Upcoming Win & You're In KY Derby prep races

In two months’ time it’ll all be over, and we’ll all be looking back on the Kentucky Derby and its instantly world-famous winner. Between now and then there is plenty to discover as the biggest preps approach, the upcoming Win & You’re In KY Derby prep races for Churchill Downs in May.

In our weekly round-up of the Derby scene, we look at the latest horses to stake their spot in the gate for the big race, and find out where all the wannabes are heading next on the ‘Road’ to the Kentucky Derby.

2023 Kentucky Derby Odds by JAZZSPORTS


Kingdom comes to the fore

Over the weekend, three more names were added to the list of horses assured of a spot in the Kentucky Derby – five horses now have at least 50 ‘Road to the Kentucky Derby’ points, which in recent years has been more than enough to qualify for the big one.

The most visually impressive performance came from Forbidden Kingdom (8-1) in the G2 San Felipe at Santa Anita, where he tore up the track with a dazzling gate-to-wire display on his first try beyond a mile. He started out sprinting and kept going, and although it’s safe to say the opposition was not particularly accomplished, there was a great deal to like about the attitude and class of the American Pharoah colt.

He’ll have to stretch that sizzling pace over another 330 yards at Churchill Downs, but the Kentucky Derby has evolved into a speed-favouring race in recent years and Forbidden Kingdom certainly has plenty of that. The plan is to try a little further again in the nine-furlong G1 Santa Anita Derby on April 9, in which the field should be much deeper. If he can run away from them there, he could easily be Derby favourite on the day itself.

Over on the east coast, Simplification (12-1) continued his reinvention from a plain front-runner into a more tactically versatile type when running out an authoritative winner of the G2 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park, the venue for all his six starts to date.

This was the strongest of the weekend preps and Simplification was comfortably superior, pulling away from mid-stretch and underlining the potential he showed when runner-up to White Abarrio in the G3 Holy Bull – in which he blew the start – on his previous outing. He finished off his race well and looks ready to go further, and may get that chance in the G1 Florida Derby on April 2.

Fountain of Youth runner-up In Due Time (25-1) also finished strongly on his stakes debut, earning 20 RTKD points and positioning himself so that a similar performance in the Florida Derby will assure him of a place at Churchill Downs. Fourth-placed Emmanuel (22-1) was a little disappointing on his stakes debut given the hype that has been surrounding him, but he can probably do better and should be given another chance in the final round of preps early next month.

That applies also to G1 winner Rattle N Roll (30-1), who was never a factor in sixth place but looked in need of his first start off a five-month layoff, and can be expected to make improvement towards his final prep.

Morello shines but needs more

The G3 Gotham at Aqueduct was a moderate contest made less relevant when second-favourite Rockefeller hit the gate, stumbled and gave up his race, but Morello (20-1) was nevertheless impressive in victory and maintained his unbeaten record, three-for-three all at the Santa Anita Handicap (Big A)

It was his first attempt at a mile and there is uncertainty as to whether he’s a suitable candidate to stretch out another quarter-mile in the Derby, but Steve Asmussen will take it step by step and send him for the G2 Wood Memorial over nine furlongs on April 9. Whatever the extent of his stamina, Morello needs to improve on this effort to become a top-line Derby contender, but we likely haven’t seen the best of him yet.

We don’t know what the best of Tiz The Bomb (50-1) is, but it’s probably on turf after he made heavy weather of earning ten RTKD points in the ungraded John Battaglia Memorial on the synthetic surface at Turfway Park.

The colt is a conundrum: if he can’t hack it on dirt, there seems little point in attempting to qualify him for the Derby in the G3 Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway on April 2, and although Kenny McPeek has a hare-brained idea about sending him to Britain to run in the Derby at Epsom over a mile and a half, a bid for the G1 2,000 Guineas over the straight mile at Newmarket – run a week before the Kentucky Derby – could be a longshot option.

A late-emerging Derby possible is Skippylongstocking (50-1), who was last of six behind Simplification in a stakes on New Year’s Day but has evidently progressed quickly, and caught the eye when easily winning an allowance optional claimer over a mile-eighth at Gulfstream Park a week ago. He’ll get a swing at the big time in either the Florida Derby or the Wood Memorial.

Plans and possibilities

Time is running out for horses who do not yet have sufficient Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifying points to earn a place in the gate at Churchill Downs. Practically all those still in the running have one more chance to pick up points, given that the final 100-point races take place on April 9, just a month away, so one poor run means the end of a Derby dream.

Also, if Echo Zulu runs as expected in the Fair Grounds Oaks on March 26, she will not have time to earn Derby qualifying points unless she runs twice in two weeks; basically, she won’t run in the Derby, although that was a very unlikely prospect in any case. Commandperformance is to go next for a maiden race, for which no points are available, so if he wins that it will be a race against time to get him into a Derby prep so that he can earn points.

Here follows a list of the intended next objectives for the Kentucky Derby hopefuls not already mentioned above.

Epicenter (8-1) Louisiana Derby

Mo Donegal (10-1) Wood Memorial

Messier (10-1) Santa Anita Derby

Smile Happy (10-1) Florida Derby or Blue Grass

Classic Causeway (12-1) Tampa Bay Derby

White Abarrio (15-1) Florida Derby

Zandon (15-1) Blue Grass

Charge It (30-1) Blue Grass

Rattle N Roll (30-1) Florida Derby or Blue Grass

Pinehurst (35-1) UAE Derby

Commandperformance (40-1) Maiden race

Echo Zulu (40-1) Fair Grounds Oaks – if so, no Derby bid

Ethereal Road (40-1) Arkansas Derby

Un Ojo (40-1) Blue Grass or Arkansas Derby

Call Me Midnight (50-1) Louisiana Derby

Major General (50-1) Tampa Bay Derby

Remaining RTKD points races

Saturday: Tampa Bay Derby (Tampa Bay Downs, 50pt)

Mar 26: Louisiana Derby (Fair Grounds, 100pt), UAE Derby (Meydan, 100pt)

Mar 27: Sunland Derby (Sunland Park, 50pt)

Apr 2: Florida Derby (Gulfstream Park, 100pt), Arkansas Derby (Oaklawn Park, 100pt), Jeff Ruby Steaks (Turfway Park, 100pt)

Apr 9: Wood Memorial (Aqueduct, 100pt), Blue Grass (Keeneland, 100 pt), Santa Anita Derby (Santa Anita, 100pt)

Apr 16: Lexington (Keeneland, 20pt)

Kentucky Derby odds courtesy of Jazzsports

8-1 Epicenter, Forbidden Kingdom

10-1 Messier, Mo Donegal, Smile Happy

12-1 Classic Causeway, Simplification

15-1 White Abarrio, Zandon

20-1 Corniche, Morello

22-1 Emmanuel

25-1 Early Voting, In Due Time

30-1 Charge It, Rattle N Roll

35-1 Pinehurst,Secret Oath

40-1 Barber Road, Commandperformance, Echo Zulu, Ethereal Road, Pioneer Of Medina, Un Ojo

50-1 American Icon, Call Me Midnight, High Oak, Major General, Newgrange, Skippylongstocking, Tiz The Bomb

60-1 bar

Bold italics: horse assured of a run in the Kentucky Derby on RTKD points basis

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