The Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by TwinSpires.com heats up Saturday with the $1 million Florida Derby (Grade I) at Gulfstream Park and $1 million TwinSpires.com Louisiana Derby (GII) at Fair Grounds. Both races will award 100 points to the winner and 40 points to the runner-up, which is an almost-guaranteed spot in the starting gate for America’s greatest race on the first Saturday in May.
The Louisiana Derby will go as Race 11 of 15 at Fair Grounds with a post time of 6:21 p.m. (all times EDT) while the Florida Derby is Gulfstream Park’s finale on a 14-race card at approximately 6:40 p.m. In addition to first two finishing positions, both 1 1/8-mile races will award 20 and 10 points, respectively, to the third and fourth-place finishers.
The top point earners in the 37-race Road to the Kentucky Derby series will have preference to compete in the 20-horse Grade I, $2 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands. Six races with 100 points to winner remain to be run.
Following an impressive two-length victory in the Feb. 25 Risen Star (GII), Girvin is the 8-5 morning line-favorite in the field of nine 3-year-olds for the Louisiana Derby. The son of Tale of Ekati is attempting to secure the first Kentucky Derby berth for owner Brad Grady and 32-year-old trainer Joe Sharp.
Girvin will tackle eight rivals including Risen Star third-place finisher Local Hero, who looks to give trainer Steve Asmussen a record-breaking fourth win in the race, and William S. Farish and Lora Jean Kilroy’s gelding Guest Suite, the Lecomte (GIII) winner who was a troubled fourth in the Risen Star for two-time Louisiana Derby-winning trainer Neil Howard.
Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher will ship in two recent maiden victors to the Louisiana Derby from Florida including Calumet Farm’s one-eyed Patch and Derrick Smith, Repole Stable, Michael Tabor, and Mrs. John Magnier’s $1.3 million OBS March purchase Monaco.
Elsewhere, Fountain of Youth (GII) winner Gunnevera is the 9-5 morning line favorite for the Florida Derby. The 3-year-old son of Dialed In is trained by former top-Venezuelan trainer Antonio Sano. Gunnevera has already earned three graded stakes victories in his eight-race career and accrued almost $1.1 million.
Gunnevera faces nine rivals including likely second-choice and improving allowance winner Always Dreaming trained by Pletcher; Three Rules, who was third in the Fountain of Youth, 6 ¼-lengths behind Gunnevera; and the front running State of Honor, who removes blinkers after a runner-up effort behind the Pletcher-trained Tapwrit in the March 11 Tampa Bay Derby (GII).
The Road to the Kentucky Oaks Championship Series continues Saturday at Gulfstream Park and Fair Grounds. The $250,000 Gulfstream Park Oaks (GII) is scheduled for Race 11 at 4:57 p.m. while the TwinSpires.com Fair Grounds Oaks (GII) is scheduled for Race 10 at 5:41 p.m.
1. Juvenile champion Classic Empire was re-routed Tuesday to the April 15 Arkansas Derby (GI). Classic Empire was originally targeting the April 8 Blue Grass (GII) but has been quite the handful for trainer Mark Casse’s team, refusing to work twice in a month and now making his final Derby preparations at the Winding Oaks Training Center in Ocala, Fla.
2. The Florida Derby has been a key stepping stone to the Kentucky Derby. The race has produced 23 Kentucky Derby winners, including two in the last four years: Orb (2013) and Nyquist (2016).
3. Seven of the last 14 Kentucky Derby winners were based during the winter in South Florida. Six were stabled at Palm Meadows Training Center: Funny Cide (2003), Barbaro (2006), Street Sense (2007), Big Brown (2008), Super Saver (2010) and Animal Kingdom (2011). Orb (2013) was based at Payson Park.
4. Louisiana Derby entrant Patch hopes to give owner Brad Kelley’s Calumet Farm their sixth horse on Road to the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard: No. 5 Hence (50 points), No. 17 Sonneteer (20), No. 20 Wild Shot (17), No. 25 Term of Art (11) and No. 34 True Timber (6). Calumet holds the record for the most Kentucky Derby victories by an owner (eight), but hasn’t won the race since Forward Pass in 1968.
5. One of the key faces behind the success of Louisiana Derby morning line favorite Girvin is former jockey Rosie Napravnik – Girvin’s regular exercise rider who is married to his trainer Joe Sharp.
6. Gotham winner J Boys Echo is expected to be the first Kentucky Derby probable entrant to be stabled at Churchill Downs. J Boys Echo will fly from Florida to Kentucky on Sunday to make his final preparations for the April 8 Blue Grass at Keeneland. He is expected to arrive at Barn 4 on Sunday between 3:30-4 p.m., according to Churchill Downs Stable Director Steve Hargrave.
7. Kendall Hansen, owner of upset Spiral (GIII) winner Fast and Accurate, will pay the $200,000 late supplemental nomination fee for the Kentucky Derby. Hansen sold part interest in the colt to Louisvillian Harvey Diamond of Skychai Racing.
8. The Kentucky Derby had two prominent defections this week. Jerome (GIII) and Withers (GIII) winner El Areeb is off the Derby trail due to a knee injury. Japan’s Epicharis (Jpn) is unlikely to run in the Derby because of logistical quarantine issues in his homeland after running second in last weekend’s UAE Derby (GII).
9. The final pool for the Kentucky Derby Future Wager opened Friday and will close Sunday at 6 p.m. Wagering is available at many racetracks and other outlets, including TwinSpires.com.
10. The status of Unique Bella’s participation in the Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI) is in flux. Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer told Daily Racing Form on Tuesday that his filly was out of training because of sore shins, which would force her to miss the April 8 Santa Anita Oaks (GI) and Kentucky Oaks. However, Don Alberto Stable’s racing manager Fernando Diaz-Valdes told Thoroughbred Daily News that Unique Bella could “go directly to the Kentucky Oaks.” Stay tuned.
‘INSIDE CHURCHILL DOWNS’ RETURNS SATURDAYS ON ESPN 680/105.7 AT 10 A.M.
“Inside Churchill Downs,” co-hosted by Churchill Downs Racetrack’s John Asher, Darren Rogers and Kevin Kerstein, returns to the airwaves Saturday from 10-11 a.m. (all times Eastern) on ESPN 680/105.7.
The one-hour program will air every Saturday and follows the popular Horse Racing Radio Network’s Equine Forum hosted by Mike Penna and Jude Feld from 8-10 a.m.
Saturday’s show will deliver the latest news surrounding Kentucky Derby 143 and a preview the Road to the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks Championship Series stakes action around the country.
Guests include Classic Empire and State of Honor’s assistant trainer Norm Casse, Girvin’s conditioner Joe Sharp and former University of Louisville basketball player David Levitch, an avid horseplayer who will be onsite at the Florida Derby.
Those outside the Louisville radio market can listen live online at http://www.espnlouisville.com/.
The possible fields for Kentucky Derby Championship Series races are fluid as horsemen vie for points on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by TwinSpires.com.” Below are known horses mentioned to be under consideration for each race based on published news reports and other sources (with Road to the Kentucky Derby point totals).:
APRIL 8 WOOD MEMORIAL – $750,000 Wood Memorial (GII) to be run over 1 1/8 miles on the inner track at Aqueduct in Ozone Park, N.Y.: Cloud Computing (20), Irish War Cry (10), One Liner (10), Mo Town (10), Battalion Runner (0), Stretch’s Stone (0). Points to Top 4: 100-40-20-10.
APRIL 8 BLUE GRASS – $1 million Blue Grass (GII) to be run over 1 1/8 miles at Keeneland Racecourse in Lexington, Ky.: Tapwrit (54), J Boys Echo (53), Practical Joke (34), McCraken (20), Wild Shot (17), Irap (13), It’s Your Nickel (0). Points to Top 4: 100-40-20-10.
APRIL 8 SANTA ANITA DERBY – $1 million Santa Anita Derby (GI) to be run over 1 1/8 miles at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif.: Gormley (25), Iliad (20), Sonneteer (20), Term of Art (11), American Anthem (4), Midnight Pleasure (1), Battle of Midway (0), Milton Freewater (0), Reach the World (0), So Conflated (0), West Coast (0). Not Triple Crown Nominated: Kimbear (0). Points to Top 4: 100-40-20-10.
APRIL 15 ARKANSAS DERBY – $1 million Arkansas Derby (GI) to be run over 1 1/8 miles at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark.: Malagacy (50), Untrapped (34), Classic Empire (32), Sonneteer (20), Blueridge Traveler (20), Petrov (13), Lookin At Lee (12), Silver Dust (1), Battalion Runner (0), Dilettante (0). Points to Top 4: 100-40-20-10.
DOWN THE STRETCH
Sam F. Davis winner and unbeaten McCraken continued his preparation towards the April 8 Blue Grass with a six-furlong breeze in 1:13.40 on Monday at Keeneland with jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. aboard. McCraken is expected to breeze at the Lexington track again on Monday. … The jockey-trainer combo of John Velazquez and Todd Pletcher could have a record-breaking day with Florida Derby entrant Always Dreaming. Velazquez and Pletcher are tied in their respective categories for the most wins in the Florida Derby. Velazquez could overtake Jerry Bailey, Bill Hartack, Bill Shoemaker and Mike Smith and for the most wins by a jockey (three). Pletcher would separate himself from John Veich and Nick Zito for the most victories by a trainer (five). … Trainers Todd Pletcher and Steve Asmussen are looking for a record-breaking weekend in the Louisiana Derby. Both trainers are currently tied with J.B. Theall for the most wins in the Louisiana Derby. Pletcher sends out maiden victors Patch and Monaco while Asmussen’s hope is Risen Star (GII) third-place finisher Local Hero. … The connections of Guest Suite are very familiar with his immediate family. Owners William S. Farish and Lora Jean Kilroy bred and owned Guest Suite’s dam Guest House and second dam Winning Party. Jockey Robby Albarado rode Guest House when she was a maiden and trainer Neil Howard conditioned both horses. … Pletcher has all but tied up the loose ends with his 3-year-old army for the remaining Road to the Kentucky Derby races: undefeated Rebel Stakes (GII) winner Malagacy heads back to Oaklawn Park for the April 15 Arkansas Derby (GI); 3 ½-length Southwest Stakes victor One Liner’s course will take him to Keeneland for the Blue Grass; impressive Tampa Bay Derby (GII) winner Tapwrit will fly to the Big Apple for Aqueduct’s April 8 Wood Memorial (GII); and improving allowance winner Battalion Runner is likely to scratch from the Florida Derby and will make a start in either the Wood Memorial or Arkansas Derby. … Trainer Chad Brown confirmed Tuesday that Fountain of Youth runner-up Practical Joke will be pointed to the April 8 Blue Grass. Practical Joke was previously undecided between the Florida Derby, Blue Grass and Wood Memorial. … NBC Sports Group earned 41 Sports Emmy Award nominations for 2016, including Outstanding Social TV Experience for its coverage of the 142nd Kentucky Derby.