Kentucky Derby Prep Impressions

March 27, 2023

Two Phil’s sprints to the finish in the Jeff Ruby Steaks. (JennyPhoto/Past The Wire)

By Laura Pugh

Week One of the final round of Kentucky Derby preps is officially in the books, and as always, we end up with more questions and less clarity. 

Jeff Ruby Steaks

I’ll start with the only race that gave me any sort of clarity. Two Phil’s is not your Kentucky Derby horse.

Don’t get me wrong, it is awesome for sire Hard Spun to get a Kentucky Derby starter, but this horse gives me more General Quarter vibes than Hard Spun. By the way, General Quarters is this colt’s damsire.

General Quarters was mediocre on dirt and turf but EXCELLED on synthetic. He did get a grade one on turf, though one could question the quality of the field he beat that day. His most impressive came in the Bluegrass Stakes, which was run over polytrack at that point, the same surface the Jeff Ruby Stakes is contested over.

Prior to the race it was noted that Two Phil’s was taken away from the Fair Grounds because he was struggling with the long stretch. Turfway Park’s stretch is much shorter, and it was obvious that Two Phil’s LOVED the surface switch from dirt to Polytrack, which made for a very impressive looking victory. 

However, he will return to dirt at Churchill Downs, which is another track with a long stretch. Given these facts, despite the dominant score, I don’t see Two Phil’s as a legitimate Kentucky Derby win threat. 

On his third start, Kingsbarns goes gate-to-wire in the Louisiana Derby. (Hodges Photography/Lou Hodges Jr.)

Louisiana Derby

This should have been easy pickings for Instant Coffee, if he was the horse many thought he was… and honestly, even if he was a cut below that. However, for whatever the reason, Instant Coffee just didn’t have it on Saturday.

Who did have that special sparkle was Todd Pletcher’s Kingsbarns. Not one to normally go to the lead, he found himself in that position after nobody else seemingly wanted to go for it. The son of Uncle Mo waltz through soft splits, going nearly 1:15 for the first six furlongs. When they finally turned for home, nobody could keep pace with Kingsbarn as he spurted away finishing up the final 3/16ths of a mile in :18.20 seconds. 

It’s true, Kingsbarns won’t see a soft pace like that in the Kentucky Derby, however it shouldn’t matter. The Pletcher trainee was content sitting off just off the pace in his first two starts, and that is exactly the style that works best in the Kentucky Derby.

With only three starts, Kingsbarns is attempting to become just the fourth horse in history to win the Kentucky Derby with only three prior starts, and only the third with no starts as a two-year old. To date, only Apollo and Justify have succeeded in that endeavor. The talent seems to be there, but is it enough defy that much history?

Derma Sotogake went to No. 2 on the Derby Leaderboard with his victory in the UAE Derby. (Dubai Race Course)

UAE Derby

Japan won this race in 2022 with Crown Pride, who subsequently finished up the track in the Kentucky Derby after setting insanely fast early splits. Given this history of this race as a Kentucky Derby prep, one wouldn’t expect much different, but Derma Sotogake looked extremely impressive in his romping victory. 

The son of top American sprinter Mind Your Biscuits couldn’t have looked more impressive or professional. Similar to Kingsbarns, he’s not one to go to the lead, but that is where he found himself in the UAE Derby, and he made it work to his advantage, widening his advantage through the entire stretch. 

The UAE Derby has historically been a horrific prep. It could be because it only attracted subpar horses, or maybe it’s too much travel in too little time for several young horses. Maybe a combination of the two. Derma Sotogake, however, is a prime example of how Japan could be changing that. 

They’ve up graded their breeding program and have modernized their training methods, and in recent years they have been utterly dominant on the international stage. If their success continues in this race, it is fair to assume that they will take that success to the Kentucky Derby. Whether it will be Derma Sotogake who achieves that success remains to be seen. 

@jonathanstettin @bbopjz Fantastic writing, thoroughly enjoyable read.

Jon Bercher (@JBercher) View testimonials