Three crucial steppingstones to the $2 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (Grade I) – the Wood Memorial (GII), Blue Grass (GII) and Santa Anita Derby – will be staged Saturday within a 35-minute span as 3-year-old Thoroughbreds continue their quest to accrue sufficient points to start in the 144th running of America’s greatest race on Saturday, May 5 at Churchill Downs.

  Each race Saturday is worth $1 million and 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 the Kentucky Derby. Additionally, the three 1 1/8-mile races will award 20 and 10 points, respectively, to the third and fourth-place finishers, which could be decisive to those competitors that have already garnered points in earlier races.

  This year’s Road to the Kentucky Derby has showcased numerous tantalizing prospects. Eighteen horses that have amassed points in the first 30 races of the series will run this weekend. They are led by likely Derby starters Bolt d’Oro (64 points), who goes in the Santa Anita Derby; Enticed (63), the favorite for the Wood; and Blue Grass contender Quip (50).

  The Blue Grass also attracted champion 2-year-old Good Magic (34), Flameaway (29), Free Drop Billy (24) and Blended Citizen (22). The Wood has Firenze Fire (29) and Old Time Revival (20). Instilled Regard (19) was entered in the Santa Anita Derby.

  Thirteen others have been entered to garner points for the first time, but none more intriguing than Justify, a titan of a Kentucky Derby prospect who’ll make his much-anticipated stakes debut in the Santa Anita Derby for Hall of Fame trainer and four-time Kentucky Derby winner Bob Baffert.

  Compelling drama will be abundant as the prospects jostle for points with hope of landing within the Top 19 point leaders at the end of the Road to the Kentucky Derby (reminder: the final spot goes to Gronkowski, who has received an invitation for winning the inaugural European Road to the Kentucky Derby series).

  The Wood Memorial will go as Race 10 at Aqueduct with a post time of 5:55 p.m. (all times Eastern). The Blue Grass is Keeneland’s Race 10 at 6:23 p.m. and the Santa Anita Derby is Race 9 at 6:30 p.m.

  All three Road to the Kentucky Derby Championship Series races will be televised live on NBCSN beginning at 5:30 p.m. The races also will be broadcast on satellite radio’s Sirius 83 as part of Horse Racing Radio Network’s coverage, which can also be heard online at www.horseracingradio.net and on 93.9 The Ville in Louisville. – Darren Rogers

 JUSTIFY RATED SLIGHT FAVORITE OVER BOLT d’ORO IN SANTA ANITA DERBY

He didn’t make his career debut until mid-February and has never faced stakes competition, but Justify can establish himself as the probable Kentucky Derby favorite by winning Saturday’s $1 million Santa Anita Derby (Grade I). After captivating audiences in runaway maiden and allowance wins, the Bob Baffert-trained colt has been listed as the 4-5 choice on the morning line among seven contestants.

  It doesn’t shape up to be an easy task for the well-built son of Scat Daddy. Justify will jump into stakes waters against seasoned professional Bolt d’Oro, a multiple Grade I-winning juvenile who was placed first via disqualification when returning from a five-month layoff in the March 10 San Felipe (GII) at Santa Anita.

  Justify has overwhelmed the competition so far, winning a seven-furlong maiden by 9 ½ lengths and a two-turn entry-level allowance by 6 ½ lengths, and ran fast both times (100-104 BRIS Speed ratings). It’s been 136 years since the last unraced juvenile won the Kentucky Derby, but supporters believe he’ll be the one to end the streak.

  Mike Smith retains the mount and considering Justify led wire-to-wire in his debut and registered a 107 E1 Pace rating last time, the chestnut colt likely will be showing the way in a field with no confirmed front-runners.

  Bolt d’Oro was installed as the 6-5 second choice and doesn’t need to win the 1 1/8-mile test to prove best at Churchill Downs on May 5. Owner/trainer Mick Ruis hopes to keep moving forward after a solid San Felipe effort in which he came up a head short against the now-sidelined McKinzie (hock injury) and there’s certainly room for improvement in terms of his BRIS Speed ratings, with Bolt d’Oro receiving only a 98 after generating numbers as high as 105 last season.

  Javier Castellano will be in to ride the well-regarded son of Medaglia d’Oro.

  Instilled Regard doesn’t deserve the billing of the top two, but the Arch colt displayed fine class posting a runner-up effort in the Los Alamitos Futurity (GI) last December and opened his 3-year-old campaign with a sharp tally in the Lecomte (GIII) at Fair Grounds. He faltered as the favorite when returning to New Orleans with a fourth in the Risen Star (GII), but Instilled Regard remains a rebound candidate for Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer and can reinvigorate his Kentucky Derby prospects with an improved showing. Joel Rosario picks up the mount.

  The rest of the cast looks overmatched. Core Beliefs and Pepe Tono have at least tasted victory, but Jimmy Chila and Orbit Rain are still maidens. – James Scully, Brisnet.com

GOOD MAGIC SEEKS REBOUND AS BLUE GRASS FAVORITE

Good Magic entered 2018 as a leading Kentucky Derby contender but lost some luster when returning with a disappointing third in the Fountain of Youth (Grade II). The 2-year-old champ will try to reinvigorate his prospects when making his final prep in Saturday’s $1 million Blue Grass (GII) at Keeneland.

  A Chad Brown-trained son of Curlin, Good Magic has been installed as the 2-1 morning line favorite with regular rider Jose Ortiz. The 1 1/8-mile Blue Grass serves as one of seven major qualifiers, offering a combined 170 points (100-40-20-10 scale) toward a Kentucky Derby berth, and a full field of 14 will meet the starter.

  Free Drop Billy has been pegged as the 5-1 second choice. Winner of the Breeders’ Futurity (GI) at Keeneland last fall, the Union Rags colt opened 2018 with a runner-up in the Holy Bull (GII) at Gulfstream Park and exits a third in the Gotham (GIII) at Aqueduct. Irad Ortiz Jr. picks up the mount for Dale Romans, who will also send out 30-1 outsider Tiz Mischief.

  Quip and Flameaway, the respective 1-2 finishers in the Tampa Bay Derby (GII), come next on the morning line at 6-1. Quip sprung a 19-1 front-running upset when returning from a 3 ½-month layoff at Tampa and the Rudolphe Brisset-trained colt recorded a convincing allowance tally at Keeneland last fall. Flameaway switched from turf to dirt with a nice score in the Sam F. Davis (GIII) two back and the Mark Casse pupil overcame a troubled start most recently to post a fast-finishing second in the Tampa Bay Derby.

  Juvenile Grade I winner Sporting Chance will try to turn things around for legendary horseman D. Wayne Lukas following a fifth in the Rebel (GII) at Oaklawn Park and Blended Citizen looks to make an impact on the main track after winning the Jeff Ruby Steaks (GIII) over Turfway Park’s Polytrack. Todd Pletcher has Marconi, who will need to improve upon a fifth in the Fountain of Youth (GII) to challenge, and it’s interesting to see leading European jockey Ryan Moore aboard for the Coolmore connections.

  Other runners include San Vicente (GII) winner Kanthaka, a non-threatening third in the San Felipe (GII); Fountain of Youth fourth-placer Machismo; stakes victor Gotta Go, who exits a sixth in the Fountain of Youth; and the Steve Asmussen-trained Zing Zang. – James Scully, Brisnet.com

ENTICED FACES EIGHT IN WOOD MEMORIAL

Gotham Stakes (Grade III) scorer Enticed lines up against eight rivals on Saturday, including Gotham runner-up Old Time Revival and fourth-placer Firenze Fire, when going nine furlongs in Aqueduct’s $1 million Wood Memorial (GII).

  Enticed threw his hat in the Kentucky Derby (GI) ring last year at Churchill Downs with a head victory in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (GII) on Nov. 25. That contest awarded the Kiaran McLaughlin pupil 10 points toward a starting berth in the May 5 Run for the Roses, and he added another point when finishing fourth in the Feb. 3 Holy Bull (GII) at Gulfstream Park to kick off his sophomore campaign.

  Enticed wintered in Florida at the Palm Meadows Training Center, but shipped to Aqueduct for the March 10 Gotham. The Medaglia d’Oro colt prevailed by 2 ¾ lengths in that one-mile affair, which was worth 50 points to the winner, and will now go for 100 points on Saturday in the 94th edition of the Wood Memorial, which is worth 170 total points to the top four finishers.

  “He’s doing very well,” McLaughlin said. “He’s training great. We’re happy with him and we’re there trying to win an important race. Even if it doesn’t have Grade I status, we feel like it is a Grade I. It’s a huge race for a horse in his career, especially for a stallion prospect. Only one horse wins the Derby and 19 are hot and dirty, so this is a very important race on Saturday.

  “We wanted to be outside in the Gotham, but going two turns, it’s no big deal,” McLaughlin added of Enticed drawing post 5 in the Wood Memorial after breaking from the nine-hole in the Gotham. “There’s not a bad post, in my opinion, with a nine-horse field. We were hoping we’d draw four, five or six, something in the middle, but whatever it was going to be, it was going to be and we’d work it out.”

  Junior Alvarado has been aboard for all but one of Enticed’s career outings and retains the mount on the Godolphin homebred Saturday.

  Old Time Revival made his Derby Leaderboard debut with a runner-up effort in the Gotham last out after attempting to lead all the way home under returning jockey Jeremy Rose. The Brethern colt set the early pace in the Gotham, just like he did in the Miracle Wood one race prior before also ending up second under the line. Before that, Old Time Revival ran seventh while trying stakes foes for the first time in the Frank Whiteley Jr. Stakes

  The dark bay colt competed exclusively at Laurel Park, breaking his maiden by 4 ¾ lengths in mid-December, before shipping to Aqueduct for the Gotham last out. He returned to that track to prepare for this shot to make the Derby field.

  “Everything’s doing good, so we’re excited to make the trip,” trainer Kenneth Decker said. “He seems to be getting better every time we go. It seems like the further we go, the better he does. So we’ll see on Saturday, but right now, everything looks good.”

  Firenze Fire captured the Champagne (GI) as a juvenile at Belmont Park prior to a fading seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) at Del Mar in early November. That proved to be the Jason Servis trainee’s final start of 2017 and he returned Jan. 13 to win the rescheduled Jerome at Aqueduct.

  The bay son of Poseidon’s Warrior showed up for the nine-furlong Withers (GIII) three weeks later and ran second, then could do no better than fourth in the Gotham reverting to a mile. This stretch back out to 1 1/8 miles could see the Florida-bred return to form under Manny Franco.

  Vino Rosso took his maiden debut at Aqueduct last November for trainer Todd Pletcher before shipping to Tampa Bay Downs to wrap up his juvenile season with a 2 1/2-length allowance/optional claiming victory under regular rider John Velazquez. The chestnut son of Curlin stayed at that track to make his stakes bow in the Sam F. Davis (GIII) on Feb. 10, finishing third on that occasion, then filled the fourth spot in the Tampa Bay Derby (GII) last out wearing blinkers for the first time.

  “He’s a horse that’s trained very well all winter and in company with some very good horses that have gone on to be successful,” Pletcher said. “So, we’ve been a little frustrated with his races this year. We thought we had seen some improvement with him training (in blinkers) and in the Tampa Bay Derby, Johnny (Velazquez) felt like he was more focused in the earlier part of the race, so we talked about it and after discussing it with Johnny, we decided to leave them on.

  “We’ve been looking forward to the Wood for a while. We’re excited to get him back to Aqueduct. It’s where he broke his maiden and stretching out to a mile-and-an-eighth is going to allow him to show his true ability.”

  Restoring Hope makes his stakes bow in this spot for trainer Bob Baffert off a 3 1/2-length maiden score at Santa Anita Park on Feb. 2. The Giant’s Causeway sophomore was second and third in his two prior efforts against maiden rivals, and brings fellow Southern California-based Flavien Prat along for the ride here.

  “We’ve always been very high on him and he worked really well the other day so I thought we’d take a shot,” Baffert explained. “He’s doing really well. We’re like everybody else, we’re trying to see if he fits. The Wood is a very important race.”

  Restoring Hope ran his first two races sporting blinkers, but didn’t earn his first victory until that piece of equipment was taken off.

  “We took the blinkers off and he came back and ran well (last out),” Baffert said. “Now, he’s training like a good horse, so that’s why he’s there. Hopefully he ships well and handles everything well. It’s new surroundings and you never know how they’re going to act with everything and you still need racing luck and all, but I feel confident that he’s going to be very competitive.

  “He’s very fast. He has a lot of natural speed. He’s got to be up on the pace so we’re going to see what happens. He’s a gorgeous horse and he’s built for it. He’s a big, strong horse.”

  Vino Rosso breaks from the far outside post 9 and Restoring Hope drew one slot inside of him.

  Like Restoring Hope, King Zachary enters the Wood Memorial having broken his maiden in his third career start last out on March 18. The Dale Romans trainee romped by 7 ¾ lengths after stretching out to 1 1/16 miles at Gulfstream Park. Robby Albarado has been in the saddle for all three starts and holds the reins on Saturday as the Curlin colt tries winners for the first time here. Heartfullofstars is also facing winners for the initial time in this spot, having broken his maiden by a head at Santa Anita Park last out in his fifth career start. Trainer Philip D’Amato has tabbed Dylan Davis to rider the Astrology colt.

  Evaluator broke his maiden on Saratoga’s turf last year, then failed to factor when seventh in a pair of Grade III turf contests. The Michael Dilger charge showed up on the main track last October at Belmont Park to take the Sleepy Hollow by a nose, and just missed by that same margin when second in the Damon Runyon while making his sophomore bow last out on Jan. 15. Kendrick Carmouche has the call here.

  Completing the Wood Memorial field is Catch Twenty Two, who clipped heels and lost his rider last out on March 9 in his first start for new trainer Naipaul Chatterpaul after being claimed out of his debut victory on Dec. 17. Both those starts came at Aqueduct, and the Super Saver ridgling gets a jockey switch to Luis Reyes for this one. – Jennifer Caldwell, Brisnet.com

 

DERBY DETAIL

LONE SAILOR, PROMISES FULFILLED ARRIVE AT CHURCHILL DOWNS GMB Racing’s Lone Sailor and Robert Baron’s Promises Fulfilled arrived at Churchill Downs this week to begin their preparation for the Grade I, $2 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve on Saturday, May 5.

   Lone Sailor, the runner-up finisher behind Noble Indy in the March 24 Louisiana Derby (GII), walked the shedrow Wednesday and galloped Thursday with regular exercise rider Maurice Sanchez aboard.

   Fountain of Youth (GII) winner Promises Fulfilled is scheduled to return to the track next week and could breeze twice before the Run for the Roses, according to Churchill Downs’ all-time leading trainer Dale Romans. – Kevin Kerstein

 

DOWN THE STRETCH – Los Alamitos Futurity (GI) winner McKinzie has been removed from Derby contention with a bruised hock. “(McKinzie) was just a little off one morning and we were hoping it was just a foot but there was no swelling and he was fine the next day,” Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert said. “The nuclear scan did show something in the hock and we’re just being really cautious. We’re going to let what’s going on there just heal up on his own.” …  The Blue Grass is tied with the Champagne (GI) for producing the second-most Kentucky Derby winners (23) but the last horse to win both the Blue Grass and the Derby was Strike the Gold in 1991. ... Derby week stakes nominations close Saturday, April 14. To nominate visit https://bit.ly/2spFso1. – Kevin Kerstein

 

“INSIDE CHURCHILL DOWNS”

Inside Churchill Downs” will begin its fourth season on ESPN Louisville’s ESPN 680/105.7 when it returns to the airwaves Friday at 6 p.m. EDT.

  The weekly one-hour horse racing radio show will be co-hosted by Churchill Downs Racetrack’s John Asher, Darren Rogers and Kevin Kerstein, and deliver a wide-ranging list of interesting guests, from jockeys, trainers, owners to well-informed handicappers and other industry insiders.

  Those outside the Louisville radio market can listen live online at http://www.espnlouisville.com/ or via podcast on the station’s website or https://soundcloud.com/.

 

SPOTLIGHT HORSE: JUSTIFY

 

Unbeaten Justify is listed atop many expert’s Kentucky Derby selections and Saturday could prove if the colt has what it takes to vault into the Kentucky Derby picture as the 4-5 morning line favorite in the Santa Anita Derby (Grade I). Dazzling onlookers at Santa Anita in the first two starts of his career, this will be Justify’s first try against stakes company for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.

·     Horse information: (2-2-0-0—$66,000)

o          Owner: China Horse Club (Ah Khing Teo), Head of Plains Partners (Sol Kumin), Starlight Racing (Jack Wolf) and WinStar Farm LLC (Kenny Troutt)

o        Trainer: Bob Baffert

o        Last Jockey: Mike Smith

o        Breeder: John D. Gunther (Ky.)

o        Purchase Price: $500,000, 2016 Keeneland Sept. Yearling

o        Sire: Scat Daddy (Johannesburg)

o        Dam: Stage Magic (Ghostzapper)

·        Owner information: China Horse Club’s Ah Khing Teo is an acclaimed architect and entrepreneur who planned and designed many buildings and cities including: Malaysian’s government building in Putrajaya, the grandstand at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai which includes a five-star hotel, Imax theatre, and restaurants; the Meydan City Masterplan; and Bahria New Town in Pakistan. China Horse Club has won 16 major Grade I races around the world including the Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI), Irish Derby (GI), Epsom Derby (GI) in Ireland, and the Caufield Guineas (GI) in Australia.

     Kumin, 42, is the CEO of Folger Hill Asset Managemnt in New York. A top owner in the horse racing industry, Kumin is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University where he played lacrosse. Prior to starting Folger Hill, Kumin was the Chief Operating Officer for billionaire Steve Cohen’s SAC Capitol.

     Wolf’s Starlight Racing is a top partnership group in the U.S. with 20 Grade I victories including a win in the 2004 Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI) with Ashado. Wolf started Starlight Racing in 2000 with his wife Laurie. A native of Louisville, Ky., Wolf was a professor and hedge fund manager with Columbus Partners in Atlanta before retiring to focus on racing.

     Troutt is a leading breeder and owner through WinStar Farm, located in Versailles, Ky. Troutt is a native of Mt. Vernon, Ill. and began his interest in horse racing while attending Churchill Downs in college at Southern Illinois University. Troutt was the founder of Excel Communications, a long-distance telephone company prior to establishing WinStar in 2000.

·     Trainer Information: Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert is a four-time winner of the Kentucky Derby (GI). Baffert, 65, grew up in Arizona on a cattle ranch where he began grooming and galloping horses for his father. Baffert became a jockey in 1971 but couldn’t maintain his riding weight. A four-time Eclipse Award winner for Outstanding Trainer (1997-99 and 2015), Baffert’s Kentucky Derby winners are Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (’98), War Emblem (2002) and American Pharoah (’15). – Kevin Kerstein

OAKS UPDATE

MIDNIGHT DISGUISE TOPS GAZELLEWilliam Wilmot, Joan Taylor and Devin Wilmot’s Midnight Disguise tops the field of six 3-year-old fillies in Saturday’s Gazelle (Grade II) at Aqueduct that will award a total of 170 points to the Top 4 finishers for the Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI) on a 100-40-20-10 scale.

  Trained by Linda Rice, Midnight Disguise was most recently a 1 ¾-length winner of the March 3 Busher following a 4 ¼-length romp in the Jan. 25 Busanda, two local preps for this race. – Kevin Kerstein

 

MONOMOY GIRL HEAVY FAVORITE IN ASHLAND Michael Dubb, Monomoy Stables and the Elkstone Group’s Monomoy Girl hopes to continue her winning ways in Saturday’s $500,000 Ashland (GI) at Keeneland, a Championship Series event on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks that will award 100 points to the winner and 40 to the runner-up with the third and fourth-place finishers garnering 20 and 10, respectively.

  The Brad Cox-trainee began her career on the turf with a maiden victory at Indiana Grand and first-level allowance score at Churchill Downs prior to her 6 ½-length romp in the Rags to Riches. Most recently, the filly won the Rachel Alexandra (GII) at Fair Grounds by 2 ½ lengths under regular rider Florent Geroux.

  Monomoy Girl, a daughter of Tapizar, only has one blemish on her five-race résumé – a runner-up finish in the Nov. 25 Golden Rod (GII) at Churchill Downs. – Kevin Kerstein

MIDNIGHT BISOU HEADS SANTA ANITA OAKSAllen Racing and Bloom Racing Stable’s Midnight Bisou will attempt to continue her path to the Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI) in Saturday’s Santa Anita Oaks (GI), a Championship Series race on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks which will award 100-40-20-10 points to the Top 4 finishers.

  Trained by Bill Spawr, Midnight Bisou burst onto the Kentucky Oaks scene with a 4 ½-length victory in the Jan 7 Santa Ynez (GII) and a 2 ¼-length triumph in the March 3 Santa Ysabel, two of the local preps for the Santa Anita Oaks.

  Midnight Bisou will take on eight rivals including the second and third place finishers in the Santa Ysabel, Thirteen Squared and Spring Lily, respectively.  – Kevin Kerstein

POST TIMES – The Gazelle will go as Race 6 at Aqueduct with a post time of 3:38 p.m. (all times Eastern). The Ashland is Keeneland’s Race 9 at 5:45 p.m. and the Santa Anita Oaks is Race 11 at 7:30 p.m.

KENTUCKY DERBY BETTING CHALLENGE

The best handicappers will join the best 3-year-olds for the third annual TwinSpires.com Kentucky Derby Betting Championship on May 4-5 at Churchill Downs. Registration is open for this marquee tournament with a prize pool estimated to be its biggest yet.

Featuring a $12,000 buy-in and the ability to play online through KentuckyDerbyBettingChampionship.com, the KDBC is a live-money handicapping tournament with an $8,000 live bankroll and all of the remaining $4,000 going to an estimated prize pool of at least $400,000 and a top prize of $180,000. There is no takeout.

“The Kentucky Derby Betting Championship has proved popular among horseplayers, and we’re excited to see it grow more with its highest-ever prize pool,” TwinSpires.com President Ian Williams said. “The ability to play on track or via TwinSpires.com allows players to customize their Derby betting experience, making this one of the top live-money tournaments on the circuit.”

“It has been thrilling to welcome the best contest players to the most exciting two minutes in sports the past two years,” said Churchill Downs Racetrack President Kevin Flanery. “The Kentucky Derby is all about the best of Thoroughbred racing, and having a big-money live tournament to the mix enhances the race’s brand as the premier week in the Sport of Kings.”

TwinSpires.com has partnered with Breeders’ Cup to offer online play of the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge, an option that helped grow that contest to record levels the past two years. This year’s Kentucky Derby Betting Championship offers seven Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge entries as part of the prize pool.

Winning one of those entries could be even more lucrative this year, as IOA Insurance Services is offering KDBC players who win a BCBC entry the opportunity to purchase a $5,000 annuity that would be worth $1 million if he/she also wins the 2018 BCBC. This year’s Breeders’ Cup is Nov. 3-4 at Churchill Downs.

“We are excited to partner with TwinSpires.com and Churchill Downs to give Thoroughbred racing’s top handicappers the chance to make a life-changing score,” IOA Managing Director John Unick said.

Registration for the Kentucky Derby Betting Championship is open at www.kentuckyderbybettingchampionship.com. The website also includes this year’s rules, prize structure, and information on playing live at Churchill Downs.

SCULLY’S KENTUCKY DERBY REPORT

AUDIBLE, MENDELSSOHN RECORD IMPRESSIVE WINS

Audible and Mendelssohn fueled anticipation with powerful victories in the Florida Derby (Grade I) and UAE Derby (GII). And with four major prep races remaining, a compelling Kentucky Derby is taking shape.

  Audible distinguished himself by registering a 107 BRIS Speed rating, the top number among this year’s contenders, and became the third Todd Pletcher runner in the 20-horse Kentucky Derby field along with Magnum Moon and Noble Indy. Handicappers must always account for Pletcher, who recorded his second win (Always Dreaming) and tied D. Wayne Lukas for the most all-time starters (48) last year.

  Mendelssohn rolled to an 18 ½-length decision and shattered the track record making his first dirt start on the Dubai World Cup undercard. Owned by Coolmore and trained by Aidan O’Brien, who broke Bobby Frankel’s single-season record when posting 28 Grade/Group I wins last year, Irish-based Mendelssohn will be the most formidable international raider since Arazi, who finished eighth as the Kentucky Derby favorite in 1992.

  A trio of major preps will be offered this weekend, including a celebrated match-up between Bolt d’Oro and Justify in the Santa Anita Derby (GI). Keeneland’s Blue Grass (GII) holds a level of importance as 2-year-old champion Good Magic seeks to reinvigorate his prospects.

Florida Derby

 

Audible was based at Belmont Park and being pointed toward New York-bred stakes in late December, but he emerged when shipping south to easily capture the Feb. 3 Holy Bull (GII) at Gulfstream Park. The son of Into Mischief earned a 105 BRIS Speed rating for the 5 ½-length decision and backed it up with another superb win in the 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby.

  John Velazquez replaced Javier Castellano, who opted to ride Dubai World Cup (GI) runner-up West Coast, and Audible dropped more than 10 lengths off the pace as a ridiculous pace duel developed up front between inside speed Strike Power and impossible-to-control Promises Fulfilled. The front-runners ran each other into ground establishing faster splits (:21.95 and :46.37) than the lone six-furlong sprint on the undercard.

  Audible was a wide fifth rounding the first turn and traveled well off the rail the rest of the way. He retreated a couple of spots to eighth of nine runners along the backstretch and advanced four-wide into the far turn. The bay colt had reached a threatening position by midway on the bend and overhauled Mississippi, who took to a short lead between calls, while straightening into the stretch.

  Hofburg loomed the only threat with a quarter-mile remaining, rallying boldly to be only a length back in upper stretch, but Audible shook off the challenger in the final furlong and won going away by three lengths.

  Audible has now won four straight and netted another excellent BRIS Late Pace rating (104) finishing full of run, his fourth triple-digit number from five starts.

  It was odd to see him shut it down so quickly after the wire, turning his head sideways and angling toward the grandstand rail without galloping out into the first turn, but that seems to be Audible.

  His workouts were panned in advance of the Holy Bull as unaccomplished stablemates outworked the talented colt, but Audible fooled observers who thought morning exercises would translate to the races. He’s displayed an uncanny temperament to perform only when it matters and looks primed for another strong showing in the Run for Roses.

  Runner-up Hofburg ran big in his stakes debut, finishing nearly eight lengths clear of third, and likely guaranteed himself a berth with the 40-point prize. The Tapit colt was making only his third career start for Bill Mott, recording an unplaced finish at Saratoga last September and breaking his maiden at Gulfstream on March 3.

  There’s plenty to like about his potential but inexperience rates as a legitimate concern in the first leg of the Triple Crown. From the last 100 years, Big Brown (2008) is the only horse to win the Kentucky Derby with three previous starts and Animal Kingdom (2011) represents the lone winner with four starts beneath him.

  Third-placer Mississippi doesn’t have the points and could be pointed toward the Preakness (GI) by Mark Casse. Catholic Boy will receive a freshening and probably will be redirected to turf after bleeding in a well-beaten fourth.

  Promises Fulfilled stamped his ticket with a wire-to-wire Fountain of Youth (GII) upset four weeks earlier and trainer Dale Romans said they plan to regroup and proceed to the Kentucky Derby after a last-place finish. And given his one-dimensional skills (never been headed at the first or second call in five career starts), Promises Fulfilled will be all-in from the starting gate at Churchill Downs.

UAE Derby

The 1 3/16-mile UAE Derby has never made an impact upon the Kentucky Derby but this year could be different. Despite meeting questionable competition and leading all the way over a speed-friendly Meydan track, Mendelssohn enhanced his profile delivering a scintillating performance.

  He’s tractable with a high cruising speed and the ability to accelerate when called upon.

  Given his main track pedigree (half to Beholder and Into Mischief), the Scat Daddy colt was under consideration to make his dirt debut in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) last fall but O’Brien elected to keep him on turf. The decision worked out well as Mendelssohn rallied from just off the pace to score by a length and the bay colt came back this year with a narrow win in a one-mile Polytrack race at Dundalk (Ireland) on March 9.

  He elevated his game on Saturday, stylishly stretching out past a mile for the first time on a new surface, and fitness won’t be a concern like it was for previous runners from the O’Brien yard. The world-renowned conditioner snubbed his nose at American training methods with past participants, electing to send Johannesburg (8th), Castle Gandolfo (12th), Master of Hounds (5th), Daddy Long Legs (DNF) and Lines of Battle (7th) to Churchill Downs off only a single prep, but won’t make the same mistake this year.

  Mendelssohn has never dealt with kickback and must work out the proper trip on May 5, but he’s got a viable chance to become the first European-trained Kentucky Derby winner.

Up Next

 

The Santa Anita Derby features an exciting match-up between Bolt d’Oro and Justify. The former ranks as the most distinguished member of the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard while the latter is a perceived up-and-coming superstar who needs points in his stakes debut.

  With no confirmed front-runners in the seven-horse field, Justify has a tactical advantage with his natural speed and I’ll be surprised if he isn’t showing the way from the start. I don’t know whether a wire-to-wire victory benefits him in terms of the Kentucky Derby, but it’s the most likely outcome in my estimation.

  I expect an improved showing from Instilled Regard, who faltered as the favorite in the Risen Star (GII) at Fair Grounds, and the Arch colt will add more depth to the Kentucky Derby line-up if he runs well from just off the pace.

  Good Magic easily heads the Blue Grass morning line at 2-1, with an exposed Free Drop Billy listed as the 5-1 second choice in a 14-horse field, and anything less than a win would be disappointing. I’ll make a case for 30-1 outsiders Gotta Go and Zing Zang underneath.

  Gotta Go caught the eye recording a fast-closing second in the Swale (GIII) two back and I didn’t like the trip in the Fountain of Youth (GII) last time as the juvenile stakes winner raced up close between horses before coming up empty; look for him to offer one sustained run on Saturday. Zing Zang experienced a less-than-ideal journey in all three stakes attempts this year and I’m still a little intrigued by the Tapit colt’s late kick; he moves to an inside post after being stuck outside in recent outings.

  Enticed, who captured the Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) at Churchill Downs last fall, will be the one to beat in the Wood Memorial following a sharp score in the one-mile Gotham (GIII) at Aqueduct. He rebounded from an unplaced effort in the Holy Bull where he never looked comfortable experiencing an inside trip, registering a 104 BRIS Speed rating for the 2 ¾-length Gotham tally, but the Medaglia d’Oro colt was kept in the clear throughout from an outside post.

  I want to see Enticed handle some adversity from post 5 on Saturday. – James Scully, Brisnet.com

TAKING SHAPE

 

APRIL 14 ARKANSAS DERBY –$1 million Arkansas Derby (GI) to be run over 1 1/8 miles at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark.: Magnum Moon (50), Solomini (34), My Boy Jack (32), Combatant (22), Title Ready (5). Points to Top 4: 100-40-20-10.

APRIL 14 LEXINGTON – $200,000 Lexington Stakes (GIII) to be run 1 1/16 miles at Keeneland Racecourse in Lexington, Ky.: Greyvitos (10), Seven Trumpets* (9), Pony Up (8), Mask* (0), Telekinesis (0). Points to Top 4: 20-8-4-2.

*Under consideration for multiple races.

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