The TDN Derby Top 12 for Jan. 14

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Thousand Words winning the Los Alamitos Futurity | Benoit

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The Top 12 right now resembles an evenly matched marathon. There is no breakaway leader, no odds-on favorite, and the main threats are all keeping an eye on one another waiting for the first bold move. Feb. 1 looms as the next significant shakeup date, when Road to the GI Kentucky Derby points races will be run in New York, Florida and California.

1) THOUSAND WORDS (c, Pioneerof the NilePomeroys Pistol, by Pomeroy) O-Albaugh Family Stables & Spendthrift Farm. B-Hardacre Farm (FL). T-Bob Baffert. Sales History: $1,000,000 yrl ’18 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: GSW, 2-2-0-0, $151,000.
Last Start: 1st GII Los Alamitos Futurity, LRC, Dec. 7
Next Start: GIII Bob Lewis S., SA, Feb. 1
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 10.

Thousand Words will be among the earliest of Top 12 heavy hitters to start in 2020, which means he’ll have a direct say in how long he retains his No. 1 ranking. Given the light prep schedule over the next several weeks, no one is going to leapfrog this $1 million KEESEP Pioneerof the Nile bay prior to the colt’s scheduled start in the Feb. 1 GIII Lewis S. Undefeated at 2-for-2, Thousand Words’s win over a sealed track and three rivals in the Grade II Los Alamitos Futurity stands out because he engaged favored stablemate High Velocity (Quality Road) through legit splits, sniping back and forth spiritedly before brushing aside that determined rival and then adeptly beating back a fresh challenge from the well-regarded Anneau d’Or (Medaglia d’Oro). Even though Anneau d’Or got on even terms with Thousand Words in deep stretch, Thousand Words never let him by, and this colt capped his resurgent late run with a strong gallop-out that was extra impressive considering it was his first attempt at both two turns and winners. Of trainer Bob Baffert’s six Los Al Futurity winners, the only two to go on and start in the Kentucky Derby–Dortmund and Mor Spirit–both won the Lewis S. in their next starts.

2) STRUCTOR (c, Palace MaliceMiss Always Ready, by More Than Ready) O-Jeff Drown & Don Rachel. B-Three Chimneys Farm (KY). T-Chad Brown. Sales History: $160,000 yrl ’18 KEESEP; $850,000 2yo ’19 OBSMAR. Lifetime Record: GISW, 3-3-0-0, $709,500.
Last Start: 1st GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, SA, Nov. 1
Accomplishments Include: 1st GIII Pilgrim S., BEL, Sept. 28
Next Start: Uncommitted.
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 0.

Structor (3-for-3 exclusively on turf) earned an Eclipse Award finalist berth in the juvenile division, and if he beats out the two other accomplished dirt-based nominees Jan. 23, it could foreshadow what he might do on the racetrack in his expected transition from grass. This $160,000 KEESEP pinhook–who then sold for $850,000 at OBSMAR–broke alertly, was allowed to settle, and had a covered-up trip in the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. But he looked soundly beaten coming off the final turn until he tipped three wide and unleashed a smart late kick, closing very rapidly. Yet the race on this Palace Malice bay’s resume that is the true standout is his GII Pilgrim S. score at Belmont Sep. 28. Structor stalked confidently, hit the lead under relentless pressure off the far turn, and gutted out a head victory after a contentious stretch tussle in which the top five horses were covered by 2 1/2 lengths at the wire. That’s the type of poise under duress that is impossible to teach a young horse–they either have it or they don’t.

3) DENNIS’ MOMENT (c, TiznowTransplendid, by Elusive Quality)
‘TDN Rising Star’ O-Albaugh Family Stables LLC. B-Tolo Thoroughbreds (KY). T-Dale Romans. Sales History: $400,000 yrl ’18 FTSAUG. Lifetime Record: GSW, 4-2-0-0, $167,800. Last Start: 8th GI TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, SA, Nov. 1
Accomplishments Include: 1st GIII Iroquois S.
Next Start: Aiming for GII Fountain of Youth S., GP, Feb. 29
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 10.

Saturday was the first breeze back since a post-Breeders’ Cup freshening at WinStar Farm for this ‘TDN Rising Star,’ who is being aimed toward a two-prep Florida path to Louisville. A bad stumble out of the gate in the GI Juvenile cost Dennis’ Moment any shot at running competitively as the 9-10 favorite, and his planned 3-year-old debut in the GII Fountain of Youth S. Feb. 29 figures to be one of the most anticipated comebacks of the 2020 Derby campaign. Trainer Dale Romans has indicated that this $400,000 FTSAUG Tiznow bay would ideally then race in the GI Florida Derby Mar. 28, leaving a five-week cushion to the first Saturday in May. But until “Dennis” actually hits the track in the afternoon, debate is going to swirl as to which of his past performance lines from 2019 are indicative of his true ability. You don’t see too many highly hyped Derby candidates whose only four races sandwich a DNF (lost jock in debut) and a last-place finish (Juvenile) with chart comment superlatives like “demolished field” (19-length maiden win) and “cruised final 1/16th” (geared-down GIII Iroquois S. win).

4) MAXFIELD (c, Street SenseVelvety, by Bernardini) O/B-Godolphin LLC (KY). T-Brendan Walsh. Lifetime Record: GISW, 2-2-0-0, $354,412.
Last Start: 1st GI Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity, KEE, Oct. 5
Next Start: Uncommitted.
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 10.

Maxfield’s recovery from surgery to fix a mildly displaced ankle chip was buoyed by the recent announcement that he has been named as one of three finalists in the juvenile male Eclipse Award category. The honor underscores how impressively he won the GI Breeders’ Futurity S. at Keeneland; the other two nominees in the division were both victors of Breeders’ Cup races. Last week on “At the Races with Steve Byk,” trainer Brendan Walsh said this Street Sense homebred is back jogging in Ocala. The colt is more or less on schedule, but Godolphin has indicated there will be no all-out frenzy to rush Maxfield into the Triple Crown. “We’re going to have a look at his x-rays again. His last examination was very good, and everybody was happy with the way he was progressing. So we’re going to have another look at him kind of towards the end of the second half of January. And if he’s okay, he can start back galloping,” Walsh said.

5) INDEPENDENCE HALL (c, ConstitutionKalahari Cat, by Cape Town)
O-Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, Twin Creeks Racing Stables, LLC, Kathleen & Robert Verratti. B-Woodford Thoroughbreds (KY). T-Michael Trombetta. Sales History: $100,000 yrl ’18 KEESEP; $200,000 RNA 2yo ’19 FTFMAR. Lifetime Record: GSW, 3-3-0-0, $210,000.
Last Start: 1st
Jerome S., AQU, Jan. 1
Next Start: Possible for GIII Sam F. Davis S., TAM, Feb. 8
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 10.

Undefeated Independence Hall’s stock figuratively soared northward after his dime-on-the-dollar ransacking of the overwhelmed Jerome S. field at Aqueduct on New Year’s Day, but the colt himself has literally gone south, where he’s now stabled at Tampa Bay Downs. The GIII Davis S. Feb. 8 is the likely next target for this big-framed $100,000 KEESEP Constitution colt (subsequently RNA’d for $200,000 at FTFMAR). Even though his 3-for-3 record signals perfection on paper, trainer Mike Trombetta has acknowledged Independence Hall has quirks that need correcting. These include getting hot and bothered in the paddock and breaking a stutter-step slow (both in the Jerome), and shying from the whip (in the Jerome and the GIII Nashua S.). But Trombetta doesn’t think those antics represent any major head-case issues, and the colt does act more orderly in morning training. Independence Hall earned a lot of ink for running a gaudy 101 Beyer Speed Figure in his Nashua romp, but the 83 he ran in the Jerome is closer to the 82 from his winning debut at Parx.

6) AJAAWEED (c, Curlin–Asiya, by Daaher) O-Shadwell Stable. B-Shadwell Farm (KY). T-Kiaran McLaughlin. Lifetime Record: GSP, 4-1-1-0, $119,850.
Last Start: 2nd GII Remsen S., Aqu, Dec. 7
Accomplishments Include: 4th GI Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity, Kee, Oct. 5
Next Start: Uncommitted.
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 5.

There are three horses ranked within the Top 12 right now whose runner-up efforts in stakes represent better tries than the horses who beat them (Nos. 7 and 10 are the others). In fact, Ajaaweed’s deep-closing second, beaten only a half-length in the slow-paced, speed-carrying GII Remsen, has been so often cited as a better-than-it-looks sleeper that any “wiseguy” value one might expect to glean from that knowledge has already evaporated. This Curlin homebred for Shadwell is wintering at Palm Meadows with trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, but that shipping outside of Florida for Ajaaweed’s next race is a possibility. “I’m a little worried about Gulfstream with his [late] running style,” McLaughlin told HorseRaceInsider.com’s John Pricci last week. “He may make his first start elsewhere…. They’ve got that long stretch at the Fair Grounds.”

7) ANNEAU D’OR (c, Medaglia d’Oro–Walk Close, by Tapit) O-Peter Redekop B.C. Ltd. B-Highland Yard (KY). T-Blaine Wright. Sales History: $170,000 RNA yrl ’18 KEESEP; $480,000 2yo ’19 OBSAPR. Lifetime Record: GISP, 3-1-2-0, $399,000.
Last Start: 2nd GII Los Alamitos Futurity, LRC, Dec. 7
Accomplishments Include: 2nd GI TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile
Next Start: Uncommitted.
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 12.

Last November’s GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up isn’t getting a lot of retrospective respect. That’s deservedly so–the third favorite scratched with an injury, the second fave spit the bit with no visible excuse, the odds-on choice stumbled to lose all chance, and the top three finishers were 45-1, 28-1 and 39-1 odds. But if you had to pick the Juvenile horse who ran best against the grain of adversity, it would be this $480,000 OBSAPR Medaglia d’Oro bay (RNA’d for $170,000 at KEESEP). Anneau d’Or was four/three wide on the turns, got first (and only) run at the pacemaker, then slugged it out the length of the lane to lose only by a neck. Subsequently, Anneau d’Or launched into a late, lumbering run to lose by the same margin to Thousand Words in the Los Al Futurity. Horses that consistently run well over varying surfaces are always sneaky threats on the Derby trail (in this colt’s case, firm Golden Gate turf, deep Santa Anita dirt, wet and sealed Los Al).

8) TIZ THE LAW (c, ConstitutionTizfiz, by Tiznow)
O-Sackatoga Stable. B-Twin Creeks Farm (NY). T-Barclay Tagg. Sales History: $110,000 yrl ’18 FTNAUG. Lifetime Record: GISW, 3-2-0-1, $347,000.
Last Start: 3rd GII Kentucky Jockey Club S., CD, Nov. 30
Accomplishments Include: 1st GI Champagne S., BEL, Oct. 5
Next Start: Aiming for the GIII Holy Bull S., GP, Feb. 2
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 12.

This $110,000 SARAUG Constitution bay is three breezes into his training for an anticipated sophomore debut in the GIII Holy Bull S. Feb. 1. A trio of Twitter postings last week from the workout analyst at Palm Meadows for the @Racingwithbruno clocking team noted that Tiz the Law has been “putting in a lot of miles” and that he “relaxes in his gallops and carries himself well” with “good flesh and weight” even though the colt “is a very compact type more associated with milers.” An obvious story line for “Tiz” is that he shares the same owner/trainer tandem as Funny Cide, the fellow New York-bred who won the Derby and GI Preakness S. in 2003. Jack Knowlton of Sackatoga Stable told TDN in December that Tiz’s prep path might mirror Funny Cide’s by potentially aiming for the GII Louisiana Derby after the Holy Bull. That plan underscores how “less is more” training has evolved, because 17 years ago Funny Cide, like a lot of prospects, raced in a third Derby prep in April (the then-Grade I Wood Memorial). Now, horses that end up with three pre-Derby preps are pretty much the ones chasing qualifying points, as two-prep spacing has evolved as the standard.

9) AUTHENTIC (c, Into MischiefFlawless, by Mr. Greeley) O-SF Racing LLC, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables LLC, Fred Hertrich III, John D. Fielding & Golconda Stables. B-Peter E. Blum Thoroughbreds LLC (KY). T-Bob Baffert. Sales History: $350,000 yrl ’18 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: GSW, 2-2-0-0, $91,200.
Last Start: 1st GIII Sham S., SA, Jan. 4
Next Start: Uncommitted
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 10.

This $350,000 KEESEP Into Mischief bay cracks the Top 12 based on his 7 3/4-length pummeling of the GIII Sham S. field at Santa Anita Jan. 4. But the romp by the 6-5 favorite was not without stretch drama, which came when Authentic was soaring solo through the lane before suddenly ducking in, veering out, and repeatedly throwing his head while fighting his rider. The colt eventually regained focus and won geared down, and the morning after the race trainer Bob Baffert said he believes Authentic got spooked in the stretch. “He’d never done that, and I think it was the noise. He heard the noise, he went to the rail, and when he saw the rail, he got scared from that, so I think we’ll either use ear plugs or blinkers next time. But his competition might be a little closer to him in his next race, and that might help, too.” Authentic is 2-for-2, having broken his maiden sprinting 5 1/2 furlongs as the 3-5 fave at Del Mar Nov. 9.

10) ANSWER IN (g, Dialed In–D’ya Knowwhatimean, by Broken Vow) O-Robert LaPenta & Madaket Stables. B-Glen Oak Farm & Two Stamp Stables (KY). T-Brad Cox. Sales History: $175,000 wnlg ’17 KEENOV. Lifetime Record: SP, 3-1-2-0, $153,412.
Last Start: 2nd Springboard Mile, RP, Dec. 15
Next Start: Uncommitted
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 4.

This $175,000 KEENOV Dialed In weanling made a larger progression leap than is evident with his head loss as the 3-5 fave in the Springboard Mile S. Consider that in both of his first two starts, Answer In broke dead last in large fields. In his debut against both winners and around two turns at Remington Dec. 15, he got away much better and promptly settled midpack, had an inside-outside-inside trip that cost him a lot of lateral real estate, and he was full of run when asked to shoot a narrow gap at the fence in deep stretch. Answer In is currently training at Oaklawn. Long-range, it’s worth noting that this colt has already run well twice at Churchill (a maiden loss by a nose and a 5 1/4-length win at 1-2 odds over a runner-up who came back to win).

11) STORM THE COURT (c, Court Vision–My Tejana Storm, by Tejano Run)
O-Exline-Border Racing LLC, David Bernsen, Susanna Wilson & Dan Hudock. B-Stepping Stone Farm (KY). T-Peter Eurton. Sales History: $5,000 yrl ’18 FTKFEB; $60,000 2yo ’19 OBSAPR. Lifetime Record: GISW, 4-2-0-1, $1,172,951.
Last Start: 1st GI TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, SA, Nov. 1
Next Start: Aiming for GIII San Vicente S., SA, Feb. 9
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 22.

Storm the Court has worked the past four Sundays at Santa Anita in defense of his 45-1 upset of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. What was supposed to be a planned solo five-eighths move Jan. 12 ended up with uninvited company, because at the 3 1/2-furlong pole Storm the Court ran up from behind on a slower-working tandem, and Flavien Prat had to back off a beat to keep from getting pegged down inside. The unintended workmates drifted out a bit turning for home, affording Storm the Court an opportunity to kick on through, but the trio re-engaged and finished stacked across the track for the run through the wire. “Not what I was looking for,” trainer Peter Eurton told DRF.com. “If he had been outside, I would have been fine with that.” This $60,000 OBSAPR Court Vision bay (bought for $5,000 as a FTKFEB yearling) will likely have his soph debut in the Feb. 9 San Vicente S. over seven furlongs.

12) CHANCE IT (c, Currency Swap–Vagabon Diva, by Pleasantly Perfect) O-Shooting Star Thoroughbreds LLC. B-Bett Usher (FL). T-Saffie A. Joseph, Jr. Lifetime Record: MSW, 6-4-2-0, $444,910.
Last Start: 1st Mucho Macho Man S., GP, Jan. 4
Next Start: Aiming for a February GP stakes
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 0.

Chance It is one of those horses who will largely get dismissed as a long-term Derby threat right now, but do so at your own peril. The chief reasons cited will be A) He’s an overachiever who’s started against far lesser company; B) He’s run some big-number races likely aided by a glib Gulfstream surface he so loves (4-for-6 with four 90+ Beyers there), and C) His ability at longer distances seems questionable. But wait a minute–don’t those criticisms sound an awful lot like what people were saying about Maximum Security (New Year’s Day) last year? This Currency Swap colt’s win as the 7-10 favorite in the one-turn-mile Mucho Macho Man S. Jan. 4 demonstrated he can withstand a length-of-stretch fight, and these types of in-form horses have a knack for catching highly-ranked layoff sophs off guard in Florida’s winter preps. The Holy Bull and Fountain of Youth are both under consideration for Chance It. It’s worth noting that favorites have lost the last three editions of both those stakes, and he would be a live longshot in either spot.

On the Bubble: (in alphabetical order)
Ancient Warrior (Constitution): ‘TDN Rising Star’ training at Los Al for Hollendorfer with eye on Oaklawn stakes.
Enforceable (Tapit): Oxley-owned gray for Casse, full to Mohaymen and half to New Year’s Day, makes 2020 debut in Saturday’s GIII Lecomte S.
High Velocity (Quality Road): $350,000 KEESEP colt for Wests/Baffert was beaten fave behind stablemate Thousand Words in Los Al Futurity.
Honor A.P. (Honor Code): Back jogging for Shirreffs after negative right front x-rays in wake of Jan. 4 Sham scratch. “Maybe he wrenched it,” trainer speculated.
Scabbard (More Than Ready): His Juvy fourth was blah, but he was the only one gaining on wrapped-up Dennis’ Moment in Iroquois. Resurfaces Saturday as Lecomte threat.
Shoplifted (Into Mischief): ‘TDN Rising Star’ is the only BC Juvenile next-out winner so far. Currently breezing at Oaklawn after capable Springboard Mile win.
Shotski (Blame): Wired Remsen over nine furlongs on day when speed held better as afternoon progressed; will try same distance again in GIII Withers S.
Silver Prospector (Declaration of War): Four five-eighths breezes at Fair Grounds since three-quarter length splash-home win in Kentucky Jockey Club S.
Untitled (Khozan): Won Gulfstream sprint debut with 98 Beyer; last week was privately purchased and will now aim for seven-furlong GIII Swale S. for Barber/Casse.

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