While the road to the Kentucky Derby is under emergency construction this spring, there is traffic backed up trying to find an alternative route to reach Churchill Downs on Sept. 5.
There are signs of relief next Saturday with the most loaded and anticipated Arkansas Derby in years. But plenty of other 3-year-olds that have attracted money in the futures market have been idling for a long time with no sign of where they will be going anytime soon.
Even though there are still more than four months until the revised post time, bettors holding Kentucky Derby futures tickets on Maxfield (9-1 at William Hill Nevada), Dennis’ Moment (16-1) and Mr. Monomoy (24-1) are waiting for any hints that these horses will resume their dormant campaigns.
The where-are-they-now game takes in 12 of the 36 horses that began the week 50-1 or shorter in the Derby futures. Those dozen have not raced since at least the end of February. In the cases of Maxfield, Eight Rings (22-1) and Express Train (50-1), they have yet to make their 3-year-old debuts.
Four of the 12 – Azul Coast (25-1), Anneau d’Or (30-1), Tizamagician (40-1) and Ajaaweed (45-1) – are among the 99 horses nominated for the Arkansas Derby. Of those only Anneau d’Or is expected to be entered.
So what is going on with the others?
After being shipped from Florida to Kentucky, Maxfield resumed training two weeks ago at Keeneland, where trainer Brendan Walsh breezed him twice over four furlongs. Walsh is patiently waiting for Kentucky to authorize a resumption of racing next month. Unraced since winning the Breeders’ Futurity by 5½ lengths last October at Keeneland, Maxfield was scratched from the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile with an injury to his right front ankle. Walsh has said that he is in no hurry to map Maxfield’s immediate future.
Dennis’ Moment has been going the wrong direction since he stumbled out of the gate last November in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He finished last both that day and then again in his comeback Feb. 29 in the Fountain of Youth, and he has not had a timed workout since. But Dennis’ Moment is still exercising at Gulfstream Park, and trainer Dale Romans told VSiN in a text message that there is “no solid plan as of now. Still waiting to see what’s going to happen in Kentucky and (with the) New York Racing Association,” where racing is also suspended indefinitely.
Mr. Monomoy was diagnosed with what was called a minor phalanx injury about two weeks after he won Feb. 15 in the better of the two divisions of the Risen Star. At first the 60-day recovery period meant an end to his Kentucky Derby hopes. But with the race pushed back to Labor Day weekend, trainer Brad Cox has a chance to bring him back. He just has not said where or when.
Once the hot colt in Bob Baffert’s southern California stable, American Pharoah Stakes winner Eight Rings gets off the bench Saturday at Oaklawn Park. With Joel Rosario riding him for the first time he is the 5-2 morning-line favorite for the $100,000 Bachelor Stakes. It will be Eight Rings’s first start since he faded to finish sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Because coronavirus shutdowns has dried up the supply of quality stakes, the Bachelor is loaded with horses that might not otherwise show up for an ungraded, six-furlong sprint. The field of nine includes Derby futures long shots Echo Town (150-1), Ginóbili (150-1), Little Menace (200-1) and Long Weekend (250-1).
Express Train has been recovering from some pain in an ankle and foot. In a text message to VSiN, trainer John Shirreffs said that he “came out of his last race a little sore. So I gave him 60 days off.” The maiden winner by Union Rags finished fourth to Eight Rings last September in the American Pharoah. Express Train reappeared Monday with a 39.2-second workout at Santa Anita, where racing is also suspended. “He has a ton of talent,” Shirreffs said. “We will make a plan after he works May 8.”
As some horsemen bide their time, others will find next weekend’s Arkansas Derby to be an important fork in the road. After that the real uncertainty begins.
Horses at Oaklawn Park will have to go somewhere else if they want to race after closing day next Saturday. Tampa Bay Downs won approval Thursday to extend its season past next Sunday – but only through May. Gulfstream Park remains open, but the stakes that it has added are modest. Santa Anita’s future is in doubt as long as the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health enforces an indefinite suspension of racing there. And opening days for Churchill Downs and Belmont Park are still unscheduled.
So when it comes to some direction on the Derby trail, it seems appropriate now to just hurry up and wait.
Racing notes and opinions
Will next Saturday’s Arkansas Derby be contested as one race with as many as 14 horses? Or in two divisions of 10 each? Oaklawn Park racing secretary Pat Pope told the Daily Racing Form that he would need to have 20 entries before he would split the $750,000 Grade 1 race with the track adding money to create a pair of $500,000 divisions. The DRF said that 16 horses are expected to be entered. They include automatic qualifiers Farmington Road (50-1 in William Hill futures) and Taishan (100-1), the second- and third-place finishers this month in the Oaklawn Stakes. The rest of the field would be filled based on stakes earnings led by Storm The Court (45-1) followed in order by Wells Bayou (20-1), Nadal (8-1), Silver Prospector (28-1), Anneau d’Or, Basin (25-1), King Guillermo (25-1), Gouverneur Morris (28-1), Fast Enough (100-1), American Theorem (100-1), Crypto Cash (unlisted) and Shooters Shoot (100-1). On the outside looking are My Friends Beer (unlisted) and, yes, Baffert’s rising star Charlatan (7-1). Those two need horses above them to drop out or for four more to come in. Again, though, there is no real urgency here, presuming there are Derby points preps yet to be designated between now and Sept. 5.
In a text message sent Thursday to horsemen, Santa Anita Park management said that it is continuing to negotiate with Los Angeles county leaders to get races going again. “We anticipate receiving an answer shortly,” the text said. “Should we be able to resume live racing under the new protocols submitted (in a meeting last week), we anticipate there will be a delay of 7-10 days between acceptance of the plan and ... live racing.” Santa Anita has promised even tighter health regulations and access to the track if it is allowed to resume racing for the first time since March 22.
Fonner Park won approval from the Nebraska State Racing Commission to extend its Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday racing for another month through May 31. Especially on Mondays and Tuesdays, when they are about the only options for sports betting, Fonner Park and Will Rogers Downs in Claremore, Oklahoma, have seen multifold spikes in their daily handle to averages of more than $2.5 million. The Will Rogers Downs meet ends May 23.
The opening of the stables at Churchill Downs was pushed back another week to no sooner than May 5. Track management is waiting in part for Gov. Andy Beshear (D-Ky.) not only to give his blessing to a restricted reopening but also to allowing spectator-free racing to begin. Before being postponed indefinitely, the spring meet was supposed to have started this weekend.
Instead of just 50, the top 75 finishers on the NHC Tour will qualify for next winter’s National Horseplayers Championship. The National Thoroughbred Racing Association confirmed the change Thursday in response to the ongoing coronavirus shutdowns. The NTRA also said that a requirement that a certain number of points come from on-track contests would be waived. So a player’s top seven scores between Jan. 25 this year and Jan. 23 next year will count toward qualifying for the NHC, regardless of whether they came from on-track or on-line contests.
Ron Flatter’s weekly racing column is posted every Friday morning – more frequently for big races – at VSiN.com. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. On the current episode Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano discusses his recovery from the coronavirus, and handicapper and workout analyst Bruno De Julio talks about the difficulty in gauging Kentucky Derby prospects and the federal case against trainers drugging horses. The Ron Flatter Racing Pod is available via Apple, Google, Spotify, Stitcher and at VSiN.com/podcasts and is sponsored by 1/ST BET.