(Kanthaka wins San Vincente Stakes / Photo Courtesy of Santa Anita)

On Saturday, the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” — 2018 edition — took another giant stride toward Louisville and the Twin Spires. In the second wake, I think that we have found out some possible contenders, who have been found worthy to take the next logical step; we have weeded out, perhaps, some pretenders, who have been found wanting; and we have found some horses that have certainly piqued the interest and have left us wanting to see more.

Here is our look at some of the Saturday’s winners, losers, and in-betweeners:

Winners:

  1. Kanthaka. Of all the horses that performed on Saturday, Kanthaka may have been the most impressive. Not for winning the 7-furlong San Vincente, necessarily. Not by bypassing the super-exhausted Ax Man, who dueled through suicide fractions with the Minnesota-bred Mr. Jagermeister. Not for trouncing the “other” Bob Baffert horse in the race, Nero. The most impressive thing, was how Kanthaka did it. Howfor the second straight race, he found his best running gear coming out of the turn. How he flourished the farther he went and how he flushed the rest of his competition down the drain. The colt is by Jimmy Creed, a son of Distorted Humor. Like his father before him, some may have wondered if Jimmy Creed — a Grade 1 winning sprinter — could sire a horse that could go a route of ground. And, that question has yet to be answered fully. And, his mom is an unraced daughter of Noonmark, and the entire dam side of the equation is nothing to write home about. But there are “buts,” here: But, Jimmy Creed got off to a fantastic start at stud, fathering 20 first-crop winners a year ago. But, Distorted Humor, who only won one race at a mile — the G3 Salvator Mile as a 4YO — and never won a race any farther, is the sire of the likes of Drosselmeyer, Funny Cide, and Flower Alley. But, Distorted Humor is the broodmare sire of the dam of the great Arrogate, and the fine filly Elate. And, nobody ever questioned the durability of those chaps. The breeding line may certainly be a question that lingers. But, there was no question about his 31/4-length victory on Saturday. He was impressive. And, trainer Jerry Hollendorfer is nobody’s dummy. Have to see more, but this guy made us watch and take notice on Saturday.
  2. Flameaway. A son of the versatile, popular and very successful sire Scat Daddy (who left us way too soon, and, perhaps, in the twilight of his career as a stallion) has already demonstrated three very solid qualities as a racehorse. One, he has speed. A year ago, he broke his maiden on debut at 41/2 furlongs, and also won going 51/2 furlongs. Two, he is very versatile. After breaking the maiden over the all-weather track at Woodbine, he won on the dirt at Saratoga, and captured the G3 Dixiana Bourbon Stakes at Keeneland, when it was moved off the turf due to wet conditions. On Jan. 6 of this year, he won the Kitten’s Joy Stakes at Gulfstream Park for his first victory over the grass. Three, this guy is tough as they come. After his first clunker came in the G3 Iroquois Stakes at Churchill last September, he came right back to bump and grind his way to the win by a nose in the Bourbon. After a clunker in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, his first race ever over grass, he came right back to win over that surface in the Kitten’s Joy by a neck. On Saturday, when all the hype and eyes were on Catholic Boy, Flameaway was not about to let anyone pass him late in the 11/16-mile contest — holding off the heavy favorite by a half-length. Those are three qualities that come in handy when you have designs on running for and in the Kentucky Derby. This guy still has a ways to go to prove he belongs in that group, but he took a giant step forward on Saturday.
  3. Catholic Boy. OK. OK. OK. In our world of today — when our patience is about as long as a horse’s nose, and when we want instant gratification every, single time a horse runs — Catholic Boy may have disappointed you on Saturday. After all, as the odds-on favorite and the superstar of tomorrow, she was supposed to have passed Flameaway in the stretch, right? After all, he was supposed to have dominated this bunch in his 2018 debut, right? He certainly can’t be classified as a “winner,” right? Wrong. I think the guy did everything right except win the race — against a very nice horse who already had a win under his belt this year. Just remember, and take into consideration three things: One, Catholic Boy came into the Sam F. Davis off of just four published works since his impressive victory in the G2 Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct back on Dec. 2, 2017. Half of those workouts were not even at a racetrack, but at the Bridlewood Farm training center. No matter how good the training track is, it is not a racetrack and you simply can’t get as fit there as you can over the real deal. And, the farthest that Catholic Boy had trained going into Saturday’s Sam F. Davis was 5-furlongs.  On Saturday, he raced 8.5 furlongs. To be honest guys, he wasn’t supposed to be wound tight. Two, Catholic Boy was not hurried in the early going, and was able to take back and relax perfectly before taking aim at the top of the stretch. In fact, it appeared — for just a second — he even headed the leader and eventual winner about an 1/8th of a mile to go. But Flameaway resisted and retaliated on a speed-favoring track — which had been wound tight for Saturday’s performances. And, while making the lead from get to go, Flameaway was able to carve out fractions that didn’t excel or burn — like :24.18, :47.73, 1:11.25 and 1:36.06. When it came running time, Catholic Boy ran. Flameaway was just fitter, and, for a day, better. Tip your hat. But tip it to both. Third, while the TVG commentators could not wait to ooh, ahh, and gush over Vino Rosso — yet another 3YO from the barn of Todd Pletcher — that one was never, ever, ever going to get by Catholic Boy on Saturday. As in, ever. Vino Rosso may turn out to be OK. In fact, he may turn out to be better than OK. But if you liked that one on Saturday, you had to like the one who beat him. And, ran by him — with ease. In short, you have to like Catholic Boy. I can wait for the Tampa Bay Derby. And, I will like Catholic Boy there, too.

In-Betweeners:

  1. Madison’s Luna. Unless you tuned in to the coverage of Tampa Bay early on Saturday, you probably missed this one’s run — on debut — in the 5th race at 61/2 furlongs over the dirt track. If you missed it, do yourself a favor and go watch the replay. It may have been the best race of the day for the 3YO colts. Anywhere. Madison’s Luna, a son of Tapit (who may have been a bargain basement buy at $400,000 at Keeneland September 2016), ran like a superstar in the making. He broke sharply; laid just off the lead, and then fired to an impressive 11/4-length victory over a colt that appears to be super talented, too, in Getyourmindright. The duo set fractions of :22.2, :44.3 and went 6 furlongs in a brisk 1:09.3. The final time of 1:15.76 was just a smidge off the track record. Not bad for a first timer. Keep an eye out on this one, owned by the Rigney Racing Stables and trained by Phillip Bauer. Obviously, his daddy could run and has now become the game’s top sire. His momma, Scarlet Tango, was Stakes Placed and the second dam was Graded Stakes Placed , Silver Tango, by running second in the G3 Pimlico Oaks. Madison’s Luna has game.
  2. Getyourmindright. This son of Stormy Atlantic has run two super races to date and has two seconds to show for it. Tough luck. On debut, Jan. 20 at Tampa, he ran second to a Pletcher-trained by the name of Gleason. (If you are looking for one to step up out of the Pletcher barn, take a longer look at this one. This guy can motor.) On Saturday, he ran second to Madison’s Luna. While beaten 11/4 lengths, Getyourmindright aired the third-place finisher by over 10 lengths. On both occasions, Getyourmindright set all the early fractions and did so impressively. The questions about this one are whether he can stretch that speed out, and, if he would really prefer the turf. Time will only tell, but the young man training this one — Stephen Lyster — is just one good horse away from making it to the top of the game. And, this colt could be it.  If I were you, I wouldn’t discount this one. He has speed and he has “the look.”
  3. Vino Rosso. In three starts to date, this son of Curlin has posted two wins and a fast-closing third to Flameaway and Catholic Boy in Saturday’s Sam F. Davis. There is no doubt that this one will become the “Wow & Now” horse after Saturday, considering all the connections. And, why not? He hasn’t done much wrong to date, and he appears to have a ton of upside. After all, the first two wins came at one turn, 7-furlong distances, and he was stretched out to two turns for the first time in the Sam F. Davis. After all, he is a son of Curlin, who just so happens to be the sire of 2017 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Good Magic, and the likes of two-time champion mare Stellar Wind, Belmont Stakes runner-up Irish War Cry, and Preakness Stakes champ Exaggerator. And, after all, he is trained by Pletcher — who won last year’s Derby with Always Dreaming. I think you have to put him on the board and in the mix. Next?

Losers:

  1. Hollywood Star. As is our custom, we won’t spend a lot of time with these guys. After their respective performances on Saturday, they don’t deserve much. And, Hollywood Star was so disappointing in his 2018 debut that he fits perfectly into this category. It has been a tough couple of weeks for the barn of Dale Romans and the Albaugh Family Stables. First, it was discovered that the highly touted Dak Attack is suffering from a lingering shin injury again and he will be taken off the Triple Crown trail. Now, this? On Saturday, Hollywood Star — a son of Malibu Moon and runner-up in both the G2 Saratoga Special and the G3 Iroquois Stakes last year — never appeared comfortable, interested, engaged, or, running. He was beaten over 10 lengths in a totally uninspired effort. Drawing Board? Here it comes.
  2. Ax Man. Going into Saturday’s G2 San Vicente Stakes, this guy was the talk of the town and the latest great thing to emerge from the headquarters of Bob Baffert. He won on debut Jan. 1 in a spectacular performance, running off to a 91/2-length power jam over 6 furlongs on the dirt. And, the son of Misremembered returned to the work tab with style, posting 4 impressive morning moves. Saturday’s performance was impressive. For about 4 furlongs. He went head to head with speedster Mr. Jagermeister through early fractions of :22 and :44.25. And, that was that. The latter retreated to last. Ax Man was beaten over 16 lengths. Can you say “sprinter.”
  3. Nero. This son of Pioneerof the Nile cost $950,000 as a yearling. And, he has two seconds and a win in just three starts to date — including a runner-up to Kanthaka in the San Vincente Stakes on Saturday. Certainly, he has promise. But I would not promise you that he can stay on the Derby trail. He was well-beaten and never a real threat on Saturday. Not the type of performance that would inspire confidence. Time to move along.