As the calendar turns to February, the Road to the Kentucky Derby kicks it into a higher gear. Beginning this week and through the second weekend of April, there will be at least one Derby prep race each week – except for one.
Over the next 10 weeks, the picture of who will make it to Louisville will become clear. That begins Saturday with races at Aqueduct, Gulfstream Park, and Santa Anita. All three will only award 10 Kentucky Derby points to the winner, but they should help determine who makes it to the next level of Derby preps, which will take place starting at the end of the month.
At Aqueduct, a field of eight will run in the Grade III Withers. It’s a competitive field in the 1-1/8-mile race with Shotski the morning-line favorite at 2-1.
The Jeremiah O’Dwyer-trained colt won his last race, Aqueduct’s Grade II Remsen Stakes in December. Under Luis Saez, he held a 3-1/2-length lead at the stretch but held off a charge from Ajaaweed to win by a half-length.
Saez will get the mount again on Saturday, and Shotski, looking for his third win in five starts, will break from the fifth gate.
Other top competitors in Withers include the Todd Pletcher-trained Portos (breaking eighth, 3-1 morning line odds), Robert Reid-trained Monday Morning QB (second, 4-1), and Linda Rice-trained Max Player (third, 9-2).
Post time for the race in New York is 4:25 pm ET.
‘Tiz’ the Favorite in Florida
Seven will go 1-1/16-miles at Gulfstream in the Grade III Holy Bull, but it appears to be a two- or maybe three-horse race.
Tiz the Law, trained by Barclay Tagg, is the morning-line favorite at 3-5. He won the Grade I Champagne Stakes at Belmont on October, but he did not fire down the stretch of the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs nearly two months later. He finished third on a sloppy track
This will be his first race since Nov. 30, and rain is again in the forecast down in Hallandale Beach, Fla. Still his owner is optimistic.
That was a tough spot with the track being what it was and caught down inside, but a lot of people think like I do and draw a line through this race,” Jack Knowlton, managing partner of Sackatoga Stables, said. “Even after he lost that race he was the favorite in the first Churchill Downs futures pool, and he’s the lowest odds at William Hill in Vegas for the Derby.”
Manuel Franco will ride Tiz the Law, who will break from the third gate.
Other contenders are Chad Brown-trained Toledo (first, 7-2) and Patrick Biancone-trained Ete Indien (6-1, fourth). Ete Indien upset Toldeo in a one-mile allowance race on Dec. 20 at Gulfstream, the last race for both.
Post time for the Holy Bull is 5:04 pm ET.
Baffert Running Two in Robert Lewis
Out in California, a field of six will run 1-1/16-miles in Grade III Robert B. Lewis.
Bob Baffert trains the favorite, Thousand Words. He’s won both of his races, including the Grade II Los Alamitos Futurity in December. Baffert also has the co-second choice, High Velocity, who is owned by Gary and Mary West. High Veolcity finished third in the Futurity, but he also won the Grade III Bob Hope Stakes at Del Mar in November.
Also at 3-1 is the Richard Mandella-trained Tizamagician. After five winless starts as a 2-year-old, he broke his maiden on New Year’s Day as a 3-year-old at Santa Anita. He won by 2-1/2 lengths in the mile race.
Thousand Words will break from the second gate with Flavien Prat aboard, Tizamagician will break third with Victor Espinoza on, and Joel Rosario gets the call on High Velocity, who starts from the fifth gate.
Pot time at Santa Anita is 6 pm ET.