As the calendar changes years, juveniles become sophomores, and with that, the sport’s soul focus is on those trying to secure their spot in the 2015 Kentucky Derby starting gate. Just like in years past, trainers Bob Baffert and Todd Pletcher will dominate the Derby preps on both coasts at the entry box. Their strength in numbers approach usually thins out their 3-year-olds by the time the first Saturday in May rolls around, and both end up with a few entrants in the Run for the Roses.
However, this year is seems that there’s a conditioner without a Derby win that holds the strongest hand to Louisville. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin came very close to capturing the roses in 2005 with the 72/1 longshot, Closing Argument only to lose in the final strides to fellow outsider, Giacomo. Though winning the Derby would be a feather in the cap of any top-notch trainer, it would be the icing on the cake for the Lexington, KY native. Here’s a look at the strong poker hand McLaughlin holds as he heads down the Derby Trail.
Frosted (Tapit-Fast Cookie) took 3 tries to break is maiden, but was a very game runner-up in the Remsen Stakes (G2) on 11/29. On a day when Aqueduct had a huge rail/early speed bias, Frosted broke from post 13 and tracked three wide only to miss by 1/2 length. Dam Fast Cookie won the Cotillion (G2) at Parx in 2003, so expect Frosted to get better as the races get longer. Following the Remsen, Frosted was sent to Florida and has two works at Palm Meadows as he prepares for the Holy Bull Stakes (G2) on January 24 at Gulfstream Park.
Classy Class (Discreetly Mine-Collegiate) was fourth in the Remsen while breaking from the outside and tracking off the rail throughout. Though he appears to have a sprinter’s pedigree as both dam and sire never won past seven furlongs, his family tree is littered with distance influences such as Mineshaft, A.P. Indy, Saarland, Unbridled, and Versailles Treaty. With his work after the Remsen being done at Belmont Park, expect Classy Class to show up next in an Aqueduct allowance or the Withers Stakes (G3) on February 7.
Imperia (Medaglia d’Oro-Cocoa Beach) was last seen running second in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) at Churchill Downs on 11/29 in his dirt track debut. The impeccably bred Godolphin runner should have no problem handling the Derby distance. Like Frosted, Imperia made his way to Florida to prepare for a return trip to Louisville. No race has been targeted yet, but expect McLaughlin to keep the stablemates separated so the pair can earn as many Derby qualifying points possible.
Ocean Knight (Curlin-Ocean Goddess) only has one race under his belt, but his debut is arguably the most impressive maiden victory since the Saratoga meet. He crushed a group of maidens at Aqueduct on December 13 by 4 1/2 lengths while earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 92. Since that effort, Ocean Knight sports one work at Palm Meadows. Expect Ocean Knight to pop up in the entries next in New York or Louisiana as he prepares for a May visit to Louisville.
Though unraced, no discussion about McLaughlin’s three-year-olds is complete without mentioning Jess’s Dream (Curlin-Rachel Alexandra). Racing fans are anticipating a start from arguably the best bred horse in training, and are even more hopeful that he becomes the first horse to win the Derby without a start at two since Apollo in 1882. He has been working down in the Florida with a likely debut at Gulfstream Park in late January.