The Road to the Kentucky Derby consists of 35 prep races spread out over North America, Dubai, Japan, England, Ireland and France, each one awarding points to the top four finishers in each designated race. Three of those prep races are this weekend — the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland and the Santa Anita Derby at Santa Anita — and each offers 100 Derby points, the maximum, to the winner, plus 40 for second, 20 for third and 10 for fourth.
Any horse that finishes in the top two of these races will punch their ticket into the Derby field. In five of the last six Runs for the Roses, 30 Derby points has been enough to get a horse into the post at Churchill Downs on Derby day. Heading into Saturday’s festivities, there are 17 horses with 30 or more points in the Derby standings, allowing the top two finishers in the Wood, Blue Grass and Santa Anita Derby to earn enough points to make the Kentucky Derby’s field of 20 horses.
“It’s wide open among the three-year-olds,” trainer Danny Gargan told Bob Ehalt of Bloodhorse.com. "It’s the most wide open I’ve seen it in a while, which kind of hurts because everybody is chasing points.”
Blue Grass, Keeneland
Favorites have not performed well in this race. Since 2009 only two, Carpe Diem in 2015 and Good Magic in 2018, have hit the wire first as the post-time favorite. That could be bad news for Vekoma, 9-to-5 on the Friday morning line.
Plus, this son of Candy Ride — a sire of six Champions, including 2018 Horse of the Year Gun Runner — bounced in the Fountain of Youth last month after setting career-high Brisnet figures for pace and final time in his second career start. He could rise to the competition on Saturday but at short odds it is better to take a wait-and-see approach.
Signalman, at 5-to-1, is a solid alternative choice. The chestnut colt also appeared in the Fountain of Youth but finished seventh after losing a shoe in the race. Instead, look at his prep work at Gulfstream which, along with Tampa Bay Downs, has been on the resume of eight of the last 10 Blue Grass winners, or his second-place finish in the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity for two-year-olds at Keeneland in October, which has produced five Blue Grass winners over the past decade. Plus, his 99 Brisnet speed figure during his third-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile this past fall is the third-best figure in the field earned at or near today’s distance in the last year.
One other horse worth considering is Somelikeithotbrown at 10-to-1. A winner in back-to-back stakes at Turfway Park, this son of Big Brown set a new pace top (119, 98 is par) against a swift pace in his latest victory over a synthetic track, a performance that typically foreshadows another step forward in a horse’s next race.
Wood Memorial, Aqueduct
This year’s Wood Memorial will not feature a previous Grade I winner, which would have boosted its purse from $750,000 to $1 million, after Mind Control opted for the Bay Shore Stakes, a Grade III event, instead.
However, there are some graded stakes winners still in the race and each should be considered contenders: the last 10 Wood Memorial winners either won or placed in a graded stakes event at some point before running in this 1 1-1/8 mile route at Aqueduct.
Haikal won the Gotham here in March. Tax won the Withers on this track in February. And Tacitus was a Grade II winner in his last outing in the Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs. Not That Brady and Outshine placed in the Withers and Tampa Bay Derby, respectively, as well.
Of those, include Tax (9-to-2) and Outshine (6-to-1) in any exotic wager. Tax is coming off paired triple-digit Briset speed figures (two fast performances over his past two races) plus set a new pace top (how fast the horse ran from the start to the second call, the half-mile marker in sprints and three-quarter mile mark in routes) in his last out — a great sign for a breakout performance in Saturday’s race. Outshine hasn’t run as fast but he also has a double top with a new career-high pace figure. Both are preferable over Tacitus, the 5-to-2 favorite.
Santa Anita Derby, Santa Anita Park
Champion juvenile Game Winner will take on five other horses in Saturday’s $1 million Santa Anita Derby over 1-1/8 miles.
Game Winner, the 4-to-5 morning line favorite, is the obvious choice here. He has three Grade I wins as a two-year-old and lost by a nose to Omaha Beach in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park in March, his first and only race as a three-year-old. But that doesn’t mean he can’t be defeated in this race.
One horse, Instagrand, has won a graded stakes race before and has a front-running style that has produced winners here in the past: seven of the last 10 Santa Anita Derbies have been won by horses running first or second after the first half-mile. He romped in the Best Pal Stakes at Del Mar by 10 lengths in August and had a respectable third-place finish in the Gotham at Aqueduct in March. He’s also never been worse than third at the first call. And lastly, he is coming off a double top of triple Briset speed figures, plus set a new pace top in his last race.
The small field won’t get you a good price on Instagrand, but anything better than 5-to-2 odds should be considered a gift.