Posted on: March 5, 2022, 12:25h.
Last updated on: March 5, 2022, 01:56h.
With just nine weeks before the Kentucky Derby, Saturday marks the first big day for Kentucky Derby prep races. Within the span of 15 minutes, up to three horses may punch their ticket for Louisville with wins in key stakes races at Aqueduct, Gulfstream Park, or Santa Anita.
Last week, Un Ojo shocked many, as the 75-1, one-eyed gelding (hence the name) hugged the rail and stalked through most of the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park. He then made a late charge in the final strides to score the upset.
Though trainer Bob Baffert’s currently ineligible to enter a horse in the Derby – he’s suing Churchill Downs to get that chance – he had the post-time favorite last week with Newgrange. He’ll have three horses that will likely draw heavy betting interest in two races Saturday. But they won’t get any qualifying points because of the two-year suspension Churchill Downs placed on him after Medina Spirit’s failed drug test after last year’s Derby.
If Baffert can’t get a Kentucky judge to issue a stay on a 90-day suspension Kentucky Horse Racing Commission stewards handed down last month, then he won’t be able to field any horses in the major preps that loom in the weeks ahead – like the Arkansas Derby, the Blue Grass Stakes, Santa Anita Derby, Florida Derby, and Wood Memorial.
Winning horses that are eligible for the Derby will get 50 points from Saturday’s races. That’s almost assuredly enough to earn a spot in the race. Eligible horses finishing second will get 20, 10 points for third place, and five for fourth.
Here’s a look at the fields for the Gotham Stakes, the Fountain of Youth Stakes, and the San Felipe Stakes.
Can Morello, Dean’s List Take Next Step in New York?
The Gotham at Aqueduct features a field of 10.
Two of the favorites drew the far posts. Morning-line favorite Morello (3-1), trained by Steve Asmussen, will break from the ninth gate. Baffert’s Rockefeller (4-1) starts outside.
Dean’s List (7-2), one of two entries by trainer Todd Pletcher, breaks from the fifth gate.
I like the way he’s been training, and he’s put in some gallop outs that suggest he is going to be able to handle a stretch out in distance – that’s what we’re trying to find out here,” said Pletcher, who is looking for his third win in the Gotham. “And I feel the one-turn mile is a good way to do it and gradually stretch him out a little bit.”
Both Morello and Dean’s List are 2-for-2 in their careers, but they’re also making the graded stakes debut. Rockefeller finished second to fellow Baffert stablemate Newgrange in the Sham Stakes on New Year’s Day. This will be the second trip to New York for the Medaglia D’Oro-bred colt. He won the Nashua Stakes in November.
The full field is listed here. Post time is 5:27 pm ET.
Forbidden Kingdom Looks for Two in a Row
The San Felipe is set to start just moments after the Gotham, so get your handicapping done beforehand.
The field of seven features two Baffert horses – Doppelganger (9-5) and Armagnac (5-1) – and two from trainer Doug O’Neill – Happy Jack (8-1) and Worse Read Sanchez (20-1). But oddsmakers made Forbidden Kingdom the morning-line favorite at 8-5.
Trained by Richard Mandella, the son of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah earned his first graded stakes win in his last race, in the San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita. He led wire-to-wire in that race, but faced only four other competitors and drew the inside gate.
“He’s as quick as they come,” Mandella said following the Jan. 29 race.
Forbidden Kingdom starts from the sixth gate Saturday.
The full field is listed here, and the scheduled start time is 5:30 pm ET.
Emmanuel Squares Off Against Simplification in Florida
In Florida, there’s a field of 11 for the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream.
Simplification is the morning-line favorite at 5-2, but the Antonio Sano-trained colt may have some stiff competition in Emmanuel (3-1). The Pletcher-trained colt makes his stakes debut after leading throughout the first two races of his career. That includes a four-and-a-half length win in an allowance race at Tampa Bay Downs, where he pulled away convincingly down the stretch.
He broke his maiden here. We know he likes the track,” said Pletcher, who also won the Fountain of Youth with Eskendereya in 2010 and Scat Daddy in 2007. “We like the timing of the Fountain of Youth. It puts him in a good position, if he runs well enough, to take a look at the Florida Derby.”
Simplification will run from the second gate, while Emmanuel starts from the eighth post.
Pletcher had another entry, Mo Donegal, that would have likely attracted significant betting interest, but that horse was scratched Friday.
Post time for the Fountain of Youth is set for 5:42 pm ET. The field is available here.