Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:59 AM
Derby Contenders - Part 4
This week, Anthony “the Big A” Stabile will preview the 2019 Kentucky Derby on VegasInsider.com, culminating on Friday, May 3 with an extensive analysis of every runner that steps into the gate for the Run for the Roses. On both May 3 and May 4, 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!
Part 1 · Part 2 · Part 3 · Part 4
The final of our four-part Kentucky Derby preview will focus on the horses who earned their way into the Kentucky Derby starting gate by way of Gulfstream Park and the international points races offered in the Middle East and Asia.
Maximum Security is undefeated in four starts and is the only horse this year in the Derby that has yet to lose a race, a remarkable note when you consider the fact that he began his career in a $16K maiden claiming event in late December at Gulfstream, where he has made all of his starts.
Trained by Jason Servis, Maximum Security took them gate-to-wire that afternoon, winning by nearly 10 lengths going 6 ½ furlongs. He returned five weeks later in a six-furlong starter allowance/optional claimer and romped by over six lengths from just off the pace over a muddy track.
Same conditions, same results in late February when he won by over 18 lengths over a fast track going seven furlongs and earning the highest Beyer Speed Figure in this year’s Derby field with a 102. Servis decided to test him for stamina and class and pointed him towards the G1 Florida Derby going nine furlongs in late March.
Luis Saez climbed aboard Maximum Security for the first time in the Florida Derby. There was some other speed signed on for the event, namely the highly regarded Hidden Scroll. But when the rumors that they were going to rate Hidden Scroll proved true a few jumps out of the gate, Saez took advantage and let his stretching out sprinter use his speed.
Maximum Security didn’t have to go very fast early on yet still found himself loose on the front end. After a half that went just under :49 seconds, a pedestrian pace at Gulfstream for this caliber of horses, it was all but over. He faced a brief rally from the maiden Bodexpress, currently first on the AE list to get into the Derby, but quickly drew away from him on the turn and never faced a challenge through the stretch, winning by three-and-a-half lengths.
Maximum Security figures to be the pacesetter once again in the Derby and could also serve as an incidental “rabbit” for Game Winner as they are owned by the same connections.
Code of Honor let you know he was a good one right from the start of his career when he took his debut in gate-to-wire fashion in a Saratoga sprint last August for his Hall of Fame trainer and winner of the 2013 Derby with Orb, Shug McGaughey. It’s not only rare for the trainer to win first time out but with speed and dirt sprinting is like finding a dragon egg.
So impressive was Code of Honor in his debut, McGaughey entered him next in the Prestigious G1 Champagne at Belmont. Code of Honor seemingly lost all chance at the start when he stumbled badly leaving the gate, taking away his tactical speed and leaving him behind nine rivals. He recovered nicely and launched a strong but wide rally on the far turn to finish second, just three-lengths behind the front-running winner.
Code of Honor was entered in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile but forced to scratch when he fell ill the week of the race. It was decided to give him some time and take him straight to Florida where he returned in the early January Mucho Macho Man at Gulfstream. The 4-5 favorite, he couldn’t have been more disappointing/ He made a very brief move approaching the far turn but was never really a factor and finished a well-beaten fourth.
McGaughey pressed on to the G2 Fountain of Youth with Code of Honor, hoping the prior effort was just a case of his charge needing to knock the rust off. Shug was right. Under a brilliant ride by John Velazquez, a two time Derby winner with Animal Kingdom in 2011 and Always Dreaming in 2017, he saved ground behind a blazing pace in fourth, made a move to the lead off of the far turn in the short stretch run of the event and was able to hold on by three-quarters of a length.
As well as it set up for Code of Honor in the Fountain of Youth, the Florida Derby pace scenario was a nightmare, especially after he was bumped at the start. He was eighth in the early running, launched a run on the turn and again did a bit of running in deep stretch but he never really threatened in third, over six lengths behind the winner.
Plus Que Parfait is the rare American-based runner that had to go to Dubai to earn his Derby points on a desert night in March for trainer Brendan Walsh.
Last season, Plus Que Parfait finished third in his first two starts, his first on turf then at Churchill going a mile, before breaking his maiden around two turns at Keeneland. It was a strong enough effort to lead him to the G2 KJC where he made a big move from off the pace while wide over an inside, speed-biased sloppy track to miss by just a neck while finishing second.
This season, Plus Que Parfait began his season at the Fair Grounds with a decent effort in the G3 LeComte where he stumbled at the start and was very wide subsequently. It was enough of a trip for the public to send him off at 6-1 behind big favorite War of Will in the G2 Risen Star. He didn’t run a step in an absolute head-scratcher, beating home just one of his 13 rivals while beaten over 20 lengths.
A pair of blinkers and trip to the G2 U.A.E. Derby were up next for Plus Que Parfait. In a reversion of tactics, he found himself on the lead early on and stayed there, battling through the lane to hold on by almost a length at an about distance of a mile and three sixteenths under Jose Ortiz, who will ride Tacitus in the Derby. Ricardo Santana, Jr., his pilot in his maiden tally, rides in here.
Gray Magician was a bang-up second in Dubai and will be making his ninth start in the Derby for trainer Peter Miller who will give Drayden Van Dyke a leg up for the first time.
Gray Magician broke his maiden in his fourth start and first for Miller last year to close out his juvenile campaign before finishing fourth in the G3 Sham at Santa Anita to start this season. After a poor effort in the slop in an allowance/optional claimer, he shipped to Laurel just over two weeks later for the Miracle Wood where he finished second, over four lengths behind mid-Atlantic star Alwaysmining, a Preakness candidate.
In Dubai, Gray Magician and his rider that day, Joel Rosario, bided their time early on before launching a serious bid once the field entered the stretch but couldn’t reach the winner.
The mystery horse in this year’s Derby is the Japanese-bred import, Master Fencer, who’ll get French-born but locally based Julien Leparoux to ride.
Master Fencer won his last of three starts in 2018 and first of this year from six career starts and earned his points via a fourth-place finish in the Hyacinth and second-place effort last out in the Fukuryu last out for trainer Koichi Tsunoda.
Anthony “the Big A” Stabile can be heard regularly on the Horse Racing Radio Network from 3-6:00 p.m. ETon Wednesday and 3-7:00 p.m. 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 the co-host of Talking Horses and a backup racetrack announcer. Follow him on Twitter @thebigastabile