by Jon White
March 31, 2022
A pair of Grade I races on the 2022 Kentucky Derby trail will be run this Saturday (April 2).
At Gulfstream Park, 11 are entered in the Grade I, $1 million Florida Derby.
At Oaklawn Park, the Grade I, $1.25 million Arkansas Derby has enticed a field of nine.
The Florida Derby and Arkansas Derby both will be contested at 1 1/8 miles. They each have 100-40-20-10 qualifying points up for grabs toward a spot in the starting gate for the 148th running of the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 7.
The Grade III, $600,000 Jeff Ruby at Turfway Park is also this Saturday. To be decided at 1 1/8 miles on a synthetic surface, it likewise offers 100-40-20-10 qualifying points toward the Kentucky Derby.
FLORIDA DERBY SELECTIONS
The Florida Derby has attracted three horses on my current Kentucky Derby Top 10. They are No. 4 Classic Causeway, No. 5 Simplification and No. 6 White Abarrio.
Among those taking on my three Top 10ers is scintillating 8 1/2-length maiden winner Charge It.
Grade II winner and Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up Pappacap will be trying to rebound after a clunker when eighth in Fair Grounds’ Grade II Risen Star Stakes.
My selections for the Florida Derby are below:
1. Classic Causeway
3. White Abarrio
4. Charge It
I will not be surprised if any of those four is posing for pictures in the winner’s circle this Saturday.
Classic Causeway is coming back just three weeks following his front-running 2 1/2-length victory in the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby on March 12. This is a quick return to the races by today’s standards. But I think two things help mitigate his relatively brief time between starts.
First, Classic Causeway seemed to have plenty of gas left in the tank at the finish of the Tampa Bay Derby. As I wrote in my recap of that race for Xpressbet.com, I loved the way he looked while galloping out and returning to the winner’s circle. It appeared to me that the race took very little out of him, as if it was not much more than a workout. Lynch noticed that, too.
On the radio program “Thoroughbred Los Angeles” the next morning, Classic Causeway’s trainer, Brian Lynch, said to Mike Willman: “The gallop out was fantastic, as was the way he came back to the winner’s circle.”
Second, the impression that the Tampa Bay Derby was not a taxing race for Classic Causeway seemed to be validated by his workout last Saturday at the Palm Meadows training center. His time for the four-furlong drill, according to Equibase, was :47.45. It ranked as the second-fastest of 95 works at the distance that morning. The only faster work was the :47.05 clocking credited to Pillbox, an unraced 3-year-old We Miss Artie filly.
Daily Racing Form’s Mike Welsch wrote that the DRF had an even faster :46.60 clocking for Classic Causeway, which would have made it a bullet drill.
Classic Causeway is two for two this year. In his 2022 debut, he won the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes in emphatic fashion by 3 3/4 lengths at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 12. The Kentucky-bred Giant’s Causeway colt originally was to run next in Keeneland’s Grade I Blue Grass Stakes on April 9, but then the decision was made to redirect him to the Florida Derby after his marvelous workout last Saturday.
According to Lynch, “a combination of reasons” has brought Classic Causeway to the Florida Derby.
“First of all, he came out of his last race so well,” Lynch told Welsch. “His work [last Saturday morning] showed us that. And logistically, it seems like the right thing to do. The [Florida Derby] is right down the road rather having to send him to Kentucky where there are some concerns about the weather at this time of year, which could cause us to possibly miss some training. He’s had a good winter in Florida, so we might as well play out the string down here right to the end.”
Another reason I’ve made Classic Causeway my top pick in the Florida Derby is he again will have Irad Ortiz Jr. aboard. Ortiz has ridden him four times. They do seem to make a good team (four starts, three wins, one third).
What happens if Classic Causeway either goes too fast early or is asked to come from off the pace Saturday? The only time he sat off the early pace, he got beat. That’s when he finished second to Smile Happy in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs last Nov. 27.
I believe that Classic Causeway, if need be, can succeed if not being part of the pace. But it is something that he still needs to prove that he can do.
My primary concern regarding Classic Causeway in the Florida Derby is he has not yet posted a Beyer Speed Figure higher than 90, which he recorded when he kicked off his racing career with a 6 1/4-length maiden win at Saratoga last summer. His four subsequent Beyers have all been lower -- 73, then 84, then 84, then 88, then 84 in the Tampa Bay Derby.
Simplification, White Abarrio and Charge It have all Beyered higher than Classic Causeway.
I did come very close to making Simplification my top pick in the Florida Derby. I like him a lot. The Florida-bred Not This Time colt comes off a 3 1/4-length win in Gulfstream’s Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes on March 5. He was credited with a 96 Beyer Speed Figure for that sparkling performance.
Simplification, much like Essential Quality last year, has been adaptable to various pace scenarios. He has been versatile in being able to win as a front-runner and from well off the pace.
Antonio Sano trains Simplification.
The Florida Derby affords Simplification a chance for revenge after he finished second, 4 1/2 lengths behind White Abarrio, in Gulfstream’s Grade III Holy Bull Stakes on Feb. 5. After the Holy Bull, it was announced that White Abarrio would skip the Fountain of Youth and go directly to the Florida Derby.
I actually came away from the Holy Bull more impressed with Simplification than White Abarrio.
White Abarrio had an ideal stalking trip in the Holy Bull, whereas Simplification had to overcome a bad start that prevented him from setting the pace, as most people had expected him to do. But after Simplification found himself seventh early, he nevertheless rallied to finish second, albeit well behind White Abarrio.
I do have much respect for White Abarrio. After all, the only blemish he has in four lifetime starts came when he finished third to Smile Happy and Classic Causeway in the Kentucky Jockey Club. White Abarrio’s effort that day was far from a disgrace in that he raced third early, dropped back to fifth, then came back on to get third.
Saffie Joseph Jr. trains White Abarrio, a Kentucky-bred Race Day colt.
How good is Charge It? It appears the sky is the limit off his 8 1/2-length victory in a Gulfstream maiden race when he completed one mile in a strong 1:35 and change on Feb. 12. He recorded a 93 Beyer Speed Figure in his maiden win, a huge leap from the 83 he received in a narrow defeat when unveiled in a one-mile maiden race at that same track in early January.
Even with just two races under his belt, Charge It is scary Saturday. That’s not only because his maiden graduation was so impressive, but also because he has such a wonderful pedigree.
Owned and bred by Mandy Pope (Whisper Hill Farm) and trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, Charge It is a son of premier sire Tapit and the Indian Charlie mare I’ll Take Charge. I’ll Take Charge’s dam is multiple Grade I winner Take Charge Lady, an earner of $2,480,377.
Pope bought I’ll Take Charge as a yearling for $2.2 million at Keeneland in 2013. I’ll Take Charge won only one of five career starts, but she is a half-sister to Take Charge Indy and Will Take Charge.
Take Charge Indy, an earner of $1,103,496, won the 2012 Florida Derby.
Will Take Charge earned $3,824,648 and the 2013 Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old male.
I’ll Take Charge also is a half-sister to Charming, dam of Take Charge Brandi and Omaha Beach. Take Charge Brandi, who banked $1,692,126, won the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies in 2014. Omaha Beach earned $1,651,800 in a career highlighted by Grade I victories in the 2019 Arkansas Derby, 2019 Santa Anita Sprint Championship and 2019 Malibu Stakes.
ARKANSAS DERBY SELECTIONS
This one is easy for me. I am wholeheartedly on the Secret Oath bandwagon. Not only is she my top pick in the Arkansas Derby, the Kentucky-bred Arrogate filly ranks No. 3 on my current Kentucky Derby Top 10. No other Arkansas Derby entrant is on my Top 10.
Secret Oath has been stellar at Oaklawn, reeling off three straight victories by a combined 23 lengths for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas.
My selections for the Arkansas Derby are below:
1. Secret Oath
2. We the People
The highly regarded We the People is two for two. In a pair of starts at Oaklawn this year, the Kentucky-bred Constitution colt has won by 5 3/4 lengths and five lengths for trainer Rodolphe Brisset.
Doppelganger, now trained by Tim Yakteen, won by 3 1/2 lengths at first asking last Dec. 11 at Los Alamitos when with Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. The Kentucky-bred Into Mischief colt then ran in two Grade II races at Santa Anita for Baffert, finishing fourth in the Jan. 29 San Vicente Stakes and second in the March 5 San Felipe Stakes. Forbidden Kingdom won both the San Vicente and San Felipe.
Cyberknife, conditioned by Brad Cox, should not be taken lightly. He is coming off a win in a Fair Grounds allowance/optional claiming contest on Feb. 19. The Kentucky-bred Gun Runner colt seems to possess a lot of talent, but he sometimes has acted goofy during a race, seemingly due to immaturity. It’s encouraging that Cyberknife looked more focused on the task at hand when he prevailed by three lengths in that Feb. 19 race.
JEFF RUBY SELECTIONS
The Jeff Ruby Steaks has drawn a field of 13, including one also eligible.
My selections for the Jeff Ruby are below:
1. Tiz the Bomb
2. Royal Spirit
4. Stolen Base
I once considered Tiz the Bomb to be a Kentucky Derby contender. Now he is only a lukewarm choice on my part to win the Jeff Ruby. Trained by Kenny McPeek, the Kentucky-bred Hit It a Bomb colt is coming off a win in Turfway’s John Battaglia Memorial. It is important that he already has won on that synthetic oval.
Royal Spirit, whose five career starts thus far have all come on the turf, hails from the powerful Pletcher barn. The Kentucky-bred Into Mischief colt finished a close second in the Grade III Kitten’s Joy Stakes at Gulfstream Park last time out on Feb. 5. Grass runners often do well when racing on a synthetic surface.
Blackadder, now trained by Brisset after having been conditioned by Baffert, had the misfortune to get post 12 for Saturday’s race. Still, the Kentucky-bred Quality Road colt belongs on the list of contenders after winning the Grade III El Camino Real Derby on synthetic footing Feb. 12 at Golden Gate Fields.
Stolen Base lost by only a neck when the runner-up to Tiz the Bomb in the Battaglia. Mike Maker trains Stolen Base, a Kentucky-bred Bodemeister colt. Stolen Base will be racing with blinkers for the first time Saturday.
By the way, as I’ve written before, the Jeff Ruby Steaks is a cute play on words. (Technically, it’s the Jeff Ruby Steaks Stakes, but who says or writes that?)
Probably no race in the world has had more different names than this one. The following is what I once found in terms of various names for what began in 1972 as the Spiral Stakes at Latonia (before the track changed its name to Turfway Park in 1986):
1972-1981 Spiral Stakes
1982-1983 Jim Beam Spiral Stakes
1984-1998 Jim Beam Stakes
1999 Galleryfurniture.com Stakes
2000-2001 Turfway Spiral Stakes
2002 Lane’s End Spiral Stakes
2003-2010 Lane’s End Stakes
2011-2012 Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes
2013-2016 Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati Racing Spiral Stakes
2017-2022 Jeff Ruby
MY KENTUCKY DERBY TOP 10
Messier continues to hold the top spot on my Kentucky Derby Top 10, but only just barely over Epicenter, who makes a giant leap to No. 2 after being No. 9 last week.
As you probably know, there was important Messier news last Thursday (March 24). Messier, Doppelganger and McLaren Vale all were transferred from Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert to his erstwhile assistant, Tim Yakteen, in order for the three colts to become eligible to earn qualifying points toward the Kentucky Derby. This also is why Blackadder has been switched from Baffert to Brisset.
Churchill Downs has banned Baffert from racing at that track for a two-year period. Horses trained by him also are ineligible to earn Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks points. This stems from last year’s Kentucky Derby in which Medina Spirit finished first but tested positive for traces of betamethasone, a medication that is legal to use but not on race day.
On Feb. 21, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission announced that the three stewards overseeing the 2021 Kentucky Derby had issued a ruling stating that Medina Spirit was disqualified and all purse money forfeited because of the medication violation.
Baffert and his legal team are continuing to fight the disqualification.
Messier makes his next start in the Grade I, $1 million Runhappy Santa Anita Derby at 1 1/8 miles on April 9. The Kentucky-bred Empire Maker colt has not raced since his 15-length tour de force in Santa Anita’s Grade III Robert B. Lewis Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on Feb. 6, a performance that produced a 103 Beyer Speed Figure.
Last Sunday at Santa Anita, Messier had what Yakteen termed “a lights out” workout, six furlongs in 1:11.60. It was the fastest by nearly three seconds (approximately 15 lengths) of the five workouts at that distance on the main track Sunday at Santa Anita.
This is a link to view Messier’s Sunday drill on XBTV.com: https://www.xbtv.com/video/messier-worked-6-furlongs-in-1/messier-worked-6-furlongs-in-111-40-at-santa-anita-park-on-march-27th-2022/
When I watched the video, what made this truly “a lights out” drill in my eyes was how smoothly, how effortlessly Messier stepped six furlongs in such a crisp time.
“We had Johnny [Velazquez] work him and he’ll ride him in the Santa Anita Derby,” Yakteen was quoted as saying in Ed Golden’s Santa Anita stable notes. Velazquez “gave us a thumbs up. The horse looked great, although he ended up with some unexpected company. We almost had a little training race out there.”
Messier’s last three workouts all have been nothing less than terrific.
As for Epicenter, I wrote this last week: “Should Epicenter win the Louisiana Derby, his stock with me would rise if he were to do so from off the pace this time. It would prove that he can stalk and win. He has yet to do that.”
Well, Epicenter did indeed stalk and win the 1 3/16-mile Louisiana Derby by 2 1/2 lengths as the even-money favorite. Consequently, yes, his stock with me has risen, as evidenced by his ascendancy to No. 2 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10.
What especially made Epicenter’s ability to rate off the pace and win so significant is the probable presence of speedster Forbidden Kingdom in the Kentucky Derby. Other than Forbidden Kingdom, everyone else better be able to be effective coming from off the pace because I don’t see anybody outrunning him early if he’s in the race.
Epicenter’s Louisiana Derby victory also was praiseworthy inasmuch as he registered a career-best 102 Beyer Speed Figure.
Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen is the winningest trainer of all time. He had 9,689 victories to his credit through Tuesday. But he is 0 for 26 in the Kentucky Derby. Epicenter gives Asmussen an excellent chance to finally win the 1 1/4-mile classic. And don’t forget that Asmussen also trains Morello, who is undefeated in three career starts and headed to Aqueduct’s Grade II Wood Memorial on April 9.
After the Louisiana Derby, there is absolutely nothing I don’t like about Epicenter, which is why the Kentucky-bred Not This Time colt very nearly took over the top spot on my Top 10 this week.
Epicenter, appropriately, has become the Kentucky Derby future book favorite in Las Vegas at both Circa and Caesars Sportsbook at William Hill Nevada, according to horseracingnation.com’s Ron Flatter.
It’s also appropriate that Daily Racing Form’s Marty McGee has cut Epicenter’s price from 8-1 last week to 7-2 favoritism this week in DRF’s Derby Watch. What is not appropriate, in my estimation, is McGee listing Messier at 10-1, which makes him a co-fifth choice. Messier is the second favorite in Las Vegas. To make Messier a co-fifth choice is ridiculous. (McGee, like the DRF’s Marcus Hersh, is not shy to bash other people’s morning-line odds.)
My Kentucky Derby Top 10 for this week is below:
3. Secret Oath
4. Classic Causeway
6. White Abarrio
8. Smile Happy
10. Forbidden Kingdom
1/ST BET analyst and handicapper Jeff Siegel’s “main players” this week in his Triple Crown rankings are: 1. Epicenter, 2. Messier, 3. Smile Happy, 4. Simplification, 5. White Abarrio, 6. Classic Causeway, 7. Secret Oath, 8. Forbidden Kingdom, 9. Early Voting, 10. Emmanuel, 11. Morello, 12. Charge It, 13. Zandon, 14. Mo Dongegal, 15. Zozos, 16. In Due Time.
BUBBLING UNDER MY TOP 10 (IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER)
In Due Time
Pioneer of Medina
We the People
HOW MANY STRIKES DOES EPICENTER HAVE?
Once a 3-year-old makes his or her final start before the first Saturday in May, I can determine their number of strikes in the Derby Strikes System (DSS) that I developed back in 1999.
The DSS originally consisted of nine categories. When a horse did not qualify in one of the nine categories, the horse received a strike.
As I noted last week, various “rules” for the Kentucky Derby once were very popular. A “Derby rule” meant that a horse needed to have done this or that, or not done this or that, in order to win the Kentucky Derby. However, through the years, many of the so-called “Derby rules” were broken. This caused their popularity to wane.
I think what has distinguished my Derby Strikes System from any one “Derby rule” is the DSS is more comprehensive. The DSS consists of a multitude of factors that attempt to ascertain the chances a horse has to win the Kentucky Derby from BOTH tactical and historical perspectives. It is the merger of the TACTICAL with the HISTORICAL that might well make the DSS better than any single “Derby rule.”
A number of the categories in my DSS are tied to a Kentucky Derby being run on the first Saturday in May. As a result, when the race was switched from May 2 to Sept. 5 in 2020 due to COVID-19, it rendered my DSS unworkable for that particular year.
As it was originally constructed back in 1999, the DSS seemed to work well through the years. Because of that, I resisted making any changes.
But when the DSS returned last year after the Kentucky Derby reverted to its traditional date of being run on the first Saturday in May, I decided that the time had come to make a logical and appropriate tweak. This tweak was in reaction to this major change in the sport: Horses just do not race nearly as much as they did when the DSS was introduced in 1999.
One of the original categories was that a horse needed to have made at least six lifetime starts prior to the Kentucky Derby. It is abundantly clear that this no longer is relevant. Therefore, I eliminated the category dealing with lifetime starts, reducing the DSS to eight categories.
The eight categories are listed toward the end of this column/blog/article.
According to the DSS, a horse with zero strikes or only one strike has a much better chance to win the Kentucky Derby than a horse with two strikes or more. According to the DSS as now constituted and excluding the Kentucky Derby of 2020 when the race was run in September, 83% of the Kentucky Derby winners (40 out of 48) have had zero strikes or one strike going back to 1973.
The seven Kentucky Derby winners with two strikes were Cannonade (1974), Ferdinand (1986), Sea Hero (1993), Funny Cide (2003), Giacomo (2005), Justify (2018) and Country House (2019).
Only one horse, Mine That Bird in 2009, has had more than two strikes. He had four.
As for Epicenter, he will go into the Kentucky Derby with zero strikes.
Japan’s Crown Pride, winner of last Saturday’s Group II UAE Derby, likewise has zero strikes. I think he could be dangerous in the Kentucky Derby, especially considering the tremendous success Japanese-based runners have been enjoying on the world stage lately.
Slow Down Andy, who was plucky to grind out a half-length win in last Sunday’s Grade III Sunland Park Derby at 1 1/8 miles, has one strike (Category 6).
Though Slow Down Andy is in good shape stakes-wise with just one, even trainer Doug O’Neill has acknowledged that the California-bred Nyquist colt will need to do better in order to win the Kentucky Derby.
Slow Down Andy recorded a modest 86 Beyer Speed Figure for his triumph at Sunland. He also seemed to take his name seriously in terms of the manner in which he came home that day from a time standpoint.
The Sunland Park Derby was “a race that was very fast early [1:09.54 for six furlongs], very slow late [final three furlongs in a glacial :40.62],” wrote Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman.
O’Neill has won the Kentucky Derby twice, first with I’ll Have Another in 2012, then with Nyquist in 2016.
Zozos, who finished second in last Saturday’s Louisiana Derby, has two strikes (Categories 2 and 7).
Pioneer of Medina, third in the Louisiana Derby, also has two strikes (Categories 2 and 4).
WINNER’S STRIKES GOING BACK TO 1973
Again, because stakes races in this country were not graded until 1973, the Derby Strikes System can’t go further back than that year. The reason, as mentioned earlier, is two of my eight categories deal with graded stakes races.
Maximum Security finished first in the 2019 Kentucky Derby. He had zero strikes. But the stewards disqualified Maximum Security and placed him 17th for committing a foul when he veered out sharply nearing the five-sixteenths marker to cause interference to War of Will, Bodexpress and Long Range Toddy. Country House was declared the winner of the 2019 Kentucky Derby.
Medina Spirit finished first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby. He had zero strikes. But as mentioned earlier, in terms of the 2021 Kentucky Derby, Medina Spirit now is recognized as the winner following Medina Spirit’s disqualification.
Based on the Derby Strikes System and its eight categories, the strikes for each Kentucky Derby winner going back to 1973 are below:
2021 Mandaloun (1 strike) Category 4*
2020 race run in September
2019 Country House (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 3**
2018 Justify (2 strikes) Categories 1 and 7
2017 Always Dreaming (1 strike) Category 1
2016 Nyquist (0 strikes)
2015 American Pharoah (0 strikes)
2014 California Chrome (0 strikes)
2013 Orb (0 strikes)
2012 I’ll Have Another (0 strikes)
2011 Animal Kingdom (0 strikes)
2010 Super Saver (1 strike) Category 4
2009 Mine That Bird (4 strikes) Categories 1, 4, 5 and 9
2008 Big Brown (0 strikes)
2007 Street Sense (0 strikes)
2006 Barbaro (0 strikes)
2005 Giacomo (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 5
2004 Smarty Jones (0 strikes)
2003 Funny Cide (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 8
2002 War Emblem (0 strikes)
2001 Monarchos (0 strikes)
2000 Fusaichi Pegasus (1 strike) Category 6
1999 Charismatic (1 strike) Category 5
1998 Real Quiet (0 strikes)
1997 Silver Charm (1 strike) Category 4
1996 Grindstone (0 strikes)
1995 Thunder Gulch (0 strikes)
1994 Go for Gin (0 strikes)
1993 Sea Hero (2 strikes) Categories 3 and 5
1992 Lil E. Tee (0 strikes)
1991 Strike the Gold (0 strikes)
1990 Unbridled (1 strike) Category 3
1989 Sunday Silence (0 strikes)
1988 Winning Colors (0 strikes)
1987 Alysheba (1 strike) Category 2
1986 Ferdinand (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 4
1985 Spend a Buck (0 strikes)
1984 Swale (0 strikes)
1983 Sunny’s Halo (1 strike) Category 1
1982 Gato Del Sol (1 strike) Category 3
1981 Genuine Risk (1 strike) Category 1
1980 Pleasant Colony (0 strikes)
1979 Spectacular Bid (0 strikes)
1978 Affirmed (0 strikes)
1977 Seattle Slew (0 strikes)
1976 Bold Forbes (0 strikes)
1975 Foolish Pleasure (0 strikes)
1974 Cannonade (2 strikes) Categories 3 and 4
1973 Secretariat (0 strikes)
*Medina Spirit (0 strikes) finished first but was disqualified and all purse money forfeited
**Maximum Security (0 strikes) finished first but was disqualified and placed 17th
MY DERBY STRIKES SYSTEM’S CATEGORIES
What are the eight categories in my Derby Strikes System? They are listed below:
1. THE GRADED STAKES CATEGORY. (The horse ran in a graded stakes race before March 31.) This points out horses who have competed against tough competition prior to March 31 rather than at the last minute in April, enabling the horse to be properly battle-tested. (Exceptions: Going back to the introduction of graded stakes races in the U.S. in 1973, only Genuine Risk in 1980, Sunny’s Halo in 1983, Mine That Bird in 2009 and Always Dreaming in 2017 have won the Kentucky Derby without running in a graded stakes race at 2 or early at 3 before March 31.)
2. THE WIN IN A GRADED STAKES CATEGORY. (The horse has won a graded stakes race.) This points out horses who have shown they have the class to win a graded stakes race. (Exceptions: Ferdinand in 1986, Alysheba in 1987, Funny Cide in 2003 and Giacomo in 2005 are the only exceptions going back to the introduction of U.S. graded stakes races in 1973; Alysheba in 1987 did finish first in the Blue Grass, only to be disqualified and placed third.)
3. THE EIGHTH POLE CATEGORY. (In either of his or her last two starts before the Kentucky Derby, the horse was either first or second with a furlong to go.) This points out horses who were running strongly at the eighth pole, usually in races at 1 1/16 or 1 1/8 miles. By running strongly at the same point in the Kentucky Derby, a horse would be in a prime position to win the roses. Keep in mind that 53 of the last 56 Kentucky Derby winners through 2021 have been first or second with a furlong to run. Since Decidedly won the Derby in 1962 when he was third with a furlong to go, the only three Kentucky Derby winners who were not first or second with a furlong to run were Animal Kingdom, third with a furlong remaining in 2011 when only a half-length from being second; Giacomo, sixth with a furlong to go in 2005; and Grindstone, fourth with a furlong to run in 1996. (Exceptions: Going back to 1955, the Kentucky Derby winners who weren’t either first or second a furlong from the finish in his or her last two starts have been Tim Tam in 1958, Carry Back in 1961, Cannonade in 1974, Gato Del Sol in 1982, Unbridled in 1990 and Sea Hero in 1993, with Canonero II in 1971 unknown.)
4. THE GAMENESS CATEGORY. (The horse’s finish position in both of his or her last two races before the Kentucky Derby was no worse than his or her running position at the eighth pole.) This points out horses who don’t like to get passed in the final furlong. (Exceptions: Going back to 1955, the exceptions have been Venetian Way in 1960, Cannonade in 1974, Foolish Pleasure in 1975, Ferdinand in 1986, Silver Charm in 1997, Mine That Bird in 2009, Super Saver in 2010 and Mandaloun in 2021, with Canonero II in 1971 unknown.)
5. THE DISTANCE FOUNDATION CATEGORY. (The horse has finished at least third in a 1 1/8-mile race or longer before the Kentucky Derby.) This points out horses who have the proper foundation and/or stamina for the Kentucky Derby distance. (Exceptions: Going back to 1955, the only exceptions have been Kauai King in 1966, Sea Hero in 1993, Charismatic in 1999, Giacomo in 2005 and Mine That Bird in 2009.)
6. THE NO ADDING OR REMOVING BLINKERS CATEGORY. (The horse has not added blinkers or had blinkers removed in his or her final start at 3 before the Kentucky Derby.) This seems to point out that, if a horse is good enough to win the Kentucky Derby, the trainer is not searching for answers so late in the game. (Going back to 1973, no horse has added blinkers or had blinkers removed in his or her last start at 3 before winning the Kentucky Derby.)
7. THE RACED AS A 2-YEAR-OLD CATEGORY. (The horse made at least one start as a 2-year-old.) (Exceptions: Apollo in 1882 and Justify in 2018. Going back to 1937, horses unraced as a 2-year-old now are a combined 1 for 65 in the Kentucky Derby through 2021. During this period, the only horses to finish second or third in the Kentucky Derby without having raced at 2 were Hampden, who finished third in 1946; Coaltown, second in 1948; Agitate, third in 1974; Reinvested, third in 1982; Strodes Creek, second in 1994; Curlin, third in 2007; Bodemeister, second in 2012; and Battle of Midway, third in 2017.)
8. THE NOT A GELDING CATEGORY. (The horse is not a gelding.) (Exceptions: Funny Cide in 2003 and Mine That Bird in 2009 are the only geldings to win the Kentucky Derby since Clyde Van Dusen in 1929.)
NTRA TOP THROUGHBRED POLL
Following his win in the Group I Dubai World Cup for Baffert, Country Grammer ascends to the top of this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll. Dropping to No. 3 is Life Is Good, who was No. 1 last week. Life Is Good finished fourth in the $12 million Dubai event.
The Top 10 in this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll is below:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 300 Country Grammer (20)
2. 272 Letruska (4)
3. 267 Life Is Good (4)
4. 239 Hot Rod Charlie
5. 195 Express Train (5)
6. 124 Flightline (1)
7. 78 Ce Ce
8. 74 Olympiad (1)
9. 69 Speaker’s Corner
10. 61 Mandaloun
NTRA TOP THREE-YEAR-OLD POLL
In the wake of Epicenter’s Louisiana Derby victory, he strengthened his position at the top of the NTRA Top Three-Year-Old Poll. He received 25 first-place votes this week, including mine. Epicenter received nine first-place votes last week.
The Top 10 in this week’s NTRA Top Three-Year-Old Poll is below:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 333 Epicenter (25)
2. 266 Forbidden Kingdom (4)
3. 227 Classic Causeway
4. 218 Messier (4)
5. 196 Simplification
6. 159 Smile Happy
7. 123 White Abarrio
8. 121 Secret Oath (2)
9. 77 Morello
10. 37 Un Ojo
Why do I have Messier ranked No. 1 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 but voted for Epicenter at No. 1 in the NTRA Poll? Good question.
My Kentucky Derby Top 10 is how I rank the horses in terms of who is the most likely winner of that race. My NTRA rankings are based primarily on achievement. I look at Epicenter at having achieved more than Messier.
Let’s take a look at the Top 10 in the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll from the last week in March a decade ago:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 466 Game On Dude (21)
2. 464 Havre de Grace (22)
3. 410 Mucho Macho Man
4. 241 Ron the Greek
5. 197 Awesome Feather (1)
6. 186 Hymn Book
7. 157 Royal Delta
8. 148 Union Rags
9. 121 Acclamation (1)
10. 103 Caleb’s Possee
Now lets take a look at the Top 10 in the NTRA Top Three-Year-Old Poll from the last week in March a decade ago:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 528 Union Rags (47)
2. 429 Creative Cause (4)
3. 398 Hansen (2)
4. 334 El Padrino (1)
5. 221 Alpha (1)
6. 213 Gemologist
7. 182 Secret Circle
8. 165 I’ll Have Another
9. 143 Bodemeister
10. 70 Mark Valeski
My Kentucky Derby Top 10 from the last week on March a decade ago:
1. Creative Cause
2. Union Rags
3. El Padrino
4. I’ll Have Another
6. Secret Circle
10. Daddy Nose Best
My final Top 10 prior to the 2012 Kentucky Derby:
1. I’ll Have Another
2. Daddy Nose Best
3. Creative Cause
4. Union Rags
5. El Padrino
10. Take Charge Indy
I’ll Have Another became the first -- and still only-- to Kentucky Derby winner to start from post 19. He topped my final Top 10 and was my pick to win, returning $32.60 for each $2 win wager. I did not bet any money on 15-1 I’ll Have Another on race day. On March 3, I did put $200 on I’ll Have Another in Pool Two of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager (KDFW). When Pool Two closed the next day, I’ll Have Another’s price was 23-1. After I’ll Have Another’s 1 1/2-length Kentucky Derby victory, I collected $4,620 for my KDFW bet.