TDN Derby Top 12 for April 9


Game Winner | Horsephotos


Now that the big “power weekend” of nine-furlong preps is behind us, what’s changed since the Top 12 rankings debuted on Dec. 28? The No. 1 kingpin remains the same (even though the juvenile champ lost that spot for a brief bit this winter). The season-starting No. 2 horse has been shuffled back to No. 10, and the horse who opened at No. 3 remains right there (but could leapfrog the field as the likely favorite for this Saturday’s lone remaining Grade I prep). Please note the rankings below are independent from the “Road to the Derby” points leaderboard Churchill Downs uses to determine starting berths. That list can be accessed here.

1) GAME WINNER (c, Candy Ride {Arg}Indyan Giving, by A.P. Indy)
‘TDN Rising Star’. O-Gary & Mary West. B-Summer Wind Equine (KY). T-Bob Baffert. Sales History: $110,000 Ylg ’17 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: MGISW, 6-4-2-0, $1,846,000.
Last Start: 2nd, GI Santa Anita Derby, SA, Apr. 6
Next Start: GI Kentucky Derby, CD, May 4
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 85.
Trainer Bob Baffert saddled the one-two finishers in Saturday’s GI Santa Anita Derby, and although ‘TDN Rising Star’ Game Winner came up a half-length short, his entire six-race body of work gives the juvenile champ an overall consistency edge, especially in Grade I races (3-1-0 from four starts). This $110,000 KEESEP Candy Ride (Arg) bay retains the top spot in the rankings, but he’s not yet a lock to start as the Derby favorite. Jockey Joel Rosario tracked a moderate tempo while giving up four paths of real estate around both turns on Saturday, and Game Winner led between calls at the sixteenth pole before getting collared by ‘TDN Rising Star’ Roadster (Quality Road). After the wire, Game Winner’s gallop-out looked stronger than his stablemate’s. “I think Game Winner’s next race will be better. I’ve been bringing him along really easy,” Baffert said post-race. “Game Winner was out there by himself [when he hit the lead] and when he gets by himself, he needs company. It was a good, hard race for both of them, and coming in, that’s what you want to see. This track is deep and slow, but it’s safe, and that’s what we wanted.” Added Rosario: “I moved a little bit soon because they weren’t putting much pressure on [the leader], but they weren’t going too fast up front so I was comfortable with my position. He got a little bit tired the last part, that’s why Roadster got by me.”

2) WAR OF WILL (c, War FrontVisions of Clarity {Ire}, by Sadler’s Wells)
O-Gary Barber. B-Flaxman Holdings Limited (KY). T-Mark Casse. Sales History: $175,000 RNA Ylg ’17 KEESEP; €250,000 2yo ’18 ARQMAY. Lifetime Record: MGSW, 8-3-1-1, $501,569.
Last Start: 9th, GII Louisiana Derby, Mar. 23
Next Start: Possible for GI Kentucky Derby, CD, May 4
Equineline PPs. Caulfield on War of Will. KY Derby Points: 60.
As we edge toward the three-week mark to the Derby, the story lines for the race are starting to crystallize, and War of Will can plan on being pegged as the “wild card” in pre-Derby analysis. Which version of this $298,550 ARQMAY War Front colt will show up on the first Saturday in May? The one who parlayed a five-length Churchill Downs MSW score last November into a three-race win streak that included two graded stakes wins in authoritative, athletic fashion, or the War of Will who looked utterly cast adrift as the beaten 4-5 fave in the GII Louisiana Derby after slipping and losing his footing at the start? I’m willing to bank on a rebound at inflated odds in the Derby, because even though War of Will might appear to be a question mark based on that one clunker of a race, he certainly looked the part of an exclamation point when roughing up decent competition (with plenty of torque left in reserve) in his two Fair Grounds stakes victories. Last Saturday War of Will notched a published workout for the first time since shipping to Keeneland for pre-Derby training, covering a half mile in :48.80 (33/106) under regular rider Tyler Gaffalione, who dubbed the move “a nice maintenance work.”

3) IMPROBABLE (c, City ZipRare Event, by A.P. Indy)
‘TDN Rising Star’. O-WinStar Farm LLC, China Horse Club International Ltd. & Starlight Racing. B-St. George Farm LLC & G. Watts Humphrey Jr. (KY). T-Bob Baffert. Sales History: $110,000 Wlg ’16 KEENOV; $200,000 Ylg ’17 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: GISW, 4-3-1-0, $419,520.
Last Start: 2nd, GII Rebel S., OP, Mar. 16
Next Start: GI Arkansas Derby, OP, Apr. 13
Equineline PPs. Caulfield on Improbable. KY Derby Points: 25.
‘TDN Rising Star’ Improbable fired his second consecutive bullet workout on Friday in preparation for Saturday’s GI Arkansas Derby, his only two published morning moves since running second, beaten a neck, in the fractionally slower (.07 seconds) division of the GII Rebel S. The main track at Santa Anita is deeper/slower because of attempts to make it safer, so the 1:14 six-furlong move (1/8) might be better than it looks on paper from a fitness perspective. The conditioning setup was different from Improbable’s previous bullet over the same distance, as this time trainer Bob Baffert had Improbable on the rail starting ahead of a workmate (instead of running down the partner from outside like last time). This $200,000 KEESEP City Zip chestnut left his mate well behind at the quarter pole for a solo run through the lane, but just like in his previous work (and in several races) Improbable again cocked his head to the grandstand instead of focusing straight ahead. Baffert has indicated a desire for Improbable to evolve into a more of an early pace presence straight from the gate (the colt has essentially been a stalker in four lifetime races), and Improbable will partner for the first time with jockey Jose Ortiz at Oaklawn.

4) OMAHA BEACH (c, War FrontCharming, by Seeking the Gold)
O-Fox Hill Farms, Inc. B-Charming Syndicate (KY). T-Richard Mandella. Sales History: $625,000 RNA Ylg ’17 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: GSW, 6-2-3-1, $521,800.
Last Start: 1st, GII Rebel S., OP, Mar. 16
Next Start: GI Arkansas Derby, OP, Apr. 13
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 37.5.
The highly anticipated Improbable-Omaha Beach showdown in Saturday’s Arkansas Derby looms as the key plot point of Saturday’s final Grade I prep, and judging by workouts at Santa Anita since their last Oaklawn starts, these two SoCal shippers appear primed to put on a show. Both colts have fired two bullet workouts over the past two weeks, and while Improbable’s move was aimed at producing sharper early speed, Omaha Beach’s Saturday 1:00.60 five-eighths work (1/45) was a lesson in coming through at the rail after spotting an older starter-allowance winner seven lengths on the turn. This War Front colt finished up with good energy nearly four lengths in front, and Omaha Beach’s recent races and workouts give the impression he’s done a lot of physical and mental maturing since exiting the maiden ranks just nine weeks ago. So how does the Arkansas Derby historically shape up as a stepping stone to Louisville? The only horses to pull off the Arkansas/Kentucky Derby double since 1980 have been American Pharoah (2015), Smarty Jones (2004) and Sunny’s Halo (1983). But keep an eye on whoever finishes second on Saturday: Horses who have been the runner-up in the Arkansas Derby during that same time frame have also won three Kentucky Derbies—Super Saver (2010), Grindstone (1996) and Lil E. Tee (1992).

5) ROADSTER (c, Quality RoadGhost Dancing, by Silver Ghost)
‘TDN Rising Star’. O-Speedway Stable LLC. B-Stone Farm (KY). T-Bob Baffert. Sales History: $525,000 Ylg ’17 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: GISW, 4-3-0-1, $706,200.
Last Start: 1st, GI Santa Anita Derby, SA, Apr. 6
Next Start: GI Kentucky Derby, CD, May 4
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 100.
Although trainer Bob Baffert said he left the exact in-race strategy up to jockey Mike Smith, his pre-race commentaries about ‘TDN Rising Star’ Roadster had suggested that this $525,000 KEESEP Quality Road gray would be closer to the pace while breaking from the rail in the Santa Anita Derby. Instead, Roadster was rated toward the rear in the early stages of the race, and even though he was only about four lengths off the lead for the backstretch run, this colt alarmingly lost touch between the half-mile and three-eighths poles, spotting the leaders a good nine lengths while nearly dropping back to last. Roadster then uncorked a three-furlong, loop-the-group drive that he sustained into deep stretch with grinding determination, putting away stablemate Game Winner with only a mild fight from the juvenile champ. “The first time he ran for me he showed he had all the gears,” jockey Mike Smith said of Roadster’s Del Mar debut last summer. “The second time he had the problem with his wind [since corrected by throat surgery]. We fixed that and he’s doing all the right things. We got a good break and then we dropped back. He took a breather, while the others were going out there quick. When I asked him again, he was gone.”

6) TACITUS (c, TapitClose Hatches, by First Defence)
O/B-Juddmonte Farms, Inc. (KY). T-Bill Mott. Lifetime Record: MGSW, 4-3-0-0, $653,000.
Last Start: GII Wood Memorial S., AQU, Apr. 6
Next Start: GI Kentucky Derby, CD, May 4
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 150.
Tacitus’s aggressive win in the GII Wood Memorial S. asserts him as the only horse ranked within the Top 12 who has clearly demonstrated he can fight for position through traffic/adversity and still have enough left stamina-wise to win a prolonged stretch battle. This homebred Tapit gray didn’t give an inch when engaging in shoulder-to-shoulder roughhousing through the first turn, and beyond his apparent relishing of nine furlongs, an intimidating presence helped Tacitus put away a determined rival in deep stretch. So why isn’t Tacitus ranked higher on this list? For starters, his winning Wood run was aided by being able to get a clear shot at laboring pacemakers after a pair of 51-1 and 41-1 long shots opened up an ambitious seven lengths on the backstretch. Secondly, Tacitus is a colt who doesn’t truly uncoil until after a mile and then requires vigorous handling to stay engaged, and those types of horses often have trouble negotiating 20-horse fields in the Derby. Another concern is that Tacitus is still relatively inexperienced (just four races), and in neither the GII Tampa Bay Derby nor the Wood did he beat any other horse who is currently considered an elite-level Derby prospect.

7) LONG RANGE TODDY (c, Take Charge Indy–Pleasant Song, by Unbridled’s Song)
O/B-Willis Horton Racing, LLC (KY). T-Steve Asmussen. Lifetime Record: GSW, 7-4-1-1, $851,125.
Last Start: 1st, GII Rebel S., OP, Mar. 16
Next Start: GI Arkansas Derby, OP, Apr. 13
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 53.5.
Long Range Toddy is about as under-the-radar as you can get for a Derby Top 12 horse, and that’s probably fine with trainer Steve Asmussen, who will head to the Arkansas Derby with a no-pressure horse who has subtle edges in consistency (four wins, never lost by more than two lengths) and stamina (Saturday’s Oaklawn race will be his sixth at a mile or longer) This Take Charge Indy-sired homebred is a good breaker from the gate and an adept stalker who doesn’t need the pace of the race to go a certain way, and he has shown a high level of comfort both when pinned down on the rail and when carving out his own path through deep-stretch traffic. The question marks for Long Range Toddy largely center on his company lines. With the exception of Improbable (who he beat by a neck to win the Rebel S.), Long Range Toddy has not faced any serious A-level sophomore competition, and the Arkansas Derby will be his first-ever attempt at a Grade I affair.

8) VEKOMA (c, Candy Ride {Arg}Mona de Momma, by Speightstown)
O-R. A. Hill Stable & Gatsas Stables. B-Alpha Delta Stables, LLC (KY). T-George Weaver. Sales History: $135,000 Ylg ’17 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: MGSW, 4-3-0-1, $788,850.
Last Start: 1st, GI Blue Grass S., KEE, Apr. 6
Next Start: GI Kentucky Derby, CD, May 4
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 10.
Vekoma continues to overachieve. He’s a light-framed May 22 foal, and this $135,000 KEESEP Candy Ride (Arg) chestnut is emerging as a capable stalker who can secure a prime pace position, quicken when cued, and–at least over nine furlongs–get a distance of ground. He took an astounding amount of late money on Saturday at Keeneland (pounded to 7-5 odds as the race was going off), claimed a trouble-free spot a length off the flank of a 9-1 pacemaker, then opened up at will despite once again (he’s done it in all four career races) shifting and drifting through the stretch. When evaluating him as a Derby threat, his GII Blue Grass S. victory has to be viewed in the context of how speed-favoring Keeneland’s dirt surface was on Apr. 6: Of eight dirt-track races that day, seven were won by horses who were first or second at the second chart call, and the second- and third-place finishers behind Vekoma both gave the impression that they were up against the grain of the surface despite finishing well. “I like the way he broke out of the gate,” said winning jockey Javier Castellano. “I didn’t want to be too aggressive early. Every time I asked him, he kicked on a little bit.”

9) WIN WIN WIN (c, Hat Trick {Jpn}-Miss Smarty Pants, by Smarty Jones)
O-Live Oak Plantation. B-Live Oak Stud (FL). T-Michael Trombetta. Lifetime Record: SW & MGSP, 6-3-2-1, $367,300.
Last Start: 2nd, GI Blue Grass S., KEE, Apr. 6
Next Start: GI Kentucky Derby, CD, May 4
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 50.
Of all the horses who hit the board but did not win in Saturday’s trio of graded preps, this Hat Trick (Jpn)-sired homebred ran the most sneaky-good race, and with a pair of Derby-winning grandsires in his pedigree (Sunday Silence and Smarty Jones), this colt could emerge as the “wise guy” horse in Louisville. Win Win Win was bumped mildly at the break, showed a high level of confidence while rating at the back of a 14-horse field, advanced patiently through the pack, then steadied briefly while winding up for his run approaching the five-sixteenths pole. He commenced a bid five-wide off the turn, shifted out wider while trying to avoid running up on the heels of a tiring rival, then locked into a determined drive that earned him the place photo by a nose over a track that was not at all conducive to closers. “I don’t think we necessarily have to talk about distance being a limitation for him anymore,” said trainer Michael Trombetta. “This was only his second start around two turns and he’s really starting to figure it out.”

10) SIGNALMAN (c, General Quarters–Trip South, by Trippi)
O-Tommie M. Lewis, David A. Bernsen, LLC & Magdalena Racing (Sherri McPeek). B-Monticule (KY). T-Kenneth G McPeek. Sales History: $32,000 Ylg ’17 FTKOCT. Lifetime Record: GSW & MGISP, 7-2-2-2, $552,990.
Last Start: 3rd, GII Blue Grass S., KEE, Apr. 6
Next Start: GI Kentucky Derby, CD, May 4
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 38.
Signalman improved several notches when third in Saturday’s Blue Grass S., but it wasn’t enough to keep him ranked with the top Derby contenders. He broke alertly and secured an inside stalking spot, then maintained it for most of the backstretch run. Approaching the far turn, this $32,000 FTKOCT General Quarters colt lost momentum for a beat or two behind the pacemakers before re-engaging 3 ½ furlongs out when guided to the outside of eventual winner Vekoma. Signalman closed like he knew what his job was, but like many horses who tried to uncork stretch rallies at Keeneland on Saturday, he gave the impression of spinning his wheels before galloping out past Vekoma after the wire. “The racetrack has been playing speedy all day, and horses that have been close have been holding on,” jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. said. “So we had to use our horse a little more than he may like, but he still held on for a good third.”

11) PLUS QUE PARFAIT (r, 3, Point of EntryBelvedera, by Awesome Again)
O-Imperial Racing LLC. B-Calloway Racing LLC (KY). T-Brendan Walsh. Sales History: $24,000 RNA wlg KEENOV ’16; $135,000 ylg KEESEP ’17. Lifetime Record: GSW, 7-2-1-2, $1,590,400.
Last Start: 1st, G2 UAE Derby, MEY, Mar. 30
Next Start: GI Kentucky Derby, CD, May 4
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 104.
It should have been a tipoff that Plus Que Parfait was about to turn the corner when trainer Brendan Walsh even considered shipping him to Dubai for the G2 UAE Derby. Walsh previously worked for Godolphin Racing in Dubai, and it’s unlikely he’d want to make the trek to Meydan if he didn’t have an inkling that this $135,000 KEESEP Point of Entry ridgling was much better than his previous two off-the-board starts in 2019 indicated. Plus Que Parfait cemented a sweet homecoming for his trainer with a well-timed, 2 1/2-furlong, sustained late kick that earned him a three-quarter length victory over 1 3/16 miles, the closest anyone on the prep trail will get to the 10-furlong distance prior to the Kentucky Derby itself. Jose Ortiz rode him to victory in Dubai, but that in-demand jock also was the winning rider on Tacitus in the Wood Memorial, and is also named on Improbable, the likely fave for Saturday’s Arkansas Derby.

12) TAX (g, Arch-Toll, by Giant’s Causeway)
O-R. A. Hill Stable, Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, Lynch, Hugh and Corms Racing Stable. B-Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider (KY). T-Danny Gargan. Lifetime Record: GSW, 5-2-2-1, $326,300.
Last Start: 2nd, GII Wood Memorial S., AQU, Apr. 6
Next Start: GI Kentucky Derby, CD, May 4
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 52.
Tax is shaping up as one of those horses who goes off north of 40-1 in the Derby and does not resonate as a clear win threat, but he has a stamina-centric pedigree and has demonstrated enough fight that you can envision him flying home dangerously if he gets the right trip. In the Wood Memorial, this Arch gelding (out of a Giant’s Causeway mare) bulled his way to a contending position from the one hole despite chaos to his outside that resulted in a disqualification, and he settled into a rhythmic stride down the backstretch while leading the second flight behind daylight-margin duelers. Tax got first run on the caving pacemakers, then held his position decently enough on the inside while racing in close quarters with the intimidating Tacitus. Tax was second, beaten 1 ¼ lengths, but galloped out on even terms with the favored winner. “He got a little tired and got pushed down on the rail late, which was a little dead,” trainer Danny Gargan said. “His last three races, he’s improved tremendously. He learned a lot in the [GII] Remsen and then he moved forward in the [GIII] Withers. We gave him almost nine weeks between those races, and [Saturday] he showed up.”

Rounding out the starting gate…
13) Code of Honor (NobleMission {GB}): Nimble, adept closing threat has more than enough points to enter the Derby, but connections mulling whether he merits a shot after so-so third in GI Florida Derby.
14) Maximum Security (New Year’s Day): Former $16,000 maiden-claimer riding undefeated win streak into Louisville off “stolen” Florida Derby. His presence in Derby gate would contribute to a robust pace.
15) Country House (Lookin At Lucky): Flashed talent while green behind War of Will in New Orleans; if he’s entered at Oaklawn, would need commanding performance to earn a Kentucky Derby turnaround.
16) By My Standards (Goldencents): Ranked fifth in qualifying points based on 22-1 Louisiana Derby upset. Would be legitimately ranked as a Louisville long shot based on only one win beyond maiden ranks, and that victory is difficult to read because of no-show favorite who failed to threaten.
17) Cutting Humor (First Samurai): Blitzed to track-record win in GIII Sunland Derby despite four/three-wide journey around both turns.
18) Bourbon War (Tapit): Currently parked in 20th on the points list and will likely need defections to get into the Derby. His best stakes try was a game second in GII Fountain of Youth, when he received an ideal speed setup to enhance his closing kick.
19) Spinoff (Hard Spun): He’s never been off the board from four starts, and this year owns a gaudy 11-length allowance romp and an overachieving second in the Louisiana Derby. Real deal or not? Tough to tell. Currently 16th in qualifying points
20) Anothertwistafate (Scat Daddy): Won three Golden Gate races by combined 16 lengths, then was firing home fast with better momentum than the winner in track-record Sunland Derby. But he’s on the outside looking in points-wise (23rd), so he’ll go in Saturday’s GIII Lexington S. to try and close the gap.

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