Pugh: Grading out last week's 2020 Kentucky Derby preps

Pugh: Grading out last week's 2020 Kentucky Derby preps
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire

This weekend may have been light on quantity when it came to 2020 Kentucky Derby preps, but there's plenty to discuss after Independence Hall suffered his first defeat and Nadal continued his emergence at Santa Anita Park. Here's what we learned...

Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3)

Sole Volante

On the Board: Independence Hall, Ajaaweed

Distance/Time: 8.5 furlongs, 1:42.60

Winning Beyer Speed Figure: 96

Grade: A

Analysis: Over the past decade, a pair of sixth-place finishes by Destin (2016) and Tapwrit (2017) represent the best results for a Derby horse exiting this prep. There stands a chance the 2020 edition could be much more meaningful.

Sole Volante, while he began his career on turf, is now a winner of three of four starts, rallying off a fast pace that obviously wilted Independence Hall. The two dueling pace setters completely dropped out of the race, and Independence Hall, who ran close to them early on, simply came up a bit short in the stretch.

Discount the winner at your own peril. Sole Volante benefitted from a perfect setup, but it's notable too that he submitted a better performance than Ajaaweed. The Remsen (G2) runner-up saw that form validated when the winner, Shotski, came back to be second in the Withers (G3).

Sole Volante made up more than 10 lengths in third quarter of the race. A middle move like that would leave most horses empty for the stretch, but he took dead aim on a top colt in Independence Hall, who arguably ran a winning race in his own right.

Sole Volante's final 1/16, according to Trakus, came in :06.11. By comparison, Independence Hall ran his final 1/16 in :06.38, which indicates that he didn't so much stop in the stretch as get run down by a nice horse.

San Vicente Stakes (G2)


On the Board: Ginobili, Fast Enough

Distance/Time: 7 furlongs, 1:22.59

Winning Beyer Speed Figure: 91

Grade: A

Analysis: It's not often I give out a pair of top grades in the same weekend. But it closed strong when hype horse Nadal lived up to his billing Sunday.

Opening fractions of 21.81 and 44.09 equal a torrid pace on any level, but over this Santa Anita Park dirt course it's a rate that should have left a horse facing graded company in only his second career start reeling.

Nadal, however, showed that he is no ordinary second time starter, and quite possibly, no ordinary horse. He hooked up with Ginobili from the beginning and dueled the entire way while under an enormous amount of pressure on the rail.

Nadal held serve, looking Ginobili in the eye before creeping away in the stretch. Trainer Bob Baffert was quick to point out how this colt wheeled back on three weeks' rest and just one work. A loss would have been understandable.

We'll still need to see how Nadal does around two turns, but this looks like a classy horse at whatever his best distance turns out to be. As a son of Blame out of a Pulpit mare, he'll have every chance to stretch out on the Derby trail.

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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