Kentucky Derby hopefuls are gathering Saturday in Florida, New York and Kentucky. The mission: test their speed, stamina and heart attempting to earn a spot in the Derby starting gate on May 4.
A fourth key prep, the $500,000 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita remains on hold as track surface experts determine if unsafe footing at the Los Angeles-area landmark is causing an inordinate number of equine injuries and fatalities.
Racing remains suspended at the landmark Thoroughbred venue. Officials are not, as yet, projecting a re-opening date and a resumption of training on the main track.
Race-By-Race Look at Saturday Derby Preps
Here’s what race fans will be seeing Saturday:
- Gotham Stakes– For the second consecutive year the $300,000 event at Aqueduct in Queens, N.Y. is contested at one mile around one turn, shortened last year by a 1/16thof a mile from its previous traditional distance. The top four finishers are earning qualifying points – 50-20-10-4 – toward a berth in the Run for the Roses. All the buzz for this race centers on Instagrand. He’s a lightly raced California-based horse coming off a long layoff and going beyond six furlongs for the first time. In a surprising move, owner Larry Best and trainer Jerry Hollendorfer elected to skip the November Breeders’ Cup. It’s his first appearance away from California and his first race since August 11. Bettors and race fans are expecting great things from this highly talented horse. Saturday they’ll find out if those expectations will be met. Knicks Go, disappointing in his last two races and Much Better, part of what’s regarded as trainer Bob Baffert’s second string of Derby contenders are among seven challengers for Instagrand. He’s 1/1 on the morning line. For the full field, click here. Expected post time: 5:09 p.m. (ET).
- Tampa Bay Derby– A 1 1/16 mile $400,000 race with significant Derby points – 50-20-10-4 – the field is usually comprised of horses that were last seen in the Sam F. Davis Stakes, the February local prep for this event. However, in recent year’s trainers out of Gulfstream Park, near Miami have shipped over their Kentucky Derby hopefuls to Tampa for a variety of reasons. Among them, the need for an extra week of conditioning beyond last week’s Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream, a belief their horse might prefer the Tampa Bay Downs surface over Gulfstream’s and/or a desire to face a less contentious field of horses. Here, all eyes are on Win Win Win, 5/2 on the morning line. He’s the Pasco Stakes victor on Jan. 19 in track record time for seven furlongs at Tampa. Trainer Mike Trombetta chose to skip the Davis to focus on this spot. Davis winner Well Defined is in this race as the 7/2 second choice. For the full field, click here. Expected post time: 5:25 p.m. (ET).
- Jeff Ruby “Steaks”: This is Turfway Park’s premier event of its winter season. Eleven horses are vying for a $200,000 purse at 1 1/8 miles on a synthetic main track. It’s a – 20-8-4-2 – Derby points race. Before the race was renamed — pun intended — for the popular area steak house, it was known as the Spiral Stakes and Jim Beam Stakes. Kentucky Derby upset winners Animal Kingdom (2011) and Lil E. Tee (1992) were both winners of this race — the 1992 edition contested before the synthetic track installation. The race is attracting some on this nation’s leading trainers trying to assess their horse’s chances of moving on to the Kentucky Derby. Among them are D. Wayne Lukas, Ken McPeek, Mark Casse, Dale Romans and others. Here, Mike Maker’s Somelikeithotbrown is listed at 8/5 on the morning line. That’s because he’s the winner of the local prep for this event in February and in November third in the Breeders’ Cup grass event for two-year olds. Even if he wins on the Turfway synthetic, he’ll have to prove himself on the dirt track at Churchill Downs for the Derby. Of his six career starts, only his first was on dirt and it went poorly. He’s been far more impressive on the grass and the synthetic. But, If he wins the Jeff Ruby, he’s expected to follow Animal Kingdom’s path to Louisville, hoping to win there, too. For the full field, click here. Expected post time: 6:37 p.m. (ET).
No California Dreamin’ for Kentucky Hopefuls
With postponement and possible cancellation of the San Felipe at Santa Anita, Triple Crown trainer Bob Baffert is scrambling. He trains two top Derby candidates. They are undefeated, two-year-old champion Game Winner and Improbable. Now, the duo are not competing this weekend as planned. They won’t be idle because Baffert is hoping to seriously work both Sunday at Los Alamitos in Orange County.
It’s believed, if the workouts satisfy the Hall-of-Fame conditioner, he’ll ship them to Oaklawn Park in Arkansas for the $1 million Rebel Stakes on March 16. Neither has raced this year. Both may need to start earning Kentucky Derby points to make the country’s most prestigious race. Oaklawn officials say if the number of entries warrant, they’ll split the race into two $750,000 divisions with each offering 37.5 points to the winner instead of 50 for the winner of a one-division Rebel.