Kentucky Derby field taking shape after weekend prep races
NEW YORK >> In just over an hour, in three races from coast to coast, the field for the Kentucky Derby mostly came into focus.
Outwork is in. So are Brody's Cause and Exaggerator.
"Anytime you've won one of these major preps, it puts you in the top area," trainer Todd Pletcher said Sunday, a day after Outwork outlasted Trojan Nation in the $1 million Wood Memorial at Aqueduct and clinched a spot in the Derby field.
Over at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky, about a half-hour later Saturday, Brody's Cause pulled off a come-from-behind victory in the Blue Grass and earned his spot in the Derby.
And out West a little later, Exaggerator capped the biggest day of Derby preps when he blew away the field in the stretch and won the Santa Anita Derby.
The results added 100 Derby qualifying points to each colt's total, guaranteeing them spots in what likely will be a full field of 20 3-year-olds running for the roses May 7.
Despite the results, unbeaten Nyquist remains the likely favorite for the Derby after his showdown win against Mohaymen in the Florida Derby on April 2. Nyquist — a son of Uncle Mo, as is Outwork — has 130 points, with Gun Runner the points leader at 151.
After Nyquist, though, it's anyone's guess who the second-leading contender might be.
"We haven't been able to beat him (Nyquist), what, five times?" Exaggerator trainer Keith Desormeaux said — exaggerating since it's really three times. "I don't know if we can or not."
Added Pletcher, who also plans to send Tampa Bay Derby winner Destin to Churchill Downs: Nyquist "certainly deserves that top seed right now. It seems to be a fairly consistent group. The horses in California are consistently doing well and Nyquist as well. It wasn't a big surprise that Brody's Cause came back and ran well, and then you have the Arkansas Derby to go."
Nyquist will face no shortage of challengers, including a few who stormed into contention Saturday.
The biggest surprise came in the Wood, where 81-1 long shot Trojan Nation finished second by a head to Outwork. Winless in six starts, Trojan Nation earned 40 points to qualify for the Derby. The last maiden to win the Derby was Brokers Tip in 1933; the last to run was Nationalore in 1998, finishing ninth. Trainer Paddy Gallagher says the Derby is a go.
Adventist ran third in the Wood for 20 points and now totals 32 points — good for 20th and likely enough to make the field. Wood favorite Shagaf finished fifth in his first loss but already had 50 points and is Derby-bound.
Brody's Cause won the Blue Grass by 1 3/4 lengths over My Man Sam. Cherry Wine was third and Laoban fourth. Dale Romans trains Brody's Cause (114 points) and Cherry Wine (25 points) and is hoping his third-place finisher has enough points to make the Derby. My Man Sam could give Shagaf's trainer, Chad Brown, a second Derby starter. Laoban, like Trojan Nation, a maiden, has 32 points and is ranked 21st.
"This is home, this is the second-biggest race in Kentucky in my opinion, and it's great to win," Romans said. "On to the Kentucky Derby with a real chance."
At Santa Anita, Exaggerator (126 points) comes into the Derby with four wins in nine starts after his 6 1/4-length victory. Ridden by Desormeaux's brother, Hall of Famer Kent Desormeaux, the colt would attempt to become the third Santa Anita Derby winner in five years to win the Kentucky Derby. I'll Have Another did it in 2012, and California Chrome came through in 2014.
Don't feel too bad for Santa Anita Derby runner-up Mor Spirit. With an additional 40 points, the colt from Triple Crown-winning trainer Bob Baffert's barn moved up to 84 points. Baffert also trains Rebel winner Cupid (50 points), who is set to run next weekend in the Arkansas Derby.
Uncle Lino's third-place finish pushed his points total to 29, but trainer Gary Sherlock said the horse is off the Derby trail. Danzing Candy was fourth for 10 points and now has 60 points. Trainer Cliff Sise Jr. said Sunday his colt's Derby status is uncertain.
With two preps left, it looks as though at least 30 points will be needed to make the Derby field. In previous years, the number was about 20.
The Arkansas Derby offers 100-40-20-10 points, the Lexington Stakes 50-20-10-5 points.
For 3-year-old star filly Songbird, the answer is still no to the Derby. She ran her record to 7 for 7 with another cruise-control victory in the Santa Anita Oaks. Owner Rick Porter said once again his filly will run next in the Kentucky Oaks on the day before the Derby.
NOTES: Triple Crown-winning jockey Victor Espinoza, who finished seventh aboard Smokey Image in the Santa Anita Derby, is looking for a Derby mount a year after riding American Pharoah to victory in the Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes. ... Nyquist, who missed a day of training last week with an elevated white blood cell count, jogged for a second day at Keeneland on Sunday, reported Jack Sisterson, trainer Doug O'Neill's assistant.
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