2019 Road to the Kentucky Derby Year-End Review

Dec 26, 2018 Vance Hanson/Brisnet.com

Not only is undefeated Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) winner Game Winner virtually assured an Eclipse Award as the 2018 champion juvenile male, but the son of Candy Ride will celebrate his third birthday on January 1 as a clear early leader in the 2019 Road to the Kentucky Derby series.

With one-quarter of the 35 U.S. point-scoring preps completed, Game Winner has earned 30 points courtesy of victories in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) and American Pharoah (G1). Like the namesake of the latter, Game Winner is trained by Bob Baffert, who's won the Kentucky Derby (G1) five times, including this year's with Triple Crown winner Justify.

With the Juvenile worth more points than all other preps run in 2018, it's no surprise that in closest pursuit are runner-up Knicks Go and third-place finisher Signalman, both with 18 qualifying points. However, their respective form appears for the moment to be going in opposite directions.

After registering a 70-1 upset of the Breeders' Futurity (G1) over Signalman and finished ahead of that rival again in the Breeders' Cup, Knicks Go faltered as the favorite in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2), finishing more than 18 lengths adrift of Signalman. That race was contested in the slop, which might not have suited Knicks Go. On the other hand, a letdown in general was not a huge surprise for a horse that bettors had thought little of in the Futurity and Breeders' Cup.

Game Winner was the only horse to win more than one prep. Besides Knicks Go and Signalman, horses with 10-point wins include Cairo Cat (Iroquois [G3]), Complexity (Champagne [G1]), Maximus Mischief (Remsen [G2]), Improbable (Los Alamitos Futurity [G1]), and Long Range Toddy (Springboard Mile).

Cairo Cat has not run since that September outing, Complexity's distance capabilities are in doubt after a poor showing in the Juvenile, and Long Range Toddy won a race that has not yet yielded a major Derby contender since it became part of the series. Maximus Mischief and Improbable, though, are intriguing long-term prospects.

Maximus Mischief, who shares similar ownership as 2005 dual classic winner and champion Afleet Alex, is undefeated from three starts after kicking off his career at Parx, an under-the-radar venue. Improbable, by City Zip, shares much in common from an aesthetic and connections point of view as Justify. He, too, has not lost in three outings.

Code of Honor, second to Complexity in the Champagne (for which he received 4 qualifying points) after a poor start and a subsequent late withdrawal from the Breeders' Cup and Remsen, is arguably the most promising of the others that have accrued points. There are a number of other intriguing candidates to watch for early next year who failed to earn any points in 2018, including Coliseum, Instagrand, Mucho, and Vekoma from Pool 1 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager (KDFW).

The Road to the Kentucky Derby series resumes on New Year's Day with the $150,000 Jerome at Aqueduct. That's followed by the $100,000 Sham (G3) at Santa Anita on January 5.

(Coady Photography)

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