Weekend Prep Predictions: Show Me the Money!

April 5, 2024

Tessuto breaks his maiden Feb. 25 at Santa Anita (Ernie Belmonte/Past The Wire)

By Laura Pugh

This is it! The Road to the Kentucky Derby’s Championship Series comes to a conclusion this weekend, and it aims to do so in style! Races range from coast to coast, one, perhaps the most anticipated of the three, taking place in the very state that hosts the Derby…Kentucky! Bet you didn’t see that one coming.

The Blue Grass Stakes features a deep field, several big names looking to solidify their status against new shooters looking to add their name to the top 20. Baffert brings an imposing duo to the Santa Anita Derby, surprise, surprise. They will be challenged by Sunland Derby victor Stronghold. Lastly, the Wood Memorial a 13-horse field, headed by Gotham and Withers Stakes victors Deterministic and Uncle Heavy, with the unbeaten Tuscan Sky looking to unseat them both. 

How will it shake out? Let’s take a look into my crystal ball. 

Show Me the Good Money

The Blue Grass Stakes is filled with speed, and while he didn’t win his maiden by wiring the field, I get the impression that Top Conor may be in this spot to ensure a fast pace for stablemate Sierra Leone

Dornoch best in the Fountain of Youth (Coglianese)

Despite what his trainer says, not getting the lead could put Dornoch at a disadvantage, seeing as his only two losses have come when he hasn’t been able to wire the field. If he decides to get caught up in a speed duel that could also soften him up to horses that may choose to stalk or close. 

That brings us to Good Money, who was last seen finishing fourth in a very oddly run edition of the Tampa Bay Derby. He entered that race with only a 7 furlong maiden victory to his credit, and wound up setting the pace, when it would seem, by the looks of his maiden, he prefers to stalk. He should get that set up in the Blue Grass, and could very well have first run at Dornoch.

This being his second start around two turns, I think it is likely that we will see an improvement, especially if he’s able revert back to a stalking style. Trainer Chad Brown has an encouraging record with second time routers, winning 25% of the time and finishing in the money at a 60% clip over the last three years. Brown also has a 31% win rate when teaming up with Javier Castellano, and that is exactly who will be piloting Good Money in the Blue Grass Stakes. 

Selections: Good Money, Dornoch, Sierra Leone, & Encino

No Clouds in Tuscan Sky’s Way

The front end looks very crowded for the 2024 edition of the Wood Memorial, with several horses running their best races when wiring the field, including El Grande O, who has finished second in both local preps this season. This will no doubt give him some “wise guy” attention, but I don’t think he truly wants the 1 1/8th miles here, and I think he will be softened up by a strong and contested pace.

Outside of El Grande O, the rest of the horses will very likely wilt after trying to sustain an early pace that is much faster than they are used to, which could cause a pace meltdown. The horse that should be able to inherit the lead from that would be Tuscan Sky, and considering he has one of the strongest late pace figures in the field, I see him kicking clear in an authoritative fashion. 

Deterministic victorious in the Gotham (Chelsea Durand)

Deterministic looks like he’s worth the hype, but from his spot in the four post, with speed on all sides of him, I think he’ll likely encounter some traffic here. Specifically, I think his post sets him up to get boxed in, which will let horses like Uncle Heavy, who we already know likes the distance, and Tuscan Sky get the jump. 

Selections: Tuscan Sky, Uncle Heavy, Deterministic, & Resilience 

Tessuto Gives Bafferts a Scare

I’m not completely convinced Tessuto can win, but his numbers look great, his trainer has been very hot the last couple of weeks… 38% in the last 14 days. The exact record is 8-3-1-3, meaning he has an ITM percentage of 88%. The lone starter that wasn’t ITM was a fourth-place showing, giving him a 100% strike rate for the superfecta. 

Those stats, along with how well this horse did his first time routing gives me every confidence that he’ll be right there at the wire. He’s also likely to sit one of the better trips, along with Imagination, sitting just off of what looks to be a very hotly contested pace. 

Looking at the form, it really looks as though Wynstock is wound tight and primed for a big effort. He’ll definitely have company up front, but if he can snatch the lead Tapolo, who is very likely to send, I think he has a big shot to wire the field. Add in the little tidbit that Baffert and jockey Juan Hernandez are red hot right now, winning at a 37% clip when teaming up this year. 

Stronghold should run well, but I don’t see him trying to go to the front early, which could lead to him getting boxed in. If he does, he’ll be facing much stiffer on the front end than he faced in the Sunland Derby. With his post position, he’s in a bit of a no win situation.

Imagination narrowly prevails in the San Felipe (Ernie Belmonte/Past The Wire)

Imagination, since getting away from Del Mar has been nothing but impressive. He got within a neck his highly regarded stablemate Maymun in their first time versus winners, then followed that up with a win in the San Felipe Stakes. I don’t think he showed us his best that day either. Baffert said Imagination spooked when Scatify tried to bolt going into the first turn, causing him to move to the lead earlier than they wanted. 

In this spot, he should get a similar outside, stalking trip. If he doesn’t wind up expending any extra energy earlier than anticipated, he should be able to show us that big late move that gave Maymun such a scare.

Selections: Imagination, Tessuto, Wynstock, Stronghold

Final Thoughts

The Wood Memorial has had a lot of trouble in recent years having an impact in the Kentucky Derby. I think Tuscan Sky could very well be the first horse since 2015, to have a strong chance to finish in the Kentucky Derby superfecta. He’s got the right running style and appears to have a boatload of talent. 

On the other hand, even though I believe Tessuto will show up and run big, big enough to possibly make the Derby, I am not sure if he will have what it takes to get within the top four in the Kentucky Derby. He hasn’t shown that level of speed and his pedigree does make me hesitant about his chances of enjoying a 1 ¼ miles if the pace is pressured. 

The Blue Grass Stakes has had a lot of success over the past few years in producing horses that have made the Kentucky Derby superfecta, but this year, I think it’s possible that streak is broken. Dornoch did not look great in the Fountain of Youth and Sierra Leone needs to make a forward movement in terms of numbers, while showing he can be just as effective over a fast track. 

All in all, and oddly enough, I feel like the prep that could have the best chance to deliver a horse good enough to hit the top four, is the Wood Memorial. 

Shocking, I know. 

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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