There are three Kentucky Derby prep races on Saturday, kicking off what promises to be an exciting road to the Derby this year.

The Withers (Aqueduct), Holy Bull (Gulfstream) and Lewis (Santa Anita) are the three races. This is what I consider the first true prep weekend and sets the rotation for the races right up to the Derby on May 5.

Following is a breakdown of three races in order of post-time

Withers (8th Aqueduct, 1:35 p.m. post): Only six horses – three are from the Todd Pletcher barn – in the race and I still stand on my point that the New York preps are the least strong of the main states for preps – Florida, California, Arkansas and Louisiana being the others.

There are two heavy favorites here is Avery Island (8-5) and Firenze Fire (9-5). Avery Island has won twice in four starts and is coming off a second-place finish in the Remsen over the Aqueduct track.

Firenze Fire has won four of six starts, including a win in the Jerome his last start over a muddy track. It was a solid comeback after finishing well beaten (7th by 20 lengths) in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

Marconi is 3-1 for the Pletcher barn. This is a horse that may have the most upside. After a second in his debut, Marconi came back to score by over five lengths is his second start. A $2 million purchase, this one could be one to watch down the line as well. A big performance here and Pletcher may ship south.

Robert B. Lewis (5th Santa Anita, 2:30 p.m.): An uninspiring race for a Kentucky Derby prep at Santa Anita. Most of the “big name” West Coast runners are sitting this one out, most likely waiting for the San Felipe on March 10.

One horse of interest to me is Peace (3-1), out of the Richard Mandella barn. There has been a buzz coming from the backside about the sheer beauty of the horse. He has one win in three starts but has improved with each effort.

Shivermetimbers (7-2), trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, is another drawing interest, but with only one win in four starts, he has some work to do. He is coming off a fourth-place finish in the Sham.

I have to be honest, nothing else in this field jumped off the page to me as a must-watch runner.

Holy Bull (12th Gulfstream, 2:49 p.m.): The best race of the day is also the last of the three prep races. There are 11 horses set to go here and no less than five of them should be considered early Derby contenders.

Starting at the top is Enticed (3-1). Out of the Kiaran McLaughlin barn, the horse has won twice in three starts, with his last effort a win in the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs back in late November. He’s been off since then.

Tiz Mischief (4-1) was second to Enticed in Kentucky and has also been off since then. Dale Romans trains the horse that has put together a nice series of works for the return.

Mississippi (5-1) looks to be a solid runner out of the Mark Casse barn. He is coming off a second in an optional claimer at Gulfstream and has drawn the No. 11 post, but I am excited to see how he does. It’s a short run to the first turn, so Mississippi is behind the eight-ball right off the bat.

Audible (6-1) is another Pletcher horse and is one I like this early. The horse has won two straight, including a 9-lenth win in his last start in an optional claimer. Javier Castellano takes the mount over riding Marconi in New York, so that stands for something.

Free Drop Billy (6-1) is another that look ready to run. One of Roman’s four horses in the race, the horse has been running since June of last year and is coming off a horrible finish in the Juvenile. A solid work tab and some time off may make a difference, but we will have to see.


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