This weekend’s Derby trail puts forth two races granting 50-20-10-5 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the top four finishers, both in warm weather climes. The Grade 2 $400,000 San Felipe, a key prep race for the Santa Anita Derby will seven 3-year-olds running 1 1/16-miles at Santa Anita. The Grade 2 $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby sports a filed of 10 colts looking to obtain those elusive qualifying points.
The top two horses in the San Felipe, Mor Spirit (2-1) and Exaggerator (5-2) will face each other for the first time, before having to face BC Juvenile winner Nyquist, who will bypass and go directly to the Santa Anita Derby. Both colts are listed in Kentucky Derby Future Pool No. 3 this weekend and have morning lines of 12-1 and 15-1, respectively.
Mor Spirit is the son of Eskendereya, a colt who took the Derby trail by storm in 2010 winning the Fountain of Youth and Wood Memorial, only to retire to injury the week of the Kentucky Derby. The dark brown ridgling is trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert and comes in to the face after two straight graded stakes wins, including the Robert B. Lewis on the Santa Anita strip.
“This is the race that should have a $1 million purse,” Baffert told the Santa Anita press corps based on the lineup for the San Felipe. Baffert will be seeking his sixth San Felipe on the Santa Anita Handicap undercard. He won last year’s edition with Dortmund.
Exaggerator finished second behind undefeated Eclipse champion Nyquist in his last outing, the 7-furlong San Vincente and was a close fourth in the Juvenile to the same foe, finishing three lengths behind. The start will be his second of the year for the son of Curlin who will be ridden by Kent Desormeaux. Trained by his brother Keith, he should be ready to roll coming from outside Post No. 7.
Other challengers to the top two include Danzing Candy (4-1) who will have Hall of Famer Mike Smith in the irons for trainer Clifford Sise and the undefeated Smokey Image (4-1). The son of Twirling Candy will make his stakes debut after two impressive wins at the maiden and allowance level. His speed figures are in line with the top sophomores in here.
Smokey Image is undefeated in six straight, but tries graded foes for the first time also. The Carla Gaines-trainee has Victor Espinoza aboard and comes off of an eight-length victory in the Cal Cup Derby at Santa Anita in late January. He has been training forwardly and looms a threat as he steps up in class.
Post Time Outlook: 1 – Exaggerator; 2 – Mor Spirit; 3 – Smokey Image; 4 – Danzing Candy
The Tampa Bay Derby, which recently has served as a prep race for the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland has a bigger and more wide open field looking for Derby points. Brody’s Cause (5-2) will make his first start of the year as the morning line favorite of the race.
The son of Giant’s Causeway was the third-place finisher in last year’s Juvenile at Keeneland, so he’d like to go back that route on his way to Louisville with a victory at Tampa. He’s trained by Dale Romans and will be ridden by Corey Lanerie in the 1 1/16-mile race. “He’s been training very good all year for his 3-year-old debut,” said Romans to Mike Henry of the Tampa Bay Downs press office. “He’s doing everything right.”
“We decided to go this route because of the timing (between races), and we’ve been staying the course,” Romans said. “He was very good his whole 2-year-old year, winning the Grade I (Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland) and closing so well in the Breeders’ Cup.”
Tampa last produced a Kentucky Derby winner in 2007, when Street Sense won the Grade 2 race.
Todd Pletcher will send two colts out against Brody’s Cause, Destin (9-2) and Outwork (12-1). Destin, the second choice on the morning line, won the local prep race for the Tampa Derby and is the main challenger for the favorite. The $400,000 Keeneland September 2014 purchase will have Eclipse winning jockey Javier Castellano in the irons on the son of Giant’s Causeway.
Outwork is undefeated in two tries and the lightly raced son of Uncle Mo, will stretch out around two turns for the first time. John Velazquez will ride the Repole Stable colt for Pletcher.
Trainer Chad Brown will stretch out Economic Model (5-1) for the first time. He finished second behind Awesome Banner (8-1) in the Swale. The son of Flatter will have Irad Ortiz, Jr. aboard and will look to give the red-hot Brown a Derby starter with a win in Tampa.
Riker (8-1), who was the early leader in the Juvenile, was previously trained by Fort Erie native Nick Gonzalez, was transferred to Mark Casse in February after 75 percent ownership was sold by Tucci Stable to Gary Barber who uses Casse regularly. Flo Geroux will ship in to ride the son of Include and try to get him back to winning ways for the Casse barn.
With Brody’s Cause coming off the long layoff and the deep Tampa Bay track that’s been known to give shippers fits in the past, we’ll look for the upset with Rafting (6-1) and the Motion/Prado connections who finished second in the Sam Davis to Destin after being bumped at the start and rallying late for the place.
Post Time Outlook: 1 – Rafting; 2 – Destin; 3 – Brody’s Cause; 4 – Economic Model
The National Museum of Racing announced its 2016 Hall of Fame finalists on Wednesday. The finalists include jockeys Ramon Dominguez, Victor Espinoza, Garrett Gomez and Craig Perret; Thoroughbreds English Channel, Kona Gold, Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta; and trainers Steve Asmussen and David Whiteley.
Dominguez, English Channel, Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta are first-time finalists. Hall of Fame voters may select as many candidates as they believe are worthy of induction to the Hall of Fame. A maximum of four candidates with the highest vote totals — provided they receive majority approval of the voting panel — will be elected to the Hall of Fame.
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.