The Derby Bubble Presented By Kentucky Breds: Something Seems Familiar About These Contenders - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report
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The Derby Bubble Presented By Kentucky Breds: Something Seems Familiar About These Contenders

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.

After a week of no Derby preps, we're trying something new this week. As a one-time change of pace, we're offering historical comparisons for each member of the top-20 list that could prove pretty fun. We'll be back to traditional analysis next week, after the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby and G2 UAE Derby are run.

For now, though, let's dive in!

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

Comparison: Gun Runner. No, I'm not saying Epicenter will turn into the best horse in the world. However, in the early part of his career, Gun Runner emerged as the top 3-year-old at Fair Grounds with wins in the Risen Star and Louisiana Derby, and then ran third behind Nyquist and Exaggerator in Kentucky. Epicenter won this year's renewal of the former event, will be a heavy favorite in the latter, and may face a lesser group of 3-year-olds on the first Saturday in May than Gun Runner did six years ago.

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

Comparison: Repent. McPeek trained that one, too, and we forget how good he was because he didn't get to run in the 2002 Kentucky Derby. Like Smile Happy, he won the Kentucky Jockey Club, and that was one of four graded stakes wins. He ran second in both the 2001 Breeders' Cup Juvenile (behind Johannesburg) and the 2002 Travers (behind Medaglia d'Oro).

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: 66

Comparison: Destin. Like Classic Causeway, Destin was bred to run all day long, had plenty of tactical speed and pulled off the Sam F. Davis-Tampa Bay Derby double. Destin's pedigree kicked in later in his career, when he ran second in the 2016 Belmont Stakes and won the 2017 Marathon on that year's Breeders' Cup undercard.

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

Comparison: Upstart. The New York-bred announced his presence with an authoritative score in the 2015 Holy Bull, where he crushed the likes of Frosted and Keen Ice. White Abarrio topped a field that included Simplification and Mo Donegal in his Holy Bull score, and we'll see if he's moved forward from that effort when he goes postward in the Florida Derby.

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

Comparison: Gunnevera. It seems a bit lazy, but it's the only place one can go, given that both Antonio Sano trainees won the Fountain of Youth in impressive fashion. Gunnevera won just twice after his score the 2017 renewal, but did pick up a number of big checks. He was second in both the 2018 Breeders' Cup Classic and 2017 Travers.

#6: Mo Donegal

Pedigree: Uncle Mo – Callingmissbrown (by Pulpit)

Owner: Donegal Racing

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Kentucky Derby points: 12

Comparison: Commissioner. Everything about Commissioner screamed “wants to go long” from the moment he broke his maiden going two turns as a 2-year-old at Saratoga. He eventually did everything but win the 2014 Belmont Stakes for Pletcher. Mo Donegal, meanwhile, ran in spurts in the Holy Bull, but won the Remsen going long as an inexperienced 2-year-old.

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

Comparison: Rock Your World. Give a solid horse a perfect, front-running trip in a big race, and that runner may prove tough to top. That's how Rock Your World won last year's Santa Anita Derby, and it's how Forbidden Kingdom won the San Felipe earlier this year in his first two-turn try. The question is, what will Forbidden Kingdom do if he's challenged on the front end early on? We may find out in the Santa Anita Derby next month.

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

Comparison: My Boy Jack. Keith Desormeaux conditioned that runner, who won a pair of graded stakes races prior to the 2018 Kentucky Derby. Call Me Midnight is another closer who upset Epicenter in the Lecomte. He'll look to pull that off again in Saturday's Louisiana Derby, and he'll need a strong finish in order to ensure a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate.

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

Comparison: Red Bullet. Red Bullet won the Gotham back in 2000 before finishing second to Fusaichi Pegasus in the Wood Memorial, but he beat that rival in the Preakness. That Gotham aged well, as it also included future Grade 1 winner Aptitude and multiple graded stakes winner Performing Magic. Early Voting, meanwhile, topped future Rebel winner Un Ojo and eventual Tampa Bay Derby runner-up Grantham in his Withers victory at that same venue, so that race, too, may have been more impressive than initially thought.

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

Comparison: Materiality. Remember the 2015 Florida Derby? Materiality bumped Upstart, but was left up after an inquiry, leading to a classic Rick Violette quote talking about the stewards racing out of the track. In Due Time, of course, ran second in a roughly-run Fountain of Youth that included a pair of falls around the far turn. We'll see if he gets a clean trip in his next Kentucky Derby prep.

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

Comparison: Vyjack. Like Morello, Vyjack was undefeated both before and after his win in the Gotham. That came in 2013, and while he competed in that year's Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes, his best races came going shorter. He reinvented himself as a miler, winning the 2014 Kelso at Belmont and the 2016 City of Hope Mile at Santa Anita. Morello has yet to go two turns, but if that proves too far, there are plenty of options for him moving forward.

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: Secret Oath

Pedigree: Arrogate – Absinthe Minded (by Quiet American)

Owner: Briland Farm

Trainer: D. Wayne Lukas

Kentucky Derby points: 0

Comparison: Take Charge Brandi. Lukas toyed with the idea of running his champion against boys in 2015. However, she was injured after her win in the Martha Washington and ran just twice more later that year before being retired. Secret Oath, however, will get her chance against open company in the upcoming Arkansas Derby.

Secret Oath was homebred in Kentucky by Briland Farm, Robert Mitchell, and Stacy Mitchell. She is out of the multiple Grade 1-placed stakes winner Absinthe Minded, who is also a homebred for the same connections. 

#13: Charge It

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

Owner: Whisper Hill Farm

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Kentucky Derby points: 0

Comparison: Always Dreaming. Like Charge It, Always Dreaming had zero Kentucky Derby points going into the Florida Derby. The late-blooming Pletcher trainee, of course, won both races, and I think it's telling Mo Donegal was re-routed to the Wood Memorial while this runner (still eligible for a non-winners of one allowance) had a course charted for the Florida Derby.

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.

#14: Zandon

Pedigree: Upstart – Memories Prevail (by Creative Cause)

Owner: Jeff Drown

Trainer: Chad Brown

Kentucky Derby points: 14

Comparison: Normandy Invasion. One of Chad Brown's first Derby prospects won just once ahead of the 2013 event, but he finished a competitive fourth behind Orb in that race. Zandon found the winner's circle in his career debut last fall, and has since collected minor awards in a pair of graded stakes races.

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.

#15: Rattle N Roll

Pedigree: Connect – Jazz Tune (by Johannesburg)

Owner: Lucky Seven Stable

Trainer: Ken McPeek

Kentucky Derby points: 10

Comparison: Sky Mesa. A multiple Grade 1 winner as a 2-year-old, Sky Mesa missed most of his 3-year-old season, but did run second in that year's Haskell behind Peace Rules (and ahead of Funny Cide). Rattle N Roll also missed significant time, and he'll look to rebound from a disappointing return in the Fountain of Youth in this week's Louisiana Derby.

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.

#16: Shipsational

Pedigree: Midshipman – Regal Approach (by Thunder Gulch)

Owner: Iris Smith Stable

Trainer: Edward Barker

Kentucky Derby points: 14

Comparison: International Star. Both hard-knocking New York-breds, Shipsational and International Star have collected plenty of checks in big spots. International Star swept the 2015 preps at Fair Grounds, but missed the summer of his 3-year-old season and won just once the rest of his career. Shipsational, meanwhile, has chased Classic Causeway twice and may need one more big run prior to the first Saturday in May in order to make the Derby field.

#17: Pappacap

Pedigree: Gun Runner – Pappascat (by Scat Daddy)

Owner: Rustlewood Farm

Trainer: Mark Casse

Kentucky Derby points: 14

Comparison: Klimt. The Bob Baffert charge won the Best Pal and Del Mar Futurity, but two turns proved a bit too far. He was winless in four route races. Pappacap, meanwhile, has danced in several big dances, but after winning the Best Pal last summer at Del Mar, he's yet to find the winner's circle in any race going long.

#18: Grantham

Pedigree: Declaration of War – Darby Blush (by Arch)

Owner: Three Diamonds Farm

Trainer: Mike Maker

Kentucky Derby points: 21

Comparison: Oscar Nominated. Also a Mike Maker trainee, Oscar Nominated found himself in the Derby field, but his best races were run on turf and synthetic. That one banked more than $1.5 million in career earnings and won five stakes races, none on dirt. Grantham did run second in the Tampa Bay Derby, but that was after a picture-perfect, ground-saving trip. His lone win to date came on Turfway Park's synthetic track, and he's bred up and down for that surface and the grass.

Grantham was bred in Kentucky by Winter Creek Farm, and he is the first foal out of the unraced Darby Blush. He sold as a yearling for $100,000 at the 2020 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Fall Yearling Sale, then he brought $280,000 the following year at the OBS Spring 2-Year-Olds In Training Sale.

#19: Un Ojo

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

Owner: Cypress Creek Equine

Trainer: Ricky Courville

Kentucky Derby points: 54

Comparison: Hero of Order. This is a fun one for some, as Hero of Order pulled off one of the biggest shockers in Kentucky Derby prep race history when he won the 2012 Louisiana Derby at odds of 109-1. He never won again, and the $600,000 he banked that day make up the lion's share of his $747,822 in career earnings. Un Ojo, of course, lit up the tote board in the Rebel, and we'll see if that was a fluke whenever he runs next.

#20: Tiz the Bomb

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

Owner: Magdalena Racing

Trainer: Ken McPeek

Kentucky Derby points: 10

Comparison: Somelikeithotbrown. Also known for winning the infamous 2018 maiden race at Saratoga run at the wrong distance (seriously, how does that happen?), Somelikeithotbrown showed enough on turf for his connections to try the 2019 Blue Grass. He was fourth that day and went back to turf, where he's since turned into one of the more consistent older turf runners in the country. Tiz the Bomb is proven on turf and synthetic. Dirt? Not so much. We'll see if he has an affinity for it in his final try at Kentucky Derby points.

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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