International Star took one more step on his way to glory by taking the Louisiana Derby on February 28 at the Fair Grounds. He wore down a very tenacious Stanford to win by a neck with War Story 4 and half-lengths farther back in third. He earned a career best 98 Beyer Speed Figure. He closed into some very moderate splits and the pace in the Kentucky Derby will be much faster which should only help. His rider, Miguel Mena, was beside himself, Mena: “We got another good trip, had a clean run. He was the best horse in the race again today.” And maybe most importantly, he showed the will to win, something that can’t be taught.
International Star took 2 of his 6 starts in 2014 and he opened 2015 winning the LeComte at Fair Grounds going away with a 90 Beyer. In his prior race before the Louisiana Derby International Star took all the worst of it in the Risen Star as he had to break from post 10 but he made the lead at the top of the lane and extended a bit to win by a length with a 93 Beyer. This runner still has some upside to him. Since he won the Grey Stakes at Woodbine last year, his next 5 Beyers have gotten better and the best may be yet to come.
At Gulfstream Park on February 28, the Florida Derby was renewed and over the years, this race has been a major prep. This race has always been important. Spectacular Bid won this race in 1979 and others that made the Florida Derby/Kentucky Derby double include Swale, Unbridled, Barbaro, Big Brown and the 2013 winner Orb.
Last year Constitution was coming off an allowance win when he got the perfect trip in the Florida Derby to win by a neck with a 98 Beyer Speed Figure. This year’s Florida Derby came down to a 2-horse race and it was a dandy. Upstart was the deserving favorite after running third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, winning the Holy Bull and then finishing first in the Fountain of Youth before being disqualified. He ran hard but Materiality had his number. That Todd Pletcher trainee opened his career this year winning at Gulfstream sprinting in the slop. The son of Afleet Alex stretched out the win a $60,000 stakes at 9 furlongs by nearly 6 lengths and he was making his Graded race debut in the Florida Derby. Jockey John Velazquez had him on his high horse early as he chased the early leader, took over quickly, had a length lead at the top of the lane after a mile in 1:38 2/5 and was inching away late to win in 1:51 1/5. He had a sensational 110 Beyer and his future is extremely bright.
Materiality is now a perfect 3 for 3 but he didn’t race as a juvenile and it’s been an impossible thing to overcome for decades as far as winning the Kentucky Derby is concerned. This looks to be a strong sophomore crop but, of course, that will only play out later in the year when sophomores take on older horses – But there is quality here all over the place.
Dortmund and American Pharoah still have preps to overcome to get to Kentucky but these 2 Bob Baffert students are talented and fast. Firing Line, who game Dortmund all he could handle in the Robert Lewis, destroyed the Sundland Derby field in his next race by over 14 lengths. Looking for a Kentucky Derby wild card?
Look no farther than Mubtaahij. He lost his first couple of races but they were on grass. Switched to the dirt in Dubai on New Year’s Eve, he beat a dozen rivals despite breaking poorly. Raced back 15 days later, he again beat a dozen foes winning by 5 lengths. Trained by world-class conditioner, Michael de Kock, he made his stakes debut in a Group 3 and did everything but win when on the wrong end of a photo but tons best of the rest. On March 7, he raced in a mile and three-sixteenth $250,000 affair at Meydan, tracked the leaders and prevailed. The horse that ran second in that race was a perfect 10 for 10 going into the event.
And late in February, Mubtaahii took to UAE Derby and will be going to Kentucky. The value should be there.
Brian Mulligan was the Daily Racing Form’s main West Coast line-maker for nearly two decades writing under the non de plume of “SWEEP.”He continues to contribute to the Daily Racing Form writing “A Closer Look” analysis.