Top to Bottom: Derby Rundown

This week’s Triple Crown feature examines the trips of GI Kentucky Derby runners in detail from first to last:

1) Mage (No. 12 in TDN pre-race rankings)
Mage, the little horse who could, was a characteristic beat slow out of the starting gate. Javier Castellano let him roll with the flow as the field sorted itself out through the first furlong, then darted to secure the rail while fourth-last the first time under the wire.

Unhurried through the turn, this son of Good Magic ($235,000 KEESEP; $290,000 EASMAY) raced several paths off the rail down the backstretch. Castellano seemed content knowing a brisk pace was percolating in front of him while aware the two late-running faves were also still parked at the back.

Edging closer, Mage tagged on behind the rapidly advancing Derma Sotogake (Jpn) (Mind Your Biscuits) entering the far turn. Sensing two rivals ranging up from the outside and not wanting to be locked in, Castellano committed his colt to an ever-widening arc to get clear of them. Mage was still 11th while four deep three-eighths out, but he was winding up for a move that would prove to be a better-timed version of the one he uncorked in the GI Florida Derby.

Building momentum, Castellano urged Mage with a more energetic cadence and steered for home in the eight path. He set down Mage as soon as they straightened away, advancing from fifth at the quarter pole to second three-sixteenths out. Zeroing in on a tiring-but not quitting-Two Phil’s (Hard Spun), Mage accosted that pacemaker at the eighth pole, with Castellano cracking his colt once right-handed.

Mage didn’t exactly blow by the pesky Two Phil’s, who lingered a half-length back while Angel of Empire (Classic Empire) emerged as the lone remaining danger. Mage stalled for a stride at the sixteenth pole, but refocused quickly under Castellano’s persistent (but never panicked) rousing, driving home with purpose to win by a length (105 Beyer Speed Figure).

2) Two Phil’s (No. 11 in TDN pre-race rankings)
Two Phil’s ($150,000 RNA KEESEP) broke decently from post three, but an eighth of a mile into the race, Jareth Loveberry wanted no part of being stuck inside, so he guided his colt several paths outward. A trio of speedsters had opened up by three lengths into the first turn, and Two Phil’s was in the middle of a second flight of three that crept closer on the back straightaway.

The two waves soon merged, yet even as the pack tightened, Loveberry and Two Phil’s appeared relaxed and comfortable. That spot two lanes off the fence proved to be prime positioning into the far turn, because when Verifying (Justify) was first among the duelers to crack, Loveberry shot through to claim the inside passage he vacated, and within three strides Two Phil’s had put away Reincarnate (Good Magic) and Kingsbarns (Uncle Mo), who were both being driven while Two Phil’s was opening up under hand urging.

At the head of the lane, all the spent horses were bogged down inside, and Two Phil’s braced for the wide-and-driving Mage. Two Phil’s was understandably fatigued from stalking the fast pace and getting first run at the leaders, and while he was no match for Mage, this colt never packed it in. He stayed on as best he could under Loveberry’s urging and held second by a half-length, replicating the 2007 Derby finish of his sire, Hard Spun. He galloped out on even terms with Mage and co-earned a 105 Beyer.

3) Angel of Empire (No. 10 in TDN pre-race rankings)
Angel of Empire ($32,000 RNA KEENOV; $70,000 KEESEP) was sent away from the gate, but not so much to ask him for early speed as to put his head in the game straight from the start. He settled willingly for Flavien Prat third from last the first time through the lane, and seven-eighths out dropped from the three path onto the rail and rode it until the far turn, gradually picking off midpack stragglers as he advanced.

Prat wisely opted off the inside when Verifying began plummeting through the field, and this colt very much looked in it to win it at the top of the stretch. He was eight wide and right behind Mage, but the difference was that Mage kicked into a higher gear while Angel of Empire continued to grind along. This son of Classic Empire was still three lengths in arrears at the eighth pole when Mage made his winning move.

Angel of Empire did find his best stride in that final furlong, but it was too late. Even with an untroubled trip and zesty fractions setting things up for him, this Pennsylvania-bred’s usual closing kick wasn’t quite good enough to reel in Two Phil’s for second-and that’s despite upping his best lifetime Beyer by 10 points, from 94 to 104. The top three galloped out more or less together.

4) Disarm (No. 8 in TDN pre-race rankings)
‘TDN Rising Star’ Disarm (Gun Runner) broke inward from post nine and love-tapped Reincarnate, with neither large-framed colt fazed by the contact. Joel Rosario took every opportunity in the early running to shift this Winchell Thoroughbreds homebred deeper down toward the rail, and he found the fence within the back third of the pack by the time the field crested the clubhouse turn.

Disarm kept bettering his position while eating a fair amount of kickback, but he was never able to cut loose with a sustained run and often appeared “on hold” or on the verge of getting pocketed. He split horses on the far turn, but was walled up near the inside off the final bend, which in this year’s Derby was not the place to be because of the cluster of tiring horses taking up residence there.

In upper stretch, Rosario tried to dive outward through a hole that Hit Show (Candy Ride{Arg}) got to first, so Plan B was to slice back inside, which only yielded more tight traffic for a precious half-furlong. Disarm shouldered aside the capitulating Kingsbarns, but when he finally go clear running room inside the final eighth, he had no finishing flourish.

Beaten 4 ½ lengths, Disarm was the final Derby horse in the race to be awarded a triple-digit Beyer, and that 100 represented a respectable 10-point jump off the 90s he paired in his previous two races.

5) Hit Show (No. 9 in TDN pre-race rankings)
Although he never fired despite attaining a no-excuse trip from the difficult one post, this Candy Ride (Arg) homebred for Gary and Mary West ran a commendable race, especially considering he’s a May 9 foal.

Hit Show broke fluidly from the inside gate, affording Manny Franco the luxury of positioning him where he wanted in the early part of the race. Initially fifth, Hit Show got geared back to seventh through the turn, then was eased off the fence to the four path so Franco could claim a sweet, uncrowded stalking spot behind the speedsters with no one covering him up and plenty of room to maneuver.

Sixth into the far bend, Hit Show started to pick it up with a four-wide run 3 ½ furlongs out under urging from Franco. He looked poised to pounce from third turning for home, but had no response to three left-handed swats in upper stretch. In the manner of a few strides, Hit Show went from attack mode to being under siege. Mage blew by to his outside, and Hit Show stayed on doggedly, with Franco keeping him to task to get fifth money.

6) Derma Sotogake (Jpn) (No. 14 in TDN pre-race rankings)
Derma Sotogake (Jpn) broke toward the back with his head briefly turned inward. There was no rush by Christophe Lemaire to contest the pace. This ¥18,000,000 JRHJUL son of Mind Your Biscuits seemed okay placed farther back in the pack than expected despite getting pelted with kickback.

Lemaire moved decisively 4 1/2 furlongs out, splitting horses at the entrance to the far turn and initially picking off Disarm toward his inside and targeting the on-the-prowl Hit Show in front of him. Derma Sotogake seemed to be drawing a bead on the top trio off the turn, but he was quickly overtaken by Mage and Angel of Empire, whose full heads of steam stood out in contrast against his one-paced action.

“He didn’t break as fast as last time but I was able to put him on the inside and save ground,” Lemaire said. “Gradually, we gained position on the final turn. I was in the best spot to make a move, he stayed on and but didn’t have the speed to make it closer late.”

The field leaving the starting gate for the 2023 GI Kentucky Derby | Coady

7) Tapit Trice (No. 5 in TDN pre-race rankings)
You can watch the Derby replay as many times as you want, but trainer Todd Pletcher aptly summed up the trip for this ‘TDN Rising Star’ in his immediate take right after the race:  “Tapit Trice did what he always does-he broke slow and then he had to check a couple of times heading into the first turn. When it came time he couldn’t get going well enough. Farther for him-we’re thinking [GI] Belmont [S.].”

Luis Saez had to implore this $1.3 million KEESEP son of Tapit straight out of the starting stall, and he briefly lost momentum when Mage dropped in front of him a furlong into the race. Tapit Trice was last into the turn, but was already on the move six furlongs out, which is how he won the GI Blue Grass S.

He picked off three rivals at the back before another minor stutter-step stall a half mile out; Saez seemed conflicted going into the far turn about whether inside or outside would be best. But it really didn’t matter because Tapit Trice had left himself too much work to do.

This colt did respond to far-turn rousing, but it takes Tapit Trice quite a while to fully unwind. He spun nine wide into the lane, and when it was evident he not within realistic striking distance, Saez decided to save Tapit Trice for another day.

8) Raise Cain (No. 19 in TDN pre-race rankings)
This son of Violence ($180,000 KEESEP; $65,000 RNA OBSOPN) ran a sneaky-good eighth. He broke running from post 13 and could have made the front vanguard, but Gerardo Corrales took a firm hold and guided him back, eventually latching on to a midpack spot at the fence through the first turn.

Raise Cain showed a nice ability to pick off selected targets down the backstretch, always bettering his position, and when the far turn arrived, he had achieved a tactically advantageous spot behind the too-fast frontrunners down near the inside.

Corrales pulled off a deft move when shifting outside of the tiring Verifying, then reclaiming his spot at the rail. But when the field straightened, the need to get off the plugged-up inside suddenly became desperate, and Raise Cain had to waste forward momentum by repeatedly shifting laterally through the lane. He only encountered more and more traffic, enduring some bumping that stalled his late run for good. Overall though, the effort rates much better than it looks on paper.

9) Rocket Can (No. 13 in TDN pre-race rankings)
Junior Alvarado said post-race that, “I think I had one of the best trips in the race,” and he’s probably right-at least for the first mile of the journey.

Rocket Can, a $245,000 FTSAUG RNA gray, was initially a touch keen while briefly running up on heels in the first few strides, but he settled in seventh, inching closer to the action as the two front packs merged into one. He came out to the four path and enjoyed similar uncovered placement as Hit Show while edging to within four lengths of the leaders into the last turn.

After saving ground, this blinkers-on son of Into Mischief tried to punch through between rivals three-sixteenths out, but he had tiring horses on both sides and it wasn’t initially apparent if Two Phil’s ahead of him was stopping or staying on. By the time Alvarado called on Rocket Can for another burst, the colt had nothing left to give.

10) Confidence Game (No. 18 in TDN pre-race rankings)
Judging Confidence Game’s try based on how close he was to a hot pace and how long he hung in there, his Derby 10th at 21-1 odds comes off as a likeable effort.

This $25,000 KEESEP Candy Ride (Arg) colt threw himself right into the race by breaking with good energy and securing a primo position, fourth at the rail into the turn behind a trio of eager  pacemakers.

He was fifth, then fourth for most of the backstretch run, attending the brisk splits while waiting to see how the duel would come undone. Confidence Game attempted to follow the dive-between move of Two Phil’s five-sixteenths out, but Two Phil’s was into the bridle with more alacrity, relegating this colt to chase mode turning for home closest to the rail.

At the eighth pole, Confidence Game was still within three of the leaders when Mage powered past Two Phil’s. But he had that “spinning his wheels” look to his stride, and couldn’t sustain his bid. He wasn’t hammered on by James Graham when it became evident he wouldn’t attain a placing.

11) Sun Thunder (No. 15 in TDN pre-race rankings)
Even with blinkers added, this late-running Into Mischief colt ($400,000 KEENOV; $495,000 RNA FTSAUG) was unhurried out of the gate, settling into stride second from last the first time past the finish.

Sun Thunder gained a few positions on the far turn and into the stretch, primarily from passing horses who had no forward momentum.

“I think we’ll point to the Belmont after this,” trainer Ken McPeek said. “He was a little up against it today, but we’ll come back to fight another day.”

12) Mandarin Hero (Jpn) (Unranked also-eligible in TDN pre-race rankings)
Mandarin Hero (Jpn) (Shanghai Bobby) was a hard-charging pace presence out of gate 17 without really being hustled. He suffered only slight momentum loss when Rocket Can knifed in front of him through the stretch.

Midpack and between rivals onto the backstretch, Kazushi Kimura rode him with confidence, then shook the reins at him with a sense of urgency when fellow Japanese invader Derma Sotogake ranged alongside and quickened into the far turn.

Mandarin Hero was asked for run four deep through the bend, and he came in close quarters with the brawny Tapit Trice. But this colt kept getting passed even though he was responding to his rider.

13) Reincarnate (No. 6 in TDN pre-race rankings)
This $775,000 KEESEP son of Good Magic had Disarm bounce off his outside flank a few jumps out of the gate, but Reincarnate’s natural speed carried him straight to the front, where he hooked up as the outermost horse in a three-way go.

John Velazquez tacked him back behind Verifying and Kingsbarns down the back straight, and even though this colt was incrementally edging up a half mile out, he couldn’t make much of a dent in the margin because the fractions were so demanding.

Reincarnate’s best chance came on the far turn when Verifying was the first to crack, but he couldn’t muster an authoritative response to put away the ready-to-cave Kingsbarns. Two Phil’s slipped through to his inside instead, and Velazquez concentrated on keeping his own regressing mount out of the way of onrushing contenders once he realized no final kick was coming from Reincarnate.

14) Kingsbarns (No. 7 in TDN pre-race rankings)
Kingsbarns, now a 3-for-4 son of Uncle Mo ($250,000 FTSAUG; $800,000 FTFMAR)  won a couple of in-race battles after getting a good jump out of starting stall six.

After establishing a wicked pace, Kingsbarns dueled Verifying into defeat while still in hand entering the far turn under Jose Ortiz, and then kept next-closest pursuer Reincarnate at bay.

But by the midway point on the far bend Kingsbarns had no real response when Two Phil’s swallowed him up and a sizable portion of the field careened by. Although out of the race by upper stretch, Kingsbarns managed to contribute to an inside logjam that adversely affected several contenders, although none of them truly had a winning shot.

“I sacrificed going a little bit faster than I wanted to in order to be in a good spot,” Ortiz said. “I wish we could have given him a breather on the backside.”

15) King Russell (Unranked also-eligible in TDN pre-race rankings)
This $60,000 FTKOCT gray by Creative Cause overcame a wide draw from post 18 but could only scrape together a mild mid-race spurt after going four wide on the clubhouse turn.

“He made a nice move from the five-eighths pole to the three-eighths pole, and then after that, he started to get tired and give up,” said jockey Rafael Bejarano.

16) Verifying (No. 4 in TDN pre-race rankings)
Post position two sealed Verifying’s fate as a Derby frontrunner, even though he is probably more accomplished and comfortable as a pace-presser.

Tyler Gaffalione let him rumble through torrid opening quarters of :22.35 and :23.38 while forced forward by the speed-centric Kingsbarns and Reincarnate. When Verifying had no more left to give, his rider did a good job wrapping up and letting him coast back through the field along the inside without incident.

The Blue Grass S. and the Derby have now made for two difficult races in a row for this May 11 foal by Justify ($775,000 KEESEP), who still figures to be a fighter at the upper echelon of the division given his underlying talent and the stout seasoning he’s gotten over the past six weeks.

17) Jace’s Road (No. 17 in TDN pre-race rankings)
‘TDN Rising Star’ Jace’s Road, a $510,000 KEESEP son of Quality Road, was sent away from gate 10 and landed a key stalking spot sixth on the outside heading into the turn. But he couldn’t hold his position, and lost touch by the half-mile marker.

“He broke sharp and I tried to hustle him but he could not keep up with the three horses in front,” said Florent Geroux. “He was not trying. Before I knew everyone started passing him.”

18) Cyclone Mischief (Unranked also-eligible in TDN pre-race rankings)
This $450,000 KEESEP son of Into Mischief  broke sluggishly and was widest and last a furlong into the Derby. He zoomed by nine horses before the pack hit the first turn, but got hung out five deep on that bend and soon regressed to the tail of the field.

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