As the latest stop on the Kentucky Derby trail, Saturday’s Grade 2 Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct introduces new faces to the Derby trail. But while you’re getting to know 8/5 favorite Mo Donegal and 5/2 second choice Zandon, re-acquaint yourself with another pertinent name.
That would be Thunder Gulch. He’s the last Remsen winner to find the Churchill Downs winner’s circle the first Saturday in May. That happened in 1995, meaning the Remsen’s Derby predictor function has been on the fritz for more than a generation.
Remsen winner Go for Gin captured the Derby two years earlier. From there, go back to Pleasant Colony (1980). Go back another 20 years to Carry Back (1960). Now, go back 22 more to Johnstown (1938).
So yes, there are 10-4-2-1 Derby points up for grabs to the top four finishers in the 1 1/8-mile event. Just understand the Remsen’s place on the Derby trail and realize this first-Saturday-in-December race likely won’t predict happenings the first Saturday in May.
Regardless of Derby recency, Remsen provides info
With that said, the Remsen does provide some reconnaissance into 2-year-old Derby hopefuls at a time where any information is welcome. And most of the attention in this year’s Remsen focuses on the aforementioned Mo Donegal and Zandon.
Which isn’t surprising, considering both horses are trained by New York’s top two trainers: Todd Pletcher (Mo Donegal) and Chad Brown (Zandon). Mo Donegal figures to draw much of the betting interest due to the Pletcher factor and due to the fact he’s already won at 1 1/16 miles.
That came in an October maiden special weight at Belmont Park. It came via a furious rally in deep stretch, where the son of Uncle Mo responded to heavy urging from jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. That sent him past pacesetter Fromanothamutha for a 1 1/2-length victory that came with an 82 Beyer Speed Figure and a 97 Equibase Speed Figure.
“We feel like the mile and an eighth will suit him well,” Pletcher told the New York Racing Association. “He had a good work at Belmont last week. It seems like the further he goes, the better he gets.”
Mo Donegal needs space to run
The speed figures bear that out. Mo Donegal ran a 75 Equibase in his 6 1/2-furlong debut third to Varatti and Triple Elvis in a September maiden special weight at Belmont Park.
One caveat follows Mo Donegal. Favorites haven’t won the Remsen since Mohaymen in 2015.
As for Zandon, he comes in off an impressive debut score in a six-furlong maiden special weight in early October. That came with an 80 Beyer and 86 Equibase. It also came after the Upstart colt hit the gate on the break.
Brown said Zandon too, will enjoy stretching out to nine furlongs.
“He ran one time going six furlongs and he won, but I’ve always thought of him as a pure route horse,” Brown said. “The fact he was able to go three-quarters, I was quite impressed. I thought he would’ve been a late-running horse that would have needed a start, but he won. I was quite impressed by that because I don’t think that’s what he wants to do at all.”
McGaughey reigning Remsen conditioner
Brown owns one Remsen victory, courtesy of Leave the Light On in 2014. Pletcher owns two: Bluegrass Cat (2005) and Overanalyze (2012). Combined, they’re still one behind Shug McGaughey, who sends out Judge Davis (5/1).
Aside from the fact the Distorted Humor colt has three races under his tack, he also has something Mo Donegal and Zandon lack: graded-stakes experience. Judge Davis comes in off a third in the Grade 3 Nashua at Belmont Park a month ago.
Judge Davis also likes distance. He broke his maiden on second asking in a 1 1/16-mile race at Belmont Park. That too, came at the expense of Fromanothamutha, who joins the Remsen fray after losing to Judge Davis by three-quarters of a length.
Judge Davis could be early jury
Judge Davis adds blinkers and he — along with Fromanothamutha — figure to set the pace early. They may get company from two other pacesetters: Midnight Chrome and Mr. Jefferson.
The Remsen is one of four graded stakes on Aqueduct’s Saturday card. Headlining that card is the $750,000 Grade 1 Cigar Mile. The card also features the $250,000 Grade 2 Demoiselle and the $250,000 Grade 3 Go for Wand.