The Kentucky Derby prep season really gets underway Saturday with three prep races taking place. All three prep races have 17 points available with a breakdown of 10-4-2-1.
The Lewis (Santa Anita), Holy Bull (Gulfstream) and Withers (Aqueduct) are taking place.
This is the first time we may see several potential Derby runners. Following is a breakdown of all three races in order of post time, first to last! All times are west coast.
Withers (1:30 p.m.): I have never been a fan of the New York preps and have said so in these columns over the years. The top trainers in the area send their better horses south to Florida where the weather is a heck of a lot better. The winters are brutal in New York, so to me the horses that train and race there suffer more than horses that train and race and in warmer states. How can you expect that weather not to take its toll?
All that being said, I like Moretti (3-1) out of the Todd Pletcher barn. My level of concern is that Pletcher usually sends his best horses south for the winter. Moretti, ridden by Manuel Franco, has one win in two starts. His maiden effort saw him brush the gate at the start, but then come back to run a solid second. He had a bit of trouble in his second start but came on to win by over three lengths. Both starts have come at Aqueduct and I think he is sitting on a big one.
Tax (2-1) is the morning line favorite out of the Danny Gargan barn. He won his second start in an open claimer at Keeneland and was claimed. His next start was the Grade II Remsen at Aqueduct in early December when he ran third. The reason he is the favorite is that start in a graded race as opposed to a maiden race.
Lucky Lee (7-2) is the third choice for John Servis. After a poor debut back in September, he came back with a five-length, then a six-length win at Parx. Frankie Pennington has the call on the horse who will be seeing the toughest field he has faced.
One more to watch is Not That Brady (4-1). Rudy Rodriguez is the conditioner for the horse that has two wins in the five starts, both coming at Aqueduct. The last was an impressive three-length win in the Damon Runyon in late December. Reylu Gutierrez gets the call.
Holy Bull (2:13 p.m.): I always take a good look at all the preps at Gulfstream and this no exception. This is a loaded field and should be a great race.
Maximus Mischief (1-1) is your even-money morning line favorite with good reason. The winner of all three of his starts, including the Remsen he picks up the services of Jose Ortiz for trainer Robert Reid. He shipped south for the winter and had a sizzling work over the track on January 19. This is the one to beat.
Mihos (5-2) is the second choice for James Jerkins and John Velazquez. Three starts, two wins, including a stakes race over the Gulfstream surface in his last start.
Federal Case (6-1) is another Pletcher runner and has won both of his starts. Pletcher has Javier Castellano up for this $650,000 horse and could be the value play of the race, although I don’t anticipate 6-1 by the time they go to post. Three great works, including a pair of bullet works heading into the race.
Those three are the lone horses in single digit morning line odds. One longshot I am looking at, perhaps not to win, but to hit the board, is Harvey Wallbanger (15-1). The Kenneth McPeek runner has one win in four starts, running second in his other three starts. He burned cash as the prohibitive favorite in two of the last three starts, but he picked up Brian Hernandez in his last start and got the win. Hernandez is back up here and he might be worth a good look.
Robert B. Lewis (2:53 p.m.): I always give a lot of importance to all the preps at Santa Anita and this is no different. Only a six-horse field, it’s still a very good race.
The horse I am the most interested in is Gunmetal Gray (9-5) from the Jerry Hollendorfer barn. He came into the Grade III Sham with only one win in four starts, but then turned in an impressive stretch run to pull off the win. Mike Smith returns to ride again and will be interesting to see which horse shows up – the one beaten by 12 lengths in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile or the late running winner of the Sham.
Mucho Gusto (8-5) is your morning line favorite for Bob Baffert and Joe Talamo. Talamo has been up for all three starts and has a pair of wins. In his most recent start he has second in the Los Alamitos Futurity, beaten by five lengths by Improbable. He’s been off since December 8 so it will be interesting to see if he’s ready to run.
Nolo Contesto (5-2) is coming off a straight maiden score for John Sadler on January 4. Joel Rosario has been up for both starts and will have the mount here.
By Dennis Miller