A Kentucky Derby primer

10 min read
The first Saturday of May is the time honoured 'Run for the Roses', the greatest prize in American racing. TDN AusNZ provides a quick preview of the runners ahead of the race.

American racing fans and, indeed, racing fans the world over, have been treated to two Triple Crown winners in the last four years.

Bob Baffert, trainer of both American Pharoah (USA) (Pioneerof the Nile {USA}) and Justify (USA) (Scat Daddy {USA}) is set to be represented by a trio of runners in Saturday’s first leg of the series, the Grade I Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.

Whether any breathes the same air as either of the aforementioned runners remains to be seen, but the 2019 Derby certainly appears to have an open feel to it.

Barriers were drawn Tuesday morning in Louisville and to follow are brief capsules on each of the 20 3-year-old colts and geldings, listed in order of revised morning-line (i.e. beginning) odds given the withdrawal of favoured Omaha Beach:

#16 GAME WINNER (USA) (Candy Ride {Arg})–-9-2

Game Winner took his record to four out of four when clinching a championship in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill, but has been the tough-luck loser of his two starts this term when a wide-trip runner-up to Omaha Beach in the Grade 2 Rebel S. and to Roadster in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby.

One of two in the race for owners Gary and Mary West, he is also one of two in the race for his very successful sire and looks to become the third juvenile champion to follow up in the Derby in the last 12 years (Street Sense, 2007; Nyquist, 2016).

#5 IMPROBABLE (USA) (City Zip {USA})–5-1

Campaigned by a partnership similar to that of Justify and one of five ‘TDN Rising Stars’ in this year’s Derby, Improbable was a stakes winner at Churchill Downs last season before adding an open-lengths victory in the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Futurity.

Like his stablemate Game Winner, he lost his unbeaten record in the Rebel and was on edge in barrier one in the Arkansas Derby before finishing a gallant runner-up. The blinkers that were applied last time come back off this weekend.

#17 ROADSTER(USA) (Quality Road {USA})–5-1

Another ‘TDN Rising Star’ trained by Bob Baffert in this year’s Derby, this $525,000 Keeneland September yearling won first-up for six months in March and most recently defeated his stablemate Game Winner in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, the same race used by Justify in 2018. Florent Geroux takes over for Mike Smith on Roadster, who could give his trainer a sixth trip to the Derby winner’s enclosure.

#8 TACITUS (USA) (Tapit {USA})–8-1

Owned and bred by Juddmonte Farms, this son of champion Close Hatches (by First Defence, by Unbridled’s Song) has won three-from-four, including a pair of Grade 2 races this season. His all-conquering sire remarkably accounted for three winners of the 1 1/2-mile Grade I Belmont S. from 2014-2017, but has yet to produce a Derby winner. Trainer Bill Mott looks for a first win in the ‘Run for the Roses.’

#7 MAXIMUM SECURITY (USA) (New Year’s Day {USA})–8-1

One of the bigger rags-to-riches stories in this year’s Derby and the second runner for the Wests, Maximum Security pummelled easier company in his first three career runs by 31 1/2 lengths combined, but set a very soft tempo in the Grade 1 Florida Derby and kicked away late to score by 3 1/2 lengths in his first try at a distance of ground. The pace this weekend figures several lengths swifter.

#13 CODE OF HONOR (USA) (Noble Mission {GB})–12-1

From the first crop of his sire--the full-brother to multi-jurisdictional success story Frankel (GB)--Code of Honor was Grade 1-placed at two, but missed a pair of late-season targets, including the Breeders’ Cup. The chestnut caused a minor upset in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth S. in early March and his third placing in the Florida Derby is to be taken with a grain of salt, given the lack of pace. Trainer Shug McGaughey sent out Orb (Malibu Moon) to win the 2013 Derby.

Code of Honor (Image: Coady)

#14 WIN WIN WIN (USA) (Hat Trick {Jpn})–12-1

One of two Derby entrants that have the legendary dual American Classic winner and influential Japanese stallion Sunday Silence on the top side of their pedigree, Win Win Win set a track record when taking out a seven-furlong stakes at Tampa Bay Downs in Florida in January.

Third as the favourite behind Tacitus in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby, he closed off well to be second to Vekoma in the Blue Grass, overcoming a bit of traffic 500 metres from the wire.

#1 WAR OF WILL (USA) (War Front)–15-1

A €250,000 purchase out of the 2018 Arqana May Breeze-Up Sale, War of Will was also thought of as a turf runner before breaking his maiden on a rain-affected track at Churchill in November. He took up a spot at or near the top of every Derby Top 10 with facile wins in the GIII Lecomte S. and GII Risen Star S. at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans, but tweaked his back end at the beginning of the Louisiana Derby and was only ninth as the $1.80 favourite.

He’s trained with renewed vigour over the past week and looms a bounce-back candidate, but drew a potentially deal-breaking barrier in gate one.

War Of Will (Image: Horsephotos)

#6 VEKOMA (USA) (Candy Ride {Arg})–15-1

Two for two as a juvenile, including a win at Grade 3 level, this May foal tuned up for Saturday’s race with a victory in the Grade 2 Toyota Blue Grass S., used by Street Sense en route to Derby glory in 2007, though no horse has won both races in nearly 30 years. Vekoma is the second Derby starter for former Todd Pletcher assistant and Louisville native George Weaver.

#3 BY MY STANDARDS (USA) (Goldencents {USA})–15-1

Perhaps somewhat less precocious than some of his Derby rivals, By My Standards won his maiden at fourth asking and immediately tacked on a hard-fought victory in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby Mar. 23.

A son of leading first-crop sire Goldencents (by Into Mischief), he is arguably the buzz horse among this year’s Classic crop and has trained beautifully since his arrival in Kentucky in early April. Breeders’ Cup-winning trainer Bret Calhoun saddles his first Derby starter.

By My Standards (Image: Coady)

#2 TAX (USA) (Arch {USA})–20-1

Tax graduated for a $50,000 claiming price in his second career start last October, when he was acquired by his current connections, and has since acquitted himself well in stakes company, with a victory in the Grade 3 Withers S. and a sound second to Tacitus in the Wood Memorial in his most recent appearance. No horse has won the Wood and the Derby in the same season since Fusaichi Pegasus back in 2000.

#9 PLUS QUE PARFAIT (USA) (Point of Entry {USA})–30-1

A paternal grandson of turf influence Dynaformer, the chestnut owns the biggest bankroll heading into the Derby by virtue of his victory in the Group 2 UAE Derby Mar. 30. A close second in a Grade 2 stakes over a sloppy Churchill track in November, Plus Que Parfait is a first Derby runner for Irishman Brendan Walsh.

#11 HAIKAL (USA) (Daaher {USA})–30-1

A homebred from Sheikh Hamdan’s American satellite, Haikal has yet to finish out of the top three, his most important victory coming in the Grade 3 Gotham S. in March in New York. A deep closer that can be counted on for a strong finishing kick, he made up 10 lengths in the final three furlongs to be third to Tacitus in the Wood Memorial S. last time. Kentucky native Kiaran McLaughlin went agonisingly close to winning the 2005 Derby with Closing Argument (Successful Appeal).

#18 LONG RANGE TODDY (USA) (Take Charge Indy {USA})–30-1

A two-time minor stakes winner late last season, this homebred colt raced with credit over the winter, including a perfect-trip upset of Improbable in the Rebel. Drawn widest of 11 in the Arkansas Derby, he pressed the early pace, but weakened readily to finish a well-beaten sixth.

#10 CUTTING HUMOR (USA) (First Samurai {USA})–30-1

A maiden winner in the final of three appearances as a 2-year-old, Cutting Humor was second to subsequent Grade 2-placed Bourbon War (USA) (Tapit {USA}) in a January test, but ballooned to seventh as the $3.20 selection in the Grade 3 Southwest S. in Arkansas.

Punters readily gave him a pass for the effort and he rewarded his backers with a narrow deafeat of Grade 1 Preakness S.-bound Anothertwistafate (USA) (Scat Daddy {USA}) in the Grade 3 Sunland Park Derby in New Mexico Mar. 24. Cutting Humor is conditioned by two-time Derby winner Todd Pletcher.

#20 COUNTRY HOUSE (USA) (Lookin At Lucky {USA})–30-1

Accorded ‘TDN Rising Star’ status off an impressive, trouble-filled maiden win in January, Country House sustained a long run from far back to be second to War of Will in the Risen Star S. Fourth in the Louisiana Derby, he was third in the Arkansas Derby, though he was losing ground to the top two in the final furlong.

#19 SPINOFF (USA) (Hard Spun {USA})–30-1

Third in the GII Saratoga Special S., his final appearance at two, this Wertheimer et Frere homebred turned heads with an 11 3/4-length victory trying two turns for the first time at Tampa in February, good for the ‘Rising Star’ tag. Prominent in the run in the Louisiana Derby, the chestnut led into the final eighth of a mile before being outfinished by By My Standards. Spinoff’s sire, himself a son of Danzig, was second to Street Sense in the 2007 Derby.

#21 BODEXPRESS (USA) (Bodemeister {USA})–30-1

Draws into the field with the late Wednesday scratching of morning-line favourite Omaha Beach and earned his way into Derby consideration with a runner-up effort to Maximum Security in the Florida Derby, though would have benefitted from the slow pace same as the winner. He has yet to taste victory in five starts and maidens are 0-for-11 in the Derby since record-keeping began in the late 1930s.

#4 GRAY MAGICIAN (USA) (Graydar {USA})–50-1

Along with Country House, Gray Magician is the only other member of the Derby field with just a maiden victory to its credit. Unplaced in his next two runs, he was second in a minor stakes in Maryland, but punched his Derby ticket when second in the UAE Derby. Gray Magician is a second Derby starter for California-based conditioner Peter Miller.

#15 MASTER FENCER (Jpn) (Just a Way {Jpn})–50-1

The paternal great-grandson of 1989 Derby hero Sunday Silence earned his trip to Kentucky via the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby and has become a reliable runner on Japan’s dirt tracks. His record on the surface stands at two wins and a running-on second in the Fukuryu S. (allowance) at Nakayama Mar. 31 from four runs. Though a handful of Japanese-based horses have contested the Derby, Master Fencer is the first bred in the country to do so.

Master Fencer (Image: Horsephotos)