Kentucky Derby Countdown

It's a huge weekend Stateside with a trio of key Kentucky Derby trials - live on Sky Sports Racing - going to post, and Peter Fornatale - our American expert - puts forward his best bets.

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There are a trio of interesting Derby prep races this weekend and potentially interesting wagers to find in all three. I’ll be on Sky Sports Stateside on Saturday night to guide you through all of these races, as well as the various stakes that accompany them.

Let’s start in the northeast and take a winding route out west as we have a look into this week’s Triple Crown preps.

GOTHAM STAKES

New York’s penultimate Derby prep is the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes, a race I first attended in 1997. This year’s renewal is very interesting with a number of horses who could step up and find themselves in contention for Triple Crown race honours with another move forward.

There appears to be plenty of pace signed on and that could set things up for MONTAUK TRAFFIC. He’s run very well through the lane and while he hasn’t shown himself to be the fastest of these yet, the current 8-1 odds on offer more than make up for that. This race shape could easily make the difference in his favor. 

Others to pay attention to include a trio of last out maiden winners, War Stopper, Attachment Rate, and Sixto. Of the group, Sixto might be the most interesting as he’s a second time starter for a trainer (Eric Guillot) whose horses typically improve with racing. The maiden win was against a short field, but two of the ones in behind Sixto have come back to win.

Mischevious Alex is your likely favorite and he was very impressive last out in the Swale at Gulfstream Park. He’ll face a much more serious challenge early I believe and won’t offer much wagering value on the day. But should he prove me wrong and win once again, he will be an interesting contender to give Jason Servis a second straight “first past the post” in the Derby.

Another I’ll oppose here but might have a bright future in Untitled for Mark Casse. He was privately purchased off a big figure maiden score and immediately put in a tough race – the aforementioned Swale Stakes. Three weeks back he tried an allowance race and ran into a very good Todd Pletcher runner in Gouverneur Morris. I don’t trust him here but he has a good number to run back to and some excuses.

TAMPA BAY DERBY

This is the centerpiece of the Florida track’s biggest day - the Tampa Bay Derby- and it has attracted a strong field. Those who recall my piece last week probably know where I’m going in here. I wrote “it’s Chance It or bust” regarding my opinion in the Fountain of Youth, thinking connections had decided to run there despite the tricky outside post, but they reversed field late and scratched.

That left Ete Indian (also breaking outside by the way) to go gate to wire in impressive fashion. I imagine that Chance It would have stalked him, gotten a great tow into the race and won the race but alas, we’ll never know.

Instead CHANCE IT shows up here with all of the attributes I mentioned last week still in effect. His form and figures are strong and he’s been working well. One of the other things I mentioned last week was that the form of the Mucho Macho Man was working out well thanks to Sole Volante’s win in the Sam F. Davis.

This week we get to see the rematch, and the early market has Sole Volante favored despite the loss. Yes, he has since won that Grade 3 stake but as noted at the time, Sole Volante really got a perfect trip, with a fast pace and Independence Hall making the move in front of him to break the race apart.

Sole Volante certainly isn’t out of it, and could get a great setup once again but

I prefer Chance It and current odds of 11-4 are generous.

Two others to keep an eye on here with an eye to the future are Godolphin’s Spa City and China Horse Club/Winstar Farm’s Market Analysis. Both boast stylish maiden wins with good figures. Improvement will be needed to match the top two in the market but both of these colts appear to have promising futures.

SAN FELIPE

Next we head out west to Santa Anita and stop me if you’ve heard this one: Bob Baffert holds a strong hand in a Triple Crown prep race, this time the San Felipe Stakes.

He sends out Authentic and Thousand Words, each of whom comes here with a chance. Authentic, after his win in Sham, was briefly the clear ante-post favorite for the Kentucky Derby. But then, in a case of real life mimicking the “distracted boyfriend” meme, Nadal debuted, Charlatan debuted, and now he’s not even necessarily the Derby favorite in his own barn, but he is one of a host of runners listed between 10-1 and 20-1. 

This is all to say it’s been a while since we’ve seen Authentic. And given the greenness he showed last time and the steady way he’s been working since, I think that has been by design. If you combine the raw talent we know he has with a little more professionalism, you have a horse who deserves the place in the market he had back in January. I don’t fully trust him around even money but he’s an interesting item, and not just for this race. 

Thousand Words has a real “Baffert grinder” look, reminiscent of Game On Dude in the past or Game Winner last year. The type ideally suited to a run in the Derby, who could possibly find this test a little sharp given the quality of opposition here, what he’s accomplished already, and the big goal on the first Saturday in May. 

On the In the Money Players’s Podcast, my co-host Jonathon Kinchen “guaranteed” he’d hit the frame in the Derby [link to ]  (he is given to overstatement but has an uncanny ability to call these things).

At the prices, I might take a chance on Storm The Court, currently 6-1. The BC Juvenile form isn’t working out well but that doesn’t change the fact that this horse won that critically important Grade 1. Last time felt like a pure prep at an inadequate 7 furlongs and I think he’ll be better here and could get a great pace setup. I don’t think he’s as likely a winner as the Baffert pair, but he’s the bet at this number.

One other to mention is Honor A.P. , a horse I don’t trust at all after he’s missed some time and judging solely by the worktab, doesn’t look quite as good in the mornings as he did before his setback.

But it is worth noting that he looked immensely talented on his last start, and Mike Smith has been calling him his “Derby horse” since at least January. If he gets back headed in the right direction, the sky could be the limit, but again, I’m going to make him prove it to me in this race.

RECOMMENDATIONS:

Gotham Stakes:
Monatuk Traffic at 5-1 or higher

Tampa Bay Derby
Chance It at 2-1 or higher

San Felipe Stakes:
Storm The Court 6-1
Authentic 8-5 or higher

Kentucky Derby Countdown
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