The Kentucky Derby trail winds through three tracks across the nation this weekend. Tampa Bay Downs (Tampa Bay Derby), Aqueduct (Gotham) and Turfway Park (Jeff Ruby Steaks) all host qualifying prep races Saturday.
The Tampa Bay Derby and Gotham will offer the top four finishers Derby qualifying points totaling 50-20-10-5. The feature at Turfway, located just outside Cincinnati, will grant 20-8-4-2 points to the top four.
The Tampa Bay Derby and Gotham will be shown live on FS2 in a three-hour broadcast of FOX Sports Saturday at the Races starting at 4 p.m.
A fourth prep race was scheduled for Santa Anita Park, the San Felipe, but the racetrack has been closed indefinitely as officials search for issues that might have contributed to the 21 horse deaths since opening day on Dec. 26. The race might be run at a later date, pending the results of the examination of the track.
In addition, Pool 3 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager is available to bettors through 6 p.m. Sunday.
The Big A is the site for the $300,00 Grade 3 Gotham Stakes, a one-turn dirt mile that attracted eight starters.
The field will go to post at 5:09 p.m. as Race 10 on the card in Ozone Park.
The favorite is West Coast shipper Instagrand (Even), who bolted California for New York. He is sixth in the National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s top 3-year-old polls, the highest-ranked colt in action this weekend.
He arrives as a lightly raced colt who last faced competition in August in the Grade 2 Best Pal at Del Mar, winning his second career race by 10 lengths. It was the same margin of victory as his maiden- breaking Los Alamitos win in late June for Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.
The long layoff is the big question mark for the son of Into Mischief, who is out of a Lawyer Ron dam. It’s his first time stretching to a mile. Javier Castellano has the mount.
The main competition will come from Greg Sacco’s barn in Mind Control (9-2). The Jerome winner on New Year’s Day returns to the races in search of valuable Derby points. He won the Grade 1 Hopeful last summer at Saratoga and has Hall of Famer Johnny Velazquez aboard.
There looks to be some solid pace in the race with Bob Baffert’s Much Better (10-1) and Not That Brady (5-1) expected to be around the lead. Don’t count out the potential late-closing Haikal (6-1), who could pick up the pieces if the race falls apart. Haikal is trained by Kiaran McLaughlin.
Post Time Outlook (Gotham): 1 – Instagrand, 2 –Haikal, 3 –Mind Control; 4 –Not That Brady
Tampa Bay Derby
The feature race of the Tampa Bay Downs meet will pit 11 competitors seeking an elusive Derby gate, including local prep winner Well Defined (7-2), a tepid second choice on the morning line. The race is 1 1/8 miles over the Tampa oval and will go off at 5:25 p.m. as Race 11.
Win Win Win (5-2) has storming onto the Derby scene off a huge seventh-length win on the Tampa track in the $125,000 Pasco Stakes. The Tampa Derby will be his first try at two turns for trainer Michael Trombetta, who points to his colt’s pedigree as an answer to whether he can go longer.
His dam’s sire is Smarty Jones and his grandsire is Sunday Silence, so the bloodlines are flowing through the son of Hat Trick (JPN). Irad Ortiz Jr. ships in to ride the morning line favorite.
Mark Casse will ship in Dream Maker (4-1), a highly regarded Tapit colt who won his debut race of 2019 in an allowance at the Fair Grounds. Florent Geroux will ride the maturing sophomore in hopes of moving forward off his win in Louisiana.
Trainer Todd Pletcher has been fairly quiet in the Derby prep races thus far, but maybe his Tampa entrant, Outshine (8-1), will turn his fortunes around. The Malibu Moon colt will have Joel Rosario aboard and will be another colt trying two turns for the first time.
An interesting long shot is Tacitus (12-1), who tries Lasix for the first time in his third career race for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, who has been active on the Derby trail this year. Jose Ortiz comes to town to ride the son of Tapit in his first race of 2019.
Post Time Outlook (Tampa Bay Derby): 1 – Win Win Win, 2 –Tacitus, 3 –Outshine, 4 – Well Defined
Jeff Ruby Steaks
Turfway’s lone Derby points race is the feature in Florence, Ky. outside of Cincinnati. The Jeff Ruby Steaks drew a field of 11 scheduled to run 1 1/8-miles over the Polytrack. The solid favorite is Somelikeithotbrown (8-5), a son of 2008 Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown who won the local prep race, the John Battaglia Memorial Stakes. He looks to be the class of the field.
Post Time Outlook: 1 – Somelikeithotbrown; 2 – Curlin Grey; 3 – Skywire; and 4 – Counter Offer
Derby Future Wager Pool 3
With 24 wagering interests, Pool No. 3 provides plenty of opportunity to bet on a horse that will likely be lower odds on Derby day. Game Winner (5-1), last year’s Juvenile winner and 2-year-old champion, is the lowest-priced colt in the pool. All Others (4-1) meaning any horse not included as part of the pool in positions 1-23, will likely retain the favorite’s role as it did in Pool 2.
Colts that have piqued my interest include Galilean (50-1) and Spinoff (50-1). If either wins a prep race, the price will likely go down significantly. Any horse that wins this weekend before the close of the pool will likely plummet to odds that won’t make sense to bet in a Future Pool, when you can wait for a better price on Derby day.
Exacta wagering is also available, leading me to an exacta box including Instagrand, Improbable and All Others.
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.