Pursuit of The Roses – What to make of the Derby Trail races this past weekend

This past weekend (February 21st and 22nd) gave us more useful information for determining this year’s Kentucky Derby field.

Who’s in the Derby?

The following horses have enough points to guarantee their entry into the Kentucky Derby:

1) International Star – 71 points
2) Itsaknockout – 50 points
3) Upstart – 36 points

Due to injuries, performance reasons and schedule conflicts, many horses who have enough points aren’t entered in the Kentucky Derby. The following horses historically have enough points to gain entry due to these reasons

4) El Kabeir – 25 points
5) War Story  – 24 points
6) Far Right – 22 points
7) Dortmund – 20 points

Overall, I wasn’t overly impressed with any horse this past weekend in the point paying Derby races. In the Fountain of Youth shown below, all the horses looked like they were really laboring to the finish line in this 1 & 1/16th mile race. Upstart had his win taken away due to interference and veering out into Itsaknockout’s path. There was a clear violation, but I am not convinced that it would have changed the finishing order. It certainly would have made it a closer race. Even if Upstart’s win was upheld, this race wasn’t as impressive as his last start in the Holy Bull Stakes. So this begs the question, has Upstart peaked? Nevertheless, he should be one of the race favorites for the Florida Derby.

Itsaknockout is now undefeated in three starts. Once highly regarded Frosted finished 4th.

In the Risen Star Stakes, International Star established himself as a serious Kentucky Derby contender with his second consecutive win at the Fairgrounds. I had initial concerns last fall that he was a horse that preferred turf, but all those doubts have been erased now. He should be the race favorite for the Louisiana Derby and has a good pedigree. International Star’s sire Fusaichi Pegasus won the 2000 Kentucky Derby. However, he has yet to dazzle us with  impressive Beyer Speed figures. He earned a 90 Beyer Speed Figure in the Lecomte Stakes and a 93 in the Risen Star.

But he is improving, not regressing and that is the most important element at this time of year. But the big question for him now—is he a rising star that had only been racing to the level of his competition?

Race favorite Imperia has a disappointing 5th place finish,

The Southwest Stakes established Far Right as the early favorite for Arkansas Derby by beating race favorite Mr Z. The wet sloppy track at Oaklawn Park on Sunday should have hindered his closer style. But once again, under jockey Mike Smith, he managed to beat Mr Z to the finish line. Far Right is a very good horse but like International Star, he has yet to dazzle us with eye-popping speed figures. Mr Z is establishing himself as a herd runner who will finish up near the front with the lead pack but not win. A better name for him would be “Close But No Cigar”

I really loved the second-place performance from The Truth Or Else under jockey Calvin Borel. This was his first start in a race longer than 1 mile and he looks like he loved the added distance. So I expect him to be a contender to American Pharoah in the upcoming Rebel Stakes.

In Other Races…

I was really impressed with the Todd Pletcher-trained horse Khozan who absolutely demolished the field in Race #5 at Gulfstream Park this past Sunday. He is a late bloomer braking his maiden in his first start in a 7 furlong race at Gulfstream Park on January 24th.

My next blog coming up this Thursday will focus on the Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool #3 and the first Kentucky Oaks Future Wager Pool.

Who do I think will be dropped from Pool #2 in Pool #3? Lord Nelson, J S Bach, Gorgeous Bird and Possibly Mr Z due to the expected lack of interest from bettors.

Here is who I think will be added in their place: Far From Over, Metaboss, Divining Rod and The Truth Or Else