There is a lot going on regarding my Kentucky Derby Top 10 this week.
To begin with, No. 1 Arabian Knight (pictured above) is headed to Arkansas this week.
Arabian Knight has not raced since his impressive debut in Kentucky last Nov. 5. The Kentucky-bred Uncle Mo colt is one of nine 3-year-olds entered in Oaklawn Park’s Grade III Southwest Stakes, a $750,000 race to be run at 1 1/16 miles this Saturday (Jan. 28).
Arabian Knight is coming off a 97 Beyer Speed Figure. So is Corona Bolt, who is two for two. These two figure to be strongly supported in the wagering Saturday.
Trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, Arabian Knight was a $2.3 million auction purchase. He kicked off his career in the first race on the Nov. 5 Breeders’ Cup card.
“In the first race at Keeneland on Saturday (Nov. 5), Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert unveils a $2.3 million auction purchase by the name of Arabian Knight,” I wrote for Xpressbet.com. “Yes, the Uncle Mo colt is the 2-1 morning-line favorite. But I can tell you that I will be thrilled if he does not go off at lower odds than 2-1 because I will be making a win wager on him no matter how low the price goes.”
I did make a big win wager on Arabian Knight. And as I expected, when he exited the starting gate, his odds were much lower than 2-1.
In my recap of that race for Xpressbet.com, I wrote: “Bet down to 3-5 favoritism, Arabian Knight seized the early lead and bounded home to win by a widening 7 1/4 lengths while completing seven furlongs a splendid 1:21.98. Keep in mind this final time by a 2-year-old in a maiden race was comparable to Goodnight Olive’s 1:21.61 clocking when she won the Grade I BC Filly & Mare Sprint on the same oval and at the same distance later on the card.”
Arabian Knight races for Zedan Racing Stables.
“As Amr Zedan of Zedan Racing Stables began an interview with BloodHorse after the race, Baffert shouted, ‘Tell them they’re going to have to water the track because he dried it out,’ an apparent reference to the colt running like the wind,” wrote BloodHorse’s Byron King.
John Velazquez rode Arabian Knight in the colt’s unveiling. Velazquez was aboard Arabian Knight’s sire, Uncle Mo, in all eight of his career starts, including five victories. Uncle Mo captured the Grade I BC Juvenile at Churchill Downs in 2010. He was voted an Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male.
After Arabian Knight’s dazzling debut, Velazquez said the colt reminded him “so much of his sire.” Is it any surprise, then, that Velazquez is making the trip to Oaklawn from California to ride Arabian Knight in the Southwest?
Arabian Knight’s paternal grandsire is Indian Charlie. Trained by Baffert, Indian Charlie won four straight before finishing third as the favorite in the 1998 Kentucky Derby, which was the colt’s only loss in five career starts. The 1998 Run for the Roses was won by the Baffert-trained Real Quiet.
Indian Charlie is the maternal grandsire of now-retired superstar Flightline.
Below are my selections for the Southwest Stakes:
1. Arabian Knight
2. Jace’s Road
3. Corona Bolt
4. Hit Show
Meanwhile, three-time Grade I winner Forte, who is No. 2 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10, had his first 2023 workout this past Saturday (Jan. 21) in Florida at Palm Beach Downs. The Kentucky-bred Violence colt clocked three furlongs in :38.38 for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher.
“It was very good,” Pletcher was quoted as saying on the Gulfstream Park website. “It was his first work back, just a nice introductory three-eighths. We’ll probably go a half-mile next week.”
Forte might make his first 2023 start in Gulfstream’s Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes on March 4.
“We’ve got the Fountain of Youth penciled in as our target and, so far, it’s gone according to plan,” Pletcher said. “We’ve still got a ways to go.”
Forte’s trio of Grade I triumphs last year came in the Hopeful Stakes, Breeders’ Futurity and BC Juvenile.
In the BC Juvenile, 5-1 Forte defeated 2-5 favorite Cave Rock by 1 1/2 lengths. That was Cave Rock’s first defeat after wins by six lengths and 5 1/4 lengths twice for Baffert.
Cave Rock is No. 3 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10. The Kentucky-bred Arrogate colt is expected to have his first 2023 workout soon.
Brad Cox currently trains a bevy of Kentucky Derby candidates. One of them is Instant Coffee, who moves up a notch to No. 6 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 this week. The Kentucky-bred Bolt d’Oro colt rallied from well off the pace after bobbling a bit at the start to win Fair Grounds’ Grade III Lecomte Stakes going away by 2 1/2 lengths at 1 1/16 miles last Saturday (Jan. 22).
Instant Coffee’s final time was 1:45.12. Thoroughbred Daily News’ T.D. Thornton pointed out that of the six Fair Grounds races at 1 1/16 miles on the card, Instant Coffee recorded the fastest final sixteenth clocking, “running .19 seconds quicker than older Grade III stakes horses in the Louisiana Stakes a half-hour earlier.”
I shied away from making Instant Coffee my top pick in Lecomte selections for Xpressbet.com. The primary reason I didn’t go with him is because he had not recorded a Beyer Speed Figure higher than 85. But what did Instant Coffee do in the Lecomte? He went out there and improved to a 92 Beyer, plenty good enough to get the job done.
Below is my current Kentucky Derby Top 10:
1. Arabian Knight
3. Cave Rock
5. Cyclone Mischief
6. Instant Coffee
7. Giant Mischief
8. Arabian Lion
Bubbling Under My Top 10: Angel of Empire, Blazing Sevens, Corona Bolt, Curly Jack, Disarm, Faustin, Hit Show, Jace’s Road, Kingsbarns, Litigate, National Treasure, Newgate, Please Be Nice, Reincarnate, Shopper’s Revenge, Signator, Sun Thunder, Tapit Trice, Worcester and Victory Formation.
FORTE INDIVIDUAL FAVORITE IN DERBY FUTURE WAGER
Not surprisingly, Forte was the favorite among 38 individual horses in Pool 3 of Churchill Down’ Kentucky Derby Future Wager (KDFW) when betting closed last Sunday (Jan. 22). His odds were 7-1.
Forte being at such a low price in January had absolutely no appeal to me. I did make three bets in KDFW Pool 3.
I wrote last week that there were four horses listed at 40-1 on the KDFW morning line that I might put some money on – Banishing, Cyclone Mischief, Signator and Verifying. Since the “All Other 3-Year-Old Colts and Geldings” option was listed at 6-5 on the morning line, I did not plan to bet that.
I did indeed put some money on Banishing, who closed at 27-1. I did bet him even after he was scratched from a Fair Grounds allowance/optional claiming race last Saturday. He reportedly got cast in his stall and sustained some minor scrapes and cuts. As a result of that incident, Banishing is expected to miss about five days of training. This isn’t a good thing, but it’s nothing to cause me to drop him from my Kentucky Derby Top 10, or even to lower him from No. 4, which is where he was last week.
The TDN’s Thornton has Banishing on his Kentucky Derby Top 12. Arabian Knight is No. 1, followed in order by Forte, Cave Rock, Tapit Trice, Banishing, Faustin, Signator, Victory Formation, Hejazi, Instant Coffee, Jace’s Road and Determinedly.
Steve Haskin of Secretariat.com has Banishing ranked No. 7 for the Kentucky Derby. Those ranked higher, in order, are Forte, Cave Rock, Practical Move, Giant Mischief, Jace’s Road and Cyclone Mischief. Rounding out Haskin’s Top 10 are Signator, Instant Coffee and Arabian Knight.
Regarding Cyclone Mischief, Haskin wrote: “He looks to be one of the biggest overlays of the [Kentucky Derby] Future Wager.”
I didn’t hesitate to put some money on Cyclone Mischief in the KDFW. I didn’t hesitate to put some money on him, not at a juicy 44-1.
I didn’t see the need to bet Verifying at 34-1. Why? I already bet him at 74-1 in KDFW Pool 2.
I didn’t put any money on Signator in Pool 3 at 34-1. I wanted 40-1 or higher for him.
I did go ahead and make a large wager on “All Other 3-Year-Old Colts and Geldings” in Pool 3. Instead of being around the 6-5 morning-line price, this option was 5-2 until it dropped to 2-1 just before the betting deadline Sunday at 6 p.m. ET.
I felt 2-1 still was an extremely attractive price vis-a-vis the 6-5 morning line, especially considering that no 3-year-olds currently trained by Baffert were included among the 28 individual horses in Pool 3 due to the trainer being banned from the 2023 Kentucky Derby.
That means such Baffert-trained runners as Arabian Knight, Cave Rock, Arabian Lion, Hejazi, National Treasure, Newgate, Faustin, Reincarnate, Worcester, Havnameltdown and Harlocap are included in the “All Other 3-Year-Old Colts and Geldings” option in Pool 3.
My wager on “All Other 3-Year-Old Colts and Geldings” in Pool 3 follows sizable bets I previously made on this option at 4-5 in both Pool 1 and Pool 2.
In an important development this year involving Baffert, “new details have emerged about what has to happen for horses currently trained by him to be eligible to compete in this year’s Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs,” Daily Racing Form’s David Grening reported last Sunday (Jan. 22).
“As Baffert is still suspended by Churchill Downs through this year’s Derby on May 6, owners who have potential Derby horses with him must transfer them to other trainers by Feb. 28 in order to earn qualifying points in those points-scoring races designated by Churchill Downs on the Road to the Derby,” Grening wrote.
Two Baffert trainees, Taiba and Messier, did run in last year’s Kentucky Derby after being transferred to trainer Tim Yakteen. But those transfers occurred in April, not Feburary.
It’s going to be very interesting to see which Baffert-trained 3-year-olds go to another trainer and which of them do stay with the Hall of Famer prior to the Feb. 28 deadline.
Churchill Downs, which has offered pari-mutuel future wagering going back to 1999, expanded the number of betting options from 20 to 40 for the 2023 Run for the Roses.
Three more KDFW pools will be conducted this year: Feb. 10-12 (Pool 4), (Feb. 10-12) and Pool 5 (March 10-12).
Below are the final odds reported by Churchill Downs for Pool 3 of the 2023 KDFW:
2-1 All Other 3-Year-Old Colts and Geldings
15-1 Instant Coffee
18-1 Extra Anejo
23-1 Victory Formation
27-1 Giant Mischief
28-1 Blazing Sevens
32-1 Corona Bolt
33-1 All 3-Year-Old Fillies
44-1 Cyclone Mischief
45-1 Tapit Trice
56-1 Curly Jack
56-1 Shopper’s Revenge
58-1 Practical Move
58-1 Sun Thunder
62-1 Tapit’s Conquest
67-1 Echo Again
69-1 Jace’s Road
77-1 Hit Show
78-1 Confidence Game
85-1 Arctic Arrogance
91-1 Two Phil’s
103-1 Gun Pilot
105-1 Tapit Shoes
121-1 Lugan Knight
121-1 Rocket Can
125-1 Angel of Empire
171-1 Prairie Hawk
PEGASUS WORLD CUP SELECTIONS
The 2023 edition of the Grade I Pegasus World Cup highlights an excellent card this Saturday (Jan. 28) at Gulfstream Park. The $3 million invitational event will be contested at 1 1/8 miles on the main track.
I kept looking and looking and looking for a horse to try and beat 5-2 morning-line favorite Cyberknife. I’m really not wild about him at low odds from post 10. But try as I might, I could not come up with anyone else I like more.
I thought Cyberknife ran a terrific race in defeat when the runner-up in the Grade I BC Dirt Mile, which he lost by a head to a tough foe in Cody’s Wish on Nov. 5.
Thus, I am going with Cyberknife as my tepid top pick in this, his final start before beginning his new career as a sire.
Below are my selections for the Pegasus World Cup:
By the way, imagine just how exciting it would be if fabulous Flightline had been entered in the Pegasus instead of being retired to stud?
50 YEARS AGO: SECRETARIAT TRAINS IN FLORIDA
After having been elected 1972 Horse of the Year as a 2-year-old by Eclipse Award voters, Secretariat was training at Florida’s Hialeah Park early in 1973 in preparation for his legendary 3-year-old campaign.
According to William Nack who wrote the book “Secretariat: The Making of a Champion,” Secretariat posted four workouts in January, all at Hialeah:
01/15/73 (3 furlongs in :37.00)
01/20/73 (3 furlongs in :35.20)
01/24/73 (4 furlongs in :47.60)
01/30/73 (4 furlongs in :49.00)
Secretariat later would kick off his 1973 campaign by winning Aqueduct’s Grade III Bay Shore Stakes at seven furlongs by an emphatic 4 1/2 lengths while on his way to the first Triple Crown sweep since Citation had achieved the feat 25 years earlier.
HOWIE TESHER DIES
The Thoroughbred racing community is mourning the death of highly successful and colorful trainer Howie Tesher, who died last Friday (Jan. 20) at the Majestic Memory Care Century in Hollywood, Fla., Daily Racing Form’s David Grening reported.
“Tesher, who suffered from dementia, died due to complications from pneumonia, according to his niece Jodie David,” Grening wrote.
Known for trying his best to keep his age unknown, Tesher would go so far as to smudge the date of birth on his licenses. He supposedly did that after a girlfriend once broke up with him after seeing his age on a passport.
Grening reported Tesher’s age as 90.
A Florida native, Tesher began his training career in that state at Tropical Park in 1961. His first win came in 1962 with Weeper’s Boy at Suffolk Downs in Massachusetts.
According to Equibase, Tesher won 1,302 races during a career that ended in 2014. He conditioned Grade I winners Andover Way, Bull Inthe Heather, Influent, Lieutenant’s Lark, Plankton, Sondrio, Weber City Miss and Wolfie’s Rascal.
“Tesher, who had a gregarious personality, trained for some high-profile owners, including George Steinbrenner [owner of the New York Yankees] and Telly Savalas (star of the popular TV show ‘Kojak’),” Grening wrote.
When I was a writer for the Daily Racing Form, I talked to Tesher a number of times. Whenever I did, it was a pleasure. He was always so quotable. That was no surprise in that he majored in journalism at the University of Florida, which gave him the background to know exactly what to say to a reporter.
I initially spoke with Tesher from time to time when I was writing columns for the DRF in the winter of 1980-81, first at Keystone (now Parx Racing) in Pennsylvania, then at Bowie in Maryland.
I later interviewed Tesher both before and after the Grade III Hawthorne Handicap at Hollywood Park in 1982 after I had been promoted by the DRF to be a reporter/columnist on the Southern California circuit.
Tesher won the Hawthorne on June 5 with Weber City Miss. Ridden by Sandy Hawley, Weber City Miss prevailed by two lengths as the 4-5 favorite.
Weber City Miss’ successful Hollywood Park invasion to take the Hawthorne came during what I will always remember as the year of Landaluce in Southern California.
Four weeks after the Hawthorne, Landaluce burst on the scene at Hollywood Park for trainer D. Wayne Lukas with a seven-length maiden win at six furlongs in a fast 1:08 1/5. One week later, the brilliant but ill-fated daughter of Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew ran six furlongs even faster to win the Grade II Hollywood Lassie Stakes by an amazing 21 lengths in 1:08 flat.
The same day that Weber City Miss won the Hawthorne in California, Conquistador Cielo splashed home to a 14-length victory in New York in the Grade I Belmont Stakes. Conquistador Cielo won the Belmont just five days after a 7 1/2-length win vs. his elders in the Grade I Met Mile for trainer Woody Stephens.
Weber City Miss won a much more important race than the Hawthorne later in 1982. She collaborated with Angel Cordero Jr. to register a 5 1/2-length victory in the Grade I Beldame Stakes at Belmont on Oct. 1.
ECLIPSE AWARD PREDICTIONS
Last week for Xpressbet.com, I listed my 2022 Eclipse Award predictions. The 2022 winners will be announced during the Eclipse Awards dinner on Thursday (Jan. 26) at The Breakers in Palm Beach, Fla.
A two-hour telecast of the Eclipse Awards dinner on FanDuel TV and Racetrack Television Network (RTN) begins at 7:30 p.m. ET.
The first year that I made Eclipse Award predictions for Xpressbet.com was for the racing that was conducted in 2011. My Eclipse Award predictions from 2011 to present have been correct 91.2% 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: 172 correct, 15 wrong
Remember, these are my predictions, not who I think should win or who I voted for.
I made a mistake when I listed these predictions last week. I had Cave Rock winning as 2-year-old male. Oops! To set the record straight, my actual prediction is Forte, who looks like a slam-dunk.
In terms of my 2022 predictions, I have the least confidence of being correct in the categories of male sprinter, female turf and trainer.
I’ve had more than two wrong only once going back to 2011. I don’t think it’s out of the question to have three or perhaps even more wrong this time. We shall see.
These are my predictions for the 2022 Eclipse Awards:
Finalists (alphabetically): Cave Rock, Forte, Victoria Road
Predicted Winner: Forte
Finalists: Leave No Trace, Meditate, Wonder Wheel
Predicted Winner: Wonder Wheel
Finalists: Epicenter, Modern Games, Taiba
Predicted Winner: Epicenter
Finalists: Nest, Secret Oath, Tuesday
Predicted Winner: Nest
OLDER DIRT MALE
Finalists: Flightline, Life Is Good, Olympiad
Predicted Winner: Flightline
OLDER DIRT FEMALE
Finalists: Clairiere, Goodnight Olive, Malathaat
Predicted Winner: Malathaat
Finalists: Cody’s Wish, Elite Power, Jackie’s Warrior
Predicted Winner: Elite Power
Finalists: Caravel, Echo Zulu, Goodnight Olive
Predicted Winner: Goodnight Olive
Finalists: Modern Games, Nations Pride, Rebel’s Romance
Predicted Winner: Rebel’s Romance
Finalists: In Italian, Regal Glory, War Like Goddess
Predicted Winner: Regal Glory
Finalists: Down Royal, Hewick, Snap Decision
Predicted Winner: Hewick
Finalists: Steve Asmussen, Chad Brown, Todd Pletcher
Predicted Winner: Todd Pletcher
Finalists: Irad Ortiz Jr., Flavien Prat, Joel Rosario
Predicted Winner: Irad Ortiz Jr.
Finalists: Jeiron Barbosa, Vincente Del-Cid, Jose Antonio Gomez
Predicted Winner: Jose Antonio Gomez
Finalists: Peter Brandt, Godolphin, Klaravich Stables
Predicted Winner: Godolphin
Finalists: Godolphin, Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings, Summer Wind Equine
Predicted Winner: Godolphin
HORSE OF THE YEAR
Finalists: Not announced
Predicted Winner: Flightline