Kentucky Derby Countdown

Peter Thomas Fornatale looks back at three of the Run for the Roses prep races from last weekend.

  • Wednesday 06 February
  • Blog
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Holy Bull (Gulfstream Park)

The speed figure earned by Harvey Wallbanger – 85 on the Beyer scale – is more in line with an allowance race than a graded stakes. That he earned a low final number despite a fast early pace also makes one wonder if any of these will make a major impact in the Triple Crown races. Harvey Wallbanger – named for the cocktail but it would have been a better story had he been named for the racing buffalo – ran very efficiently throughout and took advantage of a pace that was collapsing late. The Florida Derby will likely be next for him.

Everfast was considerably closer to the leader early, and you can make a case that from an ability perspective, he looks better than the winner coming out of the race. He was 128-1 but has flashed talent in the past. He’ll probably be a square price next time and bears watching for a trainer, Dale Romans, who has had plenty of success on the Derby trail.

Maximus Mischief went into last weekend as the shortest price for the Derby of the ones slated to run. He was reportedly working well going in and bet to odds-on. The undefeated son of Into Mischief had never faced a fast pace or a real pace rival but that changed in the Holy Bull when Epic Dreamer ran very fast for six furlongs before tiring late. Mischief claimed the title of “best of speed” in the race, passing Epic Dreamer, but he gave way to two rivals that were massive prices, Harvey Wallbanger (29-1 on the USA tote) and Everfast (128-1). While the pace dynamics offer some excuse, it’s not a great sign for Maximus Mischief to be passed by two such long-priced runners. He will stay on the Derby trail for now and target the Fountain of Youth stakes on 2 March.

Epic Dreamer ran really well and was unlucky not to place. He could be dangerous with a more efficient frontrunning journey in the future.

Mihos was bet strongly at the windows and ran poorly without any obvious excuse. Back to the drawing board for connections.

Withers (Aqueduct)

Tax ran a 96 Beyer Speed Figure in victory. On one hand, he overcame some adversity in the race – he shuffled his feet at the start and showed courage going through a tight hole in the stretch – but he also benefitted tremendously from Reylu Guttierez’s decision (about Not That Brady) to race ride Jose Lezcano (on Our Braintrust) allowing the hole to open at all. 

The initial plan for Tax was to run back in five weeks at Turfway but the effort was big enough that trainer Danny Gargan, who claimed Tax for $50k last October, is considering training him up to the Wood Memorial. One other note for the future, Gargan mentioned in a postrace interview that he believes the colt will eventually be better on turf than dirt. Just something to pay attention to should he show up on that surface.

Not That Brady ran great and was game in the lane. He ran slightly faster than par sectionals early and hung on for second, though I do believe he’d have been passed if not for race riding tactics from his jockey – the bump in mid-stretch halted Our Braintrust’s momentum. He was getting a weight break but is an interesting horse to follow, if only for the wild story about his mom.

Our Braintrust had meaningful trouble in the lane, taking a bump from Not That Brady that likely cost him second but he still probably should have gone by. The real frustration for me is that turning for home he looked for all the world like a 6-1 winner for the blog.

Robert B Lewis (Santa Anita)

Contested over a sloppy track that caused at least one important scratch, The Lewis was won by Mucho Gusto, an odds-on favorite who earned a 90 Beyer Speed Figure. On paper, it looked as if the Bob Baffert trainee would go to the lead and stay there, but connections elected to rate him on the day. This could pay dividends later on, as we now know he can rate nicely. For a moment, it appeared that Gunmetal Gray was going to make a serious race of the Lewis, but jockey Joe Talamo had a lot under him and Mucho Gusto powered away late. It’s scary to think that this is the third string in the Baffert barn, and according to the rumor mill, possibly even fourth string. The word is that the barn continues to be extremely high on the Godolphin-owned filly, Flor De La Mar, who is currently among the Kentucky Oaks future book favorites off of just a maiden win.

Gunmetal Gray ran well enough in defeat, without the benefit of much pace in front of him and showing he can handle off going. He could be interesting down the line in the right spot but appears to be behind Mucho Gusto at this point.

For more on this past weekend’s races, check out the latest edition of the In the Money Players’ Podcast.

Peter Thomas Fornatale is the host and creator of the In the Money Players Podcast. He is also the US correspondent for Sky Sports Racing.

Kentucky Derby Countdown
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