BloodHorse news editor Byron King presents his latest Derby Dozen Presented by Spendthrift, with a look at his leading contenders for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve on May 6.
Last week, Confidence Game upset the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park to earn 50 qualifying points for the 149th Derby. This Saturday features four points preps: the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park; the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct; the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita Park; and the John Battaglia Stakes at Turfway Park.
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.
Breezing with stablemate Iron Works, a 4-year-old comebacker with a 2-for-3 record, Forte left his rival behind in his last couple of works over the tiring track at Palm Beach Downs Training Center. These were more eye-catching than his times, as he was clocked covering five furlongs Feb. 18 in 1:01.41 and the same distance Feb. 25 in 1:01.99. Last year’s champion 2-year-old male appears ready for his return in the March 4 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park, where nine other sophomores await, including Derby Dozen members Blazing Sevens and Rocket Can.
2. Arabian Knight
This gifted 3-year-old was part of a group of Bob Baffert horses transferred to trainer Tim Yakteen Feb. 26, the Los Angeles Times first reported, a move that will allow them to earn qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby and potentially compete in the May 6 classic. Arabian Knight had been with Hall of Fame trainer Baffert, whom Churchill Downs Inc. has barred from its tracks through early July due to medication positives from his trainees. This colt did not breeze last week after working at Santa Anita Park Feb. 13, but his transfer indicates his connections are still eyeing the run for the roses. He’s likely to be aimed toward either the April 1 Arkansas Derby or April 8 Santa Anita Derby.
3. Instant Coffee
His form was validated Feb. 25 in the Rebel Stakes with an upset from Confidence Game, a colt he handily defeated when the latter was third behind Instant Coffee in the Jan. 21 Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds. After given a short freshening before his final Derby prep, Instant Coffee has worked easy half-miles the past two Saturdays for trainer Brad Cox. Look for Cox to put him through more taxing drills leading up to his next start, likely in the March 25 Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby. The 1 3/16-mile distance of that race and Fair Grounds’ long stretch of more than a quarter of a mile suits his late-finishing style.
4. National Treasure
Another ex-Baffert trainee, National Treasure is one of five horses racing for Yakteen on Saturday in Santa Anita’s 1 1/16-mile San Felipe Stakes, though one of them, Los Alamitos Futurity winner Practical Move, has been with Yakteen throughout the colt’s career. Before his barn change, Baffert gave National Treasure a five-furlong workout Feb. 19 in 1:00.80 at Santa Anita with subsequent Rebel Stakes third-place finisher Reincarnate, with National Treasure seemingly a bit superior. However, his draw of post 2 is unfavorable in the San Felipe after he was an even-paced third when stalking inside for much of the Jan. 8 Sham Stakes.
5. Blazing Sevens
Forte has beaten this runner twice in as many matchups, though circumstances worked against him. He caught a sloppy track when third to Forte in the Hopeful Stakes last summer at Saratoga Race Course, and he broke a bit sluggishly when fourth behind Forte in the Nov. 4 FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance. Blazing Sevens ran well in that race to lose by 4 ¼ lengths, flattening out down the stretch in his first try around two turns and at 1 1/16 miles, but that was not unexpected after playing catchup. Eager to see more evidence of his two-turn ability in the Fountain of Youth and if he has progressed in the four months since the Breeders’ Cup.
6. Tapit Trice
Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher elected to put only Forte in the Fountain of Youth, leaving the March 11 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby as the most probable first stakes start for this promising 2-for-3 runner. That race’s timing on the stakes schedule is favorable relative to his last start, a blowout allowance optional claiming win Feb. 4 at Gulfstream Park. Though this colt has yet to race two turns or beyond a mile, the added ground should pose no issue. He has a lovely reach to his stride, indicative of a horse who should relish distance.
Though he lost the Rebel, his performance in finishing third stood out most. Slow into stride early, he was outpaced and appeared to be struggling over the sloppy surface at Oaklawn Park. Eleven lengths off the lead at one point (admittedly behind a quick pace), he seemed hopelessly out of it. Still, he rallied to lose by just 2 ½ lengths, even after being steadied in midstretch when impeded by a rival. This was a highly encouraging effort for a horse whose previous victories came in front-running fashion, including in the Sham.
He was one of several with a difficult trip in the Rebel and should not be penalized too much for running below the public’s expectations in finishing fourth. Initially close to a hot pace in third (most of the early leaders wilted), he was shuffled back in traffic when taking slop in his face on the second turn and in the early stretch. Then he finished well over the final furlong to make some ground. Still, it is difficult to determine with certainty whether he could have outrun all of his rivals with a better trip. Others, such as Reincarnate, had trouble, too. With 14 qualifying points toward the Derby, he can likely secure entrance into the Derby by showing in his final prep.
9. Confidence Game
Earning 50 points in his Rebel upset in the Oaklawn slop, he vaulted to the top of the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard with 57 overall. He is farther down in the Dozen rankings, owing to a 7 ¾-length defeat behind Instant Coffee in the Lecomte and with Confidence Game benefiting from poor trips from a few others in the Rebel. Still, he is a quality horse who gamely turned back Rocket Can in a Nov. 26 matchup at Churchill Downs, one of his two victories from four starts beneath the Twin Spires.
10. Angel of Empire
Not flashy on speed figures and overlooked by the betting public in stakes company, perhaps due to having begun his career at Horseshoe Indianapolis, he gives the impression of an overachiever. He gobbled up the ground in the 1 1/8-mile Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Lincoln and Lamarque Crescent City Ford and, like his stablemate Instant Coffee, is tailor-made for racing at Fair Grounds. Even if he excels under the conditions there in New Orleans, it took him 1:51.47 to complete nine furlongs in the Risen Star, the slowest time in the race since track officials extended the distance in 2020.
11. Rocket Can
He earned just an 89 Equibase Speed Figure in winning the Feb. 4 Holy Bull Stakes in a slow time of 1:44.97 for 1 1/16 miles. But jockey Junior Alvarado believes in the colt, noting he overcame a wide trip. “For a baby going two turns and having to give up that much ground, it has to take a toll,” he said. “I thought he was very game at the end. I’m pretty pleased with him.” The colt has two wins and a second in three starts since stretched out to routes, and his defeat was a close second to eventual Rebel winner Confidence Game in an allowance optional claimer at Churchill Downs last fall. Now he battles Forte, Blazing Sevens, and others in Saturday’s Fountain of Youth.
The 105 Equibase Speed Figure he earned in winning a 6 ½-furlong maiden race in 1:14.58 Jan. 15 at Santa Anita is the second-highest dirt figure on that scale by a 3-year-old this year. That performance and some fast races last year cause optimism about this $3.55 million juvenile buy. His lone route resulted in a distant third in the American Pharoah Stakes last fall, so Saturday’s San Felipe against a top field should be telling regarding his two-turn ability. The colt put in an outstanding five-furlong work in :59.20 at Santa Anita Feb. 19 for Bob Baffert before his transfer to Tim Yakteen.