One of the more interesting entries in the Grade 1, $1 million Florida Derby at Gulfstream is Mr. Peeks, the maiden making his first start for trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. on Saturday after two starts under trainer Ian Wilkes. C2 Racing Stable owns Mr. Peeks as well as part of Nautical Star, an Oaklawn maiden winner who also debuts for Joseph in this spot.
Mr. Peeks set the pace in his two local six-furlong sprints, and Nautical Star ran as a closer at Oaklawn in two sprint races there.
Given the common ownership and contrasting running styles, it is reasonable to theorize that Mr. Peeks might act as a rabbit to set up Nautical Star. But when analyzing Mr. Peeks’s form a bit closer, the rabbit logic does not hold up.
In most cases, the rabbit shows a lower class or lesser form than his stablemate. Nautical Star does show a maiden win before the transfer. But Mr. Peeks owns an edge in terms of speed figures.
For his local March 12 maiden effort, Mr. Peeks finished second to A La Carte while earning an 87 Beyer Speed Figure from Daily Racing Form and 106 on TimeformUS.
From a visual standpoint, Mr. Peeks also gave a good impression by flashing his speed and fighting back when challenged by A La Carte before the turn. Note how A La Carte and Mr. Peeks opened up late on Last Shift in third.
Nautical Star earned only an 80 Beyer Figure and a 94 on TimeformUS for his Feb. 18 Oaklawn maiden win. He also earned a 98 on TimeformUS in his debut, which still falls short of the 106 by Mr. Peeks.
Does Mr. Peeks’ 87 Beyer and 106 on TimeformUS hold up? None of the horses from the March 12 maiden race have run back, but A La Carte is probably talented. In his Feb. 3 race, A La Carte ran second by half a length to Lakota Territory, who was a sharp debut winner for Todd Pletcher.
When comparing their forms before the transfer, Mr. Peeks seems a little faster on speed figures and not very far apart in terms of class, assuming there is any difference at all, as he only came up about a length short to a good colt in his second attempt to break his maiden.
In fact, Mr. Peeks shows the type of promising form that could lead him to become a stakes winner soon. If the connections wanted to use Mr. Peeks as a rabbit in this spot by asking him to cut blazing fractions in his two-turn route debut while opening up by many lengths, it might hurt him mentally when he folds. Leading by one or two lengths is ideal.
With a reasonable lead or pressing trip, can Mr. Peeks win? The oddsmaker listed him at 30-1 on the morning line. He does not look like an impossible winner, especially with his speed and promising figures.
But a more realistic goal is for Mr. Peeks to pick up a second- or third-place finish while a more seasoned colt, maybe Forte, passes him late.
Mr. Peeks stretches out from six furlongs to nine furlongs in this Grade 1 as a maiden. As a bettor, it seems like a lot to accept in terms of the win position, even though his odds probably will remain in the double-digit range.
Even Mr. Peeks’s other stablemate Mr. Ripple displays a better foundation for nine furlongs with three races under his belt and his last start in a local March 2 optional-claiming race coming at the same distance. As described above, Mr. Peeks shows only two six-furlong maiden races.
Pedigree-wise, though, Mr. Peeks most likely owns the right sire for nine furlongs in California Chrome, the 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes champion. One of his leading active progeny is California Angel, who competes as a turf router. As for the bottom side, the family seems a bit harder to analyze. But the presence of Holy Bull as the sire of the second dam Little Bull Run counts as a positive, and Tiznow as the sire of the damsire Tiz Wonderful also helps fill the stamina meter.
Mr. Peeks might not have the right seasoning to capture the Florida Derby, but he comes across as more than a rabbit. In all likelihood, Joseph likely believes this colt has the talent to win with the right trip. But for horseplayers, he might end up as a better option for underneath spots, especially if Forte is singled on top everywhere.