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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


We believe it’s little more than a sophomoric exercise to start thinking Kentucky Derby before Thanksgiving day. But since the Santa logo is appearing in stores everywhere, might as well invoke the roses of May.

Consider: Here we are at Thanksgiving and until Code of Honor was soundly defeated in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, the 2019 three-year-old picture was muddled. Now, somewhat by default, Maximum Security is the leader in the Eclipse clubhouse.

And how about this? While Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Storm the Court is packed up for the rest of the year to concentrate on next year’s Derby assault, his connections cannot depend on a juvenile title even after a victory in the division’s defining race.

The results of next weekend’s Jockey Club Stakes, or the Los Alamitos Futurity winner, could jump into the conversation depending on the winner’s body of work entering and exiting those graded two turn affairs.

The Juvenile, as all know, is a terrible predictor of Kentucky Derby form and when you think about it that makes a lot of street sense. Maybe it has to do with peaked juvenile precocity, or reaching to the bottom too soon, leaving little in developmental reserve.

And perhaps it’s the connections potential classicists waiting longer and longer to showcase their juveniles. More often than one would think, Derby winners are November maiden breakers, not the stakes winners of summer and early fall.

For those die-hards, and horseplayers who will be wading into the first Kentucky Derby Future Pool next weekend [please see poll question on HRI homepage] let’s take a look at the 2020 Derby class through a Breeders’ Cup Juvenile prism with help from our friends at Thoro-Graph.

For those unfamiliar with performance figures, the lower the number the better/faster the race. One point is worth a little less than a length at 5 furlongs, but about two lengths at the Derby distance of 1-1/4 miles. With respect to weight, one point represents 5 pounds on the scale.

Let’s turn the Juvenile chart upside down, starting from the bottom up:

Dennis’ Moment’s race [finishing 8th earning a ‘17’] is a complete toss, not only because he was virtually eliminated at the break but if the plan were to take back, not many dirt horses were successful using that tack on loose, tiring Santa Anita dirt that produced much wheel spinning.

Previously, ‘Dennis’ earned an uber-fast ‘1-1/4’ breaking maiden by a short pole at Ellis Park in start two–too fast, too soon some might say.

Dennis returned to earn a ‘4’ in the G2 Iroquois, a tough read since some regression was expected but the win was so easy that it’s safe to presume he could have run faster. Either way, this is an uncommonly fast, visually impressive colt.

Shoplifted [7th] also bounced, to a 13-1/2, but since his debut ‘6-1/2’ blowout win at Saratoga and his good Hopeful placing that earned a ‘7-1/2’, his two-turn Juvenile prep produced another slight regression to an ‘8’. It might have been the SA surface but he will need to go forward.

Eight Rings [6th] was surprisingly bad but Bob Baffert publicly took the blame. Surrounding his “lost rider” second start sandwich, Eight Rings paired ‘4s’, so the talent and consistency is there. Following a 5-furlong drill this week, a rebound try in December’s Los Alamitos Futurity seems likely.

Full Flat [5th] earned an 8-1/2 in his first start outside Japan, a worthy effort. However, we have no basis for comparison.

Scabbard [4th] had three starts prior to the Juvenile, first two sprinting, going from 12 to 10 to 6-3/4, what you’d expect from a developing horse–the dramatic jump going long. He regressed off that sizable move to a 9 but as his trainer said, “nobody was closing on that track;” a deserved mulligan.

Wrecking Crew [3rd], fans of “The Sting” note, is on a good line, the kind of incremental development indicating there’s more to come: 10-1/2 > 9 > 8-3/4 > 7-1/2. Significantly, he did so at graduating distances despite a speed oriented pedigree.

Anneau D’or [2nd] went from dominating Golden Gate turf race into the Juvenile, moving forward dramatically from 11-1/4 to 3-3/4. On one hand, it’s unreasonable to expect similar next out; on the other, who knows the kind of animal we’re dealing with? Just could be a freak; we’ll see.

Storm the Court (1st]: The first thing I heard a wise-guy say is that the Derby winner will not come out of the Juvenile. History is against the colt but the rush to judgment is not deserved at this juncture.

Sandwiched around yet another “lost rider” incident were three starts with all moves forward; 9 > 7 > 5-1/2, the last two runs around two turns. The progression is not too dramatic so there should be more to come. Blinkers helped but distance pedigree is dubious. But so far, so good.

There are juveniles such as recovering Breeders’ Futurity winner Maxfield, the enigmatic Dennis’ Moment and outstanding Champagne winner Tiz the Law that have been much more impressive. The latter’s Jockey Club Stakes against a solid field Saturday is highly anticipated.

Whether bettors are in action next weekend or the next three Futures pools, or not until Derby day, no bets will be tallied until about 6:30 p.m. on May 2, 2020. Who’s the Derby winner? At this point, not even the Juvenile winner is assured this year’s title, much less 2020’s.

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11 Responses

  1. TTT

    “The Juvenile, as all know, is a terrible predictor of Kentucky Derby form and when you think about it that makes a lot of street sense.”

    Who do you like or not like in the Derby? That is the question. It’s always been the question; a question I’ve come to despise. Not from fellow horseplayers, but from neophyte, non-believing nimrods, who turn into racing experts one day a year, carrying with them every wives tale, buzz word and cliché imaginable in their bag of negativity.

    First heard your name in 2007 when I came across a video of you advocating Street Sense to win the Derby. I’m sure you suffered the same ridicule I did for having such a belief. I’ve since made it my business to answer those non-believers with my standard response; “What do I know?”

    Who do you like in the Derby John?

  2. That’s above my pay grade, what do I know, Ted?

    To be serious for a moment, I’m with the consensus at the moment; Max, Dennis, and a couple of flashy maiden winners whose names I’ve written down but can’t remember at the moment.

    And I’m in no hurry; I enjoy the prep season as much as the race itself, watching these young teenage athletes grow into men–and women!

  3. Street Sense made sense. A monster with Calvin Bo Rail aboard for the ride. Love the trainer, also. Plus, he has been a star as a sire. Love this horse.

  4. Just checked sire records. McKinsie out of Street Sense. “You’re going to win, Mrs. Genter (Nafzger on Unbridled)” trainer of Street Sense.

  5. I have fond memories, too. HRI debuted during Derby week in 2007 and fortunately we were on the right horse. (I’d like to think we were on to the Tampa Bay Downs angle before the world caught up).

    Anyway, Indulto and others do this often, so I’m not picking on you. But it’s McKenZie. And, yes, the “Mrs. Genter” moment was iconic racing theater.

  6. Cynical Sinbad

    I’m sorry for my cynicism JP, it is just that certain acquaintances/family members treat me like some kind of dancing bear at Derby time, expected to perform on cue, providing, without excuse, the winner of the greatest lasting pieces of Americana. But then again……”this is the business we’ve chosen.”

  7. I understand but we can’t take it personally. As you noted, Mr. Roth said: “This is the business we have chosen.”

    Run Forrest, run!

    1. “I didn’t ask who gave the order because it had nothing to do with business!” Nobody better than Lee Strassberg. A superstar. “I came back to vote in Presidential election because they wouldn’t give me an absentee ballot.”

  8. Maxfield looked extremely impressive in sweeping past the field in the Breeders Futurity, and was clearly the best by far that day, but I am not ready to concede with Gouverneur Morris quite yet. Maxfield had the benefit of a route race under his belt already, albeit a one turn mile and GM was shipping for the first time in his 2nd start while Maxfield was staying in KY.

    I assume Pletcher brings him back early in the GP meet; I’m eagerly anticipating that one

  9. Doc, and Mr. Pletcher had an impressive maiden breaker for Winstar over the weekend at Aqueduct….

    Back on point: Couldn’t agree more on Maxfield, the move on far turn was Arazi-like–enough said.

    And you’re spot on with the Gouveneur. Yes, Max blew by but the Gov did well to reach the lead at that point and likely he and the rider were somewhat that a rival was on him so quickly.

    For a second start, first around two turns, after shipping, who wouldn’t like that?

    Know why I love talking Derby? It’s not about cashing until race-day. It’s the chase, the infinite possibilities, watching the babies grow…

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