Winners, Losers & In-Betweeners: The Last Hump on the Road to the KY Derby

(My Boy Jack gets up in time to win the Lexington Stakes over Telekinesis / Photo Courtesy of Keeneland)

Well, the last of the prep races are over for the upcoming, 2018 Kentucky Derby. All the points have been tallied. All the planning has been planned. Now, all that is left are a few anxious days, nights and weeks ahead to get to that First Saturday in May.

Maybe a few horses with the necessary points may develop an issue or two, and will be scratched by their respective connections from consideration for the “Run for the Roses.” Maybe a few of those that are currently in the Top 20 will not be pushed, shoved, consoled, or babied into the “Big Race,” after all. Maybe there will be a little wiggle room for those on the cusp, the bubble, the borderline.

After all, it was reported today that Runaway Ghost, winner of the Sunland Derby in his last race had developed a bit of a shin issue, and was no longer under consideration for the Derby. Perhaps, there will be other defections between now, and the playing of “My Old Kentucky Home,” on that Derby Day.

But, for all intents and purposes, the field is nearly set. Are they ready? Are they on go? Time will tell. But after Saturday’s running of the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park and the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland, there are no more options to garner enough points to “earn” one’s way into the Derby. Now, anyone outside of that comfort zone will have to wait, wiggle, worry, and wish.

No matter, though, there still were some “Winners, Losers, and In-Betweeners” on and after Saturday’s last ditched attempts for Derby dollars. Here is a closer look at our list:

Winners:

  1. My Boy Jack: Without a single doubt, this son of Creative Cause may have been the biggest “winner” on Saturday. The dark bay colt, who looks like a million bucks with the taxes already paid, put on a show and a late run that made the racing world take full notice when he got up in the final strides to nip a promising colt at the wire to win the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland and earn his way into this year’s Derby. The only reason My Boy Jack was even in the Lexington Stakes was because the connections knew that they may need the points to get in the Derby. And, the only reason to run in the race was to win it. After all, My Boy Jack had to either win or run second to get enough points to put him out of harm’s way. And, that’s just what this guy did. He ran. And, he won. Impressively. Despite the margin, he won convincingly. And, with all the things stacked up against him, he won amazingly. Going into the race on Saturday, My Boy Jack had two huge obstacles working against him — in addition to a stellar field of wannabes. First of all, he drew the far outside post at a racetrack that has been far from kind to those posted up that far from the rail. With a short run to the first turn, jockey Kent Desormeaux had to do a masterful job of negotiating his way to avoid traffic and a wide route. The man did both. Secondly, My Boy Jack is a determined closer on a racetrack that has not been kind to those trying to run from well off the pace this meet, either. With a short run to the first finish line in the 11/16-mile configuration, jockey Kent Desormeaux had to do a masterful job of negotiating his colt into full running gear entering the final turn — rather than coming out of it. He had to do a masterful job of getting his colt a clear run towards the rail-skimming leaders to have a shot. The man did both. I have often written and said that Desormeaux — when he his fully engaged and motivated — reminds me, from time to time, of the great Louisiana rider Eddie Delahoussaye . “Eddie D” was one of the best riders in the world and winner of the Kentucky Derby in the back-to-back years of 1982 and 1983. Delahoussaye won the ’82 Derby aboard the late-closing Gato Del Sol for Arthur Hancock. He came back a year later and won the ’83 Derby on Sunny’s Halo. Delahoussaye could ride a closer like it was nobody’s business. On Saturday, “Kent D” did the same thing. And, he sent a message that both he and his steed may be a force to be reckoned with on the First Saturday in May. If they could overcome the obstacles they faced this past Saturday — like they proved they could — they certainly could, potentially, do the same thing at Churchill Downs. And, wouldn’t it be fun to see a horse come out of the Lexington Stakes and win the Kentucky Derby? And defeat these new fangled ideas that you have to have 6 to 7 weeks in-between races? I’ll answer that for you. Hell, yes.
  2. Telekinesis: On Saturday, this son of Ghostzapper was making just his third career start; his second trip around two turns; and his Stakes debut in the G3 Stonestreet Lexington Stakes. He had one win sprinting. He had one third place finish, while tiring against older colts going a route for the first time. And, he had aspirations of the Lexington Stakes host sponsor riding on his back, as well. The inexperienced youngster nearly pulled off the win that would have enabled his owner, Barbara Banke, the opportunity to hand the trophy to herself. After skimming the rail most of the way, jockey Javier Castellano — who is riding as good right now as he has ever in his Hall of Fame career — shot the colt through a tiny opening on the rail and looked to be headed to a sure-thing win in the Lexington. Deep into the stretch, he was leading and his was willing. If not for the heroics of My Boy Jack and his talented rider, Telekinesis would have been the one to make his way to the infield grass for the victory celebration and a reunion with his owner. Despite the head loss, though, Telekinesis — who has been highly touted all Winter/Spring while wintering down at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans — delivered a shot over the bow of all those that will be matriculating to Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby. The good Lord willing and the he comes out of the race in good order, Telekinesis is sure to be waiting on the top Derby contenders and finishers in Baltimore for the Preakness Stakes. For once, a highly touted colt just may turn out to be as good as the projections. And, the best 3YO colt in the country who didn’t race as a 2YO? It may not turn out to be either Justify or Magnum Moon. It just may be Telekinesis. Stay tuned. This story is sure to develop.
  3. Noble Indy: He didn’t run on Saturday for trainer Todd Pletcher. He didn’t need to, and he didn’t have to, either. After winning the Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds, Noble Indy was safely and comfortably in the field for this year’s Kentucky Derby. But he emerged a winner on Saturday, no matter what. You see, in his last race, he nipped My Boy Jack by a neck and another 1/2-length. He did it with spirit, energy, guts and a re-rally along the rail that one rarely sees in a youngster at this time of his career. While most people may be drawn to any number of Pletcher’s Team for this year’s Derby, I will be concentrating and watching this one. While most handicappers and bettors may focus on Florida Derby winner Audible; or Saturday’s undefeated winner of the Arkansas Derby in Magnum Moon; or on Vino Rosso, the controversial winner of this year’s Wood Memorial, I think the stock of Noble Indy went higher this weekend. And, he didn’t even have to run to do it.
  4. Keeneland Sales Company: Of the leading contenders for this year’s Kentucky Derby, 13 of the top 21 on the “points list” are Keeneland Sales grads. Remarkable, really. The fact that Keeneland can identify, recruit and sell that many of the world’s top 3-year-olds just demonstrates the dominance and the reputation that the company holds in the international marketplace. Just consider: Magnum Moon, Good Magic, Vino Rosso, Mendelssohn, Justify, Flameaway, Solomini, My Boy Jack, Promises Fulfilled, Free Drop Billy, Lone Sailor, Gronkowski, and Combatant (21st right now) all were sold at the beautiful mecca of Thoroughbreds sales. Remarkable, really. Remarkable.

In-Betweeners:

  1. Magnum Moon: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know the son of Malibu Moon stayed undefeated on Saturday and rolled to victory over the likes of Quip and Solomini in the Arkansas Derby. I know he ran his record to an impressive 4-for-4, with all of his wins and races coming this year. And, I know that he has easily won all four of those races by a combined 14 lengths. The closest any horse has ever come to this one is 2 lengths, and he was gearing down at the wire of that one. I know all those things. But I also know three important factors, as well. One, no horse has won the Kentucky Derby in some 134 years that didn’t have at least one race as a 2-year-old. I am just not of the opinion that this colt is the one to break that little snap. Two, this colt is out of the Unbridled’s Song mare Dazzling Song. She never made it to the races. (Before you get you’re riding pants in a tizzy, I know that her dam, by Giant’s Causeway, did win three races, and won a G3 Stakes at Belmont Park.) Third, Magnum Moon drifted out considerably in the final stages of the Arkansas Derby. There could be a number of reasons for that behavior. He could have been spooked by something nearing the wire, including patrons in the infield, which I am sure he has never seen before. He could have seen something on the track that he didn’t like. He could have been tiring mightily in the final strides of the 11/8-mile race. Doesn’t matter much for the reason. What matters is that he did it. There will be over 150,000 people at Churchill Downs on the First Saturday in May. The racetrack will have all kinds of distractions. And, the stretch drive of this 11/4-mile marathon will look — and feel — like an endurance test that will never end. I don’t like the combination of all three of those factors. And, to be honest, it mitigates what he accomplished on Saturday as far as my enthusiasm for the Kentucky Derby.
  2. Quip: This son of Distorted Humor ran a game second to Magnum Moon in the Arkansas Derby. In four of his five career starts, this one has three wins and a runner-up to an undefeated horse. The only time he was off the board was in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs last November. He was steadied mightily at the 5/16ths pole in that one, and really lost all chance. But the fact that he broke his maiden at Churchill Downs last September shows me that this one does like the track in Louisville. I really think this guy may be one of the most game runners in this year’s field. His victory over the gutty Flameaway in the Tampa Bay Derby is another indicator of that fact. It would have been nice to see Quip narrow the gap on Magnum Moon late, especially when that one went to wandering in the final yards. It would have been nice to see Quip put up a bit more fight and grit in the closing strides. But, by then, he was already safely in the field for this year’s Derby, and one wonders if there was anything to be gained by gutting him in the end of this one? If you like Magnum Moon, I think this one has to figure in your end-game analysis.
  3. Adam Beschizza: This imported rider from Great Britain had a great meet at the Fair Grounds this winter, nearly winning the riding championship in his first, regular, consistent state-side visit. Going into Sunday’s racing at Keeneland, he had gotten just 22 mounts. He had a record of 3-3-2 and won his first Stakes when he guided Triple Chelsea to victory in the $100,000 Giant’s Causeway Stakes to victory over the great Lady Aurelia and Morticia. If you are looking for a guy who gives everything he has on a horse, give his agent Lizzy Morris a ring. This guy would be a heckuva feel-good story Derby week. And, the fact that he can ride? Well, that’s a bonus.

Losers:

  1. Solomini: I was really looking — and hoping/betting — for more in the Arkansas Derby. I really thought the rider, Flavien Prat, compromised him in the Rebel Stakes, when he was stuck on a dead rail throughout that affair. On Saturday, Prat went to the other extreme. He had the son of Curlin wide throughout the 11/8-mile race, while the undefeated winner skimmed the rail throughout. No telling how many yards, feet Prat yielded this time, but it was considerable. Still, at the end, the winner was skipping away. Solomini did finish just a head behind Quip, who was second throughout and had a better trip. That is a bright spot for any of you looking for one. But he only finished a head in front of Combatant and less than 1/2-length in front of Tenfold — both of whom are not in the mix for the Derby right now. (Combatant is currently 21st on the points list and must need a scratch or a defection to get in.) Saturday was a chance for this one to stamp his legitimacy. He missed it. And, he didn’t run on at the end like a horse that wanted any part of a 11/4-mile endurance test. Sorry. I tried like hell to like you. Maybe you have saved it for the Derby. Maybe.

Believe in Royalty has always been a colt that (trainer) Larry (Jones) thought time would greatly benefit. He’s always shown talent, but now the game is starting to slow down for him and he’s really starting to understand that life is more fun when you get to the wire first. He’s coming into the race at his best to date and hopefully we can come out of it with a really exciting 3-year-old prospect on our hands.

Bret Jones, of Airdrie Stud, regarding the highly touted 2YO prospect Believe in Royalty, who will run next in the Springboard Mile at Remington Park
  • 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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