Derby Preps Load Jet Fuel for Weekend Stakes

March 21, 2024

Rich Strike and Sonny Leone won the 2022 Jeff Ruby as a precursor to his Kentucky Derby Victory. (Coady Photography)

With nine Kentucky Derby Preps remaining, Timberlake remains atop the Leaderboard.

Kentucky Derby Update/Edited

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The Road to Kentucky Derby 150 will kick into high gear Saturday as horses will compete in their final prep races before the $5 million Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve (Grade I) on Saturday, May 4.

The action will begin at 6:25 p.m. (all times Eastern) at Turfway Park where an over-subscribed field of 14 3-year-olds were entered in the 53rd running of the $700,000 Jeff Ruby Steaks (GIII), a race that produced Kentucky Derby 148 winner Rich Strike and Kentucky Derby 149 runner-up Two Phil’s.

About 20 minutes later at Fair Grounds, Lecomte (GIII) and Gun Runner winner Track Phantom leads a competitive cast of 12 3-year-olds in the $1 million Louisiana Derby (GII).

Over the next three weekends, there will be eight “Championship Series” races that will award points to the top five finishers on a 100-50-25-15-10 scale as horses attempt to qualify for the Kentucky Derby.

Endlessly winning the Zuma Beach at Santa Anita Jan. 8, 2023. (Ernie Belmonte/Past The Wire)
Endlessly winning the Zuma Beach at Santa Anita Jan. 8, 2023. (Ernie Belmonte/Past The Wire)

Amerman Racing’s El Camino Real Derby winner Endlessly will ship more than 2,000 miles from his Southern California base to face an over-subscribed field of 14 3-year-olds that entered Saturday’s 53rd running of the $700,000 Jeff Ruby Steaks (Grade III), the marquee race of the Turfway Park season in Florence, Ky. 

The Jeff Ruby Steaks is a pivotal stop for many of the nation’s top 3-year-olds on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. The 1 1/8-mile affair will go as Race 12 of 13 with a post time of 6:25 p.m. First post for the stellar program is 12:45 p.m.

Along with the Jeff Ruby Steaks, the stakes-laden card also will feature the 42nd running of the $300,000 Bourbonette Oaks (Listed); 24th running of the $300,000 TwinSpires Kentucky Cup Classic (GIII); 38th running of the $250,000 Animal Kingdom Stakes; 42ndrunning of the $250,000 Latonia Stakes; and 37th running of the $250,000 Rushaway.

Horses in the Jeff Ruby Steaks will be competing for a total of 200 qualifying points as they attempt to earn a position in the starting gate for the 150th running of the $5 million Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve (GI). The top five finishers of the Jeff Ruby Steaks will be awarded points on a 100-50-25-15-10 scale.

Trained by Michael McCarthy, Endlessly has been brilliant in four of his five career starts with victories in the El Camino Real Derby, Zuma Beach (GIII) and Del Mar Juvenile Turf (GIII). The only blemish on the son of Oscar Performance’s resumé is a disappointing eighth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (GI) when he had a wide journey throughout but was only defeated 3 ½ lengths by Unquestionable.

“We tried to give him a short break after the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (GI) but he’s a feel-good type of horse. He likes to train, and we were able to get him back slowly after that race to the El Camino Real Derby. … His works on dirt haven’t really stood out, they’ve just been steady. He’s a different type of horse than Rombauer (who won the El Camino Real Derby before winning the 2021 Preakness Stakes on dirt),” commented McCarthy.

Endlessly began his 3-year-old campaign in the El Camino Real Derby when he defeated Tapalo by 1 ¼ lengths as the heavy 3-5 favorite. 

Jockey Umberto Rispoli will have the mount in the Jeff Ruby Steaks as the 5-2 morning line favorite.

“I worked him at Del Mar before he made his first start and he’s a very nice horse. In the El Camino Real Derby, I was just taking my time with him early with the speed ahead of me. This type of horse needs to be settled with his action. Around the turn (in the El Camino Real Derby) I had to ask him to get going. Once he switched leads, he took off. I could’ve went another pole,” remarked Rispoli.

Chief among Endlessly’s rivals is Jack Oxley, Harold Lerner, AWC Stables and Magdalena Racing’s Northern Flame. Conditioned by Kenny McPeek and ridden by Julien Leparoux, Northern Flame already banked 18 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby with his third-place finish in last month’s Rebel (GII) along with a fourth-place finish in the Breeders’ Futurity (GI) and fifth-place finish in the Street Sense (GIII).

Several other accomplished 3-year-olds entered the Jeff Ruby Steaks including Iroquois Stakes (GIII) winner West Saratoga, Mucho Macho Man Stakes winner Otello and Riley Allison Derby winner Lucky Jeremy.

“There really isn’t one standout in this race. He’s a nice horse and ran some good races in New Mexico. I’m looking forward to seeing him run in there,” said Bill Morey, trainer of Lucky Jeremy.

One of the few horses that entered the Jeff Ruby who are in search of their first stakes victory is MyRacehorse’s recent Oaklawn allowance winner Seize the Grey. The improving son of Arrogate is trained by two-time Jeff Ruby Steaks winner D. Wayne Lukas, who won this race in 1995 with Serena’s Song and in 1983 with Marfa. Seize the Grey will be ridden by Nik Juarez. 

The Jeff Ruby Steaks Field
P     Horse                         Jockey                   Trainer                     MLO
1     Freedom Principle       Adam Beschizza    Jose Garaffalo           30-1
2     Dancing Groom           Frankie Dettori        Antonio Sano             15-1 
3     Lucky Jeremy              Gerardo Corrales   Bill Morey                  15-1
4     Noted                          Luis Saez               Pletcher                     15-1
5     Agate Road                 Ortiz                       Pletcher                       4-1
6     Northern Flame           Leparoux                McPeek                       5-1
7     Woodcourt                  Luan Machado       Cipriano Contreras      6-1 
8     Otello                          Javier Castellano    Christophe Clement   10-1 
9     Seize the Grey            Juarez                    Lukas                          6-1
10   Endlessly                    Rispoli                    McCarthy                     5-2
11   Baytown Chatterbox    Albin Jiminez          Paul McEntee            30-1
12   West Saratoga            Jesus Castanon     Larry Demeritte          20-1
13   Circle P                       Tyler Conner          Flint Stites                 30-1 
14   Triple Espresso           Ortiz                       Pletcher                     20-1

Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher entered Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable’s Sam F. Davis Stakes (GIII) runner-up Agate Road but stated the colt is likely to scratch to run in the Louisiana Derby (GII).

The Jeff Ruby Steaks will be broadcast live on CNBC and Peacock. The broadcast will span 6-7 p.m. and also will feature the Fair Grounds Oaks (GII) and Louisiana Derby (GII).

Fans can watch and wager on the entire Jeff Ruby Steaks Day program on, the official wagering provider of Churchill Downs Incorporated and the Kentucky Derby. Racing from Turfway Park is also streamed on the Churchill Downs LIVE app on smart TVs.

Announcer Tony Calo will call all the action on Jeff Ruby Steaks Day with analyst Kaitlin Free hosting the simulcast show live in the Jeff Ruby VIP Ballroom with Churchill Downs’ track announcer Travis Stone.

FanDuel TV is another option for fans to watch the action from Turfway Park. Analysts Gabby Gaudet and Matt Carrothers will be on-site at Turfway Park on Saturday to bring live reports and analysis.

For more information about Jeff Ruby Steaks Day and to purchase tickets, visit

Seize the Grey breaking his maiden at Saratoga in July. (Susie Raisher). 
Seize the Grey breaking his maiden at Saratoga in July. (Susie Raisher). 

Hall of Famer DWayne Lukas is familiar with using the Jeff Ruby Steaks as a prep race prior to horses competing in the Kentucky Derby. “The Coach” will attempt to win the Jeff Ruby Steaks for the third time on Saturday with MyRacehorse’s recent allowance winner Seize the Grey.

Lukas, 88, last won the Jeff Ruby Steaks in 1995 (then known as the Jim Beam Steaks) when Serena’s Song defeated the boys before she competed in the Kentucky Derby. In the Derby, she’d finish a disappointing 16th but would go on to become the champion 3-year-old filly and a Hall of Famer.

In 1983, when the race was known as the Spiral, a name then track general manager John Battagliagave the race because it would spiral horses to compete in the Kentucky Derby, Lukas was victorious with his trainee Marfa. Two weeks later, the grey colt shipped back to California to win the Santa Anita Derby (GI) then, just 18 days later, returned to Kentucky where he’d finish fourth in the Blue Grass Stakes (GI) at Keeneland. One week later in the Kentucky Derby, Marfa finished fifth behind Sunny’s Halo

Track Phantom with Joel Rosario aboard coasts to the win. (Hodges Photography / Lou Hodges, Jr.)
Track Phantom ghosted the field in the Lecomte. (Hodges Photography/Lou Hodges, Jr.)

By Fair Grounds media relations specialist Kevin Kilroy

A half-length shy of adding the Risen Star to his Gun Runner and Lecomte wins, L and N Racing, Clark Brewster, Jerry Caroom and Breeze Easy’s Track Phantom headlines 12 males on the hunt for a share of the 200 Kentucky Derby qualifying points up for grabs in Saturday’s $1 million Louisiana Derby (GII) at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. 

The first prep race to offer 100-50-25-15-10 points towards a spot in the $5 million Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve (GI), post time is 6:42 p.m. (all times Eastern) for the 1 3/16 miles stamina test. With eight stakes worth $2.7 million carded for Saturday’s “Louisiana Derby Day,” the 111th running of the Louisiana Derby is the finale of the 12-race program, which begins at 1 p.m. The $400,000 Fair Grounds Oaks presented by Fasig-Tipton (GII) goes as Race 11 (6:08 p.m.) and will award Kentucky Oaks qualifying points (100-50-25-15-10) to the top five in that 3-year-old filly event. 

Track Phantom had everything his own way in the Risen Star (GII). Breaking to the lead and moving comfortably through slow fractions, the son of Quality Road trained by Steve Asmussen was passed in the final stages by Sierra Leone, finishing a half-length shy of sweeping the local preps to date. 

“I generally believe for 3-year-olds, your last race is not good enough for your next one to be. That’s the way it ought to be. (Track Phantom) is a wonderful horse. I’m very fortunate to have him here at Fair Grounds for the 3-year-old series. He has run extremely well in the three prior races here at Fair Grounds. Hopefully we can get him in the winner’s circle again Saturday.” said Asmussen.

“(Hall of Fame) had no excuses with the sloppy surface last out in the Risen Star. We like who he is, like how he came out of his last race, like how he’s trained back and are very fortunate to have this good of a 3-year-old at this time of year in this significant of a race,” Asmussen added.

The Risen Star is the only chink in Track Phantom’s two-turn armor as the colt has won his other three attempts, including dominant victories in both the Gun Runner and Lecomte (GIII). Having racked up 55 points towards the “Run for the Roses,” Track Phantom currently ranks tied for fourth on the Road to the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard.

Drawing the far outside post, the 3-1 morning line favorite will be guided once again by Joel Rosario.

Among his top competitors is stablemate Hall of Fame. Owned by Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith, Westerberg, Gandharvi and Brooke Smith, the Gun Runner colt dazzled in his 10 ¼-length maiden-breaking score on the Lecomte undercard, but he fell flat down the homestretch over the sloppy track to finish seventh in the Risen Star. 

Ricardo Santana Jr. returns to the irons and will break Hall of Fame from gate 2.

Second-choice in the morning line at 5-1 is Albaugh Family Stables’ Catching Freedom. A debut-winner at Churchill Downs in October, the son of Constitution trained by Brad Cox took the Smarty Jones by over two lengths in his first effort going two turns. Finishing third in the Risen Star under jockey Luis Saez to bring his points total to 25, Catching Freedom will have Flavien Prat aboard as he breaks from post 5 in the Louisiana Derby.

“(Catching Freedom has) always been the kind of horse that’s a little funny when he gets off the rail, he kind of wants to lean in a little bit. He’s still a little green, he’s still learning,” said Cox. 

“He’s always been a fairly average work horse but in his last two works he’s been a little bit more into it, finishing up a little better and his gallop outs have been better. I’m optimistic he can take a step forward and he’s had a good five weeks since the Risen Star. We’ve liked what we’ve seen since.”

Cutting the corner turning for home last out in the Rebel (GII), Tony Holmes’ Common Defense rallied up the rail to finish second behind Timberlake. One of two entered by Kenny McPeek, along with Tilted Shamrock Stables’ Real Men Violin, Common Defense ranks 10th in the Road to the Kentucky Derby Point Standings with 27. The dark bay Karakontie colt will be reunited with his Rebel pilot, Brian Hernandez Jr. 

Real Men Violin exits an eighth-place finish in the Risen Star, his first start since running second in November’s Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) and will break from just inside his stablemate in post 9 with Corey Lanerie holding the reins. 

Occupying three of the inside four post positions, the trio of Louisiana Derby entrants trained by Todd Pletcher are led by Repole Stable and St. Elias Stables’ Pilgrim (GII) winner Agate Road. The Quality Road colt exits a second-place finish to No More Time in the Sam F. Davis (GIII) at Tampa Bay Downs where he earned 10 qualifying points. His previous four races were on the turf, including a solid late-kicking fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (GI), defeated by only 2 ½ lengths. Aboard for each of Agate Road’s grass starts, jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. will leg up on the Pletcher trainee, made 8-1 in the morning line.

Pletcher leads all trainers with five Louisiana Derby victories, including saddling last year’s gate-to-wire winner Kingsbarns. Along with Agate Road, he entered Centennial Farms’ last-out local maiden winner Antiquarian and Repole Stable and St. Elias Stables’ Triple Espresso, who would make his dirt debut in the Louisiana Derby. 

Pletcher stated Wednesday that Triple Espresso could scratch from the Louisiana Derby in favor of Saturday’s $700,000 Jeff Ruby Steaks (GIII) at Turfway Park.

Another accomplished sophomore entered in the Louisiana Derby is Ribble Farms, Michael Eiserman, Earl Silver, Kenneth Fishbein, and Daniel Fishbein’s Honor Marie. The winner of the Kentucky Jockey Club returned to the races to finish fifth in the Risen Star for trainer Whit Beckman. 

“I really like the distance of the Louisiana Derby. I think he’s a true mile-and-a-quarter horse,” said Beckman.

Jockey Ben Curtis has been named to ride the Honor Code colt, replacing Rafael Bejarano. 

The Risen Star Field
P     Horse                         Jockey                   Trainer                    MLO 
1     Triple Espresso           Luis Saez               Pletcher                     20-1
2     Hall of Fame               Santana                 Asmussen                   8-1
3     Antiquarian                 John Velazquez      Pletcher                     12-1
4     Agate Road                 Irad Ortiz Jr.           Pletcher                       8-1 
5     Catching Freedom      Prat                        Cox                             4-1
6     Awesome Ruta           Mitchell Murrill        Joey Foster               30-1 
7     Honor Marie                Curtis                     Beckman                     8-1
8     Next Level                   Jose Riquelme       Keith Desormeaux     30-1 
9     Real Men Violin           Corey Lanerie         McPeek                     20-1 
10   Common Defense       Hernandez             McPeek                       6-1
11   Tuscan Gold               Tyler Gaffalione      Chad Brown                8-1 
12   Track Phantom           Rosario                  Asmussen                   3-1

In the last five years, the Louisiana Derby (Grade II) and Jeff Ruby Steaks (GIII) have produced three Kentucky Derby winners and two runner-up finishers.

In 2022, Jeff Ruby Steaks third-place finisher Rich Strike made a bold rally up the rail to defeat Louisiana Derby winner Epicenter by three-quarters of a length at odds of 80-1. 

Just one year prior, Louisiana Derby sixth-place finisher Mandaloun would go on to win the “Run for the Roses” via disqualification over Medina Spirit, something 2019 Kentucky Derby winner Country House was familiar with doing. In that year’s Derby, Country House, who finished fourth in the Louisiana Derby, was placed first via disqualification over Maximum Security.

Mage wins The 149th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, Daniella Ricci, Past the Wire
Mage and Two Phil’s battled in the Jeff Ruby Steaks before they revisited that battle in the Kentucky Derby. (Daniella Ricci/Past The Wire)

In Kentucky Derby 149, Jeff Ruby Steaks hero Two Phil’s briefly took the lead in the stretch but was second best to Mage.

Overall, the Louisiana Derby has produced five winners of the Kentucky Derby: Mandaloun, Country House, Funny Cide (2003), Grindstone (1996) and Black Gold (1924). 

The Jeff Ruby Steaks has produced three winners of the Kentucky Derby: Rich Strike, Animal Kingdom (2011) and Lil. E Tee (1992).

Fans can watch and wager on all the action for the Road to the Kentucky Derby on, the official wagering provider of Churchill Downs Incorporated and the Kentucky Derby.

NBC Sports will air the Louisiana Derby and Jeff Ruby Steaks in a special one-hour broadcast from 6-7 p.m. on CNBC and Peacock.

Another way fans can watch the races is on FanDuel TV, who will be on-site broadcasting live at both Turfway Park and Fair Grounds for the entirety of their cards.

Fans can also stream both Fair Grounds and Turfway Park’s simulcast signals on the Churchill Downs LIVE app, available on smart TVs. 

Down The Stretch ………………

The Road to the Kentucky Oaks will continue Saturday at Fair Grounds for the $400,000 Fair Grounds Oaks (GII) featuring Rachel Alexandra (GII) winner Tarifa and runner-up Intricate. At Turfway, Untapable Stakes winner Alpine Princess will face Cincinnati Trophy winner Maxisuperfly in the $300,000 Bourbonette Oaks (Listed). The Fair Grounds Oaks top five finishers will receive qualifying points for the $1.5 million Longines Kentucky Oaks on a 100-50-25-15-10 scale while the Bourbonette Oaks will award points on a 50-25-15-10-5 scale. Both races are carded as the Race 11 on their respective cards. …

Trainer Chad Brown reported Tampa Bay Derby (GII) runner-up Domestic Product could train up to the Kentucky Derby but would decide after he sees the horse breeze. …

Trainer Christophe Clement reported Deterministic, the come-from-behind upset winner of the Gotham, will make his final prep in the Wood Memorial (GII) prior to the Kentucky Derby. …

The backstretch of Churchill Downs opened Tuesday and trainer Mark Casse was the first barn to ship horses to the grounds ahead of the 150th Spring Meet that begins Saturday, April 27. The first day of training is Friday from 6-9 a.m. …

Late Triple Crown nominations are due Monday, April 1. Those wishing to nominate a 3-year-old to the series that haven’t done so already must pay a $6,000 late fee at …

The 10th season of “Inside Churchill Downs” with Darren Rogers and Kevin Kerstein will begin Friday, April 5 on ESPN 680/105.7 in Louisville.

Through 26 races on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, Rebel Stakes (GII) winner Timberlake remains at the top the leaderboard with 66 points.

Here are the Top 20 horses on the Road to the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard: 

PositionHorseTrainerResumePossible Next StartPoints
1TimberlakeBrad Cox1st – Rebel1st – Champagne4th – Breeders’ Cup JuvenileMarch 30 Arkansas Derby66
2DornochDanny Gargan1st – Fountain of Youth1st – RemsenMarch 30 Florida Derby or April 6 Blue Grass60
3Domestic ProductChad Brown1st – Tampa Bay Derby2nd – Holy BullApril 6 Blue Grass, Wood Memorial or May 4 Kentucky Derby60
4Sierra LeoneChad Brown1st – Risen Star2nd – RemsenApril 6 Blue Grass55
5Track PhantomSteve Asmussen1st – Lecomte1st – Gun Runner32nd Risen StarMarch 23 Louisiana Derby55
6DeterministicChristophe Clement1st – GothamApril 6 Wood Memorial50
7No More TimeJose D’Angelo1st – Sam F. Davis2nd – Tampa Bay DerbyMay 4 Kentucky Derby45
8FiercenessTodd Pletcher1st – Breeders’ Cup Juvenile3rd – Holy BullMarch 30 Florida Derby36
9El Grande OLinda Rice2nd – Withers2nd – Jerome3rd – GothamApril 6 Wood Memorial30
10Common DefenseKenny McPeek2nd – Rebel5th – SouthwestMarch 23 Louisiana Derby27
11StrongholdPhil D’Amato1st – Sunland Derby2nd – Los Alamitos DerbyApril 6 Santa Anita Derby25
12Catching FreedomBrad Cox1st – Smarty Jones3rd – Risen StarMarch 23 Louisiana Derby25
13Le Dom BroEniel Cordero2nd – Fountain of YouthMarch 30 Florida Derby25
14Just a TouchBrad Cox2nd – GothamApril 6 Blue Grass25
15Mystik DanKenny McPeek1st – Southwest5th – Smarty JonesMarch 30 Arkansas Derby21
16HadesJoe Orseno1st – Holy BullMarch 30 Florida Derby20
17Uncle HeavyButch Reid1st – WithersApril 6 Wood Memorial20
18EncinoBrad Cox1st – John Battaglia MemorialTBA20
19Liberal ArtsRobert Medina1st – Street Sense3rd – Southwest3rd – IroquoisMarch 30 Arkansas Derby19
20 Mc VayJohn Shirreffs3rd – San Felipe4th – Robert B LewisApril 6 Santa Anita Derby18

March 30 (five weeks out) 
$1 million UAE Derby (GII), 1 3/16 miles, Meydan Racecourse (Top 5 points: 100-50-25-15-10)

Known possible starters (with trainer): Forever Young (Yoshito Yahagi); Killer Collect (Bhupat Semar); Mendelssohn Bay (Bhupat Semar)

March 30 (five weeks out) 
$1 million Florida Derby (GI), 1 1/8 miles, Gulfstream Park (Top 5 points: 100-50-25-15-10)

Known possible starters (with trainer): Conquest Warrior (Shug McGaughey III); Dornoch (Danny Gargan); Fierceness (Todd Pletcher); Hades (Joe Orseno); Le Dom Bro (Eniel Cordero); Resilience (Bill Mott)

March 30 (five weeks out) 
$1.25 million Arkansas Derby (GI), 1 1/8 miles, Oaklawn Park (Top 5 points: 100-50-25-15-10)

Known possible starters (with trainer): Coach Prime (Bob Baffert); Liberal Arts (Robert Medina); Maymun (Bob Baffert); Muth (Bob Baffert); Mystik Dan (Kenny McPeek); Timberlake (Brad Cox);Time for Truth (Ron Moquett)

April 6 (four weeks out) 
$750,000 Wood Memorial (GII), 1 1/8 miles, Aqueduct (Top 5 points: 100-50-25-15-10) 
Known possible starters (with trainer): Be You (Todd Pletcher); Deposition (Uriah St. Lewis); Deterministic (Christophe Clement);El Grande O (Linda Rice); Tuscan Sky (Todd Pletcher);Uncle Heavy (Butch Reid)

April 6 (four weeks out) 
$1 million Blue Grass (GI), 1 1/8 miles, Keeneland (Top 5 points: 100-50-25-15-10)

Known possible starters (with trainer): Dornoch (Danny Gargan); Epic Ride (John Ennis); Just a Touch (Brad Cox);Sierra Leone (Chad Brown) 

April 6 (four weeks out) 
$750,000 Santa Anita Derby (GI), 1 1/8 miles, Santa Anita (Top 5 points: 100-50-25-15-10)
Known possible starters (with trainer): Coach Prime (Bob Baffert); Imagination (Bob Baffert); Maymun (Bob Baffert); Mc Vay (John Shirreffs); Muth (Bob Baffert); Stronghold (Phil D’Amato);Tessuto (George Papaprodromou); Wine Me Up (Bob Baffert)

April 13 (three weeks out) 
$400,000 Lexington (GIII), 1 1/16 miles, Keeneland (Top 5 points: 20-10-6-4-2)

Note: The possible fields for upcoming Kentucky Derby Championship Series races are fluid as owners and trainers vie for points. Known possible horses mentioned to be under consideration for each race are based on published news reports and other sources. Horses listed in italics are possible for multiple races.

@jonathanstettin That was damn near evangelical. You’re one of the few experts a novice like me can depend on. Keep up the good work!

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