This week rang in 2022 and brought with it excitement about the 2022 Kentucky Derby as the weekend featured several stakes races for the 3-year-olds that will look to run their way into history. Before we get to all of the 3-year-old races though, we had a solid Saturday card at Santa Anita with four graded stakes races. In the Joe Hernandez Stakes, we saw Chewing Gum, a horse that had not won a race in 18 months, win in thrilling fashion as he edged out Beer Can Man at the wire. A lot of strong performances in that race as the top two race very well, but the third place horse, Bran, caught my eye. Bran was making his North American debut and oftentimes I’m a little cautious about hoping for too much out of a first-time North American runner as you typically see them progress significantly between their first and second efforts in their new surroundings. However, for Bran to come over and run a strong third in a Grade II race the first time out was impressive. I’ll be interested to see where his connections place him next and whether he might be able to build on that performance. In the Sham Stakes, which was one of three Kentucky Derby prep races over the weekend, the Bob Baffert duo of Newgrange and Rockefeller finished 1-2 but have very different narratives coming out of that race. For Newgrange, it was a solid front-running effort in which he stretched out from his initial 6 furlong race to a two-turn mile and pulled away. For Rockefeller, he’s now 0-2 when not getting the lead and has shown the propensity to fade in a two-turn setting. Meanwhile, Oviatt Class needs to find a new home away from 5-horse stakes races and slow paces as his style is set up for larger fields and a hotter pace while Mackinnon likely will head back to the turf after his 4th place performance.
In the Robert J Frankel Stakes, Luck, the favorite, won with class as she sat second to last going into the third turn but launched a great bid and drew away from the field late. Bodhicitta, who was dropping down from running in a series of Grade I and II races, showed her class at this level with a driving second place while Mucho Unusual came off a two-month layoff and grabbed a piece of the board for the 13th time in 13 career starts at Santa Anita. Finally, the La Canada Stakes might have given us the performance of the day with As Time Goes By winning by 10 lengths and showing her class over a solid field. Give credit to Park Avenue for pushing the pace and making this an honest race, but once As Time Goes By made her move, it was over. On the podcast I talk about how impressive her performance was given the post-Breeders’ Cup hangover we’ve seen from several horses who ran at Del Mar.
Moving away from Santa Anita, we saw a trio of nice 3-year-old races at Gulfstream Park. Kathleen O won the Cash Run Stakes and firmly put her name in the conversation as a filly to watch going into Kentucky Oaks season. She broke poorly and then passed the entire field with ease around the turn and homestretch. Meanwhile, Todd Pletcher showed off a pair of solid 3-year-old turf horses in the Dania Beach Stakes with frontrunner Chanceux getting nabbed by his stalking stablemate Grand Sonata at the wire. Both of them look very good and should be contenders on the 3-year-old turf circuit moving forward. Finally, Simplification bounced back after a poor effort last time to remind everyone of what he’s capable of with a dominant front-running effort at the Mucho Macho Man Stakes. Two starts prior, Simplification ran a 92 Beyer Speed Figure and put a lot of people on notice. After a lackluster follow-up to that race, he looked much the best against a strong field and will be a Florida Derby horse to watch.
The other two Kentucky Derby prep races this weekend took place in less than ideal conditions at Oaklawn and Aqueduct. In the mud at Oaklawn, Dash Attack, a Ken McPeek horse making only his second career start, came from well off the pace to pull away in an impressive victory. McPeek has several impressive 3-year-olds and Dash Attack would appear to be yet another to add to the list. In New York, the Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct was run in the slop and fog but it couldn’t stop Courvoisier from winning while pressing a sub-46 second opening half mile. Courvoisier still had enough left to draw clear of the field, but the second-place horse, Smarten Up, is another one to watch. Smarten Up was driving at the end and would appear to like more distance and while it took him a few races to break his maiden, he was always on the board and lost to solid horses in Eloquist and Vine Jet.
As we head down the backstretch in our run for the Kentucky Derby, more and more names were emerge as contenders and the Win Place Show will keep you updated on all of them and the latest happenings in horse racing. Make sure to follow on the podcast platform of your choice, subscribe to our YouTube channel, and follow me on Twitter at @failedtomenace.