From Win Willy's upset victory in the Rebel Stakes to Hold Me Back's surprise triumph in the Lane's End Stakes, many of the recent prep races on the road to the Kentucky Derby have only clouded the overall picture.
But instead of prompting even more queries, this weekend's slate of races actually succeeded in providing a couple of definitive answers.
Proving his victory in the Fountain of Youth Stakes was no fluke, Quality Road turned in one of the more impressive outings this season when he turned back the hard-running Dunkirk at the head of the lane en route to a 13/4-length win in the Florida Derby Saturday.
Hours earlier under the Dubai sky, Godolphin Racing had its Kentucky Derby hopes revitalized when Regal Ransom withstood a charge from stablemate Desert Party to post a 1-2 finish in the $2 million UAE Derby.
While many have rightfully marveled at the ability Dunkirk has shown in just three career starts, Quality Road has truly demonstrated talent beyond his years in just four career outings.
In both the Fountain of Youth and the Florida Derby, the son of Elusive Quality showed he could relax just off the pace without getting rank — a factor that will be key given the number of front-running horses likely to show up on Derby Day.
Most impressive of all, however, was the grit Quality Road showed when Dunkirk came soaring up with a great turn of foot on the final turn. Instead of folding up when challenged, Quality Road re-broke when Dunkirk looked him in the eye and appeared to have plenty left in reserve while setting a track record of 1:47.72 over 11⁄8 miles.
Just as Quality Road and Dunkirk were the clear class of the Florida Derby field, the Godolphin duo was just as impressive in the UAE Derby.
Although their connections were non-committal immediately after the race, it appears both Regal Ransom and Desert Party are now headed to Churchill Downs.
"We are planning to send both the first and second to America for the Kentucky Derby if they come out of this all right," Simon Crisford, racing manager for Godolphin, said on Sunday. "Both horses ran super races and they are legitimate contenders for the Kentucky Derby.
"They will ship to Churchill and we will wait until closer to the Kentucky Derby to decide if both run or we leave one for the Preakness Stakes. But we will cross that bridge when we get to it."