Here’s a fun fact: The last three Kentucky Derby winners were all maidens at this point in their 3-year-old campaigns.
Always Dreaming (2017) didn’t reach the winner’s circle until Jan. 25, and Justify (2018) didn’t make his winning debut until Feb. 18. Country House (2019) waited to graduate until Jan. 17.
So recent history suggests we should spend the next month or so digging through maiden races in search of the 2020 Kentucky Derby winner. With this in mind, let’s examine a few of the most promising sophomore prospects entered to race this weekend:
Saturday, January 11
Gulfstream Park Race 1: Maiden Special Weight (6 furlongs, 12 p.m. ET)
#1 Bear Alley
This six-furlong dash looks like a starting point for Bear Alley, a $525,000 yearling purchase conditioned by Dale Romans. A son of the late-maturing champion 3-year-old Will Take Charge, Bear Alley was produced from the Empire Maker mare Unbridled Empire, whose previous foals include Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1) winner Arklow and American Turf Stakes (G2) winner Maraud. With a pedigree like this, Bear Alley is unquestionably bred to run long and might prove better on grass. Perhaps he won’t challenge for victory on Saturday, but look for him to improve down the road.
A Phipps Stable homebred, Awakened brings a high-quality pedigree to the mix for trainer Shug McGaughey. Sire Curlin was a two-time Horse of the Year and dam Daydreaming won three graded stakes races, including the Top Flight Handicap (G2). Even better, Daydreaming has already struck gold as a broodmare, producing the long-winded Man o’ War Stakes (G1) winner Imagining. Naturally, we shouldn’t expect Awakened to fire his best shot around one turn, but any signs of ability on debut would indicate he has a bright future.
#10 Bourbon Street
The first foal produced by Old Hat Stakes (G3) winner and Acorn Stakes (G1) runner-up Sweet Whiskey, Bourbon Street was also sired by Curlin, creating a pedigree with a mix of speed and stamina. Bred by WinStar Farm and owned by the partnership of WinStar and the China Horse Club, Bourbon Street has been firing off bullet workouts at Palm Meadows for hot trainer Rodolphe Brisset, including a blazing half-mile from the starting gate in :47 3/5 on Dec. 27. If these breezes are any indication, Bourbon Street should have the speed to contend for victory on debut.
Gulfstream Park Race 3: Maiden Special Weight (1 mile, 1:04 p.m. ET)
#7 Awesome Party
Much will be expected from this stoutly bred son of Curlin, who sold for $700,000 as a yearling. You couldn’t ask for a more classic-oriented pedigree considering Awesome Party’s damsire is Medaglia d’Oro, a noted stamina influence who sired 2009 Preakness (G1) winner and Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra. Awesome Party’s work tab isn’t particularly flashy, but trainer Todd Pletcher is striking at a 27% rate this meet, and he’s enlisted go-to jockey John Velazquez to ride. Awesome Party absolutely has the pedigree to be a player in the classics, and on Saturday, we’ll see if he has the talent to match.
Gulfstream Park Race 4: Maiden Special Weight (6 furlongs, 1:33 p.m. ET)
#1 Palm Springs
Awesome Party may have been an expensive purchase, but he isn’t the priciest youngster Pletcher will debut on Saturday. That honor goes to Palm Springs, who sold for $1 million as a yearling. Owned by WinStar Farm and the China Horse Club, Palm Springs is a son of Uncle Mo out of the graded stakes-placed Street Cry mare Sweet Bliss. It's a classy pedigree indicative of a bright future. Palm Springs has been firing off promising workouts to match, including a bullet five furlongs in 1:00 1/5 on Dec. 15, so expect a sharp effort with jockey Javier Castellano in the saddle.
#4 Epic West
Racing for trainer Jason Servis and owners Gary and Mary West, Epic West is a son of Preakness Stakes winner Bernardini out of the Dixieland Band mare Palacio de Amor, which makes Epic West a half-brother to the stakes-winning sprinter Threefiveindia. Purchased for $275,000 as a yearling, Epic West has been training fast by the standards of Servis trainees and will be guided by Eclipse Award-winning jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. Considering Servis strikes at a 21% rate with first-time starters, there’s plenty to like about Epic West. Naturally, we'll wonder: Could he become the next Maximum Security?
Gulfstream Park Race 6: Maiden Special Weight (1 mile, 2:32 p.m. ET)
This son of Liam’s Map didn’t fare badly by any means in his debut on Dec. 8, rallying to finish third by 3 1/2 lengths in a seven-furlong event at Gulfstream Park. Even in defeat, he earned a competitive 92 Brisnet Speed Rating, and as a half-brother to Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Little Mike, Militarist is bred to improve with distance and maturity. Breeder/trainer Carlo Vaccarezza, who also conditioned Little Mike, appears to have another talented prospect on his hands, though Militarist might shine brightest if he switches to turf down the road. He did breeze sharply over the Palm Meadows grass course last Sunday, clocking five furlongs in :59 flat.
Sunday, January 12
Fair Grounds Race 4: Allowance Optional Claiming (1 mile on grass, 2:57 p.m. ET)
#10 Mailman Money
Mailman Money is entered for the main track only, but with rain in the Fair Grounds forecast for Friday and Saturday, there’s a good chance he’ll get to run. If he does, you can expect a strong performance from this son of Goldencents. Trainer Bret Calhoun has Derby trail aspirations for Mailman Money, who tracked a fast pace over a sloppy track in his winning debut on Nov. 30 at Churchill Downs. Runner-up Digital came right back to break his own maiden here at Fair Grounds for the same barn, and Mailman Money ran fast on the Brisnet Speed rating scale, earning an 86. His pedigree might be a little shaky for classic distances, but talent doesn’t seem to be a question mark for Mailman Money.