2023 Kentucky Derby Trail: Three Heating Up, Three Cooling Down for Feb. 15

This feature provides a capsule look at three horses who are heating up on the Triple Crown trail and three horses whose chances for the 2023 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve are not quite as strong as they were a few weeks ago.

In the third edition of this blog for the 2023 run for the roses, the focus was the previous two weeks of racing that featured five Kentucky Derby qualifying races.

Look for this column to appear every other week moving forward to analyze to biggest movers approaching the first leg of the Triple Crown. For now, let’s take a look at what has changed over the last couple of weeks on the 2023 Triple Crown trail.

Road to the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard


1. Tapit Trice

Regular readers of this blog know I rarely give a top-three spot to a maiden or allowance winner, but I made an exception this week thanks to a dominant eight-length romp by this promising son of leading sire Tapit in a one-mile allowance-optional race Feb. 4 at Gulfstream Park. In fact, his runaway win for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher combined with a few underwhelming Derby prep races earned Tapit Trice the top spot. In his previous race, Tapit Trice edged Slip Mahoney by a neck in a December 2022 maiden special weight race on a muddy track at Aqueduct. That win was flattered when Slip Mahoney came back to win his 3-year-old debut in January. Tapit Trice was the second betting choice in his Feb. 4 allowance win but he made it look easy with a final quarter-mile in :24.53 and a strong final eighth of a mile in :12.30. He equaled a career-top 96 Equibase Speed Figure for the win but his Beyer Speed Figure (92) was even more eye-catching and ranks in the top ten at one mile or longer for a 3-year-old in 2023. Pletcher used the Gulfstream allowance path to Kentucky Derby success with Always Dreaming in 2017, and Tapit Trice has a very strong pedigree for 1 ¼ miles. By leading sire Tapit, Tapit Trice was produced by the Dunkirk mare Danzatrice, a three-time stakes winner in races longer than a mile. He looks like a very nice Derby prospect during a Triple Crown season where very few 3-year-olds have really dazzled.

2. Rocket Can

When I covered high-school sports years ago, an athletic director used to use the phrase “six in one, half a dozen in the other” so often it became a running bit in the sports department, but it seems quite fitting when separating recent stakes winners Rocket Can and Hit Show for the number two slot here. It’s really all about preference but I gave a slight nod to Rocket Can on the basis of one main factor that I consider important when evaluating Derby candidates: how they finish races. Rocket Can finished significantly better in winning the $250,000 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park by three-quarters of a length on Feb. 4 than Hit Show did in his stakes win. The Holy Bull winning time of 1:44.97 for 1 1/16 miles was pretty slow but that was in large part due to a slow pace, and Rocket Can did finish fast 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 for the Holy Bull came back pretty light (89 Equibase Speed Figure, 82 Beyer Speed Figure), I think he can improve off a nice win in his stakes debut for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. Plus, he has a terrific pedigree to excel as the races get longer. He’s by leading sire Into Mischief out of the Tapit mare Tension and his grandam (maternal grandmother) is multiple Grade 1 winner Tough Tiz’s Sis, by two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Tiznow.

3. Hit Show

It seems Hit Show’s 5 ½-length Withers Stakes win Feb. 11 at Aqueduct graded out well by the speed figure makers as he earned a career-best 93 Equibase Speed Figure and career-top 91 Beyer Speed Figure. The Candy Ride colt has improved his Equibase and Beyer figures with each start in his four-race career for 2020 and 2021 Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox. Like Tapit Trice and Rocket Can, Hit Show looks like he is bred to thrive as races get longer on the Derby trail – he’s by Candy Ride, a record-setter at 1 ¼ miles, out of 2017 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes winner Actress, by Tapit. With three wins in four starts and an obvious excuse (a poor start) for his lone defeat, Hit Show has a ton of potential for owners-breeders Gary and Mary West. My only quibble with his Withers win, however, is not an insignificant one as he really did not finish well in the 1 1/8-mile race. He completed his final three-eighths of a mile in approximately :41.08, according to the Equibase chart, with a final furlong in :14.06. It’s something to keep an eye on in his final prep race for the Kentucky Derby, which most likely will be the $750,000, Grade 2 Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets on April 8 at Aqueduct.

Also-Eligible: It’s always a challenge evaluating Kentucky Derby prep races on synthetic surfaces, but Chase the Chaos showed me something in closing from 10 lengths off the pace for a 1 ½-length score in the $101,350 El Camino Real Derby Feb. 11 at Golden Gate Fields. The bay Astern gelding earned a career-best 98 Equibase Speed Figure and 83 Beyer Speed Figure, so he’s trending in the right direction for trainer Ed Moger Jr., who indicated he could be a nominated to the Triple Crown during the next stage for $6,000. … Litigate won the $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes by 1 ¼ lengths Feb. 11 at Tampa Bay Downs, but he missed the cut for the top three because the final five-sixteenths of a mile in approximately :33.36 left something to be desired. The Blame colt is now 2-for-3 for Hall of Fame trainer Pletcher and is another with a pedigree that would seem to indicate he could thrive with additional distance. … Hard to Figure took the lead in the stretch of the $200,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes Feb. 4 at Santa Anita Park but came up a neck short of stablemate Newgate (now sidelined, see below) in a runner-up finish that earned a 102 Equibase Speed Figure and a 100 Beyer Speed Figure. I think this Hard Spun colt has some ability but thus far he’s lacking consistency, and while he’s in the barn of Bob Baffert he remains ineligible to earn Derby qualifying points as a result of Churchill Downs’ ban on Baffert-trained horses, which was ordered after Medina Spirit’s medication violation and disqualification from a Derby win in 2021.


1. Newgate

This talented Into Mischief colt was a main contender for the top spot on the heating up list on the heels of a game victory in the Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis Stakes Feb. 4 at Santa Anita Park, unfortunately Daily Racing Form reported he has been sidelined with a “minor hock issue.” It’s a disappointing turn for a colt who seemed to be just coming into his own as a racehorse, but on the bright side he should be able to return and figures to be a key player in the 3-year-old division down the road. Racing manager Tom Ryan said: “His prognosis to return is excellent. We look forward to seeing him back this summer.”

2. Cyclone Mischief

Like many others, I had pretty lofty expectations for Cyclone Mischief entering the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes Feb. 4 at Gulfstream Park, but the Into Mischief colt was beaten by 11 ¾ lengths while finishing seventh as the 6-5 favorite. I didn’t see any real excuse for the subpar effort, which came after a 5 ¾-length romp in a one-mile allowance-optional claiming race in January in his 3-year-old debut. He’s run very well in three of his five starts to date, with both disappointments coming against better competition in graded stakes races. At this point in his career, he just might not be ready for that quality of opposition.

3. Dubyuhnell

I thought there was a chance Dubyuhnell might regress coming back off a 10-week layoff following a career-best effort in his Remsen Stakes victory in the final start of his 2-year-old campaign. But the result from the Sam F. Davis Stakes Fab. 11 at Tampa Bay Downs – eighth, beaten by 19 lengths – looks much worse than it actually was. The Good Magic colt’s race was pretty much over at the start when he was bounced around in traffic entering the first turn, which forced him into an unfamiliar position well off the pace, and he just never fired. Trainer Danny Gargan said after the Sam F. Davis, “The race is a throwout.” I tend to agree, but missteps of the Kentucky Derby trail, even when out of your control, can prove very costly and a wasted first start of a 3-year-old campaign definitely put Dubyuhnell behind the proverbial 8-ball.

Of note: He made an appearance in the cooling down section of an earlier edition of this blog so including Arabian Lion again here felt like piling on, but it’s worth noting that he’s now been pretty soundly defeated in his two stakes starts in the Grade 2 Los Alamitos Futurity and Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis Stakes.