King kingdom

Byron King’s Derby Dozen for March 23

BloodHorse news editor Byron King presents its final Derby Dozen for 2022, with a look at its main contenders at the Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve on May 7.

There was no qualifying points build for the Kentucky Derby last weekend, but this weekend’s activity resumes with the Louisiana Derby and Mubadala-sponsored UAE Derby scheduled for Saturday. March 26, and the Sunland Park Derby scheduled for Sunday, March 27.

Check out America’s Best Racing’s Triple Crown page to keep up to date with Kentucky Derby road stories and stats.

1. Zandon

Held in Grade 2 since 2017, the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes regains top ranking status for 2022. This year it should be worthy of that high mark with this colt, Smile Happy and Classic Causeway a few of those at the study for the April 9 race at Keeneland. Zandon didn’t earn stakes like the others in the dozen, but he came close – he was bumped and embarrassed when he was second by a nose in the Remsen Stakes, although the New York commissioners didn’t made no change to the order of arrival. His only start of 2022 was a slow-start third in the Feb. 19 Risen Star Stakes presented by Lamarque Ford.

2. Happy smile

After considering both the April 2 Florida Curlin Derby and Blue Grass, trainer Kenny McPeek opted for Blue Grass, per Daily race formby Jay Privman in a March 21 tweet. The move is not a surprise. This colt beat his young daughter at Keeneland, and the Lexington track is a regular target for his trainer, who went to college just down the street at the University of Kentucky. The Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes winner and Risen Star runner-up finished just ahead of teammate Rattle N Roll while traveling easier in a five furlong joint drill in:58.81 on March 19 at Gulfstream Park.

3. Messier

His owners have stuck with beleaguered trainer Bob Baffert, but barring an 11 a.m. court ruling that grants Baffert a reprieve from a 90-day suspension issued by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, this colt will have to start for another trainer if he runs as scheduled in the Runhappy Santa Anita Derby on April 9. A barn change would allow this colt to earn Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve qualifying points, under Churchill Downs rules, opening the door for him to make the Derby. Messier could climb even higher in the rankings over the next few weeks as his prospects become more evident.

4. Forbidden Kingdom

Due to high temperatures last week, he missed a practice session at Santa Anita Park, which would have been his first since a lead race in the March 5 San Felipe Stakes. If he resumes the breeze this week, it probably shouldn’t set him back too much, coach Richard Mandella believes. A confrontation with Messier is looming in the Santa Anita derby. They have met before, with Messier beating him in the Bob Hope Stakes last fall in Del Mar in a seven furlong sprint.

5. Epicenter

Crushed by Call Me Midnight after setting up quick gaps in the Lecomte Stakes, he set a more comfortable pace in the Risen Star and was elusive. Now he’s favored to repeat the March 26 Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds, where he appears to be controlling the speed again. The Kentucky Derby could present a different storyline with a speedball like Forbidden Kingdom is in the mix.

6. White Shelter

He closed at odds of 22.90-1 in the last Kentucky Derby Future Wager which ended on March 13 – perhaps out of sight, far from the minds of bettors after laying low after a victory in the February 5 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream. Some future betting punters may not have liked that this colt’s only loss came to Churchill when he was third in the Kentucky Jockey Club last fall. He got some kind of learning experience that day, slowed down and stuck in traffic until the stretch.

7. Simplify

He picked up his breeze on Saturday at Gulfstream after winning the March 5 Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes, covering five furlongs in 1:01.81, an easy job one would expect for a horse that maintained a active racing program throughout the winter. The last winner of coach Antonio Sano’s fountain of youth, Gunnevera in 2017, finished third in the Florida Derby. This colt is much more tactical than this late type.

8. Classic pavement

He was by far the best in two starts this winter in Florida, winning the Sam F. Davis Stakes and the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, although neither race drew a stellar field. That leaves his next start in a race like the Blue Grass as a defining race for his position with some of the division’s elite. Last year, at the age of 2, he faced great company, reaching the board of Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity and the Kentucky Jockey Club.

9. Mo Donegal

He scraped from the fountain of youth after drawing the outside post and having a fever, and returned to work last Saturday with a 49.41 half-mile move in tandem with Emmanuel at Palm Beach Downs. Coach Todd Pletcher plans to tighten the screws further with two more breezes leading to the Wood Memorial presented by Resorts World Casino on April 9 at Aqueduct, where he edged Zandon in the Remsen last December.

10. Emmanuel

Take note of his troubled fourth in the fountain of youth. After blistering speed winning his first two starts against easier company, he was off to a bad start and then lost ground with wide travel. With just five points from Derby, he needs to pick up a heap in the final warm-up round, but he has the talent to do so and continue his march to Louisville. Last Saturday at Palm Meadows he and Mo Donegal worked head to head in a half mile job with a spirited gallop.

11. Morello

Mo Donegal will find this colt waiting for him when he travels to New York for the Wood. Morello is 3 for 3, topped with a 4 ½ length victory in the one-mile Gotham Stakes as trainer Steve Asmussen gradually lengthened him with each run. Now comes a two-lap test over 1 1/8 miles in the woods, a race that should also attract the winner of Withers Stakes Early Voting.

12. Rattle N Roll

Although he was a bit behind Smile Happy at the end of a breeze at Gulfstream last weekend, he remained competitive, possibly indicating he’s in better shape after coming back to sixth at the fountain of youth, which followed a five-month layoff. Let’s not forget that this colt is a Grade 1 winning router at Keeneland with past successes at Churchill Downs. Back on three weeks off in the Louisiana Derby, he didn’t catch as much speed assist to sweeten Epicenter for his rally. Otherwise, the horse seems ready for a favorable presentation.