“The Pressbox’s” KY Derby Rankings — Edition #3 / Big Week On Hand as Game Winner, Improbable, Instagrand Make 2019 Debuts

HorseTrainerJockeyLast RaceNext RaceComments
1Game WinnerBob BaffertJoel Rosario1st in Breeders’Cup JuvenileG2 San Felipe Stakes on 3/9/19Looking forward to Saturday
2War of WillMark CasseTyler Gaffalione1st in the G2 Risen StarG2 Louisiana Derby on 3/23/19He Has Been Impressive on Dirt
3ImprobableBob BaffertDrayden Van Dyke1st in Cash Call FuturityG2 San Felipe Stakes on 3/9/19Can He Push Game Winner?
4InstagrandJerry HollendorferDrayden Van Dyke1st in Best Pal StakesGotham Stakes on 3/9/19Shipping East to Avoid Monsters
5RoadsterBob BaffertMike Smith1st in SA AllowanceUndecidedMike Smith Says “He’s Back!”
6Bourbon WarMark HennigIrad Ortiz, Jr.2nd in G2 Fountain of YouthG2 Florida Derby on 3-30/19He Ran Super & Galloped Out Great
7Mucho GustoBob BaffertJoe Talamo1st in G3 Robert B. LewisUndecidedWhat’s Next?
8Gunmetal GrayJerry HollendorferMike Smith2nd in Robert B. Lewis StakesG2 San Felipe Stakes on 3/9/19Has the guts & metal
9Country HouseBill MottLuis Saez2nd in the G2 Risen StarG2 Louisiana Derby on 3/23/19Green, but Talented
10Dream MakerMark CasseFlorent Geroux1st in FG AllowanceG2 Tampa Bay Derby on 3/9/19Maintenance Work At FG
11Code of HonorShug McGaugheyJohn Velazquez1st in G2 Fountain of YouthG2 Florida Derby on 3/30/19Perfect Trip Renders Perfect Finish
12GalileanJerry HollendorferFlavien Pratt1st in California CupUndecidedWow Time in Cal Cup
13Long Range ToddySteve AsmussenRichard Eramia3rd in G3 Southwest StakesG2 Rebel Stakes on 3/16/19Nice work at OP on 3/2/19
14Sparky VilleJeff BondeJoel Rosario1st in G2 San Vicente StakesG2 San Felipe Stakes on 3/9/19Interesting Week Coming Up
15Harvey WallbangerKen McPeekBrian Hernandez1st in G2 Holy Bull StakesG2 Florida Derby on 3/30/19Has Moved Ahead of Stablemate For Now
16Well DefinedKathleen O’ConnellPablo Morales1st in Sam F. Davis StakesG2 Tampa Bay Derby on 3/9/19Speedy Type
17Hidden ScrollBill MottJoel Rosario4th in G2 Fountain of YouthG2 Florida Derby on 3/30/19Speed & Fade / Has Does He Respond to Defeat?
18SignalmanKen McPeekBrian Hernandez7th in G2 Fountain of YouthG2 Florida Derby on 3/30/19Looked Very Dull in 2019 Debut / Drawing Board
19Standard DeviationChad BrownIrad Ortiz2nd in GP AllowanceUndecidedHas To Take Giant Step Forward in Next Out
20Knicks GoBen ColebrookAlbin Jimenez5th in G3 Sam F.Davis StakesGotham Stakes on 3/9/19What Happened?
1AnothertwistafateBlaine D. WrightJuan Hernandez1st in El Camino Real DerbyUndecidedWon by 7. Son of Scat Daddy
2RoilandTom AmossJames Graham3rd in the G2 Risen StarG2 Louisiana Derby on 3/23/19If Breaks Better? Watch Out
3Our BraintrustMark CasseJose Lezcano3rd in G3 Withers StakesG2 Rebel Stakes on 3/16/19Worked at Casse TC on 2-23
4TaxDanny GarganJunior Alvarado1st in G3 Withers StakesGotham Stakes on 3/9/19Guts
5DessmanBob BaffertFlavien Pratt2nd in G2 San Vicente StakesSA Allowance on 3/1/19Victor Espinoza Rides
6VekomaGeorge WeaverManny Franco3rd in G2 Fountain of YouthG2 Florida Derby on 3/30/19Passed Late / Tiring?
7Mr. MoneyW. Bret CalhounGabriel Saez7th in G2 Risen Star StakesG2 Louisiana Derby on 3/23/19Dull. Maybe Needed a Race?
8KinglyBob BaffertDrayden Van Dyke2nd in El Camino Real DerbyUndecidedBeaten 7 lengths. Ouch
9AquadiniDallas StewartCorey Lanerie2nd in FG AllowanceG2 Louisiana Derby on 3/23/19Well Bred / Developing Late / Enough Time?

We had some mixing and matching of the top horses in “The Pressbox’s” Kentucky Derby Rankings this week. The biggest reason for the tussle for the top came before, during and after the G2 Fountain of Youth Stakes held at Gulfstream Park on Saturday.

For the past several weeks, we have been touting the emergence of Bourbon War — a 3YO colt by Tapit and trained by the affable and credible Mark Hennig.

We noted his victory on debut last year. We called attention to his fourth place finish in the Remsen Stakes to end the 2018 campaign, and remarked that it was much better than it looked. And, we blared about Bourbon War’s impressive win in an allowance event at Gulfstream Park to start the 2019 year.

In short, we have gone long on Bourbon War. Just think that he is a horse getting better and better and that he should be considered a real contender on this year’s Kentucky Derby road.

On Saturday, Bourbon War ran second to W. S. Farish’s Code of Honor, another very talented runner who has had his share of setbacks and stumbles over the past few months. But truth be known?

For my money, the most impressive runner was none other than Bourbon War. He fell off a rather strong pace, and found himself wide throughout much of the race. In fact, at one time, he was 6 wide as he started to make his run in and out of the final turn. At the wire, though, he was beaten less than a length, and a few strides after the real running was over, the son of Tapit had swooped past them all.

He was impressive.

As in, very impressive.

And, as a result, he vaults to #6 in our Kentucky Derby Rankings. Some will say that lofty position is too exaggerated and too optimistic.

I will say exactly what I have written the past three editions — of all the horses that are making a splash and a run into consideration, this Bourbon War may be the best.

I stay bullish.

The horse that beat Bourbon War is Code of Honor. Comes from the famed connections of William Stamps Farish and his storied Lane’s End Farm in Versailles. I liked this horse going into the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. But, for whatever reason, he was scratched from the 2YO’s main event the day of the race. And, that was just the beginning.

He was schooled to run next in the Remsen Stakes. Once again, Code of Honor was scratched.

Then, there was some speculation where this son of Noble Mission would appear.

He showed up Saturday. And, he really showed up.

He got a perfect trip from HOF rider John Velazquez, and he did the rest — running down the speedsters and running away from everyone else other than Bourbon War.

As a result, Code of Honor jumps from the list of the unranked to No. 11. A hefty jump. A spirited lift. We shall see if he warrants such a move in the weeks to come, as he probably heads next to either the Florida Derby or the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland.

My questions are still many for Code of Honor, though. The biggest just may be the horse’s sire — Noble Mission.

Noble Mission certainly has the pedigree. He is he son of the great Galileo. His mom, Kind, is by the great stallion Danehill. That makes him a full brother to a horse that you may have heard of — Frankel.

Noble Mission certainly could run, too. He was a three-time Group 1 winner in Europe, and finished his brilliant racing career with a win in the G1 Champion Stakes.

And, Noble Mission could certainly get the distance. After all, he won at 11/2 miles on more than one occasion.

But, isn’t this supposed to be a pedigree built for the grass?

Just like our #2 pick — War of Will — isn’t Code of Honor supposed to be better suited for sod?

Well, we shall see as we see more.

The biggest “droppers” this week:

Signalman, who was a dull and non-impactful 7th in the G2 Fountain of Youth. He falls behind his stablemate Harvey Wallbanger after that performance on Saturday. Signalman goes to #18 on the rankings, just a slot behind the over-hyped and over-bet Hidden Scroll. Hidden Scroll ran 4th after setting spirited fractions in the early going, but the real questions still are unsolved. Does this speedster have the endurance to last? Does he have the experience to rate? Can he catch up enough to learn before the Big Day?

You may say that Justify did it a year ago.

I would say that it took 135 years to break the “Apollo Curse.” And, it may take another 135 to do it again.


(Game Winer worked recently at Santa Anita / Photo Courtesy of Santa Anita)

We have another big week on tap as the racing world, as well as the best 3-year-olds, starts to gear up for the First Saturday in May. On Saturday, March 9, we will get to watch, wager, analyze, critique and decipher two of the biggest and most promising races on the circuit this year.

On the West Coast, we will get the highly-anticipated and dramatic G2 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita. The field is scheduled to include the likes of 2YO Champ and undefeated winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in Game Winner. We are supposed to see his teammate Improbable, another undefeated runner from the super barn of Bob Baffert, load into the starting gate, as well. In addition, we may get the salty Gunmetal Gray, from the barn of Jerry Hollendorfer. And, is it possible that Sparky Ville, who won the G2 San Vicente Stakes in his last outing, will also give the heavy hitters a fastball?

No matter, the San Felipe Stakes is shaping up to be a race that could share a lot of light on who may be headed in the right direction and towards Louisville, KY. And, it may also separate the big boys from the other boys. We will wait a little longer to see whom can become “men.”

(Instagrand winning at Del Mar last summer / Photo Courtesy of Del Mar)

In addition, the Gotham Stakes will be contested on the East Coast, at Aqueduct. It promises to be another interesting race to watch and another stepping stone towards the “Road to the Kentucky Derby.”

But although this is definitely an East Coast event, it will have a decided West Coast flair to it. Last week, trainer Jerry Hollendorfer announced that he would be sending his outstanding and undefeated 3YO Instagrand to New York for this event, rather than taking his youngster up against the head-bangers at Santa Anita. Since the first day he stopped hoof on the dirt in California, Instagrand has been proclaimed as the “Next Coming.”

Well, we know now where the next time to view the “Next Coming.” And, we all will get to see if the anointed one will take a giant step forward, or suddenly become the “Next Going.”

In addition, Turfway Park will host its’ lone major race of the Winter Meet — the Jeff Ruby Steaks. (Yes, it is spelled right. The naming rights were sold to a restauranteur who specializes in the meaty treat.) It will be interesting to see who turns up for this two-turn event, which will be contested over the poly track and synthetic surface. It has been a long time since the winner of this one has had any impact on the Triple Crown trail, but you will remember that Animal Kingdom did come through this route.

Interesting week ahead.

Sure to be full of drama.

Can’t wait.


The horse broke well today,” Gaffalione said. “I had the horse inside, Dunph, going to the lead and then (Gun It) showed a little bit of speed. When I saw they were intent on going I just tried to get him back and got him to relax. He came back to me nicely and settled well down the backside. Got a little keen going into the far turn and wanted to move a little early. But I didn’t want to take too much away from him so I tried to sit as long as I could. He was waiting on horses down the lane but I kept him at task and there was plenty of horse there.”

“Mark (Casse, the trainer) and his team have done a great job,” Gaffalione said. “They’ve had a ton of confidence in this horse the whole way. It’s just an honor to be able to ride the horse. He’s just so professional, trains great and he’s a pleasure to be around.”

Tyler Gaffalione, Rode of War of Will to victory in the G2 Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds
  • Gene McLean

    Gene McLean

    Gene McLean began his professional career in 1977 as a sportswriter and columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader in Lexington, Ky., and was recognized as one of the state’s best writers, winning the prestigious “Sportswriter of the Year” honor in 1985. Now the President and Publisher of The Pressbox, McLean sets ...

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