When the tumultuous becomes normal, does the normal become tumultuous? Well, that may be the only way to describe what is happening these days on the “2018 Road to the Kentucky Derby.”

As the moments, days, months and prep races for this year’s Kentucky Derby start to click away in surprisingly rapid-fire fashion, each week seems to end in shocking fashion. And, each subsequent week seems to begin with more questions than answers.

This past weekend was no exception. Just another example that what you expect the least to happen is the most apt to happen with this group of 3-year-old colts. Seemingly, this is a crop of colts who are stumbling their way towards Louisville and the Kentucky Derby more than stampeding. And, the only thing that is clear cut so far this year? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

But, on the positive side, it has left this year’s field and list of contenders for the “Run for the Roses” about as open, contentious, debatable, and unsettled as any in recent memory. So here is this week’s edition of “Winners, Losers, and In-Betweeners:”

Winners:

  1. Promises Fulfilled, winner of the 2018 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park, has to be considered the biggest winner of the week. After all, going into the 11/16-mile event — which is considered to be the biggest prep for the Florida Derby — Promises Fulfilled wasn’t even considered to be a, er, “pledge to do better.” In truth, despite the fact that the son of Shackleford had won each of his first two starts and had run third to Enticed and Tiz Mischief in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs last fall, Promises Fulfilled really had not inspired any of the prominent “Derby Trackers” to include him in their “Watch Reports.” Maybe the lack of respect was due to his very modest sales price. As a yearling, trainer Dale Romans purchased the colt for the conservative sum of $37,000 at the 2016 Keeneland September Sales. Maybe, the lack of interest was due to Promises Fulfilled’s desire to do all of his running on the front end. He broke his maiden at Churchill Downs last September at 6-furlongs going wire to wire. He followed that up with a win at Keeneland in October, moving 7-furlongs wire to wire. But when stretched out to 11/16-miles in the Kentucky Jockey Club, he led wire to “near the wire,” tiring late to finish a thoroughly-beaten third. Maybe, the lack of support came because the two horses that defeated Promises Fulfilled in the Kentucky Jockey Club — Enticed and Tiz Mischief — had most recently faltered in their 2018 debuts. Tiz Mischief was beaten over 13 lengths by Audible in the Holy Bull on Feb. 3. Enticed was another 11/2-length behind Tiz Mischief in that same race. No matter, there were plenty of reasons why the general public and the master handicappers dismissed Promises Fulfilled at odds of $18.20-to-$1 in the G2 Fountain of Youth. But it didn’t matter to the colt, either. Ridden by Iran Ortiz, Jr. for the first time, Promises Fulfilled looked full of promise as he led every step of the way and easily dispatched of what was considered a standout field that included 2017 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Good Magic. Perhaps, Promises Fulfilled’s new found energy is due to improvement and maturity. Perhaps, the colt’s sustainability last Saturday is due to a speed-favoring track, and the lack of any real pressure up front. Perhaps, the colt just freaked. No matter. Going into last week’s Fountain of Youth, Romans pledged that he had a strong hand — with up to three runners. On Saturday, he kept his word, and so did one of his 3-year-olds. It was Promises Fulfilled. Literally and figuratively. Now, on to the Florida Derby.
  2. Bolt d’Oro, who was heralded as a super horse early in his racing career after winning the G1 Del Mar Futurity and the G1 FrontRunner Stakes at Santa Anita, may be the second biggest winner this week. And, the son of Medaglia d’Oro didn’t even have to race to do it. After running an uninspired third over a funky track at Del Mar last November in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, many pundits and supporters alike wanted to see the real Bolt d’Oro return in 2018 with vengeance and re-establish himself as the horse to beat on this year’s Road to the Kentucky Derby. Instead, all Bolt d’Oro has done in the first quarter of 2018 is practice, practice, practice, and wait. In all, he had six published works since Jan. 27 until today (Monday, March 5). Instead of proving he was the best of this crowd, the crowd has questioned his stability, if not ability. But on Monday — March 5 — owner/trainer Mick Ruis gave a leg up to jockey Victor Espinoza to train the colt seriously for this coming Saturday’s San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita. The colt drilled a half mile in a brisk and impressive :46.40 for the bullet work of the day. Immediately, all declared the colt primed, pumped and prepared. “He looked terrific,” said longtime private clocker Gary Young to a correspondent for www.HorseRacingNation.com.  “No one could knock the way he worked today, it was perfect.  It looks like the stage is set for Saturday. McKinzie worked great yesterday (seven furlongs in 1:23.80), so the two favorites come into this race really good.” His exercise rider for the day, who just so happens to have a couple of Derby victories already, was equally impressed: “He’s ready to go,” said Espinoza, who also worked “Bolt” on Feb. 14, and is hoping that Javier Castellano, who is committed to ride the colt in the San Felipe on Saturday, will opt for an eastern-based horse for the Kentucky Derby May 5.  “I’m impressed with how much he’s improved since the last time I worked him. I knew we were going pretty quick, but he was doing it on his own.  I encouraged him just a little bit.  He’s fit enough…Hopefully, he can run a big race.” That’s a win this week.
  1. Free Drop Billy, who ran second to Audible in his 2018 debut at Gulfstream Park in the Holy Bull, was mysteriously scratched out of the Fountain of Youth Stakes on Saturday, and, instead, was breezed over the track that morning. Now, the talented son of Union Rags will be pointed to this Saturday’s Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct in New York. Maybe, trainer Dale Romans knew that the colt’s come-from-behind racing style just didn’t fit the make-up of the Gulfstream drag strip? Maybe, Romans knew that Promises Fulfilled was working so well that his stablemate couldn’t keep up? Maybe, Romans knew that Free Drop Billy would like the track surface and the competition up in New York much better? Whatever the reason, the colt has now got to gear up, and collect some points to pave his way into the Derby field. Of the Romans’ contingency, I have always believed this to be the one that will truly relish the route of ground on the first Saturday in May. In six career starts to date, he has two wins and three seconds. His only bad outing came in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, when stuck on what truly appeared to be a very “dead rail.” If this one can recapture the same turn of foot that helped push him to victory in the G1 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland last October, then he would join his stablemate as two of the top names moving forward. But it is show time. And, if Romans was right to scratch last Saturday and run this Saturday, then he will be the show master.
  2. McKinzie, who is a perfect 3-for-3 for trainer Bob Baffert, got a key 6-furlong work on Sunday at Santa Anita. The handsome son of Street Sense went a strong 7-furlong distance in a time of 1:23.80, which was the best of two to stop the clock at that distance. While working in tandem with stablemate Downtowner, McKinzie was clocked at 1:00 flat for 5 furlongs, as well. The colt will now get to face off with Bolt d’Oro this coming Saturday in the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita. After the work, Baffert was quoted as saying the colt went “very well.” Private clocker Gary Young told on-lookers that McKinzie “looked terrific.” So, the battle is now set on the West Coast. While Bolt d’Oro has grabbed most of the headlines at the “Great Race Place,” McKinzie has been grabbing the wins. He ran off to an easy 31/2-length victory in the G3 Sham Stakes at Santa Anita on Jan. 6, easily dispatching his would-be rivals. Before that, he was moved up to victory in the G1 Las Alamitos Cash Call Futurity. Both of those victories have come after Bolt d’Oro was last seen in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. If you are a betting man, who do you take on Saturday? Bolt d’Oro? McKinzie? I would not discount Baffert. No time.

Losers:

  1. As we do each week, we don’t spend a lot of time on those that have disappointed the most over the last week. But the list is headed this week by Marconi, the well-bred son of Tapit who is trained by Todd Pletcher and the beneficiary of that barn’s media blitz. After running a non-threatening, but a highly acclaimed (by some) third to Avery Island in the G3 Withers Stakes in his Stakes debut back on Feb. 3, Marconi was supposed to take a giant stride forward in the Fountain of Youth Stakes last Saturday and stamp himself a legit contender on this Triple Crown trail. Simply put, He didn’t. For much of the race, Marconi, and rider Javier Castellano were content to bide their time and do much of their non-running toward the back of the 9-horse field. He did fire to move all the way up to 5th, beaten nearly 8 lengths. At no time, though, did he seem like a threat or a horse that could contend against the best of this crop. Before the race, my good friend and fellow-handicapper, Mark Drury, called him a “Belmont Stakes horse.” After watching him on video before and after the FOY, I think he may be a “Belmont Park horse.”
  2. Horse Racing Fans: After watching it rain at Santa Anita for a couple of days, trainer Bob Baffert decided he would “wait for the next one” and scratched the great filly Dream Tree out of the Santa Ysabel Stakes. As a result of the scratch, we didn’t get to see the drop dead gorgeous Uncle Mo filly — who is a perfect 4-for-4 — match up with Midnight Bisou in what might have been a preview to this year’s Kentucky Oaks. While it probably was the right thing to do, it still was a “loss” for those of us who have become real fans of Dream Tree. While the “time freaks” and “speed figs experts” say that they can’t wait to bet against her, I can tell you right now that I can’t wait to bet on her when she can get some decent odds. In fact, while I am not a strong supporter of running fillies against colts, I think Dream Tree could add a lot of talent and intrigue into this year’s Kentucky Derby discussions, if the connections were so inclined. Especially if the boys don’t start to distinguish themselves a little more consistently and better in the near future. Come on Bob, give it some thought?