The new points-based “Road to the Kentucky Derby” series continues this weekend with a trio of juvenile races. Points will be awarded to the Top 4 finishers in Saturday’s $400,000 Foxwoods Champagne (Grade I) at Belmont Park and the $400,000 Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity (GI) at Keeneland. Also, the $200,000 Grey (GIII) – the lone Canadian race is the series – will be staged Sunday at Woodbine.
Last week, the new series was inaugurated with victories by Steeler-IRE and Power Broker in England’s Royal Lodge at Newmarket and Santa Anita’s FrontRunner, respectively.
In June, Churchill Downs announced it would institute a point system to qualify for the Kentucky Derby and abandon the graded stakes criteria that was used from 1986-2012 to determine which 20 horses would have preference for America’s greatest race.
Condensed to 36 races, points will be awarded to the Top 4 finishers in each “Road to the Kentucky Derby” race.
The Champagne, Breeders’ Futurity and Grey are three of 19 races that comprise the “Kentucky Derby Prep Season” between late September and mid-February in which points will be awarded on a 10-4-2-1 scale.
The point values of races within the 10-week run up to the first Saturday in May will escalate by 5X or 10X during the “Kentucky Derby Championship Series,” which encompasses 17 springboard events to the 1 ¼-mile classic.
The Top 20 point earners nominated to the Triple Crown will earn a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate if more than 20 horses enter the race. The Derby field has been limited to 20 starters since 1975, and at least 20 horses have entered the race since 2004, and 12 of the last 14 years.
If two or more horses have the same number of points, which can often be the case whenever a point system is introduced, preference will be given to the horse with the highest earnings in non-restricted stakes races, whether the races are graded or not.
CHAMPAGNE – Early Kentucky Derby Future Book co-favorite Archwarrior will face multiple stakes-winning stablemate Shanghai Bobby and five other promising rivals in the 141st running of the one-mile Champagne, which goes as Race 8 at Belmont Park on Saturday at 4:34 p.m. EDT.
The much-ballyhooed Archwarrior won his debut by 1 ¾ lengths as a heavy 0.25-1 favorite. Four days later, Shanghai Bobby won the seven-furlong Three Chimneys Hopeful (GII) by 3 ¾ lengths over Fortify to remain unbeaten in three starts.
Archwarrior and Shanghai Bobby, along with five-length maiden winner Micromanage (cross-entered in Saturday’s $75,000 Dover at Delaware Park) are trained by 2010 Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Todd Pletcher, who swept last weekend’s 2-year-old stakes at Belmont Park after winning 23 juvenile races at Saratoga.
PLETCHER ON ARCHWARRIOR – “He’s a big, strong colt who has shown us a lot of ability in the mornings, and I thought he backed it up with a good, solid effort in his debut. I liked the way he finished the race and the way he galloped out, and he’s trained well since then. It’s an ambitious move, but it’s a move we think that fits his schedule based off what we’ve seen.”
PLETCHER ON SHANGHAI BOBBY – “We were encouraged with the way he rated in the Hopeful. Even though he was close to the pace, he was able to let horses go in front of him and seemed to settle pretty well. The fact he successfully got seven furlongs and wasn’t desperate doing it was a good indication that a one-turn mile should be well within his scope.”
PLETCHER ON MICROMANAGE – “We were expecting him to run well, but he actually exceeded our expectations. We thought he ran very well. Not only did he run well, but it seemed like he moved forward for having run the race. He’s trained even better since then and has grown and filled out. He’s really developing the way you want to see them do it this time of year.”
TRAINER KIARAN McLAUGHLIN ON HOPEFUL RUNNER-UP FORTIFY – “He was back there a little along the inside [in the Three Chimneys Hopeful] and ended up taking some dirt. He took the worst of it while Shanghai Bobby and [his jockey] Rosie [Napravnik] were in the clear. It was good for him education-wise. I was hoping he’d draw outside, and that he’ll have a cleaner trip this time.”
BREEDERS’ FUTURITY – Graded stakes winners Balance the Books and Pataky Kid head an overflow field of 16 for the 99th running of the Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity. The 1 1/16-mile race over Keeneland’s synthetic Polytrack is scheduled as Race 8 at 4:49 p.m. EDT.
The Chad Brown-trained Balance the Books switches from turf to Polytrack after winning the With Anticipation (GII) at Saratoga. Pataky Kid, conditioned by Tom Proctor, rolled to a three-length score in the Arlington-Washington Futurity (GIII) at Arlington Park.
Other stakes winners in the field include Joha, winner of the Colin at Woodbine; Java’s War, winner of the Sunday Silence on turf at Louisiana Downs; Dynamic Sky, winner of the Simcoe at Woodbine; and Tree of Life, winner of the Barretts Juvenile at Fairplex Park.
Runaway Belmont Park maiden winner Tizracer from trainer Todd Pletcher’s arsenal was made the mild 4-1 morning line favorite.
GREY – Uncaputured, who at this stage shares the role as early Kentucky Derby Future Book favorite with Archwarrior, puts his perfect 4-for-4 record on the line Sunday in the $200,000 Grey (GIII) at Woodbine.
Uncaptured heads the field of seven entered in the 1 1/16-mile race over the synthetic Polytrack. He is owned by John C. Oxley, who campaigned 2001 Kentucky Derby champ Monarchos.
After wins against Canadian-breds in the Clarendon and Vandal, the son of Lion Heart beat open company by 3 ¼ lengths in the seven-furlong Swynford on Sept. 9.
Conditioned by four-time Sovereign Award-winner (Canada’s champion trainer) Mark Casse, Uncaptured’s chief rivals are expected to be maiden winner Tesseron from the Josie Carroll barn and maiden River Seven, who is trained by Nicholas Gonzalez.
The Grey is scheduled as Race 8 on Sunday at Woodbine at 4:42 p.m. EDT.
CASSE ON UNCAPTURED EARLY HYPE – “It’s nice to be the future book favorite; now we just have to make it to the Derby and be the favorite. There’s a lot of sweating before then. It’s an honor and it’s a first. I’m happy and I’m proud. Who would have thought a Canadian horse would be the future book favorite for the Derby? The Grey, with the new point system, has meaning to it because it comes with Derby points. It’s a big deal and it’s important to us.”
CASSE ON UNCAPTURED EARLY ON – “He was one of the best-looking yearlings I’ve ever seen. … I’ve been buying horses now for over 30 years and there are certain things I look for and he had every one of them. I like a good neck and shoulder. On a scale of one to 10, he has a 10 neck and shoulder, a really nice hind leg and he has some stretch to him. We’re always looking at horses we think can get a mile-and-a-quarter for the Queen’s Plate or Kentucky Derby and we thought he fit. He was the entire package from looks to pedigree.”
CASSE ON UNCAPTURED’S FUTURE – “He’s been very impressive so far. Distance isn’t going to be a problem. There will come a day when he has to dig deep and show us what he’s made of. I just hope that day doesn’t come for awhile. (Dirt) doesn’t concern me. He’s a beautiful moving horse. He has a wonderful stride and I’ve said all along horses that like Polytrack like Churchill Downs. He’ll have his transition to dirt down at Palm Meadows (this winter). Hopefully, he stays happy and healthy.”
LAST WEEK – Gary and Mary West’s Power Broker won for the first time in four starts, surging through the stretch under jockey Rafael Bejarano to capture the FrontRunner Stakes at Santa Anita by 6 ½ lengths and earn 10 points on the new “Road to the Kentucky Derby.”
He ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.44 and paid $12.60 at 9-2 odds for trainer Bob Baffert, who extended his FrontRunner win-record to six. Power Broker earned a spot in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) on Nov. 3.
Know More, the 8-5 favorite running on dirt for the first time, finished second for trainer Doug O'Neill.
Capo Bastone was third. Carving, co-owned by Olympic champion skier Bode Miller and Baffert's wife, Jill, led much of the way before fading to fourth in his first loss in three starts.
In the Royal Lodge at England’s Newmarket, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed al Maktoum’s Irish-bred Steeler set a “Rowley Mile” course juvenile record of 1:35.67 under Kieren Fallon with a one-length victory Artigiano.
Steeler has now won three of five starts while finishing second in the other two. Steeler took runner-up honors behind the well-regarded Dundonnell in the Acomb (GIII) at York on Aug. 22, and recorded his first stakes win in the Stardom on Sept. 4 at Goodwood.
Although the race was part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win and You’re In” Series, trainer Mark Johnston suggested that Steeler’s next target would be the one-mile Racing Post Trophy (GI) at Doncaster on Saturday, Oct. 27.
Artigiano – owned by Sheikh Hamdan’s father, Sheikh Mohammed of Godolphin – also could resurface in the Racing Post Trophy.
The Royal Lodge was expected to include Afonsa de Sousa, half-brother to 2008 Kentucky Derby champ Big Brown, but he was scratched by trainer Aidan O’Brien.