LAS VEGAS--It feels like the time of year when we turn the long-range view of the Kentucky Derby into a Flavor of the Week ritual.
With that in mind, could Instilled Regard be that flavor? By this time next week will he be the Derby favorite?
OK, let’s not get crazy here. Bolt d’Oro’s favorable status in the eyes of bettors was reaffirmed with last weekend’s Kentucky Derby Future Wager – not to mention months of futures bets here in Las Vegas. He is 8-1 in the KDFW, 7-1 at the Wynn and 6-1 at William Hill.
But with a victory this weekend in the $400,000 Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds, Instilled Regard – 20-1 at the Wynn – will provide a fresher image. With Bolt d’Oro still three weeks from his 3-year-old debut, some will ask what have you done for me lately? Every week the answer will be deceptive. Even so, it is hard to ignore the fact that Saturday’s race at 6:03 p.m. EST is the first prep worth 50 points to the winner, making this a virtual win-and-you’re-in qualifier for the Derby.
Not to say that Instilled Regard will have a walkover. Shipping in again from California for Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, he gets a rematch with the two Steve Asmussen trainees that were his closest pursuers Jan. 13 in the Lecomte Stakes, They will race over the same course – plus another 40 yards to make this 1 1/16 miles.
Last month Principe Guilherme was the 6-5 favorite when Instilled Regard beat him by 3¾ lengths. Now Instilled Regard (8-5) is the morning-line favorite for the rematch with Principe Guilherme (7-2), which is now in the role of prime challenger, and two-time turf winner Snapper Sinclair (8-1), a fourth choice at best after finishing third in the Lecomte.
“I like the way he conducted himself,” Instilled Regard’s jockey Javier Castellano said last month. “He was very professional. With a young horse that’s the most important – the way he develops. He’s got a good mind.”
Sired by Arch out of a Forestry mare, Instilled Regard has a lineage that made him worth $1.05 million last March when Boston racing newcomer Larry Best bought him at a sale in Florida.
“His pedigree is dreamy,” said Hollendorfer’s assistant Christina Jelm, who is again looking after Instilled Regard at the Fair Grounds. “I hope to see the same thing we saw last time. He appears to have put on some weight, and he’s definitely more professional this time around. Not that he wasn’t last time out, but he’s maturing.”
Suffering his first defeat in three tries, Principe Guilherme had a less-than-ideal trip under Florent Geroux in the Lecomte, getting bumped at the start and then traveling four wide through the final turn.
“His first two races were very easy,” Asmussen said. “With the number of runners as well as his (outside) draw in the Lecomte there were a lot of variables that he had not faced before. I don’t think his confidence was shaken.”
Todd Pletcher brings the most highly regarded new face to the Risen Star. Starting from post position 2, Noble Indy (5-1) makes his stakes debut after going 2-for-2 to start his career at Gulfstream Park.
“We were just looking for a logical prep, timing-wise,” Pletcher said. “He’s at that state of development where it’s time to step up into the graded-stakes ranks and see where he fits in the big picture. We think he’s a horse that belongs on the Derby trail, and we’re hoping he handles each step up in class. So far he has.”
With John Velázquez riding, this Take Charge Indy colt is likely to dual Principe Guilherme for the early lead with Instilled Regard not far behind.
“He has a tendency to wait a little bit when he makes the lead,” Pletcher said. “I think he’s gotten better about that in his subsequent works, and he’ll learn how to polish off his work mate and maintain his focus.”
There might be some value on the rail in the Risen Star. Presuming she is not instead sent to the Southwest Stakes, maiden winner High North (15-1) ships in for trainer Brad Cox to make his 3-year-old debut. This comes after a troubled fourth to finish last year in the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs. That was the race in which High North was cut off by a loose horse that had dismounted his rider after clipping heels before the first turn.
“We backed off him a little bit after the Churchill race and let him regroup,” Cox said. “Obviously the Kentucky Derby being the goal we’ve got to make our starts count.”
There is no better place for that than a race that will assure the winner of a place in the Kentucky Derby.
“If you can secure 50 points at this stage,” Asmussen said, “then you pretty much can look at the Derby and go backward from there instead of chasing points.”
Racing notes and opinions
- Mourinho is expected to be favored in Monday’s $500,000 Grade 3 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park. Trained by Bob Baffert, Mourinho returns to the site of his victory last month as an odds-on favorite in the Smarty Jones. He is 40-1 at Wynn to win the Derby and was 31-1 in the second KDFW pool. There appears to be a lot of front-end speed in this race that was scheduled to be drawn Friday morning. The likelihood of a rainy weekend in Arkansas, though, should play into the hands of 82-year-old trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who saddles Sporting Chance and Kentucky Club, both winners in their only races on wet tracks.
- Choo Choo (9-5) and Paved (2-1) are likely to be the top choices in the $100,000 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields. Never mind that. How is this race on Tapeta still a Kentucky Derby prep? The one time it produced a Derby winner was Charismatic in 1999, and back then there was real dirt at Golden Gate.
- Montauk has a throat problem that will keep him out of the Kentucky Derby. That is what Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners said in a statement last week. The Pletcher-trained colt by Medaglia d’Oro out of an A.P. Indy mare was as short as 10-1 in Derby futures but now will not compete for the Triple Crown. The goal is to have Montauk back to racing this summer.
- Breeders’ Cup Mile winner World Approval will not race in the Dubai Turf. Trainer Mark Casse decided against a trip to Meydan next month. (Having made that trip I don’t blame him, but that is another story.) Coming off last Saturday’s win in the Tampa Bay Stakes, the next step figures to be the Maker’s 46 Mile in April at Keeneland. The key word there is “mile,” which fits World Approval better than a nine-furlong run in the Middle East – or anywhere.
- Kentucky moved closer to passing a permanent tax break for the Breeders’ Cup. The state House of Representatives approved the bill that would make an exception for something called the pari-mutuel excise tax. In other words Kentucky’s government is rolling out the red-ink-free carpet to bring the Breeders’ Cup back more often. The championships will be at Churchill Downs this fall for the first time in seven years.
- The Melbourne Cup will have a bigger purse this year. The November race has been worth 6 million Australian dollars, which equal $4.7 million in our money. The Victoria Racing Club did not put a specific figure on the increase, and it insisted that it is not trying to keep up with the Everest in Sydney. (Yeah, right.) Copying the format of the Pegasus, the Everest is a sprint that will have a purse of $10.2 million in American money come October.
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 guests are longtime Miami TV/radio handicapper Hank Goldberg and Eric Wing of horsetourneys.com. Please subscribe and post a review where available at Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music and Stitcher.