Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 10:04 AM
Derby Contenders - Part 3
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 third of our four-part Kentucky Derby preview will focus on the 2017 Eclipse Award winning juvenile Good Magic, Eclipse runner-up Bolt d’Oro, multi-surface stakes winner Flameaway and the Dale Romans trained duo of Free Drop Billy and Promises Fulfilled.
After starting his career with runner-up finishes in a maiden special weight event at Saratoga and in the G1 Champagne last fall at Belmont, Good Magic became the first horse in the history of the Breeders’ Cup to win the Juvenile as a maiden when he parlayed a perfect trip from just off the pace at Del Mar under his regular rider Jose Ortiz to win by over four lengths. That lone victory was enough to get him year-end honors.
Trainer Chad Brown didn’t make Good Magic’s sophomore year plans clear, leading many to ask where the champ was before he finally returned to the worktab in late January. After five morning drills, he returned at Gulfstream on the first weekend of March for the G2 Fountain of Youth.
Sent off as the 3-5 favorite, Good Magic broke well and sat third behind the two speeds, including the pace-setting Promises Fulfilled, through a fairly slow opening half-mile. Ortiz asked him to run approaching the turn and though he made a brief bid he really failed to make an impact, checking in third, more than four lengths behind the gate-to-wire winner.
Brown decided to get Good Magic out of Florida for his second and final prep and decided on the G2 Blue Grass at Keeneland, run four weeks prior to the Derby.
Breaking from post 10, Good Magic broke and outwardly but quickly corrected himself and found himself sitting a similar trip to the one he sat in the Juvenile. Ortiz managed to get him to the lead once the field turned for home and he was able to battle past a pesky Flameaway to win by just over a length as the 8-5 favorite.
Good Magic trained at Keeneland for the most part since the Blue Grass and went a half-mile in :48 on April 21. He wrapped up his serious training for the race at Churchill on April 28 going four furlongs in :49 2/5.
The Juvenile and the Eclipse Award were the only two times Bolt d’Oro last season. After breaking his maiden and taking the G1 Del Mar Futurity at Del Mar last summer in sprints, he stretched out to thrash eight rivals in the G1 Front Runner around two turns at Santa Anita.
The 3-5 favorite for the Juvenile, Bolt d’Oro had a worse trip than the Titanic, bobbling at the start then getting stuck wide throughout, managing just a third place finish in one of the more surprising results of the two-day event.
Trainer Mick Ruis had intended to bring Bolt d’Oro back in the G2 San Vicente going seven furlongs at Santa Anita but a slight muscle pull thwarted those plans and he instead trained up to the G2 San Felipe going 1 1/16 miles. Ruis also made a rider switch from Corey Nakatani to Javier Castellano.
From his rail draw for his first start in over four months, Bolt d’Oro sat a great trip behind the speed and went after the leader, McKinzie, on the far turn. The two brushed on the turn before McKinzie drifted and made contact with this colt numerous times through the lane before taking a head decision. The victory was short lived, however, as the stewards disqualified McKinzie and declared Bolt d’Oro the winner.
Bolt d’Oro and McKinzie were set for a rematch in the G1 Santa Anita Derby before McKinzie was taken off the Derby Trail due to injury and replaced by Justify. Sent off as the 6-5 second choice, Bolt d’Oro followed a loose-on-the-lead Justify around the track while racing to his inside, took a run at him approaching the turn but failed to dent his lead through the lane and finished three lengths behind the winner.
After the race, Castellano decided to ride Audible for trainer Todd Pletcher, leaving Ruis to find another rider. He went out and got three-time Derby winner Victor Espinoza, who won this in 2002 with War Emblem and back-to-back runnings in 2014 and 2015 with California Chrome and Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. He worked seven furlongs at April 22 in 1:24 1/5 and a half-mile in :48 1/5 on April 28, both at Santa Anita.
Flameaway heads to the Derby starting gate as one of the more experienced and versatile runners in the field as he has already made nine starts and won on dry dirt, wet dirt, synthetic and turf for his trainer Mark Casse.
In five starts last season, he broke his maiden in his debut at Woodbine, the off-the-turf Skidmore in the mud at Saratoga and the G3 Bourbon at Keeneland in the slop from five tries, ending his season with an off-the-board finish in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf a little over three lengths behind the winner, Mendelssohn.
This year, Flameaway kicked off the season with a gutsy, gate-to-wire tally in the Kitten’s Joy on the Gulfstream grass before Casse decided to put him on the Derby Trail in the G3 Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay in early February.
Piloted by Jose Lezcano for the first time, Flameaway went to the front and was hounded most of the way, eventually being tackled by the prohibitive favorite Catholic Boy, who appeared to have him measured, on the turn. But Flameaway, like he’s done several times already in his career, dug in and refused to lose, holding on by a half-length.
Tactics changed in the G2 Tampa Bay Derby for Flameaway due to both the presence of the fast sprinter World of Trouble and the fact that he found some trouble at the start. Lezcano had to take him off of the pace and he didn’t appear to be as comfortable as he is free-wheeling on the front end. He still put in a solid late rally to miss by just a length to Preakness-bound Quip.
A Keeneland regular, Casse brought Flameaway back to the site of his Bourbon win for the Blue Grass. He showed his speed from post 11 and was in the thick of things throughout before grudgingly giving way in the stretch to Good Magic.
Flameaway who has been at Churchill since Casse shipped back up from Florida, has posted two works since the Blue Grass, going five furlongs in 1:00 2/5 on April 21 and a half-mile in :47 4/5 on April 28.
Free Drop Billy appears to be the best of two chances local boy Romans will take in this Run for the Roses. And he’ll be reunited with his regular rider from last season, Robby Albarado, for his biggest start yet.
Albarado and Free Drop Billy did some good work last season. He broke his maiden first out beneath the twin spires then missed by just a length in the G3 Sanford to eventual G1 winner Firenze Fire and by a neck in the G1 Hopeful to Sporting Chance, a race Romans thought ‘Billy’ was best in after the winner drifted through the stretch.
Free Drop Billy returned to Kentucky to win the G! Breeders’ Futurity in a common gallop by four lengths before failing to fire at all in the Juvenile.
After a three month break, Free Drop Billy returned in the G2 Holy Bull at Gulfstream with leading rider Luis Saez aboard. He made what appeared to be a winning move on the far turn before Audible ran right past him to win by over five lengths. Still, it was a useful return and after flirting with the idea of running in the Fountain of Youth, Romans scratched him to run in the G3 Gotham at Aqueduct a week later.
Cutting back to a one turn mile, Free Drop Billy seemed a bit out of sorts, confused if you will, and getting bumped at the start couldn’t have helped matters. Unlike the winner Enticed who settled just fine and seemed to like the cut back, he did not and after a wide trip could manage just a third place finish, almost seven lengths behind the winner, as the 8-5 favorite.
Free Drop Billy returned to Keeneland for the Blue Grass as his final prep as Romans figured a return to his favorite track would do him some good. Far back early, ‘Billy’ began to pass horses approaching the far turn and appeared in with a chance before appearing to level off just a bit when Sporting Chance, of all rivals, made a right hand turn and essentially side-slammed him. He crossed the line fourth, just behind his nemesis, but was quickly awarded third place after the incident.
Like he does every year, Romans shipped everything up to Churchill after the Gulfstream Park meet ended and Free Drop Billy posted his first of two moves for this on April 21 when he went five furlongs in :59. He finished up his major work on April 28, going a half-mile in :49 2/5.
Promises Fulfilled figures to be one of the longer shots on the board come post time for the Derby off of a last place effort in the G1 Florida Derby, the only bad race he’s ever run.
As a two-year-old, Promises Fulfilled broke his maiden at first asking over the course then won an entry level allowance contest at Keeneland, both in gate-to-wire fashion while sprinting. He closed out the season with a third place finish after setting the pace in the G2 KJC when he was getting out on both turns. It was found that he popped a splint during the race which caused the drifting according to Romans.
This season, he didn’t return until the Fountain of Youth, a race that appeared to have some early speed to go with Promises Fulfilled, namely the stretching out sprinter Strike Power. But under instructions from Romans to “send him from the rip,” jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. hustled this colt to the lead and managed to make lead from start to finish by a bit over two lengths at 18-1.
Ortiz jumped off Promises Fulfilled to ride one of the favorites, Catholic Boy, in the Florida Derby so Albarado, who was aboard for the first two starts of his career, climbed back aboard. Romans gave him the same instructions as he gave Ortiz.
Unfortunately, Strike Power’s camp decided to protect their rail draw by utilizing his speed and the two hooked up early. Promises Fulfilled eventually cleared but had to go a full two seconds faster to the half and was done for by the time they reached the turn, eventually finishing over 35 lengths behind the winner, Audible.
Off of that effort, many though Romans would skip the Derby but he announced almost immediately that Promises Fulfilled would see out the Derby Trail. He worked a sharp five furlongs in :59 1/5 on April 21 and went four furlongs in :48 on April 28. Corey Lanerie will ride for the first time.
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