Final Push of Kentucky Derby Preps Offers Longshots Galore

Final Push of Kentucky Derby Preps Offers Longshots Galore

The final entrance ramps on the road to the $5 million Kentucky Derby (G1) are open in Lexington, Ozone Park, New York, and Arcadia, California this weekend, with a small window of opportunity a week later back in Lexington.

We’re geared up for Saturday’s $1 million Blue Grass (G1) at Keeneland, the $750,000 Wood Memorial (G2) at Aqueduct, and the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby (G1) at Santa Anita Park.

There are top-notch matchups in all three 1 1/8-mile races as most of the entries would need a top 3 finish to earn enough qualifying points to get into the Kentucky Derby limited to 20 starters.

Each race offers 100-50-25-15-10 qualifying points to the top five finishers. The cutoff should be around 40 points.

Blue Grass: Sierra Leone, Dornoch betting favorites

In the Blue Grass, already Derby-bound Sierra Leone and Dornoch face off as nine others look to earn enough qualifying points to put them in the field. Among them are Encino, Just a Touch, and Seize the Grey.

Seize the Grey, a 20-1 longshot, could give four-time Derby winner D. Wayne Lukas as second entry in the Run for the Roses with a top 4 finish. Lukas, 88, also trains Just Steel, runner-up in the Arkansas Derby (G1) and Kentucky Derby bound.

Full field for Wood Memorial

In the Wood, a huge field of 13 is entered for New York’s premier Derby prep. 7-5 favorite Deterministic, winner of the Gotham, has a Derby slot secured with 50 points, but it remains to be seen if trainer Christophe Clement is Derby-bound for the first time. Other than El Grande O (30 points) and Uncle Heavy (20 points, all the rest would need to win or runner-up finish for a Derby shot.

“All his works have been very good and he’s a very athletic kind of horse – the most beautiful mover,’’ Clement said. “He barely touches the ground and moves like a cat. He’s good mentally, too.”

No Kentucky for Baffert, but he’s strong for Santa Anita Derby

Let the others battle it out for Kentucky Derby qualifying points. At this juncture, trainer Bob Baffert (still suspended from the Derby by Churchill Downs, Inc.) is all about winning at Santa Anita and moving on to the Preakness (G1) on May 18.

His Imagination is the Santa Anita Derby favorite at 8-5, but Stronghold (5-2), trained by Phil D’Amato, can qualify for Kentucky with a top 4 finish. He has 25 points. Mc Vay, with 19 points, would need to finish in the top 3. Baffert also sends out Wynstock at 8-1.

Clear Derby picture after Saturday’s preps

When the sun sets Saturday, we’ll have a clear picture of the top 20 Derby qualifiers as well as those on the bubble looking to get in when/if higher ranked 3-year-olds drop out – such as Rebel Stakes (G2) winner Timberlake, no longer on the Derby trail after running fourth in the Arkansas Derby (G1).

Fierceness, after a record-setting 13 ½-length victory in the Florida Derby (G1) on March 30, will likely be the morning-line favorite.

The draw for the 150th Derby is scheduled for Saturday, April 27, a week before the Run for the Roses. Horses in the race must be on the grounds by Saturday under new guidelines this year based on more extensive vet exams.

This poses decisions for trainers, who, traditionally, prefer to work their horses the Saturday before the race at their home track before having them shipped to Churchill Downs.

Lexington Stakes last ditch Derby effort for some

There is one final, final Derby prep, at Keeneland on April 13 – the Lexington (G3) offering 20-10-6-4-2 points to the top five finishers.

It’s a last ditch effort for any 3-year-olds needing a bunch more Derby qualifying points for a chance at running in the Derby.

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