Grading out last week's 2019 Kentucky Derby, Oaks preps

April 08, 2019 02:36pm

Seemingly all season, instead of coming into focus, the 2019 Kentucky Derby and Oaks pictures appeared more confusing each weekend. That wasn’t the case, however, on a “Super Saturday” that featured six points preps for the 3-year-olds.

We start with the best…

Santa Anita Derby

Date Run: April 6, 2019

Winner: Roadster

On The Board: Game Winner, Instagrand

Distance; Time: 9 furlongs; 1:51.28

TimeformUS Fig: 113

Grade: A+

Analysis: After weeks of devastating breakdowns, Santa Anita unveiled a track that had mounds more cushion than previously. Per trainer Bob Baffert, this change caused the track to play loose and tiring, and that was readily on display all weekend.

It greatly affected the raw fractions and final time of the Santa Anita Derby. But when taking into account the changes and how they affected the track, the pace and final time were solid.

Here, we learned that Instagrand is not a router, though I think many assumed that before this race. We also learned that Baffert is loaded as much for this year’s Kentucky Derby as he’s ever been. 

Game Winner was spectacular, even in defeat. He traveled 38 feet farther than his stablemate, which equates to roughly 4 ½ lengths. However, Roadster gave Game Winner at least that much of a head start turning for home, when he dropped several lengths off the pace before unleashing his furious late rally.  

Both horses should now be set up for top efforts in the Kentucky Derby, possibly as the Top 2 wagering choices.

Santa Anita Oaks

Date Run: April 6, 2019

Winner: Bellafina

On The Board: Flor De La Mar, Chasing Yesterday

Distance; Time: 8.5 furlongs; 1:45.47

TimeformUS Fig: 106

Grade: A+

Analysis: There really isn’t much to say here. Bellafina conquered again.

As far as final preps go, you won’t see them get more useful. She rated well as the two Baffert fillies vied for the lead, made a sharp move to take over the lead, then continued well through the stretch. In the end, her rider saved some for the first Friday in May.

Again, raw times don’t tell the story. Going into the Oaks, she will be the one to beat. 

Wood Memorial

Date Run: April 6, 2019

Winner: Tacitus

On The Board: Tax, Haikal

Distance; Time: 9 furlongs; 1:51.23

TimeformUS Fig: 120

Grade: A+

Analysis: I normally steer clear of the Wood as a productive prep, but I feel like it could have an impact on the Derby this year. 

Tacitus has shown a steady progression each start and now, owns the highest TimeformUS Speed Figure of any Derby contender currently in the Top 20 on points.

Take into account that he also had a horrendous trip during the early stages of the race that would have discouraged many from running their race at all. His running lines read “bumped soundly” and “got clipped from behind.” All of this caused him to become a tad rank, but he was able to calm down and settle into stride.

Entering the stretch, Tacitus made a four-wide bid before entering into a duel with Tax, who had had a much better trip and owned a win at nine furlongs.

Tax also ran well considering this was his first effort in two months. He ran hard, but that should be fine coming off a layoff dating back to early February

Despite the ice-cold history recent history of this race as a prep, Tacitus and Tax may stand the best chance to upstage the California brigade at this point.

Blue Grass Stakes

Date Run: April 6, 2019

Winner: Vekoma

On The Board: Win Win Win, Signalman

Distance; Time: 9 furlongs; 1:50.93

TimeformUS Fig: 119

Grade: B+

Analysis: Vekoma made a monster improvement off of his Fountain of Youth no-show, winning the Blue Grass impressively. There are still a couple factors concerning, and leaving it short of an A grade.

First of all, his final furlong came in at :13.45. That does not have me bursting with confidence that he wants to go even longer in Kentucky Derby.

Neither does the fact that Win Win Win made up nearly five lengths on Vekoma in the final 1/8
th of a mile over a speed-favoring surface. Vekoma does have a classic-winning sire on top in Candy Ride. However, he is out of a Speightstown mare. Nine furlongs could be his limit.

However, he did make a huge improvement second off the layoff, and his style — the type of pace factor that has done well as of late in the Derby — could make him dangerous on May 4.

Ashland Stakes

Date Run: April 6, 2019

Winner: Out for a Spin

On The Board: Restless Rider, Jaywalk

Distance; Time: 8.5 furlongs; 1:44.95

TimeformUS Fig: 111

Grade: B

Analysis: There are a number of variables in this race making it difficult to know where to start. However, I’ll be formful and begin with the winner. 

Out for a Spin may have been 52-1, but it’s not like this filly has never won a race. She’s shown that she is best around two turns, and in her first foray with winners, she encountered a tough trip and still was a clear third. Do I think she’s in Bellafina’s league? Probably not, though at Churchill Downs, going nine furlongs, maybe. Bellafina ran her worst career race over that track, after all.

However, If Bellafina doesn’t fire in the Oaks, the horse best-suited to upset her could be Restless Rider. In her first start since late November, she rated beautifully before making a sharp move to challenge the winner down the stretch, losing by only a neck. Her individual TimeformUS Figure came in at a 110, just one point below the winner. 

To run that well against much fitter foes is extremely impressive. I look for Restless Rider to move forward off of this performance.

Gazelle Stakes

Date Run: April 6, 2019

Winner: Always Shopping

On The Board: Positive Spirit, Off Topic

Distance; Time: 9 furlongs; 1:52.91

TimeformUS Fig: 101

Grade: D-

Analysis: Slow pace, slow final time, slow finish. This was the worst of the worse right here, and the TimeformUS Figure of 101 for the winner reflects that. 

Despite a glacial pace, the winner could only muster a :13.22 final eighth, and what is worse is that no other fillies were good enough to close into that. Any horse entering the Oaks out of this race will have to improve by leaps and bounds in order to make an impact.


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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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