As we are just about done with the February Kentucky Derby prep races – only the Fountain of Youth is left at Gulfstream on February 29 – let’s look at how the preps have taken shape recently and talk about some of the leading contenders.
Right now, the leaderboard looks like this with the top ten: Mr. Monomoy (52 points), Modernist (50), Enforceable (33), Storm the Court (22), Tiz the Law (22), Silver Prospector (21), Thousand Words (20), and Major Fed (20) in the top nine. Silver State, Independence Hall, Shotski, and Azul Coast are all in at 14 points.
So basically, the only horses so far that have pretty much locked up a spot in the Derby are Mr. Monomoy and Modernist.
Mr. Monomoy was the winner of the first division of the Risen Star on February 15 at the Fair Grounds. The track was a conveyor belt that day and Mr. Monomoy got an easy lead, beat back a challenge from Blackberry Wine on the far turn, then cruised home for the almost thee-length win.
At this point, I wouldn’t get too carried away with the horse as there will be plenty of speed when the first Saturday in May rolls around. On the positive side, he’s likely already earned a spot in the field and could use the Louisiana Derby to solidify their Derby strategy without having to win the race.
I like the second-place finisher Enforceable more at this point as no one was coming from off the lead that day, whereas in the Derby figure he will have plenty of room to track down the front runners. That was a solid second on that track.
Modernist also benefited from the speed bias when he took the second division of the Risen Star. This was a slower race than the first, but Modernist is another of what appears to the speed horses moving on to Kentucky.
The biggest disappointment out of the race was the poor ninth place showing of Northern California Anneau d’Or. I am guessing we see the Blaine Wright runner take another shot at a prep – possibly Sunland – but he will have a lot to prove.
Silver Prospector is a horse that I continued to like even after a fourth in the Smarty Jones on opening day in late January at Oaklawn Park. Heading into the Southwest on President’s Day, the horse was a tad bit overlooked, but gained some serious redemption with the win.
He got a good pace to stalk front runner Wells Bayou and appeared to be full of run when they turned for home. The race was almost as quick as Grade III Razorback for older horses run on the same day. I like the horses with the stalking style for the Derby – I like deep closers as well – but 20 horses are a lot to work your through in the lane.
The El Camino Real at Golden Gate Fields featured an automatic spot in the Preakness to the winner and was won easily by Azul Coast, one of the loaded runners of the Bob Baffert barn.
After finishing second in the Sham at Santa Anita, Baffert made the decision to send the horse north for the easier spot on the surface that Baffert calls “the brown turf,” and he prevailed easily.
Still what perplexed me is how Baffert was less than convincing in his praise of the horse following the race. He has so many bullets in the holster, one must wonder where Azul Coast stands on Baffert’s pecking order. Could Baffert be content to let the horse gradually come along and point to the Preakness.
I am guessing he gives the horse another prep race – possibly Sunland – to make a run at Kentucky, but it just seems like he may have other plans.
Right now, Baffert is saddling Nadal, Authentic, Thousand Words, and High Velocity, all of whom have been mentioned as Derby contenders. But the biggest buzz around Baffert’s runners is Charlatan, a horse that just won a straight maiden race at Santa Anita on February 16, barely missing on the six-furlong track record.
The buzz has been so great that he’s already racking up several believers. I say pump the breaks some here. Yes, the horse appears very talented and certainly looks the part, but let’s keep in mind he has yet to go two turns and his win was in a four-horse field. Could he be the monster he looks like? Sure, but I want to see one more. And as Baffert likes to spread out his runners let’s see where the horse ends up next.
That’s it for now, but we will check back in after the Fountain of Youth for a look at what will be a big March!
By Dennis Miller