Welcome to the final Kentucky Derby Prep, a race that serves as the final chance to qualify for the big show two weeks later. The general consensus is that the G3 $200,000 Coolmore Lexington Stakes will not produce a last-minute addition the Kentucky Derby field but let’s not discount the power of persuasion. In the last 10 years the connections of 7 winners were not able to avoid the temptation because the first Saturday in May is rather hard to say no to. The reason that any trainer or owner gives in could be because they still remember the most unforgettable winner.
In 1999, it was Charismatic who became the first and only Coolmore Lexington Stakes winner to ever wear the roses. After finishing the 1 1/16 Mile test in a record time that still stands, 1:41.00, the idea of him winning the derby didn’t surface too often. Instead, Charismatic was thought of as a horse that had spent too much energy and would not recover after the two-week layoff between races.
Entering the gate at 31-1, Charismatic proved that he still had plenty of racing left in him when he tracked down the leaders in the stretch and held off a late charge from behind. As we later learned, Charismatic is a very special horse. Trained by D. Wayne Lukas and Owned by Robert B. Lewis, he is still remembered very well for the notable foot prints he left on the Kentucky Derby trail.
Following in those footsteps can be an intimidating challenge but it doesn’t mean that it’s too tough for anyone to try. Before we jump into which candidates may opt in favor of the Kentucky Derby let’s take a look at what is required in order to qualify. Of the 11 horses entered none of them have earned enough graded stakes prize money to become eligible. Because the winner’s share of the $200k purse is $120,000 means limited Kentucky Derby qualification opportunities.
There are only two horses that can move onto the Kentucky Derby if they can score in the Lexington. The first is Castaway, winner of the Southwest Stakes – First Division. Trained by Bob Baffert, Castaway looked like he was in good shape on the trail until he headed west for New Mexico and the G3 Sunland Derby. However, an attempt to increase his graded stakes earnings fell flat when he finished well back in 7th. The major concern in that race is if the 1 1/8 mile distance really wore him down. At Oaklawn Park he looked very comfortable on the lead in the 1 mile Southwest Stakes but when he tried to do the same at Sunland Park, he finished early and over 20 lengths behind the winner Daddy Nose Best.
So there are two big hurdles that this colt will need to clear on Saturday in order to be rewarded with the chance of a lifetime. Currently, he is ranked right outside of the top 20 at #25 – $162,000. There is a very slim chance that if he finishes 2nd he will have enough to qualify with $202,000. That can change if any unexpected withdrawals occur over the next 2 weeks but assuming that they will not, Castaway will need to win. Even still Bob Baffert will need to be convinced that Castaway has progressed and his ready to take on the Kentucky Derby distance of 1 1/4 Mile.
Next is Morgan’s Guerrilla who ships into Keeneland after finishing 2nd to Done Talking in the Illinois Derby on April 7th. In that race Morgan’s Guerrilla looked almost like a lock before being caught from behind just before the wire. His graded stakes debut was a valiant effort but because it was his first leaves him in a very desperate Kentucky Derby predicament. Cashing a $100,000 2nd place prize means he must win but that does not secure a spot in the Kentucky Derby field either.
Rounding out the top 20 is El Padrino at $250,000. So if you do the math Morgan’s Guerrilla will still be out after a Lexington Stakes win because he will only move up to $220,000, tied with Reveron at #21, $30k behind #20 El Padrino. As you can see he’s going to need some help.
So there are your Kentucky Derby hopes for horses in the Lexington Stakes field. What’s interesting is that I don’t think these two have the best chance of winning. Instead, I’m leaning more towards News Pending and Holiday Promise. Both horses have previously finished in 2nd place behind a horse that is headed to the Kentucky Derby. On 3/24 Holiday Promise, trained by Todd Pletcher, came in right behind Went the Day Well in the G3 Spiral at Turfway. He fought gamely to catch the winner down the stretch in his first ever race on synthetics so I believe he will be ready to return very strong on the Keeneland polytrak.
Trained by Dale Romans, News Pending got a lot of attention after he challenged Union Rags in the Fountain of Youth, a race that set him up to earn an entry in the Kentucky Derby field his next time out in the G1 Florida Derby. Unfortunately that is where his derby hopes were darted after a 7th place finish. But that was a deep field and a very nice prep for the Lexington Stakes. Even though this will be his polytrack debut, his previous racing experience on turf should allow him settle in just fine.
Expect Summer Front and Golden Ticket to also get considerable attention. Undefeated but unraced in 2012, Summer Front returns after back to back non graded stakes wins late last year. Golden Ticket returns to Keeneland for the first time since his racing career debut, a 4th place finish in a MSW. He comes in after a 2nd place finish to Prospective in the Tampa Bay Derby.
G3 $200,000 Coolmore Lexington Stakes | 1 1/16 Mile | Polytrack | Race 9, Post 5:13
|1||Morgan’s Guerilla (KY)||J. Leparoux||M. Maker||6-1|
|2||Summer Front (KY)||R. Dominguez||C. Clement||9-2|
|3||Johannesbourbon (KY)||G. Gomez||K. Gorder||8-1|
|4||Skyring (KY)||J. Court||D. W. Lukas||30-1|
|5||Golden Ticket (KY)||M. Cruz||K. McPeek||6-1|
|6||Holiday Promise (KY)||J. Alvarado||T. Pletcher||6-1|
|7||Castaway (KY)||S. Bridgmohan||B. Baffert||3-1|
|8||Hammers Terror (KY)||R. Albarado||M. Stidham||30-1|
|9||All Squared Away (KY)||J. Garcia||W. Ward||50-1|
|10||News Pending (KY)||K. Desormeaux||D. Romans||5-1|
|11||Gold Megillah (KY)||J. Velazquez||G. Motion||10-1|
Since we’re racing this weekend in the great state of Kentucky, you might have the itch to place a little bit of coin on Johannesbourbon. In my opinion Kentucky Bourbon is the runaway leader in that division and responsible for some of the finest distilleries in the world. Maybe the Blue Grass state will feel like home for Johannesbourbon and jump-start his racing career with a bang. So if you’re leaning that direction, I won’t blame you. Cheers to great bourbon and great racing at Keeneland this weekend.
Written by: Little Brink