2017 Kentucky Derby Watch List – Klimt leads the pack

2017 Kentucky Derby Logo

September 8th 2016 

It is that time of year again. In less than two weeks the Kentucky Derby prep season officially kicks off with the points-paying Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs on Saturday September 17th. Last year around this same time, I made Nyquist my way too early Kentucky Derby favorite (SEE) and he went on to win the Kentucky Derby.

I am not ready to anoint any 2 year-old colt this title yet. There is no colt that really seems to be the near slam dunk like we had in Nyquist last year. And at this point in time, this year’s crop is better than last year’s when looking at times and Beyer Speed Figures. And it also appears to be better than the 2 year-old class that featured Shared Belief and California Chrome. Shared Belief and Chrome’s class took off more towards the end of that prep season. So there is a lot to look forward to in the future.

Right now, the leader of the pack is Klimt. Klimt’s time of 1.21.80  in the Del Mar Futurity was nearly a second and a half faster than Nyquist’s time (1:23.28) in the same race last year. And Klimt’s time was just 0.32 seconds off American Pharoah’s time of 1:21.48 in the 2014 Del Mat Futurity. That is roughly two lengths slower but the Del Mar track had a faster synthetic surface when American Pharoah raced there in 2014.

While I think Klimt is the best 2 year-old colt thus far, this is a very competitive and talented crop. Klimt has one of the best trainers in the world in Bob Baffert. He looks the part of a First Saturday in May contender but I am not completely sold on his pedigree past 9 furlongs.

Evaluating 2 year-olds at this stage is very difficult. Two year olds are like teenagers and can be very inconsistent. A few are late-bloomers that plod along with mediocre results and then boom, the light turns on and they take off when the race distances start increasing.

Most of these horses have only competed in races 5 to 7 furlongs and they may be dominant at these distances but have issues stretching out past a mile. And some of the best pedigree horses can be big flops or never make it to the racetrack. Sometimes the acorn does fall far away from the tree. Then there are horses like California Chrome who didn’t have an impressive pedigree but turned out to be arguably one of the Top 20 thoroughbreds of all-time.

Historically, odds are that the 2017 Kentucky Derby has already raced somewhere at a North America track. So below is my list of horses to keep an eye on in the coming months leading up to the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Sentient Jet Juvenile race on November 5th.

2017 Kentucky Derby Prospects

Klimt  Owned by Kaleem Shah and trained by Bob Baffert–the same combination that produced Bayern and Dortmund. Klimt’s sire Quality Road won the Florida Derby, Met Mile, Donn Handicap, Woodward Stakes. Quality Road suffered two quarter cracks that prevented him from competing in all three legs of the Triple Crown. Next Start: The FrontRunner Stakes at Santa Anita on October 1st.

Career: 4 Starts 3-0-0-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 1
Last 3 starts: 1st–>1st–>1st
Sire: Quality Road
Trainer: Bob Baffert (1997, 1998, 2002, 2015 Kentucky Derby Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Rafael Bejarano
Fastest 6 Furlong Time: N/A
Fastest 7 Furlong Time: 1:21.802016 Del Mar Futurity
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 94 – 2016 Del Mar Futurity

Straight Fire – He finished 2nd in the Del Mar Futurity behind Klimt. Owned by Jim Rome’s group, Straight Fire is giving Jungle Racing hope that they may have a horse close to Shared Belief’s talent. Straight Fire’s average Beyer Speed Figure in 3 starts is 90. This is the highest average Beyer Speed Figure of any 2 year-old thus far. I am not completely sold on his pedigree. His sire Dominus had moderate success , winning only one Grade 1 race (Dwyer Stakes) before switching to turf. But you’ve got to like what the Desormeaux brothers have done with him thus far. Next Start: The FrontRunner Stakes at Santa Anita on October 1st.

Career: 3 Starts 1-2-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 2nd–>1st–>2nd
Sire: Dominus
Trainer: Keith Desormeaux
Jockey: Kent Desormeaux (1998, 2000 & 2008 Kentucky Derby Winner)
Fastest 6 Furlong Time:  N/A
Fastest 7 Furlong Time: 1:22.48 (calculated) – 2016 Del Mar Futurity
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 98Del Mar MSW 8/6/16

Classic Empire – American Pharoah’s half-brother. He dumped his jockey Irad Ortiz Jr shortly after leaving the gate in the Hopeful Stakes. Both the horse and jockey are OK. It was rumored that he was examined after the race and may have been suffering from a case of mild lameness. Next Race: The Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland on October 8th.

Career: 3 Starts 2-0-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>1st–>DNF
Sire: Pioneerof the Nile  (Finished 2nd in 2009 Kentucky Derby)
Trainer: Mark Casse
Jockey: Irad Ortiz Jr & Julien Leparoux
Fastest 6 Furlong Time: 1:09.39 – 2016 Bashford Manor Stakes
Fastest 7 Furlong Time: N/A
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 87 – 2016 Bashford Manor Stakes

Not This Time At Ellis Park, he produced a sub 1:36 in a mile race in his last start. So he is way ahead of schedule. Dale Romans is very high on this Giant’s Causeway colt who reminds him of his half-brother Brody’s Cause. He is also Liam’s Map half-brother, the two sharing the same dam (mother) in Miss Macy Sue. Next Start: The Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs on September 17th.

Career: 2 Starts 1-0-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: N/A–>5th–>1st
Sire: Giant’s Causeway
Trainer: Dale Romans
Jockey: Robby Albarado
Fastest 7 Furlong Time: N/A
Fastest 1 Mile Time: 1:35.99 – 2016 Ellis Park MSW 8/12/16

Syndergaard  This Todd Pletcher-trainee has an average Beyer Speed Figure in 2 starts 0f 88. I am concerned that he will like distance. His sire Majesticperfection was a sprinter that didn’t race until he was 4 years old but won 5 out of 6 sprint races. Next Start: Unknown.

Career: 2 Starts 2-0-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 2
Last 3 starts: N/A–>1st–>1st
Sire: Majesticperfection
Trainer: Todd Pletcher (2010 Kentucky Derby Winning Trainer)
Jockey: John Velazquez (2011 Kentucky Derby Winner)
Fastest 6 Furlong Time: 1:10.05 –2016 Funny Cide Stakes
Fastest 7 Furlong Time: N/A
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 90 – 2016 Funny Cide Stakes

Three Rules – He has owned the 2 year-old races at Gulfstream Park thus far. His sire Gone Astray never raced further than 9 furlongs and his biggest win was the 2009 Pennsylvania Derby. Next Start: The Florida Sire in Reality Stakes at Gulfstream Park on October 1st.

Career: 4 Starts 4-0-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>1st–>1st
Sire: Gone Astray
Trainer: Jose Pinchin
Jockey: Cornelio Velasquez
Fastest 6 Furlong Time: 1:09.49 – 2016 Florida Dr Fagar Stakes
Fastest 7 Furlong Time: 1:23.89 – 2016 Florida Sire Affirmed Stakes
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 94 – 2016 Florida Dr Fagar Stakes

Practical Joke The Chad Brown-trained winner of the Hopeful Stakes. The son of Into Mischief, I have some pedigree concerns and especially beyond 9 furlongs. Next Start: The Champagne Stakes at Belmont on October 8th.

Career: 2 Starts 2-0-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 1
Last 3 starts: N/A–>1st–>1st
Sire: Into Mischief
Trainer: Chad Brown
Jockey: Jose Ortiz
Fastest 6 Furlong Time: 1:10.02 – Saratoga MSW 8/6/16
Fastest 7 Furlong Time: 1:23.39 – 2016 Hopeful Stakes
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 85 – 2016 Hopeful Stakes

Theory Another promising Todd Pletcher-trained colt from WinStar Farm. Theory won in his debut at Saratoga and produced an 85 Beyer Speed Figure. His sire Gemologist went undefeated in five starts heading into the 2012 Kentucky Derby where he finished 16th. Next Start: Unknown at this time. His last published workout was at Saratoga August 20th.

Career: 1 Starts 1-0-0-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Sire: Gemologist (Finished 16th in 2012 Kentucky Derby)
Trainer: Todd Pletcher (2010 Kentucky Derby Winning Trainer)
Jockey: John Velazquez (2011 Kentucky Derby Winner)
Fastest 6 Furlong Time: 1:09.80 – Saratoga MSW 7/30/16
Fastest 7 Furlong Time: N/A
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 85 – Saratoga MSW 7/30/16

Royal Copy – He lost the Hopeful Stakes by a neck under a hand ride as his jockey Luis Saez who lost his whip near the start. His sire Bodemeister won the Arkansas Derby and finished 2nd in the 2012 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. Next Start: Unknown.

Career: 4 Starts 1-2-0-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 2nd–>1st–>2nd
Sire: Bodemeister (Finished 2nd in 2012 Kentucky Derby)
Trainer: D. Wayne Lukas (1988, 1995, 1996, 1999 Kentucky Derby Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Luis Saez
Fastest 6 Furlong Time: N/A
Fastest 7 Furlong Time: 1:23.43 (calculated) –2016 Hopeful Stakes
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 84 – 2016 Hopeful Stakes

Blame Will – Another promising D.Wayne Lukas colt. He earned an 88 Beyer Speed Figure in his last start at Saratoga. Before this, he finished 3rd in a turf race. He is a big ticket horse with expectations. He was purchased as a yearling for $600,000. His sire Blame won the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic. Next Start: Unknown.

Career: 3 Starts 1-0-1-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 0
Last 3 starts: 4th–>3rd–>1st
Sire: Blame (2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winner)
Trainer: D. Wayne Lukas (1988, 1995, 1996, 1999 Kentucky Derby Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Luis Saez
Fastest 6 Furlong Time: 1:09.87 – Saratoga MSW 8/20/16
Fastest 7 Furlong Time: N/A
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 88 – Saratoga MSW 8/20/16

In addition to the above horses, Bob Baffert always seems to produce a top 3 year old every year. And his barn appears to be loaded again this year with other great prospects such as: Big Gray Rocket (Sire: Tapit), Cairo Healer (Sire: Giant’s Causeway) and another half-brother to American Pharoah Irish Freedom (Sire: Pioneerof the Nile). All three of these colts have broke their maiden.

Especially keep an eye on any 2 year-old that jockey Mike Smith chooses to ride. A Hall of Fame jockey, Mike magically seems to find his way on some of the best horses. If he didn’t make the sign of the cross before entering the starting gate each race, I would think he had sold his soul to the devil to end up on Songbird and Arrogate.


Here are the “Win and You’re In” races for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (Sentient Jet):

Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs – September 17th on TVG
FrontRunner Stakes at Santa Anita – October 1st on NBC Sports Network
Champagne Stakes at Belmont – October 8th on TVG
Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland – October 8th on NBC


–Michael

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