Given the extension to late summer of this year’s road to the Kentucky Derby, and the unsettled status of racing given the coronavirus outbreak, it seems a good time to take stock of the 3-year-old scene as the sport enters uncharted territory.
As things stand out west, trainer Bob Baffert appears to have them surrounded with a group he’s dubbed the “Three Amigos”: San Felipe (G2) winner Authentic, Rebel (G2) winner Nadal and the electrifying prospect Charlatan. Additionally, that trio does not include Baffert’s Grade 1 winner Eight Rings, who is now just awaiting the opportunity to make his 3-year-old debut.
Looming as perhaps the biggest threat to crash the Baffert Brigade party out west is Honor A.P. for Kentucky Derby-winning trainer John Shirreffs. Below is a closer look at the top contenders on the western road to the Kentucky Derby.
(Sire -- Trainer -- Owner -- Derby Points)
Authentic (Into Mischief -- Bob Baffert -- SF Racing LLC, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, Frederick Hertrich III, John D. Fielding, Golconda Stables -- 60): It’s basically splitting hairs at this point separating Authentic and the next colt on the list. A perfect 3-for-3, Authentic has yet to be headed in his two stakes tries, winning both the Grade 3 Sham and San Felipe at Santa Anita in gate-to-wire fashion. He is targeting the Santa Anita Derby (G1), which has been postponed. [current William Hill odds: 9-2]
Nadal (Blame -- Bob Baffert -- George Bolton, Arthur Hoyeau, Barry Lipman and Mark Mathiesen -- 50): Also a perfect 3-for-3 in his young career, Nadal has dueled on the lead and dug in gamely in deep stretch to prevail in both the seven-furlong San Vicente (G2) at Santa Anita and the 1 1/16-miles Rebel in the slop when shipped to Oaklawn Park. He’s proven he can take his game on the road and also handle an off track, but like his stablemate above, the only potential knock is his one-dimensional running style to this point. It figures this one may return to Oaklawn for the Arkansas Derby (G1) on May 2. [current William Hill odds: 8-1]
Charlatan (Speightstown -- Bob Baffert -- SF Racing, Starlight Racing, et. al. -- 0) Some would argue this is the best of the Baffert bunch based off his scintillating maiden and allowance wins at Santa Anita this year. Both efforts returned eye-popping Beyer Speed Figures that compare favorably 2017 Triple Crown winner Justify. They were also good enough to make him the third choice in the William Hill Kentucky Derby future wager behind Tiz the Law and Authentic.
Given he didn’t make his first start until Feb. 16, and has yet to test stakes company, this is one who figures to benefit greatly from the delayed Kentucky Derby. [current William Hills odds: 7-1]
Honor A.P. (Honor Code -- John Shirreffs -- C R K Stable -- 20): With just three starts and a lone stakes try, this is another colt that figures to benefit from a late-summer Derby. Hailing from a barn known for its patient handling, Honor A.P. broke his maiden at Santa Anita last October and didn’t resurface until the San Felipe on March 7. In the comeback effort, Honor A.P stalked the pace on the inside and finished willingly to be second, 2 1/4-lengths back of Authentic. He also figures to stay home for the Santa Anita Derby. [current William Hill odds: 10-1]
Eight Rings (Empire Maker -- Bob Baffert -- SF Racing, Starlight Racing, et. al. -- 10): This colt won last year’s American Pharoah (G1) at Santa Anita, but has not been seen since a sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. While he suffered a setback in his training earlier this winter, he shows a steady work tab since mid-February, which includes a bullet six-furlong drill in 1:11 flat last week. He’s ready to run, it just remains to be seen if it’s the derby at Santa Anita or Arkansas. [current William Hill odds: 22-1]
Royal Act (American Pharoah -- Peter Eurton -- C R K Stable -- 4): After rallying to be a close-up second to Thousand Words in the Robert B. Lewis (G2) at Santa Anita, this colt drew a bit of support at the betting windows when shipped east for the Louisiana Derby (G2) at Fair Grounds. Any potential wise guys were disappointed. Royal Act appeared comfortable enough racing in mid-pack in the 12-horse field going into the second turn, but when the real running began, he came up empty. It’s possible he didn’t take to the travel. Royal Act probably deserves another chance. [current William Hill odds: 100-1]
American Theorem (American Pharoah -- George Papaprodromou -- Kretz Racing -- 4): A promising second to Eight Rings in the American Pharoah, this colt subsequently dealt with shin issues that kept him out of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and on the sidelines until the Rebel. American Theorem dueled with Nadal for three-quarters of a mile when catching a sloppy track in the Rebel, but then spit the bit before fading to finish seventh of eight. With that being his first start in nearly six months, first time shipping and first time on a wet track, he’s another that probably deserves another chance.
Storm the Court (Court Vision -- Peter Eurton -- David Bernsen, Exline-Border Racing, Dan Hudock, Susanna Wilson -- 32): The Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner was fourth in the San Vicente and third behind Authentic and Honor A.P. in the San Felipe. He's worked twice since the San Felipe, indicating a run in either the Santa Anita Derby or Arkansas Derby is likely forthcoming.
Ones to Watch
Great Power showed plenty of potential when graduating on debut at Santa Anita last fall for trainer Simon Callaghan. He was subsequently put away for the winter before returning to run third in the March 14 allowance won by Charlatan. He’s eligible to move forward with the added experience. Yet to debut for Baffert is Cezanne, a $3.65 million son of Curlin owned by Coolmore connections. He’s been working steadily since early February and could be one to follow as the trail progresses. Sir Rick has won four of six starts, including the Mine That Bird Sakes at Sunland Park most recently. He was pointing towards the Sunland Derby, which was cancelled. Express Train from the Shirreffs barn was highly-regarded last season and could be a late developer on the trail. He has not started since running fourth in the American Pharoah. Billy Batts was a stakes winner on grass last year and most recently was seventh in the Saudi Derby when trying dirt for the first time for trainer Peter Miller. He had remained in the Middle East and was being pointed to the UAE Derby, which was canceled.