A nationally acclaimed turf columnist, racing analyst, author and handicapper who helped pioneer pace figures, Gary West publishes his 2020 Kentucky Derby Top 20 rankings each week.
No. Horse (Trainer) Starts-Wins-Seconds-Thirds Earnings Sire
Comment: Dennis’ Moment worked an easy half mile in 48.05 seconds Sunday at Gulfstream Park in preparation for his season debut in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2). And he galloped out strongly, reportedly getting five-eighths in 1:01.42. So what do we need to see from him Saturday? This most recent workout was his seventh since the first of the year, several of them eye-catching, and he certainly appears ready for his return. Dennis’ Moment, of course, hasn’t raced since stumbling at the start of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and disappointing as the odds-on favorite. He doesn’t have to win Saturday to confirm his status as a leading Derby contender. He is, after all, going up against Chance It, who loves Gulfstream and has the benefit of a sharp Mucho Macho Man Stakes win to build upon. But Dennis’ Moment needs to finish with determination and at least match the level of his best juvenile performance. If he can do that, he’ll be poised to take a major step toward Kentucky.
2. Tiz the Law (Barclay Tagg) 4-3-0-1 $498,900 Constitution
Comment: Back in 1996, Unbridled’s Song, a beautiful gray colt who glistened with superstar potential, won the Florida Derby (G1) by nearly six lengths. If he had given that performance six weeks later, on May 4, he would have won the Kentucky Derby. But he faded to fifth at Churchill Downs after opening up a two-length advantage at the top of the stretch. His Florida Derby, as it turned out, was the pinnacle, not just for the year but for his career. Unbridled’s Song is just the most memorable example, from many possible examples, of a horse peaking too soon on the road to the Derby. And so, to avoid a premature spike in the manner of Unbridled’s Song, Tiz the Law hasn’t done much since his Holy Bull (G3) victory, with only a slow half-mile workout on his tab. To this point, his Holy Bull performance remains the best by any 3-year-old, and if he can move forward from that — well, he’s going to be a formidable Derby contender. He should pick up the activity soon as he begins more serious preparation for the Florida Derby on March 28.
3. Thousand Words (Bob Baffert) 3-3-0-0 $211,000 Pioneerof The Nile
Comment: Thousand Words worked seven-eighths of a mile Monday in 1:26.80, a length faster than his workmate, a talented Empire Maker filly named Storie Blue. Thousand Words began about a length back and never quite got by his companion, who was pushed along more vigorously. A two-time stakes winner who isn’t as flashy or brilliant as some of his stablemates, Thousand Words nevertheless is very professional, and he has shown an ability to do whatever’s necessary. His Hall of Fame trainer, Bob Baffert, calls him a “grinder.” Thousand Words will make his next start March 7 in the San Felipe Stakes (G2).
4. Nadal (Bob Baffert) 2-2-0-0 $153,000 Blame
Comment: Nadal doubled down on his sensational debut with a head-turning victory in the San Vicente (G2), and he encouraged further optimism with a workout Sunday, when he seemed reasonably tractable while breezing three-quarters of a mile in 1:11.80 at Santa Anita. He began about a length behind a stablemate, moved alongside in the turn while firmly held in the four-path, and with little encouragement he drew clear to the wire, finishing about four lengths in front and then galloping out strongly. The bullet move was three lengths faster than the second-fastest workout of the day, which was turned in by Royal Act, the Robert Lewis Stakes (G3) runner-up who’s also on the Derby trail. “He’s tough,” Bob Baffert said about Nadal, and the colt’s pedigree suggests he should be able to stretch out. The expectant buzz about Charlatan has spread out the towering expectations surrounding the Baffert barn, but nobody has more potential than this guy. Baffert said Nadal will travel to Oaklawn Park for his next start, on March 14, in the Rebel Stakes (G2).
5. Sole Volante (Patrick Biancone) 4-3-0-1 $196,310 Karakontie
Comment: Here’s another who apparently hasn’t done much serious work since his breakout stakes victory. But much has happened in his corner. Luca Panici, who rode Sole Volante to victory in the Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3), was subsequently injured in a spill — a broken collarbone, according to the Daily Racing Form. He’ll be replaced by Florent Geroux when Sole Volante returns, probably on March 7 in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2), although the Louisiana Derby (G2) on March 21 is also an option.
6. Honor A.P. (John Shirreffs) 2-1-1-0 $42,200 Honor Code
Comment: On Sunday, for the second consecutive week, Honor A.P. worked seven-eighths of a mile at Santa Anita. While running in the four-path and not being asked to exert himself fully, he stopped the official watch at 1:28.20 and finished about three lengths ahead of Shear Class, a 4-year-old daughter of Curlin who ran fifth in an allowance affair back in December. Honor A.P. then galloped out strongly. It was an encouraging move, if not quite as impressive as the work a week earlier. Honor A.P. is expected to get his first major test in the San Felipe.
7. Silver Prospector (Steve Asmussen) 8-3-0-2 $713,051 Declaration of War
Comment: Silver Prospector did exactly what a 3-year-old needs to do this time of year if he’s to progress down the Derby road. He raised his level of performance and took a significant step forward in winning the Southwest Stakes (G3). And he did that in a way that suggests more progress is possible as the distances stretch out, for he ran the fourth quarter-mile in a very solid 24.73 seconds. Silver Prospector will remain at Oaklawn Park for the next two lucrative stakes in the series, the Rebel on March 14 and the Arkansas Derby (G1) on April 11.
8. Independence Hall (Michael Trombetta) 4-3-1-0 $250,000 Constitution
Comment: Saturday, in his first workout since his runner-up finish as the 3-5 favorite in the Sam F. Davis Stakes, he went an easy half-mile at Tampa Bay. His bandwagon emptied rather quickly after that recent loss — high expectations often plummet under the weight of disappointment. Actually, though, his performance in the Sam F. Davis was solid. He was a little too eager early and raced a little too close to a lively pace; as a consequence he had nothing to resist the charge of Sole Volante. But he finished more than 11 lengths clear of the third horse, Ajaaweed. Independence Hall is still learning and still progressing. The options are many, according to his trainer, Michael Trombetta. But a rematch in the Tampa Bay Derby is possible.
9. Authentic (Bob Baffert) 2-2-0-0 $91,200 Into Mischief
Comment: With little encouragement, Authentic worked three-quarters of a mile Monday at Santa Anita in 1:12.80. He went solo and was going along very easily, pricking his ears, until he turned into the lane and saw another worker several lengths ahead of him. Authentic finished with determination and blew by the other horse in a strong gallop out. Authentic is aimed at the San Felipe Stakes, which would seem a very aggressive move except for the fact that he comes from a barn that has enjoyed unprecedented success with lightly raced horses in major stakes. Baffert has considerable confidence in this handsome colt. In only his second start, despite a vivid display of inexperience, Authentic easily won the Sham Stakes over Azul Coast, who returned to win the El Camino Real Derby. Authentic is a rather late, May 5 foal, and his pedigree seems laden with speedy influence, but he’s an athlete.
10. Storm the Court (Peter Eurton) 4-2-0-1 $1,172,951 Court Vision
Comment: Storm the Court is another whose effort in a recent loss is better than it might first appear. His bandwagon was never overcrowded, but it no doubt lost a few passengers when he finished fourth in the San Vicente. The performance, however, was solid and represented a good starting point for his campaign. He actually raced wide throughout, and if not for that would have been right there at the wire with Nadal. So now it’s on to the San Felipe or perhaps the Rebel. From here, the San Felipe looks more inviting, and not just because it would be a home game; the Rebel, with its million-dollar jackpot, is sure to attract a swarm of talent. In preparation for that next start, Storm the Court worked five-eighths of a mile Sunday at Santa Anita in 1:01.20.
11. Basin (Steve Asmussen) 3-2-1-0 $261,000 Liam’s Map
Comment: On Fat Tuesday in New Orleans, Basin celebrated Mardi Gras with a sparkling workout, going five-eighths of a mile in 59.20, about four lengths faster than any other move at the distance. “He worked super,” said his trainer, Steve Asmussen. “He’s put in the miles, and I thought it was time to let him shake loose. He did it with minimal urging.” It was Basin’s seventh workout since the first of the year, and although workouts are no substitute for racing, he seems ready for a strong effort in his return; moreover he’ll run out of a barn that has over many years won regularly with horses returning from layoffs. A six-length winner of last year’s Hopeful Stakes (G1) at Saratoga, Basin will make his season debut in the Rebel Stakes.
12. Gouverneur Morris (Todd Pletcher) 3-2-1-0 $161,500 Constitution
Comment: Gouverneur Morris obviously has talent, which he displayed in his recent allowance victory. The question is whether he’ll have the qualifying points necessary to get into the Derby. For the moment he has only four. His trainer, Todd Pletcher, said he’s keeping all the options open, and they apparently include the Florida Derby (G1) and the Blue Grass Stakes (G2), where the big gray colt would need at least a third-place finish, good for 20 points, to have a reasonable chance of getting into the 20-horse starting gate on May 2. The minimum number of points needed to qualify for the Derby since Churchill began its designated-races point system has ranged from 10 to 40, with 27 as an average.
13. Enforceable (Mark Casse) 8-2-2-2 $347,150 Tapit
Comment: Enforceable isn’t just a late-running, pace-dependent, in-the-nick-of-time-to-save-the-day cavalry charge. He’s got some sports car in him. In the Risen Star Stakes (G2), he didn’t break sharply and so burdened himself with the task of having to rally from last in a pace-less race. He advanced on the backstretch only to have his momentum stopped in traffic; he waited and then advanced again in the turn; and then he swung to the outside and finished strongly to be second. Stop, go, stop, go again — it was impressive, and then he galloped out with the winner, Mr. Monomoy. From here, his performance was better than that of the horse that beat him. The Louisiana Derby looks like the perfect place for Enforceable to move forward, perhaps into the vanguard on the road to Kentucky.
14. Mr. Monomoy (Brad Cox) 5-2-1-1 $367,162 Palace Malice
Comment: He won the faster division of the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds to leap atop the leaderboard on the road to the Derby with 52 qualifying points. That reserves a stall for him in the Derby’s starting gate, so the main objective now is to progress to a peak on May 2. He needs to improve. At the moment, he’s about three to four lengths behind the division leaders; and so like most of these, he’ll need to step forward if he’s to become a serious Derby contender. In the Risen Star, he got away with an easy lead in lazy fractions. He responded when challenged and galloped out well, which is encouraging. Even more, he has the pedigree and connections to suggest further improvement is within reach.
15. Max Player (Linda Rice) 3-2-1-0 $173,500 Honor Code
Comment: Tuesday, Max Player breezed five-eighths of a mile at
Belmont Park in 1:02.41. His trainer, Linda Rice, has indicated that the Withers (G3) winner will skip the Gotham (G3) and train up to the Wood Memorial (G2) on April 4.
16. As Seen on Tv (Kelly Breen) 4-2-2-0 $108,205 Lookin At Lucky
Comment: In preparation for Saturday’s Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park, As Seen On Tv worked a half mile Sunday at Palm Meadows in 48.55 seconds. In the Mucho Macho Man Stakes, he made his first start at Gulfstream and first beyond 6 1/2 furlongs and lost by a head to Chance It, who was making his third start beyond 6 1/2 furlongs and his sixth at Gulfstream. As Seen On Tv, who has a pedigree that suggests increased success with added distance (a 3.60 dosage index), could be poised to take a step forward Saturday.
17. Three Technique (Jeremiah Englehart) 5-2-3 $154,750 Mr. Speaker
Comment: Three Technique worked five-eighths of a mile in 1:02 Sunday at Oaklawn Park, where he’s preparing for the Rebel Stakes. The Rebel is shaping up to be an outstanding and telling event on the road to Kentucky. And it could be a proving ground for a horse such as Three Technique, who was making both his stakes and two-turn debut when he ran second in the Smarty Jones. He raced wide and had a troubled trip over a speed-favoring surface but finished with determination and galloped out beyond the winner. The “three technique,” by the way, is the defensive lineman who lines up just outside the guard. Three Technique is owned by Super Bowl-winning coach Bill Parcells.
18. Chance It (Saffie Joseph Jr.) 6-4-2-0 $444,910 Currency Swap
Comment: Monday, in preparation for the Fountain of Youth, he worked a sharp three-eighths of a mile in 34.68 seconds with little encouragement. He ran in the three path while firmly restrained and galloped out strongly. He looks to be as sharp as possible. Chance It, of course, is by a precocious sprinter and out of a mare, Vagabon Diva, whose only victory came in a bottom-level, maiden-claiming affair at 5 1/2 furlongs at Turfway. The diminutive colt is truly a “freak” — a term that’s often misapplied — in that his talents and abilities are beyond anything that could have been expected. He explains the game’s eternal appeal: He’s a reminder that horse racing is the most democratic of sports. Still, seeing him in the Kentucky Derby taxes the imagination. His “derby” is probably Saturday.
19. Anneau d’Or (Blaine Wright) 4-1-2-0 $403,000 Medaglia d’Oro
Comment: His trainer, Blaine Wright, said he didn’t have “a clue” as to why Anneau d’Or ran so poorly as the favorite in the Risen Star Stakes. He made a little move around the second turn, and then he turned off and shut down. He had nothing down the lane, not so much as an inclination. The “performance” — he finished ninth — might forever remain an inexplicable aberration. Or some explanation could emerge when he resumes serious training. Aimed at the Santa Anita Derby (G1) on April 4, he’ll stay, for the moment, however tentatively, in the top 20.
20. Modernist (Bill Mott) 4-2-0-1 $288,800 Uncle Mo
Modernist won the second and slower division of the Risen Star Stakes; his clocking, in fact, was about four lengths slower than Mr. Monomoy’s in the first division. Otherwise, they were similarly run races. The winners raced inside — on the lead in the first division, just off the early lead in the second, in soporific fractions. Modernist isn’t among the 20 best 3-year-olds in the country, not now anyway. But he has a two things going for him. First, with his 50 points, he has a reserved stall in the Derby starting gate; that’s why he’s included here. Second, he has Bill Mott.
21. Charlatan (Bob Baffert) 1-1-0-0 $33,000 Speightstown
Comment: Nine days after his amazing debut— yes, that’s the right word; he amazed people — Charlatan was out for a half-mile breeze at Santa Anita. He worked in company with a maiden named Fay Dan, who was nudged along to keep up. Charlatan began a length back and raced outside in the four path; his exercise rider had his feet in the floorboard the entire way. Charlatan finished in 47.80 seconds, on even terms with his mate, to earn the bullet, and then galloped out strongly. But to return to that debut: Under restraint, Charlatan dragged jockey Drayden Van Dyke to the lead, streaked through an opening half-mile in 44.72 seconds, drew clear by nearly six lengths, stopped the clock at 1:08.84 after three-quarters of a mile and then galloped out so strongly that he was in front by about 20 lengths when pulled up. One of the sport’s most exciting prospects, Charlatan is a son of a champion sprinter. But before dismissing his chances of getting on the road to the Derby, it’s useful to recall that Justify, from this same barn, didn’t win his debut until Feb. 18. The feeling here is that Charlatan probably isn’t a Derby horse — Preakness perhaps — but will make considerable noise within the division.
22. Silver State (Steve Asmussen) 4-1-2-1 $136,106 Hard Spun
Comment: Silver State always has an excuse — poor start, wide trip, slow pace, etc. He disappointed as the favorite in the first division of the Risen Star; he disappointed as the favorite in the Lecomte Stakes (G3). Does he look for trouble, or does it look for him? Either way, the big colt doesn’t seem nimble enough to get out of whatever trouble he gets into. Maybe when his maturity catches up to his talent he’ll put it all together.
23. Answer In (Brad Cox) 3-1-2-0 $153,412 Dialed In
Comment: Here’s another who ran better than the outcome might suggest. In the Southwest Stakes, he was forced out in the first turn and had to race five to six wide; he advanced into a lively pace approaching the second turn, where he raced three-wide; and then he faltered down the stretch, where he ducked in and out and back in before switching strides. He finished more than six lengths behind Silver Prospector, as it turned out, but with a bucket of excuses to show for his journey. Answer In could improve significantly in the Rebel Stakes when he makes his second start of the year.
24. Great Power (Simon Callaghan) 1-1-0-0 $30,000 Blame
Comment: Back in September, Great Power made the kind of debut at Santa Anita that reverberates with star potential. In other words, he made quite an impression. He stalked a fast pace (44.87), raced four-wide, moved easily to the lead and then raced greenly through the stretch, lugging in and not switching leads but nevertheless winning by daylight. He then galloped out strongly. He hasn’t raced since, but he now has put together consecutive five-eighths workouts, the most recent on Wednesday at Santa Anita in 1:00.60. Keep an eye out for his return.