Five Key Takeaways You Need to Know From a Spectacular Derby Prep Weekend

Tom Pedulla presents five key takeaways from a huge weekend of racing action that included four key Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve prep races: the $400,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park, the $402,000 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita Park, the $300,000 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct and the $147,500 John Battaglia Memorial Stakes at Turfway Park.

The first three races offered the top five finishers Derby qualifying points on a 50-20-15-10-5 basis. The Battaglia was worth 10-4-3-2-1 qualifying points to its top five runners.

SOMETHING SPECIAL: Four months is a long time to be away from the races and yet 2-year-old champion Forte acted as if he never left. He not only won the Fountain of Youth, but he left no doubt about his superiority with a 4 ½-length romp. It was no mean feat considering that 10 of the last 14 Fountain of Youth winners were making their second starts off layoffs. Of his eight opponents in the 1 1/16-mile contest, seven enjoyed the benefit of at least one previous start this season. Only Blazing Sevens, fourth to Forte in the FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, was coming off the same layoff. He appeared to show the effects of that, finishing next to last. “It took him a little time to get going,” said Joel Rosario, who rode Blazing Sevens. In contrast, Forte was there every step of the way for jockey Irad Ortiz Jr.

STAYING PUT: Trainer Tim Yakteen received an influx of talent when a number of horses that had been under the care of Bob Baffert were transferred to his barn ahead of the San Felipe. Baffert has been suspended by Churchill Downs due to a series of medication violations, preventing his horses from earning Derby qualifying points. Three newcomers ran for Yakteen in the San Felipe – Fort Bragg, Hejazi and Mr Fisk. But it was Practical Move, the horse Yakteen has conditioned all along, that delivered in the San Felipe by 2 ½ lengths for jockey Ramon Vazquez. “He is a very healthy horse. He is a phenomenally gifted horse,” Yakteen said. “I am amazed at how strong he is and how he has matured from a 2-year-old to a 3-year-old. Everything has fallen into place.”

GOTHAM UPSET: Raise Cain did not appear to have the credentials to be competitive in the Gotham, a one-turn mile. He had done little for trainer Ben Colebrook since breaking his maiden last autumn and had finished fifth in the Leonatus Stakes on Turfway Park’s Tapeta surface in his previous start. But he appeared to relish the sloppy, sealed track at Aqueduct for the Gotham and he was able to close into strong fractions to score by 7 ½ rather shocking lengths. Raise Cain is a Violence colt by the Lemon Drop Kid mare Lemon Belle. “He’s bred to go longer and if he were to go on to the Derby, you usually get a lot of pace in there,” said Colebrook. “I think more than anything, pace is what he needs.” Raise Cain rewarded the faithful few with a $49 return on a $2 win wager.

ANOTHER SURPRISE: Jockey Sonny Leon shocked the world when he pulled one of the great upsets in Kentucky Derby history aboard 80.80-1 Rich Strike last year. He remains a man of surprises after piloting Congruent to a 3 ½-length victory in the 1 1/16-mile John Battaglia Memorial. Congruent, owned by Tami Bobo and Lugamo Racing Stable and trained by Antonio Sano, rallied from last in the early going to pay $35 to win. Rich Strike ran fourth in the 2022 Battaglia. “It’s so exciting to come back home and win this race after Rich Strike ran well in it last year,” Leon said.

SWEET VICTORY: Trainer Ed Moger Jr. always believed Stilleto Boy had a Grade 1 win in him. Now, he has the proof. The 5-year-old gelded son of Shackleford broke through on his ninth attempt with a narrow neck victory for jockey Kent Desormeaux against Proxy in the Santa Anita Handicap Presented by Yaamava’ Resort & Casino. He also snapped a five-race losing streak with his first win since he took the Californian Stakes last April 30 at Santa Anita. It must be noted that Stilleto Boy has often run against the best of the best leading into the Big Cap. “It’s been a famous race in California for a long time and it feels great to win it,” said Moger, 67. “There was no Flightline today, no Knicks Go or Life Is Good, so here we are.”