Can Verifying and Hejazi Rise to Derby Greatness?

January 23, 2023

Hejazi after his anxiously-awaited maiden victory (Ernie Belmonte/Past The Wire)

By Laura Pugh

Want to know how quickly the Kentucky Derby picture can change?

Just ask Hejazi and Verifying. 

The former had an 0 for 4 record last year. Sure he had some nice finishes in Grade one company. In 2023, he finished well behind Cave Rock, who finished a brave second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Verifying did manage to break his maiden last year, but he failed to back up that impressive victory in his next two starts. 

This year, saw tables for those two flip very quick. First to find the winners circle was Verifying, with a 5 ¼ length score in an Oaklawn allowance race. If you measure class by those beaten, the third-place finisher, Two Eagles River, fished just a neck of Smarty Jones Stake winner Victory Formation two starts back.

Hejazi wasn’t running against winners, but his victory was still impressive. One could say that Verifying had a perfect trip in his recent victory… but the same could not be said for Hejazi. Pressed right from the beginning through scorching splits of 21.97 and 44.28. He put away Sully, his first challenger, at the top of the stretch but then had to turn away Worcester late. The victory appeared workman-like, but considering the pressure and splits, the fact he finished up in 6.17 for his final 1/16th says he was really moving. 

Both colts received 97 BSF for their victories, which puts them at the top of the 3-year-old heap when it comes to Beyer Speed figures. Those figures are both higher than Instant Coffee earned in last weekend’s Lecomte Stakes. Hejazi also earned a 113 TimeformUS Figure which is among the highest earned in 2023 for his age group. 

Before their starts this week, both colts last race in October and November, respectively, of 2022. It gets said all the time, but it still is just another thing to witness just how fast these young 3-year-olds can mature… especially when given a couple of months to figure it all out. 

Given their pedigrees, it’s not surprising that both are seeing an improvement. Hejazi has a lot of blood that didn’t get started until late in their juvenile, or even waited until after their “third” birthday. Verifying’s sire, Justify, while a Triple Crown winner, didn’t get started until Feburary of his sophomore season. That is also the year where his dam, Diva Delite, found most of her success. 

Sure breeding isn’t everything, and these two colts still have a LOT to prove. There is a big difference between a maiden/allowance and a graded stake. However, as stated, this is the time of year we can see the most maturity and improvement in form. 

Contributing Authors

Laura Pugh

Laura Pugh

Laura Pugh got her first taste of Thoroughbred racing when she watched War Emblem take the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in 2002. At that...

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“For a unique and real perspective on horse racing, I read Jonathan Stettin’s column Past the Wire.” Bob Baffert, Multiple Triple Crown winner, Eclipse Award winner, Hall of Fame Champion Trainer

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