An Early Look at Some Kentucky Derby Contenders

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Three Kentucky Derby prep races will take place on Saturday across the country: the Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita, the Withers at Aqueduct, and the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park.

The $150,000 Robert B. Lewis (G3) is expected to showcase Gunmetal Gray, the Jerry Hollendorfer trainee who won the Sham Stakes (G3) on January 6. The son of Exchange Rate defeated six rivals in nearly pitch-black conditions that day, running to a 1:38.96 victory over 1 mile. The Robert B. Lewis is 1 1/16 miles, and could also feature Bob Baffert’s Mucho Gusto, Nolo Contento, and Kid Cantina.

Also working in California towards their first Derby preps of the season are undefeated Baffert trainees Improbable, who went five furlongs in 1:02 flat on Saturday, and Eclipse Award Champion Game Winner, who strolled four furlongs in :48.60 on the 20th. It was only his second work back following a win in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) in November. Unbeaten Instagrad (Hollendorfer), off since August, has had several works back, including his first five furlong run on Saturday in 1:02.20.

The $250,000 Withers Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct is a stepping stone to the Wood Memorial (G1) in April. This year, the race will pit Mind Control (Sacco) - winner of the Jerome on New Year’s Day - against Tax, Our Braintrust, and Sir Winston. 

Florida has already had their first Derby prep, with Mihos (Jimmy Jerkens) winning the Mucho Macho Man Stakes on January 5. The son of Cairo Prince outlasted Trophy Chaser that day; both are pointing for stakes races later in the meet. The $350,000 Holy Bull (G2) is a stepping stone towards the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) on March 2. Maximus Mischief, the undefeated Remsen winner trained by Butch Reid, will headline the Holy Bull.

There is no shortage of excellent horses prepping in Florida. Impressive maiden winner Kentucky Wildcat (Albertrani) is gearing up to run in the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on February 9. The horse he beat in his maiden score, Country House, came back to win at Gulfstream Park by 3 ½ lengths. Hidden Scroll (Mott) turned heads with a 14-length romp in his debut at Gulfstream on Saturday; the question is whether or not it was a fluke because of the wet surface of the track.

Oaklawn has also run their first big sophomore race, with Gray Attempt (Fires) winning the Smarty Jones Stakes on the 25th. The son of Graydar scored by a neck over Long Range Toddy, with favored Bankit finishing sixth. The first major Derby prep at the Fair Grounds was the LeComte Stakes, won by War of Will (Casse). He had previously run in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) as a maiden and finished fifth, then got his first victory in a Churchill Downs maiden race 22 days later. He was grade 1 placed in his second start last September.

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