The road to the 2019 Kentucky Derby is winding towards its end. Saturday is the second to last stop before the journey that started last fall in Kentucky ends next week in Arkansas. For many horses running in this Saturday's Derby Prep races, it's their last chance to make early May reservations for Churchill Downs.
Today's Derby Prep stops include New York, Kentucky and California.
Aqueduct Race 10 - $750,000 WOOD MEMORIAL GARDE II
Keeneland Race 10 - $1,000,000 BLUE GRASS STAKES GRADE II
Santa Anita Race 8 - $1,000,000 SANTA ANITA DERBY GRADE I
The trio of stakes races will award each winner 100 qualifying points, 40 for second, 20 for third and 10 for fourth. To the victors belong tickets to run for the roses; 100 points will be more than enough to qualify. Based on last year's qualifying totals where 29 points made it, second place finishers will likely get a starting gate too.
At Aqueduct, 11 three-year-olds will race 1 1/8th miles on the main track for their cut of $750,000 and their place in the Derby. The 5/2 morning-line favorite, TACITUS (PP: 2) is probably a safe bet to make the Kentucky Derby no matter how he runs in the Wood Memorial. He's currently ninth in the standings with 50-points, a 21-point cushion based on 2018's final standings.
The winner of the Grade III Gotham Stakes, HAIKAL (PP: 4 ML 7/2) also has 50 qualifying points but is eighth in the standings based on his non-restricted stakes earnings. He too will most likely be in Louisville, Kentucky for the first Saturday in May.
Every other horse in the field will need to earn some points to make the 145th Kentucky Derby. The way our handicapper sees it in our Pro-Subscribers' Bonus Commentary, HAIKAL and TACITUS are likely to add to their points.
"HAIKAL is a neck away from being undefeated in four races, all at Aqueduct. TACITUS rallied for the win at Tampa Bay in his last race and first on LASIX. Trainer William Mott wins at 20% in round two with LASIX. HOFFA'S UNION smoked the field in his debut, winning by 15 lengths, eight of which came in the stretch. Look out if he has more. OUTSHINE is going long for the second time in his third start after a layoff. Trainer Todd Pletcher wins second routes at 30% and third starts at 24%."
The $1,000,000 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland could be like NASCAR in the final laps at the Daytona 500. There will probably be a lot of bumping, pedal to the metal and leaving nothing on the track as no horse in the field has the luxury to play it safe. Every runner in the 14-horse field needs to find their way on the board.
SIGNALMAN, WIN WIN WIN and VEKOMA are the only runners with has a chance to qualify with a show finish. For the rest, the only way into the 2019 Kentucky Derby is to finish in one of the top two spots.
Based on our handicapper's view, three horses could make the short trip from Keeneland to Churchill.
"SOMELIKEITHOTBROWN won his last and second race following a layoff. Trainer Michael Maker follows a W with a W at 18% and third starts at 20%. VEKOMA is making his second start off the bench. His limited experience says race number two could be much better than race one. The last was good enough. SIGNALMAN has finished in-the-money in five of six career starts. His chances improve on an off track. WIN WIN WIN is making his second start after a two-month break. Trainer Michael Trombetta wins second starts at 21%."
With 45 points, the 4/5 Santa Anita Derby morning-line favorite GAME WINNER (PP: 6) already has Derby plans. However, he had a disappointing finish in his last race, losing by a nose to OMAHA BEACH in one of Oaklawn's Rebel Stakes races. However, it was OMAHA BEACH all the way.
With only six-horses running in the $1 million Santa Anita Derby, all the pressure has to be on INSTAGRAND (PP: 5 ML 3-1). He was the public choice to win the Gotham Stakes and came in a disappointing third behind HAIKAL and MIND CONTROL. He smoked the competition in his first two races and was consider a "lock" by many to make the 2019 Kentucky Derby field. With only 10 qualifying points to date, he might get in by the short hair on his back with a third-place finish and 30 total points. No doubt, that would be too close for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer and have him sweating it out until next Saturday's prep races are official.
INSTAGRAND's Kentucky fate will likely depend on him finishing in front of one of, if not both, ROADSTER (PP: 1 ML 5/2) and/or NOLO CONTESTO (PP: 3 ML 6-1).
According to our Pro-Subscribers' Bonus Commentary, it could be a long week for Hollendorfer.
"GAME WINNER looks to get back on track as the likely 2019 Kentucky Derby favorite. He's never lost in California and is one for one at Santa Anita. ROADSTER came off a six-month break to win his last race. Since, he's put in four good workouts, including a bullet on March 31st. INSTAGRAND is also making his second start off the bench. His limited history suggests he'll improve greatly in round two. NOLO CONTESTO is the only other horse in the field with a chance to pull off the upset. He has a win and a second in two Santa Anita races."