Keeneland, Santa Anita, Aqueduct Round Out Final Derby Prep Races
Saturday’s three remaining 200-point Kentucky Derby preps, coming to you from Keeneland, Santa Anita Park and Aqueduct, signal the effective end to the 2023 Kentucky Derby trail.
Forte issued his final mic-drop to the rest of the 3-year-old, would-be Kentucky Derby hopefuls. Now, we see who’ll pick it up on the final major weekend of Derby preps.
A length winner in last weekend’s Grade 1 Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park, courtesy of a powerful stretch drive that brought him from sixth at the three-quarters pole to his fifth consecutive title, Forte is the consensus favorite in Derby future wagering. He’s down to 2-1 at Caesars Sportsbook and finished 5-2 in the sixth and final Kentucky Derby Future Wager (KDFW) pool that ended last weekend.
As Forte chills in South Florida, we see who can join him on the front page of the Derby favorites and in the starting gate for the Run for the Roses May 6. The meat of the Derby trail ends Saturday with a trio of 200-point races: the Grade 1 Blue Grass from Keeneland, the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby and the Grade 2 Wood Memorial from Aqueduct.
All three offer 100 points to the winner and 40 to the runner-up, likely enough to get any runner-up already coming in with points into the 20-horse field.
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Undefeated Tapit Trice at Blue Grass
We’ll start at Keeneland, where the Blue Grass Stakes is one of eight stakes races at that track’s opening weekend. This is where you’ll find Forte’s barnmate in Todd Pletcher’s deep stable: Tapit Trice, who is the second favorite at Caesars at 10-1 and finished 11-1 in the KDFW. Winner of three of his four starts, including last out in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby, Tapit Trice is unbeaten in two 2023 starts.
And like his barnmate, Tapit Trice needed a furious rally to win his last start. He was eighth entering the Tampa Bay Derby down the stretch, but reeled in seven horses in the stretch for a 1 ¼-length victory over Classic Car Wash, who joins Tapit Trice in the Blue Grass Derby field.
Others to watch include Chad Brown’s Blazing Sevens, who won the Grade 1 Champagne at Belmont last fall before finishing fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and eighth in the Fountain of Youth, Brad Cox’s Verifying (second in the Champagne and fourth last out in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park) and a trio of Kenny McPeek charges: Hayes Strike, Mendelssohns March and Sun Thunder.
Practical Move Favorite at Santa Anita Derby
None of those, however, are currently considered Forte’s main threat come May 6. That would be likely Santa Anita Derby favorite Practical Move. He’s 10-1 at Caesars and finished 14-1 in the KDFW.
He comes into the Santa Anita Derby gunning for his third straight graded-stakes score, following a 2 ½-length win in the Grade 2 San Felipe last out and a 3 ½-length victory in last December’s Grade 2 Los Alamitos Futurity. In both races, Practical Move displayed a practical, effective stalking style that should serve him well here—and at Churchill Downs.
Waiting for him are the 2-3 finishers in the San Felipe: Geaux Rocket Ride (20-1 at Caesars, 33-1 in the KDFW) and Skinner (35-1 at Caesars, 49-1 in the KDFW). The X-factor is Bob Baffert ex-pat National Treasure, who makes his first start for Tim Yakteen. He finished third in the Grade 3 Sham Stakes in January and was entered in the San Felipe, but was scratched due to a bruised foot.
Keep in mind the Santa Anita Derby is typically one of the marquee Derby preps. Three horses since 2012 won that race, then doubled up in the Derby: I’ll Have Another (2012), California Chrome (2014) and Triple Crown winner Justify (2018). Its alums are usually considered front-row Derby favorites, even against the prevailing East Coast bias.
Style Difference at Wood Memorial
That brings us back across the country to Aqueduct and the once-dynastic Wood Memorial, which hasn’t sent a winner to the Kentucky Derby winner’s circle in 23 years, or since Fusaichi Pegasus became the 11th and final (to date) Wood Memorial alum to win the Derby.
A big reason for that is the Wood Memorial deviates from the prevailing Derby trail norm in that it rewards deep closers. While most Derby preps favor early and tactical speed, the Wood favors runners from off the pace. Way off the pace. The last Wood winner to be closer than fourth at the opening half-mile mark was Irish War Cry in 2017.
The last two Wood winners: Bourbonic (2021) and Mo Donegal (2022) were ninth and eighth, respectively. Only three horses in the last 10 years have been closer than fourth at that pole: Irish War Cry, Outwork (second in 2016) and Verrazano (second in 2013).
This year’s candidates include two Cox charges: Hit Show (30-1 at both Caesars and the KDFW) and Slip Mahoney (85-1 and 130-1). Both ride in off Grade 3 Aqueduct stops on the Derby trail; Hit Show blew apart the Withers by 5 ½ lengths and Slip Mahoney finished second in the Gotham to 23-1 shot Raise Cain (45-1, 81-1). All three fit the Wood’s deep closer profile; Hit Show was fifth in the Withers at the half-mile pole. Raise Cain was ninth at that call of the Gotham, Slip Mahoney 13th.
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