The TDN Derby Top 12 for Mar. 12

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This past weekend’s trio of prep races at Aqueduct, Tampa Bay Downs, and Turfway Park did not produce any big breakout performance that cracked the Top 12, and the cancellation of racing at Santa Anita delayed the coming-out parties of several top West Coast stars. But plenty of intrigue still simmers beneath the surface as we edge within 55 days of the GI Kentucky Derby.

1) 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, 7-3-1-1, $491,569.
Last Start: 1st, GII Risen Star S., FG, Feb. 16
Accomplishments Include: 1st, GIII Lecomte S., FG, Jan. 19
Next Start: GII Louisiana Derby, FG, Mar. 23
Equineline PPs. Caulfield on War of Will. KY Derby Points: 60.
War of Will’s status at the kingpin atop the sophomore totem pole got subtly stronger over the past week, and much of that rise in stock wasn’t even of his own doing. On Saturday this $298,550 ARQMAY War Front drilled a focused five-eighths at Fair Grounds in 1:10.60 (19/48) in anticipation of the Mar. 23 GII Louisiana Derby, in which he will be solidly favored. Later that afternoon, two contenders who had previously been listed at Nos. 5 and 7–‘TDN Rising Stars’ Dream Maker (Tapit) and Instagrand (Into Mischief)–botched chances to surge higher in the rankings by turning in subpar performances in their respective preps. And of course, the cancellation of the Mar. 9 GII San Felipe S. put the schedules of the California-based horses ranked as Nos. 2 and 3 right behind War of Will in serious flux. But War of Will doesn’t come across as a horse who will need much help from the falterings of others to defend his lofty status. This is a horse who consistently creates his own opportunities to capitalize by breaking alertly in large fields, settling into a rhythmic stalk mode, relishing the pursuit of frontrunning prey, and responding when cued to quicken with a nice reserve of torque that has yet to be fully tapped by jockey Tyler Gaffalione, the colt’s partner for all three races since an undefeated transition to dirt. Pedigree nitpickers might argue War of Will is too “turfy” to win dirt Classics. I say his bloodlines could spark the start of a new direction in Derby-caliber breeding.

2) 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
Accomplishments Include: 1st, GI American Pharoah S., SA, Sept. 29; 1st, GI Del Mar Futurity, DMR, Sept. 3
Next Start: GII Rebel S., OP, Mar. 16
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 30.
Because of the cancellation of the San Felipe S. at Santa Anita, the highly anticipated matchup of ‘TDN Rising Star’ stablemates Game Winner and Improbable will shift 1,600 miles east to Oaklawn Park. But this Saturday’s GII Rebel S. might not be a true head-to-head showdown between Bob Baffert’s top guns, because Oaklawn officials said on Sunday they were “confident” the Rebel would be split, with the $1 million race and its 85 Derby qualifying points switching to two $750,000 divisions worth 63.75 qualifying points each. Baffert told TDN via text message that the possibility of being able to enter one horse per division was a major reason he chose to detour both horses to Hot Springs, and the split Rebel would be a major coup for Oaklawn, which just a few days ago was getting neither star colt and maybe only a B-list entrant from Baffert. At Los Alamitos on Sunday, this $110,000 KEESEP Candy Ride (Arg) bay worked five furlongs in company with 5YO GSW Dr. Dorr (Lookin At Lucky) in :59.80 (12/25), and Baffert liked what he saw, fitness-wise. “G.W., he likes to hunt,” Baffert told XBTV. “He’s right there, and he’s a fighter. You just get him into the fight because that’s what he wants to do. But he’s got a great set of lungs. He doesn’t get tired. He comes back like it was nothing.”

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
Accomplishments Include: 1st, Street Sense S., CD, Nov. 2;
Next Start: GII Rebel S., OP, Mar. 16
Equineline PPs. Caulfield on Improbable. KY Derby Points: 10.
Trainer Bob Baffert is taking a more demanding training approach with ‘TDN Rising Star’ Improbable than he is with stablemate Game Winner leading up to Saturday’s Rebel S., and the reason is that this $200,000 KEESEP City Zip chestnut has more of a control-the-pace running style. “A lot of times with speed horses, you have to do a little bit more with them because they’re going to be running hard the whole way,” Baffert told XBTV Sunday. “Improbable, he’s going to be up there close.” Working a solo five-eighths in :59.20 (6/25) at Los Alamitos, Baffert said, “He wanted to be aggressive. He didn’t want to pull up. He was really enjoying it out there, and that’s what you want to see right now–that they’re moving well, they look healthy, they’re enjoying what they’re doing.” Baffert has shipped to win six of the previous nine Rebels. But he has also saddled the beaten favorite in each of the last two, which were won by Todd Pletcher trainees

4) 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: GSW & GISP, 4-2-1-0, $384,820.
Last Start: 1st, GII Fountain of Youth S., GP, Mar. 2
Next Start: Possible for GI Florida Derby, GP, Mar. 30
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 54.
Right around this time of year is when we hear trainers talking about their 3-year-olds noticeably maturing physically. Code of Honor may be a lighter-bodied horse (especially when seen alongside some of the sophomores he beat in the Mar. 2 GII Fountain of Youth S.), but one reason he might be not be as filled out as some of his peers is that he’s a May 23 foal, the latest-born contender listed among this week’s Top 12. As his trainer, Shug McGaughey, has pointed out, this first-crop Noble Mission (GB) homebred makes up for a lack of size by being an admirably efficient mover. And because Code of Honor has always been solidly sound, he’s been able to withstand the more aggressive conditioning regimen McGaughey has thrown at him over the past eight weeks to prepare for the rigors of the Derby trail. Although exact foaling date records are sketchy prior to 1940, ten known May foals have won the Derby dating to 1875, and three of those winners had a May 23 or later foaling date: Exterminator in 1918 (May 30), Northern Dancer in 1964 (May 27), and Thunder Gulch in 1995 (May 23).

5) HIDDEN SCROLL (c, Hard Spun–Sheba Queen, by Empire Maker)
‘TDN Rising Star’ O/B-Juddmonte Farms, Inc. (KY). T-William I. Mott. Lifetime Record: 2-1-0-0, $50,600.
Last Start: 4th, GII Fountain of Youth S., GP, Mar. 2
Next Start: Uncommitted
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 5.
Out of the cluster of horses exiting the Fountain of Youth S. who are currently considering either the GI Florida Derby, GII Blue Grass S., or GII Wood Memorial S. for their next starts, Hidden Scroll is the one who seems best suited to the Florida Derby. This ‘TDN Rising Star’ already has a tour-de-force frontrunning win over the track, and Gulfstream’s speed-friendly profile is likely to better align with Hidden Scroll’s key attribute better than Aqueduct or Keeneland might. This Hard Spun-sired Juddmonte homebred is in line for a yet-to-be-announced jockey change after getting committed to a too-fast duel with a 132-1 shot in his two-turn and stakes debut, but even though some race-watchers are calling that try a tactical debacle, it’s important to note that Hidden Scroll still managed to swat away the horses who got first and second runs at him on the far turn after he had already put away his early-race nemesis down the backstretch. The fourth-place effort was a more valuable learning experience than it might appear to be, and Hidden Scroll should be a better horse for it as he attempts to stretch to nine furlongs.

6) 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, 6-2-2-1, $452,990.
Last Start: 7th, GII Fountain of Youth S., GP, Mar. 2
Accomplishments Include: 1st, GII Kentucky Jockey Club S., CD, Nov. 24
Next Start: GII Blue Grass S., KEE, Apr. 6
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 18.
Expect a leaner and tighter Signalman for the GII Blue Grass S. Coming off a 10-week layoff, he was a deep closer on a traditionally speed-oriented track in a “loaded” Fountain of Youth S., and after his seventh-place disappointment trainer Ken McPeek took the blame for not having this $32,000 FTKOCT General Quarters colt honed sharply enough. McPeek also told TVG that Signalman lost a shoe at some point in the race, and he reported to Daily Racing Form several days later that the colt “didn’t scope perfectly clean afterwards.” Signalman has plenty of positive attributes if you’re willing to forgive one poor prep race. He’s a big bull of a horse who has smarts according to his trainer, and if you go back to his GII Kentucky Jockey Club S. victory, Signalman certainly caught the eye with a professional, covered-up, rail-skimming run from five furlongs out before repulsing bids from several onrushing contenders. He’s also never been off the board from three tries at Churchill Downs (including twice when it was wet), which helps if he makes it to the Derby.

7) COUNTRY HOUSE (c, Lookin At Lucky–Quake Lake, by War Chant)
‘TDN Rising Star’. O-Mrs. J. V. Shields, Jr., E. J. M. McFadden, Jr. &LNJ Foxwoods. B-J.V. Shields, Jr. (KY). T-Bill Mott. Lifetime Record: GSP, 4-1-2-0, $120,175.
Last Start: 2nd, GII Risen Star S., FG, Feb. 16
Next Start: GII Louisiana Derby, FG, Mar. 23
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 20.
‘TDN Rising Star’ Country House was green but game in chasing home top-ranked War of Will in the Risen Star S., and the performance rates even more impressively when you consider that he was a May 8 foal shipping to an unfamiliar track and racing for the first time outside the maiden ranks. This Lookin At Lucky homebred got a good schooling out of the effort too, breaking twelfth, rating in traffic, then advancing four wide on the far turn. He split horses five-sixteenths out, barreled five wide into the lane, then lugged in and shied off heels before finishing up willingly enough to suggest nine furlongs is well within the scope of his ability. Country House will get a rematch with War of Will in the Louisiana Derby, and if he still needs seasoning or qualifying points, trainer Bill Mott has indicated he thinks this colt is robust enough to start in one additional prep if rather than wait the six weeks between Mar. 23 and the Kentucky Derby.

8) ROADSTER (c, Quality Road–Ghost 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: GISP, 3-2-0-1, $106,200.
Last Start: 1st, Allowance/Optional Claiming, SA, Mar. 1
Next Start: GI Santa Anita Derby, SA, Apr. 6
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 0.
After a Mar. 1 allowance win re-asserted Roadster’s status as a potential Triple Crown candidate, trainer Bob Baffert indicated a preference to wait until the Apr. 6 GI Santa Anita Derby for this ‘TDN Rising Star’s’ next start. So in theory, that keeps him out of the immediate juggling that Baffert has had to do with his other top sophomores in the wake of Santa Anita’s closure and missed San Felipe S. This $525,000 KEESEP gray is on the comeback trail after surgery to repair a displaced soft palate that cut short his juvenile campaign, and now that the colt is literally breathing easier, so too are his human connections as they attempt to get him ready for a shot at nine furlongs. Roadster was the second-priciest Quality Road sold at auction in 2017, and he has a distance-loving turf specialist half-brother in GISW Ascend (Candy Ride {Arg}). His dam was a stakes winner sprinting on the turf at Colonial Downs. Quality Road himself might have been favored in the 2010 Kentucky Derby after sweeping the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby, but a quarter crack sidelined him the week before the race.

9) MUCHO GUSTO (c, Mucho Macho ManItsagiantscauseway, by Giant’s Causeway)
‘TDN Rising Star’ 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: GIII Sunland Derby, SUN, Mar. 24
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 14.
Bob Baffert’s re-routing of Game Winner and Improbable to the Rebel S. had ripple effects for ‘TDN Rising Star’ Mucho Gusto, who on Sunday got detoured from his previously announced trip to Oaklawn to the GIII Sunland Derby on Mar. 24 instead. This $625,000 EASMAY first-crop Mucho Macho Man chestnut was part of the contingent of workers Baffert transferred from Santa Anita to Los Alamitos over the weekend, and on Sunday Mucho Gusto was clocked in :57.80 (2/25) for five furlongs in company with a recent 3YO maiden victress. A tall, still-developing Apr. 26 foal who has been schooled to relax off the pace, Mucho Gusto most recently beat up on a so-so five-horse crew in the sloppy-track GIII Lewis S. by 4 ¾ lengths (the margin could have been more but he was geared down late). The rather thin level of competition in that Feb. 2 race doesn’t tell us much about where this colt fits overall, and unless the Sunland Derby comes up unusually stronger than usual, we might not get many additional clues from that race either–although its 50 winner’s-share qualifying points should be enough to punch Mucho Gusto’s ticket to Louisville when added to the 14 he has already accrued.

10) BOURBON WAR (c, Tapit–My Conquestadory, by Artie Schiller)
O-Bourbon Lane Stable & Lake Star Stable. B-Conquest Stables (KY). T-Mark Hennig. Sales History: $410,000 Wlg ’16 KEENOV; $525,000 Ylg ’17 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: GSP, 4-2-1-0, $155,100. Last Start: 2nd, GII Fountain of Youth S., GP, Mar. 2
Next Start: Possible for GI Florida Derby, GP, Mar. 30
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 21.
Other than a fourth-place try in the GII Remsen S. (that trainer Mark Hennig described as being “thrown to the wolves” because it was too tough an assignment too soon), Bourbon War owns two wins and a very close second, and he looks to be in decent shape heading into his next (still undetermined) prep race. This $525,000 KEESEP Tapit colt was barreling down the Gulfstream Park homestretch behind a too-fast pace meltdown in the Fountain of Youth S., and although he can’t always count on such a fortuitous pace scenario to assist his off-the-pace style, you can see a nice competitive streak developing. If you watch the replay of his Fountain of Youth stretch drive, the Gulfstream pan shot doesn’t really do his late run justice, because the camera followed other horses crossing the wire and did not fully show Bourbon War surging past winner Code of Honor a jump after the finish line. His gallop-out was also stronger and longer than the winner’s.

11) 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, 3-2-0-1, $188,850.
Last Start: 3rd, GII Fountain of Youth S., GP, Mar. 2
Accomplishments Include: 1st, GIII Nashua S., AQU, Nov. 4
Next Start: Possible for GI Florida Derby, GP, Mar. 30
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 10.
Although I can’t commit to full confidence that Vekoma will turn out to be a true 10-furlong horse, I have to admit to taking a shine to him as a light-bodied fighter who outruns expectations. Coming back off a 2-for-2 autumn campaign, this $135,000 KEESEP Candy Ride (Arg) colt out of a Speightstown mare was aimed at the most “loaded” prep race of the season when third in the Fountain of Youth S., and although he again displayed some late-race lack of focus, he never stopped trying. The Florida Derby remains a next-race possibility, although the Wood Memorial wouldn’t be a shocker either considering Aqueduct was the site of Vekoma’s favored win in the GIII Nashua S. last November.

12) GALILEAN (c, Uncle Mo–Fresia, by El Prado {Ire})
O-West Point Thoroughbreds, Denise Barker & William Sandbrook. B-Bar C Racing Stables, Inc. (CA). T-Jerry Hollendorfer. Sales History: $60,000 Ylg ’17 BARSEL; $600,000 2yo ’18 BARAPR. Lifetime Record: 4-3-1-0, $261,000.
Last Start: 1st, California Cup Derby, SA, Feb. 18.
Next Start: GII Rebel S., OP, Mar. 16.
Equineline PPs. KY Derby Points: 0.
California-bred Galilean owns a 3-for-4 record, and he pummeled state-bred competition so soundly that he deserves a shot at open stakes company. He’ll get it this weekend in what is shaping up as a split-division Rebel S. at Oaklawn. This $600,000 BARAPR Uncle Mo colt (pinhooked for $60,000 as a BARSEL yearling) tends to be forwardly placed in his races and has stretched out capably in distance with each successive start. On Monday morning Galilean worked a half mile in :48.40 (6/18) at Los Alamitos. Jockey Flavien Prat has opted to stick with this Jerry Hollendorfer trainee in the Rebel, vacating the mount on the promising Omaha Beach (War Front) to do so.

On the Bubble (in alphabetical order)
Dream Maker (Tapit): Plummeted out of Top 12 with next-to-last try in Tampa Derby. Trip woes included bad gate break, head cocked to infield while resisting rider far turn. Too bad of an effort to be indicative of true ability?
Gunmetal Gray (Exchange Rate): Late closer re-routed to Rebel S. after cancellation on last Saturday’s San Felipe S.
Haikal (Daaher): Wide and driving GIII Gotham S. winner picked up the pieces after an intemperate speed duel cooked the leaders.
Harvey Wallbanger (Congrats): Last-to-first upset winner of Holy Bull S. still on target for GI Florida Derby at nine furlongs.
Instagrand (Into Mischief): Appeared primed to pounce but couldn’t seal the deal when bet down to even money in long-awaited comeback.
Mihos (Cairo Prince): ‘TDN Rising Star’ had been lurking as figurative dark horse for presumed late March/early April stakes start, but now unworked since Feb. 26.
Mind Control (Stay Thirsty): Got perfect rail run in Gotham but was out-jumped at the wire; Wood Memorial next but still lacking in two-turn experience.
Omaha Beach (War Front): Took him five starts to break maiden, but that nine-length romp earned him a stakes start at Oaklawn this Saturday.
Tacitus (Tapit): Nice run through traffic to win GII Tampa Bay Derby, but he was the only one truly firing late in lane after gratuitous speed setup, so it’s hard to gauge what caliber of horses he beat.

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