DEL REY BEACH, FL. April 9, 2023 – Fascinating, would be one word to describe the final major preps for Kentucky Derby 149, although chaotic might be a more apt description. This Derby is a lot deeper than many think.
Out West, the leading candidate virtually all season was the impressive G2 San Felipe Practical Move, and nothing he did in the Santa Anita Derby served to dispel the notion.
Practical Move’s victory was hard fought and narrow, out-gaming Japanese invader Mandarin Hero and wide-rally, toughest trip of the blanket finishers, Skinner. Both money horses ran winning races, they just didn’t finish first.
But the buzz coming out of Santa Anita Saturday night is how the Japanese horses have taken to the world stage. Taken to it and, in some instances, taken it by storm.
Who could have known that stamina breeding to race would overcome precocious breeding for the sales ring? What is it Jackson Browne wrote: Every form of refuge has its price?
Much was made of the fact that Mandarin Hero raced at ‘B’ tracks on the National Association of Racing circuit [NAR], and not the Japan Racing Association circuit [JRA]. That assessment may be apt, but the NAR circuit features more dirt racing, somewhat neutralizing America’s home court advantage.
Reportedly, the impressive UAE Derby winner and ranked fourth on Churchill Downs’ Derby leaderboard, Derma Sotogake, raced on both circuits.
In the East, it does appear that the top three G2 Wood Memorial finishers will have to make their bones post Derby. Place and show finishers Hit Show and Dreamlike, respectively, do not qualify. Winner Lord Miles qualifies, his effort does not enhance his Derby credentials, even if he was taken too lightly in New York.
His victory flattered Tapit Trice, who beat him by 5-3/4 lengths at Tampa Bay, a margin that will be very hard to find when considering it took 1:51.17 to negotiate nine furlongs, including a final three-eighths in a pedestrian 38.29 seconds.
The Blue Grass finish was a special event with the exacta horses throwing it down the short length of the Keeneland stretch, Tapit Trice prevailing by a neck over Verifying in 1:50-flat that followed a moderate half-mile 48.04. The final three furlongs were clocked in a very solid 37.43 seconds.
Both horses moved forward from their prior starts, a common trait among serious Derby contenders historically. Verifying improved on his mystifying G2 Rebel, but lacks the needed qualifying points. Tapit Trice underscored his Tampa Derby score with a similar trip but this time had to survive a deep-stretch scrum.
Similar but different, Tapit Trice and Forte have been the equine stars of the prep season and the addition of Kingsbarns represents an embarrassment of riches for Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, scheduled to leave for Kentucky next week.
Off their most recent comprehensive, frontrunning victories, it will be very interesting to see how the pace dynamic between Kingsbarns and Derma Sotogake plays out on Derby day.
This renewal is going to have a bit of everything: Speed, pressers, and closers. Positions in the starting gate will be key, beyond the rail and post-20 clichés. Then, of course, it will be the trips, where pilot error and luck come into play, and pedigree, generations worth of pedigree.
The Derby is always a tough handicapping nut to crack so the horses aren’t the only ones who will need to raise their game to succeed in Derby 159. Like we said earlier, fascinating.
Del Rey Doings
Palm Beach Downs was pretty quiet this morning, as most outfits have headed north or, the best of them, Midwest to Lexington and Louisville. Divisional leading Forte is still in the Sunshine State and likely will have his first piece of work since the Florida Derby on Friday although Pletcher is leaving his options open.
Tapit Trice remained at Keeneland and the stablemates will reunite early next week with Pletcher in tow. The champion and the gray colt each will have two works at Churchill, a half mile or five-eighths—”we’ll play it by ear”—presumably with a strong gallop out, of course.