TDN Derby Top 12 for Feb. 5


Game Winner | Horsephotos


Last Saturday’s trio of graded stakes preps on the GI Kentucky Derby trail didn’t make much of a dent in the Top 12 rankings, and most of the top guns are awaiting March starts for their 2019 debuts. But the lower tier of this week’s edition of the standings is percolating with intrigue as we await the first major blockbuster performance of the season that will (eventually) upend the pecking order.

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, 4-4-0-0, $1,496,000.
Last Start: 1st, GI Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile , CD, Nov. 2
Next Start: GII San Felipe S., SA, Mar. 9
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 30.
When trainer Bob Baffert aims a top sophomore on a two-race prep path prior to the Kentucky Derby, he’s not just thinking about the Derby itself. The two-time Triple Crown-winning conditioner’s longer-term intent is to prepare his A-list candidates for the rigors of three Classic races in a five-week span, and last week Baffert was able to tick off a list of qualities that ‘TDN Rising Star’ Game Winner has in his favor that could enable that plan to come to fruition. In an XBTV shred row interview, Baffert said this $110,000 KEESEP Candy Ride (Arg) colt possesses a large physical frame, a good mind, and a demeanor that doesn’t ruffle easily when going about his business in the mornings and afternoons. “The good ones, they know they’re good. He’s like a man against boys when he walks into the paddock,” Baffert said while the newly crowned juvenile champ insistently nudged him for pocketed treats. “I think he has enough foundation in him now,” Baffert explained, noting that the colt’s three published workouts so far in 2019 have been interspersed with plenty of two-mile jogs. Game Winner is still more than a month away from his next start in the GII San Felipe S. on Mar. 9, which presumably would be followed by a try in the GI Santa Anita Derby on Apr. 6.

2) 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, 5-2-2-1, $448,990.
Last Start: 1st, GII Kentucky Jockey Club S., CD, Nov. 24
Next Start: GII Fountain of Youth S., GP, Mar. 2
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 18.
On Saturday, one month prior to his anticipated 2019 debut, Signalman breezed four furlongs in company in :46.53 (2/73) at Gulfstream Park, accelerating on cue at the half-mile pole after spotting a rail-running workmate a three-quarters length head start before the duo finished up on even terms. The move was the second of four planned breezes prior to the GII Fountain of Youth S., and trainer Ken McPeek–who later that afternoon upset the GII Holy Bull S. with 29-1 Harvey Wallbanger (Congrats)–liked what he saw from this $32,000 FTKOCT General Quarters colt. “He’s a big powerful horse,” McPeek said. “He’s extremely smart, and for a big horse he’s fast. His last race [a rail-skimming win in the Nov. 24 GII Kentucky Jockey Club S.] I really liked. We asked him for speed early and he did that, then he overcame a bunch of traffic. You have to do that in May, don’t you? You have to work through traffic, and he seems to understand what to do. It’s a good position to be in right now.”

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, 3-3-0-0, $269,520.
Last Start: 1st, GI Los Alamitos Cash Call Futurity, LRC, Dec. 8
Next Start: Possible for GII Rebel S., OP, Mar. 16
Equineline PPs. Caulfield on Improbable. KY Derby Points: 10.
Improbable, like stablemate Game Winner, is on Baffert’s two-prep path to the Derby, and his most logical next-race landing spot is the GII Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park on Mar. 16. When XBTV asked last week about this $200,000 KEESEP City Zip colt’s top traits as a Derby candidate, Baffert replied, “His athleticism. He’s light on his feet.” But Baffert also admitted that he initially wondered if Improbable was bred to be a Classics contender because “most of the City Zips are going to be turf sprinters or whatever.” So far, this has not been the case with Improbable, who sports a 7 1/4-length Breeders’ Cup undercard romp in the Street Sense S. and a two-turn crushing of five overmatched rivals in the GI Los Alamitos Futurity. “This guy, I think he’s got the right body that can carry him,” Baffert said. But despite two daylight-margin stakes wins, an open question is how Improbable will handle deep-stretch adversity, because he has yet to have to fight off any sort of late-race challenge beyond the maiden ranks.

4) 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: GSW, 6-2-1-1, $251,569.
Last Start: 1st, GIII Lecomte S., FG, Jan. 19
Next Start: Aiming for GII Risen Star S., FG, Feb. 16
Equineline PPs. Caulfield on War of Will. KY Derby Points: 10.
Even though it’s already February, War of Will is the only horse to have raced in 2019 to be ranked within the first seven positions of the Top 12. The season so far has been lacking in eye-catching sophomore debuts, but there is little doubt that this turf-pedigreed $298,550 ARQMAY War Front colt belongs in the top tier based on his four-length manhandling of a decent crew in the Jan. 19 GIII Lecomte S. The impressive effort is likely to act as a deterrent to some wannabe Derby contenders whose connections might have thought the New Orleans prep route would be a path of least resistance, and War of Will will start as the deserving favorite if he runs as anticipated in the Feb. 16 GII Risen Star S. Remember, this was a juvenile whose first four races were all on grass, and he was beaten only 3 1/2 lengths as a maiden in the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. “I think he’s a better dirt horse, although with a better trip in the Breeders’ Cup he could have been a Breeders’ Cup winner,” trainer Mark Casse said last week. “But it was probably a blessing because had he won the Breeders’ Cup, it would have been much tougher to try him on the dirt. Sometimes things happen for a reason.”

5) 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: GSW, 2-2-0-0, $151,250.
Last Start: 1st GIII Nashua S., AQU, Nov. 4
Next Start: Possible for GII Fountain of Youth S., GP, Mar. 2
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 0.
It’s been a 2-for-2 thrill ride for Vekoma so far (who shares a name with a roller coaster manufacturer), but a tough assignment looms as this $135,000 KEESEP colt nears his 2019 debut, which will come about four months after his GIII Nashua S. score last November. “We’re still targeting the [Mar. 2] Fountain of Youth, or possibly the GIII Gotham the following weekend,” trainer George Weaver told TDN on Sunday. “But he’s made good progress and we’re happy with him. He’s a seriously talented horse. We need him to stay sound, and we need him to get over there and do his job. He hasn’t gone two turn yet, and that’s going to be the big question mark with regard to the Triple Crown. But he’s by Candy Ride (Arg), so he should be able to get two turns. Hopefully we’ll get the answer we’re looking for.” As a May 22 foal, Vekoma did look a little light on seasoning in the stretch runs of his first two races. As for his next race, the Fountain of Youth is likely to lure the most “loaded” field. But the presumably softer Gotham is a one-turn mile, so it wouldn’t answer the all-important two-turn question right away.

6) INSTAGRAND (c, Into MischiefAssets of War, by Lawyer Ron)
‘TDN Rising Star’. O-OXO Equine LLC. B-Stoneway Farm (KY). T-Jerry Hollendorfer. Sales History: $190,000 Ylg ’17 FTKJUL; $1,200,000 2yo ’18 FTFMAR. Lifetime Record: GSW, 2-2-0-0, $144,000.
Last Start: 1st, GII Best Pal S., DMR, Aug. 11
Next Start: Uncommitted
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 0.
Although his dossier of workouts continues to expand–six published drills since Dec. 30, including a :59 five-eighths (2/35) at Santa Anita on Friday–the heavy-with-intrigue tale of Instagrand remains largely unchanged (at least publicly) since the unorthodox decision to back off from training last September. Owner Larry Best reportedly wanted a more robust sophomore season out of his $1.2 million FTFMAR investment after this Into Mischief colt won his debut and the GII Best Pal S. by a combined 20 1/4 lengths, but no commitment has been announced for Instagrand’s 2019 coming-out party. We can speculate, though: Instagrand is nominated to Saturday’s seven-furlong GII San Vicente S. (entries close Thursday). There appear to be no suitable dirt allowance races for 3-year-olds in the current Santa Anita condition book that runs through Feb. 18. The Feb. 16 Risen Star S. at Fair Grounds is worth mentioning (because the Best-owned, Jerry Hollendorfer-trained Instilled Regard shipped for that race last year), and Instagrand got an early-bird nomination to the Risen Star by virtue of being an early nominee to the GII Louisiana Derby. Figuring out where and when this two-race sensation might pop up in the entries could end up being more of a challenge than handicapping his chances of winning when he does finally race.

7) KNICKS GO (c, PaynterKosmo’s Buddy, by Outflanker)
O-KRA Stud Farm. B-Angie Moore (MD). T-Ben Colebrook. Sales History: $40,000 Wlg ’16 KEENOV; $87,000 Ylg ’17 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: GISW, 6-2-1-1, $672,515.
Last Start: 11th GII Kentucky Jockey Club S., CD, Nov. 24
Next Start: GIII Sam F. Davis S., TAM, Feb. 9
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 18.
There’s no doubt that Knicks Go has proven credentials. The main question he has to answer in his 2019 debut this Saturday is whether or not he was a 2-year-old overachiever who peaked in two huge races (a 70-1 wire job in the GI Breeders’ Futurity S. and a 40-1 second in the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile). Prior to breezing a half mile in :48 on Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs (4/64), his :58.40 five-eighths bullet (1/39) on Jan. 26 was the final serious work for the GIII Sam F. Davis S., and last week trainer Ben Colebrook admitted that move was “probably was a little faster than we planned.” But, he added, “Knicks Go did it really easy. He finished up with good energy and galloped out strong. We had given him some time off after his last start and he had put on some weight since, so he needed a serious work. He was savaging his feed tub later on.” This $87,000 KEESEP Paynter yearling looms as the likely chalk in the Davis–a stakes in which faves have gone down in defeat in five of the last seven runnings.

8) CODE OF HONOR (c, Noble Mission {GB}–Reunited, by Dixie Union)
O/B-W. S. Farish (KY). T-Shug McGaughey. Sales History: $70,000 RNA Ylg ’17 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: GISP, 2-1-1-0, $146,750.
Last Start: 4th, Mucho Macho Man S., GP, Jan. 5
Next Start: Aiming for GII Fountain of Youth S., GP, Mar. 2
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 4.
Code of Honor is in regroup mode following a subpar showing at 4-5 odds in the Mucho Macho Man S. Jan. 5. I consider him a factor moving forward based primarily on his 14-1 adversity-overcoming second in the GI Champagne S. at Belmont Park last autumn, but also because his owner/trainer tandem doesn’t send horses down the Derby trail unless they believe they have a legitimate candidate. In the wake of this Noble Mission (GB) homebred’s Gulfstream defeat, trainer Shug McGuaghey said he would be conditioning Code of Honor a touch more aggressively, and to that effect the colt fired a bullet 1:01 five-eighths last Tuesday at Payson Park (1/12).We’re still about a month out, but the Fountain of Youth S. is shaping up as a pretty salty affair, with at least three contenders within this week’s Top 12 considered possible for that Mar. 2 stakes.

9) HIDDEN SCROLL (c, Hard Spun–Sheba Queen, by Empire Maker)
O/B-Juddmonte Farms, Inc. (KY). T-William I. Mott. Lifetime Record: 1-1-0-0, $31,800.
Last Start: 1st, Maiden Special Weight, GP, Jan. 26
Next Start: Uncommitted
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 0.
Part of the “Wow!” aura surrounding ‘TDN Rising Star’ Hidden Scroll has do with how infrequently trainer Bill Mott sends out debut winners, especially at a mile or over (3% win clip according to DRF stats), and how infrequently Mott cultivates early-season Derby prospects. Winning from post one in the slop at first asking in a 13-horse field is difficult enough, but to see the way this Hard Spun homebred opened up daylight margins through sizzling fractions in his maiden debut on the GI Pegasus World Cup undercard was something otherworldly. His winning time of 1:34.82 blew away the 1:36.22 clocking by older stakes horses five races later, and Mott told TDN‘s Bill Finley the day after the breakout maiden win that because there is no suitable allowance race coming up in the Gulfstream condition book, a stakes shot could be next. “New Orleans, Hot Springs, Tampa, Gulfstream–we know when they are available,” Mott said. “We liked him and I’m not surprised that he won. But you never know when you’re going to see a performance like that–winning by 14 and being eased up.”

10) MUCHO GUSTO (c, Mucho Macho Man–Itsagiantcauseway, by Giant’s Causeway)
O-Michael Lund Petersen. B-Teneri Farm Inc. & Bernardo Alvarez Calderon (KY). T-Bob Baffert. Sales History: $14,000 Ylg ’17 KEEJAN; $95,000 Ylg ’17 KEESEP; $55,000 RNA 2yo ’18 OBSMAR; $625,000 2yo ’18 EASMAY. Lifetime Record: MGSW & GISP, 4-3-1-0, $234,000.
Last Start: 1st, GIII Robert B. Lewis S., SA, Feb. 2
Next Start: Uncommitted
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 14.
Newsflash: Bob Baffert has sent out the favorite in every graded dirt stakes for male juveniles/sophomores on the SoCal circuit dating back to September. That’s a span of six races, and he’s now won five of them (including one race when the fave lost but his higher-priced entry won). ‘TDN Rising Star’ Mucho Gusto (Mucho Macho Man) is the latest to hit the winner’s circle, but the lack of depth in Saturday’s five-horse GIII Lewis S. and a sealed/sloppy surface make it tough to get a true read on where this $625,000 EASMAY colt stands in the pecking order. Mucho Gusto broke alertly, backed off the lead, then targeted the pacemaker all the way down the backside before inhaling that overtaxed rival while in hand midway on the far bend. Mucho Gusto seemed to momentarily stall for a stride or two when set down for the drive three-sixteenths out, then quickly recovered, responding to more energetic rousing while kicking clear to win by a geared-down 4 3/4 lengths. In the post-race interview, Baffert expressed satisfaction that Mucho Gusto got to the next level by learning to relax off the pace. Yet with reference to sidelined ‘TDN Rising Star’ stablemate Tale of the Union (Union Rags), who is also owned by Michael Petersen, Baffert conceded “This was actually the second string here–but he’s a pretty good horse.”

11) MIND CONTROL (c, Stay Thirsty–Feel That Fire, by Lightning N Thunder)
O-Red Oak Stable (Brunetti) and Madaket Stables LLC. B-Red Oak Stable. T-Gregory Sacco. Lifetime Record: GISW, 5-3-1-0, $323,400.
Last Start: 1st, Jerome S., AQU, Jan. 1
Next race: GIII Gotham S., AQU, Mar. 9
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 10.
Mind Control had a schedule switch since our last update, with his connections opting out of last Saturday’s GIII Withers S. at nine furlongs in favor of the Mar. 9 Gotham S. at a mile, which would be his fifth career one-turn race from six starts. On Sunday, this homebred Stay Thirsty colt breezed four furlongs at Belmont Park (14/103), his third published work at that distance since a capable, wire-to-wire annexation of the Jerome S. on Jan. 1. Last summer, the speed-centric Mind Control dueled his way to a frontrunning score in the GI Hopeful S. at Saratoga, then spiked a fever that forced a scratch from an October stakes start at Keeneland. A poor shipping experience combined with a bad gate break hampered his chances in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (his only two-turn try). Mind Control is likely to remain focused on a path that points him to the GII Wood Memorial on Apr. 6, because his status as a Grade I winner triggers a bonus that raises the Wood purse from $750,000 to $1 million.

12) MIHOS (c, Cairo Prince–Feline Flatline, by Lion Heart)
‘TDN Rising Star’. O-Centennial Farms. B-Wayne, Gray & Bryan Lyster. T-James Jerkens. Sales History: $320,000 Ylg ’17 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: SW, 3-2-0-1, $108,880.
Last Start: 5th, GII Fasig-Tipton Holy Bull S.
Next Start: Uncommitted
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 0.
Even though this $320,000 KEESEP Cairo Prince colt finished fifth in Saturday’s puzzling renewal of the Holy Bull S., Mihos retains a tenuous grip on the No. 12 spot in the rankings. The reason? To me, this ‘TDN Rising Star’ represents the best chance out of anyone from that race to still be a relevant Derby candidate three months from now. A 29-1 pick-up-the-pieces winner beat out an unfathomable 128-1 runner-up (both still have proving to do), and the 9-10 fave Maximus Mischief (Into Mischief) never fired despite a perfect trip. “He came out real good. He’s acting good, but it’s disappointing that he didn’t like being in that crowd down the backside and all that dirt hitting him,” trainer Jimmy Jerkens told TDN on Sunday. “He [backed] out of there bad on the far turn, but then he made a nice, even run at the end once he was clear. We were afraid of that–he didn’t get a lot of bouncing around in his first few races. But he certainly got it [Saturday]. We’ll give him a little time. We’re not going to run back in the Fountain of Youth. But as far as sticking around for the [GI] Florida Derby or going up for the Wood Memorial, we’ll just have to figure it out. We still think he’s a nice horse. He acts like a classy sort, so I think he’ll take it in and respond to it.”

On the Bubble (in alphabetical order)
Avie’s Flatter (Flatter): Likely Canadian juvenile champ training at Palm Meadows and aiming for Tampa Bay Derby.
Bourbon War (Tapit): Pointing for return to graded stakes company after solid allowance win; difficult task looms if he goes in deep Fountain of Youth.
Coliseum (Tapit): A more focused effort in this Saturday’s GII San Vicente S. could launch this headstrong ‘TDN Rising Star’ back into Derby-level contention.
Gray Attempt (Graydar): All-out wire job in the short-stretch Smarty Jones S. on opening day at Oaklawn. He’s fast, but can he last over longer distances?
Gunmetal Gray (Exchange Rate): Second in the Lewis S.; keeps racking up Derby points with off-the-pace closing kicks.
Harvey Wallbanger (Congrats): Last-to-first rail-skimming move upset the Holy Bull S. at 29-1; might await 9f Florida Derby.
Maximus Mischief (Into Mischief): ‘TDN Rising Star’ had no obvious excuse despite sweet stalking trip and ideal pace scenario in Holy Bull S. after expending plenty of energy with pre-race antics.
Nolo Contesto (Pioneerof the Nile): Recent Santa Anita maiden winner scratched out of last Saturday’s Lewis S. when track came up sloppy.
So Alive (Super Saver): Todd Pletcher-trained half to Vino Rosso (Curlin) won Tampa allowance with blinkers added; fired bullet Sunday at Palm Meadows for expected start in Saturday’s Davis S.
Tax (Arch): Distance-pedigreed stalker won three-horse photo in Saturday’s Withers over so-so crew; could await 9f Wood Memorial.
Win Win Win (Hat Trick (Jpn)): Set new track record for seven furlongs in 7 1/4 length Pasco S. romp at Tampa last time out.

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