Derby Prep Season Now In High Gear

DERBY PREP SEASON SWINGS INTO HIGH GEAR

By Noel Michaels - OTBLearningLabs.com

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The 139th running of the Kentucky Derby is only about two months away on Saturday, May 4, and that can only mean one thing at this time of year - Derby prep season is finally here in earnest, and the action is only going to get faster and more furious from here on out pretty much each and every Saturday from now until the first Saturday in May.

The Kentucky Derby prep season is already underway as 3-year-olds from around the country continue to compete for right to occupy one of the 20 available stalls in the Churchill Downs starting gate for the Run for the Roses.  For the first time ever in 2013, starters in the Derby will be decided by a points system instead of the earnings system that has determined the field in past years. Derby hopefuls will now earn points for wins or top finishes in all of the top prep races (such as the Florida Derby, Santa Anita Derby, Wood Memorial, etc. etc. etc., just to name a few).  The points really started to multiply during the weekend of Feb. 23 when the so-called "Championship Series" of prep races began with the runnings of Gulstream's Fountain of Youth and the Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds, and all of the big 3-year-old stakes from here on out will continue to be of utmost importance for any horse pointing to a start in the Kentucky Derby.

This time of year also coincides with the official Kentucky Derby Future Wagers on three separate weekends, including Pool 1 in February, Pool 2 on the weekend of March 1-3, and Pool 3 on the weekend of March 22-24.

The volatility of these prep races, and of Kentucky Derby future wagering, was never more apparent than it was on Feb. 23 when two important and unexpected occurrences happened in the prep races that weekend. First, in the Fountain of Youth, odds-on favorite and future book favorite Violence went down to defeat and then had to be retired after the race when he was found to have fractured a sesamoid during the running of the race, which was won by the unheralded but up-and-coming Shug McGaughey-trained Orb.  Then, just minutes later at Fair Grounds, 135-1 longshot Ive Struck a Nerve came from out of nowhere to blow-up the Risen Star Stakes over a solid field filled with several Derby contenders.

In the new road to the Derby "Championship Series" of preps, wins and places in these races will be crucial for horses to be able to work their way into the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby, and horses will no longer be able to sit on the sidelines during prep season thanks to stakes earnings they've accumulated earlier in their careers and as 2-year-olds. This will force horses to enter more preps, and should result in each one of the remaining prep races being even more highly competitive this year than ever before.

Here is a list of the top horses in terms of Kentucky Derby points, current as of the end of February:

Road to the Derby

Rank Horse Points
1 Ive Struck a Nerve 51
2 Orb 50
3 Violence * 30
4 Shanghai Bobby 24
4t Goldencents 24
6 Code West 20
7 Oxbow 16
8 Speak Logistics 11
9t Itsmyluckyday 10
9t Overanalyze 10
9t Uncaptured 10
9t Den's Legacy 10
9t Power Broker 10
9t Super Ninety Nine 10
9t Will Take Charge 10
9t Falling Sky 10
9t Flashback 10
9t Revolutionary 10
9t Palace Malice 10

            * denotes horse is retired

Next stop on the road to the Derby is the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct on Saturday, March 2. Like the Fountain of Youth and the Risen Star, the Gotham will be worth a ton of points, with the breakdown, from first-to-fourth, being 50-20-10-5 (this is the point breakdown for all of the "First Leg" Championship Series races, which also includes the Tampa Bay Derby, the San Felipe, the Rebel, Spiral Stakes, and Sunland Derby.

The Gotham is shaping up to be anything but a cakewalk, with several divisional contenders targeting the race including Todd Pletcher's Remsen Stakes winner Overanalyze, Rudy Rodriguez's Jerome winner Vyjack, and West coast invader Den's Legacy, trained by Bob Baffert and exiting a second-place finish in the Robert Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita, just to name a few.

Below is a list of some of the other Championship Series "First Leg" races, and some of the horses that are currently pointing for those races.

SAN FELIPE, Santa Anita, March 9
Kentucky Derby points: 50-20-10-5
Probables: Goldencents, Flashback, Mudflats, Tiz a Minister, Hear the Ghost
Last year, this race featured an exacta of the eventual Kentucky Derby 2nd- and 5th-place finishers Bodemeister and Creative Cause. with Creative Cause coming out on top and keying a overvalued $22.20 exacta. In 2013, this race will be headlined by Sham Stakes and Delta Jackpot winner Goldencents, who is trained by 2012 Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Doug O'Neill. Goldencents will faceoff against a good field of challengers, including most notably Flashback, a Bob Baffert trainee who is coming off a wire-to-wire win in a paceless four-horse running of the Robert Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita.

 

TAMPA BAY DERBY, Tampa Bay Downs, March 9
Kentucky Derby points: 50-20-10-5
Probables: Verrazano, Purple Egg, Honorable Dillon, Falling Sky
This year's Tampa Bay Derby is shaping up to be considerably more important than the lackluster 2012 running when the entire first team of top 3-year-olds down at Gulfstream Park opted to stay home. This year's race will be highlighted by the horse many people consider the horse to beat on the first Saturday in May, Todd Pletcher's Verrazano, who has two runaway wins in two non-stakes starts so far to start his career.

 

REBEL STAKES, Oaklawn, March 16
Kentucky Derby points: 50-20-10-5
Probables: Super Ninety Nine (possible), Texas Bling, Tiz the Truth, Delhomme
Bob Baffert has owned the Oaklawn prep races in recent years, including wins in all of the key 2012 preps and a win already this year in the Southwest Stakes with Super Ninety Nine. Baffert won this last year with heavy favorite Secret Circle, and will be prominent this year, either with Super Ninety Nine or back-up plan Tiz the Truth, a fast Santa Anita maiden winner. Among those looking to derail the Baffert express are Texas Bling who is looking to atone for a sub-par effort in the Southwest, and Delhomme, who will be making his 3-year-old debut for trainer Todd Pletcher after finishing third in last fall's Remsen Stakes in his last race.

 

SPIRAL STAKES, Turfway, March 23
Kentucky Derby points: 50-20-10-5
Probables: Uncaptured, Mac the Man, Fear the Kitten, Cerro
This race has been all about trainer Graham Motion and owners Team Valor the last two years after Animal Kingdom won this race en route to his 2011 Kentucky Derby victory and then Went the Day Well, from the same connections, won this race in 2012 en route to a competitive try in Louisville.  This year, the horse Motion and Team Valor seem to have in mind looks like Cerro, a Gulfstream allowance winner who finished sixth on dirt in the Fountain of Youth. Cerro seems highly qualified for success over the synthetic surface at Turfway. If not, other contenders here could include Mike Maker's Fear the Kitten, who finished second in the Southwest and should be even better on Polytrack, and local stakes winner Mac the Man.  The favorite could end up being the Mark Casse-trained Uncaptured, who won the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes as a 2YO.

 

SUNLAND DERBY, Sunland Park, March 24
Kentucky Derby points: 50-20-10-5
Probables: Show Some Magic, Shakin It Up, Dry Summer

Trainer Steve Asmussen won this race in 2012 with his El Camino Real winner Daddy Nose Best, and Asmussen again seems to be targeting the Sunland Derby in 2013 with Show Some Magic, who finished second in the Mine That Bird Stakes at Sunland in his last start.  Asmussen's top challenger last year was Bob Baffert (with SoCal shipper Stirred up). This year, Baffert seems to be targeting this race with his San Vicente Stakes winner Shakin It Up. Another challenger will be Dry Summer, a Jeff Mullins trainee who knocked off Show Some Magic last time out

After Leg One of the Championship Series concludes, only the final home stretch of Derby prep races will remain, with giant point values being offered in seven "Second Leg" Championship Series Derby prep races. These Second Leg races will include the Florida Derby, the UAE Derby (Dubai), the Louisiana Derby, the Wood Memorial, the Santa Anita Derby, the Arkansas Derby, and the Blue Grass Stakes.  The point values for these races will be gigantic for Derby hopefuls, as follows, for places first-through-fourth: 100-40-20-10.


KENTUCKY DERBY CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES - LEG TWO

FLORIDA DERBY, Gulfstream Park, March 30
Kentucky Derby points: 100-40-20-10
Probables: Shanghai Bobby, Revolutionary?, Orb, Itsmyluckyday, Bern Identity
 


LOUISIANA DERBY, Fair Grounds, March 30
Kentucky Derby points: 100-40-20-10
Probables: Revolutionary?, Oxbow, Palace Malice, Code West, I've Struck a Nerve

 

WOOD MEMORIAL, Aqueduct, April 6
Kentucky Derby points: 100-40-20-10
Probables: Revolutionary?, Overanalyze, Normandy Invasion, Gotham horses

 

SANTA ANITA DERBY, Santa Anita, April 6
Kentucky Derby points: 100-40-20-10
Probables: Goldencents, Flashback, Power Broker, He's Had Enough

 

BLUE GRASS STAKES, Keeneland, April 13
Kentucky Derby points: 100-40-20-10
Probables: Balance the Books, Dewey Square, Charming Kitten, Summit County

 

ARKANSAS DERBY, Oaklawn, April 13
Kentucky Derby points: 100-40-20-10
Probables: Heaven's Runaway, Rebel horses, Baffert entrant 

 

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