All Eyes on Final Round of Major Derby Preps

Tapit Trice | SV Photography

A week after champion and 'TDN Rising Star' Forte (Violence) solidified his status as the horse to beat on the first Saturday in May, the final round of major GI Kentucky Derby preps offering 100 points to the winner will share the spotlight on an absolutely stacked Saturday afternoon of racing.

Forte's Todd Pletcher-trained stablemate and fellow 'Rising Star' Tapit Trice (Tapit), an impossible come-from-behind winner in the GIII Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby Mar. 11, will exit from the rail in a deep renewal of the GI Toyota Blue Grass S. at Keeneland. Luis Saez has the mount aboard the Whisper Hill Farm and Gainesway Stable colorbearer, who has been tabbed as the 5-2 morning-line favorite.

“Not exactly the draw we wanted, but he did win the allowance race at Gulfstream Park from post one [going a mile Feb. 4],” Pletcher said.

The Blue Grass field of 11 also includes: runaway GIII Gotham S. winner Raise Cain (Violence); last term's GI Champagne S. one-two 'Rising Star' Blazing Sevens (Good Magic) and Verifying (Justify); and GII Risen Star S. runner-up Sun Thunder (Into Mischief).

Blazing Sevens adds blinkers following a head-scratching eighth in the GII Fountain of Youth S. Mar. 4. Verifying was fourth as the favorite in a sloppy renewal of the GII Rebel S. Feb. 25. Sun Thunder closed into slow fractions to finish fifth in the GII Louisiana Derby Mar. 25.

Practical Move (Practical Joke), ranked in the second spot behind Forte on TDN's Derby Top 12 brought to you by Fasig-Tipton, will shoot for his third straight victory for Tim Yakteen in the GI Runhappy Santa Anita Derby. Last term's GII Los Alamitos Futurity S. winner kicked off his sophomore campaign with an impressive victory over the re-opposing duo of Geaux Rocket Ride (Candy Ride {Arg}) and Skinner (Curlin) good for a field-best 100 Beyer Speed Figure in the GII San Felipe S. Practical Move is the 8-5 morning-line favorite in the field of nine.

Yakteen will also tighten the girth on former Bob Baffert runner and GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile third-place finisher National Treasure (Quality Road). The last-out GIII Sham S. Jan. 8 third-place finisher was a late scratch from the San Felipe due to a bruised foot.

Yakteen saddled Taiba (Gun Runner) and Messier (Empire Maker) to a one-two finish in last year's Santa Anita Derby. Both were previously trained by Yakteen's aforementioned former boss.

“When you run horses, they are all your horses,” Yakteen said. “It gives you the same feeling.”

A field of 13, led by the Brad Cox-trained impressive GIII Withers S. winner and 5-2 morning-line favorite Hit Show (Candy Ride {Arg}), will look to punch their ticket to Louisville via the Big Apple in the GII Wood Memorial S. at Aqueduct. The Gary and Mary West homebred is drawn widest of all in post 13.

“I think he's a horse that does like a mile and an eighth and beyond,” Cox said. “Since he's already shown success in New York, we decided that would be the best spot for him.”

Cox also trains distant GIII Gotham S. runner-up Slip Mahoney (Arrogate), who makes his two-turn debut in the Wood.

Pletcher and the late Hall of Famer “Sunny” Jim Fitzsimmons currently share the record of seven Wood Memorial victories.

Pletcher will have three chances to capture the standalone record via last out Gulfstream optional claimer winner Classic Catch (Classic Empire) and highly regarded maidens Dreamlike (Gun Runner) and Crupi (Curlin). The rail-drawn Dreamlike adds blinkers following a pair of runner-up finishes in South Florida. Crupi was seventh while making his sixth career start in the GII Risen Star S. Feb. 18.

“It's an interesting trio,” Pletcher said. “One thing we feel good about is all three horses will appreciate the mile and an eighth.”

Breeders' Cup Winners Return at Keeneland…

A pair of Breeders' Cup winners will return to Lexington to kick off their 2023 campaigns on the Blue Grass undercard.

Champion female sprinter Goodnight Olive (Ghostzapper), last seen putting an exclamation point on a brilliant campaign in the GI Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint at Keeneland Nov. 5, will take on four rivals, including GI Cotillion S. heroine Society (Gun Runner), in the GI Madison S. The 2022 GI Ballerina H. winner is the 2-5 morning-line favorite.

Last term's 42-1 GI Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint upsetter Caravel (Mizzen Mast), meanwhile, will face males once again a race later in the 5 1/2-furlong GII Shakertown S.

Keeneland's 11-race card also includes the GII Appalachian S.  and GIII Commonwealth S., respectively.

Pair of Kentucky Oaks Preps on Tap…

Who will be favored in this year's wide-open GI Kentucky Oaks?

We'll have our answer following Saturday's GII Santa Anita Oaks and GIII Gazelle S. at Aqueduct.

A field of six, topped by the imposing Chad Brown-trained duo of unbeaten Busher S. heroine Shidabhuti (Practical Joke) and Busanda S. winner Occult (Into Mischief), could vie for favoritism in South Ozone Park. Brown won the 2021 renewal with Search Results (Flatter), who followed with a painful second in the Kentucky Oaks.

Unbeaten 'TDN Rising Star' Faiza (Girvin), winner of Santa Anita's GIII Las Virgenes S. Jan. 28 and GIII Santa Ysabel S. Mar. 5, is the headliner in the Santa Anita Oaks, but remains ineligible for the Kentucky Oaks. Last term's GI Starlet S. heroine is a perfect four-for-four for Baffert, who is currently banned from competition at Churchill Downs.

The Santa Anita Oaks field of nine also includes last term's GI TVG Del Mar Debutante S. winner and Santa Ysabel second-place finisher And Tell Me Nolies (Arrogate); and impressive Santa Anita maiden winners Clearly Unhinged (Into Mischief) and Window Shopping (American Pharoah).

Saturday's graded stakes action is rounded out by Aqueduct's GI Carter H. and GIII Bay Shore S. and Santa Anita's GII Charles Whittingham S. and GIII Monrovia S.

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