Grading out 2019 Kentucky Derby contenders' recent works

April 25, 2019 08:59am
Grading out 2019 Kentucky Derby contenders' recent works
Photo: Leah Vasquez
Win Big on Kentucky Derby this year!

For another week and a few days, it’s time to wait. But also to watch.
I’m of the belief that final workouts heading into the 2019 Kentucky Derby are paramount as we gauge who’s moving forward at the right time. Already, most have submitted at least one work since their final preps.

Some horses looked stellar. Others, not so much. Here’s how I graded out the Derby contenders’ recent breezes.

The A Team

Roadster (A+)

In his first work since his victory in the Santa Anita Derby (G1), Roadster drilled six furlongs on Saturday from the gate in 1:13.60. The work was ranked second-fastest of 11, and it could have been quicker. 

Roadster broke like a shot from the gate, opening up three to four lengths on his workmate, at which point he was asked to slow down. The Bob Baffert trainer switched off, let his stablemate run by to take a short lead, then shot back out in front as the pair moved through the turn.

Through the final stages, Roadster drew well clear and finished with plenty of energy. Baffert won’t be sending a short horse to the Derby.

Improbable (A+)

I was surprised to see Improbable work back on the work tab nine days removed from a second in the Arkansas Derby (G1). Neither the quick turnaround nor the shipping seemed to have any effect on the son of City Zip.

He cruised through his half-mile work in :48.00 at Churchill Downs, ranking fourth-fastest of 80. This time, he took the blinkers off, but didn’t show signs of his usual distraction through the stretch.

One might be put off by the fact that he started faster than he finished, but looking at the video, it’s clear that even with the equipment off, connections will try to get this horse into the race early.

Down the stretch, the rider wasn’t crouched and asking for more, but rather standing in the stirrups while keeping Improbable under a stout hold. This move had the looks of a leg stretcher, just to let Improbable get used to his surroundings.

By My Standards (A)

The son of Goldencents has been training at Churchill Downs for weeks, and frankly, he’s looked like a beast. While his most-recent piece of work on Monday didn’t seem as effortless as his last two, I don’t think that was the intention.

After cruising through two four-furlong breezes since his Louisiana Derby (G2) victory, By My Standards was sent through a six-furlong drill, which he completed in 1:12.80, with splits of 12.40, 24.40, 36.40, 48.60, and 1:00.20.

It was clear that By My Standards was exerting himself in the stretch. But given that he will be entering the Derby off six weeks between races, that was needed to get the air back in his lungs.

Tacitus (A)

My first impression wasn’t a good one. I thought he looked uncomfortable on the rail and ran with a less than forward motion.

But these works can’t be viewed as one-off moves. Reviewing the tape of his previous breezes, this was part for the course.

Tacitus breezed an easy half mile in company, getting the distance in :50 flat with splits of 13.40, 25.80, and 38.40. He and his workmate were closely matched most of the way before Tacitus edged ahead at the wire and left his company well behind through the gallop out.

When it comes to looks, the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) and Wood Memorial winner has held flesh well.


The B Team

Code of Honor (B)

The Fountain of Youth (G2) winner took to a muddy track over the weekend when he went five furlongs in 1:01 with jockey John Velazquez in town. He stopped the clock at :12 flat for his final furlong in a workmanlike effort.

This looked more like a maintenance drill than serious tightening of the screws.

There’s nothing bad to say. But you also can’t proclaim he’s moving forward significantly based on seeing it.

Game Winner (B+)

This work felt like more of a tightener. Game Winner was sent through five-furlong sin 1:01.80 and easily bested his workmate, while also putting in a strong gallop out.

After a runner-up effort in the Santa Anita Derby, Game Winner looked ready for some action, but he continues to be a less-than-stellar morning worker. 

I have no doubt Baffert will have him ready for the big day, and I still believe he is one of the best in his crop. But you can’t argue he has improved significantly from his last race just from seeing this.

Maximum Security (B-)

There’s more than a final time to consider for the Jason Servis trainee, who was credited with three furlongs in a leisurely 42 seconds after last week’s half mile in 54.85 seconds at the Palm Meadows Training Center.

Servis, as he told Horse Racing Nation, is putting two-minute miles into the Florida Derby (G1) winner, concentrating on stamina over speed. He wants his colt to run big on race day, not in the morning.

Despite a slow conventional work, what I do see is a happy horse, relaxed yet on the bit, moving well, and willing to relax. Considering he will be confronted with more speed than he’s seen in his entire career, that could come in handy.

The rest

Long Range Toddy (D)

Only one Derby contender with a work video drew my attention in a negative way this week.

Long Range Toddy took a spin at Churchill Downs, going five furlongs on Monday in 1:02.60. It’s not about the speed, though. I only noted the time after looking at what appeared to be an uncomfortable colt.

Long Range Toddy does run with a naturally high head carriage, but he raised his head higher at points through the work, more so early on.

Considering his off-the-board finish in the Arkansas Derby, I was hoping to see something smoother on the rebound. Will look for improvement in his final work.


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Meet Laura Pugh

Laura Pugh got her first taste of Thoroughbred racing when she watched War Emblem take the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in 2002. At that point, she fell in love with the sport, reading every piece of news and information she could get her fingertips on.

Laura has a long history with horses in general, taking her first ride on her fifth birthday, with her first official riding lesson when she was eight years old. Both years she attended college, she joined her school’s equestrian team, first at Virginia Intermont College and then again at Delaware State University. Unfortunately, after back and shoulder injuries, she had to hang up her saddle. 

In 2010, Laura began writing for Horse Racing Nation and has also contributed to Lady and the Track, TwinSpires and USRacing. She currently works at a local newspaper as a community reporter.

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