Key Takeaways from March 25 Kentucky Derby Preps

Key Takeaways from March 25 Kentucky Derby Preps

Tom Pedulla presents five key takeaways from an exciting Saturday of racing action that included the $1 million Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds, the $694,000 Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park and the $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen Sponsored by Nakheel at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai.

The 1 3/16-mile Louisiana Derby and the 1 1/8-mile Jeff Ruby each awarded the top five finishers qualifying points to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve on a 100-40-30-20-10 basis.

THREE FOR THREE: Kingsbarns, a son of Uncle Mo that was unraced at 2, is making up for lost time. He remained undefeated through three starts and locked up a berth in the Kentucky Derby in capturing the Louisiana Derby by 3 ½ lengths against Disarm. Kingsbarns displayed a new dimension in doing so for trainer Todd Pletcher, winning for the first time on the lead. He and jockey Flavien Prat were allowed to set slow fractions, with an opening quarter in 24.71 seconds, a half in 49.60 and three quarters in a leisurely 1:14.69. “He jumped well and I was able to get myself into a comfortable spot,” Prat told a member of the Fair Grounds publicity department. “From there, he did the job.”

RIGHT SPOT: Two Phil’s made his first two starts this season at the Fair Grounds, placing second in the Lecomte Stakes and third in the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Lincoln and Lamarque Crescent City Ford. It would have seemed only natural for him to continue on that New Orleans path by competing in the Louisiana Derby, but trainer Larry Rivelli wisely decided to change course and enter the Jeff Ruby. The decision was rewarded with an authoritative 5 ¼-length victory against Major Dude on Turfway’s synthetic Tapeta Footings track. “The original plan probably wasn’t to run in this spot,” said Rivelli. “I was just looking for the best route to get Two Phil’s to the Kentucky Derby. With this race on the calendar, I thought it was the perfect timing and the perfect spot.” It is worth noting that Two Phil’s has already shown an affinity for Churchill Downs, closing his 2-year-old campaign with a victory in the Street Sense Stakes there.

TOUGHING IT OUT: If anyone doubts the mental and physical toughness of jockeys, consider the grit of Jareth Loveberry. A hairline fracture in his left fibula sustained only three weeks ago did not keep him from piloting Two Phil’s to a victory in the Jeff Ruby Steaks that ensured a berth in the Kentucky Derby with 123 qualifying points. “I’m pretty high on life right now and don’t feel that too much,” said Loveberry, adding, “Two Phil’s has seemed to get better each week this winter at Fair Grounds. I think he’s getting better with each start. It’s just very exciting to be partnered with a horse like this and a team that’s supported me.”

ON A ROLL: Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher extended his record with an eighth Eclipse Award as the leading trainer in North America last season. He continues to roll early this year. Through Saturday’s action, he had four horses ranked among the top 12 on the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard. Kingsbarns jumped to third with 100 points with his Louisiana Derby score, just ahead of 2-year-old champion Forte (90 points). Tapit Trice (50 points) and Jeff Ruby Steaks runner-up Major Dude (40) rank ninth and 12th, respectively. Forte is the 4-5 favorite in the $1 million Curlin Florida Derby presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms at Xalapa next Saturday at Gulfstream Park. The winner of five of six career starts drew post 11 in a field of 12.

UNFORGETTABLE DEBUT: Trainer Jeremiah O’Dwyer thought he would be making his Dubai debut in 2020. The pandemic scrapped those plans. His wait was rewarded on Saturday when Sibelius, his 5-year-old gelding, made a dramatic late charge for jockey Ryan Moore to edge defending champion Switzerland by a nose in the $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen Sponsored by Nakheel. “It really is a proud moment for us,” O’Dwyer said. “I am really grateful to the owners. They let me do what is best for the horse every step of the way.” The son of Not This Time recorded his seventh victory in 19 career starts while lifting his career bankroll past $1.6 million on behalf of owners Jun Park and Delia Nash.