Kentucky Derby 2016 Contenders: Blue Grass, SA Derby, and Wood Memorial video analysis

The road to Kentucky Derby 2016 makes pit stops in California, New York, and Kentucky this week with a trio of 170 Derby points races.

Mor Spirit

Mor Spirit tries to get his revenge in the SA Derby – photo by Eclipse Sportswire

The Santa Anita Derby is a rematch between the top three finishers in the San Felipe – Danzing Candy, Mor Spirit, and Exaggerator. The pace scenario might favor Mor Spirit but if the track comes up wet (a real possibility) all bets are off!

The Wood Memorial at Aqueduct features undefeated Gotham hero Shagaf but he is light on numbers. Watch for fast stakes newcomer Matt King Coal to attempt a wire job.

Finally, the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland features a full field of fourteen with two also-eligibles. Fountain of Youth runner-up Zulu is the 5-2 morning line favorite and Keeneland lover Brody’s Cause tries to bounce back after his non-effort in the Tampa Bay Derby.

Graded Recaps (2016 Derby Points Races)

G2 Spiral Stakes (4-2-16, 82 BSF): In a five-horse blanket finish, Oscar Nominated got the neck victory and 50 Kentucky Derby points. He is not nominated to the Triple Crown series but owner Ken Ramsey is expected to pay the $200,000 supplemental fee to get him into the starting gate on the first Saturday in May. Azar was 2nd for Todd Pletcher and local hope Surgical Strike was 3rd. Disappointing efforts were turned in by Ralis (5th), Kasseopia (7th), Airoforce (8th), and Jensen (10th). The speed figure came back low and this was not a strong Derby prep.

G1 Florida Derby (4-2-16, 94 BSF): Nyquist remained undefeated with an easy wire-to-wire score, a result became a foregone conclusion when Mohaymen failed to handle the wet track. Nyquist is now the clear Kentucky Derby favorite. Majesto held 2nd by a length over late running Fellowship. The latter was dusted by Mohaymen in the Holy Bull and FOY but beat him by four lengths in this spot. Mohamen was wide and never looked comfortable over the off going. Common sense tells us that he is much better than Fellowship and he probably would have won the Florida Derby if he repeated his easy Fountain of Youth triumph. The other six entrants were hopelessly overmatched and ran to their long odds. The top four finishers are all expected to target the Kentucky Derby.

Jarrod Horak’s “Exceptional Eleven” Kentucky Derby 2016 Contenders

(1) MOHAYMEN (Tapit – Justwhistledixie, by Dixie Union) mohaymen silks 2016

Trainer (Kiaran Mclaughlin) – Owner (Shadwell Stable)

Comments: The $2.2 million purchase was a perfect 5-for-5 heading into the G1 Florida Derby but never looked happy in a very disappointing 4th place finish. He raced wide from an outer post, was clearly not handling the wet surface, and had to be coaxed to keep up instead of cruising along like he usually does. This is a toss-out race for him and he could easily bounce back on the first Saturday in May if he trains well in the coming weeks. His top BSF of 95 is not going to win the Derby but I think he is capable of running faster based on how easy he made it look in his stakes races prior to the Florida Derby. Still, he needs to run the fastest race of his life at Churchill if he expects to be competitive. I think he can and will be a much better horse under the Twin Spires and he maintains his #1 ranking for now. He no longer has a stranglehold on the top spot and an impressive effort from Mor Spirit on Saturday could shake things up a bit.

Derby Points (80)  

(2) MOR SPIRIT (Eskendereya – Im a Dixie Girl, by Dixie Union) more spirit silks 2016

Trainer (Bob Baffert) – Owner (Michael Lund Petersen)

Latest Workout: 4f in :47 (2/58) at Santa Anita on April 4.

Comments: He has never finished out of the Exacta and his speed figure in the San Felipe was his best yet. He received valuable shipping experience in a place finish over wet footing in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill last fall and appears primed for a big effort in the Santa Anita Derby on Saturday, April 9. He is training well for his Saturday engagement and should get pace to chase. He might be the most reliable of the Derby contenders. He stays put at #2, a spot he has occupied for more than five months, and Mohaymen can hear his footsteps now.

Derby Points (44)

(3) NYQUIST (Uncle Mo – Seeking Gabrielle, by Forestry) Nyquist

Trainer (Doug O’Neill) – Owner (Reddam Racing LLC.)

Comments: The 2-year-old champion sure has a nose for the wire and ran his record to 7-for-7 with an easier than expected wire job win in the G1 Florida Derby. His task became much easier when his only competition Mohaymen failed to fire. I never like his one sprint/one route path to the Kentucky Derby and the 2-year-old champ will take more money than he should on the first Saturday in May. Many question his ability to get ten furlongs based on his pedigree and that might be the case but I just don’t think he is fast enough around two turns to win the Derby. His best overall number was earned in the G2 San Vicente at seven furlongs earlier this year. He shipped to Keeneland April 3 and had a slightly elevated white blood cell count (possibly caused by stress) April 7.

Derby Points (130)

(4) EXAGGERATOR (Curlin – Dawn Raid, by Vindication) exaggerator silks

Trainer (Keith Desormeaux) – Owner (Big Chief Racing, LLC)

Latest Workout: 5f in 1:02.80 (56/70) at Santa Anita Park on April 2.

Comments: He made a big, premature move in the G2 San Felipe before flattening out and finishing 3rd behind Danzig Candy and Mor Spirit last time. Many have seemingly jumped ship and decided that he has distance limitations but I want to see what he does in the SA Derby before making any final conclusions. He has plenty of seasoning and foundation and I like the way trainer Keith Desormeaux has handled him this year in regards to distance progression (7f, 8.5f, 9f). Hopefully Kent Desormeaux is more patient with him this Saturday because he needs a well-timed ride and a strong finish in his final Derby prep. He stays put at #4.

Derby Points (26)

(5) MATT KING COAL (Cool Coal Man – Donna Marie, by Came Home) Matt King Coal

Trainer (Linda Rice) – Owner (Lady Sheila Stable)

Latest Workout: 7f in 1:25.28 (1/1) at Belmont Park (dirt training) on March 30.

Comments: He ran fast twice last year in a clear place finish at 8.5 furlongs at Belmont Oct 3 (93 BSF) and a got a 96 BSF for his easy flat mile wire job maiden win at that same venue Oct 29. Following a respiratory infection, he spiked a fever, missed the G3 Jerome on Jan 3, and went to the farm for a vacation. He returned to the work tab Feb 7 and made his first 2016 start in the third race on Sunday, March 6 at Aqueduct (inner dirt). In that Optional Claiming event at a mile and a sixteenth, he went wire-to-wire and earned a 97 BSF, a number much better than the G3 Gotham a day earlier. The Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 9 is next and he should be a strong factor from start to finish in that event. He will get a class and distance test in Saturday’s Wood and we will know if he is the real deal after that affair. He stays put at #5 and the Wood is his one and only chance to make the Derby.

(6) DESTIN (Giant’s Causeway – Dream of Summer, by Siberian Summer)

Trainer (Todd Pletcher) – Owner (Twin Creeks Racing Stables, LLC)

Latest Workout: 4f in :48.98 (6/17) at Palm Beach Downs on April 2.

Comments: The improving son of Giant’s Causeway exits back-to-back stakes wins in the Sam F. Davis (91 BSF) and G2 Tampa Bay Derby (100 BSF). Creative Cause’s brother owns fine positional speed and is getting good at the right time but still needs to prove his worth away from the friendly confines of Tampa Bay Downs. He finally returned to the work tab on April 2 but they have decided to skip his final prep and train up to the Derby. He has never raced beyond a mile and a sixteenth and the Kentucky Derby will be his first start in two months.

Derby Points (51)

(7) DANZING CANDY (Twirling Candy – Talkin and Singing, by Songandaprayer)

Trainer (Clifford Sise Jr.) – Owner (Halo Farms)

Latest Workout: 5f in 1:00.60 (13/70) at Santa Anita Park on April 2.

Comments: Ran his win streak to three with a sharp wire-to-wire score in the G2 San Felipe, smartly beating quality Derby contenders Mor Spirit and Exaggerator. He is fast and talented but still has some stamina and versatility questions to answer. I would consider him a very serious Kentucky Derby contender if he relaxes and finish strongly in the SA Derby at nine furlongs. He drilled a faster than expected five furlong bullet on March 26 and his connections need to harness his speed and leave something in the tank for the SA Derby on April 9. He should get tested early and often on Saturday.

Derby Points (50)

(8) SUDDENBREAKINGNEWS (Mineshaft – Uchitel, by Afleet Alex)

Trainer (Donnie K Von Hemel) – Owner (Samuel F. Henderson)

Latest Workout: 4f in :48.80 (8/39) at Oaklawn Park on April 1.

Comments: He made his way onto my list after a strong last-to-first score in the G3 Southwest, his sixth exacta finish from as many starts up to that point. In his last start in the G2 Rebel Stakes on March 12, he was wide early from post 14, raced in traffic, briefly lost action, steadied, and missed 4th by a head in a troubled, inconclusive effort. He deserves another chance and will get a shot at redemption in the Arkansas Derby on Saturday, April 16.

Derby Points (10)

(9) BRODY’S CAUSE (Giant’s Causeway – Sweet Breanna, by Sahm)

Trainer (Dale Romans) – Owner (Albaugh Family Stable)

Latest Workout: 5f in :59.82 (2/19) at Gulfstream Park on April 2.

Comments: The G1 Breeders’ Futurity winner and G1 BC Juvenile show finisher threw in a clunker in his G2 Tampa Bay Derby return on March 12. Some horses do not handle the Tampa Bay surface so he gets a mulligan and will have his final Derby prep in the G1 Blue Grass Stakes on Saturday, April 9. We know he likes Keeneland (1st Breeders’ Futurity, 3rd BC Juvenile) and he broke his maiden at Churchill so a return to Kentucky might be just what the doctor ordered. He will remain on the list until he runs in the Blue Grass Stakes, a make or break race for him.

Derby Points (14)

(10) CUPID (Tapit – Pretty ‘n Smart, by Beau Genius)

Trainer (Bob Baffert) – Owner (Michael B. Tabor, Mrs. John Magnier, and Derek Smith)

Latest Workout: 7f in 1:24.60 (1/3) at Santa Anita Park on April 6.

Comments: The late bloomer is getting good in a hurry and his improvement can be attributed to racing over a route of ground. He lost his first two sprint starts (finished 2nd Jan 9) and proceeded to easily graduate at a mile and a sixteenth Feb 7 and followed that up with a gritty prominent throughout score in the G2 Rebel Stakes March 19. He will return to Oaklawn Park for the Arkansas Derby and could give Baffert a strong 1-2 Derby punch if he turns in another big effort on April 16.

Derby Points (50)

(11) ZULU  (Bernardini – Temporada, by Summer Squall)

Trainer (Todd Pletcher) – Owner (Stonestreet Stables, Tabor, Magnier, and Smith)

Latest Workout: 4f in :49.07 (8/17) at Palm Beach Downs on April 2.

Comments: Trainer Todd Pletcher decided to skip the Florida Derby and he has been redirected to the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland. He is the 5-2 morning line favorite in the Blue Grass and will add blinkers for that engagement. He is light on seasoning and needs a strong test in his final Derby prep. We will see how talented he is after the Keeneland showcase but even if he runs well the Derby might be too much too soon.

Derby Points (20)

THE NEXT NINE: (12) Mo Tom, (13) Gun Runner, (14) My Man Sam, (15) Shagaf, (16) Whitmore, (17) Outwork, (18) Tom’s Ready, (19) Fellowship, (20) Lani

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