By Lindsay Griffin
The “Road to the Kentucky Derby” can, in modern times, be summed up in a single sentence: what have you done for me lately?
The introduction of the points system in the Triple Crown prep races, with their heavy emphasis on later prep races, ensures that Kentucky Derby entry is reserved only for horses who have had top-tier recent form.
Gone are the days of minor race winners trying their luck in the Derby, or of horses entering the gate with only the memory of their two-year-old season speaking for them. Remember, you can find all the Kentucky Derby entries at TwinSpires.com, so make sure to pay them a visit.
What to expect this year?
This year, in addition to the silence from many of last year’s top two-year-olds (notably, Jack Christopher and Echo Zulu), we have to mentally subtract many top performers (notably, Corniche and Messier) due to the infamous “Baffert Ban.”
Assuming that Baffert fails to be reinstated, and assuming as well that Baffert’s clients remain loyal, we may approach the first Saturday in May knowing that many talented and proven contenders will be resting in their stalls.
All of that, however, is out of the casual horseplayers’ hands. The Kentucky Derby (top juveniles or not, Baffert or not) is coming up quickly, and what we should focus on now is what will be in the casual horseplayers’ hands; hopefully, a nice wad of cash from the betting window.
Kentucky Derby Prep Races
The past two weekends have added chapters to this year’s Triple Crown story. Let’s take a look at four of them:
Tampa Bay Derby (G2): The Tampa Bay Derby is rarely considered a top-tier Derby prep, but this year’s edition may be more than it seems. As noted in Thoroughbred Daily News, Classic Causeway added the Tampa Bay Derby to his earlier score in the G3 Sam F. Davis Stakes.
His competition in these two races has been relatively light, but keep in mind that Classic Causeway was twice graded-stakes-placed at two against the likes of Smile Happy; he is not light on experience at the top levels.
Fountain of Youth (G2): Between Emmanuel’s monster effort after a horrid trip and Paco Lopez’s rough-riding antics, the winner, Simplification, seems almost like an afterthought. Certainly, the spill complicates any analysis of the race, and better luck would have likely gotten Emmanuel closer to the wire, but Simplification should not be written off.
The son of Not This Time, who himself had traffic trouble, seemed to fight his jockey throughout and yet still have plenty left in the tank.
Gotham Stakes (G3): What seems most striking about Morello’s performance is not his ability to rating, or how he drew off at the end rather, it was how jockey Jose Lezcano was an absolute statue for the whole length of the stretch.
Assistant trainer Jimmy Sheets said of the unbeaten colt “He hasn’t been hit by the stick yet,” and the replay attests to that. The Gotham has not been a good predictor of Derby’s performance in recent years- Secretariat was the last to accomplish that particular double- but it’s hard not to like Morello at this point, especially at a good price.
San Felipe Stakes (G2): Forbidden Kingdom put on what was possibly the most visually dominant performance of the 2022 Triple Crown trail, taking the field of seven gate-to-wire, shrugging off early challenges until the rest of the field simply could not catch him.
Trainer Richard Mandella, when asked about the possibility of teaching his colt to rate in a recent Thoroughbred Daily News podcast, indicated that he was inclined to follow Forbidden Kingdom’s lead. The biggest downside to this colt may be that being owned by Spendthrift and MyRacehorse.com, a good price might be difficult to come by.