Early Kentucky Derby Prep Races at Gulfstream and Fairgrounds

January 23, 2010 | Gary Quill

Kentucky Derby prep races? In January? Oh yeah! Much like the NFL season is a 4 month (i.e. 17 week) marathon to decide what 12 of the 32 teams make it to the post-season, the road to the Kentucky Derby is eerily similar.


Four months prior to the Kentucky Derby (May 1st), the thousands of colts and fillies foaled in 2007 enter there 3 year old “season”. In January, somewhere around 300-400 of them will be nominated to the Triple Crown series (Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes). Shortly thereafter, they begin their journey by running in the various prep races to see which ones are the best 20 who can gain a spot in the starting gate of the 136th Kentucky Derby.


On Saturday (Jan. 23rd), a number of Triple Crown nominees will run in either the $150k Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park (FL) or the $100k Grade 3 LeComte Stakes at Fairgrounds (LA). Both of these races have no clear cut favorite, which means they are great betting races guaranteed to produce nice pay-offs for the “short-term investor”.


In the one mile Holy Bull, scheduled Post Time 5:08pm (EST), the Morning Line (M/L) 5-2 favorite is #9 Jackson Bend (Nick Zito trained; ridden by Jeremy Rose) who has 5 wins in 6 career starts. His sole blemish is a ½ length runner-up finish in his career debut. He’ll face 8 foes, 6 of which have already competed in at least one graded stakes race this early in their career. It’s hard to nail down how the race will shape up because 6 have the ability to either be on the front-end or stalk the pace. They are #1Thank U Philippe (M/L 8-1), #2 Homeboykris (MD-bred; 5-1), #3 Litigation Risk (12-1), #6 Winslow Homer (6-1), #7 Wild Lime (20-1) and #9 Jackson Bend. The remaining 3 who will hope the pace up front is quick early on in order to make a late run are #4 Piscitelli (6-1), #5 William’s Kitten (8-1) and #8 Aikenite (4-1).


I believe that #4 Aikenite, is the best value in the race because he has faced the best in his class (Grade 1 competition) in 3 of his 4 starts, with 3rd, 2nd and 5th place finishes, no more than 3½ lengths behind the winner, whereas #9 Jackson Bend has faced much softer while competing in restricted FL-bred, minor stakes races, but has posted impressive Speed Figures ranging from 92-106. #1Thank U Philippe appears to have a case of second-itis, being the runner-up in 5 of his 8 career outings. He adds Blinkers for the first time which his trainer (Martin Wolfson) gets his runners to the Winner’s Circle 46% of the time using this tactic. #4 Piscitelli makes his 3 year old debut, off 3 synthetic surface, graded stakes efforts, but did run 2nd as a first-timer then broke his maiden on the natural dirt surface at Monmouth Park last July.


For the win use #4 Aikenite with #1Thank U Philippe, #4 Piscitelli and #5 William’s Kitten in your exotics.


In the one mile and 40 yard LeComte, scheduled Post Time 5:43pm (EST), the Morning Line (M/L) 7-2 favorite is #2 Turf Melody (Graham Motion trained; ridden by Jose Valdiva, Jr.). This group of 11 appears to be a notch below those running in the Holy Bull, has only 4 have run in a graded stakes race, and none of which were Grade 1’s and no victories to boot. They are Turf Melody, #3 Worldly (5-1), #5 Citrus Kid (8-1) and #6 Callide Valley (10-1).


It’s interesting that CA based jockey Jose Valdivia, Jr. makes a cross-country journey just to ride Turf Melody, who was ridden to victory in his most recent start by Jeremy Rose who moved his tack to Gulfstream Park for the winter and rides Jackson Bend in the Holy Bull. Hmmm. There’s plenty of early foot here which bodes well for deep closers on a track that tends to be kind to these types of runners.


#11 Ron The Greek (8-1) has gone from maiden to first level allowance to minor stakes and now to graded stakes in making his fourth career start. Tom Amoss is a high win percentage trainer who has a keen sense of his horses’ ability and where to place them. What impresses me about Ron The Greek is not only his closing kick, but the fractions in which he has run them. This is why he’s my pick here.


For the exotics, consider #8 Letsgetitonmon (10-1), trained/ridden by dangerous team of Steve Asmussen and Shaun Bridgmohan. He ran a nice warm-up race, finishing 3 lengths behind the winner in an optional claimer over this surface on Jan. 3. #2 Turf Melody solely on the fact Valdivia travels from the left coast to ride indicates this runner is sitting on a big effort. #3 Worldly has improved his Speed Figures in each of 5 starts and will benefit getting Robby Albarado in the irons and #1 Maximus Ruler (4-1) has shown a liking to the Fairgrounds oval in the A.M. since arriving from Churchill Downs last month.


Enjoy a great day of thoroughbred horse racing. Share the fun with a friend.