As April dawns, more Kentucky Derby horses in the starting gate are coming into focus. No trainer in the country is smiling more than Todd Pletcher. The Hall of Fame trainer now has four horses in the top 20 of the Kentucky Derby leaderboard, the projected starting gate for the first jewel of the Triple Crown May 6.
After winning the Louisiana Derby Saturday with Kingsbarns, he also has a Breeders’ Cup champion in Forte as the 4-5 morning line favorite for Saturday’s $1 million, 12-horse Florida Derby. Forte already has the third-most qualifying points, 90, and is Kentucky Derby-bound. Pletcher’s Tapit Trice (ninth) and Major Dude (12th) also sit well within range in the point standings to start in the Kentucky Derby.
However, an intriguing Japanese import has emerged to rival Pletcher’s group.
Final March Kentucky Derby Prep Race Results
Jeff Ruby Steaks Recap
In the final qualifying weekend of March, Two Phil’s proved to be too much, barreling into the May 6 Run for the Roses with an emphatic victory in the Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park. At 5-2, he also notched a Beyer speed figure of 101, tops in the industry. Two Phil’s now leads the Road to the Kentucky Derby point standings with 123 points.
Two Phil’s made trainer Larry Rivelli look like a genius for selecting the Jeff Ruby Steaks on the Tapeta track for his last stab at Derby qualification. The surface favored stalkers and deep closers all day and that fit Two Phils’ late-running stye.
Jockey Jareth Loveberry guided Two Phil’s into a mid-pack stalking position, while Funtastic Again gained his proverbial lead into the stretch.
That’s when Two Phil’s ranged up on the outside, passed the early speed alongside favored closer Major Dude and then outkicked Major Dude to the wire at 5-2. Major Dude got second and settled into 11th place in the Derby qualifying standings with 40 points. He probably has more than enough points to reach the Run for the Roses.
Funtastic Again, overrun in the Jeff Ruby, nonetheless held third and has 30 points, good for 17th. That’s a tenuous position. For the moment, he qualifies amid the top 20.
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Louisiana Derby Recap
Kingsbarns had a soft pace fit for a king and routed the Louisiana Derby field at 9-2 at Fair Grounds. He has 100 points, a stamped ticket to Churchill Downs for the May 6 Run for the Roses and a terrific 3-for-3 resume. This victory was a quality stretch out to 1 3/16 miles in America’s longest Derby prep race.
Rivelli’s decision looks even smarter after the lack of pace thwarted favored closers Instant Coffee and Sun Thunder in the Louisiana Derby.
Kingsbarns was allowed to run easily through dawdling fractions of 24.71 for the quarter-mile, 49.60 for a half and 1:14.69 for six furlongs. This enabled jockey Flavien Prat to buy a little time with Kingsbarns, who was stretching out from 1 mile 40 yards to a 1 3/16.
The lack of early opposition helped Kingsbarns step out and dismantle the field.
Keep an eye going forward on second-place Disarm, who closed willingly from the back and easily out finished Instant Coffee and Sun Thunder. Lightly raced and not quite at his full level, Disarm looks good with 40 points, 13th in the Derby standings. He’s a likely qualifier and was finishing strongly at this distance.
Other weekend warriors who dented the Derby picture include Jace’s Road. Third in the Louisiana Derby, he has 45 points and is 10th.
UAE Derby Recap
Derma Sotogake may become one of the best UAE Derby winners ever to enter the Kentucky Derby. He prevailed essentially in a hand ride over 1 3/16 miles in Dubai at 5-1. The time of 1:55.81 was the fastest since Mendelssohn clocked in at 1:55.18 in 2018. Derma Sotogake is the latest in an improving breed of Japanese horses coming to America in recent years, and he will generate a betting buzz.
Sunland Derby Recap
So will Wild On Ice, racing’s latest Cinderella Story, who won the Sunland Derby in New Mexico as the longest shot on the board. At 35-1, he defied the probabilities suggested by his last two stakes races, in which he finished a combined 44 lengths off the lead. Did someone say Rich Strike? This had similar shock value to the 80-1 bomb who scored the massive 2022 Kentucky Derby upset.
The victory was so stunning that Wild On Ice had not even been nominated for the Derby before this race. Connections will decide whether or not to enter him on Monday. Late Triple Crown nominations ($6,000) are due Monday by 11:59 pm ET.
REMAINING ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY PREP RACES
The Road to the Kentucky Derby schedule began in September. However, the win-and-in races began Feb. 18 with the Risen Star at Fair Grounds. That was the first race that awards 50 points to the winner. Below is the race schedule for the remaining prep races. Those race winners qualify as Kentucky Derby horses, if entered.
|Race||Track||Date||Points For Top Finishers|
|Wood Memorial||Aqueduct||Apr 8, 2023||100-40-30-20-10|
|Blue Grass||Keeneland||Apr 8, 2023||100-40-30-20-10|
|Santa Anita Derby||Santa Anita Park||Apr 8, 2023||100-40-30-20-10|