Longley’s Lead Up: On the path to the Kentucky Derby

March 1, 2018

By: Rob Longley for woodbine.com

TORONTO, March 1, 2018 – It’s Magic Time.

With the calendar flipped to March and the big Kentucky Derby contenders poking their heads out of their stalls, one of the most hotly anticipated three-year-old debuts of the season takes place this weekend in South Florida.

It’s there at Gulfstream Park that two-year-old champion and consensus early Derby favourite Good Magic is scheduled to unveil his three-year-old form in the Fountain Of Youth Stakes.

Making his first start since capturing the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Del Mar last November, Good Magic is the 7-5 morning line favourite in a field of 10. And by all accounts, trainer Chad Brown has his colt cranked up for a notable performance.

“The year is filled with promise,” Brown told reporters in Florida ahead of his 1 1/16th mile test. “This horse, knock on wood, is healthy and his battery is recharged. He’s a fresh horse.”

Good Magic and jockey Jose Ortiz winning the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on November 4, 2017 at Del Mar Racing Club. (Photo by Jamey Price/Eclipse Sportswire/Breeders’ Cup)

Though he has just one win under his belt from three career starts, the son of Curlin was wildly impressive in that 4 1/4-length win at the Juvenile. And now it’s time to start the hype for Good Magic’s next career highlight.

Like any trainer with a serious Derby horse, Brown has a clear plan heading to the first Saturday in May and has decided on either the Bluegrass Stakes in Lexington or the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct – both on April
7 – as Good Magic’s final Derby prep.

“The goal is the Kentucky Derby and I’m really working backwards from there,” Brown told Thoroughbred Daily News, in explaining his two-race prep plan. “To the best of my ability, I’m trying to get the horse to run a lifetime best race on the first Saturday in May.”

Brown said he prefers the timing of the Wood and the Blue Grass over the Florida Derby, which is contested at Gulfstream a week earlier on March 31. The reasoning, Brown suggests, is that he’d rather take the extra week between his first and second races than headed into the Derby.

Good Magic, who currently holds down top spot on the NTRA’s weekly Kentucky Derby poll, will break from Post 6 in the Fountain of Youth. The Mark Hennig-trained Strike Power – an impressive two-time winner at Gulfstream – is the second choice at odds of 4-1.

DON’T CALL IT THE JINX

For decades, a popular method of culling Derby contenders was by immediately dismissing the winner of the Juvenile, no matter how impressive that champion might be.

So is that a knock against Good Magic? Since 1984, only two Juvenile winners have kept on running all the way to the Derby winners’ circle, definitely a low percentage.

However, since two of those have come since 2007 (Street Sense) and 2016 (Nyquist), the trend certainly isn’t as relevant.

FINISH LINES

While Woodbine-based trainer Mark Casse’s well-regarded Ontario-bred Flameaway is a week away from returning in the Tampa Bay Derby, he’ll try to knock off Good Magic this week. Casse’s He Takes Charge has drawn the rail in the Fountain of Youth and is pegged at 20-1 … Once we digest Good Magic’s seasonal bow, it will be time to look forward to a huge March 10 and a trio of big-time preps. The San Felipe in California leads the way but is joined by the Gotham at Aqueduct and the Tampa Bay Derby. Like the FOY, all three offer 50 Derby points to the winner … Those three preps coincide with Pool 3 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager, available at Woodbine and all its related betting outlets and portals.

DERBY TOP 5

With no action, no changes in our top five list.

1. Good Magic, trainer Chad Brown
The fact that Brown has talked with so much confidence in his colt only adds to the anticipation of Saturday’s big race at Gulfstream. Any kind of win off the shelf keeps him No. 1 for weeks.

2. McKinzie, trainer Bob Baffert
The more we look to the San Felipe next week at Santa Anita, the more enticing the showdown with the colt right below him on our list. The early leader from the Baffert barn.

3. Bolt d’Oro, Mike Ruiz
Continues to work impressively for his next start in the San Felipe. Trip handicappers still love him off of his wide trip and sound defeat to Good Magic in the BC Juvenile.

4. Audible, Todd Pletcher
Apparently recovered from his big Holy Bull win, he’s back working for Pletcher. While some would have looked to the Fountain of Youth, Pletcher colts thrive off of layoffs and the Florida Derby appears next up.

5. Instilled Regard, Jerry Hollendorfer
Still considered a top prospect based on his big form in December and January, he for now hangs at the bottom of our list despite a defeat in the Risen Star.

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Follow Longley’s weekly column on woodbine.com chronicling the path to the Kentucky Derby, set for May 5 at Churchill Downs, and be sure to get your tickets to celebrate the first jewel of the U.S. Triple Crown with us at Woodbine’s exclusive Derby Day Party featuring fabulous food, fashion and entertainment in the Trackside Tent.

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