©2017 Calvin L. Carter. All rights reserved.
This Saturday, with three marquee races on tap, the Road to the Kentucky Derby enters the stretch drive taking us to Kentucky, New York and California where winners of those races will each receive 100 qualifying points and a guaranteed spot in Derby starting gate on the first Saturday in May.
At Keeneland Racecourse in Kentucky, McCraken has been tabbed as the 7-5 morning-line favorite in the 93rd running of the $1 million Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G2). Post Time is 6:17 p.m. ET. Live television coverage of the race will be broadcast on the NBC Sports Network from 5:30-7:30 p.m. ET. Live onsite coverage will also be on TVG beginning at 1 p.m.
McCraken remains undefeated in four starts for trainer Ian Wilkes and he comes into this race off of a 1½ length win in the Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3). Here’s the video and chart call of that race:
MCCRAKEN settled off the pace inside, moved four wide passing the quarter pole, closed well outside and pulled away under some left handed encouragement.
McCraken has a low Classic Champion Thoroughbred Profile® rating but his Behavior Index makes him competitive and he’s a proven, consistent winner on the Kentucky Derby Trail. His split for the mile of 1:36.05 and final time of 1:42.44 was decent but Tapwrit, who’s also entered in the Blue Grass, was gaining ground on McCracken in the final strides.
Ghostzapper, a 2012 Hall of Fame inductee and the sire of McCraken, was an incredibly talented, multiple graded stakes winner that compiled a 9-0-1 record in 11 starts with $3,466,120 in career earnings.
As a two year old, Ghostzapper won his maiden special weight debut by nine lengths and was 1-0-0 in two starts. At the age of three, Ghostzapper won the Vosburgh Stakes (G1) and finished third in the King’s Bishop (G1), compiling a 3-0-1 record in four starts.
As a four year old, Ghostzapper was undefeated in four starts winning the Tom Fool Handicap (G2), Philip H. Iselin Breeders’ Cup Handicap (G3), Woodward Stakes (G1) and the Breeders’ Cup Classic Powered by Dodge (G1). In addition, Ghostzapper was selected as the 2004 Eclipse Horse of the Year and Eclipse Champion Older Horse.
In his only start as a five year old, Ghostzapper was a 6¼ length winner of the one mile Metropolitan Handicap (G1).
McCraken missed the Tampa Bay Derby (G2), but since his last start, he’s been training well and I look for him to run a good race. However, with his low profile rating, I’m curious to see how well he will handle the stretch out in distance to nine furlongs.
Tapwrit comes into this race for trainer Todd Pletcher with a 3-1-0 record in five starts including a win in the Pulpit Stakes, a second-place finish in the Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3) and a win in the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby (G2). Here’s the video and chart call of his last race:
TAPWRIT raced three wide early, then settled nicely off the pace near the inside, began to move up between rivals entering the far turn, gained quickly into contention of the turn, moved to the three path for a clear run, rallied strongly outside of the leader passing the quarter pole, easily took command, pulled away under left hand urging in upper stretch and was kept to the task.
Tapwrit flew by the leader and eventual second-place finisher, State of Honor, and increased his lead to win by a commanding 4½ lengths, setting a new stakes and track record final time of 1:42.36. Also, his mile time of 1:35.75 was much better than 1:36.05 set by McCraken in the Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3).
Tapit, the sire of Tapwrit, was a multiple graded stakes winner that compiled a 3-0-0 record in six starts with $557,300 in career earnings.
As a two year old, Tapit was undefeated in two starts including a win in the Laurel Futurity (G3). Tapit was troubled by a lung infection for much of his three year old season but he did win the nine-furlong Wood Memorial Stakes (G1) in route to a ninth-place finish in the 2004 Kentucky Derby.
At stud, Tapit has been America’s leading sire for the past three years and he’s the sire of the Belmont Stakes (G1) winners Tonalist and Creator.
With an A Classic Champion Thoroughbred Profile® rating Tapwrit is one of the best bred colts in this race and I would not be surprised to see him pull off the upset in the Blue Grass Stakes (G2).
J Boys Echo (4-1) comes into this race with a 2-1-1 record in five starts for trainer Dale Romans, including a 3½ length win in the Gotham Stakes (G3). Here’s the video and chart call of the Gotham:
J BOYS ECHO saved ground in mid pack, came under light coaxing half a mile from home and closed the gap that opened up midway on the backstretch, got put to further urging midway on the far turn and tipped out to the four path nearing the five sixteenths, swung four then three wide into upper stretch sweeping past the top pair straightened away and seizing command just outside the three-sixteenths, edged clear under a light drive to the finish.
J Boys Echo finally earned graded-stakes honors in winning the Gotham Stakes by 3½ lengths. However, the final time of 1:46.34 is slower than what I like to see a young colt run on the Derby trail.
Mineshaft, the sire of J Boys Echo, was an outstanding route racer who compiled a 10-3-1 record in 18 lifetime starts. He began his racing career in England at the age of three, winning a maiden weight for age race at Newmarket. In November, Mineshaft was shipped to America where he won two more races to close out the season with a 3-1-1 record in nine starts.
As a four year old, Mineshaft really proved himself as a champion and compiled a 7-2-0 record in route to earning Horse of the Year and Champion Older Horse honors. In nine starts, Mineshaft won the New Orleans Handicap (G2), Ben Ali Stakes (G3), Pimlico Special Handicap (G1), Suburban Handicap (G1), Woodward Stakes (G1) and the Jockey Club Gold Club Stakes (G1).
With an A+ Classic Champion Thoroughbred Profile®, he’s yet to fully live up to his breeding. When horses like J Boys Echo fail to run close to their Classic Champion Thoroughbred Profile® score, then the issue[s] preventing them from reaching their full potential needs to be investigated. And there can be many contributing factors for a horse not running to his profile score – Effinex is a good example of that.
Wild Shot (15-1) comes into this race with a 1-2-2 record in six starts for trainer George Arnold, II including a third-place finish in the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby (G2). Here’s the video and chart call of his last race:
WILD SHOT angled over to the rail soon after the start, settled off the pace inside, moved up three wide on the far turn, came three wide into the lane and rallied mildly to get up for third.
Wild Shot was beaten six lengths by Taprwit. But, with A Classic Champion Thoroughbred Profile® ranking, Wild Shot has yet to fully live up to his breeding and he’s not on par with Tapwrit who shares the same profile ranking.
Trappe Shot, the sire of Wild Shot, raced mostly in sprints from the age of two to four, compiling a 6-2-0 record in 12 starts with $703,884 in career earnings. His best stakes victories were in the six furlong Waldoboro Stakes, True North Handicap (G2) and he did stretch out to win the 8½ furlong Long Branch Stakes. In other route races, Trappe Shote finished second in the nine-furlong Izod Haskell Invitational (G1) and ninth in the Travers Stakes (G1).
To date, Trappe Shot’s best runner on the Kentucky Derby Trail has been My Man Sam who finished second in the nine furlong 2016 Toyota Blue Grass (G1) stakes.
With only one out-of-money finish, Wild Shot is a proven competitor on the trail. However, I’ll be watching to see how well he and J Boys Echo handle the stretch out in distance to nine furlongs in the Blue Grass Stakes (G2).
Let’s take a look at the Classic Champion Thoroughbred Profile® for the horses entered in this race:
1. J Boys Echo A+
2. Wild Shot A
3. Tapwrit A
4. Irap D
5. It’s Your Nickel D
6. McCraken D
7. Practical Joke F
In addition, the Behavior Index can move some horses up or down and here’s a look at the ranking of the Blue Grass entries when you factor in the behavior variable.
Classic Champion Thoroughbred
Profile® & Behavior Index Model
3. J Boys Echo
4. Wild Shot
6. It’s Your Nickel
7. Practical Joke
As you can see in the Behavior Index Model, McCraken is moved up while J Boys Echo and Wild Shot drop down in the ranking. McCraken is a talented colt but Tapwrit was making up ground on him late in the Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3) and it will be interesting to see how well McCraken responds in the stretch out to nine furlongs.
One model I looked at showed that Practical Joke (7-2) and It’s Your Nickel (20-1) could potentially crack the top four.
Practical Joke is also a talented colt but he was all out to finish second by a half a length over Three Rules in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2). Gunnevera easily won that race but he was a distant third to Always Dreaming in the nine-furlong Florida Derby (G1).
It’s Your Nickel would need to improve significantly in order to secure the win but if he looks good in the post parade he may be worthy of a small wager.
Under the points system implemented by Churchill Downs to determine which horses will qualify to enter the Kentucky Derby starting gate, the winner of the Blue Grass Stakes (G2) will receive 100 points, the second-place finisher will receive 40 points, the third-place finisher will receive 20 points and the fourth-place finisher will receive 10 points.
Here’s a look at the current top twenty Derby qualifiers:
2017 KENTUCKY DERBY LEADERBOARD
Ranking, total points, Trainer, Non-Restricted Stakes Earnings
1. Girvin, 150, Joe Sharp, $849,800
2. Thunder Snow, 100, Saeed bin Suroor, $1,621,063
3. Always Dreaming, 100, Todd Pletcher, $$589,000
4. Gunnevera, 84, Antonio Sano, $1,137,800
5. State of Honor, 62, Mark Casse, $309,564
6. Tapwrit, 54, Todd Pletcher, $295,570
7. J Boys Echo, 53, Dale Romans, $255,000
8. Malagacy, 50, Todd Pletcher, $540,000
9. Hence, 50, Steve Asmussen, $$481,129
10. **Fast and Accurate, 50, $320,712
11. Patch, 40, Todd Pletcher, $200,000
12. Practical Joke, 34, Chad Brown, $766,000
13. Untrapped, 34, Steve Asmussen, $210,000
14. Classic Empire, 32, Mark Casse, $1,493,820
15. Local Hero, 30, Steve Asmussen, $140,000
16. Gormley, 20, John Sherriffs, $284,000
17. McCraken, 20, Ian Wilkes, $285,048
18. Master Plan, 20, Todd Pletcher, $214,700
19. Iliad, 20, Doug O’Neill, $200,000
20. Sonneteer, 20, Keith Desormeaux, $186,000
**Owner Kendall Hansen has indicated that the late supplemental nomination fee of $200,000 will be paid. Not This Time, retired to stud at Taylor Made Farm. Mastery is off the trail with a condylar fracture. El Areeb is off the trail with an injury to his right knee.
In addition to the current top 20, Churchill Downs has partnered with the Japan Racing Association to feature the Cattleya Sho Stakes and Hayacinth Stakes as two qualifying races in the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby. The horse with the most points from those races will receive an invitation to compete in the 2017 Kentucky Derby. Here’s the video of the Cattleya Sho Stakes. Here’s the video of the Hayacinth Stakes.
2017 JAPAN ROAD TO KENTUCKY DERBY LEADERBOARD
Ranking, total points, Trainer, Non-Restricted Stakes Earnings
1. Epicharis (JPN), 50, Kiyoshi Hagiwara, $450,374
2. Mont Saint Legame (JPN), 40, Koji Maki, $90,154
3. Adirato (JPN), 20, Naosuke Sugai, $154,951
4. Caucus (JPN), 16, Hideaki Fujiwara, $35,850
5. Foggy Night (JPN), 5, Noriyuki Hori, $23,801
The connections of Epicharis have stated that they will skip the Kentucky Derby (G1) and may go to the Preakness (G1) and Belmont Stakes (G1).