It was just a week ago that we pronounced next month’s Kentucky Derby as potentially possessing one of the strongest fields in recent memory. Now, we’re doubling down on that.
We are thanks to Saturday’s double dose of Derby prep races when My Boy Jack made a stirring rally to win the Stonestreet Lexington Stakes at Keeneland and Magnum Moon remained perfect by dominating the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park.
Confirming its Derby credentials, that duo joined the ranks of Santa Anita Derby winner Justify, Wood Memorial winner Vino Rosso and Toyota Blue Grass Stakes winner Good Magic, who all jumped to the first tier of probable favorites come May 5 at Churchill Downs.
Only we would be remiss in not mentioning Audible, the impressive winner of the Florida Derby on March 31. Or Mendelssohn, the $3 million yearling purchase and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner who romped by 18-plus lengths in the UAE Derby. Or Noble Indy, who captured the Louisiana Derby. Nor should we omit Gronkowski, the UK import (as in United Kingdom) who has won four straight races across the pond.
You can make a strong case that the two most interesting of the aforementioned are the two that did not race at 2 years old. Both Justify and Magnum Moon will both try to snap the curse that is Apollo, who in 1882 became the last horse to not race as a 2-year-old and still win the Kentucky Derby.
Trained by Bob Baffert, Justify has raced just three times and just once in stakes company. He gave doubters reasons to rethink their position with his three-length win in the Santa Anita Derby, sprinting away from the formidable Bolt d’Oro in the stretch and posting a 107 Beyer Speed Figure, the algorithm the Daily Racing Form uses to judge a performance against track bias, etc.
In fact, Justify is the only 3-year-old to post a 100-or-better Beyer this year. And the son of the late Scat Daddy has done so three times, improving from a 101 to a 104 to a 107.
Magnum Moon earned a 98 Beyer for his five-length win at Oaklawn, a victory that saw the son of Malibu Moon drift wide in the stretch but still prove easily the best of a talented field that included Tampa Bay Derby winner Quip, who ran second at Arkansas, and Breeders’ Cup runner-up Solomini, who ran third.
Now 4-for-4 lifetime, Mangum Moon is trained by Todd Pletcher, who will again bring an embarrassment of riches to Churchill. Last year’s winning trainer of Always Dreaming, Pletcher has Audible, Vino Rosso, Noble Indy and Magnum Moon in his barn. All four will hit Louisville having won their last race.
That’s what make this year’s Kentucky Derby so intriguing. It will be filled with favorites that won prep races as favorites. Upsets along the prep race trail have been few and far between.
Magnum Moon was the $0.80-1 Arkansas Derby favorite. Justify was the $0.90-1 Santa Anita Derby favorite. Audible was the $1.60-1 Florida Derby favorite. Good Magic was the $1.60-1 Blue Grass favorite. Noble Indy was the $2.70-1 Louisiana Derby favorite. My Boy Jack was the $1.50-1 Lexington favorite.
At $4.20-1, Vino Rosso was the third choice in the Wood Memorial behind favorite Enticed ($1.25) and Restoring Hope ($3.75), but he was considered a talented colt who had not yet figured it out. He did so in New York.
All four of Pletcher’s platoon are now back in south Florida at Palm Beach Downs, where they will train before making the trip to Louisville a week or so before the Derby. Upon arrival, however, Magnum Moon figures to attract the most attention.
“It’s very difficult to do what he’s done since Jan. 13, break his maiden, to now be 4-for-4 and win the Rebel and Arkansas Derby and be a Grade 1 winner in his fourth start,” said Pletcher at Oaklawn on Saturday. “It’s a real tribute to the horse’s talent.”
There are plenty of talented horses in this year’s Kentucky Derby, the most we’ve seen in quite some time.
6:34 p.m. post time on Saturday, May 5, at Churchill Downs in Louisville (NBC-18)
Kentucky Derby leaderboard
D. Wayne Lukas
My Boy Jack
Free Drop Billy
Dream Baby Sream
*Gronkowski invited from European Road to Derby