At Churchill Downs September 16, 2017, the official Road to the 2018 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve began with the Iroquois Stakes—first of 34 official qualifying events. May 5, 2018, following the 144th Run for the Roses, that path dead-ends at the identical finish line.
So far, two familiar 2017 leftovers--Bolt d’Oro and McKinzie--continue to impress. Ranked atop nearly everyone’s current list of Kentucky Derby favorites, they won 3 of the first 10 Road to the Kentucky Derby races. The former took the FrontRunner (9/30) and the latter swept both the Los Alamitos Futurity (12/9 by DQ) and Sham (1/6).
They aren’t the only recognizable mugs still in the Derby mix. Winners of 6 of the first 10 Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifying races remain Louisville bound: Bolt d’Oro, McKinzie, Good Magic (BC Juvenile, 11/4), Enticed (Kentucky Jockey Club, 11/25) and Catholic Boy (Remsen, 12/2). In fact, Enticed’s Kentucky Jockey Club has proved to be a bit of a key race because Enticed later won the Gotham (3/10); Promises Fulfilled claimed the Fountain of Youth (3/3); Quip the Tampa Derby (3/10); Reride won the Big Drama (1/13) and Mine That Bird Derby (2/25) and Bravazo took the Risen Star (2/17).
Impressive late arrivals Magnum Moon and Justify share current headlines as threats to end the Apollo jinx started in 1882 that decrees a horse can’t win the Derby without first racing at two.
Here is where the plot thickens. Story lines intersect. Clues surface. Alibi’s are revealed. Although, in this case, the mystery is less a ‘whodunit’ and more a ‘whogonnadoit.’ The next three Saturdays hold the final 7 Road to the Kentucky Derby races. Usual suspects--owning means, motive and opportunity—will perp-walk into starting gate lineups worldwide daring witnesses to correctly ID culprits…in advance of incidents?
Saturday, the UAE Derby at Meydan in Dubai could introduce another character to the 2018 Kentucky Derby story. BC Juvenile Turf winner Mendelssohn is 8/5 favorite and several graduates of that November race already have shown dirt versatility: Catholic Boy, My Boy Jack, Flameaway and Snapper Sinclair. As half-brother to the great Beholder with a Keeneland yearling sales-topping $3 million price tag, Mendelssohn almost requires a Kentucky Derby victory to meet expectations. Someday a horse will parlay the UAE Derby into a Kentucky Derby triumph, but it’s a huge ask, particularly in a season boasting talented US-based runners.
The same day at Gulfstream Park, Audible, winner of the Holy Bull (2/3), will confront first and second Fountain of Youth (3/3) finishers, Promises Fulfilled and Strike Power, respectively, in a Gulfstream sophomore showdown of sorts. Enticed, fourth behind Audible in the mile and one-sixteenth Fountain of Youth, returned to win the one-turn, one-mile Gotham at Aqueduct (3/10) and may be favored in the Wood there next Saturday. His success flatters Audible.
However, Fountain of Youth runner up Free Drop Billy and show horse Tiz Mischief haven’t distinguished themselves since. So, Audible’s recent form is a mixed bag? He’s been away from the races nearly two months—not trainer Todd Pletcher’s usual modus operandi. Described by connections as, ‘not an overzealous work horse,’ Audible recently was outperformed in a morning effort at Palm Beach Downs. The Florida Derby also figures to have an abundance of early pace enthusiasts, including troubled Fountain of Youth veteran Storm Runner. That’s not likely to benefit Audible.
Additional evidence against Audible’s chances of winning the Florida Derby at a short price is this tidbit from T.D. Thornton at Thoroughbreddailynews.com: ‘In the past 20 years, only three horses–Dialed In in 2011, Hal’s Hope in 2000, and Cape Town in 1998–have pulled off the difficult Holy Bull/Florida Derby double.’
On the other hand, several positive factors point toward another Florida Derby entrant as a possible upset play. Catholic Boy has looked sensational while training recently at Gulfstream Park and an expected hot early pace ought to enable this closer. Irad Ortiz, Jr., the hottest jockey performing in Pegasus’s shadow, replaces Manny Franco aboard the winner of three of five starts. Catholic Boy’s on-the-square defeat by Flameaway in the Sam F. Davis at Tampa (2/10) in his initial 2017 start was disappointing, but his record is solid, he looks great and is working lights out. He deserves a shot at redemption.
Players interested in a March Madness/horseracing combo wager might consider a hunch two-sport, three-team religious parlay. Sister Jean, the 98-year-old nun mascot for the Loyola-Chicago five, will cheer her team against Michigan in an NCAA Final Four matchup scheduled for 6:09 pm ET. Less than an hour later, Catholic Boy will break from the Florida Derby gate. At 8:49 pm ET, Kansas will face Villanova in the other Final Four game. Villanova is a Catholic University located outside Philadelphia. It will all happens on what Catholics consider Holy Saturday!
Coincidence? I think not.
At this stage, in no particular order, Bolt d’Oro, McKinzie and Good Magic are the most likely Kentucky Derby winners. Audible, Promises Fulfilled and Catholic Boy round out limited top slots as talented, accomplished runners. Justify could be a once-in-a-generation horse, but he’ll need to be to scale Everest to prove it. Odds are stacked against him. Magnum Moon, more accomplished but less brilliant than Justify, rows a similar boat smashing against waves. They’ll clash in two weeks in the Arkansas Derby. Last Saturday at Fair Grounds, Noble Indy proved incredibly game and earned much respect. However, Lone Sailor and Southwest star My Boy Jack had dead-aim in the lane and couldn’t pull the trigger. Neither Enticed nor Solomini, expected Wood choices, figure prominently.
The plot thickens, but you know how these mysteries often turn out...in the end it’s rarely the one you suspected.