On the surface, the Juvenile produced an exciting Derby prospect in the winner without it seemingly being a particularly strong renewal. The even-money favorite against 12 rivals, Game Winner overcame bumping at the start from post 9 and a wide journey most of the way to win by 2 1/4 lengths, completing an undefeated season and clinching the juvenile male championship.
Game Winner's final time of 1:43.67 was a touch slower than the 1:43.62 turned in an hour and a half earlier by Jaywalk in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1). No one as yet considers Jaywalk a potential Derby prospect, though it's not impossible that could change.
Although recording a career-best 103 BRIS Speed rating, Game Winner's rating was the lowest turned in by a Juvenile winner since Nyquist earned a 97 at Keeneland in 2015. Keep in mind, though, that Nyquist remained unbeaten through the Derby in a season in which the best colt in the crop, Arrogate, did not emerge until well after the Triple Crown was completed.
The relative strength of this Juvenile can also be called into question by the performances from Knicks Go and Signalman, who finished second and third, respectively, at odds of 40-1 and 67-1. The pair had previously run one-two in the Breeders' Futurity (G1) at Keeneland. Either the Breeders' Futurity was and will continue to be looked back at as a much stronger race than bettors gave it credit for, or one or both of these colts perhaps reached their apex in the Juvenile. Time will tell.
It was another six lengths back to another longshot, Mr. Money, who was making his stakes debut after breaking his maiden in his third career start in late September. Two-year-olds can obviously improve dramatically during the course of the Fall, but the failure to outrun this stakes newbie does not inspire confidence in the horses that finished behind him.
Among these was second choice Complexity, the Champagne (G1) winner who held a comfortable lead for more than half-mile but began to back up around the far turn. He completely quit in the stretch and finished 10th. Possessing a sprint-oriented pedigree, his long-term prospects for the Derby were a question even before this decline in form.
Complexity's stablemate in the Chad Brown barn, Standard Deviation, was the preferred horse exiting the Breeders' Futurity, where he rallied for third after breaking from post 13 and with no pace up front. However, he showed little interest after being bothered at the start and trailed the field. The addition of blinkers did not seem to help this son of Curlin.
Gunmetal Gray, second best to Game Winner in the American Pharoah (G1) prior to the Juvenile, dropped further off the pace than usual from post 11 and was still well adrift of Mr. Money in a fifth-place effort. He'll have a chance to fare better when he return to Southern California, but this initial spin over the Churchill surface could have been much better.
Aside from Game Winner, the rest of the participants in this lucrative, championship showdown appear to have work to do ahead of the Run for the Roses.