Just because there are no 3-year-old dirt stakes at Gulfstream this weekend doesn’t mean there are no races with Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Bramds (gr. I) implications.
Saturday’s third race, a 1 1/8-mile first-level allowance test, features several potential Derby horses.
Kenny McPeek is high on Casper's Touch, a son of Touch Gold who breaks from the rail in the six-horse field under Julien Leparoux. Casper’s Touch took an unconventional route last year, finishing third in the listed Chesham Stakes at Royal Ascot, a race restricted to horses whose sire won at 1 ½ miles or longer.
After getting over a slight setback upon his return, he broke his maiden at Churchill Downs, drawing off to a 2 1/4-length score going a flat mile. He comes into this race off a bullet :59 work at Gulfstream Jan. 29.
Breaking from the 2-hole is the Mike Maker-trained El Grayling, who finished a disappointing fourth in a Jan. 7 allowance race following a strong second in his dirt debut behind the highly regarded Brethren. If the son of El Prado can return to that form he should make his presence felt in here. Like Casper’s Touch, this is a colt who definitely wants more ground and he will appreciate the stretch-out to nine furlongs. He could be an enticing overlay.
Finishing a neck in front of El Grayling in that Jan. 7 allowance was the Rusty Arnold-trained Shadow Warrior, who will break from post 3 under Javier Castellano. That was only his third start following a three-length maiden score at Churchill Downs. By A.P. Indy, out of the top-class Victory Ride, he is another who will relish the longer distances and will only get better with maturity.
In post 4 is Strike Oil, who scored a 14-1 upset victory in last year’s Coronation Futurity at Woodbine. This will be the son of Forest Wildcat’s first start on dirt, having run twice on grass and once on Polytrack. He will be ridden by Rajiv Maragh for Mark Casse.
Next comes Fort Larned, trained by Ian Wilkes, who broke his maiden last time out, defeating the Todd Pletcher-trained Fairview Heights by a neck in a game effort. He is by E Dubai , out of a Broad Brush mare.
Rounding out the field on the far outside is Shackleford , a son of Forestry , out of an Unbridled mare, who came again in the final furlong to break his maiden at Churchill Downs going seven furlongs on Nov. 27. Trained by Dale Romans, he earned a solid 85 Beyer speed figure, the highest Beyer in the race. He will have to break sharply and should be the pacesetter.
Whoever runs big in here, and does it the right way, will have to be considered a legitimate Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) horse, especially with a 1 1/8-mile score under his belt.
Also at Gulfstream on Saturday is an intriguing seven-furlong maiden race that will feature the Tom Albertrani-trained Kanagaro, a son of Indian Charlie who has turned in three solid efforts in New York; two regally-bred first-time starters from the Pletcher stable, California and Cal Nation; Occelli, a son of Bernardini trained by Kiaran McLaughlin who has been working very well for his career debut; and the Nick Zito-trained Fly Smart, a son of Smart Strike , who also has been working well for his debut.
Making his dirt debut is Benergy, who is one to watch at a price. The son of Tapit finished sixth in his career debut at Del Mar last year for Bob Baffert and now makes his first start since being sent to Dale Romans. He has been training sharply at Gulfstream, breezing six furlongs in 1:13 3/5 from the gate.
There are several others of interest in the 12-horse field, making this an intriguing race.