The first month of Kentucky Derby prep races is in the books and we saw some interesting new shooters emerge on both coasts. These very early prep races are not necessarily known for producing a Kentucky Derby winner. However, that does not keep owners, trainers, fans, and handicappers on the sidelines!
The action began in New York on New Year’s Day with the $150,000 Jerome at Aqueduct. Capo Cane covered the mile in 1:38.02 to earn ten Derby points. The son of Street Sense out of a Hard Spun mare wired the field and won by 6 1/4 lengths. His pedigree, impressive performance, and strong gallop out had his connections excited about stretching him out to longer distances. He was still a bit green in the victory, and rightfully so, as this was only his third start. Capo Kane earned an 84 Beyer and will likely make his next start in the Withers at 1 1/8 miles this Saturday, February 6th.
The next day at Santa Anita, Bob Baffert brought his A-game with the highly touted colt, Life is Good, in the $100,000 G3 Sham. Life is Good is by the red-hot sire Into Mischief out of a Distorted Humor mare. That pedigree screams “let it rain,” so if we have mud on May 1st…lookout! Life is Good also wired the field, besting his stablemate, Medina Spirit, who was closing beautifully. He covered the mile in 1:36.63, earning ten Derby points and a monster 101 Beyer. Jockey Mike Smith says we have not come close to seeing this colt’s talent.
On to New Orleans! The $200,000 G3 Lecompte at Fair Grounds was won mid-month by trainer Steve Asmussen’s Midnight Bourbon. The big, good-looking son of Tiznow out of a Malibu Moon mare was another wire-to-wire winner covering the mile and a sixteenth in 1:44.41. Midnight Bourbon earned ten Derby points and a 91 Beyer for his effort. I thought he was tiring at the end. However, Assumussen says he has a high crusing speed and does not see a distance challenge. Hmmm.
The $150,000 Smarty Jones at Oaklawn on opening day in Arkansas produced a winner who is now on my favorite “horses to watch” list. Caddo River and jockey Florent Geroux absolutely put on a clinic with a 10 1/4 length win for trainer Brad Cox. This son of Hard Spun out of a Congrats mare covered the two-turn mile in 1:38.19. He earned ten Derby points and a big 92 Beyer. The connections say he can “run all day.” I believe them.
This weekend, we had the final two prep races of the month, literally on opposite sides of the country. The $200,000 G3 Holy Bull at Gulfstream in Florida was won by trainer Shug McGaughey’s Greatest Honour. The 5 3/4 length win was impressive, covering the mile and a sixteenth in 1:43.19. The son of Tapit out of a Street Cry mare earned ten Derby points and an 89 Beyer. This colt is regally bred. He is a half sibling to Belmont winners, Rags to Riches and Jazil; and, undoubtedly, the new “buzz” horse on the Derby trail. Many experts are already touting him as a starter for the Belmont. McGaughey says he will definitely make his next start in Florida in either the Fountain of Youth or the Florida Derby. If all goes well, his next race will be his final prep for the Kentucky Derby.
On the opposite coast in sunny California, Medina Spirit returned from his impressive second in the Sham to win the $100,000 Robert Lewis at Santa Anita. It was a gutsy performance. This colt has a ton of heart. Trainer Bob Bafferts says he reminds him of Silver Charm. What a compliment! Media Spirit and jockey Abel Cedillo went wire-to-wire and hung on to earn ten Derby points and a 91 Beyer. He covered the mile and a sixteenth on a tiring track in 1:46.26. I absolutely love this horse!! He was a meager $35,000 purchase and is a Florida-bred which screams underdog. By the obscure sire Protonico, Medina Spirit may become a fan favorite, just because we all love to see the little guy win.
This weekend we begin the February preps with the Withers at Aqueduct in New York and the Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs in Florida. There is a big snowstorm in New York, and it could be bitter cold. So, hopefully, the right decision will be made in the next couple of days for the safety of these beautiful athletes. Sunny skies expected in Florida, so no problem there. Eighty-five days until the Run for the Roses. Let’s go!!!