TDN Derby Top 20: Cadence Quickens, Plot Thickens

This week’s rankings are in “likeliest winner” format, based on the 20 current qualifiers on the “Road to the GI Kentucky Derby” points list.

1) PRACTICAL MOVE (c, Practical Joke–Ack Naughty, by Afleet Alex) O-Leslie & Pierre Jean Amestoy & Roger Beasley; B-Chad Brown & Head of Plains Partners (KY); T-Tim Yakteen. Sales history: $90,000 RNA yrl ’21 KEESEP; $230,000 2yo ’22 OBSAPR. Lifetime Record: GISW, 7-4-1-2, $884,200. Last Start: 1st Apr. 8 GI Runhappy Santa Anita Derby. Kentucky Derby Points: 160.

Practical Move rides a three-race win streak into Louisville, with each of his two-turn stakes scores punctuated by decisive inside moves. The final times from those victories in the GII Los Alamitos Derby, GII San Felipe S., and GI Santa Anita Derby represent the fastest clockings among all the 1 1/16-mile and 1 1/18-mile races on the “Road to the Derby” qualifying schedule in 2022-23.

Yet this Tim Yakteen-trained son of Practical Joke ($90,000 RNA KEESEP; $230,000 OBSAPR) projects to be an overlay in the Derby betting. The post draw will be a big factor in pegging everyone’s pari-mutuel chances, but all things equal, Practical Move is likely to be overshadowed in the wagering by divisional champ Forte (Violence), and possibly even Tapit Trice (Tapit), two high-profile ‘TDN Rising Stars’ from Todd Pletcher’s stable who are ranked at Nos. 2 and 5 on this list.

Beyond his own attributes, history is on Practical Move’s side: Santa Anita Derby participants have accounted for 19 Kentucky Derby winners since 1940. In the past decade, the winners of the Santa Anita Derby went on to capture the Kentucky Derby in 2012, 2014 and 2018.

On Friday at Santa Anita, Practical Move worked a :47 half-mile in company (2/31), finishing slightly ahead of stablemate Kangaroo Court (Dads Caps), who is aiming for a start in the GII Pat Day Mile S. on the Derby undercard. Practical Move is scheduled to work once more in California on Friday before shipping to Churchill.

2) FORTE (c, Violence–Queen Caroline, by Blame) ‘TDN Rising Star’ O-Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable; B-South Gate Farm (KY); T-Todd Pletcher. Sales history: $80,000 Wlg ’20 KEENOV; $110,000 Ylg ’21 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: Ch. 2yo Colt, MGISW, 7-6-0-0, $1,833,230. Last start: 1st GI Curlin Florida Derby at Gulfstream Apr. 1. Kentucky Derby Points: 190.

The chief knocks against reigning champion Forte are primarily “on paper.”

The first is the daunting 38-year trend of only two GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winners repeating in the Kentucky Derby. That means 95 % of the time since 1984, the best colt on the first Saturday in November is not the best on the first Saturday in May.

The second is the concerning decline of Forte’s Beyer Speed Figures, which peaked at 100 in the Juvenile but slid to 98 in the GII Fountain of Youth S. and dipped again to 95 in the GI Florida Derby.

But Forte ($80,000 KEENOV; $110,000 KEESEP) stands above his peers when it comes to intangibles that can’t be quantified. Lanky, athletic and adaptable, he reliably finds ways to win, which he has done every time except once, and that lone loss is now nine months in the rear-view mirror.

Forte readily and willingly jumps into the bit when cued to quicken by regular rider Irad Ortiz, Jr., and he finishes with his ears pricked, signaling he hasn’t been fully extended. Among the Derby competitors this year, this son of Violence seems most likely to have a yet-to-be-seen stretch gear he hasn’t been called upon to produce.

“Forte is a very straightforward horse to train,” said trainer Todd Pletcher after a 1:02 five-eighths breeze Friday at Churchill (29/33). “He’s pushbutton.”

3) VERIFYING (c, Justify–Diva Delite, by Repent) O-Westerberg, Mrs John Magnier, Jonathan Poulin, Derrick Smith & Michael Tabor; B-Hunter Valley & Mountmellick Farm (Ky); T-Brad Cox. Sales history: $775,000 yrl ’21 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: MGISP, 6-2-2-0, $489,900. Last start: 2nd GI Toyota Blue Grass S. at Keeneland Apr. 8. Kentucky Derby Points: 54.

Verifying, a May 11 foal by Justify who is a half-brother to 2019 champion distaffer Midnight Bisou, has major mojo as a colt getting good at just the right time.

His tenacious second, beaten a neck by Tapit Trice in the GI Blue Grass S., was likely not his peak effort. More importantly, his speed-centric running style puts him on or near the lead in the Derby, which is the race’s winning profile in eight of the last nine years.

“I expected him to win the Blue Grass,” trainer Brad Cox said Friday after watching Verifying train. “I thought he ran a winning race. He got beat by a very good horse.”

To have full faith in Verifying, you have to buy into the belief that he’s truly turned a corner, development-wise, and will be able to put together back-to-back strong races, which has eluded him so far.

Verifying ($775,000 KEESEP) was an odds-on debut winner sprinting at Saratoga. He then ran second in the GI Champagne S., and trainer Brad Cox subsequently conceded that the colt “wasn’t quite ready” for his sixth-place try in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

Verifying matured over the winter, won an Oaklawn allowance by open lengths, then threw in a beaten-fave clunker when fourth in the GII Rebel S. He then “put things together in the Blue Grass, and has a lot of tactical speed that should play to his advantage in the Derby,” Cox said.

4) HIT SHOW (c, Candy Ride {Arg}–Actress, by Tapit) O/B-Gary & Mary West (KY); T-Brad Cox. Lifetime Record: GSW, 5-3-1-0, $404,375. Last Start: 2nd in GII Wood Memorial S. at Aqueduct Apr. 8. Kentucky Derby Points: 60.

Hit Show has moved around quite a bit in his career. He’s raced at Keeneland, Churchill, Oaklawn and Aqueduct, and in between those two New York trips he was stabled at Fair Grounds. Trainer Brad Cox said last week one thing he’s noticed about this 3-for-5 Candy Ride (Arg) homebred for Gary and Mary West is that Hit Show has handled every different experience without drama, and that he is quick to settle into his routine.

That’s a nice mindset, especially for a colt who won’t turn three until May 9.

Hit Show has won twice over nine furlongs and has upped his Beyer every time he’s raced, most recently topping out at 93 when second, beaten a nose, as the middle horse who got pinballed in the three-way stretch scrum of the GII Wood Memorial S.

If you take the view that Hit Show will likely benefit in the long run from having been roughed up and not backing down, he’s probably pretty high on your list.

But another way to look at the Wood is that Hit Show was an all-out fave who couldn’t put away a maiden and a 59-1 shot.  If that’s your takeaway, he’s likely not in your top tier.

North of 20-1 on Derby day will probably be the price point to find out which assessment is correct.

5) TAPIT TRICE (c, Tapit–Danzatrice, by Dunkirk) ‘TDN Rising Star. O-Whisper Hill Farm LLC and Gainesway Stable (Antony Beck); B-Gainesway Thoroughbreds Ltd. (KY); T-Todd Pletcher. Sales history: $1,300,000 Ylg ’21 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: GISW, 5-4-0-1, $100,150. Last start: 1st GI Toyota Blue Grass S. at Keeneland Apr. 8. Kentucky Derby Points: 150.

The commanding stride of Tapit Trice is evocative of pure power, and the sustained, six-furlong move he unleashed when winning the Blue Grass S. left a positive visual impression that no other competitor on this year’s Derby trail has matched.

But still, the huge question about his Derby chances centers on how far back this notoriously slow-starting son of Tapit will be, and whether or not he will be afforded a long and clear enough runway to attain his high-torque cruising speed.

This ‘TDN Rising Star‘ likely has enough brute force to propel himself through any tight passage that jockey Luis Saez wants to shoot for. But once Tapit Trice builds up a full head of steam, don’t expect him to be able to nimbly stop and restart his momentum through traffic the way a lighter-framed horse might be able to do.

This burly gray ($1.3 million KEESEP) stood out so much off his maiden win Dec. 17 that he made the initial TDN Top 12, ranked fourth.

Back on Jan. 3, I wrote that he demonstrated “raw, Derby-quality talent beneath a still-unpolished surface.”

It’s now nearly four months later, and I still regard Tapit Trice highly–while still concerned if his trouble breaking alertly and needing to be scrubbed on for early run is going to cost him amid the chaos of the 20-horse Derby.

6) REINCARNATE (c, Good Magic–Allanah, by Scat Daddy) O-SF Racing LLC, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables LLC, Robert Masterson, Stonestreet Stables LLC, Jay Schoenfarber, Waves Edge Capital LLC & Catherine Donovan; B-Woods Edge Farm (KY); Tim Yakteen. Sales history: $775,000 yrl ’21 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: GSW & GISP, 6-2-3-1, $231,900. Last Start: 3rd in the GI Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Apr. 1. Kentucky Derby Points: 45.

The headline writers are going to go bonkers with the “came back to life” hyperbole if Reincarnate wins the Derby. Although this colt does need some sort of transformational rebirth based on his winless form since January, this long-striding $775,000 KEESEP son of Good Magic colt is not as far-fetched a Derby proposition as he might seem.

Reincarnate has never been out of the money from seven starts, all at a mile or longer. He was most recently third in two Oaklawn stakes, first encountering trip trouble in the Rebel, then coming up punchless with a no-excuse stalking setup in the GI Arkansas Derby.

Maybe the two trips to Hot Springs from California just didn’t agree with him. It also didn’t help that when Reincarnate was back at home at Santa Anita, training was disrupted all winter long because of heavy rains.

But consider the John Velazquez factor. He’s still America’s premier big-race jockey when riding horses with the ability to control the pace. He’s crossed the finish line first in three of the last six Derbies. All were on frontrunners. One was 12-1 and another was 8-1. What more do  you need to know?

7) KINGSBARNS (c, Uncle Mo–Lady Tapit, by Tapit) O-Spendthrift Farm; B-Parks Investment Group (KY); Todd Pletcher. Sales history: $250,000 yrl ’21 FTSAR; $800,000 2yo ’22 FTMAR. Lifetime Record: 3-3-0-0, $657,300. Last Start: 1st GII Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds Mar. 25. Kentucky Derby Points: 100.

The 3-for-3 Kingsbarns ($250,000 FTSAUG; $800,000 FTFMAR) projects to be a forward factor in the Derby, but it’s not crucial that he be leading the pack.

Kingsbarns closed adeptly in his one-turn-mile winning MSW debut at Gulfstream after being covered up at the rail, caught in tight on the turn, then boxed and blocked at the top of the stretch. Tasked with two turns in a Tampa allowance, Kingsbarns conceded an ambitious lead, then reeled in a long-shot speedster to draw away by 7 ¾ easy lengths (85 Beyer).

He then found himself on the front end of a GII Louisiana Derby that projected on paper to have no one else vying for the lead, and this son of Uncle Mo cruised home unchallenged over 1 3/16 miles through somnambulant splits (:24.71, 49.50, 1:14.69, 1:39.13) and a 1:57.33 final time that was the slowest in four years since that stakes got elongated from nine furlongs. His Beyer of 95 compares to same-period Louisiana Derby winning Beyers of 91, 99 and 102.

“I think people gave Kingsbarns a discount because of the time of the Louisiana Derby,” Spendthrift Farm president Eric Gustavson said last week “I don’t think you should be penalized by going to the front and putting everyone else to sleep like he did. We’re pretty confident coming into the Derby.”

8) DISARM (c, Gun Runner–Easy Tap, by Tapit) ‘TDN Rising Star. O/B-Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC (KY); T-Steve Asmussen. Lifetime Record: GSP, 4-1-2-1, $290,350. Last Start: 3rd in the GIII Lexington S. at Keeneland Apr. 15. Ky Derby Points: 46.

You can make a cogent case for Disarm improving in the Derby. Whether that advancement will be good enough to win is a separate question.

As a large-framed son of Gun Runner, he was green while third in his June 19 Churchill debut at 5 ½ furlongs. Then he earned ‘TDN Rising Star’ status with a blast-off, stretch-out Saratoga score over seven furlongs.

Shelved until a Feb. 19 Oaklawn allowance, this Winchell Thoroughbreds homebred closed for second behind a wire-to-wire winner on a day when horses on the lead or just off it won seven of Oaklawn’s nine races. And he was second again, with minor trip trouble, in the Mar. 25 Louisiana Derby behind lone-speed Kingsbarns, who wired the field on a day when 10 early-pace horses dominated in 11 Fair Grounds dirt races.

Disarm’s appearance in the Apr. 15 GIII Lexington S. was only a points-earning exercise to ensure he qualified for the Derby, so beyond making a competent middle move to secure third, the colt was not asked for strenuous exertion three weeks ahead of his higher goal.

Disarm | Coady

9) ANGEL OF EMPIRE (c, Classic Empire–Armony’s Angel, by To Honor And Serve) O-Albaugh Family Stables LLC; B-Forgotten Land Investment Inc & Black Diamond Equine Corp (PA); T-Brad Cox. Sales history: $32,000 RNA wlg ’20 KEENOV, $70,000 yrl ’21 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: GISW, 6-4-1-0, $1,069,375. Last Start: 1st in the GI Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Apr. 1. Kentucky Derby Points: 154.

Trainer Brad Cox last week described Angel of Empire’s progression from an “all legs” Pennsylvania-bred who began his career in modest races at Horseshoe Indianapolis to a “serious player” at the top level of the game who has filled out physically and gotten sharper mentally.

Angel of Empire ($32,000 RNA KEENOV; $70,000 KEESEP) is 4-for-6 lifetime while honing a keen knack for tracking targets and methodically reeling them in.

He’s twice won nine-furlong stakes this season, and he ripped through a closing eighth in :12.12 in the Arkansas Derby, the fastest final furlong out of the nine stakes at 1 1/18 miles in the 2022-23 “Road to the Derby” points series.

This son of Classic Empire‘s company line from the Arkansas Derby got a boost on Saturday, when sixth-place finisher Red Route One (Gun Runner) came back to win the $200,000 Bath House Row S. over nine furlongs at Oaklawn.

10) TWO PHIL’S (c, Hard Spun–Mia Torri, by General Quarters) O-Patricia’s Hope LLC and Phillip Sagan; B-Phillip Sagan; T-Larry Rivelli. Sales History: $150,000 RNA Ylg ’21 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: MGSW, 8-4-1-1, $683,450. Last start: 1st GIII Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Mar. 25. Kentucky Derby Points: 123.

Meet the intriguing wild card in the 2023 Derby. This $150,000 RNA at KEESEP generates rooting interest because he competes for an owner, trainer and jockey who have never participated in the Derby, and Two Phil’s started as his career without much fanfare at non-traditional Derby-path tracks like Colonial Downs and Canterbury Park.

This son of Hard Spun attracted attention with a 5 1/4-length win at 7-1 odds in the GIII Street Sense S. at Churchill back on Oct 30. After running second in the GII Lecomte S. and third in the Risen Star S., trainer Larry Rivelli took a chance at bankrolling qualifying points against easier competition over the Tapeta surface in the GIII Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway, and Two Phil’s responded with a 101-Beyer trouncing.

Trouble is, no one seems to know whether to take that big fig at face value. It was earned over a non-dirt surface, and it clocks in at 13 points higher than the previous best number Two Phil’s ever produced.

Even though Animal Kingdom (2011) and Rich Strike (2022) proved that Turfway’s premier stakes can be a springboard to a blanket of roses, the remaining Derby starters out of the Ruby (or its differently named predecessors) have been a collective 0-for-20 in Louisville since that stakes was first run over a synthetic surface in 2006.

11) MAGE (c, Good Magic–Puca, by Big Brown) O-OGMA Investments, LLC, Ramiro Restrepo, Sterling Racing LLC and CMNWLTH; B-Grandview Equine (KY); T-Gustavo Delgado. Sales history: $235,000 yrl ’21 KEESEP; $290,000 2yo ’22 EASMAY. Lifetime Record: GISP, 3-1-1-0, $247,200. Last Start: 2nd GI Curlin Florida Derby at Gulfstream Apr. 1. Kentucky Derby Points: 50.

Mage still needs to work on his gate-breaking skills, and his relative inexperience of just three races since debuting Jan. 28 isn’t ideal. But that sweeping, slingshot move he uncorked on the far turn of the Florida Derby will be remembered as his first true flash of Grade I talent if he can build on that effort and sustain his run deeper into the lane over 10 furlongs.

No one will hold it against Mage that he got outfinished in the Florida Derby by the better-seasoned Forte. If anything, Mage got style points for making a move-within-a-move when he dig in to repulse a mid-stretch bid from the eventual third-place finisher.

Still, the Florida Derby might not end up being a reliable measuring stick this year. Beyond Forte and Mage, the race has yielded no other Kentucky Derby qualifiers ranked within the current Top 20.

This son of Good Magic ($235,000 KEESEP; $290,000 EASMAY) breezed six furlongs in 1:14.78 Saturday at Gulfstream (1/1). Assistant trainer Gustavo Delgado, Jr., said that move will be the colt’s final serious work, because at Churchill, “we just want him to get to know the track. We don’t expect to do very much there, fitness-wise.”

12) LORD MILES (c, Curlin–Lady Esme, by Majestic Warrior) O/B-Vegso Racing Stable; T-Saffie Joseph, Jr. Lifetime Record: GSW, 5-2-0-1, $451,100. Last Start: 1st GII Wood Memorial S. at Aqueduct Apr. 8. Kentucky Derby Points: 105.

Lord Miles (Curlin) paid $120 to win the Wood Memorial, gaining the upper hand (hoof?)  in a rough, three-way stretch fight.

That’s the second time in three years a Wood winner has paid boxcars. Remember Bourbonic at 72-1 in 2021? He was 13th in the Derby. But it doesn’t seem to matter if the Wood winner is a favorite or a long shot: The last Wood winner to capture the Derby was Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000, and you have to time-travel back to 1981 to find the next closest, Pleasant Colony.

“He came out of the Wood well. He shipped back and he’s held his weight,” trainer Saffie Joseph, Jr., said after a half-mile breeze Friday at Gulfstream in :47.05 (2/33).

Joseph acknowledged that “his race in the Wood isn’t going to be good enough to win the Derby. He’s going to have to improve again…. The biggest drawback with him has been his inconsistency. Sometimes he comes off the bridle and gives himself too much to do.”

Potentially Rounding Out the Starting Gate:

13) Rocket Can (Into Mischief)

Rocket Can (Into Mischief), who celebrates his third birthday Apr. 28, will race with blinkers for the first time in the Derby, trainer Bill Mott confirmed after the colt breezed five furlongs in 1:01 Sunday (11/41) at Churchill Downs. “The one thing that [his beaten-fave fourth in the Arkansas Derby] told me is he still has more to give in the tank,” Mott said. “I don’t think he’s quite learned to give it his all. That’s what you get this time of year with 3-year-olds, but they can improve quickly. He’s got a lot of route pedigree on his bottom side being [out of a mare] by Tapit. We added blinkers in today’s work and will for the race. Hopefully, that will help him go past horses when he runs up beside them.” Rocket Can, a $245,000 FTSAUG RNA gray, owns a win and a close second in two main-track starts at Churchill. His Oct. 30 allowance score in the slop there over 1 1/16 miles is notable for being .99 seconds faster than the clocking Two Phil’s turned in when winning the same-day GIII Street Sense S.

14) Derma Sotogake (Jpn) (Mind Your Biscuits)

Derma Sotogake (Jpn) shares an Apr. 28 birthday with Rocket Can. This ¥18,000,000 JRHJUL son of Mind Your Biscuits wired the G2 UAE Derby, cracking the competition while still in hand before widening his margin to the wire under light encouragement. Kate Hunter, who represents the Japan Racing Association and is a Derby liaison for the two Japan-based entrants this year, told TDN’s Katie Petrunyak that “Derma Sotogake was always impressive from the time I saw him in Saudi through Dubai. He is a beautiful horse and he moves really well. He has a fun personality. He’s really sweet, but he’s also full of fire.” But will he seek the lead in Louisville? “If Derma Sotogake is able to set his own pace and take things the way he wants to with no one challenging him, he might,” Hunter said.

Derma Sotogake | Coady

15) Sun Thunder (Into Mischief)

Sun Thunder, a late-running Into Mischief colt ($400,000 KEENOV; $495,000 RNA FTSAUG), still hasn’t won beyond the maiden ranks. But he’s run well enough in four graded stakes preps this season (fourth, second, fifth and fourth) to rack up qualifying points behind heavier hitters like Tapit Trice, Kingsbarns, Angel of Empire, and the currently sidelined but formerly No 1-ranked ‘TDN Rising Star‘ Arabian Knight (Uncle Mo). He’s scheduled for a workout on Wednesday. Brian Hernandez, Jr., will ride in the Derby.

16) Jace’s Road (Quality Road)

TDN Rising Star‘ Jace’s Road, who turns three Apr. 25, got an early birthday present Sunday when the defection of Blazing Sevens (Good Magic) nudged him off the also-eligible list and into the Derby. This $510,000 KEESEP son of Quality Road was most recently third in the Louisiana Derby. He’s winless in two tries since Dec. 26, but the only two times he’s ever been off the board were both over sloppy surfaces, once at Churchill and again at Oaklawn. Jace’s Road generally has enough tactical speed to park himself close to the early pace. But we’ve yet to see him build off that prime positioning by combining it with a menacing, far-turn kick.

17) Raise Cain (Violence)

You don’t see much of 1999 GI Belmont S. winner and 2000 older champion male Lemon Drop Kid in pedigrees these days, but that sturdy dose of female-family stamina underneath the sire Violence should give Raise Cain a reputable foundation for being able to get a distance of ground over dirt. But while that inherited ability is theoretically there, Raise Cain ($180,000 KEESEP; $65,000 RNA OBSOPN) is 0-for-3 around two turns. His best race was the Mar. 4 GIII Gotham S., a one-turn mile run over a muddy, sealed track in which Raise Can won by 7 ½ lengths and earned a 90 Beyer. He was wide and driving to get fifth in the Blue Grass, but realistically was not in the same league as one-two finishers Tapit Trice and Verifying, who finished necks apart while 5 3/4 lengths ahead of everyone else.

18) Confidence Game (Candy Ride {Arg})

Confidence Game ($25,000 KEESEP) is an efficient-striding colt with seven races of experience (five of them routes). This son of Candy Ride (Arg) earned a 94 Beyer by winning the Rebel S., but has not started since. That was a 11-point jump off his previous career-high Beyer, and he projects to need another significant uptick of seven or eight points to be in the hunt in the Derby. He’s won two of four starts over “fast” Churchill dirt, which is a plus.

19) Continuar (Jpn) (Drefong)

The 2-for-5 Continuar (Jpn) is seeking his first win since capturing the Cattleya S. at Tokyo last Nov. 26, but a wide trip might have hampered his chances when fifth in the G3 Saudi Derby. This son of the champion United States sprinter Drefong (¥70,000,000 JRHJUL) was also third, beaten 10 lengths by Derma Sotogake, in the UAE Derby. Japanese racing liaison Kate Hunter described the colt to TDN this week as being “wise beyond his years. He’s such a calm 3-year-old that you would think he is five or six. That calmness and collectiveness will really come in handy on Derby day.”

20) Wild On Ice (Tapizar)

This Texas-bred homebred for Frank Sumpter won the GIII Sunland Derby in New Mexico with a 77 Beyer after sitting just behind an unsustainable speed duel. The second- and fifth-place finishers out of that race then tried the Santa Anita Derby but made no impact, finishing eighth and fifth. In two previous $100,000 stakes routes at Sunland, this son of Tapizar was beaten a combined 45 1/2 lengths.

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