Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 10:04 AM
Derby Contenders - Part 2
This week, Anthony “the Big A” Stabile will preview the 2018 Kentucky Derby on VegasInsider.com, culminating on Friday, May 4 with an extensive analysis of every runner that steps into the gate for the Run for the Roses. On both May 4 and May 5, Kentucky Oaks and Derby Day, you’ll be able to purchase Stabile’s Pick Packs, full of selections and plays for two of racings’ most exciting days of the year. To purchase Anthony Stabile products, click here!
The second of our four-part Kentucky Derby preview will focus on runners who all have one thing in common – they are all trained by men in the Hall of Fame. They include the Bob Baffert trained duo of Justify and Solomini, Bravazo, trained by the 82-year-old D. Wayne Lukas, Hofburg from the Bill Mott barn and Instilled Regard from the Jerry Hollendorfer stable. Both Baffert and Lukas are looking for their fifth wins in the event which would give them sole possession of second-place when it comes to Derby wins, trailing just “Plain Ben” Jones who won it six times.
All eyes will be on Justify, who’ll undoubtedly be the favorite in the Derby, under fellow Hall of Famer Mike Smith, who won this in 2005 with longshot Giacomo. He’ll look to stay undefeated in four starts and break the Apollo Curse in the process by becoming the first horse to win the Derby without having raced as a juvenile since 1882.
Justify, who has made all of his starts at Santa Anita, didn’t even make his first start until February 18, when he took a seven furlong maiden special weight event against six rivals in a dazzling 1:21 4/5 by almost 10 lengths with blinkers and Drayden Van Dyke aboard. Initially, a trip to New Mexico for the G3 Sunland Derby was on tap but Baffert changed his mind on that and a few other things.
Van Dyke was replaced by Smith, the blinkers came off and Baffert entered Justify in an entry level allowance/optional claimer just three weeks after his debut. Stretching out to a two turn mile, Justify rated off the pace over a muddy track, made the lead as he pleased approaching the turn and cruised to a six-plus length tally against just four others, leading Smith to compare him to the great Easy Goer after the race.
A showdown with Magnum Moon in the G1 Arkansas Derby was supposed to be the final prep for Justify but an injury to his stablemate McKinzie forced Baffert to reshuffle his Derby deck. Instead of shipping to Oaklawn, Justify stayed home for the G1 Santa Anita Derby on April 7 and a showdown with multiple G1 winner Bolt d’Oro.
Justify returned to his front-running ways and went straight to the front under Smith, who got away with a soft :47 4/5 half-mile that essentially sealed the deal. Bolt d’Oro took a bit of a run at Justify on the far turn but he had plenty in the tank, kept his rival to his inside and won by three lengths.
Justify will have just a pair of works between starts. He went a sharp 1:13 1/5 at Santa Anita on April 21 and seven furlongs in 1:25 1/5 on April 27, both at Santa Anita.
Solomini’s path to Louisville has been far more adventurous than many thought it would be after he broke his maiden in his debut last summer at Del Mar. Second place finishes in both the G1 Front Runner behind Bolt d’Oro and G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile to Good Magic had him poised to be one of the leaders in the division coming into this season.
In fact, he was so sharp at the end of last year that Baffert gave Solomini the opportunity to nail down a G1 win of his own in the Los Alamitos Futurity. And he did. Then he didn’t. Allow me to explain.
Taken back to last in the short field of five, regular rider Flavien Prat allowed Solomini a chance to settle before making a protracted late rally through the lane that eventually turned into a game of pinball with his two rivals, McKinzie and Instilled Regard. Solomini won the battle, as the three hit the wire less than a length apart.
Then, in one of the worst calls by the stewards in the history of horse racing, Solomini was disqualified from the win and placed third as McKinzie, the one who many believed caused the rumpus, was awarded the win.
This season started as roughly as last one ended as Solomini missed some time earlier in the year and didn’t return until the G2 Rebel on March 17. Sent off as the even money favorite, Solomini worked out a favorable trip from his post 3 draw but encountered some trouble on the turn when the early leader began to fade and was stopped at the top of the stretch. He managed to re-rally to get place but was no match for Magnum Moon who won by over three lengths.
Baffert originally planned on running Solomini in the G2 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct but rerouted him to Arkansas for their Derby in mid-April. Racing wide throughout, Solomini found himself in peril of being on the outside looking in regarding Derby points but managed to get the show-dough in a four-horse scrum behind Magnum Moon, who won by four lengths.
Baffert worked Solomini three furlongs in :35 1/5 on April 23 and six furlongs in 1:14 3/5 on April 29 at Santa Anita. Baffert won the Derby in 1997 with Silver Charm, the following year with Real Quiet, in 2002 with War Emblem and in 2015 with eventual Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. Zayat Stables, who owned American Pharoah, are part of Solomini’s ownership group.
Unlike Baffert, it’s been a while since Lukas has trained a Derby winner. You have to go back to 1999 when Charismatic upset Baffert’s Indian Charlie and all the rest. Prior to that, he won it in 1988 with the filly Winning Colors and back-to-back renewals in 1995 and 1996 with Thunder Gulch and Grindstone. This year, Bravazo figures to be one of the longest shots on the board.
Though Bravazo won just once from five tries last season, he did manage to finish second in the G1 Breeders’ Futurity at 47-1 and third in the Street Sense over the course before an off-the-board effort after some trouble at the start of the G2 KJC.
This season, Bravazo returned in mid-January, taking an entry level allowance/optional claimer from off the pace by a neck before Lukas went after some Derby points in the G2 Risen Star on St Patrick’s Day at the Fair Grounds in Louisiana. Dismissed at 21-1, Bravazo took advantage of a speed-biased course, sat second to longshot leader Snapper Sinclair and eventually won a head bob to win by a nose.
Things didn’t go as well last out in the G2 Louisiana Derby in late March. Breaking from the rail, Bravazo wasn’t able to work out the same perfect trip he did in his prior Fair Grounds visit and called it a day on the far turn, finishing more than 20 lengths behind the winner Noble Indy.
As is the Lukas way, one bad start will not prevent Bravazo from running for the roses. He returned to the worktab on April 2, going a half mile in :48 3/5 at Oaklawn before Lukas shipped him to Churchill, where he worked five furlongs in 1:01 1/5 on April 13, six panels in 1:15 2/5 on April 20 and five furlongs in 1:01 2/5 on April 28. Luis Contreras will ride.
Hofburg, like Justify, will look to become just the second horse in over 100 years to win the Derby with just three starts under his belt. The only other to do it was the undefeated Big Brown in 2008. Like Big Brown, Hofburg debuted on closing weekend at Saratoga last September, finishing fourth in a maiden special weight event going six furlongs under Irad Ortiz, Jr who’ll be back aboard for the first time in here.
Six months later, Hofburg, a half-brother to multiple G1 stakes winner Emollient, returned for Mott at Gulfstream in early March on the Fountain of Youth undercard. Breaking from the outside post 11, Hofburg and Jose Ortiz raced four to five wide throughout, fought their way to the lead on the turn then held off a next-out maiden winner while drifting through the stretch a bit to by a little less than a length.
The win was enough to entice the usually conservative Mott to enter Hofburg in the G1 Florida Derby. Facing a field of nine far more seasoned runners in just his second start of the year. Hofburg was far back early but unleashed a powerful rally to finish second, three lengths behind Audible, who was winning his second consecutive stakes and fourth race in a row.
Those who were surprised at Hofburg running in the Florida Derby are likely equally surprised at his presence in here. He worked a half-mile in :49 on April 15, five furlongs in 1:01 2/5 on April 22 at Payson Park and a half-mile in :48 1/5 on April 29 at Churchill.
Instilled Regard rejoined the Derby fray after the defection Gronkowski for Hollendorfer off of a non-descript fourth place finish in the Santa Anita Derby.
Instilled Regard broke his maiden in the third start of his juvenile campaign when he stretched out to 1 1/16 miles off a pair of sprint efforts. He ended the season getting bounced around through the stretch of the Los Al Futurity where he was elevated to second.
This year, Instilled Regard took his show on the road to the Fair Grounds for his first two starts and found mixed results. He worked out a good but wide trip in the G3 LeComte in mid-January and parlayed it into an impressive tally by almost four lengths the vaulted him to the top of plenty of Derby lists.
His fall was just as quick as his rise, however, when he disappointed as the 7-5 favorite in the Risen Star. Sitting an even better trip, he failed to fire turning for home and finished an even fourth, a bit over two lengths behind Bravazo.
Last out in the Santa Anita Derby, an even more lackluster performance in which he finished a non-threatening fourth to Justify led many to believe his Derby aspirations were gone yet here he is.
Instilled Regard has worked three times for this, going an easy half-mile in :51 2/5 on April 15, five furlongs in 1:01 on April 21 and five furlongs in 1:00 4/5 on April 29, all at Santa Anita. He’ll be ridden in the Derby by Drayden Van Dyke.
Anthony “the Big A” Stabile can be heard regularly on the Horse Racing Radio Network from 3-6PM ET on Wednesday and 3-7PM ET Thursday and Friday. Tune in on Sirius 219, XM 201 or streaming live at horseracingradio.net. He also is a contributor on NYRA-TV as a guest on Talking Horses. Follow him on Twitter @thebigastabile