The Road to the Kentucky Derby Championship Series is set to kickoff Saturday in New Orleans with split divisions of the $400,000 Risen Star (Grade II) at Fair Grounds.
Over the next nine weekends, 3-year-old Thoroughbreds will continue their quest for points in select races to secure a berth in the starting gate for the 146th running of the $3 million Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve (GI) on Saturday, May 2 at Churchill Downs.
Due to an oversubscribed field, each division of the Risen Star will be awarded its original $400,000 purse and the Top 4 finishers will receive points on a 50-20-10-5 scale for the Kentucky Derby.
Since the point series was adopted in 2013, it has taken an average 26 points to make the field of 20 for the Kentucky Derby.
Also, the Road to the Kentucky Derby Prep Season will culminate this weekend with Saturday's $100,000 El Camino Real Derby (Listed) over the Tapeta surface at Golden Gate Fields and Monday's $750,000 Southwest Stakes (GIII) at Oaklawn Park. Both races will award the Top 4 finishers points on a 10-4-2-1 scale.
ANNEAU d'OR, ENFORCEABLE HEAD DIVISIONS AS POINT VALUES INCREASE IN RISEN STAR Breeders' Cup Juvenile (GI) runner-up Anneau d'Or and Lecomte (GIII) winner Enforceable are the top draws, and Saturday's Risen Star (GII) at Fair Grounds has split into divisions after receiving 23 entries. Both divisions retain the original $400,000 purse, which means each will yield 85 qualifying points (50-20-10-5 scale) toward a Kentucky Derby berth.
The Risen Star, which has been lengthened to 1 1/8 miles this year, is the first of 16 Championship Series races in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series.
Enforceable will meet 10 challengers in the first division, which brings back five of the top six placings from the Jan. 18 Lecomte. Trained by Mark Casse, who won last year's Risen Star with eventual Preakness (GI) hero War of Will, Enforceable earned his first stakes win with a 1 ½-length decision last time, and the late-running son of Tapit will retain the services of Julien Leparoux.
Silver State finished a rallying second in the Lecomte for Steve Asmussen, and the Hard Spun colt drew better in post 2 Saturday for a ground-saving trip. Ricardo Santana Jr. rides. Lecomte third-placer Mr. Monomoy, a half-brother to 2018 Kentucky Oaks winner and champion 3-year-old filly Monomoy Girl, is back for Brad Cox. Scabbard, fifth as the Lecomte favorite, and sixth-placer Shashashakemeup also will return in the first division.
Those making their stakes debut in the first division include Blackberry Wine, who registered the top last-out Brisnet Speed rating (95) when capturing an allowance on the Lecomte undercard; Farmington Road, a last-out maiden winner at Gulfstream Park for Todd Pletcher; and Ready to Roll, who romped by 7 ½ lengths over maiden foes at Oaklawn for Bret Calhoun.
In the second division, Anneau d'Oro has shipped from Northern California to face 11 foes. An eight-length maiden winner on turf, the son of Medaglia d'Oro recorded an excellent head second when making his second start in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. The Blaine Wright-trainee exits a neck second in the Dec. 7 Los Alamitos Futurity (GII), and Anneau d'Oro will add blinkers and Joel Rosario for the Risen Star.
Finnick the Fierce will look to improve upon a fourth in the Lecomte after receiving a less-than favorable trip, and trainer Rey Hernandez will remove the blinkers on the confirmed closer. Mailman Money tries stakes competition in good form for Calhoun, rolling to a 5 ¾-length allowance triumph at Fair Grounds on Jan. 12.
Two turns is the big question for Liam's Lucky Charm, who invades from South Florida off a 5 ½-length tally in the seven-furlong Pasco at Tampa Bay Downs. Ny Traffic returns to stakes company after posting a 6 ¾-length triumph over entry-level allowance rivals at Gulfstream in his first start for Saffie Joseph Jr.
Last-out maiden winners Major Fed, Modernist and Truculent are also part of the second division. – James Scully/TwinSpires.com
SATURDAY'S EL CAMINO REAL, MONDAY'S SOUTHWEST CLOSE ROAD TO KENTUCKY DERBY PREP SEASON – The Road to the Kentucky Derby Prep Season is set to come to a close following Saturday's $100,000 El Camino Real Derby (Listed) at Golden Gate Fields and Monday's $750,000 Southwest Stakes (GIII) at Oaklawn.
Both races will award 10 points to the winner, four to second, two to third and one for fourth.
In Saturday's El Camino Real, $100,000 Sham Stakes (GIII) runner-up Azul Coast will lead 10 rivals in Golden Gate's 1 1/8-mile marquee race. Two other Triple Crown-nominated horses are in Saturday's field: maiden winner Czechmight and recent allowance winner The Stiff.
Post time for the El Camino Real Derby is 6:45 p.m. ET.
Monday's Southwest is expected to include $500,000 Smarty Jones winner Gold Street along with $400,000 Springboard Mile runner-up Answer In. Entries will be drawn Friday afternoon.
Notable quotes provided by owners, trainers and jockeys to track officials:
Risen Star Division 1:
#1 Digital: “He's a horse that is a little lighter physically. He needs a little more time between works and races. … (His last race) was his first time going two turns and the horse that won (Blackberry Wine) had some experience going two turns already as well as more race experience in general.” – trainer Bret Calhoun
#3 Ready to Roll: “We got behind on him a little bit and stuck him in a turf sprint just to give him a race for fitness. It became a bog that day with a wet turf course and he got a little bit tired. We brought him down to Fair Grounds and he had some education in that race with a sloppy track and getting behind horses. After that race we sort of looked at the horses we had in our barn and didn't want to run him against another so we opted to run down at Oaklawn and he ran to our expectations. He's coming along very well. If I had something to criticize, I wish he wasn't coming back in just 22 days but I really liked the way he bounced back from his maiden win.” – Calhoun
#7 Blackberry Wine: “We've been high on him since day one and that's why we took him to Saratoga to start. He likes a firm turf but has also shown he likes the main track.” – trainer Joe Sharp
#8 Enforceable: “We're very happy with the split of the race. It gives more horses and owners an opportunity to run and earn points for the Kentucky Derby. (Enforceable) is a horse that trains himself. He loves going out in the mornings and doing his work. He does it very professionally every morning and well within himself. … There's not a shortcut to the Derby – it's a long road to get there. You have to earn your way in We just want to keep Enforceable sound. We're looking forward to the race and seeing where we stand.” David Carroll, assistant to trainer Mark Casse.
#9 Mr Monomoy: “I thought he ran a good race in the Lecomte and was able to pass horses like we saw in his debut. He was able to gallop out well with Enforceable.” – trainer Brad Cox
Risen Star Division 2:
#3 Mr Big News: “He's had some education with his last race when he was stuck in traffic. He's bred to run further and is developing nicely every day. I think he'll like the distance. He was stuck behind a slower pace last out and he came home very well. It looks like he's peaking right now.” – Calhoun
#7 Major Fed: “He's a big, good looking horse. We knew he had some talent from the start. We sprinted him first time out and he was just kind of green and ran into some really nice horses. He got some good schooling in his maiden win and he's just figuring things out.” – Travis Foley, assistant to trainer Greg Foley
#8 Anneau d'Or: “Our number one factor coming to Fair Grounds was the spacing between the Risen Star and Santa Anita Derby. It allows us to travel across the country, come back and still get six weeks in between races. Those are the two races we've targeted and hopefully the horse keeps doing what it takes to get us where we want to go. … In my opinion, we were a head and neck away from winning an Eclipse Award. We have to find a way to get past horses. Joel Rosario flew up (to Northern California), worked him last week, and got to know him. Hopefully the changes will work to our advantage.” – trainer Blaine Wright
#9 Lynn's Map: “We're throwing out the (Smarty Jones) at Oaklawn. The track seemed to be very sticky that day and, to me, he never settled and got comfortable. When Miguel (Mena) asked him to pick it up, Lynn's Map sort of lost his action and never looked happy in that race.” – Carroll
#11 Mailman Money: “He's always been solid in the mornings. I think he's along the same lines as (2019 Louisiana Derby winner) By My Standards was early in his career when he was physically and mentally immature. They got better as they grew up a little bit. This horse has surprised us being two for two. Physically and mentally he's not where I know he will be soon. That gives us a lot of confidence and optimism going forward into the Risen Star.” – Calhoun
PAST PERFORMANCES & HISTORY
Brinset.com Kentucky Derby Contenders Past Performances
Risen Star Div 1. Past Performances
Risen Star Div 2. Past Performances
El Camino Real Past Performances
SPLIT DIVISIONS – Saturday's split divisions of the $400,000 Risen Star will be the fourth time the race has been run in multiple divisions. The last time the race had split divisions was 1995.
In split division races on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, the original points will be awarded to each division if the race awards its originally published purse to both halves. If the original purse is split between the two divisions, the points will be reduced accordingly.
The Risen Star was also run in split divisions in 1993 and 1989.
RISEN STAR NO STRANGER TO PRODUCING FUTURE STAKES WINNERS – Last year's running of the Risen Star (GII) produced seven future graded stakes winners including Kentucky Derby (GI) winner Country House, who finished second behind eventual Preakness (GI) hero War of Will.
Last year's fourth-place finisher, Hog Creek Hustle, rebounded four months later to win the $400,000 Woody Stephens (GI) at Belmont Park while seventh-place finisher Mr. Money soared past $1 million in purse earnings with victories in the $500,000 West Virginia Derby (GIII), $500,000 Indiana Derby (GIII), $400,000 Pat Day Mile (GIII) and $150,000 Matt Winn (GIII).
Another eventual stakes winner from last year's race was eighth-place runner Owendale who finished third in the Preakness prior to his half-length score in the $500,000 Ohio Derby (GIII) in late June.
CAN SAN VICENTE WINNER NADAL GET THE DISTANCE? – Since the speedy Nadal won last Saturday's seven-furlong San Vicente (Grade II), it has been debated by many handicappers if the Bob Baffert-trained colt will thrive at a two-turn distance.
There is little doubt Nadal is quick out of the gate following blistering opening quarter-mile fractions of the San Vicente in :21.80 and :44. Nadal was purchased for $700,000 at the 2019 Fasig-Tipton Gulfstream Sale after recording the third-fastest eighth-mile breeze at the sale in 10 seconds.
Nadal is by Blame whose offspring have an average winning distance of 7.3 furlongs. Blame is by Arch whose progeny have an average winning distance of 7.9 furlongs.
On the bottom side of the pedigree, Nadal is out of the Pulpit mare Ascending Angel. She was 0-12 on the racetrack and ran on the turf in 11 of those starts. She produced one other foal, Angel Number, who is 0-5.
The debate on if Nadal can handle a two-turn distance could be solved when the colt takes on the 1 1/16-mile Rebel (GII) in his next start on March 14.
BREEDERS' FUTURITY RUNNER-UP GOUVERNEUR MORRIS RETURNS FRIDAY AT TAMPA BAY DOWNS – Team Valor International and WinStar Farm's $500,000 Breeders' Futurity (GI) runner-up Gouverneur Morris is set to make his 3-year-old debut in a first-level allowance race on Friday at Tampa Bay Downs where he will square off against four other Triple Crown-nominated rivals.
Trained by Todd Pletcher, Gouverneur Morris broke his maiden impressively on Sept. 2 at Saratoga by nine lengths. The colt by Constitution finished 5 ½ lengths behind Maxfield in the Breeders' Futurity and has been regularly training toward his seasonal debut since mid-December at Palm Beach Downs in South Florida.
Pletcher's go-to rider John Velazquez will be in the irons.
Also entered in the one mile and 40 yard allowance race is $200,000 Iroquois Stakes (GIII) fourth-place finisher Letmeno and $150,000 Swale Stakes fourth-place finisher Untitled.
Pletcher has used this race at Tampa Bay Downs to pave his road to the Kentucky Derby (GI). In 2016, Outwork won this allowance race (previously run at 6 ½ furlongs) prior to finishing second in the Tampa Bay Derby (GII) and winning the Wood Memorial (GI). He finished 14th in the Kentucky Derby. In 2018, Pletcher's Magnum Moon cruised to victory in this race prior to winning the Rebel (GII) and Arkansas Derby (GI). He finished 19th in the Kentucky Derby.
OAKS, TURF CLASSIC EARLY NOMS DUE – Early nominations for the $1.25 million Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI) and the $1 million Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic (GI) close Saturday. For more information: http://bit.ly/2spFso1
ADDITIONAL TRIPLE CROWN NEWS AND NOTES – Trainer Bob Baffert reported San Vicente runner-up Nadal could target the March 14, $750,000 Rebel (GII) at Oaklawn. Baffert also reported top 3-year-olds Authentic and Thousand Words could target the $400.000 San Felipe (GII) on March 7 at Santa Anita. … Trainer Doug O'Neill's assistant Leandro Mora reported $250,000 UAE 2000 Guineas (GIII) winner Fore Left would train up to the $2.5 million UAE Derby (GII). … Iroquois Stakes (GIII) winner Dennis' Moment will have a jockey change for the $400,000 Fountain of Youth. Due to Irad Ortiz Jr.'s commitment to ride McKinzie in the $12 million Saudi Cup, Flavien Prat will ride Dennis' Moment in the Feb. 29 Fountain of Youth, according to trainer Dale Romans.
SPOTLIGHT HORSE: ANNEAU d'OR
Breeders' Cup Juvenile (GI) runner-up Anneau d'Or traveled more than 2,200 miles from Golden Gate Fields in Northern California to New Orleans for his 3-year-old debut in Div. 2 of Saturday's $400,000 Risen Star (GIII) at Fair Grounds. The $480,000 OBS April Sale purchase will add blinkers in his seasonal bow for Canadian owner Peter Redekop and veteran horseman Blaine Wright.
Owner information: Peter Redekop is an 84-year-old native of British Columbia. Redekop began investing in horse racing in the late 1960s. He and his cousin, Peter Wall, originally began buying horses with the goal of winning their home territory's biggest race: the British Columbia Derby at Hastings Racecourse. Redekop grew up in the former Soviet Union and his family was oppressed by Communists because of their religious beliefs. His family was displaced for two years in Germany until World War II ended. Redekop's family immigrated to Canada in 1948 and began a successful real estate business.
Trainer information: Blaine Wright is a successful trainer in the Pacific Northwest with strings of horses at Golden Gate Fields in Northern California and Emerald Downs in his home state of Washington. Wright made a splash on the national scene in 2019 with El Camino Real Derby winner Anothertwistafate. The colt pointed toward the Kentucky Derby (GI) but opted to the Preakness (GI) when he did not have enough points to run in the Derby. Wright has been involved in horse racing throughout his life. His father, Richard, is a retired jockey turned trainer. His mother, Susan, is an owner, breeder and former assistant trainer to his father. Wright's parents still own horses that he trained along with his sisters Cherie and Judy. Wright sports six graded stakes victories and, arguably, his most successful horse he's trained was 15-time winner Alert Bay. The California-bred earned four graded stakes victories in his 36-race career.
SCULLY'S DERBY REPORT
Independence Hall entered 2020 as a top contender, but his Kentucky Derby stock took a precipitous hit when trying two turns in the Feb. 8 Sam F. Davis (GIII) at Tampa Bay Downs. Sole Volante ran past the odds-on favorite to post a 2 ½-length decision, and the former turf performer picked up 10 points toward a Kentucky Derby berth in his first qualifying race.
The pace was hot in the 1 1/16-mile event, and Independence Hall refused to settle. He tried to chase dueling front-runners from the break, forcing Jose Ortiz to take a heavy hold as they raced just behind the speed. Sole Volante saved ground from his inside post while fifth, 15 ½ lengths back after the opening half-mile, and he began to make headway from off the pace rounding the far the turn.
Independence Hall advanced to take a short lead into the stretch, but Sole Volante was coming. The Patrick Biancone-trained winner kicked clear late, completing the final sixteenth of a mile in six seconds, and Sole Volante received a 108 Brisnet Late Pace rating after finishing fast. Luca Panici was up.
A half-brother to a Grade III winner and from a classy turf female family, Sole Volante brought only $6,000 when passing through the sales ring as a yearling, and Biancone picked him out of the OBS April 2-year-old sale for $20,000. The gelded son of 2014 Breeders' Cup Mile (GI) winner Karakontie is campaigned by Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, Limelight Stables and Andie Biancone.
Sole Volante opened his racing career with a three-length score over turf maiden special weight rivals at Gulfstream Park West, and followed with a 13-1 upset in the grassy Pulpit S. at Gulfstream in late November, closing last-to-first to win by two lengths. Switching to the main track for the Jan. 4 Mucho Macho Man at a one-turn mile, Sole Volante came up 2 ½ lengths short, but earned a commendable 100 Brisnet Speed rating for the rallying third-place finish.
He moved forward in the Davis, registering a 102 Speed rating, and Sole Volante will bring his late kick to either the March 7 Tampa Bay Derby (GII) or March 21 Louisiana Derby (GII) according to Biancone, who finished second in the 2004 Kentucky Derby with Lion Heart.
Independence Hall looked suited to shorter distances while weakening late at 7-10 odds. It's not what you want to see from a Derby contender, but also premature to make any definitive judgments given he didn't switch off in the early stages. Michael Trombetta will continue to work with the headstrong colt, and it will be interesting to see the tactics next time.
Nadal was bet to 8.50-1 favoritism among individual interests in Pool 2 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager (KDFW), which closed about 30 minutes prior to the seven-furlong San Vicente (GII) at Santa Anita on Feb. 9, and the highly-regarded sophomore remained unbeaten after scoring as the 3-10 choice. He gunned it from the start, dueling through :21.81 and :44.09 splits with longshot Ginobili, and fought back in the stretch to win by three-quarters of a length.
A $700,000 2-year-old purchase by Blame, Nadal caused a stir when opening his career with a sparkling debut performance on Jan. 19, scoring by a widening 3 ¾-length margin over 6 ½ furlongs. He's trained by five-time Kentucky Derby winner Bob Baffert and given his imposing physical stature, Nadal's exciting debut sparked memories of 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify, who rolled through three starts before becoming the first unraced 2-year-old to capture the Kentucky Derby in 136 years.
Nadal came back three weeks later in the San Vicente, with Baffert conceding he did little between starts, and an inside post forced Joel Rosario's hand as he let his mount run. The bay colt has been all speed in both starts, and he required 13.54 seconds to complete the final furlong in the San Vicente, but Nadal remains eligible to keep improving.
Front-running Justify showed his tractability when stretching out to two turns, settling just off the early pace before exploding to win going away, and we'll see whether Nadal can relax during the early stages when he stretches out to two turns in the March 14 Rebel (GII) at Oaklawn Park.
Champion 2-year-old Storm the Court was never a factor finishing fourth in the San Vicente, his first start since upsetting the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (GI) at Santa Anita, and he will point to the Rebel.
Spa City stretched out to 1 1/8 miles in his third start and broke his maiden in front-running fashion at Gulfstream on Feb. 8. Trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, the Godolphin homebred son of Street Sense could be headed straight to stakes company after registering a whopping 103 Briset Speed rating for the one-length decision.
The second of three qualifiers at Fair Grounds, the Feb. 15 Risen Star (GII) also marks the first of 16 races in the Championship portion of the Road to the Kentucky Derby series. It has been split into divisions, with each retaining the original $400,000 value, and point values will increase to 50-20-10-5 for the first four finishers. The distance was lengthened to 1 1/8 miles this year, and the first division came up tougher than the second.
Golden Gate Fields will offer its lone qualifier on the same afternoon, the $100,000 El Camino Real Derby, and Sham (GIII) runner-up Azul Coast, who ships north for Baffert, tops an 11-horse field in the 1 1/8-mile race on the Tapeta track. It is worth 17 combined points (10-4-2-1).
On Presidents' Day, the $750,000 Southwest (GIII) takes place at Oaklawn Park. It's the second of four qualifiers at the Hot Springs, Ark. venue, and the final 17-point qualifier for the May 2 Kentucky Derby. The field for the 1 1/16-mile Southwest will be drawn on Valentine's Day.
Here are my thoughts on the Risen Star contestants:
#1 Digital: Nice maiden win two back, came up little short to Blackberry Wine when trying two turns last time. Still some upside if he handles 1 1/8-mile distance.
#2 Silver State: Got going too late, but rallied well for second in Lecomte. Serious win contender if he keeps improving for Steve Asmussen.
#3 Ready to Roll: Received a dream trip on lead and crushed maiden foes over a muddy Oaklawn Park track last time. May add to pace but appears unlikely.
#4 Perfect Revenge: Recent claimer looks too slow based upon Speed ratings.
#5 Moon Over Miami: Sharp maiden win at Aqueduct two back, flat when opening 2020 with fifth as a favorite in Gulfstream allowance.
#6 Shashashakemeup: Showed speed from outside post before weakening to sixth in Lecomte. Churchill maiden winner eligible to show more from a better starting position.
#7 Blackberry Wine: Entered for turf in his first five starts (breaking his maiden in off-the-turf maiden), he exits an encouraging one-length tally over Digital in an entry-level allowance at Fair Grounds. Posted the top last-out Brisnet Speed rating (95), and forward factor merits respect with Adam Beschizza.
#8 Enforceable: After a couple of non-threatening stakes efforts to conclude his juvenile season, he broke through with 1 ½-length win in Lecomte. Look to keep enhancing credentials for Mark Casse.
#9 Mr. Monomoy: Lacked necessary finishing kick checking in third after perfect trip in Lecomte. Well-bred colt must find more while stretching out here.
#10 Farmington Road: Invades for Todd Pletcher after a comfortable maiden tally at Tampa Bay Downs. His Brisnet Speed ratings are a little low, though.
#11 Scabbard: Seeks to rebound after faltering as the favorite in Risen Star, but tough outside draw for colt with a propensity for troubled trips.
#1 Modernist: Had everything his own way in convincing maiden win at Aqueduct, but improving colt remains intriguing for Bill Mott.
#2 Truculent: Steps up after rolling to a maiden win at Fair Grounds in late November.
#3 Mr. Big News: Last-out maiden winner has improved in the last two for Calhoun, but don't know if he's fast enough to challenge here.
#4 Fame to Famous: Turf maiden winner makes dirt debut as huge longshot.
#5 Liam's Lucky Charm: Dynamite in one-turn races, nine furlongs the big question considering he finished a well-beaten third in lone two-turn start.
#6 Excession: Never fired at long odds in Lecomte. Broke maiden in slop so a wet track could aid his chances.
#7 Major Fed: Third to Gold Street in Churchill debut, he rolled to convincing maiden tally when stretching to two turns at Fair Grounds on New Year's Day. Julien Leparoux takes mount on interesting longshot for Grey Foley.
#8 Anneau d'Or: After breaking maiden on turf, he followed with close seconds in Breeders' Cup Juvenile and Los Alamitos Futurity (GII). Adds blinkers for return and rates as the one to beat with Joel Rosario.
#9 Lynn's Map: Recorded a solid allowance win at Fair Grounds two back, but must rebound after disappointing fifth in the Smarty Jones.
#10 Finnick the Fierce: Rallied belatedly for fourth in Lecomte after dropping far back from rail post. A fast-closing second in Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) two back, one-eyed late runner should appreciate outside draw here.
#11 Mailman Money: He's 2-for-2 for Calhoun, recording a 5 3/4-length allowance triumph most recently over the track, and will try to challenge from just off the pace with the right trip.
#12 Ny Traffic: Javier Castellano takes the call after wire-to-wire allowance win at Gulfstream, but gray colt still has much to prove given previous form.
Kentucky Derby Top 10
1 Tiz the Law: March 28 Florida Derby next for sharp Holy Bull winner
2 Thousand Words: Unbeaten Robert B. Lewis winner targeting March 7 San Felipe
3 Maxfield: Optimistic he'll return to worktab soon
4 Anneau d'Oro: BC Juvenile runner-up heads second division of Risen Star
5 Dennis' Moment: Will be back in Feb. 29 Fountain of Youth
6 Nadal: KDFW Pool 2 favorite to try two turns in Rebel
7 Sole Volante: Late runner earned first dirt win with Sam F. Davis upset
8 Enforceable: Lecomte winner the one to beat in first division of Risen Star
9 Silver State: Looks to keep building on Lecomte runner-up in Risen Star
10 Ete Indien: Holy Bull runner-up has netted triple-digit Speed figs in both dirt starts – James Scully/TwinSpires.com
THIS WEEK IN DERBY HISTORY
Wednesday marked 80 days until this year's running of the $3 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (Grade I). The Kentucky Derby Museum's Rickelle Nelson took a look back in history 80 years ago when Gallahadion won the “Sweetest Derby.”
In 1940 Gallahadion won what was dubbed the “Sweetest Derby.” The colt was owned by Mrs. Ethel V. Mars' Milky Way Farm who was the widow of Frank Mars, founder of the famous chocolate bar brand. It was also sweet for those who backed Gallahadion at odds of 36-1; providing the largest payout since Donerail's victory in the 1913 Kentucky Derby at odds of 91-1.
The bay colt was bred by R. A. Fairbairn, and foaled at Fairholme Stud near Winchester, Ky. He was the product of a mating between Sir Gallahad III, the sire of three Kentucky Derby winners (Gallant Fox, Gallahadion and Hoop Jr.), and the Reigh Count mare, Countess Time. Reigh Count won the 1928 Kentucky Derby.
Fairbairn sent the colt to the Saratoga Yearling Sale, where Milky Way Farm purchased him for $5,000 (about the equivalent to $90,000 in 2020).
Roy Waldron had the training duties of Gallahadion, who didn't win a race in five starts when he was 2-years-old. In spite of the lackluster season, the colt quickly found the winner's circle at the beginning of his 3-year-old campaign, capturing a race at Santa Anita on Jan. 5. Then, on Feb. 10, he proved himself against stakes company in the San Vicente.
Gallahadion didn't fare so well in his subsequent races, the Santa Anita Derby and San Juan Capistrano Handicap but, nevertheless, the two-time winner then shipped to Churchill Downs to prepare for the Kentucky Derby, the one race that Mrs. Mars had always wanted to win.
His next start would come in the Derby Trial, where he would face Colonel Bradley's star, the great Bimelech, or “Big Bim.” Many considered him as the second coming of Man O' War. Gallahadion would finish second in the Derby Trial behind the crowd favorite.
After the race, Waldron thought that they had a chance, telling anyone who would listen, however few believed him. He wasn't that impressed with Bimelech, yet he was confident in how his horse was training, as well as knowing that Gallahadion hadn't been pushed in the Derby Trial.
Bimelech would end up going off as the shortest-priced favorite since pari-mutuel betting was used for Kentucky Derby wagering, while Gallahadion was a 36-1 longshot.
Unfortunately, Mrs. Mars couldn't attend the race that mattered most to her, as she was home sick. Colonel Bradley was unable to attend the Derby as well, as his doctor had advised that he stay home due to his health.
Jockey Caroll Bierman took the reins on Gallahadion for the 66th running of the Kentucky Derby. Eight horses went to post, every move watched by the 90,000 people that made up the swarming crowd that filled Churchill Downs. The roof of every barn was filled, every seat was taken and even the new bleachers that were put on the backside were filled to capacity. Everyone had come to see the great Bimelech prove victorious in the race he was destined to win. Although, that isn't how the race unfolded.
Gallahadion broke in forth, trailing Bimelech and the other leaders along the rail. Taking over third as they entered the stretch, the crowd roared as Bimelech turned for home in front. However, Gallahadion caught and passed Bimelech at the sixteenth pole, going on to win the Derby by a length and a half. The crowd was silenced and stunned that their hero had lost.
The few that did back Gallahadion were well rewarded as the longshot paid $72.40. It was the third time in four years that the one post triumphed, joining Lawrin and War Admiral. – Rickelle Nelson/Kentucky Derby Museum
LONGINES KENTUCKY OAKS UPDATE
Fillies trained by Brad Cox and Steve Asmussen have both used the Rachel Alexandra (GII) at Fair Grounds as springboards to success in the Kentucky Oaks (GI), and the two barns provide the leading contenders in Saturday's renewal of the $300,000 Road to the Kentucky Oaks Championship Series prep over 1 1/16 miles.
Cox, who trained champion Monomoy Girl to the double two years ago, unveils juvenile filly champion British Idiom for her season debut. The daughter of Flashback won all three of her starts last season, including a title-clinching triumph in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI) at Santa Anita. That proved a hard fought win for British Idiom, who was a more convincing winner of the Alcibiades (GI) at Keeneland in her stakes debut.
Asmussen, who trained Rachel Alexandra himself, has conditioned four winners of this race, including eventual Kentucky Oaks scorers Untapable and Summerly. His leading prospect currently is Finite, who's registered three stakes wins in succession, highlighted by a game score in the Golden Rod (GII) at Churchill Downs in late November. The Munnings filly opened her 2020 account last month, prevailing in a stretch duel over Ursula in the Silverbulletday over the Fair Grounds strip.
Besides Ursula, the Rachel Alexandra field includes Tempers Rising, third beaten a neck in the Silverbulletday; Pocahontas (GII) runner-up His Glory, unplaced behind Finite in her last two; and the Kenny McPeek-trained pair of Swiss Skydiver and Impeccable Style.
The Rachel Alexandra offers Oaks qualifying points of 50-20-10-5 to the top four finishers. The race can be watched and wagered on at TwinSpires.com. – Vance Hanson/Brisnet.com
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