Slow Down Andy made his first step on the Kentucky Derby trail a winning one, as he captured the Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) Saturday after a hard battle in the stretch with the Bob Baffert-trained Messier.
Based on his effort, it is hard to discount Slow Down Andy in future stops on the Derby trail. Unlike his full brother Team Merchants, Slow Down Andy gives the impression of a natural router with a big punch.
For the first half-mile, Slow Down Andy settled into a stalking role in fifth, near Barossa and only two lengths behind the three horses contesting the pace.
The pacesetter Olympic Legend posted initial fractions of 22.79 and 46.62.
Messier traveled on the outside of the front trio and Durante contested the pace with Olympic Legend and Messier while running between them.
On the final turn, Olympic Legend quit. Messier initially took control, with Durante attempting to keep up on the inside. At this point, Slow Down Andy sped up with a three-wide move, while Barossa went four wide.
The four runners formed a line as they straightened out for the stretch run. Soon, it became clear that Messier and Slow Down Andy belonged on another level than Barossa and Durante. As Messier and Slow Down Andy hooked up together for a final showdown, Barossa and Durante faded.
Slow Down Andy began to run greenly. He held the advantage at first, but then he tried to lug into Messier and Messier retook the lead. With his head cocked to the right, Slow Down Andy battled back in mid-stretch and took the advantage again before inching clear to prevail by a length.
Although Slow Down Andy won in an awkward fashion by a small margin, the impressive part is that he beat a proven Grade 3 winner in Messier without owning the mechanics of an efficient runner. Imagine if Slow Down Andy improves with training and maturity. He could win more prep races.
The extra nine lengths from Messier to Barossa in third is a good sign as well. It only reinforces the idea that Slow Down Andy and Messier run on a separate level and can contend in future trail races down the road.
From a pedigree standpoint, Slow Down Andy is supposed to handle longer distances, although his older brother Team Merchants has disappointed in this regard with his fading efforts in the Oklahoma Derby (G3) and Hollywood Derby (G1).
Most people know how Slow Down Andy’s sire Nyquist won the 2016 Kentucky Derby. On the bottom side of his pedigree, the dam line traces back to Northern Fable, the third dam of 2006 Preakness champion Bernardini. The only possible negative in Slow Down Andy’s pedigree in terms of nine furlong or longer potential is the presence of Square Eddie as his damsire.
Team Merchants has been a failure at nine furlongs. Slow Down Andy moves like a natural longer router and might surpass his sibling.
Slow Down Andy’s state of birth is irrelevant, as California Chrome won the 2014 Kentucky Derby. Once in a while, the right Cal-bred can step up and make noise on the Derby trail, if not win the Run for the Roses.
Remember Best Pal in 1991? After winning the 1990 Hollywood Futurity (G1), which is the former name of this race before it moved, he hit the board in his two prep races and then ran second in the Kentucky Derby.
Messier remains in the mix of good horses on the trail too, assuming that trainer Bob Baffert can find a ruling or loophole to even make the Kentucky Derby with his runners. He is fast enough to contend in the Santa Anita prep races despite letting a green Slow Down Andy beat him at Los Alamitos. But if Slow Down Andy figures out this game and improves his mechanics, the gap may widen.
In all likelihood, Messier will need to switch to another barn and continue to perform well in the last one or two Derby points races.
For fans of Cal-breds, Slow Down Andy is an exciting 2-year-old to watch. As long as he remains healthy, expect him to gain more points as time goes on and remain in the top mix of California-based 3-year-olds.