Log In

Previewing 3 Key Kentucky Derby Preps: Gotham, Tampa Bay Derby & Jeff Ruby Steaks

by Dustin Fabian

March 7, 2019

With three key ‘Road to the Kentucky Derby’ Points Races this weekend, more slots on the First Saturday in May will be divvied out to top three-year-olds.  Saturday’s Gotham Stakes and Tampa Bay Derby are 85 Point races (awarded in a 50-20-10-5 fashion) while the Jeff Ruby Steaks is a 34 Point race (20-8-4-2). 

What’s that mean?  Well, since 20-25 Points is usually the cutoff for this year’s Derby, there’s a good chance four or five slots in the Run for the Roses will be awarded this weekend.  And with top names like Instagrand, Somelikeithotbrown, Knicks Go, Well Defined and Win Win Win in action, there’s something for everyone. 

Before we get into the analysis and picks, let’s do some housecleaning.


Horse racing’s best promotion continues this weekend as our ‘Money Back on the Preps’ promo is offered on the Gotham, Tampa Bay Derby and Jeff Ruby Steaks.  To play, register for free and make a Win bet (up to $10) on a horse in any or each of those races.  If your horse finishes 2nd or 3rd, we’ll refund your bet! 


We’re proud to offer the Kentucky Derby Future Pool #3 beginning at 12PM ET Friday and continuing through Sunday night.  Bet horses like Game Winner, Instagrand, War of Will, Code of Honor and Bourbon War and try to lock yourself into better odds than you’d get on May 4!

A Kentucky Oaks Future Wager will also be offered this weekend.


Xpressbet customers can also play the All-Stakes Cross Country Pick 5 this Saturday, featuring races from Tampa Bay Downs (Florida Oaks & Tampa Bay Derby), Aqueduct (Gotham Stakes, Busher Invitational) and Oaklawn Park (Honeybee Stakes). 

The wager begins at 4:57PM ET and look for Cross-Country Pick 5 on the Track List to play. 

Now for the picks & analysis!


Betting Aqueduct

First Post: 12:20PM ET
KY Derby Prep Race: G3 Gotham (R10, 5:09PM ET)
Other Key Races: G3 Tom Fool (R8, 4:06PM ET), Stymie (R9, 4:37PM ET), Busher (R11, 5:40PM ET)
Key Wagers: All-Stakes Pick 4 (Races 8 – 11)

Gotham Thoughts:

I really think this race starts and ends with the brilliant and undefeated INSTAGRAND.  His connections put all their eggs in the Triple Crown basket when they famously skipped last fall’s Breeders’ Cup to freshen the colt for a spring campaign.  Well, here we are and it’s time to make good on that plan.  This field isn’t particularly deep, but it is loaded with speed and Instagrand will need to prove he can a) route and b) withstand legit early pressure.

KNICKS GO has gone from a lovable longshot to underwhelming favorite.  He paired his longshot efforts in the BC Juvenile (2nd at 40/1) and Breeders Futurity (1st at 70/1) to favoritism in the G2 Kentucky Jockey Club and G3 Sam F. Davis and he finished 11th and 5th, respectively.  He’s trending the wrong way and showing up against other quality speed horses doesn’t help.

MIND CONTROL looks like a need-the-lead type.  He dug in gamely to win the G1 Hopeful at Saratoga last fall and he won the Jerome here in January, but he never got close to the lead in the BC Juvenile after a bad start and couldn’t do much from the back. 

Baffert’s MUCH BETTER makes the trek from So Cal and he’s Baffert’s 4th string, but that could be good enough for a check.  He was 3rd in the G3 Sham Stakes which, all due respect to the entrants, wasn’t a strong prep.  He’ll need to improve.

The only horse, besides INSTAGRAND, that intrigues me is HAIKAL.  The Shadwell homebred son of Daaher is 2-for-3 in his career and while I question how much he wants to route, he is a quality closer in a field loaded with speed.  He closed to win the Jimmy Winkfield Stakes on February 9.  He won’t be a factor early, but he’ll be coming late.

Bottom Line:

Hard to pick against INSTAGRAND.  The connections left themselves little room for error in getting this horse to Louisville and, at this race’s core, he simply should beat these horses.  If he can’t, he’s not nearly as good as we thought.

1. Instagrand
2. Haikal
3. Family Biz


Betting Tampa Bay Downs

First Post: 12:12PM ET
KY Derby Prep Race: Tampa Bay Derby (R11, 5:25PM ET)
Other Key Races: Columbia (R7, 3:15PM ET), Challenger (R8, 3:45PM ET), G2 Hillsborough (R9, 4:19PM ET), G3 Florida Oaks (R10, 4:50PM ET)
Key Wagers: All-Stakes Pick 4 (Races 8 – 11), All-Stakes Pick 5 (Races 7 – 11)

Tampa Bay Derby Thoughts:

WELL DEFINED was 7/1 when he won the Sam F. Davis Stakes here on February 9 and this field, from top-to-bottom, is probably similar in depth.  He lucked into an easy lead that day and if Pablo Morales is aggressive he may get a similar trip this time.  This gelding flew under the radar in the Sam F. Davis due to a pair of poor efforts in the G1 BC Juvenile (12th) and the Mucho Macho Man (5th).  Simply put, he went too fast early in those races. 

The ML favorite is WIN WIN WIN.  He has lived up to his name in 3-of-4 races, including a breathtaking effort to win the Pasco Stakes here on January 19.  He scored by 7 1/4-lengths that day.  He’s never routed and that’s a huge knock on him, but he’s been closing like a monster in his last few races.  Note that Irad Ortiz Jr. makes the cross-state trek to ride him. 

Todd Pletcher doesn’t have many Derby hopefuls this year, but OUTSHINE is near the top of his list.  He’s 2-for-3 and won an allowance race at Gulfstream on February 10.  Not sure how good he is, but it’s hard to envision a scenario where he shocks anyone with a big performance or two.  It’s not every day you get Todd Pletcher with Joel Rosario at 8/1 ML.

Mark Casse’s DREAM MAKER was favored in the G1 Breeders Futurity (won by Knicks Go) in October and he came back at the Fair Grounds with a visually stunning 8 1/2-length allowance win on February 9.  I liked that Florent Geroux place him a little more forwardly than he had been earlier in his career and that made a huge difference.  He checks plenty of boxes. 

Juddmonte’s TACITUS is a son of Tapit, out of G1 winner Close Hatches, making him the best-bred horse in the race.  He broke his maiden at Aqueduct by a neck in November and he adds Lasix here.  It’s a tough task but, again, Jose Ortiz made the trip here to ride for a reason.  Just have a feeling that the 4-month layoff may be a bit much.

Bottom Line:

The most wide open of these prep races and I wouldn’t be surprised by DREAM MAKER, WELL DEFINED, WIN WIN WIN, OUTSHINE or TACITUS.   ZENDEN is also a quality animal and I’m still chasing DUNPH, because I think he’s better than he’s showing. 

1. Dream Maker
2. Well Defined
3. Outshine


Betting Turfway Park

First Post: 1:10PM ET
KY Derby Prep Race: G3 Jeff Ruby Steaks (R11, 6:37PM ET)
Other Key Races: Animal Kingdom (R6, 3:33PM ET), Latonia (R7, 4:07PM ET), Rushaway (R8, 4:41PM ET), Kentucky Cup Classic (R9, 5:15PM ET), Bourbonette Oaks (R10, 5:51PM ET)
Key Wagers: All-Stakes Pick 4 (Races 6 – 9), All-Stakes Pick 5 (Races 7 – 11), All-Stakes Pick 4 (Races 8 – 11)

Jeff Ruby Thoughts:

I’m the kind of person who wants to make a case for ‘outside the box’ horses but SOMELIKEITHOTBROWN is a standout and his participation in this race is a coup for Turfway.  This is a horse that came within a length of winning the G1 BC Juvenile Turf and broke his maiden by 8-lengths at Saratoga.  He’s never run a bad one on turf or synthetic and hard to think he’d do that now.  He won the local prep for this, the Battaglia Memorial, by 3 1/2-lengths on February 15.  Trainer Mike Maker has won this race four times since 2006. 

Mark Casse’s SKYWIRE brings a lot to the table.  He was dominatnt in a Gulfstream Park allowance race on February 13 and he broke his maiden on the all-weather track at Woodbine in December.  He’s light on experience but there’s no reason he won’t – or can’t run big. 

Bottom Line:

I’ll find value elsewhere in the Pick 4 or Pick 5 and lean on the big two – Somelikeithotbrown and Skywire – here. 

1. Somelikeithotbrown
2. Skywire
3. Dynamic Racer