starting gate and dumped his rider — a learning experience that he got out of the way. Crown Pride is also among those helped by Monday's news of the Classic Causeway U-turn, back into the Derby field and ensuring a strong pace.

VH: Pioneer of Medina has been playing catch-up to a number of his battle-tested peers over the winter. In his stakes debut, the Risen Star (G2), perhaps the deepest prep of the winter, he vainly chased Epicenter from second before retreating to fourth, though only a head behind third-placed Zandon. He again was required to be the one to apply pressure to Epicenter in the Louisiana Derby, but was not up to the task. However, he held his position better, finishing third in an improved effort. Pioneer of Medina's five-furlong workout at Churchill Downs on Monday, in :59.75, was pretty solid, as was the seven-furlong gallop-out. If he can adopt a different strategy for the Derby, perhaps stalking several lengths off the lead rather than be a quasi-presser, he could exceed expectations at a big price.