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

February 12, 2019 10:01am

Another week, another prep — or, in this case three of them.

Here’s a rundown of Kentucky Derby 2019 and Kentucky Oaks qualifiers run Saturday and Sunday, starting with the best of what I saw from the 3-year-olds.

Las Virgenes Stakes (G2)

Date Run: Feb. 9, 2019

Winner: Bellafina

On the Board: Enaya Alrabb, Calf Bay Moon

Distance/Time: 1 mile/1:35.99

Speed Figure: 111 TimeformUS Fig (unofficial) 

Grade: A

Analysis: This was not one of Bellafina’s typical tour de force wins, with the final margin of victory her closest yet. I still found it impressive.

We all knew the daughter of Quality Road was fast and talented. We all knew that she could take some heat on the front end and keep going. What we weren’t sure of was how she would react when faced with constant pressure throughout an entire race.

Bellafina showed us that even when the deck is stacked against her, she will still fight. She showed grit.

In her previous wins, Bellafina had dealt with some pressure, even from the likes of Mother Mother, who returned in that role Saturday. Over a drying out track labeled as “good,” Mother Mother hounded Bellafina, who made the lead after stumbling from the gate through a taxing opening six furlongs in 1:10.31.

Bellafina turned back Mother Mother, but was noticeably tired in the stretch. Softened by the pace, she was the primed target for Enaya Alrabb, who took her best shot in the final strides. Bellafina found enough in reserve to stifle Enaya Alrabb’s bid by 3/4 of a length.

While the race is a slight regression from the 116 TimeformUS figure she earned in her 2019 debut, this race looks like a solid fitness builder for California’s top 3-year-old filly who’s headed next to the Santa Anita Oaks (G1).

Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3)

Date Run: Feb. 9, 2019

Winner: Well Defined

On the Board: Kentucky Wildcat, So Alive

Distance/Time: 8.5 furlongs/1:42.70

Speed Figure: 114 TimeformUS

Grade: B

Analysis: Well Defined set some impressive splits, ran the field off its feet in the process and still came home in good time, striding out impressively.

Bigger picture, there’s one major drawback. What Well Defined showed as his greatest weapon can also be his undoing.

Looking at his past performances, there are four races in which Well Defined made the early lead, and three of those times he ran his opponents into submission. The one race he lost was by just a half length, with the third-place finisher that day another four lengths behind.

On the other hand, when Well Defined hasn’t made the early lead, he has been beaten 41 1/4 lengths in three starts, including in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile

Now, this is not to say that Well Defined is cheap speed, because by virtue of the four top-notch performances, he has proven almost uncatchable when getting the lead. However, while he’s one the quickest speed horses on the trail currently, the likelihood of him remaining one of the only speed horses is slim to none.

So, should no other legitimate speed horses come along, he will be in a great spot to contend in the Kentucky Derby. If others do pop up, he will either need to learn to rate or withstand a pressured pace.

San Vicente Stakes (G2)

Date Run: Feb. 10, 2019

Winner: Sparky Ville

On the Board: Dessman, Coliseum

Distance/Time: 7 furlongs/1:21.93

Speed Figure: TBA

Grade: B

Analysis: I’m a bit torn on how to grade this race. Sparky Ville isn’t a bad horse, and when one looks at his past performances, they will see that he’s run in company that includes Mucho Gusto and Instagrand. The problem is figuring out how much of this performance was due to him relishing a wet-fast surface, and how much was him improving off of his juvenile form.

We all know that during this time the year 3-year-olds can make massive jumps forward. However, while I believe Sparky Ville improved, I have trouble believing the setup didn’t aid him over an unpredictable surface, especially in California, where off tracks are uncommon.

So, at this point, I’m more incline to err on the side of caution, and believe Sparky Ville is a solid horse who capitalized on his circumstances. He’s not a Derby type, as trainer Jeff Bonde anticipates continuing to run him at seven furlongs or a mile.

On the other hand, Dessman, the runner-up, ran very well. He stalked just off of a pace much quicker than any other on the card. When asked, he took the lead with a decisive move and continued to run well through the stretch — even tried to fight back against Sparky Ville. Dessman just wasn’t quite able to hold him off.

Moving forward, the horse I would fear most from the San Vicente is Dessman. Despite getting caught, he never looked like he was ready to throw in the towel. If anything, it looked like he still wanted to keep running. Being that this was only his second start, I’d expect another step forward, quite possibly while stretching out in a Derby points race. 


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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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