Race of the Week 2017

HRN Original Blog:
Zipse At The Track

Grading the Kentucky Derby Preps

Vicar's In Trouble Lecomte 615 X 400
Photo: Hodges Photography/Alexander Barkoff


Now squarely into the new year, it’s time for the three-year-olds to take center stage, and as we move inexorably closer to the one race everyone wants to win, new names need to emerge. 3 ½ months from the 2014 Kentucky Derby, the three-day holiday weekend afforded sophomores the chance to strut their stuff on five different stages around the nation. Not easily impressed by young horses at this stage of their career, I believe the five stakes races the past three days featured better performances, on average, than the cynic in me expected. Here are my grades for the winners of each of the five races. Either I’m in a really good mood, or we did in see some quality horseflesh.

Indianapolis  (A-)

In winning today’s San Pedro Stakes at Santa Anita, Indianapolis announced himself as a major talent. In the six furlong test of speed, he was fast enough to contend for the lead, and then talented enough to power home a dominant winner in racehorse time of 1:08.80. I could not bring myself to giving an out an ‘A’ considering there were only four horses in the field, but make no mistake, this horse can run. With plenty of speed influence on the female side, it remains to be seen whether the now 2-for-2 Bob Baffert trainee will go on to be a serious contender at classic distances, but his trainer says it it full steam ahead on the Derby Trail for the son of Medaglia d’Oro. 

Vicar’s In Trouble  (B+)

Going into Saturday’s Lecomte Stakes, I was admittedly skeptical of this colt coming out of an open length win against Louisiana-bred maidens at six furlongs. I was wrong and the money that came pouring in late was dead on. Rosie Napravnik had the speed measured the whole way as this son of Into Mischief waited to pounce on the far turn. He did, and the decision was quickly a done deal, as he spurted away from his competition. The only thing that takes away from the 6 ¾ length romp was the fact that the pace was on the slow side, and he got the perfect trip against questionable competition. Things will get tougher from here, but at the very least, Vicar’s In Trouble proved that he will be a player in bigger preps from here.

Exit Stage Left  (B) 

This may seem like a high grade for what on paper appears to be a nothing special edition of the California Derby. I saw a lot more, though. Now 3-for-3, all in stakes, Exit Stage Left had every reason to lose, and instead he proved resolute to the wire. Truly pressured every step of the way, I thought it was just a matter of how many horses would pass him as I watched on the computer screen. It never happened. The race favorite, Enterprising, who I believe to be a nice three-year-old, came right up to him in the stretch, but it was soon clear that the winner was better. I love finding horses with a strong will to win, and I did in the California Derby.

Tanzanite Cat  (B-)

Another who appeared in trouble of losing on the far turn, this lightly raced son of Graeme Hall, also found another gear to edge clear in today’s Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park. It was a smart progression for a good looking colt who sprinted in his first two career races. Or did his competition just stop running? It was probably a little bit of both. The Hot Springs oval has been slow this year, but the :26.38 final quarter will not strike fear into any of the connections of horses looking to take on Tanzanite Cat in future preps at Oaklawn Park.

Hot Heir Skier  (C-)

Ben Perkins, Jr. brought this fast son of Appealing Skier to New York from Laurel for the Jimmy Winkfield Stakes, and like so many of his horses, he proved to be a stakes quality sprinter. That’s the good news, now for the bad … After taking control of the race in the stretch, he struggled home to win by a diminishing half length. I believe the late stages of the race not only demonstrated his lack of distance potential, but also likely the fact that he will have trouble against top horses even sprinting. 


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Older Comments about Grading the Kentucky Derby Preps...

The winners of both Lecomte and Smarty Jones WILL NOT make it to the starting gate @ CD on the 1st Sagtruday in May.
Tanzanite Cat has the pedigree (and perhaps the talent) to be a factor until the KY Derby. I think his sire won the AR Derby. Florida looks like the place to be again this year.
I think Walt has some promise. He ran a good race in the Smarty Jones
Expect to read more about Exit Stage Left here on HRN very soon!
Vicar's In Trouble is an interesting one-he absolutely takes off running when he's asked-not sure how he will do at longer distances, but he has some talent in my opinion

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Meet Brian Zipse 

Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Taken to the races at a very young age, he has been lucky enough to see all the greats in person from Secretariat, Forego, and Ruffian through Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, and American Pharoah. Before coming to the Nation, Brian displayed his love for the sport through the development of his horse racing website, which quickly became one of the most popular blogs in the game. 

The Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, Brian authored a daily column as Zipse at the Track, or ZATT for short, and added his editorial flare to the overall content of the website. Now a Senior Writer for HRN, Brian continues to contribute his thoughts on racing, as well as co-hosting the popular racing show, HorseCenter. A big supporter of thoroughbred aftercare, he serves as the President of The Exceller Fund.

Brian's work has also been published on several leading industry sites. He has consulted for leading contest site Derby Wars, is both a Hall of Fame and NTRA poll voter, and is a Vox Populi committee member. 

A horse owner and graduate of DePaul University, Brian lives just outside of Louisville with his wife Candice and daughter Kendra.


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