As one of the horsemen trying to beat reigning juvenile male champion Good Magic in the April 7 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G2), it made sense that trainer Mark Casse would be asked his assessment of the chestnut colt tabbed as the leading threat in Keeneland's signature 1 1/8-mile test.
As the Canadian Hall of Fame conditioner tried to come up with an accurate description of where the son of Curlin currently stands, he admitted he was as perplexed as anyone outside of the Eclipse Award winner's camp.
"You know, I don't know what to think of Good Magic," Casse said during a national teleconference April 3. "He's definitely a good horse. But things change from (ages) 2 to 3, and he has to prove to everyone that he belongs."
On the surface, the colt with the biggest and best hardware on his mantel among his classmates shouldn't need to establish much in the way of validity. But in a prep season that has seen multiple top talents step forward—with more potential freaks still to come—Good Magic heads into Saturday's $1 million Blue Grass Stakes with 2-1 morning-line favoritism in the field of 14, but with more on the line than just needing to add to his 34 qualifying points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.
The best version of Good Magic has already defeated some of the better members of his class, as evidenced by his 4 1/4-length victory in the Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) last Nov. 4. That triumph put the chestnut colt in the history books as the first runner to break his maiden in the Juvenile and also gave the Chad Brown trainee the edge over Bolt d'Oro in Eclipse Award balloting.
When the chestnut colt made his seasonal debut in the March 3 Xpressbet Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2), his connections stressed that as much as they wanted to see him prevail, they most wanted him to get the foundation needed in order to peak in the May 5 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1). His third-place effort that day behind race winner Promises Fulfilled left questions on the table about how much he has progressed, but his team remains confident that his path to the end game is still on point.
"He was carrying six pounds more than anyone else that day (in the Fountain of Youth) which most don't mention that. And... we didn't want to burn out the horse," said Bob Edwards of e Five Racing, which co-owns Good Magic along with Stonestreet Stables. "I think Chad did a phenomenal job of setting him up to collect some points and we lived to fight another day on Saturday.
"It's a prep race for a reason. The horse was coming off a 40-plus day layoff and he was running against good company with extra weight on him. He needed the race, and he got a good blow out of it."
What Good Magic has already proven is that he is capable of making significant strides with his form in a relatively short period.
After running second in his debut at Saratoga Race Course in August, Good Magic was put into a top-level test, where he finished as the runner-up in the Oct. 7 Champagne Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park. Less than a month later, he was defeating the likes of Solomini and Bolt d'Oro in the Breeders' Cup after sitting an ideal stalking trip and splitting foes in the lane.
"He's been training phenomenally and Chad has been managing him with a microscope," Edwards said. "This horse has kind of lived up to everything we have thrown at him. He was coming off a layup and that was intentional, we wanted to rest him. The way he runs with his running style, if they all jump out ahead and (jockey) Jose (Ortiz) gets where he needs to be, it sets up great for him.
"We're looking for him to take a step forward."
Good Magic isn't alone in needing to show that his best self is capable of coming to surface four weeks from now.
Grade 1 winner Free Drop Billy looked very much at home at Keeneland when he captured the Claiborne Breeders' Futurity (G1) there in October, but the son of Union Rags has dropped three since for trainer Dale Romans. His ninth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile is the only time he has been off the board in seven starts, but he was a well-beaten third in the March 10 Gotham Stakes (G3) when cutting back to a one-turn mile.
"His last race he was in trouble the whole way around there," Romans said. "He just has to be himself and he'll be right there. This is a horse who has won at all distances on all tracks and he'll run a big race this weekend."
The Casse-trained Flameaway has quietly become one of the more versatile and consistent runners in the sophomore ranks with his five wins from eight starts coming over dirt, turf, and synthetic surfaces. His first graded stakes score came when the son of Scat Daddy took an off-the-turf edition of the Oct. 8 Dixiana Bourbon Stakes (G3) over a sloppy Keeneland main track.
While he has done some of his best running on the lead—including his Feb. 10 Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3)—Flameaway has also been effective stalking and was beaten a length by fellow Blue Grass entrant Quip in the March 10 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby (G2).
"So far everything has been his game. Winning has been his game," Casse said. "He's an extremely versatile horse. We've thrown dirt, turf, synthetic, slop at him and he usually answers with a very good effort. More times than not he wins."
Quip registered his Tampa Bay Derby victory in his first start since running seventh in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) last November with that Churchill Downs outing being his only loss in four career starts. Fellow graded stakes winner Kanthaka ships in from the barn of trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, having run third to Bolt d'Oro and McKinzie in the March 10 San Felipe Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita Park.
Keeneland, Saturday, April 07, 2018, Race 10
PP Horse Jockey Wgt Trainer M/L 1 1Zing Zang (KY) Shaun Bridgmohan 123 Steven M. Asmussen 30/1 2 2Sporting Chance (KY) Luis Saez 123 D. Wayne Lukas 10/1 3 3California Night (KY) Tyler Gaffalione 123 Michael J. Maker 30/1 4 4Kanthaka (KY) Julien R. Leparoux 123 Jerry Hollendorfer 10/1 5 5Quip (KY) Florent Geroux 123 Rodolphe Brisset 6/1 6 6Marconi (KY) Ryan L. Moore 123 Todd A. Pletcher 15/1 7 7Blended Citizen (KY) Kyle Frey 123 Doug F. O'Neill 15/1 8 8Gotta Go (KY) Chris Landeros 123 Ian R. Wilkes 30/1 9 9Tiz Mischief (KY) Corey J. Lanerie 123 Dale L. Romans 30/1 10 10Free Drop Billy (KY) Irad Ortiz, Jr. 123 Dale L. Romans 5/1 11 11Good Magic (KY) Jose L. Ortiz 123 Chad C. Brown 2/1 12 12Flameaway (ON) Jose Lezcano 123 Mark E. Casse 6/1 13 13Machismo (KY) Jacob Radosevich 123 Anthony T. Quartarolo 20/1 14 14Arawak (KY) Fernando De La Cruz 123 Doug F. O'Neill 30/1 15 15Determinant (KY) Tyler Gaffalione 123 Mark E. Casse 20/1
Keeneland, Saturday, April 07, 2018, Race 10