2023 Kentucky Derby Hopeful Snapshots: Raise Cain

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 Raise Cain, winner of the $300,000 Gotham Stakes on March 4 at Aqueduct.

Raise Cain earned 50 points toward qualifying for the 2023 Kentucky Derby with the Gotham win and moved into fifth place on the latest Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 54 total points.

Racing Résumé: Entering the Gotham Stakes, Raise Cain had only one win – a seven-eighths of a mile maiden special weight race in October 2022 at Keeneland – to his credit from five previous starts. One possible indicator that he was capable of exceeding his 23.50-1 odds in the Gotham was that his best prior effort in a stakes race came on the dirt when stretching out to 1 1/16 miles for the Gun Runner Stakes Dec. 26, 2022, at Fair Grounds, where he finished a rallying second to Jace’s Road.

He entered the one-turn-mile Gotham off a fifth-place finish, beaten by 7 ½ lengths, going a mile on the synthetic Tapeta Footings surface at Turfway Park in the Leonatus Stakes.

It’s easy to look back at a longshot race winner after the fact and identify why we should have seen it coming, but when horses are 20-1 odds or higher there is usually a pretty good reason. Raise Cain was facing a full field of 14 runners in the Gotham that was a better group than he had faced in the Leonatus, racing on an “off” or wet track for the first time in his career, and his speed figures were below many of his opponents.

Of course, none of that mattered when the starting gates opened as Raise Cain clearly relished the sealed-muddy track and, after dropping back to 11th early, benefited from a fast pace through an opening quarter-mile in :22.52 and a half-mile in :45.53. Howgreatisnate, a loose horse in the race after unseating his rider at the start, further put pressure on the leading horses as he charged ahead and went right past the pacesetter.

As a result, the Gotham was a strange prep race on a number of fronts.

“He finally had some pace to run into, and I think that’s what he’s been missing to be honest,” winning trainer Ben Colebrook said. “He never really had any pace to close into except in his maiden win.”

Variables aside, what cannot be denied is that Raise Cain turned in a terrific effort in overcoming traffic trouble on the turn and then surging clear in the stretch to win by 7 ½ lengths under Jose Lezcano with a final furlong in 13:01 seconds. In doing so, he also essentially guaranteed himself a spot in the 2023 Kentucky Derby starting gate, and getting into the race is a significant part of the challenge for a promising 3-year-old. As the old adage goes: “You have to be in it to win it.”

Speed Figures: The speed figures for the Gotham came back solid but unspectacular. Raise Cain earned a 91 Equibase Speed Figure, one point off the career-best 92 he earned in the Gun Runner. He would need to improve by a bout 20 points to be a Kentucky Derby win candidate, which is why it was encouraging to hear that he will be pointed to another prep race before the run for the roses.

The Daily Racing Form’s Beyer Speed Figures paint a more promising picture of Raise Cain’s Gotham win as he earned a 90, a nine-point jump from his previous best and closer to striking range of some of his more accomplished 3-year-old peers.

Running Style: Raise Cain has raced off the pace as a closer-stalker in each of his six starts. He’s not devoid of early speed as he showed in his maiden win at Keeneland, but he does seem to prefer to drop back and make one sustained late rally. He was really able to sustain it in the Gotham.

One challenge we discuss often in this blog that closers and stalkers often need some racing luck as it pertains to traffic in a 20-horse Derby field. With multiple runners launching their bids at the same time and angling for the same opening while other runners in the race run out of gas and fade, traffic can become an issue. While being forced to check in traffic near the quarter-pole in the Gotham did not hurt Raise Cain, a similar bit of trouble in the Kentucky Derby could cost a 3-year-old a top-three finish in the most important race of their life.

Connections: Raise Cain was the first graded stakes winner for owners Andrew Warren and Rania Warren, whose Scoobie Cuando finished second later March 4 in the John Battaglia Memorial Stakes at Turfway Park. Scoobie Cuando became their first stakes winner when he won the Turfway Prevue Stakes Jan. 7. Andrew Warren purchased Raise Cain for $180,000 at the 2021 Keeneland September yearling sale.

Trainer Ben Colebrook’s father, John, managed farms in Central Kentucky and Ben began working with horses while attending the University of Kentucky. Ben Colebrook later served as an assistant to trainers Fred Seitz and Christophe Clement before going out on his own in 2012. Colebrook conditioned Knicks Go to a win in the 2018 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity and a runner-up finish in that year’s Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He also conditioned top-class sprinter Limousine Liberal, a multiple graded stakes winner in 2017 and 2018.

Jockey Jose Lezcano rode Raise Cain for the first time in the Gotham. A three-time winner at the Breeders’ Cup World Championships who has won more than 3,100 career races, Lezcano’s best result in a Triple Crown race was a runner-up finish in the 2010 Kentucky Derby aboard Ice Box. Raise Cain’s other riders have been Gerardo Corrales (three races) and Luan Machado (two starts).

Pedigree Notes: Raise Cain is from the sixth crop of Grade 1 winner Violence, by Medaglia d’Oro. Violence was the leading first-crop sire of 2017 and second-crop sire for 2018. He ranked 10th on the general sire list for 2022 and is in the midst of another strong year in 2023 with returning champion 2-year-old male Forte winning the Fountain of Youth Stakes last weekend in his first start as a 3-year-old.

While many of Violence’s top runners have excelled as sprinters, he has also had his share of quality two-turn graded stakes winners such as Newgrange and Talk Veuve to Me as well as Forte.

Raise Cain was produced by the winning Lemon Drop Kid mare Lemon Belle, a half-sister (same dam [mother], different sire [father]) to 2010 Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic winner Unrivaled Belle, who produced two-time champion Unique Bella. Raise Cain’s grandam (maternal grandmother), Queenie Belle, by Bertrando, was a multiple graded stakes winner at 1 1/16 miles.

Derby Potential: Given Raise Cain’s breakthrough Gotham win came in a strangely run race (loose horse, fast pace) on a sealed-muddy track, it’s reasonable to be skeptical as it pertains to his Kentucky Derby chances. Count me in that group.

However, I do think the Gotham was more representative of Raise Cain’s ability than his rather dull effort in the Leonatus Stakes in his 3-year-old debut. He has much improving to do to be regarded in the top tier of this 3-year-old class, but I have to admit I liked what I saw from him and I’m probably higher on his future than most. His next start will either be in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland or the Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by Resorts World Casino at Aqueduct, both on April 8.

“We’re based at Keeneland and if it wasn’t for that, the Wood would be circled. I guess we’ll just sit back and see how the nominations are,” Colebrook said. “If one is significantly easier than the other, that would change our thinking. If you don’t have to ship, why do it? But the Blue Grass could come up significantly tougher. In which case, we would go to the Wood.”

If he takes even a small step forward in his final prep race, Raise Cain could be an intriguing longshot on Kentucky Derby day.