The Derby Bubble Presented By Kentucky-Breds: Four-Prep Weekend Shakes Things Up - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report
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The Derby Bubble Presented By Kentucky-Breds: Four-Prep Weekend Shakes Things Up

The Kentucky Derby is fast approaching, which means it's time for detailed looks at the horses that could fill the starting gate with Andrew Champagne of Catena Media and The Saratogian's Pink Sheet.

Check the Paulick Report every week for updated rankings that include news, notes, and opinions on the 3-year-olds that figure to take center stage.

We're officially less than two months away from the Kentucky Derby, and this past weekend saw four prep races bearing Derby points.

As it turns out, last week's list wasn't a bad indicator of horses to watch. The eighth and 11th-ranked horses from those rankings ran 1-2 in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth, and the 14th-ranked horse won the G2 San Felipe.

We've got some new arrivals this week thanks to the results of the Gotham and John Battaglia Memorial, and a few runners made significant moves up and down the list. Let's take a look!

Kentucky-bred contenders will be highlighted in red, and will receive additional analysis into their breeders, broodmares, and auction histories. Pedigree notes are written by Joe Nevills.

#1: Epicenter

Pedigree: Not This Time – Silent Candy (by Candy Ride)

Owner: Winchell Thoroughbreds

Trainer: Steve Asmussen

Kentucky Derby points: 64

Epicenter suffered a hard-luck loss in the G3 Lecomte, when he did all the dirty work up front and got nailed on the wire. However, the G2 Risen Star was a totally different story. He demolished what certainly appeared to be one of the stronger fields we've seen to this point on the road to the Kentucky Derby. Smile Happy might've needed the race, but even so, that was an exceptional effort, one that stamps this front-running type as a major player.

Epicenter was bred in Kentucky by Westwind Farms, out of the Grade 3-placed stakes winner Silent Candy. He sold for $260,000 at the 2020 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. Westwind Farms bought Silent Candy pregnant to Scat Daddy for $130,000 in 2014.

#2: Smile Happy

Pedigree: Runhappy – Pleasant Smile (by Pleasant Tap)

Owner: Lucky Seven Stable

Trainer: Ken McPeek

Kentucky Derby points: 30

Hopes were high for Smile Happy's 3-year-old unveiling in the Risen Star. He was a pretty distant second that day, but I think there's reason for optimism. He hadn't run in nearly three months, and he was pretty far behind a moderate early pace. That race wasn't the goal, and I think there's reason to believe he'll take a big step forward wherever he runs next.

Smile Happy was bred in Kentucky by Moreau Bloodstock International Inc. and White Bloodstock LLC, out of the winning Pleasant Tap mare Pleasant Smile, whose four starters are all winners, also including the stakes-placed Wilko Rum, by Wilko. Smile Happy sold as a weanling for $175,000 at the 2019 Keeneland November Sale, and later brought $185,000 at the Keeneland September Sale.

#3: Classic Causeway

Pedigree: Giant's Causeway – Private World (by Thunder Gulch)

Owner: Kentucky West Racing and Cooper Clarke

Trainer: Brian Lynch

Kentucky Derby points: 16

It's tough to poke too many holes here. He cruised to an easy win in the G3 Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs, and he's taken steps forward in each of his four starts. That's the trajectory we want to see heading into Saturday's G2 Tampa Bay Derby, where he'll line up against fellow top-20 members Shipsational and Major General, among others.

Classic Causeway is a homebred for Kentucky West Racing LLC  and the Clarke M. Cooper Family Living Trust, out of the stakes winner Private World, who is the dam of five winners from eight runners. Private World is herself a Kentucky West homebred.

#4: White Abarrio

Pedigree: Race Day – Catching Diamonds (by Into Mischief)

Owner: C2 Racing Stable and La Milagrosa Stable

Trainer: Saffie Joseph, Jr.

Kentucky Derby points: 12

Saffie Joseph has emerged as one of the winningest trainers in Florida over the past few years, so it was only a matter of time before he found a serious Derby hopeful on his hands. In this case, White Abarrio stamped himself as one to watch with an authoritative score in the G3 Holy Bull. His lone loss came under the Twin Spires, when he was third in last year's G2 Kentucky Jockey Club behind Smile Happy and Classic Causeway. He's back on the work tab ahead of the G1 Florida Derby, where he may have a rematch with the next horse on this list.

White Abarrio was bred in Kentucky by Spendthrift Farm, and he is the first foal out of the Into Mischief mare Catching Diamonds. He sold as a newly-turned yearling for $7,500 at the 2020 OBS Winter Mixed Sale. Spendthrift purchased Catching Diamonds as a yearling for $425,000.

#5: Simplification

Pedigree: Not This Time – Simply Confection (by Candy Ride)

Owner: Tami Bobo

Trainer: Antonio Sano

Kentucky Derby points: 54

Somewhat lost in the roughly-run Fountain of Youth was the fact that Simplification ran a monster race to get the money. After another slow start, he was taken back and had to circle the field to have any chance. That's precisely what he did, and he hit the wire well clear of one of the best fields we've seen to date on the road to the Derby. We'll see if his connections opt to train up to the first Saturday in May or take another crack at White Abarrio (and others) in the Florida Derby next month.

#6: Mo Donegal

Pedigree: Uncle Mo – Callingmissbrown (by Pulpit)

Owner: Donegal Racing

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Kentucky Derby points: 12

I can't penalize Mo Donegal too much for scratching out of the Fountain of Youth. He didn't run due to a low-grade temperature, and even if he'd been fully healthy, he'd have had to work out a trip from a terrible, far-outside post. The winner of last year's G2 Remsen will go back to that route for his next start in the G2 Wood Memorial. A top-three finish there will almost certainly punch his ticket to Kentucky.

Mo Donegal was bred in Kentucky by Ashview Farm and Colts Neck Stables. He brought $250,000 at the 2020 Keeneland September sale.

#7: Forbidden Kingdom

Pedigree: American Pharoah – Just Louise (by Five Star Day)

Owner: MyRacehorse and Spendthrift Farm

Trainer: Richard Mandella

Kentucky Derby points: 50

The big question: How impressed are you with Forbidden Kingdom's easy score in the San Felipe? It was one of the more visually-striking efforts we've seen to date, as he went to the front early and only improved his position from there. The problem is, he didn't beat a whole lot in that event. Doppelganger ran an OK race to be second, I suppose, but none of the other runners showed much of anything (or, for that matter, were expected to). I'm hoping Forbidden Kingdom runs back in the G1 Santa Anita Derby, where we may be able to get a better idea of his two-turn abilities against a field of the best 3-year-olds in California.

Forbidden Kingdom was bred in Kentucky by Springhouse Farm, out of the Grade 3 winner Just Louise. He sold to his current ownership for $300,000 at the 2020 Fasig-Tipton Selected Yearling Sale. Springhouse Farm acquired Just Louise pregnant to Malibu Moon for $150,000 at the 2013 Fasig-Tipton November sale.

#8: Call Me Midnight

Pedigree: Midnight Lute – Overseen (by First Defence)

Owner: Peter Cantrell

Trainer: Keith Desormeaux

Kentucky Derby points: 10

Call Me Midnight was sent away at odds of 28-1 in the Lecomte and proceeded to light up the tote board. In doing so, he rallied from last to first, and while the early pace was solid, it's not like they were flying, either. This pedigree doesn't exactly scream “two turns,” but Call Me Midnight beat Epicenter that day (among others) and showed maturity doing it. We'll see if he can repeat that performance in a major Derby prep.

Call Me Midnight was bred in Kentucky by Hartwell Farm, out of the Juddmonte Farms-bred Overseen. His siblings include the stakes-placed Bayerly Seen, by Bayern. Call Me Midnight sold as a weanling for $25,000, while Hartwell Farm bought the unraced Overseen as a broodmare prospect for $16,000.

#9: Early Voting

Pedigree: Gun Runner – Amour d'Ete (by Tiznow)

Owner: Klaravich Stables

Trainer: Chad Brown

Kentucky Derby points: 10

While the G3 Withers didn't move the needle on first viewing, that day's runner-up, Un Ojo, came back to pull off a shocking upset in the G2 Rebel. That may mean there's more than what meets the eye when it comes to that early-season prep at Aqueduct, which this son of Gun Runner won in convincing fashion. There's still a chance Early Voting moves forward with another start or two under his belt, and Aqueduct's road to the Derby could provide a low-resistance route.

Early Voting was bred in Kentucky by Three Chimneys Farm, and he sold as a yearling for $200,000. Three Chimneys bought Amour d'Ete, a half-sister to top sire Speightstown, as a yearling for $1.75 million.

#10: In Due Time

Pedigree: Not This Time – Sweet Sweet Annie (by Curlin)

Owner: Edge Racing

Trainer: Kelly Breen

Kentucky Derby points: 20

When the dust settled in the Fountain of Youth, In Due Time crossed the wire second, with rider Paco Lopez accused by many of causing the spills that occurred turning for home. Unfortunately for this horse, that saga overshadowed him answering that he can go two turns, which he did in the affirmative against a decent field. We'll see where he shows up next, and if the jockey in question keeps the mount.

In Due Time was bred in Kentucky by Gary and Mary West Stables Inc., and he is the first foal out of the unraced Sweet Sweet Annie. The Wests bought Sweet Sweet Annie with In Due Time in utero for $115,000.

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#11: Morello

Pedigree: Classic Empire – Stop the Wedding (by Congrats)

Owner: Blue Lion Thoroughbreds, Craig Taylor, and Diamond T Racing

Trainer: Steve Asmussen

Kentucky Derby points: 50

Morello moved to three-for-three with a professional score in the G3 Gotham at Aqueduct. It's entirely possible he didn't beat much in that effort, but he did it the right way. There are still some stamina questions here, as he hasn't gone two turns yet, but he was moving away from that field late and doing so pretty easily. Much like with Forbidden Kingdom, Morello's next start will likely come in deeper waters, and we'll see if he sinks or swims.

Morello was bred in Kentucky by Robert B. Tillyer and Dr. Chet Blackey, out of the Congrats mare Stop the Wedding. The colt sold as a weanling for $140,000 at the 2019 Keeneland November Sale, then he brought $200,000 at the following year's Fasig-Tipton Select Yearling Sale. In 2021, Morello sold for $250,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic 2-Year-Olds in Training Sale. Stop the Wedding was an $11,000 purchase, pregnant to Cairo Prince, by Tillyer at the 2020 Keeneland January Sale.

#12: Charge It

Pedigree: Tapit – I'll Take Charge (by Indian Charlie)

Owner: Whisper Hill Farm

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Kentucky Derby points: 0

Charge it was incredibly impressive in breaking his maiden at Gulfstream Park by nearly nine lengths. While he may be a bit late to the party, all it takes is one strong showing in a remaining Derby prep to ensure a spot in the starting gate for that race. Pletcher took a similar route with Always Dreaming, who had zero Kentucky Derby points on the morning of the Florida Derby and was wearing roses just five weeks later.

Charge It is a Kentucky homebred for Mandy Pope's Whisper Hill Farm, out of the Indian Charlie mare I'll Take Charge. Pope bought the dam as a yearling for $2.2 million at the 2013 Keeneland September sale.

#13: Zandon

Pedigree: Upstart – Memories Prevail (by Creative Cause)

Owner: Jeff Drown

Trainer: Chad Brown

Kentucky Derby points: 14

Zandon ran Mo Donegal to a photo finish in the Remsen before finishing third in the Risen Star. If nothing else, we know that distance shouldn't be what gets him beat, as both of those races were contested at nine furlongs.

Zandon was bred in Kentucky by Brereton C. Jones of Airdrie Stud, and the colt is the first foal to race out of the unraced dam. Zandon sold as a yearling for $170,000 from the Airdrie Stud consignment.

#14: Rattle N Roll

Pedigree: Connect – Jazz Tune (by Johannesburg)

Owner: Lucky Seven Stable

Trainer: Ken McPeek

Kentucky Derby points: 10

Rattle N Roll made his first start since October in the Fountain of Youth, and he ran like a horse that needed the race. He crossed the wire sixth that day against one of the highest-quality fields we've seen to date, and while he does drop in these rankings, I can't eliminate him entirely just yet. We saw him show plenty of potential when he won last year's G1 Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland, and if he runs to that promise, he could still be a major player moving forward.

Rattle N Roll was bred in Kentucky by St. Simon Place. The colt sold as a weanling for $55,000 at the 2019 Keeneland November Sale, then brought $210,000 as a yearling. St. Simon Place acquired Jazz Tune pregnant to Mineshaft for $20,000 in 2016, and sold her for $585,000 pregnant to Liam's Map at the 2021 Keeneland November Sale.

#15: Shipsational

Shipsational wins the Bertram F. Bongard at Belmont Park.

Pedigree: Midshipman – Regal Approach (by Thunder Gulch)

Owner: Iris Smith Stable

Trainer: Edward Barker

Kentucky Derby points: 4

A New York-bred, Shipsational won a pair of restricted stakes races at Belmont last fall before going to the sidelines for more than three months. He came back in the Sam F. Davis, and while no other runner was touching Classic Causeway, he picked up enough pieces to run second behind that much-the-best winner. He'll get another shot at that rival on Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs.

#16: Pappacap

Pedigree: Gun Runner – Pappascat (by Scat Daddy)

Owner: Rustlewood Farm

Trainer: Mark Casse

Kentucky Derby points: 14

Pappacap showed a lot during a busy 2-year-old campaign, when he was second in both the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and American Pharoah Stakes out west. He then ran third in the Lecomte behind Call Me Midnight and Epicenter, but flopped when eighth in the Risen Star. Perhaps that dud is an outlier, but it's worth noting that he's winless since being stretched out to two turns last fall.

#17: Un Ojo

Pedigree: Laoban – Risk a Chance (by A.P. Indy)

Owner: Cypress Creek Equine

Trainer: Ricky Courville

Kentucky Derby points: 54

The one-eyed New York-bred lit up the tote board by winning the Rebel and paying $152.80 to win. In doing so, he secured enough points to ensure a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate provided he stays healthy. Initial impressions from that race aren't great, as heavy favorite Newgrange failed to fire and the race didn't stack up well from a speed figure standpoint. The question is, can he channel that form moving forward when the waters get even deeper?

#18: Major General

Pedigree: Constitution – No Mo Lemons (by Uncle Mo)

Owner: WinStar Farm and Siena Farm

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Kentucky Derby points: 10

One of Pletcher's most promising 2-year-olds last year, Major General broke his maiden in his debut at Saratoga and followed up with a win in the Grade 3 Iroquois at Churchill Downs. He's been away from the races since September, but will make his 3-year-old debut in Saturday's Tampa Bay Derby. If he's ready to run, he could earn plenty of points and rocket his way up the list.

Major General was bred in Kentucky by Circular Road Breeders, who also bred the unraced dam, No Mo Lemons. Major General sold as a newly-turned yearling for $265,000 at the 2020 Keeneland January Sale, then he brought $420,000 later that year at the Keeneland September sale.

#19: Dean's List

Pedigree: Speightstown – Mildly Offensive (by Sharp Humor)

Owner: WinStar Farm and Siena Farm

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Kentucky Derby points: 20

Someone had to finish second behind Morello in the Gotham and earn 20 points. That was Dean's List, who'd topped two fields of sprinters at Gulfstream before suffering his first-ever defeat at Aqueduct. There are stamina questions here, especially since he hasn't gone two turns yet and the bottom-side of his pedigree is pretty sprint-heavy. However, it's likely we'll see him attempt to go long next time.

Dean's List was bred in Kentucky by WinStar Farm, out of the multiple stakes-placed Sharp Humor mare Mildly Offensive, whose runners also include the stakes-placed Brasstown, by Tiznow. Dean's List was offered at the 2020 Fasig-Tipton Select Yearling Sale, but finished under his reserve with a final bid of $220,000. Mildly Offensive is also a WinStar homebred.

#20: Tiz the Bomb

Pedigree: Hit It a Bomb – Tiz the Key (by Tiznow)

Owner: Magdalena Racing

Trainer: Ken McPeek

Kentucky Derby points: 10

Full disclosure: I have absolutely no idea what to do with this horse. His connections have stated the Group 1 Epsom Derby is a possibility. However, his win in the John Battaglia Memorial got him on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard, and that race is traditionally a springboard to the G3 Jeff Ruby Steaks. Unlike most of the years of its existence, that race now bestows 100 points to the winner and 40 points to the runner-up. Both totals, of course, would comfortably put Tiz the Bomb in the starting gate on the first Saturday in May. For now, he's here, and if the connections publicly say they're eyeing an English classic and foregoing an American one, I'll take him off the list.

Tiz the Bomb was bred in Kentucky by Spendthrift Farm, out of the winning Tiznow mare Tiz the Key. McPeek, acting as agent, purchased Tiz the Bomb for $330,000 at the 2020 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Select Yearling Sale. Spendthrift bought Tiz the Key as a yearling for the same price at the 2012 Keeneland September Sale.

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