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

February 15, 2018

By: Rob Longley for

TORONTO, February 15, 2018 – The Kentucky Derby certainly lays legitimate claim to being the most exciting two minutes in sport – off that there is no dispute.

But what truly entrenches the Run for the Roses among the elite of North American sport is how intriguing the buildup inevitably is and how it becomes one of the great handicapping puzzles in all of wagering.

In reality, however, the revered opening jewel to the Triple Crown has a far more extended timeline of interest than those electric 120 seconds and change at historic Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.

We’re now 12 weeks out and the early stages of Derby fever are starting to germinate for horsemen and horseplayers alike. Virtually every week from here to two weeks out, there’s at least one prep race with so many of them altering the picture. Races from California to New York and many places produce both contenders and pretenders.

As is most often the case this early in the year, the field remains wide open indicated by the fact that the morning line “favourite” from the since closed Pool 2 of Derby Future wagering had promising two-year-olds Bolt d’Oro and Good Magic settle as co-favourites at generous odds of of 8-1.

Over the weeks and races ahead, the Derby field will be sculpted and better defined, likely leading to a full starting gate on May 5.

Though raced in the Bluegrass State, Derby Day remains one of the highlights of the Woodbine meet, a race day experience that will be enhanced by the second annual Derby Day Party in the Trackside Tent.

We’re now down to 18 remaining prep races until the big day, with plenty of twists, turns and breakout performances remaining. Follow along on the Derby trail with our new weekly feature on where we’ll update and analyze weekly prep races and stick our neck out a little with our Derby top five.


As has been the case for the past number of years, Woodbine-based super trainer Mark Casse finds himself on the Derby trail, this time with Queen’s Plate candidate Flameaway. Though the Plate remains in the plans, the colt stepped his way up to the Triple Crown trail after a win in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes last week at Tampa Bay Downs. Next up is the $400,000 Tampa Bay Derby. With a strong performance there, Casse will have a decision to make as Flameaway was not nominated to the Triple Crown. The next supplemental nominations are on March 19.


Two preps of note will be raced this weekend headlined by the Risen Star Stakes at the Fairgrounds where Instilled Regard is the 8-5 favourite in a field of 10. Of note, Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas has a pair entered. And watch for Todd Pletcher’s Noble Indy … At Oaklawn Park, Lukas’s Sporting Chance is the one to watch in his three-year-old debut for the Hall of Fame trainer … The Risen Star is the first on the schedule to offer a combined 85 Derby qualifying points with 50 going to the winner.

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)


1. Good Magic, trainer Chad Brown
We’ll likely have to wait until the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream on March 3 to catch his three-year-old debut, but the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner still gets top billing. That he broke his maiden in that BC score will feed the contrarians, however.

2. McKinzie, trainer Bob Baffert
The son of former Derby winner Street Sense is one from a loaded Baffert barn and the veteran trainer plans to keep him in California with a probable date in the March 10 San Felipe followed by the Santa Anita Derby. McKinzie already has a three-year-old win under belt taking the Sham Stakes in early January.

3. Instilled Regard, Jerry Hollendorfer
Another who has a three-year-old stakes win under his saddle after taking the Lecompte Stakes at the Fairgrounds, we’ll see how serious he is in this Saturday’s Risen Star Stakes. He has a chance to climb up our list with a strong showing at the New Orleans track.

4. Bolt d’Oro, Mike Ruiz
The 8-1 favourite in the most recent Derby Future wager has had his 2018 debut delayed by a pulled muscle, which kept him out of the San Vicente Stakes. The next target for the Mike Ruiz trainee is the San Felipe Stakes on March 10 where all eyes will be on the two-time Grade 1 winner. Bolt d’Oro was the heavy favourite in the Juvenile before finishing third.

5. Audible, Todd Pletcher
Burst into the picture with authority a couple weeks back when the Todd Pletcher trainee romped to a 5 1/4-length win in the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park. The big question with this one is distance limitations in his pedigree.

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