BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — It is easy for bettors to gravitate to names like Baffert and Pletcher. When it comes to the Kentucky Derby, they’ve been there and won that.
Names like Brown and Hollendorfer figure to be on that list, too. It seems only a matter of time.
But how about a trainer like Kiaran McLaughlin, who quietly goes about his business for a megastable like Godolphin? Might he have a colt or two on the list of legitimate candidates to make 2018 the year he finally gets his first Derby victory?
Judging from futures odds in Nevada, the answer is an emphatic yes. Enticed is 20-1 at the Wynn Las Vegas, and Avery Island is 45-1. In the short term those two Godolphin-owned, McLaughlin-trained colts will be serious contenders to win Derby prep races Saturday on opposite ends of the East Coast.
Coming off a two-month break since he won the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs, Enticed (3-1) drew the rail and is the morning-line favorite in a deep field for the $350,000 Grade 2 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park. The scheduled post time for the 1 1/16-mile race is Saturday at 4:49 p.m. EST.
After a win and a second in a pair of autumn Grade 2s at Aqueduct, Avery Island (8-5) stretches out to 1 1/8 miles there Saturday at 4:35 p.m. EST in the $250,000 Grade 3 Withers Stakes.
The Holy Bull, the Withers and the $150,000 Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis Stakes over 1 1/16 miles at Santa Anita Park are Saturday’s three Derby preps that will earn each winner 10 qualifying points toward the Kentucky Derby.
Enticed and Avery Island have been stabled together and do their morning work at Palm Meadows in south Florida, but McLaughlin predictably does not plan to race them against one another before May 5.
“This is a key race for us to see how they stack up,” McLaughlin said, especially for Enticed. “The horse that he beat a nose at Churchill is probably the horse to beat for us.”
That would be Tiz Mischief (4-1), the closer that came close to catching Enticed at the end of the Kentucky Jockey Club.
“I think he’s going to be a force to be reckoned with this year,” Tiz Mischief trainer Dale Romans said. “He’s been training lights-out.”
Breeders’ Futurity winner Free Drop Billy (6-1), Iroquois runner-up Hollywood Star (12-1) and the wide-drawn, Coolmore-owned maiden winner Mississippi (5-1) are also in the Holy Bull. Like Enticed and Tiz Mischief they are shorter than 100-1 in Derby futures. The only pure speed in the race comes from Aequor (15-1), a maiden winner that drew post 10 in the field of 11.
They will all be targeting Enticed, a Medaglia d’Oro colt that sandwiched a third-place finish to Firenze Fire in the Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park around his victories most recently at Churchill and before that in his debut at Saratoga.
“He won his first start, and we weren’t counting on that,” McLaughlin said. “But he did it. I didn’t think he was that kind of first-time-out winner.”
Meanwhile, on what is forecast to be a raw, breezy, 36-degree day in New York, the front-running Avery Island will be on familiar ground at Aqueduct. McLaughlin chose him to take on the extra 110 yards of the Withers, which drew only six colts.
“We feel like he’s improving all the time, and he likes the track here,” McLaughlin said. “He’s ready, and we know he wants the distance, so it’s all a plus.”
Sired by Street Sense out of an A.P. Indy mare, Avery Island figures to get his chief competition from Firenze Fire (9-5), already a winner in two Derby preps but only seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in his only previous try around two turns.
Todd Pletcher’s $2 million Coolmore colt Marconi (3-1), starting from gate 2, will also catch the attention and backing of bettors after breaking his maiden in a 5½-length win at Aqueduct in December.
Now in his 19th year, McLaughlin, 57, has only one win in a Triple Crown race – with Jazil in the 2006 Belmont – but his nearly $110 million in earnings rank him in North America’s all-time top 20. He has accomplished this despite dealing the whole time with multiple sclerosis, taking daily injections to manage it and get to work every day. As he puts it, “I have MS, but it doesn’t have me.”
The closest he came to winning the Kentucky Derby was his first time in 2005, when his 70-1 long shot Closing Argument lost a thrilling stretch duel in the final strides by 50-1 Giacomo. McLaughlin has had six other horses in five runnings since, never finishing better than fourth. His best chance last year – maiden winner True Timber – hit the board in the Jerome and the Withers but never got the points he needed to get to Churchill Downs.
With plenty of time for things to change over the next three months, Enticed and Avery Island appear to be McLaughlin’s best chances to get him into the winner’s circle to collect the roses May 5. As he put it, “We wouldn’t trade places with anybody.”
Peace is likely favorite in Lewis Stakes
At 25-1 in Derby futures, he is already on the radar for this spring. This weekend the pace-stalking gray colt Peace (3-1) gets blinkers for the first time and is the morning-line favorite to win the Robert B. Lewis Stakes.
Trained by Richard Mandella and ridden by Mike Smith, Peace won by three-quarters of a length as the odds-on favorite late last month at Santa Anita in a 1 1/16-mile maiden race worth $54,000. That followed a pair of seconds at shorter distances to start his career.
A pair of maiden winners that drew middle posts – Shivermetimbers (7-2) and Lombo (5-1) – should set the pace for the nine southern California colts in this race.
The Robert B. Lewis is scheduled to start at 5:30 p.m. EST Saturday.
Ritvo renews talk of Preakness at Laurel
We have heard this before, but there is renewed talk of moving the Preakness Stakes from Pimlico to Laurel Park. It comes from Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer of the Stronach Group, which owns both tracks.
“Everything’s on the table in Maryland,” Ritvo said. “It’s not like we’re leaving the state of Maryland. We’d like to do something like (the Preakness) at Laurel. We’ll continue to build out Laurel for great events.”
The Stronach Group has spent $14 million to upgrade Laurel Park to the point that it is in the running to host a future Breeders’ Cup. Moving the Preakness, though, would require the approval of the state of Maryland, so Ritvo did not put a timeline on when that might happen.
Ritvo did leave the door ajar for keeping the Preakness at Pimlico. “The question is whether the Maryland Stadium Authority and state of Maryland feel strongly enough to say we’ll participate in a rebuild at Pimlico,” Ritvo said. “It doesn’t make a lot of business sense for a private company to invest in two facilities so close to each other.”
Ritvo made his comments on “The Ron Flatter Racing Pod,” which is posted at VSiN.com/podcasts.
Notes: Brown says Mask will miss Risen Star
Mask, a 20-1 sixth choice in Wynn futures to win the Kentucky Derby, will be out of training for about two weeks to deal with an undisclosed setback. Trainer Chad Brown told the Daily Racing Form said that the 2-for-2 colt sired by Tapit would miss a scheduled, two-turn debut in the Risen Star Stakes in two weeks at the Fair Grounds.
Javier Castellano will take over riding Kentucky Derby futures favorite Bolt d’Oro, replacing Corey Nakatani in time for next month’s $400,000 Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita. Trainer Mick Ruis said “I was disappointed in the Breeders’ Cup,” where Nakatani took a wide path to a third-place finish behind Good Magic in the Juvenile. Bolt d’Oro carries odds of 7-1 at the Wynn Las Vegas and 10-1 at William Hill in early Derby betting.
Gun Runner may have retired after his victory last Saturday, but his two closest pursuers in last Saturday’s $16.3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational may have a rematch next month in the Dubai World Cup. West Coast and Gunnevera are reportedly being considered to run in the $10 million race March 31.
Hoppertunity has a foot abscess and will not race in Saturday’s Grade 2 San Pasqual Stakes at Santa Anita. The 7-year-old trained by Bob Baffert last raced in December, finishing fourth in the Grade 2 San Antonio that he won when it was contested at this time last year. The 5-year-old gelding Top Of The Game (3-1) is the morning-line favorite for Saturday’s race at 7 p.m. EST.
First it was $1.4 million in late payments to trainers in England. Now Al Shaqab Racing, which is run by Qatari sheikh Joaan al Thani, is cutting jockey Frankie Dettori’s pay in half. British media reports described Dettori’s retainer contract as being a six-figure deal. Agent Peter Burrell said that he was told Al Shaqab is shifting its focus toward racing in France. Dettori does most of his riding in England.
Fair Grounds-based jockey Jamie Theriot will ride for seven months this year in Mauritius. Theriot, 38, will ride for Ramapatee Gajudhur, the two-time local training champion at Champ de Mars, the racetrack on the island off the Indian coast of southern Africa.
For what it is worth Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Good Magic is the top-ranked 3-year-old in the country. He got 24 of 38 first-place votes in a weekly media poll conducted by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. Bolt d’Oro, the favorite in both the Wynn (7-1) and William Hill (10-1) Kentucky Derby futures, is second followed by McKinzie, Solomini and Instilled Regard.
(For the record I do not participate in the NTRA poll, although I have been invited twice. The feeling here is that these votes tend to reflect the fickle wind of opinion – and that futures odds and the tote board are far more relevant. Annual polls such as the Eclipse Awards are a whole nuther matter, considering they require a good deal more reflection of the body of each horse’s work over the course of a full year.)
This racing column is posted every Friday morning at VSiN.com. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod, also posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. This week’s edition from Super Bowl LII features Paul Allen, the voice of Canterbury Park and the Minnesota Vikings, and Stronach Group COO Tim Ritvo. Please subscribe and post a review where available at Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music and Stitcher.