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 Rocket Can, winner of the $250,000 Holy Bull Stakes on Feb. 4 at Gulfstream Park.
Rocket Can earned 20 points toward qualifying for the 2023 Kentucky Derby with the Holy Bull win and moved into third place on the latest Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 20 total points.
Racing Résumé: Rocket Can was unplaced in a pair of seven-eighths-of-a-mile sprints to begin his career last summer at Saratoga Race Course, but he improved with added distance and has since posted two wins and one second in three races around two turns.
The Into Mischief colt won a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight race on a sloppy track Oct. 30, 2022, at Churchill Downs before closing out his 2-year-old season with a runner-up finish Nov. 26 at Churchill Downs, where he was beaten by a half-length by Confidence Game.
Rocket Can returned from a two-month layoff Feb. 4 in the Grade 3 Holy Bull, two weeks after Confidence Game finished third in the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds, and exceeded expectations as the second betting choice in the eight-horse Holy Bull field.
Starting from the outside post, Rocket Can was forced wide entering the first turn and raced wide throughout while stalking an easy pace set by Mr Bob. He moved to the front under Junior Alvarado nearing the top of the stretch and held off runner-up Shadow Dragon by three-quarters of a length.
The final time of 1:44.97 for 1 1/16 miles was not fast, to put it mildly. But that was due in part to the slow pace, and Rocket Can did finish reasonably well with a final sixteenth of a mile in 6.43 seconds and a final five-sixteenths in just a little over 31 seconds.
While the speed figures (more on that below) were not eye-catching, make no mistake this was a significant step in the right direction for Rocket Can in his 3-year-old debut.
Speed Figures: Rocket Can’s Equibase Speed Figures for his final two starts in 2022 – his two-turn races – were 89-97 and he equaled the number from his maiden win with an 89 for the Holy Bull. From a Beyer Speed Figure perspective, he equaled a career-top in the Holy Bull with an 82 and now has a line of 78-82-82 for his three two-turn races. He must build off the Holy Bull win and improve to compete with the faster horses of this 3-year-old division.
Running Style: Rocket Can has some natural speed, which helped him gain position early with the short run into the first turn in the Holy Bull, and he relaxes nicely into a stalking/tracking position. In his final start of 2022, he was within a few lengths of a faster early pace, so that offers some reason for optimism that he can handle a faster tempo and still finish well.
Connections: Arkansas native Frank Fletcher Jr. is the owner of Fletcher Auto Group, which began with one store in 1989 and has grown to 10 car dealerships, leading to a ranking in the top 100 Car Dealers in U.S.
Fletcher’s other racing standouts include Officer Rocket, Frank’s Rockette, and Candy Man. Fletcher finished third in the 2021 Arkansas Derby with Son of Rocket.
Rocket Can is trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, who ranks fourth all time among North American trainers by purse earnings with more than $325 million and has amassed 5,283 career wins through Feb. 5. A three-time Eclipse Award winner as outstanding trainer with 12 Breeders’ Cup victories to his credit, Mott is best known as the trainer of superstar 1995 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Cigar. Mott won the 2019 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve with 65-1 longshot Country House and the 2010 Belmont Stakes with 13-1 Drosselmeyer.
Junior Alvarado rode Rocket Can for his first two starts and was back aboard in the Holy Bull for Mott, with whom he had teamed a week earlier to win the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes Presented by Baccarat on Art Collector. Alvarado and Mott also teamed to win the 2022 Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile with fan favorite Cody’s Wish. Alvarado earned the 2,000th win of his career aboard Broadway Force Jan. 21, 2023, at Gulfstream Park.
Pedigree Notes: Rocket Can is from the 11th crop of Into Mischief, the leading general sire in North America for four years running whose top offspring include 2020 Kentucky Derby winner and Horse of the Year Authentic as well as champions Gamine, Wonder Wheel, and Covfefe and 2022 Pegasus World Cup winner Life Is Good.
Rocket Can’s dam (mother), Tension, is by another leading sire in Tapit, who sired four of the last nine Belmont Stakes winners. Rocket Can’s grandam (maternal grandmother) is multiple Grade 1 winner Tough Tiz’s Sis, by two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Tiznow. Tough Tiz’s Sis won eight of 20 starts, including six stakes, and earned $903,792 in three seasons.
Why did Rocket Can improve as his races got longer? Take one look at his pedigree and it’s pretty obvious. He’d bred to excel at longer distances.
Derby Potential: There is no question that on paper Rocket Can does not, at this point on the Derby trail, stack up with the top 3-year-olds. He’s just not fast enough yet, but there are reasons to be optimistic.
Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott is a true maestro as a horseman and longer distances should be no issue for Rocket Can.
“It seems like he can keep going. Hopefully, another sixteenth is good and another three-sixteenths is even better,” Mott said after the Holy Bull. “Time will tell that.”
Rocket Can is bred top and bottom to be a star around two turns, but with five starts to his credit and only one or two prep races left before the Kentucky Derby, this flashy gray or roan colt needs to prove soon that he’s got another gear in him to claim a spot among the top 3-year-olds on the 2023 Triple Crown trail.