Eddie Mac’s Book: Sizing Up a Trio of Kentucky Derby Preps

By Ed McNamara

Ete Indien the Fountain of Youth. Courtesy of Derbe Glass

The Kentucky Derby elimination tournament continues Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs, Aqueduct and Santa Anita. Just as in last week’s Fountain of Youth Stakes, many horses appear to be in too deep. The Tampa Bay Derby and the Gotham Stakes both have four coming off maiden wins.

The obsession with getting to the big race on the first Saturday in May clouds judgment at this time of year. Because even a runner-up finish can produce enough qualifying points to make the Derby field, many owners and trainers are takin’ a shot to see what they’ve got.

It worked in the Fountain of Youth for Todd Pletcher, whose long shot Candy Tycoon ran second in a four-way photo, 8½ lengths behind Ete Indien. That was worth 20 points, putting a 1-for-6 colt in a three-way tie for eighth in the standings. If Candy Tycoon hits the board next time, he’ll most likely head to Louisville, which seemed very unlikely before last weekend.

Santa Anita’s San Felipe has plenty of quality, featuring Thousand Words and Authentic, two of Bob Baffert’s 3-year-old cavalry troop, along with 2-year-old champ Storm the Court and up-and-coming Honor A.P.

Here’s the lowdown:

Tampa Bay Derby, Grade 2, $400,000, 1 1/16 miles (5:32 p.m. ET)

Like the Gotham and San Felipe, the first four finishers will earn 50, 20, 10 and 5 points, respectively. Rising star Saffie Joseph Jr. trains favored Chance It, whom he scratched from the Fountain of Youth because he was stuck out in post 12.

Chance It can lead or stalk, is working brilliantly and has won at the distance. His only serious rival appears to be deep closer Sole Volante, a stablemate of Ete Indien’s.

Chance It beat Sole Volante by 2¼ lengths at a mile Jan. 4 at Gulfstream. That was Sole Volante’s dirt debut, and he came back with a 2½-length win in the Grade 3, 1 1/16-mile Sam F. Davis at Tampa. Always respect a course-and-distance winner, and he’ll be a much better price than Chance It.

If he isn’t on his ‘A’ game or if the track is playing to closers, Sole Volante could beat him.

1. Sole Volante 2. Chance It. 3. Unrighteous

Gotham Stakes, Grade 3, $300,000, mile (5:32 p.m. ET)

Not since Secretariat in 1973 has a horse completed the Gotham-Kentucky Derby double, so don’t expect too much of this year’s winner. It’s a good betting race, with a possibly vulnerable favorite (Mischevious Alex) and three seemingly legitimate challengers (Montauk Traffic, Untitled, Attachment Rate).

Mischevious Alex (misspelling by co-owner Chuck Zacney, with no help from autocorrect) won his last two, both at 7 furlongs, by a combined 16¾ lengths for trainer John Servis. He was in hand late in his seven-length romp in the Swale, and anything close to that performance will guarantee a win. Caveats: He was 0-for-2 beyond a mile last year, though one was on turf.

There’s lots of cheap speed in this one-turn mile, and if “Alex” gets hooked, Linda Rice’s Montauk Traffic could capitalize at a nice price. He’s a horse for course (2-for-2 at 7 furlongs at Aqueduct) with good late-pace figures. The versatile Attachment Rate comes off a maiden win in the slop after closing powerfully the race before. Untitled lost by 7¼ lengths in the Swale but rebounded with a solid second at Tampa behind the promising Gouverneur Morris.

1. Mischevious Alex 2. Montauk Traffic 3. Attachment Rate
Thousand Words Horse

Thousand Words – Photo Courtesy of Santa Anita

San Felipe Stakes, Grade 2, $400,000, 1 1/16 miles (6 p.m. ET)

It’s a case of battling Bafferts, with up-and-comer Authentic against feisty Thousand Words, who’s 3-for-3 (two stakes) by a total of only 1¼ lengths. I think the 2-for-2 Authentic has more upside and is the real deal. I expect another big move forward and a mild upset over his more accomplished stablemate. There’s buzz about Honor A.P., 1-for-2 but off since October. I’m not a fan of Storm the Court, whose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile has turned out to be a negative key race.

1. Authentic 2. Thousand Words 3. Honor A.P.