BloodHorse news editor Byron King presents his latest Derby Dozen for 2022, with a look at his leading contenders for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve on May 7.
Last weekend, two qualifying points preps for the Derby were held: the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs and the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields. One is scheduled for this weekend on Saturday, Feb. 19: the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford at Fair Grounds. The Risen Star ups the Derby points distribution ante, offering 50 to the winner, 20 to the runner-up, 10 to the third-place finisher, and 5 to fourth.
Check out America’s Best Racing’s Triple Crown page to keep up to date with stories and statistics on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.
1. Rattle N Roll
Classic Causeway’s victory in the Feb. 12 Sam F. Davis Stakes was encouraging to see from a form comparison standpoint as this colt defeated him by 4 ¾ lengths in the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity last year at Keeneland. Not as far along in his conditioning as trainer Kenny McPeek’s other leading 3-year-olds, Rattle N Roll is targeted for a March return. His training should amp up soon after two relatively moderate half-mile works to begin this month at Gulfstream Park.
2. Smile Happy
The 8.90-1 favorite among individual betting choices in Pool 3 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager is perfect in two starts, both around two turns. The second of those victories came in the Nov. 27 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, in which he defeated three next-out graded stakes winners. We’ll get our first look at him as a 3-year-old in the Feb. 19 Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford at Fair Grounds, where he faces four other horses ranked in the Dozen.
Another Risen Star entry heading to Fair Grounds by way of Florida, he too appears ready to roll in his first start as a 3-year-old, showing a steady series of moves at Payson Park for trainer Chad Brown. Encouraged by his race in the Remsen Stakes when he was three-wide around both turns, proved stubborn in the lane, and galloped out ahead of Mo Donegal after being bumped by that rival nearing the wire.
4. White Abarrio
After rolling in the Feb. 5 Holy Bull Stakes, plans call for him to remain idle until the April 2 Curlin Florida Derby at Gulfstream. In recent years, Holy Bull winners Audible and Tiz the Law similarly skipped the Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes before taking the Florida Derby and later hitting the board in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (Tiz the Law ran second in a COVID-19-postponed Derby in September). Spacing between races should leave White Abarrio fresh not only for the Florida Derby but also for the Triple Crown.
5. Mo Donegal
As promisingly as he closed down the stretch in the Holy Bull, finishing third and just missing second, he was a bit slow to accelerate on the second turn, leaving him with too much to do late. Admittedly, the conditions of the Holy Bull didn’t suit after slow fractions and with 1 1/16-mile races at Gulfstream ending at the sixteenth pole. The Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by Resorts World Casino April 9 could be next, Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher told Thoroughbred Daily News.
6. Classic Causeway
On the heels of his sharp comeback win in the Sam F. Davis, he climbs five spots in the Dozen, up from 11th. He is blessed with stamina in his pedigree and also possesses natural speed – a potent combination. He took pressure in the Sam F. Davis from a stretch-out sprinter, and still had plenty left, beating a deep field, though not a group of the same quality seen in the Holy Bull or that is set to line up in the Risen Star.
Provided he breaks well, he will likely attempt to dictate terms in the Risen Star. He is quickest on pace figures, and one of the other frontrunners in the lineup, Pioneer of Medina, is drawn outside him, which may lead that rival to play more of a chasing role. The Risen Star isn’t void of pace, but Epicenter doesn’t project to have to throw down fractions as fast as those he set when second in the Lecomte Stakes.
With White Abarrio and Mo Donegal likely to remain idle early next month, he should head into the March 5 Fountain of Youth as one of the favorites. Five years ago, trainer Antonio Sano and jockey Javier Castellano won the FOY with Gunnevera, who also ran second in the Holy Bull. Simplification’s runner-up finish in the Holy Bull was a fine effort, coming despite a slow start and wide second turn rally. Note that he didn’t switch leads down the stretch, which nearly resulted in him getting nailed late for the runner-up spot.
A bright future is ahead for this colt, who after posting a debut win at Gulfstream garnered two-turn experience and rolled to a 4 ½-length win in a first-level allowance optional claiming race at Tampa Bay Downs Jan. 30. He did everything right though he enjoyed an easy trip, setting soft fractions that left him full of energy for the stretch. Five weeks between his last race and the Fountain of Youth leaves that race as a leading target.
10. Slow Down Andy
After his performance in the Los Alamitos Futurity, in which he lost focus in midstretch and leaned in on rival Messier, trainer Doug O’Neill considered adding blinkers to Slow Down Andy’s racing equipment but he will not for his upcoming start in the Risen Star. The colt has worked with and without blinkers over the past couple of months. Form from the Los Alamitos Futurity was flattered by Bob Baffert-trained Messier taking the Robert B. Lewis Stakes by 15 lengths.
Returning in the Lecomte last month, he threatened when jockey Joe Bravo found a seam inside heading into the lane, but the colt flattened out a bit and settled for third. Perhaps it was due to being idle for a couple of months, or maybe it was the inside trip, as some dirt horses are typically more apt to rally past horses on the outside than inside. Tyler Gaffalione, who teamed with Pappacap’s trainer Mark Casse on Preakness Stakes winner War of Will in 2019, gains the Risen Star mount.
12. In Due Time
Having won a Feb. 4 allowance optional claimer at Gulfstream and possessing more experience than recent maiden winner Charge It, he clings to the final spot over that 3-year-old in the Dozen rankings. He is the more seasoned of the two, having made three starts, the best of which was his recent 5 ¾-length score over a one-turn mile. Look for him next in a stakes race in Florida.