(Trainer Bill Mott has Rocket Can on the road to the 2023 Kentucky Derby / Photos by Holly M. Smith)

We are now embarking on a new “feature” that we hope to continue each Monday for the remainder of 2023. We are calling it “McLean’s Monday Musings & Muck Pit.”

It’s some of our thoughts and reflections about what has happened in the horse world over the past weekend, and, perhaps over the past week. Some are good thoughts. Some may be afterthoughts. Some may call them our “Monday Morning Quarterbacking” thoughts. And, yes, some will be our figurative “pitch fork tosses” into the proverbial “Muck Pit.”

So, without further adieu, here’s our inaugural pitch (and some fork):

Rocket Can “Could & Did;” Now, It’s Time To See If He Can Become “Rocket Can-Do-It-Again:”

On Saturday, in the G3 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park, we may have witnessed the emergence of a real Kentucky Derby contender from one of the first “supposed” (or was it “pretend?”) Kentucky Derby preps.

Rocket Can — a big gray colt who looks a whole lot more like his momma’s sire Tapit than his daddy Into Mischief — rolled to a powerful and convincing victory, while going 4-wide throughout much of the race and especially the final turn.

But the loss of ground didn’t seem to either bother the colt, or deter him in any way. He just came motoring. He just kept motoring. He just finished off what appeared to be a good crowd of potential “would-bes” that may just turn out to be “didn’t-want-to-bes.” And, he just put his name on the leader board as one of the possible 3YOs to make the gate for the 149th Kentucky Derby this May.

At the end, Rocket Can — getting Junior Alvarado back in the saddle for the first time since his debut debacles at Saratoga last summer — held off his stable mate Shadow Dragon with ease to survive and advance to the next round of Florida’s major prep season.

It may have been just the G3 Holy Bull.

It may be way too soon to get way too excited.

It may be a mirage, and it may be folly.

But it was fun. If not spectacular, it was impressive. And, for now, it was great to see.

The next appointed round just may be the Fountain of Youth. May be.

After that, it could be on to the G1 Florida Derby. May be.

After the race, Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott left a lot of doors and possible scenarios open for this improving — if not, aspiring — steed.

But, at the same time, Bill Mott — who just may be one of the hottest trainers on the planet these days after winning the G1, $3 Million Pegasus World Cup just a week before with the likes of Art Collector — certainly seemed elated to draw up more plans after knocking down Door #1.

“It was a little worrisome on the first turn. He was four-wide,” said Mott, a few minutes after the Holy Bull victory. “It’s a short run to the first turn and he had the outside post. He was four-wide in the first turn and then three-wide. The good part about all that is you have a clear trip,” Mott said. “You’re running further than everyone else, but he got a nice clean trip and maybe that’s what he needed today.

“It seems like he can keep going. Hopefully, another sixteenth is good and another three-sixteenths is even better,” said Mott. “Time will tell that.”

Time always tells. And, or the most part, time tells the truth. About a lot of things — including horses.

And, there’s a lot more to be told here, if truth is to be told.

To begin the career, Rocket Can was not an overwhelming or overnight success. He ran twice at Saratoga last summer to start the 2YO campaign. He lost the opener by more than 10 lengths after a bumpy start. He lost the second tour of duty even worse, finishing about 16 lengths behind the winner after a wide trip.

But some how, some way, Mott figured something out about this horse. Or the horse figured something out this game of racing.

In his third start ever, Rocket Man broke his maiden at Churchill Downs. He came right back to narrowly lose his first allowance race under the Twin Spires, too. Last Saturday, he proved that “The Can” Can.

Now, it is go time. And, it would be fun to see Bill Mott at Churchill Downs with a legit Kentucky Derby contender.

The man — who trained the great Cigar — is a Hall of Fame person in addition to being a Hall of Fame trainer. Unlike some trainers these days, who have to file lawsuit after lawsuit just to try and get on the grounds of Churchill Downs, Bill Mott is all class. From tip of baseball hat. To toe of cowboy boots. All. Class.

And, to top it off, Bill Mott is one helluva horseman. In other words, you will never see this man all sprawled out in the Derby winner’s circle and dumped on his backside simply because he doesn’t know how to walk a Thoroughbred — like we witnessed not so long ago.

That being written, Mott’s only win in the Kentucky Derby came in 2019 when his horse Country House was moved up from a non-threatening 2nd to the victory stand when the Stewards rightfully and accurately disqualified the winner that year, Maximum Security, for interference at the top of the stretch.

In 11 previous Kentucky Derby mounts, Mott has a rather disappointing record of 1-0-1. The third-place finish came in the same year as Country House’s victory when Mott  saddled Tacitus.

(Thanks to my great friend Ed DeRose, the head man at HorseRacingNation.com, for the current statistics.)

It sure would be good to see if Bill Mott “can” win a Kentucky Derby outright. If sure would be great to witness if Bill Mott’s horse “can” cross the finish line first, without the assistance of a Steward’s ruling.

It sure would be great for this game to have Bill Mott with the stage under his boots and the microphone in his hand.

It never hurts to have class rise to the top.

Never hurts.

Cyclone Mischief Still A Mystery:

The post-time favorite for the G3 Holy Bull was Cyclone Mischief, another son of Into Mischief. The late April foal (nearly May) rolled into the Stakes off a super-impressive allowance win at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 8 and on some serious momentum.

But after a stalking and troubled trip — when it appeared that he was tugging to go on, but was trapped in-between a wall of horses on all sides — Cyclone dissipated to a small puff when the real serious running began. The colt backed up to finish a non-threatening 7th in the field of 8, beating only Mr. Bob.

After the race, Cyclone’s rider, Tyler Gaffalione, sounded perplexed:

“At the quarter pole he started making a little bit of noise and he switched to his off lead, and that was it. But he pulled up fine we’ll see what we’ve got next time.”

We chatted with trainer Dale Romans, via text messaging, on Monday, Feb. 6. We asked if there was any new updates on the colt. This was Dale’s response:

“Came out of the race fine. We will try again.”

Here’s hoping for much better luck the next time out.

Cairo Consort — “The Wow Horse” on Saturday:

If you watched the Gulfstream Park card on Saturday, there was little doubt who stole the show. Or, at least, the pre-show. Or, the very least, the under-card show.

For me? It was a showcase for a show horse.

Cairo Consort, a 3YO filly by Cairo Prince, won the G3 Sweetest Chant Stakes in one of the more remarkable runs you will ever see. If you didn’t catch the race? Do yourself a favor and go back and watch it. Remarkable. Just remarkable.

At the start of the 11/16-mile event over the new Gulfstream Park grass course, Cairo Consort and rider Irad Ortiz, Jr. were left twiddling.

While the others were off and running, the filly and rider were off in never-never land.

While the rest of the field sped away, Cairo Consort and rider were catching a power nap.

The duo spotted the field 6, 7, or, perhaps 10 lengths before they even noticed that it was time to do something more than just stand in the gate.

The delayed beginning was so noticeable that the track announcer barked, and the crowd seemed to gasp at the post-time favorite’s immediate deficit. Even trainer Todd Pletcher said, after the race, that he was about to give up any hope of winning after watching the start.

But Cairo Consort never gave up. Neither hope or run.

The filly drug Ortiz into contention on the backside and then rolled wide into the stretch coming out of the far turn. She zoomed down the stretch as if on a mission from God.

She won. Impressively.

Since she was acquired by the current connections at the Fasig-Tipton November Sale last Fall and after running 3rd in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf for a whopping $850,000, Cairo Consort is a now a perfect 2-for-2 for new trainer Todd Pletcher and may be pushing the new owners to see if she can do the same kind of running on dirt, and could make a push to the Kentucky Oaks.

To date, the filly has never run over a traditional dirt track. She has won over the AW surface at Woodbine and over the grass. Could dirt be in her future?

May be worth a shot. After all, Cairo Consort’s 3rd dam is Pretty Discreet, a daughter of the grand stallion Private Account. And, Pretty Discreet did win the G1 Alabama Stakes. On the dirt. Just writing.

Will Hoosier Philly Run In Kentucky Derby?

It is too soon to begin the discussion in earnest — perhaps — but the questions are starting to percolate. If the undefeated and spectacular filly Hoosier Philly continues to dominate her classmates this Spring will her owners consider a possible run against the colts in the 149th Kentucky Derby?

That kind of talk may heat up if the classy daughter of Into Mischief swamps her opponents out of contention in the upcoming G2 Rachel Alexandra Stakes at the Fair Grounds on Feb. 18 for trainer Tom Amoss.


There’s always a “but,” right?


It’s already a matter of public record that the fab filly is already nominated to the Triple Crown.


Very interesting.

Capella: Another “Horse to Watch:”

Another “Horse to Watch” this Spring may be the Juddmonte Farm’s homebred filly Capella. This 3YO daughter of Quality Road is a perfect 2-for-2 now — both at Turfway Park — and sure looks like she is headed straight to the Graded Stakes company soon.

The April foal recently won her first allowance effort on Feb. 3, zooming to an early lead and holding off a very talented field of seven opponents in the two-turn, 1-mile event.

Capella’s pedigree is dominated by sires who did their best running and whose progeny did their best running on the sod. The dam, Touch the Star, was by Tapit and never hit the board in three career starts. The 2nd dam, Willstar, was by the great Nureyev, and never made a start. The 3rd dam, Nijinsky Star, was by the fabulous Nijinsky II and never made a start, either. The 4th dam was the great Chris Evert, who was a multiple Graded Stakes winner.

Stay tuned. More to come here.

Headed to the Muck Pit:

Back in August of 2022, top rider Jose Ortiz suddenly decided to dump his long-time agent and, supposedly, close friend Jimmy Riccio and hire the same person that also acts as booking agent for Ortiz’ highly-acclaimed brother, Irad Ortiz, Jr.

According to stats published by our great friend Ed DeRosa on his Twitter account (EJXD2) this Monday, that change has not worked out real great for the “other” Ortiz.

Since Aug. 17, 2022, Irad Ortiz, Jr. has won 22.40% of his mounts, and the “other” Ortiz  has won 16.6%.

In the same time span a year before, Irad Ortiz, Jr. won 20.9%, while the “other” Ortiz won at a 19.0% clip.


If the “other” Ortiz wants to reconsider that “agent” decision, I have Jimmy Riccio’s cell. His new riders — Kendrick Carmouche and Ricardo Santana, Jr. — are doing pretty well.

And, nobody in the jockey agent business works harder for his clients than Jimmy Riccio. No one.