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

Grading out last week's Kentucky Derby 2019, Oaks preps
Photo: Hodges Photography

I found a the spree of Presidents Day weekend 2019 Kentucky Derby and Oaks preps provided quite a bit of clarity on their respective trails, with a clear top performance among them. Let’s start with the best:

Risen Star Stakes (G2)

Date Run: Feb 16, 2019

Winner: War of Will

On the Board: Country House, Roiland

Distance/Time: 8.5 furlongs/1:44.59

Speed Figure: 110 TimeformUS

Grade: A

Analysis: The more I see of this horse, the more I like him. 

War of Will stalked a swift Risen Star pace and came home with vigor as all those others who ran near the lead faded. It doesn’t seem to matter how fast they go early on. This horse just always seems to want more.

The final time will do little to impress anyone, and neither will some figures that suggest a regression from his win in the Lecomte Stakes (G3) last month. But TimeformUS, which I rely on, indicates War of Will exactly matched his last effort.

Alas, at this point in the year, you are not looking for a blowout performance, one that could lead to a colt peaking too soon. What we saw from War of Will’s Risen Star was a nice, solid race. He should continue progressing into the Louisiana Derby (G2).

Rachel Alexandra Stakes (G2)

Date Run: Feb 16, 2019

Winner: Serengeti Empress

On the Board: Liora, Eres Tu

Distance/Time: 8.5 furlongs/ 1:44.74

Speed Figure: 109 TimeformUS

Grade: B

Analysis: In her first start of 2019, Serengeti Empress started off with a bang, scoring by an easy 4 1/2 lengths on the Fair Grounds undercard.

As visually impressive as the performance was, Serengeti Empress received a dream trip, sauntering along on the lead through mild splits. It wasn’t a surprise that a filly of her caliber as a juvenile repelled closers having received no early pressure. 

However, a comeback that good cannot be overlooked. Moving forward, though, can Serengeti Empress develop an ability to sit off the pace and make an effective run? That will be key if she’s to contend in the Kentucky Oaks, where she’ll likely meet Jaywalk and Bellafina again. 

I should also mention that previous Grade 2 winner Liora looked much better in the Rachel Alexandra than last time in the Silverbulletday Stakes (G3). That day, she ran well behind Needs Supervision, who only received a 91 TimeformUS. Saturday, while she was beaten easily, she still showed a move forward, earning a 103 TimeformUS speed figure. Also, the Oaks is run over a track she has shown an affinity for in the past.

Southwest Stakes (G3)

Date Run: Feb. 18, 2019

Winner: Super Steed

On the Board: Sueno, Long Range Toddy

Distance/Time: 8.5 furlongs/1:44.05

Speed Figure: 112 TimeformUS

Grade: C

Analysis: Honestly, I’m not sure what to make of this race. After pouring over the replay, I believe the winner received an ideal setup and capitalized to win at exactly this distance. Looking at longer races, I don’t see a Derby win in Super Steed’s future.

After making a bold, four-wide move around the turn, Super Steed moved three lengths ahead at the stretch call before losing 2 3/4 of that advantage at the wire. To flatten out like that doesn’t bode well looking forward. Lucky for Super Steed, Sueno wasn’t quite good enough — traffic certainly didn’t help — to catch him.

A horse I do see a future for coming out of the Southwest is Long Range Toddy. He sat not more than two lengths off a taxing pace yet stuck around, beaten only two lengths, and could come back as a top contender again in the Rebel Stakes (G2).

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 schools 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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