Let’s get right to my updated Kentucky Derby Top 10, which has a new name at the very top.
Following Messier’s scintillating performance in Santa Anita’s Grade III Robert B. Lewis Stakes at 1 1/16 miles last Sunday, he vaults to No. 1 on my Top 10 this week.
My Kentucky Derby Top 10 has undergone major upheaval. In addition to a new No. 1, there are four newcomers to this list: Early Voting, Rattle N Roll, White Abarrio and Simplification.
Tiz the Bomb, Corniche, Epicenter and Pappacap exit my Top 10 this week. Depending on future developments, they could move back onto the Top 10 sometime on down the line.
My Kentucky Derby Top 10 for this week is below:
3. Smile Happy
4. Early Voting (new)
5. Rattle N Roll (new)
6. Classic Causeway
7. White Abarrio (new)
8. Simplification (new)
10. Slow Down Andy
I am not the only one who now has Messier ranked No. 1 for the May 7 Kentucky Derby.
The highly respected Jeff Siegel of 1/ST BET this week revealed his first Kentucky Derby rankings, which are based on projection, not resume, as is my Top 10. Siegel’s rankings are below:
3. Smile Happy
4. White Abarrio
5. Rattle N Roll
6. Early Voting
7. Forbidden Kingdom
8. Major General
10. Mo Donegal
Messier’s performance in the Lewis was clearly the best by a 3-year-old male so far in 2022. Backed down to 3-5 favoritism and breaking from the inside post, he was away in good order and reached the front before going a quarter-mile without being hustled to do so by jockey John Velazquez. Yes, that was Johnny V. in the saddle last Sunday. Yours truly predicted that might happen when I wrote the following for Xpressbet.com last month:
“Flavien Prat has been Messier’s pilot in his last three races. Prat rides many winners these days for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. However, in light of Messier’s defeat in the Los Al Futurity, is it possible that when the colt makes his next start, a different rider will be handling the reins? I would not rule it out.
“The combo of Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez and Baffert has been extraordinarily successful early in the Santa Anita meet, winning nine of the first 13 races in which they collaborated. That deserves a great big wow! And so a switch to Johnny V. when Messier makes his next appearance under silks does not seem all that far-fetched.”
Once Messier got the lead before going a quarter-mile in the Lewis, he stayed in front the rest of the way. But the Canadian-bred son of 2003 Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker certainly did not have an uncontested lead in the early stages. He was hounded in the run down the backstretch by both Sir London and Cabo Spirit. Halfway down the backstretch, only about a half-length separated the trio.
Messier had blinkers removed for the Lewis following his loss in the Los Al Futurity when the runner-up. A positive aspect to his performance in the Lewis was he rated kindly in the early going despite having two rivals breathing down his neck.
Sir London cracked with a little more than three furlongs to go,. He began backpedaling and eventually lost by 26 1/2 lengths while finishing fourth in the field of five.
Passing the three-eighths pole, Messier led Cabo Spirit by three-quarters of a length, as track announcer Frank Mirahmadi accurately noted during his race call.
Midway on the far turn, with five-sixteenths to go, Cabo Spirit actually had cut the deficit back down a bit. But he was no match for Messier in the final quarter-mile.
Straightening away at the top of the lane, Messier increased his lead to about three lengths. Bounding down the stretch while moving with the grace of a ballerina, Messier extended this advantage to eight lengths at the eighth pole. He was 15 lengths in front at the finish.
Messier carved out fractions of :23.24, :46.94, 1:11.32 and 1:36.32 en route to a final time of 1:42.89. His individual splits were :23.24, :23.70, :24.38, :25.00, then :6.57.
It is interesting to note the dramatic difference between Messier’s starts at Los Alamitos and at other tracks.
In two starts at Los Al, Messier has lost both times. In two starts at Santa Anita and one at Del Mar, he has won by 6 1/2, 3 1/2 and 15 lengths.
From 1935 through 2006, the Lewis was known as the Santa Catalina. In 2007, the name of the race was changed to the Robert B. Lewis in order to honor the iconic racehorse owner, who passed away on Feb. 17, 2006.
Is Messier’s 15-length margin a Santa Catalina/Robert B. Lewis record? Well, I don’t know whether it’s the largest margin of victory going all way back to the race’s inauguration in 1935. But I can tell you it is by far the biggest margin by a Santa Catalina/Lewis winner in the Beyer Speed Figure era that dates back to 1991.
From 1991 on, the largest margin by a winner of this race was Artax’s 5 1/2 lengths in 1998. The next biggest was Larry the Legend’s five lengths in 1995.
Artax went on to become an Eclipse Award winner. He was voted champion sprinter of 1999.
Larry the Legend went on to win the Grade II San Rafael Stakes in his next start. He then captured the Grade I Santa Anita Derby, which that year had one of the strongest fields in its history. Afternoon Deelites finished second, followed in order by Jumron, Timber Country, Lake George, In Character, Petionville and Fandarel Dancer.
BEYERS FOR LEWIS WINNERS
Messier was credited with a 103 Beyer Speed Figure for his Lewis triumph. That was about what I expected. As mentioned earlier, his final time was 1:42.89. I went back to see what Life Is Good’s final time was when he won Santa Anita’s Grade II San Felipe Stakes by eight lengths at the same distance last year. It was 1:42.18. Inasmuch as that would translate to 1:42 4/5 for Messier and 1:42 flat for Life Is Good in fifths, I was looking for Messier’s Beyer to probably be in the low 100s.
The 103 Beyer for Messier’s win last Sunday dwarfs the figure registered by the past six winners of the Robert B. Lewis -- Medina Spirit (94), Thousand Words (89), Mucho Gusto (90), Lombo (86), Royal Mo (94) and Mor Spirit (93).
The quality of the 2021 Lewis is reflected by the fact that Medina Spirit would go on to finish first in the Kentucky Derby and second to the older Knicks Go in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Classic. Hot Rod Charlie, who ran third in the 2021 Lewis, went on to finish third in the Kentucky Derby and win the Grade I Pennsylvania Derby prior to finishing fourth in the BC Classic.
To put Messier’s 103 Beyer in the Lewis into further perspective, it’s only the second triple-digit figure by a Lewis winner since Great Hunter recorded a 101 in the 2007 renewal.
Below are the Beyers for Robert B. Lewis winners going back to 1991 (the figures prior to 2021 are listed in the 2021 American Racing Manual, which is now digital only and available for free on The Jockey Club’s website):
2022 Messier (103)
2021 Medina Spirit (94)
2020 Thousand Words (89)
2019 Mucho Gusto (90)
2018 Lombo (96)
2017 Royal Mo (94)
2016 Mor Spirit (93)
2015 Dortmund (104)
2014 Candy Boy (96)
2013 Flashback (92)
2012 I’ll Have Another (96)
2011 Anthony’s Cross (91)
2010 Cartacortado (98)
2009 Pioneerof the Nile (98)
2008 Crown of Thorns (94)
2007 Great Hunter (101)
2006 Brother Derek (102)
2005 Declan’s Moon (97)
2004 St Averil (102)
2003 Domestic Dispute (103)
2002 Labamta Babe (105)
2001 Millennium Wind (99)
2000 The Deputy (103)
1999 General Challenge (95)
1998 Artax (109)
1997 Hello (97)
1996 Prince of Thieves (103)
1995 Larry the Legend (95)
1994 Wekiva Springs (97)
1993 Art of Living (91)
1992 Vying Victor (92)
1991 Mane Minister (93)
BEST 3-YEAR-OLD BEYERS OF 2022 TO DATE
Below are the highest Beyer Speed Figures by a 3-year-old so far this year:
BSF Horse (Finish, Race, Track, Date)
103 Messier (won Robert B. Lewis, Santa Anita, Feb. 6)
97 White Abarrio (won Holy Bull, Gulfstream, Feb. 5)
95 Favorite Outlaw (won maiden race, Oaklawn, Jan. 29)
94 Adare Manor (won Las Virgenes, Santa Anita, Feb. 6)
94 Forbidden Kingdom (won San Vicente, Santa Anita, Jan. 29)
92 In Due Time (won alw/opt claimer, Gulfstream, Feb. 4)
92 Adare Manor (won maiden race, Santa Anita, Jan. 7)
A CLOSER LOOK AT TOP 10 NEWCOMERS
Early Voting, trained by Chad Brown, is two for two. I like this Kentucky-bred Gun Runner colt a lot despite his unimpressive Beyer Speed Figures. In the wake of Early Voting’s 4 1/2-length win in Aqueduct’s Grade III Withers Stakes last Saturday, I have put him all the way up at No. 4 on my Top 10.
Granted, Early Voting received a weak 78 Beyer Speed Figure for his win in the Withers. That came on the heels of only a 76 Beyer when he won a one-mile maiden race by 1 1/2 lengths at the Big A last Dec. 28.
But the low Beyers notwithstanding, it takes a darn good colt to win at first asking going one mile, then succeed in front-running fashion at 1 1/8 miles on a muddy track at the Grade III level in his next start.
Siegel believes Early Voting’s slow final time and low Beyer Speed Figure in the Withers should be taken in context.
“You could just sense the panic set in among his connections and his backers when it was revealed that Early Voting, a dominating gate-to-wire winner of the Withers at Aqueduct on Saturday, was assigned a Beyer Speed Figure of ‘only’ 78, a number that might be good enough to win the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields this week, but certainly not in any stakes races for 3-year-olds at Churchill Downs.
“Indeed, the Gun Runner colt’s final three-furlong split [:41 3/5] could just as easily been timed with a sun dial, but because the main track was so deep, so tiring, so sticky and so treacherously slow, it was a given that any front-runner that had cut out similar early fractions to what Early Voting did would feel the effects through the lane and stagger home. That he managed to hold sway by more than four lengths with just a maiden one-turn miler as his only prior outing was, indeed, remarkable. There were some useful, decent colts behind him, too.”
T.D. Thornton of the Thoroughbred Daily News has Early Voting at No. 7 on the latest TDN Top 12. Smile Happy is No. 1.
“Early Voting is emerging as a speed-centric threat whose specialty is sustained intensity,” Thornton wrote. “Rather than blitzing his rivals with an all-out frontal assault, this $200,000 Keeneland colt torques them into submission, grinding away with metronomic efficiency.
“The splits for nine furlongs [:23.57, :24.47, :26.25, :27.46 for the first four quarters, then :14.15 for the final eighth] are more telling of the toiling nature of the track than the capability of the winner, [and] his so-so 78 Beyer might also be skewed in relation to his true talent.”
Steve Haskin of Secretariat.com has Early Voting at No. 11 in his Kentucky Derby rankings. Like Thornton, Haskin has Smile Happy ranked No. 1.
“Many are going to look at the ridiculously slow three-quarter and mile fractions [1:14 1/5 and 1:41 3/5] and sloth-like 1:55 4/5 final time and paltry 78 Beyer Speed Figure and dismiss this colt and the race as being a farce,” Haskin wrote of the Withers. “But if you know horses and look a bit deeper you will realize that this was a much better performance than the stats indicate and what an exceptional colt he has the potential to be, even though it is early to pass any judgment.”
Concerning the final time of the Withers, Haskin wrote: “Yes, it was slow, but this horse, who was making only his second start and first around two turns, rocketed out of the gate like he was in a sprint and he ran his opening quarter over the drying out muddy track in :23 2/5. To show how fast that was for a 1 1/8-mile race, in the six-furlong Toboggan Stakes, the brilliant 1-5 favorite Happy Medium [a 4-year-old] ran his opening quarter in the same :23 2/5 and tired badly, getting beat 10 lengths.”
Now that Rattle N Roll has logged workouts at Gulfstream on Jan. 22, Jan. 29 and Feb. 5, I felt the time has come to put him on my Top 10.
When last seen under silks, Rattle N Roll won Keeneland’s Grade I Breeders’ Futurity by 4 1/4 lengths last Oct. 9. He did get just an 81 Beyer that day, though. The Kentucky-bred Connect colt is slated to make his 2022 debut in the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby on March 12.
White Abarrio makes his way onto my Kentucky Derby Top 10 this week at No. 7 after collaborating with jockey Tyler Gaffalione to win the Holy Bull by 4 1/2 widening lengths at odds of 6-1 last Saturday. Holy Bull runner-up Simplification enters the Top 10 this week at No. 8.
Trained by Saffie Joseph Jr., White Abarrio has won three of four career starts. His lone defeat came when he finished third to Smile Happy and Classic Causeway in the Kentucky Jockey Club last fall.
The Kentucky Jockey Club has proved to be a much more productive race than the BC Juvenile.
Horses to have run in the BC Juvenile are a combined zero for 7 since that race was run. Ouch. Even the Japanese runner who finished 10th in the BC Juvenile, Jasper Great, is winless in two subsequent starts, finishing 12th and seventh in a pair of races in Japan this year.
Starters in the Kentucky Jockey Club have gone on to win only two of eight since that race, but the two wins came in graded stakes races -- White Abarrio in the Holy Bull and Call Me Midnight in Fair Grounds’ Grade III Lecomte Stakes on Jan. 22.
The plan for White Abarrio, according to his trainer, is for the Kentucky-bred Race Day colt to make his next start in Gulfstream’s Grade I Florida Derby on April 2.
Though Simplification did not win the Holy Bull, he ran one heckuva race with Hall of Famer Javier Castellano in the saddle. Simplification was widely expected to be the early pacesetter, but that scenario went right out the window when he broke poorly. It’s to Simplification’s credit that he was able to rally from seventh at odds of 7-2 to edge 8-5 favorite Mo Donegal by a head for the place.
Antonio Sano trains Simplification, a Florida-bred Not This Time colt.
“My horse ran great,” Sano said of Simplification’s Holy Bull effort in a Daily Racing Form story written by Mike Welsch. “The horse who won is an excellent horse, but if my horse broke better, the race is different. Javier did the right thing after that and my horse proved he can run well in front or from behind.”
According to Sano, Gulfstream’s Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes on March 5 is next for Simplification.
Sano did a wonderful job with Gunnevera, who in 2017 finished second in the Holy Bull before winning the Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes by 5 3/4 lengths. Gunnevera, an earner of $5,561,800, finished second to Gun Runner in the Grade I BC Classic in 2018. In his final race, Gunnevera ran third to Thunder Snow and Gronkowski in the Group I, $12 million Dubai World Cup in 2019.
TIZ THE BOMB TROUNCED IN HOLY BULL
As mentioned earlier, Tiz the Bomb is now completely off my Kentucky Derby Top 10 this week. He was No. 1 last week. But Tiz the Bomb more or less turned out to be a “stink bomb” in last Saturday’s Grade III Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park.
Going into the 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull, when discussing Tiz the Bomb, trainer Kenny McPeek said he was “confident.” And why not? Tiz the Bomb had been working on the dirt at Gulfstream as well as, if not better than, Smile Happy. The two-for-two Smile Happy, also conditioned by McPeek, won the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes by an emphatic 3 1/4 lengths at Churchill Downs last Nov. 27.
It turned out that Tiz the Bomb, who looked like he had gone through a car wash when heading to the starting gate, let down his trainer and everyone else like me on his bandwagon by finishing seventh in the Holy Bull. Tiz the Bomb lost by 20 1/4 lengths while defeating only two in the field of nine.
Giant Game, who finished eighth in the Holy Bull, was scheduled to undergo what trainer Dale Romans described as a minor throat procedure Tuesday, Daily Racing Form’s Marty McGee reported.
Romans said that Giant Game “displaced his palate pretty bad” in the Holy Bull.
That means one of the only two opponents Tiz the Bomb outran in the Holy Bull was someone who had difficulty breathing.
And so it is that Tiz the Bomb goes bye-bye from my Kentucky Derby Top 10. He has been relegated to my “Bubbling Under the Top 10” list. And the only reason I’ve decided to go ahead and put him on that list is there’s still a path for him to get into the Kentucky Derby starting gate.
My good friend Ryan Stillman called a McPeek tweet to my attention. This is what it said: “Tiz The Bomb ate a lot of dirt/sand. Humbling game, @b_hernandezjr said he struggled with dirt in his face and the track. We will likely give him one more chance on dirt or synthetic before spring. First instinct is Spiral @Turfway Park.”
The “Spiral,” McPeek referred to is actually Turfway Park’s Grade III Jeff Ruby Steaks. It will be contested at 1 1/8 miles on a synthetic surface April 2. This race offers 100-40-20-10 qualifying points toward the Kentucky Derby. It’s not hard to picture Tiz the Bomb finishing first or second, which almost certainly would furnish him with more than enough points to get into the Run for the Roses.
I’ve tried to keep Corniche on the Top 10 as long as I can. But now that it’s early February and he has yet to appear on a work tab, I just can’t keep him on the Top 10 any longer.
Corniche is still in Kentucky at WinStar Farm. He has not had a recorded workout since his 1 3/4-length win in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Del Mar on Nov. 5 to remain undefeated in three career starts.
As I wrote for Xpressbet.com in mid-January, American Pharoah’s first workout at 3 in 2015 came on Feb. 2, three furlongs in :36.20 at Santa Anita. American Pharoah went on to sweep the Triple Crown.
To me, if Corniche had his first recorded workout this year by Feb. 2, he should be seen as a Kentucky Derby contender. But a Feb. 4 story written by Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman indicates Corniche’s participation in the Kentucky Derby does appear dubious at this point, though it also should be pointed out that the 1 1/4-mile classic has not been ruled out.
“The [Kentucky] Derby is not the be-all and end-all” for owners Peter Fluor and K.C. Weiner of Speedway Stables, said racing manager Marette Farrell. “He’s training away. The tempo of his gallops is speeding up. We’re letting the horse tell us when he’s ready. When he’s ready, we’ll start prioritizing his schedule.
“We’re not rushing him. We’re not forcing him to make the Derby. We’re not ruling out the Derby. We’re aiming for a major 3-year-old campaign.”
But considering where we are on the calendar and Corniche does not have a recorded workout at this writing, I felt it best to remove him from my Top 10 this week.
It was a difficult decision as to whether to keep Epicenter, Pappacap or Slow Down Andy on the Top 10 this week. Slow Down Andy got the call to be ranked No. 10 because, after all, when victorious in the Grade II Los Alamitos, he did beat new No. 1 Messier.
BUBBLING UNDER THE TOP 10 (IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER)
Call Me Midnight
God of Love
In Due Time
Make It Big
Pioneer of Medina
Tiz the Bomb
SAM F. DAVIS SELECTIONS
As noted earlier, the Nov. 27 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes has produced two Grade III winners this year in White Abarrio and Call Me Midnight.
Classic Causeway and Howling Time will try to make it three Grade III winners emanating from the Kentucky Jockey Club when they compete in Tampa Bay Downs’ Sam F. Davis Stakes this Saturday.
The 1 1/16-mile Davis has attracted an overflow field of 13, including one also eligible.
When trainer Brian Lynch unveiled Classic Causeway at Saratoga last summer, the Kentucky-bred Giant’s Causeway colt won a seven-furlong maiden race by 6 1/2 lengths. He recorded a 90 Beyer Speed Figure.
Classic Causeway then finished third (73 Beyer) as the 9-5 favorite to Rattle N Roll and Double Thunder in Keeneland’s Breeders’ Futurity last October. After that, Classic Causeway ran second (84 Beyer) as the 7-5 favorite to Smile Happy in the Kentucky Jockey Club.
Howling Time won Churchill’s Street Sense Stakes by 3 1/4 lengths last Oct. 31 after earning his maiden diploma at that Louisville track on Sept. 25. The Kentucky-bred Not This Time colt, trained by Dale Romans, has not raced since finishing fifth in the Kentucky Jockey Club.
God of Love has the look of a contender in Saturday’s Davis. Trained by Mark Casse, the Canadian-bred Cupid colt will be racing on dirt for the first time. He won a pair of stakes races at Woodbine last year, the Cup and Saucer on the grass and Grade III Grey on synthetic.
Casse also has Golden Glider and Volcanic entered in the Davis.
Golden Glider is two for two and makes his stakes debut. The Kentucky-bred Ghostzapper colt won a 1 1/16-mile maiden race on synthetic at Woodbine last Nov. 27, then defeated allowance/optional claiming company on dirt Jan. 7 at Tampa Bay.
Enough was thought of Volcanic to run him in Saratoga’s Grade I Hopeful Stakes last summer as a maiden. He wound up seventh in the Hopeful, then went on the shelf. The Kentucky-bred Violence colt returned to win a maiden race Jan. 8 at Gulfstream when racing with blinkers for the first time.
Another prominent Davis entrant is the undefeated Make It Big, who has the same trainer as White Abarrio. Make It Big is three for three. After a couple of victories at Gulfstream last year, the Florida-bred Neolithic colt was sent to Oklahoma and won Remington Park’s Springboard Mile on Dec. 17.
Shipsational is interesting to me in the Davis. He’s three for four. The Midshipman colt is seeking his third straight stakes win after winning New York-bred stakes races at Belmont Park last Sept. 26 and Oct. 30.
Trademark goes into the Davis off back-to-back wins at the Churchill fall meet. He has been training at Payson Park in Florida for Vicki Oliver.
My selections for the Sam F. Davis are below:
1. Classic Causeway
2. God of Love
3. Make It Big
4. Howling Time
ECLIPSE AWARD PREDICTIONS
Last week for Xpressbet.com, I listed my predictions for the 2021 Eclipse Awards. The winners will be announced during the 51st annual Eclipse Awards program Thursday, Feb. 10, at Santa Anita. This will be the first time since 2012 that the Eclipse Awards program is being held in California. The winners will be announced live on TVG and various other outlets beginning at 8 p.m. ET.
The first year that I made Eclipse Award predictions for Xpressbet.com was for racing that was conducted in 2011. My predictions have proved to be correct 91.4% of the time:
2011: 15 correct, 2 wrong
2012: 16 correct, 1 wrong
2013: 16 correct, 1 wrong
2014: 17 correct, 0 wrong
2015: 14 correct, 3 wrong
2016: 16 correct, 1 wrong
2017: 16 correct, 1 wrong
2018: 16 correct, 1 wrong
2019: 15 correct, 2 wrong
2020: 15 correct, 2 wrong
Total: 156 correct, 14 wrong
Remember, these are my predictions, not who I think should win or who I voted for.
And now, here again, are my predictions for the 2021 Eclipse Awards:
Finalists (alphabetically): Corniche, Jack Christopher, Modern Games
Predicted Winner: Corniche
Finalists: Echo Zulu, Juju’s Map, Pizza Bianca
Predicted Winner: Echo Zulu
Finalists: Essential Quality, Life Is Good, Medina Spirit
Predicted Winner: Essential Quality
Finalists: Clairiere, Malathaat, Santa Barbara
Predicted Winner: Malathaat
OLDER DIRT MALE
Finalists: Knicks Go, Maxfield, Mystic Guide
Predicted Winner: Knicks Go
OLDER DIRT FEMALE
Finalists: Letruska, Marche Lorraine, Shedaresthedevil
Predicted Winner: Letruska
Finalists: Aloha West, Flightline, Jackie’s Warrior
Predicted Winner: Jackie’s Warrior
Finalists: Bella Sofia, Ce Ce, Gamine
Predicted Winner: Ce Ce
Finalists: Domestic Spending, Space Blues, Yibir
Predicted Winner: Yibir
Finalists: Loves Only You, Santa Barbara, War Like Goddess
Predicted Winner: War Like Goddess
Finalists: Baltimore Bucko, Snap Decision, The Mean Queen
Predicted Winner: The Mean Queen
Finalists: Steve Asmussen, Chad Brown, Brad Cox
Predicted Winner: Brad Cox
Finalists: Irad Ortiz Jr., Flavien Prat, Joel Rosario
Predicted Winner: Joel Rosario
Finalists: John Hiraldo, Charlie Marquez, Jessica Pyfer
Predicted Winner: Jessica Pyfer
Finalists: Godolphin, Juddmonte Farms, Klaravich Stables
Predicted Winner: Godolphin
Finalists: Calumet Farm, Godolphin, Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings
Predicted Winner: Godolphin
HORSE OF THE YEAR
Finalists: Not announced
Predicted Winner: Knicks Go