The world has changed since the last Derby Dozen, and that isn’t hyperbole. COVID-19 has altered life in ways most of us would not have thought possible outside a dystopian young adult novel. Personally, my first convention appearance as a novelist was canceled followed by seemingly the entire sporting world and society shutting down. And let’s not forget, April is one of the best months on the calendar for sports. NBA playoffs begin, the NCAA Final Four, NFL draft, the Masters, NHL playoffs, MLB opening day and the final set of Kentucky Derby preps. All are now gone, either canceled outright or postponed indefinitely. Well, except the draft. Presumably, that still goes on in some online capacity like a YAHOO fantasy football snake draft.
Churchill Downs has taken the radical approach of moving the Derby to September 5th. That makes the race no longer THE Kentucky Derby but a G1 being held in Kentucky. NYRA can’t be pleased. This would blow up their Saratoga schedule and virtually kill the Belmont if they move it, which I don’t think they will unless NBC and the TV money makes them. Safe to say these are interesting times. But Haskin forges on and so must I. Unlike the real 3yos, most of whom on the Derby trail won’t be in good form or healthy come September, our virtual ones will go into the gate as scheduled this May.
- Divisidario (Carpe Diem x Pulpit) trained by johnk. There wasn’t much movement on the list as only three horses from the dozen ran. Divisidario will need a top 2 finish in a G1 to get into the Bluegrass Derby. Finish 3rd and he may leave too much to chance. His path is clear and it all comes down to his next race. If he comes up short, he’ll go the URC Derby as the favorite. I would say heavy favorite, but in a big field, you never know. Everyone else is trying to win too.
- NYSP Sergeant (More Than Ready x Deputy Minister) trained by doodlegsbs. With few exceptions, all the sires on the dozen are stallions you’ve heard of. We really don’t have a New Year’s Day lingering around. NYSP will need a Derby Lock win to make it to the Bluegrass. He’s never gone past 8 so he’ll have major questions to answer in his next race. A poor effort could knock him off the dozen. He’s run so much at a mile you really wish he had more of a distance foundation. NYSP does have the pedigree on paper with a Deputy Minister x AP Indy backend. Facing both a class and distance upgrade next time out will be a massive test.
- Running With Beto (Constitution x Galileo) trained by waremblem5. Scheduled to face a slew of Dan’s 3yos in the G1 Partnership, Beto will be looking for Hail Mary win. Although not a lock, the bonanza of G1 stakes points should be enough to put him in the Bluegrass. Showed some aptitude at the distance and the field will be the easiest G1 he’ll ever face. Likely to tease but fall short. I’m hoping for a triple-digit SP which would set him up nicely for the URC Derby.
- Detract (Curlin x War Chant) trained by robd. In the same boat as the others listed here needing a superior performance in G1 company to carry on. Dispelled doubts about his distance limitations and seems set up to progress. This is about the time Curlin’s start rolling. All signs indicate he’s peaking at the right time.
- Titanic Ghost (California Chrome x Smart Strike) trained by punter34. He’s run two straight 100+ SPs which no one else here has done. If he doubles up at another G1 at 9 will he register a 3rd? So much to like about this horse you really want to see him do well. On paper, he has all the tools. That said, another off the board finish in his final prep wouldn’t surprise me. His sire can be vexing in the SIM teasing you with flashes then dumping cold water on your head.
- NYSP Trooper (Distorted Humor x Seattle Slew) trained by doodlegsbs. Our first movement in the dozen comes from the second NYSP horse. He jumps up a spot based on his 3rd place finish in the Sewing the Thumb at 8.5 furlongs. This is a decent rebound from his poor showing in the Risen Star. He went from a 94 to a 97. While he was a non-factor to win finishing 7 1/2 lengths behind he was closing at the end. That’s something to pay attention to as he’s never been past 8.5. I do like doubling up at 8.5 and I’d expect him to have his best race of the year next time out. He’s been well trained and is coming along. Has the pedigree now must answer, is he good enough?
- Pancakes and Beer (Mineshaft x Tapit) trained by pboy. Has come along well and now will face the stakes test. Nothing to do now but wait and see how he handles the class jump. A top 3 will give trainer some questions to think about as several of his horses are putting together like resumes making the choice on who wears the colors in the URC Derby a tough call.
- Allegory of Spring (Cupid x Storm Cat) trained by lindsypark. Jumps two spots based on his 102 in graded company. Well-raced with ten starts can be both a boon and a bust at this stage. Have we seen the best of him? Been on the board 7 of 10 times. That too can be read glass half-empty and half-full since he’s only won twice. I’d like to see a win in his final prep, I know its only a number but 2 for 11 wouldn’t inspire confidence Derby day.
- Turkey King (Daiwa Major x Frankel) trained by pboy. Probably the most unorthodox pedigree to make the dozen Turkey King makes his debut on the dozen based on a 3rd place finish in the Tom E Nearctic stakes. He doubled up at 9.5 going from maiden to stakes. He dropped two 2 SP but was closing like a freight train (riding like an aeroplane) losing only by 1/2 a length. I’m impressed with this effort both because he handled the class jump and how he finished the race. I’d expect further improvement next time. Turkey King is running out of time and still only has a maiden win but there could be a lot to look forward to with this one.
- Antarctika (Astern x Storm Cat) trained by waremblem5. Two back he won at Oaklawn by 6 1/2 which put him on this list. SP was a pedestrian 66 but you can’t always tell how fast they are going when they win by that much. I sent him back to Oaklawn this past weekend and winning again that SP went up 32 points to a 98. His times are now getting there. With a Storm Cat x Seeking the Gold backend he has distance issues to deal with and not much time to sort them out. Frankly, he’s exceeded my expectations and I didn’t believe he’d be here. It could still all be a mirage and he’ll be wiped out next race. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there. He’s slated to try 9 in open company next. If he runs top 2 he could, quite improbably, be my URC Derby runner.
- Always Texas (Texas Red x Awesome Again) trained by johnk. Holding here while we await his class test. Both Astern and Texas Red have that New Year’s Day quality so if you’re looking for underdog inspiring stories we have covered here in the 10 and 11 spots.
- Rumaana (Drosselmeyer x Harbinger) trained by johnk. Honestly, I don’t know what to make of this horse. He’s 5 for 6 with a stakes win but he’s like one of those boxers who has an inflated record from beating a bunch of club fighters. Rumaana has won 4 HOT races and the stakes win was restricted where he beat his trainer’s other horses including six claimers. And yet, he still wins. The one time he has faced open company he finished 7th out of 10 in the Kentucky Juvenile Stakes. To say he’s been handled with kid gloves is an understatement. Must prove he can beat someone good.
Coming and Going
Two horses dropped out of the dozen, Sense of Thunder fell from 8th after running 5th in an allowance after breaking his maiden. So many steps can trip up a horse. Other horses passed Kymard Persav. Justify finally makes some noise with Just Wild who had a 3rd place open stakes finish. Might be better in June though. Forest Costa ran 11th in a G2 and after two straight poor graded efforts, his fight may be over. Khaliwaki was unsuccessful in his stakes effort finishing 5th. Both Vertical Threat and Superbowl LIII tried to go from maiden wins to stakes and had poor results.