Sunday play: 2 more Ky. Derby prospects for Cox clash

Sunday play: 2 more Ky. Derby prospects for Cox clash
Photo: Hodges Photography

One of the best 3-year-old races of the weekend happens on Sunday at Fair Grounds when the Brad Cox-trained Bishops Bay competes in an optional claimer at one mile and 70 yards. Bishops Bay’s two main opponents include his stablemate Demolition Duke and First Defender. They meet in the sixth race, with a post time of 4:45 p.m. EDT.

Click here for Fair Grounds entries and results.

Bishops Bay deserves plenty of respect off his impressive win in a local six-furlong maiden special weight on Feb. 18. Even though Bishops Bay only won by 3/4 of a length, the runner-up First Mission hails from the same barn and has a promising future too. First Mission had put 5 1/4 lengths on the third-place horse, which signals they both ran well. 

Furthermore, Bishops Bay earned a 97 Beyer Speed Figure and 115 TimeformUS Speed Figure. With those numbers, it is hard not to become excited about the colt, especially with Cox and Spendthrift Farm behind him.

Bishops Bay avoids his stablemate First Mission in this spot, but the flow of the race might not favor him since he owns speed. The Steve Asmussen-trained First Defender also owns good speed and can pressure Bishops Bay from the start if both of them break sharply. 

First Defender broke his maiden by 5 1/4 lengths on this course in a six-furlong maiden special weight back on Jan. 21. He made use of pressing tactics in his debut, and then went on to press the pace again while stretching out to a mile and one-sixteenth in a Feb. 18 optional claimer.

In the optional claiming race, First Defender faded to fourth while losing by two lengths. But some good names finished ahead of him, including Denington, the third-place place finisher in the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn, and Tapit Shoes, who broke his maiden locally by 7 1/2 lengths last December. First Defender did not give up easily, despite the fade. 

For his second allowance optional claiming race, First Defender drew outside of Bishops Bay, which gives him the better position in the event of a contested lead since the outside speed enjoys more breathing room. Although he might not put Bishops Bay away, First Defender owns ability and could weaken Bishops Bay enough for him to get tired.

If a contested pace occurs, Demolition Duke can take advantage.

In his local career debut on Feb. 5, Demolition Duke closed from next to last against a slow pace and picked up his first win by three lengths over Bo Cruz, who broke his maiden in his next start on March 4 by an impressive 12 1/4 lengths. Bo Cruz's subsequent win provides evidence Demolition Duke won a decent maiden race with at least one other fast horse. 

Demolition Duke only received a 95 TimeformUS Speed Figure for the win. However, slow-paced races can sometimes result in speed figures that do not reflect the true ability of the winner. Also, Demolition Duke might improve as he stretches out from a six-furlong sprint to this two-turn route.

From a pedigree standpoint, Demolition Duke's is supposed to love longer routes. Demolition Duke’s sire Good Magic, a son of the router Curlin, finished second in the 2018 Kentucky Derby. Plus, Demolition Duke's damsire Empire Maker captured the 2003 Belmont Stakes. Both Curlin and Empire Maker are considered excellent stamina influences. 

Also note Demolition Duke’s second dam Batique, who won multiple turf graded stakes races up to nine furlongs. With a top and bottom half that says Demolition Duke will prefer going long, it will come as a surprise if this colt does not improve in longer routes as his career moves forward.

In fairness, Bishops Bay also offers a pedigree that indicates the mile and one-sixteenth distance does not pose a problem. His sire Uncle Mo has already sired winners of the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes with Nyquist and Mo Donegal. On the bottom side of Bishops Bay's pedigree, his dam Catch My Drift competed as a router and won the nine-furlong 2015 Summer Colony Stakes at Saratoga as a highlight. 

Most of the public is excited to bet Bishops Bay though because of the huge Beyer Figure, while Demolition Duke’s odds will either hold or drift up given his modest debut figure and lack of speed shown in that race. In other words, Demolition Duke offers enough value to bet him on top.

Nevertheless, keep an eye on the live board. As long as Demolition Duke starts at 7-2 or higher, he is worth a win bet. Perhaps Bishops Bay puts away First Defender after battling with him and holds second in the end.

Win: 7 (at 7-2 or higher)

Exacta box: 3,7

Meet Reinier Macatangay

My first time at the racetrack came as a 5-year-old kid at Santa Anita Park. For most of my younger life, that was the only track I attended other the occasional visit to Hollywood Park. 

Years later, after graduating California State University, Stanislaus with an English MA, I began writing for Lady and the Track. From late 2014-2016, my articles were seen on a weekly basis and covered handicapping, interviews with well-known racing personalities, fashion and more. 

The handicapping style I use concentrates on pace analysis. Some horses are compromised by the pace. Others are helped. Handicappers just starting out cannot easily see how pace affects the finish, so with this blog, I hope to help those unsure of how to apply pace into their handicapping and post-race analysis. 

On an unrelated note, I enjoy video games and attending anime or comic-book conventions. I am currently based in Kentucky, but spend a lot of time traveling between there and California.

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