Kentucky Derby 2020 Radar: A ‘special’ filly may hit the trail

January 17, 2020 02:00pm
Kentucky Derby 2020 Radar: A ‘special’ filly may hit the trail
Photo: Hodges Photography / Amanda Hodges Weir

Not since Churchill Downs instituted its points system to set the Kentucky Derby field has a filly run on the first Saturday in May, but that stands to change this spring.

Trainer Brad Cox told Fair Grounds’ publicity department that should the Juddmonte Farms homebred Taraz excel Feb. 1 in Oaklawn Park’s Martha Washington Stakes, she could be in line to hit the 2020 Kentucky Derby trail.

“Look, she’s special,” Cox said of Taraz, a daughter of Into Mischief who won by 7 1/2 lengths on debut at Churchill Downs, then went right to the front before drawing off by 11 1/2 lengths last time in Fair Grounds’ Dec. 21 Letellier Memorial.

Both of those races were sprints, whereas the Martha Washington, a points-paying prep for the Kentucky Oaks, will stretch Taraz to a two-turn mile. Afterward, Cox could look to take on the boys.

“Everything has to line up. Everything has to go right,” he said. “The way she trains, she gives you that amount of confidence to think about things like that, bottom line. It’s one step at a time, obviously. The Martha Washington and then go from there.”

Among the fillies to run Derby preps in the points era, Paved won the 2018 El Camino Real Derby (G3), and Rayya was second in that year’s UAE Derby (G2). Neither, however, were expected by their connections to compete on the first Saturday in May.

Three fillies — Regret (1915), Genuine Risk (1980) and Winning Colors (1988) — have won the Derby. Devil May Care was the most recent to try it, finishing 10th in 2010.

Nowadays, what sets the prep series apart for fillies is the requirement they face males before the Kentucky Derby, earning points just like their colt and gelding counterparts. Others have posed the question, including trainer Mark Casse, who in early 2018 cross-entered Wonder Gadot in the Lecomte Stakes (G3) and Silverbulletday at Fair Grounds.

Wonder Gadot ultimately went the way of the Oaks trail and finished second to the Cox-trained Monomoy Girl the first Friday in May. Later in her season, the Ontario-bred defeated males in two legs of the Canadian Triple Crown series, plus tried the Travers Stakes (G1).

“We’ve had fairly good luck running fillies against colts, so it’s not something we’re afraid to do,” Casse said back in 2018. “I think it’s all overrated, to be honest with you. It happens all the time in Europe.”

Cox’s barn is also potentially crowded with top 3-year-old fillies, giving him the luxury to spread them across divisions. The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner British Idiom is back to work, and Cox will saddle a top contender, Portrait, when the SIlverbulletday renews on Saturday.

If Taraz does wade into deeper waters after the Martha Washington, the calendar would also work for her to run in a final major Oaks prep should the Derby trail not pan out.

“It’s always exciting when fillies take on the colts,” said Kevin Kerstein, Churchill Downs’ publicity manager. “If a really nice filly like Taraz joins the Road to the Kentucky Derby, it would add an intriguing storyline to the lead up to this year’s race.”



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