Jon White: Soph Stakes Picks, Derby Top 10, Preakness Future Bet

There is a lot going on this week.

For, I have selections for Gulfstream Park’s Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes, Santa Anita’s Grade II San Felipe Stakes, Aqueduct’s Grade III Gotham Stakes and Turfway Park’s John Battaglia Memorial. All four races are to be run this Saturday (March 2).

For my Kentucky Derby Top 10 this week, Timberlake moves up in the rankings after his victory in Oaklawn Park’s Grade II Rebel Stakes last Saturday.

Also for this week, I take a look at Preakness future wagering.


Nine 3-year-olds are entered in the Fountain of Youth Stakes, which will be contested at 1 1/16 miles.

From the rail out, the field is comprised of Speak Easy, Le Dom Bro, Victory Avenue, Real Macho, Dornoch, Merit, Frankie’s Empire, Locked and Dancing Groom.

Speak Easy and Merit are cross-entered in a 1 1/8-mile allowance/optional claimer Friday (March 1) at Gulfstream.

Dornoch is my top choice. The Kentucky-bred Good Magic colt is making his first start since he re-rallied in the stretch to eke out a nose win over Sierra Leone in the Grade II Remsen Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on a muddy track Dec. 2 at Aqueduct.

Trained by Danny Gargan, Dornoch is a full brother to 2023 Kentucky Derby winner Mage.

“I told everybody in May that he’s the best horse I ever trained and nobody argues that now,” Gargan told Daily Racing Form’s David Grening. “I think he’s going to go on and do some good things.

“He just has a massive stride. He’s impressive to look at too. I hope he turns out as good as I think he is.”

Dornoch’s Remsen victory looks even better now after runner-up Sierra Leone won the Grade II Risen Star Stakes on a sloppy Fair Grounds oval Feb. 17 in his first 2024 start.

Sierra Leone ranks No. 2 and Dornoch is No. 3 on my current Kentucky Derby Top 10. Saudi Derby winner Forever Young is No. 1.

Locked warrants the utmost respect in the Fountain of Youth. This will be his first start since finishing third as the 2-1 favorite in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last Nov. 3 at Santa Anita. He missed a scheduled start in the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 10 due to spiking a temperature.

Trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, Locked won the Grade I Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland last year prior to the BC Juvenile.

Pletcher also is the conditioner of Speak Easy. If the Kentucky-bred Constitution colt runs Saturday, he should be taken very seriously. Speak Easy recorded a 100 Beyer Speed Figure when he won a seven-furlong maiden race at Gulfstream on Jan. 27.

Victory Avenue is entered in the Fountain of Youth as a maiden. In his career debut, he finished second to Speak Easy.

I’m intrigued by Victory Avenue. I think he possesses much raw talent and is a work in progress for trainer Gustavo Delgado, who won last year’s Run for the Roses with Mage.

The one-two finish by Speak Easy and Victory Avenue in the Jan. 27 Gulfstream maiden contest was flattered when fourth-place finisher Corporate Power won a 1 1/8-mile maiden race at Gulfstream last Saturday.

Below are my Fountain of Youth Stakes selections:

1. Dornoch
2. Locked
3. Speak Easy
4. Victory Avenue


Nysos, ranked No. 1 in the nation in the NTRA Top Three-Year-Old Poll, heads a field of five in the San Felipe Stakes.

From the rail out, the entrants in the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe are Scatify, Wine Me Up, Nysos, Mc Vay and Imagination.

Hall of Famer Bob Baffert trains Nysos, Imagination and Wine Me Up.

A Kentucky-bred son of Nyquist, Nysos is undefeated and untested in three starts to date. Street Sense (2006-07) and Nyquist (2015-16) are the only two horses to win both the BC Juvenile and Kentucky Derby.

Nysos has won his three races by a combined 26 3/4 lengths. In his 2003 debut, he won Santa Anita’s Grade III Robert B. Lewis Stakes by an emphatic 7 1/2 lengths on Feb. 3.

The race's status for Saturday is up in the air due to weather and Santa Anita may opt to run this card instead on Sunday. Be sure to check for the latest updates.

Below are my San Felipe Stakes selections:

1. Nysos
2. Imagination
3. Wine Me Up
4. Scatify


The one-mile Gotham Stakes has drawn a field of 13.

From the rail out, the Gotham cast is made up of Khanate, Maximus Meridus, Deterministic, Facenda, Deposition, Air Cav, El Grande O, Bergen, Eliminate, Just a Touch, Lightline, Slider and Capital Idea.

I had a hard time choosing between Just a Touch and Capital Idea for my top pick. I decided to go with the highly regarded Just a Touch, who splashed home a facile 4 1/4-length winner on a sloppy track Jan. 27 at first asking in a Fair Grounds maiden race.

Just a Touch recorded an 89 Beyer Speed Figure in his maiden score.

Brad Cox trains Just a Touch. Cox also conditions Air Cav, Bergen and Lightline.

Bergen and Air Cav finished first and third, respectively, in Aqueduct’s Jimmy Winkfield Stakes on a muddy track Jan. 27.

Lightline ran third on Feb. 3 in Aqueduct’s Grade III Withers Stakes, which also was decided on a muddy surface.

Capital Idea posted a 69 Beyer Speed Figure when third in his career debut. He then improved to an 84 Beyer when winning a one-mile maiden race by 8 1/4 lengths on a sloppy track Jan. 28 at Aqueduct.

Trained by Christophe Clemente, Capital Idea received an excellent Thoro-Graph number when he earned his maiden diploma.

While I consider Beyer Speed Figures to be a useful tool for horseplayers, I do believe that Thoro-Graph numbers are superior to the Beyers. That’s because Thoro-Graph takes more factors into account than the Beyers. According to Thoro-Graph, “each number on a sheet represents a performance rating arrived at by using time of the race, beaten lengths, ground lost or saved on the turns, weight carried, and any effects wind conditions had on the time of the race.”

In the case of the Thoro-Graph numbers, a horse who finished second, or even lower, can get a better number than the winner. This is one of the reasons I believe that Thoro-Graph is better than the Beyers. I consider a Thoro-Graph number to be a much truer reflection of a horse’s performance than a Beyer. Thoro-Graph’s approach reflects the reality that the winner is not necessarily the horse who ran the best race.

The winner of a race never gets a lower Beyer Speed Figure than the horse who finished second, the horse who finished second never gets a lower Beyer than the horse who finished third, and so on down through the order of finish.

For Capital Idea’s first race, he was assigned a 10 1/4 Thoro-Graph number. That was followed by a 2 3/4 in his maiden score. The 2 3/4 figure stacks up quite well against other members of his class. For instance, when Sierra Leone finished second in the Remsen, his Thoro-Graph fig was 4. And that 4 was a much better Thoro-Graph number than Remsen winner Dornach’s 6 for that race.

One concern for Capital Idea in the Gotham, though, is he must deal with breaking from the outside post.

Clemente also entered Deterministic in the Gotham. In his only start thus far, Deterministic raced sixth early and unleashed a late charge to win a seven-furlong maiden race by a half-length at Saratoga last Aug. 12.

Below are my Gotham Stakes selections:

1. Just a Touch
2. Capital Idea
3. El Grande O
4. Bergen


An overflow field of 14 has been assembled for the 1 1/16-mile John Battaglia.

From the rail out, the entrants are Gettysburg Address, Ode to Balius, Mr. Faversham, Bolt at Midnight, Fidget, Epic Ride, Blue Eyed George, Break Out, Mission Ready, Good Bali, Mugato and Encino. The two also eligibles are Karlwithanrl and Katheeb.

My top pick is Epic Ride, who has won two of three career starts, all at Turfway Park.

Epic Ride narrowly lost his career debut Dec. 8. The Kentucky-bred Blame colt then won a six-furlong maiden race by five lengths on Jan. 5, followed by a four-length victory in the one-mile Leonatus Stakes on Feb. 2.

Below are my John Battaglia Memorial selections:

1. Epic Ride
2. Bolt At Midnight
3. Blue Eyed George
4. Break Out


I wrote this last week: “Maybe Forever Young will go out there and get beat in the Saudi Derby. What then for my Kentucky Derby Top 10? That’s easy. If Forever Young has his bubble of invincibility burst in Saturday’s Saudi Derby, I’ll just put someone else in the top spot on my Top 10 next week. But the feeling here is I won’t have to do that.”

Forever Young was backed down to odds-on favoritism in international Saudi Cup wagering. He rallied in the stretch and got up in the last desperate jump to win by a head for Japan (pictured above). America’s Book’em Danno finished second.

Book’em Danno ran too good to lose. The New Jersey-bred gelding finished six lengths clear of America’s Bentornato in third.

How good was Book’em Danno’s performance? I can’t help questioning whether the likes of Sierra Leone or Timberlake would have been able to catch him, as Forever Young did.

While it’s true that Forever Young won by only a small margin, I like him even more now than I did before the Saudi Derby. Why? He won despite racing in a country other than Japan for the first time, despite competing in a race around one turn for the first time, despite a tardy beginning and despite a wide journey.

Forever Young’s final time of 1:36.17 for 1,600 meters did not just break the track record, it smashed it. The old mark had been 1:37.91 set by Full Flat in the inaugural Saudi Derby in 2020.

Indeed, Forever Young’s 1:36 flat clocking in fifths was about nine lengths faster than Full Flat’s 1:37 4/5.

As a one-turn race at about one mile, the Saudi Derby is “as much a sprint as a route, and Forever Young struggled to adapt,” Daily Racing Form’s Marcus Hersh wrote. “Breaking poorly under Ryusei Sakai, Forever Young had to be ridden vigorously down the backstretch while kept toward the center of the track to avoid kickback…Forever Young spun his wheels and lost momentum into the homestretch, where he failed to ever change leads. With 300 meters remaining he began closing the gap, and with a furlong left to run, Book’em Danno wearing down, Forever Young began making serious progress. One final surge and Forever Young collared Book’em Danno, a tough beat for trainer Derek Ryan and Book’em Danno’s New Jersey owners, but a win under the most challenging circumstances Forever Young has faced.”

Forever Young now goes on to the UAE Derby at about 1 3/16 miles on March 30 in a quest to earn sufficient points to make it into the 20-stall Kentucky Derby starting gate.

As for Book’em Danno, the current plan is for him to run next in Churchill Downs’ Grade II Pat Day Mile at one mile on the Kentucky Derby undercard.

“Book’em Danno, who looks like a very good sprinter-miler, might have hit the far end of his stamina range in the one-turn Saudi Derby, while Forever Young was just getting warmed up at the trip,” Hersh wrote. “Forever Young, always out of rhythm in Saturday’s contest, ought to better suit the 1 3/16-mile race in Dubai.”

Don’t forget that Japan’s Derma Sotogake ran third in last year’s Saudi Derby, which he lost by 2 3/4 lengths. Based on the final time of the race last year vis-a-vis this year, Derma Sotogake would have finished about 17 lengths -- yes, about 17 lengths! -- behind Forever Young in this year’s Saudi Derby.

I’m keeping four-for-four Forever Young at No. 1 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 this week, while Grade II Rebel Stakes winner Sierra Leone retains the No. 2 position.

In terms of Forever Young and Sierra Leone, I was stunned when enthusiastic racing fan Ryan Stillman pointed out to me that the two colts have the same second dam, Darling My Darling.

“How could this be?” I thought. After all, Forever Young is a Japanese-bred colt, while Sierra Leone is a Kentucky-bred colt. But it’s true. They have the same maternal granddam.

Forever Young’s dam, Forever Darling, won the Grade II Santa Ynez Stakes in 2015.

Sierra Leone’s dam, Heavenly Love, won the Grade I Alcibiades in 2017.

Darling My Darling, a daughter of Deputy Minister and the Mining mare Roamin Rachel, won two ungraded stakes races during her 13-race career. Deputy Minister was the Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old male of 1981. I won a sizable wager on Mining at Belmont Park in the fall of 1988, then he finished 10th in his next start as the 8-5 favorite in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs.

After Timberlake kicked off his 3-year-old campaign last Saturday with a two-length win from off the pace as the 4-5 favorite in Oaklawn Park’s Grade II Rebel Stakes, he climbs to No. 5 on my Top 10 this week after being No. 9 last week.

Below is my Kentucky Derby Top 10 for this week:

 1. Forever Young
 2. Sierra Leone
 3. Dornoch
 4. Fierceness
 5. Timberlake
 6. Track Phantom
 7. Hades
 8. Mystik Dan
 9. Locked
10. Born Noble

Bubbling Under My Top 10: Catching Freedom, Common Defense, Conquest Warrior, Drip, Domestic Product, El Grande O, Epic Ride, Hall of Fame, Honor Marie, Just a Touch, Just Steel, Liberal Arts, Lightline, Nash, No More Time, Northern Flame, Ramjet, Real Macho, Resilience, Scatify, Snead, Speak Easy, Stretch Ride, Stronghold, The Wine Steward, Tuscan Gold, Tuscan Sky, Uncle Heavy and Victory Avenue.


Preakness future wagering was offered for the first time last year. It proved to be such a success that there will be not one, but two Preakness future wager pools this year.

Pool 1 opens this week at noon ET on Thursday and concludes at 8 p.m. ET on Saturday (March 20).

The Preakness future wager has a field of 39 individual horses, plus an “all other 3-year-olds” option.

The “all others” option is the 6-1 second favorite on the morning line.

The sole Preakness future wager pool last year was conducted from April 28 through May 6. The Kentucky Derby was held on May 7.

There were 28 individual horses in the 2023 Preakness future wager pool, plus an “all others” option. Forte closed as the 7-2 favorite, while “all others” ended up being 8-1. The pool closed before Mage won the Kentucky Derby. If you bet on Mage in the Preakness future wager, you got odds of 24-1. Mage was sent off as the 7-5 favorite on the day of the Preakness and finished third. National Treasure won the Preakness at odds of 5-2. In the Preakness future wager, National Treasure was 8-1 as one of the horses in the “all others” option.

Trainer Bob Baffert is suspended from running horses at tracks owned by Churchill Downs Inc. in 2024. That means the Hall of Famer is barred from participating in this year’s 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby on May 4. But Baffert can run horses in the 1 3/16-mile Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on May 18 and the 1 1/4-mile Belmont Stakes at Saratoga on June 8.

Baffert trains the 4-1 Preakness future wager morning-line favorite, Nysos, who is entered in Santa Anita’s Grade II San Felipe Stakes on Saturday (March 2). The Kentucky-bred Nyquist colt is undefeated and untested in three starts to date. Nyquist won the 2016 Kentucky Derby.

Nysos has won his three races by a combined 26 3/4 lengths. In his most recent start, he cruised to a 7 1/2-length victory in Santa Anita’s Grade III Robert B. Lewis Stakes on Feb. 3.

In my opinion, betting Nysos -- or any horse, for that matter -- at low odds this far in advance of a race just isn’t a good idea. Too much can happen between now and race day.

I think that you should be trying to find a horse you like whose odds are at least 20-1 and preferably much higher.

Not only am I not interested in betting Nysos at around 4-1, I’m not tempted to put any money on Maymun if he’s close to his morning-line price of 10-1.

Of course, I’ll be monitoring what happens in the Fountain of Youth, San Felipe Stakes, Gotham Stakes and John Battaglia Memorial vis-a-vis Preakness future wager odds to see if I’m interested in betting any of those horses for the Preakness.

Meanwhile, listed below, in order of preference, are the horses (all at 25-1 or higher on the morning line) that I do see as possible bets:

--Forever Young (40-1 on the morning line). I definitely will be betting him if he’s anywhere in the neighborhood of 30-1. After all, Forever Young ranks No. 1 on my Kentucky Derby rankings. If he were to win the Run for the Roses, he no doubt would go on to the Preakness and be a tremendously shorter price than 30-1.

For last week, I wrote: “What about this as a possibility? An undefeated Forever Young wins the Kentucky Derby and then has a showdown with an undefeated Nysos in the Preakness Stakes. What a Preakness that would be!”

I’d sure love to see that, especially if I were holding a Preakness future wager ticket on Forever Young at around 30-1.

--Fierceness (25-1 on the morning line). Granted, he could not finish any better than third as a 1-5 favorite when making his 2024 debut in the Grade III Holy Bull Stakes. I would not have any interest in betting him at lower than 20-1. But considering how impressive Fierceness looked in his debut win and Grade I BC Juvenile tour de force, I’ll go ahead and put some money on him for the Preakness if he’s around 25-1.

--Mystik Dan (40-1 on the morning line). Many attribute his eight-length win in the Grade III Southwest Stakes to an inside bias and/or a muddy track, but I was impressed by him visually and by his 101 Beyer Speed Figure. That makes his Preakness odds of 40-1 on the morning line look enticing to me.

--Knightsbridge (30-1 on the morning line). I already have some money on Knightbridge for the Kentucky Derby at 33-1. In his only start so far, he won a seven-furlong maiden race by 10 1/2 lengths at Churchill Downs last Nov. 4.

Maybe Knightsbridge won’t run in the Kentucky Derby. If he doesn’t, I could see him as a potential Preakness candidate for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott.

Knightsbridge, like Nysos, is by Nyquist.

--Born Noble (50-1 on the morning line). Yes, he got beat in his most recent start when edged by Real Macho in a Feb. 3 allowance/optional claimer going one mile at Gulfstream Park. But I haven’t given up on him. I still think he’s a possible major player in the Kentucky Derby and/or Preakness and/or Belmont. A future price of 50-1 or thereabouts on him for the Preakness is not something I can pass up.

--Victory Avenue (50-1 on the morning line). Even though he’s a maiden, he is entered in the Grade II Fountain of Youth. Inasmuch as I think this New York-bred Arrogate colt has much raw talent, I’m willing to make a small future wager on him for the Preakness. His trainer, Gustavo Delgado, won last year’s Kentucky Derby with Mage.

--Hades (50-1 on the morning line). He’s three for three and won the Grade III Holy Bull Stakes by two lengths. Finishing third was Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old male Fierceness.

--Tuscan Sky (50-1 on the morning line). He’s two for two. How good is he? He might be pretty darn good. He’s shown enough for me to go ahead and put a few bucks on him in the Preakness future wager at such a big price of around 50-1.

Below are the morning-line odds for Pool 1 of the Preakness future wager:

No. Horse (Morning Line Odds)

 1. Agate Road (50-1)
 2. Book’em Danno (50-1)
 3. Born Noble (50-1)
 4. Catching Freedom (50-1)
 5. Change of Command (60-1)
 6. Coach Prime (15-1)
 7. Common Defense (60-1)
 8. Conquest Warrior (40-1)
 9. Domestic Product (40-1)
10. Dornoch (18-1)
11. Drip (60-1)
12. Endlessly (60-1)
13. Epic Ride (60-1)
14. Fierceness (25-1)
15. Forever Young (40-1)
16. Hades (50-1)
17. Hall of Fame (50-1)
18. Honor Marie (30-1)
19. Inveigled (50-1)
20. Just a Touch (30-1)
21. Knightsbridge (30-1)
22. Liberal Arts (50-1)
23. Locked (20-1)
24. Maymun (10-1)
25. Muth (20-1)
26. Mystik Dan (40-1)
27. Nash (50-1)
28. No More Time (50-1)
29. Nysos (4-1)
30. Resilience (50-1)
31. Sierra Leone (15-1)
32. Snead (50-1)
33. Speak Easy (50-1)
34. Speedyness (50-1)
35. Stronghold (50-1)
36. Timberlake (20-1)
37. Track Phantom (40-1)
38. Tuscan Sky (50-1)
39. Victory Avenue (50-1)
40. All Other 3-Year-Olds (6-1)

Pool 2 of the 2024 Preakness future wager will open at noon ET on April 26 and close at 6 p.m. ET on Kentucky Derby Day (May 4).


After being tied at No. 3 last week with Idiomatic, Senor Buscador takes over the top spot on the Top 10 in this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll.

Senor Buscador rallied from far back to win the world’s richest race, the $20 million Saudi Cup, last Saturday by a head over Japan’s Ushba Tesoro.

Three others on the NTRA Top 10 last week started in the Saudi Cup. They were Saudi Crown (who finished third), National Treasure (fourth) and White Abarrio (10th).

In last week’s NTRA Top 10, National Treasure was No. 1, White Abarrio was No. 2 and Saudi Crown was No. 5.

Below is the Top 10 in this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll

Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)

 1. 318 Senor Buscador (26)
 2. 241 National Treasure (4)
 3. 238 Saudi Crown
 4. 176 Idomatic (2)
 5. 154 White Abarrio
 6. 120 Newgrange
 7.   97 Warm Heart
 8.   80 Didia
 9.   72 Speed Boat Beach
10.   45 Arabian Knight


After being ranked No. 11 last week, Timberlake finds himself all the way up at No. 3 on this week’s NTRA Top Three-Year-Old Poll.

Below is the Top 10 in this week’s NTRA Top Three-Year-Old Poll:

Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)

 1. 325 Nysos (29)
 2. 281 Sierra Leone (3)
 3. 228 Timberlake (1)
 4. 151 Track Phantom
 5. 144 Muth
 6. 115 Fierceness
 7. 114 Hades
 8. 103 Locked
 9.   93 Mystik Dan
10.   90 Dornoch

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