The TDN Derby Top 12 for Jan. 28


Thousand Words | Benoit


Three prominent GI Kentucky Derby prep stakes are on the docket for Saturday in New York, Florida and California as we await the first major blockbuster performance of the season that upends the pecking order.

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 celebrated his third birthday on Monday with a final breeze before an expected start in Saturday’s GIII Bob Lewis S. at Santa Anita (entries drawn Wednesday). This long-striding, $1-million KEESEP bay is undefeated at 2-for-2, and he earned style points in the GII Los Alamitos Futurity by surviving an internal pace battle and then winning the overall war when confronted in deep stretch by a more seasoned foe. Trainer Bob Baffert has saddled seven winners of the Lewis, including the 2009 edition with this colt’s sire, Pioneerof the Nile. Yet the Lewis hasn’t been a springboard to Louisville success for Baffert, as none of his five Kentucky Derby champs prepped in the Lewis. Thousand Words was equipped with blinkers for the first time in his Los Al stakes score, and after the race Baffert commented he had intentionally used “a lot of blinker” on the colt because Thousand Words is not naturally quick early and can get a little lazy if not cued to quicken in the early stages. With Southern California’s sophomore stakes often drawing short fields, being disengaged early can be more of a disadvantage than in larger fields where pacemakers are likely to face multiple waves of challengers. Thus, Thousand Words is once again going to have to be prominent both early and late in Saturday’s 1 1/16-mile test.

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 just had his first breeze of 2020 and his comeback race has yet to be disclosed, but trainer Chad Brown indicated after this Palace Malice bay’s GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf win last autumn that a dirt-centric Derby path could be a very real possibility. Structor’s 3-for-3 grass season (capped by two very smart poise-under-pressure stakes wins) was enough to stamp him as the real deal regardless of racing surface. This $160,000 KEESEP pinhook (resold for $850,000 at OBSMAR) is one of the few top-tier Derby candidates who has run exclusively in mile or longer races through his brief career, so the 10-furlong foundation is already there. For a deeper dive into Structor’s makeup and pedigree, check out a TDN profile on him from November (here), in which bloodstock agent Mike Ryan recalled Brown telling him at Saratoga “I think I saw my Derby horse. I had a horse come down in the lane this morning like a Derby horse.”

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: GII Fountain of Youth S., GP, Feb. 29
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 10.

‘TDN Rising Star’ Dennis’ Moment has the makings of a “Saturday horse” who can fill a starring role on the most prominent race day of the week, and he’s now three published workouts into his 2020 training, with (fittingly) all three half-mile morning moves coming on Saturdays at Gulfstream Park. The season-starting target for this $400,000 FTSAUG Tiznow bay is the GII Fountain of Youth S. Feb. 29, and trainer Dale Romans has indicated that, if all goes well, the GI Florida Derby Mar. 28 would be the final pre-Derby prep. Dennis’ Moment’s schizophrenic running lines are familiar by now: Lost jockey in debut, won an Ellis Park maiden by 19 lengths, roughed up the field in the GIII Iroquois S., then stumbled badly and finished last in the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. A strong performance by this Juvenile beaten favorite would help to clarify whether or not that longshot-dominated stakes was a fluke or even a “negative” key race. To date, only four horses have run back out of the Juvenile, and they are a collective 1-for-5.

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 is the horse within the Top 12 who appears farthest out from a race (recovering from ankle chip surgery). But he also owns the most eye-catching two-turn juvenile stakes win from last season, and his 5 1/2-length smackdown of the GI Breeders’ Futurity S. field last October took on an even more impressive glow after third-place finisher Enforceable (Tapit) won his 2020 debut in the GIII Lecomte S. at Fair Grounds. This Street Sense homebred for Godolphin is out of a Bernardini mare who is a half-sister to $633,076-earning MGSW Sky Mesa. Maxfield’s second dam, Caress, was a durable 13-for-29 MGSW. She had an explosive turn of foot and was a turf specialist who excelled at eight and nine furlongs; Caress even beat the boys in the 1995 GIII Poker S. at Belmont Park.

5) ENFORCEABLE (c, TapitJustwhistledixie, by Dixie Union)
O-John Oxley. B-Clearksky Farm (Ky). T-Mark Casse. Sales History: $775,000 RNA yrl ’18 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: GSW & GISP, 7-2-1-2, $267,150.
Last Start: 1st GIII Lecomte S., FG, Jan. 18
Accomplishments Include: 3rd GI Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity, KEE, Oct. 5
Next Start: Aiming for GII Risen Star S., FG, Feb. 15
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 13.

Enforceable made a leapfrog move to launch into the Top 12, and this Tapit gray’s advanced placement can be chalked up to the combination of his game win in the Lecomte S., a robust pedigree, and the fact that trainer Mark Casse is quietly confident there is still room for improvement. “He’s been a big kid that needed to grow up, and he’s growing up,” Casse said last week on ‘At the Races with Steve Byk.’ This $775,000 KEESEP RNA now racing for John Oxley is likely to follow the same Fair Grounds prep path as the Casse-trained War of Will last year (which resulted in a GI Preakness S. win). Casse said the timing of the Fair Grounds series works out well, and he’s keen on the newly elongated distances of those preps (the GII Louisiana Derby is now 1 3/16 miles). After experimenting with being closer to the lead early in his career, Enforceable now looks most comfortable as an off-pace threat, but just remember the annual caveat: Deep closers can be dangerous to fall in love with as Derby prospects, because their success in a 20-horse field is often pace- and trip-dependent.

6) 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 is wintering at Tampa Bay Downs, but it’s not etched in stone that his next start will be the GIII Davis S. there Feb. 8. The Risen Star S. at Fair Grounds one week later has emerged as another option for this athletically framed $100,000 KEESEP colt (subsequently RNA’d for $200,000 at FTFMAR). “There are a lot of factors to weigh,” trainer Mike Trombetta said in a Tampa-issued press release. “The goal for all of us is to have a horse that’s ready, but still fresh enough to run well when the stakes get higher. When you’re running that last race before the [Kentucky] Derby and [then] the Derby [itself], they’re the ones you have to show up for.” Interestingly, both Independence Hall’s dam-sire, Cape Town, and his sire, Constitution, both won the Florida Derby. Cape Town ended up fifth in the 1998 Kentucky Derby as the third favorite. Constitution figured to be among the favorites for the 2014 Derby, but a hairline fracture in his front right cannon bone kept him from starting in Louisville.

7) 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.

Ajaaweed could be the most underrated Derby prospect within the Top 12. He ran fifth when sprinting in a Saratoga MSW in which the second- and third-place finishers both won next time out. Ajaaweed did too, then was asked to take on Grade I company stretching out to two turns at Keeneland 24 days later. In retrospect, that now seems like too tough an assignment. This Curlin homebred for Shadwell was fourth in that Breeders’ Futurity S. behind the ultra-impressive Maxfield and well-regarded third-place finisher Enforceable. But Ajaaweed’s second-place try in the Dec. 7 GII Remsen S.–beaten only half a length while wide on both turns and closing against the grain of a speed-conducive track–is more representative of this colt’s true ability. No one’s going to quibble with the stamina influences on the top side of Ajaaweed’s pedigree, and his dam, Asiya, was another Shadwell homebred who lends a speed-centric influence. She was stakes placed and won two races from seven starts on the New York circuit, running up the score over 6 1/2 and seven furlongs by a combined total of 19 1/4 lengths.

8) 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

Anneau d’Or is not one of those electrifying types of colts who catches your attention with a “Wow!” way of going. But he’s a pretty capable contender with a Classics-styled pedigree (Medaglia d’Oro out of a Tapit mare) who looks to have plenty of upside as he figures things out. This $480,000 OBSAPR bay (RNA’d for $170,000 at KEESEP) broke his maiden by eight lengths going a mile on the grass at Golden Gate Fields, then ended up on the dirt in the Breeders’ Cup as Plan B when the Juvenile Turf was oversubscribed. He was beaten only a neck by the eventual 2-year-old male Eclipse champ while wide on both turns, and Anneau d’Or proved that Juvenile effort was no fluke when he closed determinedly to lose by the same margin to No. 1-ranked Thousand Words in the Los Al Futurity. This colt has been training in blinkers for his yet-to-be-determined 2020 debut and he bulleted six furlongs on Saturday, suggesting that he might be nearing a race.

9) 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: GIII Holy Bull S., GP, Feb. 2
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 12.

Tiz the Law looms as the heavy favorite for Saturday’s GIII Holy Bull S. at Gulfstream. His bullet half-mile breeze Sunday stamped a figurative exclamation point on his respectable 2-for-3 block of past performances, in which his only loss was a locked-and-blocked horror trip as the 3-5 fave in the GII Kentucky Jockey Club S. But this $110,000 SARAUG Constitution bay largely created his own woes in that Churchill stakes, with jockey Manny Franco repeatedly having to ride the brakes to keep from getting pocketed on the backstretch and again in the home straight. “Tiz” also overcame similar self-induced trip difficulties in a very “busy” GI Champagne S., and his habit of racing with his head cocked to the grandstand (in both stakes tries) does raise questions about this New York-bred’s ability to stay focused and on target. The probables on paper for the Holy Bull (to be drawn Wednesday) don’t contain any top-tier sophomore threats. But bear in mind that favorites in the Holy Bull have disappointed with an alarmingly low strike rate since 2009. They’ve lost the last three editions, and have managed only two wins from the last 11 runnings.

10) 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.

Authentic scores highly in the “raw potential” category based on his 7 3/4-length cuffing of a weak GIII Sham S. crew, and this $350,000 KEESEP Into Mischief bay provided some unintended excitement by veering in and out and fighting his rider through that solo stretch run. Authentic can get away with those antics in a six-horse field in January–it was the first race outside the maiden ranks and around two turns, plus he’s a May 5 foal–and trainer Bob Baffert has acknowledged it’s a problem that needs solving (with ear plugs or blinkers). Still, having Mr. Greeley as his dam-sire does give Authentic’s pedigree a sprint-centric slant. His dam, Flawless, won her seven-furlong debut by 13 1/4 lengths, then retired after losing a one-turn mile allowance by half a length (with the rest of the field 11 3/4 lengths behind). So the potential is there for breakaway brilliance–the chief question will likely come down to Authentic’s distance preference. Baffert has won five previous editions of the Sham, yet none of his five Derby champs won that prep race. In fact, his only Sham winner to even run in the Derby was Bob and John (17th in 2006).

11) 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: Aiming for GIII Southwest S., OP, Feb. 17
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 4.

As a Jan. 15 foal, Answer In boasts a birth-rank advantage over the majority of his peers, and I’m bullish on how he overcame a difficult trip with a lot of lateral movement to burst through at the rail to snag second in the Springboard Mile S. as the beaten 3-5 favorite. Trainer Brad Cox passed on the Smarty Jones S. on opening day at Oaklawn with this $175,000 KEENOV Dialed In weanling, and will instead target the GIII Southwest S. there Feb. 17. “Too much, too quick for a young horse, in my opinion,” Cox told the Oaklawn notes team. “[The Springboard] was a step forward. He ran a winning race. He was right there and I’m very proud of the effort. He bounced out of it in good shape.” Shoplifted (Into Mischief), the horse who beat Answer In at Remington, did run in the Smarty Jones, but he finished a non-threatening third.

12) 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 can add now “champion” to his resume after earning top honors in the Eclipse voting for the male juvenile division last Thursday. The 45-1 upset winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile is targeting the seven-furlong Feb. 9 San Vicente S., and trainer Peter Eurton has been building a nice foundation of four- and five-furlong works on each of the last six Sundays for this colt’s 2020 debut. “He’s a late foal [May 5], so he’s still growing,” Eurton said. “He’s filled out some since the Breeders’ Cup, and he’s training well.” Although this $60,000 OBSAPR bay (bought for $5,000 at FTKFEB) doesn’t have a “traditional” Derby-threat pedigree, glimmers of promise are there. Sire Court Vision, although known as a MGISW turfer who capped his career with a win in the GI Breeders’ Cup Mile, began his career on dirt with nice stakes wins in the Iroquois and Remsen at age two, and he started in both the Kentucky Derby and GI Travers S. at three. And dam-sire Tejano Run was a rugged (8-4-6 from 21 starts) MGSW who ran second in the 1995 Derby.

On the Bubble (in alphabetical order)
Ancient Warrior (Constitution): Unbeaten ‘TDN Rising Star’ targeting a first-level allowance sprint at Oaklawn on Sunday for 2020 debut.
Chance It (Currency Swap): Mucho Macho Man S. victor aiming for a Gulfstream prep as a home-court horse (4-for-6 with four 90+ Beyers there).
Gold Street (Street Boss): Wired Smarty Jones S. over sealed muddy track on Opening Day at Oaklawn, when early speed dominated (five wire winners and two pace-pressers on nine-race card).
High Velocity (Quality Road): $350,000 KEESEP colt for Wests/Baffert now six works into preparedness for first start since third-place Los Al Futurity.
Nadal (Blame): ‘TDN Rising Star’ won highly hyped Santa Anita debut despite slow start from rail.
Shotski (Blame): wire-to-wire Remsen winner looking for back-to-back nine-furlong wins in Saturday’s Withers S.
Silver State (Hard Spun): Closed with purpose behind Enforceable in Lecomte S., gained second after swinging six wide turning for home and then having to switch off heels in stretch. Better-than-looks effort.
Three Technique (Mr Speaker): ‘TDN Rising Star’ stalked in fourth, then only one with late run behind wire winner of Smarty Jones S. on speed-carrying track. Strong gallop-out; headed in right direction.
Untitled (Khozan): Will headline field over seven furlongs in Saturday’s GIII Swale S. after 98 Beyer in Gulfstream debut.

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