Racing to the Kentucky Derby

Spring has sprung and Derby week excitement has begun.

New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski was almost part of the fun, since he recently purchased a percentage of European Derby qualifier, “Gronkowski”. Unfortunately, his equine namesake developed a slight fever, and although he is already feeling better, the minor setback was enough to keep him from participating in this year’s Kentucky Derby. He will now be pointed for the Belmont Stakes, the third leg of the Triple Crown.

Gronkowski would undoubtedly have been at much shorter odds than he should have been because of his namesake. That defection allows the 21st horse on the points earning list to compete.

“Quip” had earned 90 points by winning the Grade Two Tampa Bay Derby and then finishing second in the G1 Arkansas Derby on April 14. Quip has three wins in five career starts.

However, his connections said that Quip needs more time to recover than the three weeks between the Arkansas Derby and the Kentucky Derby. They will instead point him toward the Preakness on May 19, which is the second leg of the Triple Crown. This will allow the 22nd highest points-earning horse on the list of Derby entries to compete.

Assuming no more defections, this week’s article will focus on the under -100 points earners that have earned the right to compete in this year’s Kentucky Derby.

“Flameaway” has garnered 70 points in his five wins in nine career starts. He was last seen finishing second in the G2 Bluegrass Stakes on April 7. Flameaway will probably be a long-shot, despite two of his wins being in G3s.

“Solomini” has 54 points, having finished third in a photo finish to Quip in the Arkansas Derby. Although he has only one victory in his six-race career, Solomini has placed second or third in four G1 races (the highest level of racing), including a second-place finish in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

“Bravazo” also has 54 points earned during his eight-race career. He has been inconsistent, with only three wins to date. His connections are hoping the 1 1/4 mile Kentucky Derby distance will play in his favor.

“My Boy Jack” has 52 qualifying points under his girth. With 10 starts already, he will have the most racing experience of any horses in this year’s Derby. My Boy Jack, who recently won the G3 Lexington Stakes, has the distinction of being the least costly when he was purchased as a twenty thousand dollar yearling, and has now earned over $645,000.

“Promises Fulfilled” also has 52 points, due in large part to the 50 he earned from his first-place finish in the G2 Fountain of Youth Stakes in early March. He was last seen coming in a disappointing ninth place in the G1 Florida Derby after getting involved in a blistering early speed dual. (Think of what it would be like to run a 440 yard dash time and then still have to finish a 1 1/8 mile race).

“Free Drop Billy” has started eight times and earned 44 Derby points. He has finished in the top three in seven of those races, albeit with only two victories, one coming in a G1 last fall. As an “off the pace” type horse, and with an anticipated early speed dual in the Derby, a sustained run could put this horse in the top three at the finish. Free Drop Billy needs to avoid “Traffic Trouble,” like he did in his most recent start, where he ended up in third after being severely impeded in the Blue Grass Stakes.

“Lone Sailor”, with only one victory in eight starts, has 42 points, with most of them coming as a result of his second-place finish in the G2 Louisiana Derby by a neck. He may be the most interesting long-shot, though, as he was last seen firing a “bullet” (fastest work of the day) workout at Churchhill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby, on April 19. Lone Sailor worked five furlongs (5/8 of a mile) in a blistering 57.6 seconds.

Most higher class horses typically work that distance between 59 seconds and one minute when prepping for their next start.

“Hofburg” has only raced three times, but has earned 40 points to earn a spot in this year’s Derby starting gate. His second-place finish in the G1 Derby was enough to convince his human connections that he belongs with this year’s deep pool of Derby entries.

“Firenze Fire” has raced nine times and earned 39 points, but has yet to win a two- turn race, which is what most races at a mile or longer require. He does have four wins, including a G1. His pedigree appears to make him far more suited for shorter, one-turn type races, than the 1 1/4 mile, 2 turn, Kentucky Derby.

With the two recent defections of Quip and Gronkowski, both “Combatant,” with 32 points, and “Instilled Regard,” with just 29 points, are now eligible for this year’s Derby. Combatant has only one win in seven starts, but does have three seconds and one third-place finish in stakes races (two of which were Graded). He has failed to finish in the top three only once, when crossing the finish line fourth in the G1 Arkansas Derby.

“Instilled Regard” has two wins in seven starts, including a win in a G3. He also has finished in the top three in all of his races but one, crossing the finish line fourth in the G1 Santa Anita Derby. Although it is unlikely that these two late additions will win this year’s Derby, we only have to go back to 2009, when late addition “Mine That Bird” won the Derby. He was 50-1, and looked hopelessly beaten halfway down the Churchill Downs backstretch.

Although they will be long-shots, late additions can win, it is just highly unlikely.