Jon White: Kentucky Derby Top 10, Plus Risen Star Picks

Classic Causeway, emphatic winner of last Saturday’s Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, rises to No. 2 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 this week after being No. 6 last week.

There are no newcomers to the Top 10 this week, unlike last week when four horses debuted on the list.

My Kentucky Derby Top 10 for this week is below:

1. Messier
2. Classic Causeway
3. Emmanuel
4. Smile Happy (pictured above)
5. Early Voting
6. Rattle N Roll
7. White Abarrio
8. Simplification
9. Newgrange
10. Slow Down Andy

Highly respected 1/ST BET analyst and handicapper Jeff Siegel’s “main players” this week in his Triple Crown rankings are: 1. Messier, 2. Emmanuel, 3. Smile Happy, 4. White Abarrio, 5. Rattle N Roll, 6. Classic Causeway, 7. Newgrange, 8. Zozos, 9. Charge It, 10. Early Voting, 11: Forbidden Kingdom, 12. Zandon, 13. Mo Donegal, 14. Major General.

Regardless of what the future holds for Classic Causeway, he demonstrated in the Davis that he is just one darn good colt, which is what I have believed all along.

It appears to me that Classic Causeway has what it takes to succeed in the May 7 Run for the Roses. A Kentucky-bred son of the late Giant’s Causeway, Classic Causeway has talent, tactical speed and a splendid pedigree. That’s quite a nice package of attributes.

In this week’s Derby Watch, Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman called Classic Causeway “the genuine article.”

I know there are those who are skeptical as to whether Classic Causeway can succeed from off the pace. I am not.

The DRF’s Marty McGee is one of the skeptics.

In Derby Watch, McGee said of Classic Causeway: “Scarcely could have been more impressive in seasonal bow; rated kindly, but let’s see him do that from off it.”

Siegel is another post-Davis skeptic, as he wrote of Classic Causeway: “His trainer, Brian Lynch, said after the race what we knew he would [and what 99 percent of all horsemen would say], that is, ‘I do think he will sit in behind [other horses].’

“Well let’s hope so,” Siegel added, “but both of his wins in four career starts were accomplished gate-to-wire, so he still has to prove that he can.”

Look, if Classic Causeway’s demeanor was such that he is a fiery, headstrong individual who throws his head about and fights the rider when trying to be rated, I likewise would wonder if he can win from off the pace. But he is not that type at all.

MADE QUITE A SPLASH IN SPA DEBUT

Classic Causeway won a Saratoga seven-furlong maiden race in front-running fashion by 6 1/2 lengths when unveiled last Sept. 9. He recorded a 90 Beyer, a robust figure for a 2-year-old.

In addition to Classic Causeway possessing that kind of sprint speed, his breeding suggests he can be effective going at least as far as the Kentucky Derby distance of 1 1/4 miles and perhaps even as far as the testing 1 1/2-mile distance of the Belmont Stakes. Indeed, Classic Causeway’s dam, Private World, is a daughter of Thunder Gulch, winner of the 1995 Kentucky Derby and Belmont.

Classic Causeway is one of only three foals from the final crop of Giant’s Causeway (the other two being Giant Game and Monaadah). Giant’s Causeway had the class and stamina to win the Group I Juddmonte International Stakes at 1 5/16 miles in England and Group I Irish Champion Stakes at 1 1/4 miles in Ireland.

In his final career start, Giant’s Causeway came close to winning the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Classic at 1 1/4 miles in 2000, the only start of his career on the dirt. He finished second, a neck behind the ultra-game Tiznow, who returned in 2001 to win a second BC Classic while edging another tough Euro import in Sakhee. All these years later, Tiznow still has the distinction of being the lone two-time BC Classic winner.

After Classic Causeway’s maiden victory, he lost his next two races, though he did run well both times. Both of the defeats came in races won by a Kenny McPeek trainee.

Classic Causeway finished third in Keeneland’s Grade I Breeders’ Futurity at 1 1/16 miles on Oct. 9. But because he had the misfortune to have the outside post in the field of 13, he was sent hard early by jockey Jose Ortiz. Understandably, Classic Causeway paid the price in the lane. He lost by 4 3/4 lengths while finishing third to Rattle N Roll and Double Thunder.

Next, Classic Causeway participated in Churchill Downs’ Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes.

Thoroughbred Daily News’ T.D. Thornton this week did a fine job describing Classic Causeway’s performance in the Kentucky Jockey Club when writing: “After Lynch schooled Classic Causeway to relax while still remaining a pace presence, the colt broke running from post one in the Nov. 27 Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes and showed he was capable of conceding the lead. Responding effectively in stalk mode [while fourth], he tipped out to the three path on the far turn and was on the move with eventual winner Smile Happy at the head of the lane. Classic Causeway couldn’t match strides with a very impressive undefeated colt at Churchill Downs that day, but he gave Smile Happy a run for his money until the eighth pole and was hardly disgraced in defeat.”

Classic Causeway was freshened after the Kentucky Jockey Club. He made his 2022 debut last Saturday in the 1 1/16-mile Davis, which he won with authority when teaming for the first time with jockey Irad Ortiz Jr.

Lynch made it known beforehand that he was hoping to see Classic Causeway get off to a good start and secure a forward position going into the first turn to avoid possible traffic woes in the field of 12. The intention was not necessarily for Classic Causeway to set the early pace.

With a possibly much longer 1 1/4-mile trip for Classic Causeway on the first Saturday in May in mind, Lynch and Ortiz were not bent on hustling him early and getting his engine revved in the Davis. The goal was for him to relax early. To this end, an ideal scenario would have been for Classic Causeway to break well, then rate off the speedy Little Vic, who had drawn into the Davis field from the also-eligible list due to the defection of Howling Time.

Well, Classic Causeway did more than leave the gate in good order. He blasted away from there. Not surprisingly, Little Vic then quickly engaged Classic Causeway for the early lead. The way I saw it, Ortiz didn’t move his hands much at all during the run to the first turn, seemingly waiting for Little Vic to clear. But Little Vic did not clear.

As Classic Causeway and Little Vic made their way around the first turn while vying head and head for the advantage, Little Vic became rank when being restrained by jockey Paco Lopez. Classic Causeway? He was anything but rank while racing along the rail.

The two colts continued to “spar spiritedly at the head of a closely bunched pack of pursuers” on the backstretch, as Thornton put it. “Classic Causeway ripped through the first quarter of the 1 1/16-mile race in a sprint-like :22.66, then toned down the middle two fractions to a more sensible :24.01 and :24.84, briefly losing the lead for a stride or two at the half-mile chart call. Still confidently handled at the head of the homestretch, he spun out to the three path, with three legitimate win threats hot on his heels.

“One right-handed crack of the crop was enough to elicit an energetic spurt out of Classic Causeway three-sixteenths out, and when the colt drifted out to the five path while still in control, Ortiz gave him several more right-handed reminders upon cresting the furlong grounds, which had the effect of producing a ‘wow!’ gear that punctuated a visually impressive burst to the wire. The winning margin was 3 3/4 geared down lengths in 1:42.80, good for an 88 Beyer Speed Figure.”

Classic Causeway originally was credited with an 87 Beyer, which then was upped to 88.

“The Beyer figure was moderate, but the next seven horses who followed him home all received Beyer figures below what they earned in their prior starts,” Privman wrote. “As a result, I’m going to be wary of this figure, as I think it has the potential to be better than at first glance. Combined with the race flow, I think this might be a far better performance than it will appear on paper.”

Privman’s observation that the next seven horses who followed Classic Causeway home all received a lower Beyer than in their most recent start is a point well taken. Did all seven of those horses regress in the Davis? Probably not.

Adding credence to the notion that an 88 Beyer for Classic Causeway in the Davis still might be a tad lower than it should be, Candyman Rocket won the 2021 renewal in 1:44.33. But despite that much slower clocking than Classic Causeway’s, Candyman Rocket received a 91 Beyer, higher than Classic Causeway’s 88.

Sole Volante took the 2020 Davis in 1:42.60. He received a 96 Beyer.

Well Defined won the 2019 renewal in 1:42.70. He got a 93 Beyer.

The Davis stakes record is 1:42.44 set by Flameway in 2018. His Beyer was a 93.

Privman was spot on when he wrote that the Tampa Bay main track is an “often-tricky surface.” Keeping that in mind, I concede that calculating a speed figure on that surface therefore also sometimes can be a tricky task. But taking into account the final times and Beyers cited above for recent Davis winners, plus the supposed dip in the Beyer department by the next seven horses who followed Classic Causeway home, it seems to me that a 90 Beyer for Classic Causeway’s Davis triumph would be far from out of whack.

Classic Causeway’s fourth quarter individual split in the Davis was :25.31. After his time for one mile of 1:36.82, he unleashed a strong late kick in the last sixteenth despite having gone as fast as he did early.

“Of particular note,” Thornton wrote, “was his in-the-clear final sixteenth in :5.98, the only sub-six-seconds clocking among this season’s [Kentucky] Derby preps at 1 1/16 miles from the Breeders’ Cup onward.”

Below are the Beyers for Sam F. Davis winners going back to 1993 (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 Classic Causeway (88)
2021 Candyman Rocket (91)
2020 Sole Volante (96)
2019 Well Defined (93)
2018 Flameway (93)
2017 McCraken (95)
2016 Destin (99)
2015 Ocean Knight (93)
2014 Vinceremos (82)
2013 Falling Sky (92)
2012 Battle Hardened (82)
2011 Brethren (85)
2010 Rule (98)
2009 General Quarters (102)
2008 Fierce Wind (88)
2007 Any Given Saturday (95)
2006 Bluegrass Cat (96)
2005 Andromeda’s Hero (79)
2004 Kaufy Mate (91)
2003 White Buck (86)
2002 Bunk N Ted (81)
2001 Burning Roma (87)
2000 Go Lib Go (88)
1999 San Gennaro (94)
1998 Dabney Carr (86)
1997 Wilt the Tilt (83)
1996 Thundering Storm (75)
1995 Akiba (78)
1994 Parental Pressure (85)
1993 Marco Bay (87)

You will see in the list above that General Quarters’ 102 is the highest Beyer by a Davis winner. Again, as an indication that Classic Causeway’s 88 Beyer Speed Figure perhaps should be higher, his final time was faster than General Quarters’ 1:43.54 when he received a 102 Beyer.

According to Lynch, the plan is for Classic Causeway to make his next start in the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby at 1 1/8 miles on March 12.

Only six horses have won both the Sam F. Davis and Tampa Bay Derby: Phantom Jet (1987), Speedy Cure (1991), Marco Bay (1993), Thundering Storm (1996), Burning Roma (2001) and Destin (2016).

RISEN STAR SELECTIONS

Undefeated Smile Happy, coming off a win in the productive Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes on Nov. 27, heads a field of 10 entered in Fair Grounds’ Grade II Risen Star Stakes at 1 1/8 miles this Saturday.

I noted last week the stark difference in the subsequent form of the starters in last year’s BC Juvenile and Kentucky Jockey Club.

As of this writing, horses to have run in the BC Juvenile are a combined zero for eight since. Kentucky Jockey Club starters are a combined three for nine since the BC Juvenile, but it’s especially significant that all three of those victories have come in graded stakes races.

After competing in the Kentucky Jockey Club, Call Me Midnight won the Grade III Lecomte Stakes on Jan. 22, White Abarrio took the Grade III Holy Bull Stakes on Feb. 5, then Classic Causeway got the job done in last Saturday’s Sam F. Davis.

Now it’s up to Smile Happy in the Risen Star to become yet another 2022 graded stakes winner to come out of the Kentucky Jockey Club.

Smile Happy is listed as the 5-1 favorite on McGee’s DRF’s Derby Watch odds. Privman wrote that McGee said he would have made Messier the favorite if the Derby Watch had not excluded horses trained by Bob Baffert.

“The Derby Watch list published Wednesday does not include any runners trained by Bob Baffert, who currently is barred from the 2022 Derby in the aftermath of last year’s Derby, in which Medina Spirit finished first but was subsequently found to have traces of a medication [betamethasone] that is legal to use, but not on race day,” Privman explained.

As for McGee’s Derby Watch odds, they are “calculated as though those 20 were in the starting Derby field,” Privman wrote.

While McGee has pegged Smile Happy at 5-1 in a big 20-horse Kentucky Derby field, the Kentucky-bred Runhappy colt is a not-all-that-much-lower 7-2 on the morning line in a considerably smaller 10-horse Risen Star field.

Inasmuch as the undefeated Smile Happy exits the increasingly hyped Kentucky Jockey Club, a race in which he trounced three future graded stakes winners, I can’t see any possible way that his final Risen Star odds will be close to as high as 7-2. I will be surprised if his odds even turn out to be as high as 5-2.

My selections for the Risen Star are below:

1. Smile Happy
2. Zandon
3. Epicenter
4. Pappacap

While I do see Slow Down Andy as a Risen Star contender, I am not picking him 1-2-3-4.

When he won the Grade II Los Alamitos Futurity last time out, Slow Down Andy defeated none other than Messier, who I have ranked No. 1 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10. So why am I not picking Slow Down Andy 1-2-3-4 in the Risen Star? There are two main reasons.

First, Slow Down Andy must deal with the outside post.

And second, I’m taking the position that Messier lost the Los Al Futurity more than Slow Down Andy won it. Behind this supposition is the fact that Messier has lost both of his starts at Los Alamitos, but he’s won his three other races elsewhere by 6 1/2, 3 1/2 and 15 lengths. In other words, for whatever reason or reasons, Messier is beatable at Los Alamitos and unbeatable elsewhere.

BUBBLING UNDER THE TOP 10 (IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER)

Undefeated BC Juvenile winner Corniche had been on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 until last week. Now that it’s mid-February and he still lacks a recorded workout in 2022, I’m also taking him off my “bubbling under the Top 10”this week. That list is below:

Azure Coast
Barber Road
Barese
Belgrade
Blackadder
Call Me Midnight
Charge It
Chasing Time
Comandperformance
Doppelganger
Ethereal Road
Epicenter
Favorite Outlaw
Forbidden Kingdom
Giant Game
In Due Time
Klugman
Major General
Mo Donegal
Morello
Nitrous Channel
Pappacap
Pinehurst
Pioneer of Medina
Rockefeller
Shipsational
Tiz the Bomb
Volcanic
We the People
Zandon
Zozos

SMILE HAPPY RECEIVES FUTURE WAGER RESPECT

While the “all others” option ended up being the 2-1 favorite, Smile Happy was backed down to the lowest price at 8-1 among the 23 individual horses in Pool 3 of Churchill Downs’ Kentucky Derby Future (KDFW), which closed last Sunday.

In the wake of Classic Causeway’s Sam F. Davis victory, he was the second choice among individual horses at 13-1.

In a continuation of the policy that was put in place for KDFW Pool 1 last November, no Baffert trainees were included among the 23 individual horses in Pool 3. This policy stems from the situation mentioned earlier in which Churchill Downs currently is banning Baffert from running any horses in the 2022 Kentucky Derby.

Below are the final odds for Pool 3 of the 2022 KDFW:

 2-1 “All Others”
 8-1 Smile Happy
13-1 Classic Causeway
14-1 Mo Donegal
15-1 Emmanuel
18-1 Forbidden Kingdom
18-1 White Abarrio
19-1 Early Voting
19-1 Rattle N Roll
21-1 Zandon
23-1 Slow Down Andy
24-1 Epicenter
25-1 Chasing Time
31-1 Pappacap
32-1 Major General
33-1 Commandperformance
37-1 In Due Time
43-1 Simplification
56-1 Call Me Midnight
61-1 God of Love
61-1 Happy Boy Rocket
63-1 Barber Road
72-1 Howling Time
88-1 Make It Big

FRED LAMBERT AND FRISKY ZEUS

The Washington Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association recently reported that Fred Lambert passed away on Jan. 18 after suffering a stroke. He was 88.

“Fred grew up around horses, securing his future adult life as a jockey,” the obituary said. “He rode very successfully for more than 30 years at Coeur d’Alene, Playfair, Yakima Meadows and Longacres, as well as at tracks in Arizona, Colorado and Canada.”

I spent the early part of my life going to the races at Coeur d’Alene, Playfair, Yakima Meadow and Longacres. In 1974, I began my racing career as a writer and chart-caller for the Daily Racing Form at Playfair. During the 1960s and 1970s, I saw Lambert ride a zillion times. He was not a star, but rather a rider who plied his trade day in and day out, year after year, without any fanfare, one who truly would have been a good fit in the 2021 movie “Jockey.”

Lambert was Frisky Zeus’ jockey the day in 1970 when one of the most remarkable streaks in the history of racing that very few people are aware of was extended. Lambert also was in the saddle when Frisky Zeus’ streak came to an end in 1971.

Frisky Zeus kicked off his long racing career at the age of 2 in a 4 1/2-furlong maiden race at Longacres in 1961. He finished second.

In Frisky Zeus’ first start in 1962, he ran third in a 4 1/2-furlong allowance race at Yakima Meadows.

And then, in 1963, Frisky Zeus’ extraordinary streak began. He won his first start of the year for the next seven consecutive years!

In Frisky Zeus’ 1963 debut, he was victorious in a 5 1/2-furlong race by 2 1/4 lengths at Portland Meadows. It was a $1,000 claiming race. He paid $6.80 to win.

In 1964, Frisky Zeus again won his first start of the year. He prevailed by a head in a 5 1/2-furlong contest for $1,000 claimers at Portland Meadows. He paid $29.40.

Frisky Zeus also won his 1965 debut. He posted a 1 3/4-length victory in another 5 1/2-furlong race for $1,000 claimers at Portland Meadows. He paid $9.60.

In 1966, Frisky Zeus did it again. This time I was there to see it. Frisky Zeus won his first race of the year by one length at Yakima Meadows. It was a 4 1/2-furlong starter allowance contest. He paid $3.20.

Guess what? That’s right. In 1967, Frisky Zeus again won his first start of the year. He romped to a six-length win in a five-furlong sprint for $1,000 claimers at Yakima Meadows. He paid $11.90. I was there for that victory, too.

I also was at Yakima Meadows when Frisky Zeus made his first start of 1968 on March 17. By then, his streak had attracted some attention. Because I had become aware of the streak, I told my dad, “The lock of the year is today. Frisky Zeus always wins his first race of the year.”

Now a 9-year-old, Frisky Zeus came through yet again. He won a 4 1/2-furlong race for $1,000 claimers by a comfortable 3 1/2 lengths. He paid $4.30.

In 1969, I kept scouring the Yakima Meadows entries, hoping to see Frisky Zeus’ name for his first race of the year. The wait ended when I saw that he was entered in a 4 1/2-furlong race for $1,000 claimers on March 29.

“It’s time for the lock of the year again,” I told my dad.

Frisky Zeus didn’t let me down. He won by four lengths under Fred Lambert. Frisky Zeus paid $3.70.

The streak finally came to an end in 1970. Now an 11-year-old, Frisky Zeus was sent away as a 3-5 favorite in a 4 1/2-furlong sprint for $1,000 claimers at Yakima Meadows on March 14. Frisky Zeus and Lambert finished second, two lengths behind I.B. King and jockey Robert Howg.

Once again I was in the crowd the day that Frisky Zeus’ streak finally was snapped.

I also was on hand when Frisky Zeus did not win his 1971 debut at the ae of 12. He finished ninth in a 5 1/2-furlong race for $1,500 claimers at Yakima Meadows. His rider? Joe Baze, father of future Hall of Fame jockey Russell Baze.

Washington-bred Frisky Zeus was a son of By Zeus, who won the 1954 San Fernando Stakes at Santa Anita. By Zeus made history later that year by winning the San Juan Capistrano Handicap on Santa Anita’s brand new turf course. The 1954 San Juan Capistrano was the world’s first $100,000 grass race.

After By Zeus was retired to stud, he sired Fur Piece, a half-sister to stakes winners Barbara Jo and Mercy Me.

Fur Piece never raced. But in 1965, Fur Piece foaled a colt by Cold Command (a son of Triple Crown winner War Admiral and grandson of mighty Man o’ War). Gelded as a yearling, that bay son of Cold Command and Fur Piece would go on to break a world record and a number of track records while becoming the most popular Thoroughbred to ever race in the Pacific Northwest. On one occasion, he carried a staggering 134 pounds and came from 20 lengths behind to win a mile race going away by two lengths. His name? Turbulator.

ECLIPSE AWARD PREDICTIONS SCOREBOARD

Regarding my annual Eclipse Award predictions last week, it turned out that I had 15 correct and two wrong.

I predicted Luis Cardenas would be voted outstanding apprentice jockey. I was way off the mark. He finished third in the voting. Alexander Crispin received the Eclipse Award in this category. Yarmarie Correa finished second.

My prediction for outstanding owner was Spendthrift Farm, MyRacehorse Stable, Madaket Stables and Starlight Racing. This ownership partnership finished second in the voting. The award went to Godolphin.

The first year that I made Eclipse Award predictions for Xpressbet.com was for racing that was conducted in 2011. Now including 2021, my Eclipse Award predictions have proven to be correct 91.9% 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
2021: 16 correct, 1 wrong

Total thru 2021: 172 correct, 15 wrong


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