2023 Kentucky Derby Hopeful Snapshots: Jace’s Road

Welcome to 2023 Kentucky Derby Prospect Snapshots, where we’ll take a look each week at a recent winner on the Triple Crown trail, usually from the Road to the Kentucky Derby schedule from which the racehorses earn points toward qualifying.

The 1 ¼-mile Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve will be held May 6, 2023, at Churchill Downs.

This week, we’ll take a closer look at Jace’s Road, winner of the $100,000 Gun Runner Stakes Dec. 26 at Fair Grounds.

Jace’s Road earned 10 points toward qualifying for the 2023 Kentucky Derby with that win, giving him 13 points overall.

Racing Résumé: Jace’s Road turned heads immediately when he debuted at Ellis Park on Aug. 6 in a six-furlong sprint on dirt. He raced near the lead early, tracking just a length off of the pace after a quarter mile, and took over at will in the stretch to win by an impressive 6 ¼ lengths as the 1.43-1 favorite. The Quality Road colt was then entered in the 1 1/6-mile Iroquois Stakes Sept. 17 at Churchill Downs, the first qualifying points race for the 2023 Kentucky Derby, and he ran a creditable third in his first start around two turns, finishing 1 ½ lengths behind rallying winner Curly Jack. He collected three qualifying points for Derby 149 in the Iroquois.

Based on those two solid efforts, Jace’s Road was made the 2.07-1 favorite in the Oct. 30 Street Sense Stakes back at Churchill and at the same distance. However, he dropped jockey Florent Geroux  as the field prepared to load and had to be corralled by the outriders for remounting. After the race started – held on a sloppy track – Jace’s Road assumed another stalking position early on but tailed off in the backstretch and finished a disappointing eighth, defeated by 36 ½ lengths.

That performance merited a mulligan, and indeed bettors made Jace’s Road the 2.40-1 second choice in the 1 1/16-mile Gun Runner at Fair Grounds. He broke sharply under Florent Geroux and quickly assumed command over 9-10 favorite Determinedly, who bobbled at the break. Jace’s Road kept that foe in check through the backstretch and the far turn while setting a moderate pace and began to separate from Determinedly and the rest of the field in early stretch. Geroux kept his mount to task in the final furlong and Jace’s Road won by 5 ¼ lengths over longshot Raise Cain, who closed to edge Determinedly for second.

Following the win, trainer Brad Cox told Fair Grounds media that Jace’s Road “wasn’t quite himself” when preparing for the Street Sense Stakes, but that the colt had shown improvement in his two subsequent workouts and he felt Jace’s Road took a big step forward with his Gun Runner victory. 

Speed Figures: Jace’s Road earned a good 88 Equibase Speed Figure in his debut win at Ellis. His figure dipped a bit in the Iroquois with an 81, and then he received a 28 for his toss-out race in the Street Sense. Jace’s Road notched a career-best 94 in the Gun Runner, and also earned a solid 93 Beyer Speed Figure in that race. Those figures place him a rung below divisional leaders Forte and Cave Rock but well within striking range, and with plenty of time to improve.

Running Style: So far, this colt has shown the ability to either set or stalk the pace, two running styles that have been beneficial to horses on the Derby trail – and in the big race itself – over the past several years. He went wire-to-wire for the first time in four career starts in the Gun Runner, and in his two good starts before that showed encouraging professionalism for a 2-year-old by patiently tracking the leaders before moving up to engage them. It’s early, but Jace’s Road could be this year’s version of Wells Bayou (2020), Caddo River (2021), or even Kentucky Derby DQ winner Mandaloun (2021), three Triple Crown contenders trained by Cox in recent years who preferred to be forwardly placed.

Connections: Jace’s Road is owned by two groups that are familiar to Kentucky Derby followers over the past 10 or so years. The West Point Thoroughbreds partnership, founded by retired U.S. Army captain Terry Finley, co-owned 2017 Derby winner Always Dreaming and this year has been front and center in the sport as co-owner of probable Horse of the Year and Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Flightline. Des Moines, Iowa-based Albaugh Family Stables, operated by agrichemical company CEO Dennis Albaugh and his son-in-law Jason Loutsch, has campaigned several horses on the road to the Kentucky Derby as well, including Toyota Blue Grass Stakes winner Brody’s Cause. Albaugh was part of the ownership group of 2010 Derby third-place finisher Paddy O’Prado before starting his own stable. 

Louisville native Brad Cox is now firmly established as go-to trainer for owners with Kentucky Derby dreams. He’s won the last two Eclipse Awards as outstanding trainer, and Mandaloun became his first Kentucky Derby winner officially earlier this year when he was elevated from runner-up and 2021 first-place finisher Medina Spirit was disqualified. Cox also won the 2021 Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets with eventual champion 3-year-old male Essential Quality.

Florent Geroux has been aboard Jace’s Road for his three stakes tries following his debut, when the colt was ridden by Joe Talamo. Geroux is Cox’s first-call jockey and also became a Kentucky Derby winner back in March for riding Mandaloun in the 2021 race. He’s been one of the top jockeys in North America since establishing himself on the Midwest circuit in the 2010s following a move from his native France. Geroux was also the regular jockey on 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner, namesake of the Fair Grounds Derby prep under discussion.

Pedigree Notes: Jace’s Road is by the successful 16-year-old stallion Quality Road, who earned over $2.3 million on the track and won seven stakes races, including the prestigious Metropolitan Handicap, Woodward Stakes, and Florida Derby. Quality Road, who stands at Lane’s End in Kentucky, has not sired a Kentucky Derby winner as of yet but through nine crops of racing age he has been represented by several top-class racehorses who excel going two turns on dirt, such as champion and Kentucky Oaks winner Abel Tasman, Pegasus World Cup Invitational winner City of Light, Alabama Stakes winner Dunbar Road, and Belmont Stakes runner-up Dr Post. 

Jace’s Road’s dam is Out Post, by Silver Deputy. She won three of 20 starts and never raced beyond six furlongs, twice finishing second in turf sprint stakes. Out Post also produced two-time sprint winner Isolated, by Candy Ride. Dig a bit deeper into this colt’s pedigree and you’ll find more stamina. Out Post is a half-sister (same dam [mother], different sire [father]) to a Group 3 winner in Brazil who competed at distances from a mile to a mile and a quarter. Out Post is also closely related to Forest Secrets, who won the Acorn Stakes at a mile and the Rampart Handicap at a mile and an eighth, and to long-winded Rumor Has It, who won the mile-and-a-half Kentucky Cup Turf Stakes in 2008 and also won a 1 ¾-mile race on Arlington Park’s turf in 2009. 

Derby Potential: As noted above, Brad Cox has risen up the ranks to become one of the leading trainers of Kentucky Derby contenders, and Jace’s Road fits in nicely in a stable that already includes Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes winner Instant Coffee and currently sidelined Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity runner-up Loggins. I’m not exactly enthralled by the level of competition Jace’s Road faced in the Gun Runner Stakes, and his pedigree for stretching out to a mile and a quarter could be better, but this colt has progressed nicely through the fall and if he stays on that path he’ll certainly be a factor in the next three Kentucky Derby preps at Fair Grounds, finishing with the 2023 Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby on March 25.