TDN Top Triple Crown Contenders

The TDN Derby Wrap

by T.D. Thornton

This week's TDN Triple Crown feature examines the GI Kentucky Derby runners according to official finish position. The focus is on raw trip notes–not the merits of whether a disqualification should or should not have been called. Interesting bloodstock note: Homebreds crossed the wire 1-2-3-4.

1) COUNTRY HOUSE (c, Lookin At LuckyQuake 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-William I. Mott. Lifetime Record: GISW, 7-2-2-1, $2,120,175.

'TDN Rising Star' Country House ran second and was elevated to the Derby win via DQ. This May 8 Lookin At Lucky foal impressed with his poise. He was seemingly unfazed by post 18, the crowd, the slop, and negotiating his way through the pack while largely avoiding early-race trouble. He broke alertly, and after brushing mildly with Code of Honor (Noble Mission {GB}) through the first furlong, Country House settled in about eighth for the backstretch run while four paths off the rail. He was not boxed in and had ample space on either side for most of the back straight, but jockey Flavien Prat made a crucial decision to dive between two rivals before a gap closed at the entry to the far bend. This deft move enabled Country House to get clear sailing while clicking into another gear, and he emerged onto the turn four wide and outside of the leaders while continuing to pick up steam. He was not significantly affected by Maximum Security (New Year's Day)'s path-shifting turning for home, but Prat did have to rouse Country House to stay straight and focused while the colt wandered a bit through the lane with his head cocked outward. He was clearly the best of the main body of the field but was not striding clear with the same late-race purpose that Maximum Security delivered.

2) 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 & MGISP, 6-2-2-1, $1,078,820.

Leading up to the Derby, I referenced that Code of Honor “needs to outrun his reputation of being an opportunist who capitalizes only under favorable circumstances.” In the Derby, this light-bodied Noble Mission (GB) homebred was presented with the absolute gift of a clear rail run when Maximum Security vacated his inside spot turning for home, and Code of Honor did fight through for a short lead just as the field crested the quarter pole. But the leaders almost immediately re-engaged him, and Code of Honor boxed on valiantly despite looking overmatched in the final run to the wire while crossing it third. I can't say I truly believe Code of Honor would have blasted on through at the rail on his own power without that commodious opening, but he does deserve credit for sitting in the two path for most of the backstretch run, taking slop in the face and waiting patiently for jockey John Velazquez to give him his cue to quicken. “It was like 'Open Sesame!' Velazquez said after the Derby. “I was like 'Wow, this never happens.' I thought I was going to win it.”

3) TACITUS (c, TapitClose Hatches, by First Defence)
O/B-Juddmonte Farms, Inc. (KY). T-Bill Mott. Lifetime Record: MGSW & GISP, 5-3-0-1, $953,000.

The knock against Tacitus entering the Derby was that he was light on Grade I seasoning and had never faced A-list sophomores. His sustained run wasn't good enough to win last Saturday, but don't doubt for an instant that this large-framed Tapit homebred for Juddmonte didn't get meaningful schooling out of his fourth-place try (elevated to third via DQ). Tacitus broke a stutter-step slow, was guided inward, had to be taken off heels when the pack tightened, carried his head high while getting pelted with slop, then settled by the time the field crossed the finish wire the first time. Reserved at the tail of the main pack in 16th, jockey Jose Ortiz commenced to picking off some of the stragglers but seemed choosy about committing to a decisive dash through closing gaps. He roused Tacitus three-eights out, and the colt responded despite cocking his head to the infield for a few strides. Ortiz again seemed to hesitate when debating and inside or an outside commitment at the top of the lane, then the straight was upon them with Tacitus spun out in the six path. He chugged on with determination and was able to grind down everyone but the top three while not minding the distance. “In the Belmont, he will be much better running 1 1/2 miles,” Ortiz said post-race.

4) 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, 6-3-2-0, $769,520.

'TDN Rising Star' Improbable's Derby was not a rousing success, nor was it a dud. He never truly looked comfortable, neither position-wise nor footing-wise, and Irad Ortiz Jr. said post-race “My horse didn't really like the track. I asked him to keep up and he just could not.” Leaving the gate, this $200,000 KEESEP City Zip chestnut had the reins shaken at him for speed then was instead asked to settle; parked in fifth for most of the journey Improbable was hemmed in fairly solidly with few tactical options. He was in position to pounce through the opening created by Maximum Security's veering out but just didn't have the punch to commit to that move. “I knew the first quarter of a mile I was toast,” trainer Bob Baffert said of all three of his horses post-race. “The problem is [Improbable] couldn't get out…I told my riders to stay clean [by leading the pack]. They don't listen to me.”

5) 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, 7-4-2-0, $1,936,000.

The juvenile champ found himself 20 lengths adrift by the time the field splashed through the first turn and he was never truly in it to win it. But 'TDN Rising Star' Game Winner was so up against the grain of adversity that you have to discount his Derby performance as an indicator of his true ability. He hesitated at the start and veered inward to that gap between gates, then tried (unsuccessfully) to get settled in next-to-last position. Considering Game Winner had never been farther off the pace than five lengths in his entire career, that gulf must have seemed like a massive chasm to him. Joel Rosario floated the colt seven wide down the back straight—either in search of firmer footing, to avoid kickback, or both—and that wide path still wasn't enough to avoid trouble, because By My Standards (Goldencents) edged out and bumped him about a half mile from home. Game Winner was 11 wide for the drive and brushed mildly with Tacitus late. I expect him to put in a more solid effort whenever he next resurfaces.

6) MASTER FENCER (c, Just a Way {Jpn}–Sexy Zamurai, by Deputy Minister)
O/B-Katsumi Yoshizawa (JPN). T-Koichi Tsunoda. Lifetime Record: SP-Jpn, 7-2-2-0, $234,392.

Pretty nice run for a colt who was in way over his head on paper and looked a touch lost at the break before settling in on the rail far behind the field. This son of Just A Way {Jpn) was still last at the quarter pole and didn't choose the easiest route through traffic near the rail to unwind late, but once he found a seam Master Fencer gave the positive impression that he was really figuring things out. After the wire he galloped out past everyone but Maximum Security. He is reportedly being aimed for the GI Belmont S.

7) 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, 9-3-1-1, $501,569.

War of Will had the most momentum to win, but he endured the most brutal Derby trip of all, and was lucky not to clip heels and go down in that chaotic run through the far turn. At the start, the dreaded one hole proved to be no problem for this pro breaker, and Tyler Gaffalione nudged War of Will to a contending inside stalking spot by the time the field banked into the first turn. War of Will was a tourqued-up fourth while resisting his rider's snug hold down the backstretch, but a patient Gaffalione waited until just before the five-sixteenths pole to unleash him for an attack. This move happened almost simultaneously with Maximum Security's outward drifting, and Gaffalione had to snatch back on War of Will, checking sharply, stopping a potential winning move cold. War of Will persisted with a second bid, endured more tightening between Maximum Security and Country House at the quarter pole, then had most of the starch sapped from him at the eighth pole when Maximum Security again shifted outward to assert his space. This talented colt figures to remain a divisional force, and if the remaining Classics don't pan out, he always has that stellar turf pedigree to fall back on.

8) PLUS QUE PARFAIT (r, 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-UAE, 8-2-1-2, $1,590,400.

This $135,000 KEESEP Point of Entry ridgling had an unhurried and largely uneventful inside midpack trip. For a while on the backstretch, he seemed to be following Country House, but couldn't match strides with that winner's early move. Ricardo Santana Jr. then dropped Plus Que Parfait onto the rail for a possible attempt to follow Code of Honor, but that avenue too was quickly sealed off before they could grab it. Shifting out several paths in the home straight, Plus Que Parfait found himself fighting on with the top five approaching the final furlong, but he had no true oomph to propel a winning bid. Now from 11 attempts, the G2 UAE Derby winner has still never finished better than sixth in the Kentucky Derby.

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, 7-3-2-1, $367,300.

Win Win Win was parked third-last for most of his journey, but when it came time to fire at the top of the lane he had neither the spark nor the room to do it, with a solid line of going-nowhere horses in front of him. This Hat Trick (Jpn)-sired homebred did get clear to launch a mild bid between the quarter and eighth poles, but that brief turn of foot through the upper stretch wasn't enough to vault him into serious contention. Jockey Julien Pimentel offered a “didn't handle the track” assessment.

10) CUTTING HUMOR (c, First SamuraiPun, by Pulpit)
O-Starlight Racing. B-Dell Hancock & Bernie Sams (KY). T-Todd Pletcher. Sales History: $135,000 Ylg '17 KEESEP; $400,000 Ylg '17 FTSAUG. Lifetime Record: GSW, 7-2-2-1, $516,967.

Cutting Humor tracked the action midpack and toward the outside, and this $400,000 FTSAUG First Samurai colt looked like he might make things interesting with a six-wide move into the far turn. He chipped away at the leaders' margins and was 10 wide into the lane but couldn't sustain his bid.

11) BY MY STANDARDS (c, GoldencentsA Jealous Woman, by Muqtarib)
O-Allied Racing Stable, LLC. B-Don Ladd (KY). T-William Bret Calhoun. Lifetime Record: GSW, 6-2-2-1, $653,710.

By My Standards was squeezed back leaving post three and spent the first furlong of the Derby trying to pick a spot to settle. He ranged up three wide into the turn while well back then accepted an outer slot for his backstretch trek. About a half mile out he bumped with Game Winner, but when that rival and nearby Tacitus both shot off, By My Standards was left in their wake while being scrubbed on by his rider.

12) 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, 5-3-0-1, $788,850.

This compact $135,000 KEESEP Candy Ride (Arg) colt broke alertly (true to form), then opted for a four-wide outer position through the turn and onto the backstretch. But he seemed intimidated when Country House bulled on by for his winning run and as other closers started to kick into high gear Vekoma didn't have it in him to take up the chase. “At least he came back in one piece,” trainer George Weaver said post-race. “He might have gotten into a little trouble on the turn, but he was starting to back up anyway at that point.”

13) BODEXPRESS (c, Bodemeister–Pied a Terre, by City Zip)
O-Top Racing, LLC, Global Thoroughbred & GDS Racing Stable. B-Martha Jane Mulholland (KY). T-Gustavo Delgado. Sales History: $45,000 RNA Ylg '17 KEESEP; $37,000 RNA 2yo '18 EASMAY. Lifetime Record: 6-0-3-0, $208,700.

Considering he was a maiden in against winners breaking from the outermost post, this Bodemeister colt showed some grit by pressing the pace and holding a good close-up position against far more seasoned horses. His dramatic checking out of the far-turn scrum happened while he was already on the backpedal though, so it's not like the actions of the disqualified leader cost him a placing. Don't know if he'll win his next start against maidens, but I guarantee he'll be overbet in such a spot with the Derby running line leaping out of his past performances.

14) TAX (g, Arch–Toll, by Giant's Causeway)
O-R. A. Hill Stable, Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, Hugh Lynch & Corms Racing Stable. B-Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider (KY). T-Danny Gargan. Lifetime Record: GSW, 6-2-2-1, $326,300.

Tax broke alertly and claimed a near-front rail position, but by the first turn he was steadily passed by nearly half the pack. He held his inside spot well though, and as the field tightened up he was only about five lengths off the lead. When roused for run 3 1/2 furlongs out, this Arch gelding had no go to give. “My horse was bothered by the splash in his face,” said jockey Junior Alvarado. “He was not happy about that. He kept trying but he was focused on the mud being kicked in his face.”

15) 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, 5-3-0-1, $706,200.

This $525,000 KEESEP Quality Road 'TDN Rising Star' never mounted a stout challenge while well behind the field. “I am disappointed to be honest,” said jockey Florent Geroux. “He broke all right but never traveled down the stretch the first time. He started picking up horses down the backside, but when I hit the half-mile pole, I was just out of horse. I am not sure if he didn't like the track but it felt like he never ran.”

16) LONG RANGE TODDY (c, Take Charge IndyPleasant Song, by Unbridled's Song)
O/B-Willis Horton Racing, LLC (KY). T-Steve Asmussen. Lifetime Record: GSW, 9-4-1-1, $854,459.

Long Range Toddy was in the hunt for the lead early on in the Derby, which is not a shocker given that he has consistently been a good gate-breaker, but it did go against jockey Jon Court's stated pre-race strategy of wanting to back off the pace. This Take Charge Indy homebred forced the fractions while sitting just off the flank of leader Maximum Security, and while he did take back sharply as part of the ripple-effect crowding just prior to the five-sixteenths pole, it's debatable whether the incident was a true momentum-stopper or if Long Range Toddy had already given all he could by the time that incident occurred. This figures to be a very useful colt with a little class relief.

17) MAXIMUM SECURITY (c, New Year's Day–Lil Indy, by Anasheed)
O/B-Gary & Mary West (KY). T-Jason Servis. Lifetime Record: GISW, 5-4-0-0, $649,400.

Obscured by the controversial DQ debate is the fact that this previously undefeated overachiever ran a very admirable wire-to-wire winning race. This son of New Year's Day gamely established himself at the head of affairs, led under legit pressure, and swatted away challengers off the turn despite (or you might argue “because of”) his shifting outward two or three paths while at the 2 1/2 furlong pole. Jockey Luis Saez said the crowd noise spooked “Max” but that the colt responded when refocused, digging in to put away not just one, but three separate stretch bids from onrushing rivals. He first clawed back the lead from Code of Honor, then shifted out slightly to impose himself on War of Will at the eighth pole, and still had enough left in reserve over 10 furlongs to repulse the stamina-centric Country House, all the while extending his winning margin to 1 3/4 lengths. The stewards relegated Maximum Security to 17th, placing him behind Long Range Toddy, for causing chain-reaction interference on the turn.

18) SPINOFF (c, Hard Spun–Zaftig, by Gone West)
O/B-Wertheimer et Frere (KY). T-Todd Pletcher. Lifetime Record: MGSP, 5-2-0-0.

Spinoff was a pace presence while five wide into the first turn and down the backstretch run, but he never flashed signs of wanting to be more aggressively involved. “Spinoff just hated the track,” said trainer Todd Pletcher. “He didn't really want any part of it. I had a hint about that earlier in the week when he galloped on the 'off' and showed us he didn't care for it. When Manny [Franco] went to riding him, he just backed right out of there.”

19) GRAY MAGICIAN (c, Graydar–Burg Berg, by Johannesburg)
O-Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, Gary Barber & Wachtel Stable. B-Twin Creeks Farm (KY). T-Peter Miller. Lifetime Record: GSP-UAE, 9-1-3-2, $584,140.

“He seemed to handle the track well but I just ran out of horse,” said jockey Drayden Van Dyke. Added trainer Peter Miller: “The horse bled a two out of five and we are going to give him a little break and bring him back in 30 or 45 days.”

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