• Prep-race news with latest ante-post odds from British bookmakers
By Nicholas Godfrey
14-1 (price for Kentucky Derby) Known Agenda (Todd Pletcher/Irad Ortiz)
Gulfstream Park (March 27): Florida Derby G1 $750,000, 1m1f, dirt
Owner: St Elias Stable
Things can change quickly on the Triple Crown trail. Odds-on favourite Greatest Honour, who had barely put a foot wrong in two previous wins on the Florida route to Kentucky, could finish only a one-paced third behind Known Agenda.
Transformed by blinkers, the son of Curlin had recorded an 11-length win in a minor event over course and distance a month ago. Breaking in mid-division, Known Agenda saved ground before being produced between horses on the far turn and drawing clear in upper stretch under strong driving; he won by 2¾ lengths over Soup And Sandwich.
Dual Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Todd Pletcher has ‘previous’ here, having won the Florida Derby with Always Dreaming before that horse scored in Kentucky in 2017. He, too, had started the year at Tampa Bay before winning a minor allowance race at Gulfstream.
Greatest Honour’s jockey Jose Ortiz isn’t throwing in the towel, however. “He was the best horse today, but we’ll turn the tables on them on Derby day, that’s for sure,” he said.
Todd Pletcher (Known Agenda’s trainer): “He’s taken a little while to kind of put everything together. We kept seeing talent in the mornings that he wasn’t necessarily displaying in the afternoon but we knew it was there. John Velazquez had ridden him in the Sam Davis and his recommendation was to put blinkers on him.
“A lot of horses are more confident when they’re outside in the clear. When he was making progress up the backside and picking off horses while he was inside and behind horses, I had a pretty good feeling at that point that he was running his race today and that it was a matter of we’re going to find out how good he is.”
Irad Ortiz (Known Agenda’s jockey): “Probably now I have a horse for the Derby, if he stays sound and healthy. It’s always exciting. I had to go to the rail and it worked out great. When I took him out he started rolling. I really like the way he handled the distance. He was better. I like that. He’s a classy horse. He’s not too crazy. You can do anything with him. He’s got a good mind.”
Jose Ortiz (Greatest Honour’s jockey): “He broke a little slow like he always does. I tried to be aggressive but I wasn’t fast enough to make it into a nice position so I had to take him back and drop in. I had Known Agenda in front of me and I followed him the whole way; at the three-eighths pole I kept following him. I felt like I was in contention at the quarter pole but the winner ran a nice race.”
Kentucky Derby betting (Bet365): 7-2 Concert Tour, 5 Essential Quality, 8 Hot Rod Charlie, 12 Risk Taking, 14 Greatest Honour, Known Agenda, Medina Spirit, 16 Helium, Prevalence, Weyburn, 20 bar.
UAE Derby: Rebel’s Romance runs right away
16-1 Rebel’s Romance (Charlie Appleby/William Buick)
Meydan (March 27): UAE Derby G2 $750,000, 1m1½f, dirt
Kentucky Derby talk was in the air after Godolphin homebred Rebel’s Romance came from well back with a strong effort to rout a large international field as he scored by 5½ lengths from hitherto unbeaten Panadol.
In this context, the gelded son of Dubawi’s previous effort when he was only fourth in the Saudi Derby looks a blip. The dirt track in Riyadh is unique, so perhaps that outing is best forgiven now that Rebel’s Romance has taken his record to four out of five in such impressive fashion.
On the downside, his lack of early toe is hardly a positive and the UAE Derby hardly has the most formidable record when it comes to Kentucky. Moreover, Godolphin already have a leading homegrown contender in Essential Quality and trainer Charlie Appleby seemed more concerned with next year’s Dubai World Cup.
Charlie Appleby (trainer): “I think the biggest attribute for Rebel’s Romance today was that he was going to stay this distance. We were always confident that stepping up in trip would be his strength. The Kentucky Derby will be a nice conversation to have over the next 10 days. Thankfully, Godolphin has a very special horse over there in Essential Quality, who looks as though he might have the Kentucky Derby within his grasp. The long-term aim with Rebel’s Romance will be to work back from next year’s Dubai World Cup.”
Jeff Ruby Steaks: Wesley’s Derby first with Like The King
20-1 Like The King (Wesley Ward/Drayden van Dyke)
Turfway Park (March 27): Jeff Ruby Steaks G3 $250,000, 1m1f, dirt
Sire: Palace Malice
Owner: M Racing Group
The primary reason the Jeff Ruby Steaks (geddit?) now carries 100 qualifying points is easily explained by the identity of its owners – Churchill Downs Inc. bought the place in October 2019.
Mind you, while such top-tier status is hardly warranted, the race better known as the Spiral Stakes has produced a Kentucky Derby winner in its all-weather era in the shape of Animal Kingdom (2011).
Moreover, it might be notable again, as this year’s contest produced a potential first Kentucky Derby runner for Royal Ascot’s favourite adopted son Wesley Ward, who scored with Like The King.
Clearly much enamoured of the Tapeta, he surged from the rear to win by a length from another late-running type in Sainthood, who suffered a degree of interference which might have cost him the win. Might, that is.
Either way, a stewards’ inquiry deemed it wasn’t Like The King’s fault and he now had a guaranteed spot in the Derby gate and there was a lot to like about his powerful finishing effort. On the downside, conventional dirt is unlikely to play to his strengths.
Wesley Ward (trainer): “We spaced out some of his races and I think it’s helped because he’s a big, rangy colt He’s always showed an affinity for grass and that’s why we kept him on the Tapeta surface this winter with this race in mind.”