It’s that time of the year when every trainer with a good three year old gets Bluegrass Derby dreams. This weekend there are three Derby Lock Preps across the sim-country – the Wooden Indian in the East, the Corkscrew in the Midwest and the California Derby out West. Here we are focusing on the California Derby which features a diverse field in both experience and pedigrees. Several of the trainers have taken the time to discuss their feelings on their horses and the rest of the field. A number of runners have run fast speeds already but this is the time of year when any three year old can jump up and make a big move forward. Let’s take a look at the field.
#1 Narakaze 24/1
A winner of three straight nine furlong races, Narakaze is a better contender than his 24/1 odds suggest. He won his stakes debut in his most recent race, running a 98 speed over the very talented horse Revel in the Glow whom you’ll be hearing about later in the year (ok he’s my horse so I may be biased!). Narakaze sat in fourth that day about four lengths off the lead before making a bold move and winning by almost two lengths. He’s a son of Bernardini out of the Hall of Fame mare Kamikaze. We could spend a whole page on Kamikaze’s accomplishments but the highlights include producing another Hall of Famer, Arawaza and two other grade one winning mares. She also produced the grade two winning horse Dynakaze who finished second in the Arkansas Derby Lock race. A win would have given him a spot in the Bluegrass Derby, instead he pointed to the Middle Jewel and he ran a strong second. Trainer Given is quick to point out how well this family has done at the 9-10f distance and says “Narakaze has really come on since getting 9f to run at and turning 3yo, with three straight wins totally under wraps. His allowance wins were impressive, but they weren’t fast, which had me wondering how much he had under the hood, but his stakes win last time out was easy as can be and much faster. I honestly don’t know how good this colt is, and his 24/1 odds to win on Saturday are insane. I’m expecting a big performance.
#2 Magician’s Blood 9/1
Looking for his first stakes win in this race is Magician’s Blood. He has finished second in more starts than he has won so far (three to two) but his most recent race featured a strong stretch kick and his two three year old races seem much better than his two year old starts. He began in January, taking an allowance with an 98 speed. He returned in the Grade Two Felipe Alou Stakes at a mile and a sixteenth and started out in eleventh place before closing to finish second with a 104 speed. The local prep for this race was won by Runaway Sonny whom he will also face in this field. This will be his first start at a mile and an eighth and with his running style he should appreciate the added sixteenth (and if he makes it to the Bluegrass Derby the extra three sixteenths). He is a son of Good Magic out of a Bernardini x Deputy Minister mare who, from four foals has produced one stakes winner.
#3 Unjustify 11/1
Unjustify is a son of leading freshman sire of 2019 Justify, who of course is the only undefeated Triple Crown winner. The scratchbred has a backend of Unbridled x Nijinsky II so he’s got plenty of stamina in his pedigree. Unjustify is another looking for his first stakes win and trainer Canyongate is looking for his first runner in the Bluegrass Derby. He explains the name of his colt as this “This horse goes back to a football game between my Rams and Mike Wallace’s Saints…the playoff game with the horrendous non-call for pass interference that led to my Rams going on to the Super Bowl. I don’t breed a ton of high priced horses, usually sticking to local racing, so I have never had a horse run in the Bluegrass Derby. If Unjustify were to be my first I may never let Mike hear the end of it.” Unjustify may not be a stakes winner but he has hit the board in two graded stakes races and seems to love distance. His first graded start was last November’s Grade Two Ransom at nine furlongs where he ran second all the way around the track with a 97 speed. He came back in a grade three at a mile and a sixteenth and finished fifth but when stretched to a mile and three sixteenths in his most recent start he finished third with a 98 speed. That race was the Grade One Dreams of Zambia and the winner Flavors of Mayhem returned to win his next start.
#4 Takes Two to Tap 8/1
The first of two Tapit colts is Takes Two to Tap. He is based on the grade three winning Awesome Again x Storm Cat hemare Awesome Invention. Awesome Invention was an early developing colt who was good enough to run in this race back in 2016 although he did not hit the board but two starts later won his grade three. Awesome Invention is a half brother to another grade three winner who did it at three and was good enough to run in the Classic 2000 Guineas on turf. So the family is good at getting early three year olds and Tapit of course will give this colt a strong stamina influence. That said Take Two to Tap has not won a route race yet but he has finished second in three of his four starts and run ninety plus speeds in all four. His two best races were his last two when he was second in an allowance in January with a 99 speed and then finished a fast closing fourth in a grade two over this course with a 101 speed.
#5 Speed Genes 7/1
Speed Jenes is a West Virginia bred son of Fiber Sonde (a son of Unbridled’s Song) out of a Hussonet x A.P. Indy mare. He is a half to two stakes winners. Speed Genes was available for a $50,000 claiming tag in his debut but luckily no one picked him up. He won that race and came back to win an allowance before running second in a grade two sprint and later running third in a grade one at a mile and a sixteenth over this racetrack. The front running colt ended his two year old season with a second in a residency restricted stakes race where he ran an eye-popping 105 speed. As a three year old Speed Jenes began the year in a sprint allowance where he finished third before stretching out to a mile and three sixteenths in an allowance which he won with a 102 speed. The drop back in distance to a mile and an eighth may benefit him.
#6 Runaway Sonny 6/1
Runaway Sonny is our race favorite but he has the fewest number of starts of any horse in the field. He’s got a 4-3-1-0 record with his only loss coming in a residency restricted stakes race back in December by a head. That was his stakes debut and as many know those residency restricted stakes can attract stronger fields than many graded races. This season he ran a 100 speed in a nine furlong allowance in which he closed from ninth in a ten horse field to win by a comfortable three quarters of a length. He returned to run over this racetrack in the Grade Two Felipe Alou Stakes at a mile and a sixteenth which he won with another closing kick. He ran a 107 speed with that win and a big question will be whether he can improve off that number or if he’s due for a bounce. A win here would give trainer Jwsonny his first grade one winner. He’s a son of Medaglia D’oro out of the graded placed stakes winning mare Runaway Aly. She is by Drosselmeyer x A.P. Indy out of grade three winning mare Alyzig. She is also a half sister to two grade three winners. This is her first foal. Jwsonny has this to say about his colt “ Thanks for writing for the race Spin! I’m pretty shocked I got Runaway here. If someone would have told me in February I’d have a horse, let alone this one, as favorite in a Derby lock I would never have believed them. His mom was one of my favorites but she never seemed to be able to get over the hump. Him being favorite feels a bit like a kiss of death but excited to see how he does.”
#7 Sixer Fixer 7/1
Sixer Fixer is right at home here. He’s a California bred son of Prospect Park out of a Forty Niner x Storm Cat mare. He is a half brother to another California bred stakes winner by Unusual Heat. Sixer Fixer is one of two previous grade one winners in the field. He did that by taking the Dell Computer Futurity last November over this course by a head. The late, late closer was fourteenth early on and eleventh at the top of the stretch before unleashing a devastating run to win by a head. Overall the colt has won five of seven starts but his two off the board finishes have come in his other two graded starts. That includes his only route start which followed that grade one win and a seven furlong effort in his three year old debut. He did win his most recent start at seven and a half furlongs in a listed which he took by two lengths with a 106 speed.
#8 Death From Behind 12/1
Death From Behind lives up to his name – he likes to come from a bit out of it. This has lead to him finishing second more often than he wins but overall he has a 7-2-4-0 record. He was stakes placed last year in his first try at a mile before running last in a grade one at a mile and a sixteenth. It seems he may have been injured in that start in September as he did not reappear on the racetrack until the end of January where he finished second in an allowance at nine furlongs with a 94 speed. Things seem to be on the up for Death From Behind though – he won his most recent start with a 99 speed. In that race he sat in fifth early, over three lengths before the leader before sweeping to the front to win by over two lengths. The son of Uncle Mo is based on a Frankel x Seeking the Gold hemare who was produced by grade one winning mare Crazy Like a Fox who was best around a mile and a half so there is stamina in this pedigree.
#9 Not Yet Registered 11/1
The most interesting story in this race may be the Turkish bred Not Yet Registered. He is the only horse in the race to win both a claiming race and a grade one. He began his career in a $30,000 local bred claiming race but by the end of his two year old season he won the Grade One End of the Line Futurity and was third in the Breeders’ Bowl Juvenile. Unfortunately his two most recent starts have been less than inspiring. He was off the board in both the Grade One Movieland Futurity in December and again in the Grade Two Sleepy Fan two months later in February. His last three starts have all come over this surface at a mile and a sixteenth. With eleven starts under his belt his has the most races of any horse in this field and he may have peaked as a two year old. He is a son of El Corredor out of a stakes winning Tiznow x Elite Squadron mare. From four foals she has produced one other stakes winner.
#10 Jian Yang 11/1
The second son of Justify in the field is out of a Tapit x Danzig mare and he is her first foal. Jian Yang did not do well early in his two year old season while sprinting but he has blossomed since he started routing and especially as a three year old. He broke his maiden in his first start at a mile back in October and was second in an allowance in November. He began this year with another allowance win where he ran a 91 speed while sitting in second early on before making a strong move to win by almost two lengths. That was good enough for his connections to give him a stakes try and not just a stakes try but a run in the Grade Two Sleepy Fan here in California at a mile and a sixteenth. He battled for the early lead before taking it and opening up by two and a half lengths at the top of the stretch. The closers came within a length of his win but his 106 speed is one of the tops in this field and he comes in well rested.
#11 Theworldisintrouble 9/1
It’s always nice to see graded winners by the sire Broken Vow. A son of Unbridled is a solid breed to race sire in Kentucky who often gets overlooked in the game. Theworldisintrouble is out of a stakes winning Malibu Moon x Dubai Millennium mare. He is her third foal and she already has one other stakes winner. The downside of Theworldisintrouble is that he is 4-3-1-0 sprinting and 4-0-1-0 routing. He won his grade two back in August going six and a half furlongs. He had three months off at the end of the year and returned in the Grade Three Good Cow at a mile. He closed from tenth to finish second by three quarters of a length and ran a 104 speed in that race. His next start is a bit of a question mark. He ran a mile and an eighth for the first time in the Grade One Funky Buddha and his closing kick was dulled. He finished sixth beaten over five lengths with a 98 speed. Was it the distance that caught him up or did he bounce off that big race after a three month layoff. He has a lot of questions to answer here.
#12 Imbil Seahorse 13/1
Trainer Kyogle is hoping his Tapit colt runs well but he has a lot of respect for the rest of the field, specifically calling out Runaway Sonny as the big threat. He is most worried that Imbil Seahorse has not run speeds as high as some in the field. He has not yet broken the triple digit barrier but his form in route – 4-3-0-0 is solid and his last two starts resulted in wins which have come at nine furlongs. He only has five starts and his most recent race was his stakes debut which he won by a head. He tends to sit back off the speed before making his run but again he’s won two straight and run 95 and 94 speeds while doing it. This is the time of the year where horses – especially lightly raced ones – can take big steps forward. Obviously he would need a win here to make it to the Bluegrass Derby but my feeling is that this is a colt you will hear from again. He is based on the grade three winning Awesome Again x Broad Brush hemare Outback Seahorse. Outback Seahorse was best as an older horse so it is somewhat surprising that Imbil Seahorse is so good so early.
#13 Immortal One 14/1
Immortal One is a scratchbred son of Bernardini x Forty Niner x Broad Brush. Interestingly he is the second Bernardini in the field and both are trained by Given. Given originally thought this colt was a sprinter and it is easy to see why as last year he won a listed and was second in another in sprints before running poorly in what was his graded debut and also his route debut. He returned to a sprint in a grade two in September before being given three months off. Immortal One returned to win a four horse field allowance race by four lengths going wire to wire with a 75 speed. That was not indicative of his talent as he won by four lengths over an over matched field. Still Given thought he deserved a chance in a listed route where he faced off against another of Given’s runners, Free Base Road. I’ll let Given describe the race “His last race was incredible. Despite not breaking on top, he edged clear through fast fractions and held on with his stablemate, Free Base Road, absolutely flying at the end. And when I saw it came back a 106 SF I was in shock. The 3rd place finisher that day, Justify the Result, came back to win a stakes, so I tend to believe it was a huge performance from my 1-2 colts in there. I’ve given them both plenty of time to recover, so hopefully they don’t bounce.” Given is hoping Immortal One is on or close to the lead here and thinks he will get a clean run from his outer post. He really likes his chances here. Given finished 1-2-3 in last week’s Sand Castle Derby Lock Prep and has six other runners in the two other Lock Preps this week so he’s loaded for bear.
#14 Vindicated Grey 12/1
Vindicated Grey is a scratchbred son of Graydar x Vindication x Scat Daddy. If he wins in this spot he will be the first Bluegrass Derby horse for trainer Supertaffy. He has won three of his four route starts including a listed in his most recent run where he closed from eleventh to win by a quarter of a length with a 104 speed. His only off the board finish in a route came in his stakes debut last November after which he was given a bit of time off. He returned in January to take an allowance easily by two lengths with a 97 speed. He’s on the up and up and would not surprise here. Trainer Supertaffy says “Since he came back from the break he hasn’t lost and improves every start. He’s had a nice long rest coming in to this race he’s lightly raced and fast. I expect a nice run from him.”
Good luck to all!