We are nearing the end of the road for the Kentucky Derby qualifying races. Although there is one last race next weekend, this is the final weekend to earn major qualifying points for the 2022 Kentucky Derby. The last three big prep races offer 100 points to the winner and 40 for second, 20 for third and 10 for fourth.
Call it “win and you’re in,” although some horses who will run can be confident they will secure a spot in the starting gate on May 7 at Churchill Downs.
Horses vying for qualifying points heading into the weekend
Then there are the ones looking to seize a spot. In the Grade 2 Wood Memorial on Saturday at Aqueduct, Barese fits that mold. In his final work for Wood Memorial, he drilled five furlongs Saturday. Barese covered the five-eighths over the training track at Belmont Park in 1:03.10. One week ago, he finished a sharp drill in 59.98 seconds for the same distance.
Mo Donegal, who won the Remsen (G2) in December at Aqueduct, was a somewhat disappointing third in the Holy Bull at Gulfstream. He’ll try to return to form in the Wood Memorial. Trainer Todd Pletcher said, “We know he loves the track.” Mo Donegal only has 12 Derby qualifying points so far. He likely needs to finish in the top three this weekend to go to Louisville.
Messier is one to watch Saturday in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby. Formerly from trainer Bob Baffert’s barn, he could qualify for new trainer Tim Nakteen with a strong showing (he’s likely to go off as the favorite).
Baffert backs off legal challenges, putting him in a no-lose situation
Speaking of Baffert, his attorneys asked to take back their legal push to make him eligible for the Kentucky Derby. Initially reported by Bloodhorse, a Monday filing from the trainer said that because he did not receive a break from his 90-day suspension by Kentucky’s stewards, there was no longer a need for immediate respite from his two-year ban at Churchill Downs.
Horse racing analyst Jeremy Plonk pointed out last week that, like it or not, Baffert is in a no-lose situation, with his Derby hopefuls now under the care of Tim Yakteen.
“Win, and the public sentiment is that it didn’t take nefarious means from Baffert and they were simply best,” Plonk wrote in his Countdown the Crown column. “Lose, and it can be attributed to a trainer, now in his 19th year, who’s never had a graded stakes winner on dirt. Of course, a no-lose situation doesn’t mean it’s a winner.”
Falling out of favor
Speaking of favorites, HorseRacingNation posted some interesting statistics about odds-on favorites after the weekend.
The prior week showed an alarmingly high 43% win rate for the public pick. The favorite win percentage decreased slightly to 39% for the week ended April 3. (The total number of races run decreased by 74 to 523.)
Kentucky Derby prep post-time favorites went 1-for-3 last weekend, covering Turfway, Gulfstream and Oaklawn.
Victorious in the Grade 3 Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway, Tiz the Bomb was the only public pick to cross the wire first. It was the horse’s fourth career stakes win. Slow Down Andy won the Grade 3 Sunland Derby on Sunday to earn 50 Derby prep points.
Earning 100 points on Saturday and guaranteeing their position in the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby, No. 4 White Abarrio received a 96 Beyer Speed Figure in the Florida Derby, and Cyberknife earned a 92 Beyer for taking the Arkansas Derby.
The Derby Dozen, week 9
- (No Change) Epicenter (trainer Steve Asmussen): Epicenter, coming off his victory two weekends prior in the Louisiana Derby, and Messier, a two-time Grade 3 winner, are still the best-priced co-favorites at 6-1, the odds they carry at Caesars Sportsbook at William Hill Nevada. By the way, between now and post time for Kentucky Derby 148, you’ll hear that no trainer has currently lost more Kentucky Derbies than Steve Asmussen (0-for-23). Todd Pletcher took a 0-for-25 record into 2010 when Super Saver finally got him in the winner’s circle. Plonk added, Epicenter “appears far more brilliant and credentialed than Super Saver, so never say never.”
- (NC) Smile Happy (Kenny McPeek): His second-place finish in the Risen Star (behind Epicenter) is looking better by the day, given Epicenter’s improving reputation. Many are anticipating improvement from Smile Happy in his second race off the bench at age 3. Smile Happy runs in Saturday’s Grade 1 Blue Grass at Keeneland, where he scored on his debut last fall.
- (NC) Zandon (Chad Brown): With just 14 Derby qualifying points, at the least, he needs to grab second in the Bluegrass Stakes to qualify.
- (NC) White Abarrio (Saffie Joseph Jr.): This horse gave Saffie his first-ever Grade 1 win on Saturday. White Abarrio solidified his impressive credentials with a 1 1/4-length triumph over Charge It in the Florida Derby. The win was his fourth in five career starts. The lone setback was a third-place finish at Churchill Downs in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club in his 2-year-old finale. “I thought he showed a new dimension [in the Florida Derby],” Joseph told DRF. “He sat farther back than normal but was able to get into the race very handily and find more when he needed to when Charge It came to him at the end. He showed some real resiliency in that he was more tractable. That was the first fight he’s really had in any of his races, and he was able to keep digging and find more when he needed to.”
- (+1) Forbidden Kingdom (Richard Mandella): Notorious for a high percentage of winning favorites and short field sizes, Santa Anita saw a low 33% of victorious chalk on the dirt last week. Forbidden Kingdom and Messier will see how that plays out in Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby. We can expect one to go off as the post-time favorite.
- (+2) Simplification (Antonio Sano): In the Florida Derby, after dueling with Grade 2 Classic Causeway and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up Pappacap through fractions of 23.67, 47.24 and 1:10.68, Simplification battled on gamely to finish third, beaten by only 2 1/4 lengths.
- (+3) Emmanuel (Todd Pletcher): His connections are hoping he can rebound from his last start in a big way in the Blue Grass. Pletcher said, “I was a little disappointed in the outcome (of the Fountain of Youth), but I think he had several excuses. He didn’t break well, and he got pinched back at the start, and he had a very wide trip. When you analyze the race, it was a pretty good effort despite everything that happened.”
- (Not ranked) Cyberknife (Cox): Cyberknife received a preliminary Beyer Speed Figure of 92 (a career high) for Saturday’s 2 3/4-length victory over Barber Road. The Arkansas Derby win marked the second consecutive win for the son of Gun Runner. He comes off a disappointing sixth-place finish in his stakes debut. Cyberknife is 2-for-2 since Cox removed his blinkers after the Lecomte.
- (+1) Early Voting (Brown): He continues to lead this poll in flying under the radar. Early Voting next runs Saturday in the Wood Memorial.
- (NR) Barber Road (John Ortiz): He came out of the Arkansas Derby in good shape physically. His current 58 points rank him ninth on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard. Barber Road’s points have been collected in Oaklawn’s four-race Kentucky Derby prep series — though none are wins.
- (-6) Classic Causeway (Brian Lynch): Lynch told HorseRacingNation on Monday that he “didn’t think too much” of Classic Causeway’s last-place performance in the Florida Derby. “The fortunate thing is that he scoped good, and he’s come back good. Everything looks like it’s normal,” Lynch said. Saturday’s race was “just one of those days.” What’s next? Lynch said, “Certainly I’m not rushed about the Derby. I’m not in any hurry to get to the Derby with him.”
- (-5) Morello (Asmussen): The Grade 3 winner in the Gotham, Morello worked four furlongs in 50.5 at Belmont Park on Monday. In his last start, he won the Gotham, going 1 mile at Aqueduct.
Dropped out: No. 11 In Due Time; No. 12 Un Ojo