Each week leading up to the first Saturday in May I will assess the leading contenders for the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby, ranking the “elite eight”, recapping the most recent prep races, and looking forward to the upcoming race(s) of the weekend. Follow me on Twitter @chadlashbrook for additional thoughts on KY Derby preps and other major thoroughbred races.
All of the prep races for Kentucky Derby 143 are complete and focus now shifts to the morning workouts that will take place over the next week to garner any final insight on the 20 horses that will line up to contest this year’s Run for the Roses. Many of the anticipated competitors have already descended upon Churchill Downs to complete their final preparations, and the remainder of the field will arrive over the next week. Post positions will be drawn and the field set a week from today. The random post draw is vitally important in the 20 horse Derby. No one wants to be stuck down on the rail with 19 others merging over trying to save ground, while those in the outer posts obviously will have to cover more ground. I will cover post positions and final breezes for the major contenders in two separate articles next week. No changes to the order of the elite eight this week, but there are a few updates regarding key workouts and some pedigree insight:
1 – Classic Empire has settled into his stall at Mark Casse’s barn on the Churchill Downs backside. He will likely have his final Derby workout this coming weekend. The reigning 2yo champ and Arkansas Derby winner cannot rely much on the female side of his family when it comes to being able to handle the mile and a quarter distance of the Derby. His dam Sambuca Classica was 0 for 8 lifetime. Aside from Classic Empire, she has produced two other stakes winners in Uptown Twirl and Anytime Magic, both of whom won listed stakes at sprint distances. Second dam In Her Glory did not produce much of note, but was a listed sprint stake winner herself and also managed to run 3rd in the Grade 1 Gazelle at Belmont over a one-turn mile and an eighth. While Classic Empire may lack a strong stamina influence on the bottom half of his pedigree, the top half packs it in spades. His sire Pioneerof the Nile won the 9F Santa Anita Derby and ran 2nd in the Kentucky Derby. He has already produced Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in his young stallion career. Grandsire Empire Maker won the 12F Belmont Stakes and his sire, Unbridled won the Kentucky Derby and 10 furlong Breeders’ Cup Classic as a 3yo.
2 – Always Dreaming worked 5 furlongs in 1:01 and 2 on Friday at his Palm Beach Downs base. His pedigree is similar to that of Classic Empire in that the female side is responsible for some very nice runners, albeit at sprint distances. Above Perfection, his dam, won the Fleet Treat and Las Flores – both sprint stakes in California. In addition to Always Dreaming, she has also produced Hot Dixie Chick, Grade 1 winner of the 7 furlong Spinaway at Saratoga. Second dam Something Perfect was unraced herself but also produced Made to Perfection, winner of the 6 1/2 F Santa Paula Stakes at Santa Anita. Always Dreaming‘s sire Bodemeister ran 2nd in both the 2012 Kentucky Derby and Preakness, and he has the same grandsire, Empire Maker, as Classic Empire.
3 – McCraken had his penultimate Derby work on Monday morning at Churchill Downs. Breaking off 6 or so lengths behind a workmate he rattled off even 12 second splits in making up ground and blowing by the workmate just past the wire to complete a 5 furlong move in 1:00 and 3. He continued strongly around the turn with a 3/4 mile gallop out time of 1:13 flat. He’ll have his final breeze either over the weekend or on Monday depending on the weather. McCraken‘s dam Ivory Empress was a runner-up in two sprint stakes and has produced another stakes performer in Bondurant, 2nd in both the Commonwealth and Canadian Turf at 8 1/2 and 8 furlongs respectively. Second dam Madame Pandit was also a sprint stakes performer, capturing the Monrovia Handicap and finishing 2nd in the Santa Monica. Among her progeny was the very fine race mare Mea Domina, winner of the Grade 1 Gamely Stakes at a mile and an eighth on the grass and the Palomar Handicap at a mile and a sixteenth. In addition to that modest stamina influence stemming from the female side, McCraken‘s sire, the brilliant Ghostzapper, and grandsire, Awesome Again, were both winners of the mile and a quarter Breeders’ Cup Classic.
4 – Irish War Cry remains at Graham Motion’s Fair Hill base and is expected to ship to Louisville early next week. His pedigree on the female side is relatively light. Half-brother Irish Strait is a stakes performer, having run 3rd in the 8 1/2 furlong Grade 3 Tampa Bay Stakes on the turf earlier this year. Sire Curlin raked in over $10 million during a career that included classic distance wins in the Preakness Stakes, Breeders’ Cup Classic, Dubai World Cup, and 2 editions of the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Grandsire Smart Strike has been a strong source of stamina found in championship pedigrees for the last 20 years.
5 – Gunnevera breezed an easy 5/8ths in 1:01 flat this past Friday. While there is not much to report from his female family, he undoubtedly draws stamina from his damsire, Unbridled. Gunnevera‘s sire, Dialed In, won the Florida Derby and his sire, Mineshaft, earned Horse of the Year honors in 2003 on the strength of classic distance victories in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Suburban Handicap among others.
6 – Hence worked in company with Louisiana Derby and Risen Star 3rd place finisher Local Hero on Monday morning at Churchill Downs. The Steve Asmussen duo clipped along neck and neck for a comfortable 5 furlong drill in one minute with a good 3/4 mile gallop out time of 1:13. Hence‘s victory in the Sunland Derby continues to look more and more impressive as time wears on. This past weekend, the 3rd place finisher from that race, Hedge Fund, came back to just miss capturing the Illinois Derby by a head in good time. Hence, a son of Street Boss, boasts an influential source of class from his second dam, Ballerina Princess, who was winless herself on the race track but produced no less than 6 six figure earners during her career as a broodmare. Chief among them was 2009 Canadian Broodmare of the Year Pico Teneriffe – a multiple graded stakes winner at various route distances on turf and the dam of millionaire Marchfield, Canada’s champion older male in both 2008 and 2009.
7 – Girvin is currently scheduled to have his final pre-Derby work-out at Keeneland on Friday morning. His half-brother Cocked and Loaded won the mile and a sixteenth Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs as a 2yo and fared better as a sprinter at 3, including a 3rd place effort in the Bay Shore at Aqueduct. Second dam Catch My Fancy was also a stakes horse at sprint distances. The top half of Girvin‘s pedigree does not offer much support of his ability to handle the 10 furlong Derby distance either. Sire Tale of Ekati did win the Wood Memorial at a mile and an eighth, but was probably best as a miler. Grandsire Tale of the Cat is best known for progeny who boast precocity and most often do their best running at sprint distances.
8 – Gormley clocked a mediocre 1:15 and 4 for 6 furlongs on Saturday at Santa Anita. He draws strong class and stamina influences from both his paternal and maternal bloodlines. His spectacular sire Malibu Moon claims 2013 Kentucky Derby winner Orb amongst his most successful progeny. Gormley is the first foal produced by Race to Urga, a stakes winner herself of the Wait a While at a mile and a sixteenth on the turf. Her dam, Miss Mambo was a listed stakes winner in Ireland and also ran 3rd in the French 1000 Guineas.
Next week I’ll report on the final work-outs for the major contenders and assess how they all appear to be training heading into the biggest and longest race of their lives. I will also have a final pre-Derby post the morning of the big race with a complete analysis including what affect, if any, the post draw will have on the race. That post will also include previews of the other exciting stakes action from Churchill Downs on Derby day.