Indiana Derby favorite has West Point thinking Kentucky next

Indiana Derby favorite has West Point thinking Kentucky next
Photo: Coady Photography

West Point Thoroughbreds president Terry Finley was asked how much he is thinking about the delayed Kentucky Derby with his partnership’s 3-year-old gelding Winning Impression, the 3-1 favorite in Wednesday’s $300,000, Grade 3 Indiana Derby at Indiana Grand.

“Sure, yeah, we are,” Finley said of the Arkansas Derby fourth-place finisher. “Especially with Dallas Stewart at the helm and the repertoire he has with these kinds of horses.”

That would be distance-thriving horses who come running late to pick up a good part of the pieces while speedier rivals stagger home. Prime examples: Commanding Curve, second in the 2014 Kentucky Derby at 37-1; Golden Soul, second in the 2013 Kentucky Derby at 34-1; Tale of Verve, second in the 2015 Preakness at 28-1. West Point campaigned Commanding Curve, as well as the Stewart-trained Macho Again, second in the 2008 Preakness at 39-1.

“He reminds us a lot of Commanding Curve — just kind of getting there, getting there,” Finley said.

If Winning Impression wins the 1 1/8-mile Indiana Derby, he’ll claim one credential that Commanding Curve never achieved: being a stakes-winner. One thing that helps is Winning Impression has more versatility to stay near the early lead if needed, while Commanding Curve was dependent on a fast pace to set up his closing kick.

“Ever since he went two turns, he’s been a very consistent horse — and run with the best,” said Jeff Lifson, West Point’s executive vice president for Midwest Operations. “He is a Dallas Stewart prototype: Gets better and better and better. He was never a flashy 2-year-old. As soon as he went two turns, it was like, ‘This is what I was meant to do.’

“The fun part is looking at the Thoro-Graph (handicapping) sheets. He has a pattern very similar to Commanding Curve. If the sheets are at all predictive, he’s going to run massively big at Indiana — if he’s getting better, and he seems to be getting better.”

West Point was a minority partner in Always Dreaming, the Todd Pletcher-trained colt who got really good early in his 3-year-old season, carrying his speed to four impressive victories to start off 2017, capped by the Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby. He was never the same horse after that.

By contrast, Winning Impression is an example of a horse benefitting from the coronavirus forcing the Kentucky Derby to be postponed from May 2 until Sept. 5.

After a pair of fifth-place finishes sprinting last November, Winning Impression promptly won a 1 1/16-mile maiden race in New Orleans. That was followed by a second and third at the Fair Grounds and a disqualification from first to fifth for interference in an Oaklawn Park allowance race. But his team had seen enough to take the next step.

Winning Impression’s stakes debut came on May 2 in the Arkansas Derby, in which he finished fourth by a total of nine lengths at 20-1 odds. The first- and third-place finishers that day, Charlatan and Gouverneur Morris are on the shelf and runner-up Basin is going in Keeneland’s Blue Grass Stakes on Saturday.

“He’s a nice horse,” said the Louisville-based Stewart. “He ran great at Oaklawn — won and got disqualified but he ran terrific. He ran great in the Arkansas Derby, has trained very consistent and this race will tell us a lot where we’re at. He’s doing well and he needs to run. We’ll see where we’re at in September, but right now we’re just focused on this race. I think he fits real well in there, and we’ll take it from there.”

Julien Leparoux, who rode Winning Impression in the Arkansas Derby and once in New Orleans, has the mount. Winning Impression drew post 9 in the field of ten 3-year-olds.

“It’s a good race, it’s a legitimate race,” Finley said. “There are no superstars in there. But the horses who figure to run well in here are very, very similar to what we are at this point in their careers. If we run well, we’ll have a little stronger circle around the first Saturday in September.”

Live racing continues through Wednesday, Nov. 18. Action is held Monday through Thursday beginning at 2:20 p.m. Post times for the all-Quarter Horse programs is to be determined.

2020 Indiana Derby (G3)

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