Kentucky Derby Prep School: can Instagrand repay some welcome independent thinking?

Instagrand: this is a big ask for the colt after a six-month layoff. Benoit photo

In his third stop on the 2019 Kentucky Derby trail through the perspective of TRC Global Rankings, James Willoughby turns the spotlight on two of the big trials this weekend.


With the usual weekend delights from Australia, Super Saturday in Dubai and three 50-point Kentucky Derby trials, the international racing fan figures to be never far from the couch this weekend.

In the third capsule of this series – and still smarting at Hidden Scroll’s attempt to defy impossible fractions last week – we will press on with a look at the key clashes from Aqueduct and Tampa Bay Downs this week.


RACE: $300,000 G3 Gotham Stakes
TRACK: Aqueduct, New York
DISTANCE: One mile, half a furlong
DESCRIPTION: Lead-up race to the G2 Wood Memorial, April 6

TOP CHOICE: Instagrand

With the San Felipe at Santa Anita cancelled due to the indefinite shutdown of racing there on safety grounds, the eyes of Californian racing will rest on the opposite coast, where two great Golden State prospects do battle with their Eastern rivals.

The performance of twice-raced INSTAGRAND is one of the biggest talking points of the weekend, because of the strategy of his free-thinking owner, Larry Best. After a massively impressive win in the G2 Best Pal at Del Mar last August, Best took a fit-and-well Instagrand out of training – against the wishes of trainer Jerry Hollendorfer - because it is his view that some horses in the U.S. are asked too much too soon. (Best also feels that the Triple Crown is an unattractive prospect for the same reason.)

It goes against the grain not to heed the view of a top-class operator like Hollendorfer, but good on Best for being able to think independent of tradition. Instagrand seems to hit the ground hard with his forelimbs and may indeed benefit from being spelled, just at the time when he would have been a candidate for top honours in end-of-season championship races like the Breeders’ Cup.

Even with a lengthy series of workouts, however, this spot is a big ask off a six-month layoff. Instagrand is clearly very good, however, and his talent can see him cause quite a stir with victory here.

Bob Baffert sends Much Better on the same journey. This one is more experienced, after five starts, and is interesting because he has something of a turf foundation, running second in a listed race last October, then finishing last in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. Returned to dirt, he ran well to finish third to subsequent G3 Robert B. Lewis runner-up Gunmetal Grey in the G3 Sham at Santa Anita. He’s good but needs to make another step up.

Mind Control has course experience, which is often a key handicapping factor at Aqueduct. He is already a G1 winner in the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga (as is Knicks Go in the Breeders’ Futurity), in which he made all, so being pinched back to the rear early in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile is easy to forgive.

The Stay Thirsty colt won his comeback in the Jerome Stakes here on New Year’s Day, but he was being asked to run virtually the whole way. Can he make more improvement in his second season?


The Shadwell Stable runner is not fast but could benefit from the expected strong pace. He was powerful at the finish when winning the Jimmy Winkfield Stakes over seven furlongs here last time, and he will appreciate the step up in distance with no doubt. Tikhvin Flew, third to him, also has a chance to step up after being used hard in the pace on that occasion.


RACE: $400,000 G2 Tampa Bay Derby
TRACK: Tampa Bay Downs, Florida
DISTANCE: One mile, half a furlong
DESCRIPTION: Lead-up race to the G1 Florida Derby, March 30


Successful in three of his four starts, and defeated only by very useful type in Alwaysmining on his other, the son of Japanese-bred Hat Trick (who got a G1 winner in Argentina in December) smashed a track record which you can view on the track’s website (it was race #7 on January 19) in the Pasco Stakes.

Surely this is a good horse. Although conditions were very fast, the ease which which he made ground into a fast pace, and the way he surged clear in the straight, was very eye-catching indeed.

The worry about Win Win Win is that he missed the G3 Sam F. Davis, which was won by Well Defined. The latter was good enough to run in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, in which he finished 12th, but his time performance does not stand up to Win Win Win’s when you compare the fractions while watching the two videos.

VALUE PICK: Outshine

The Todd Pletcher runner has a lot to prove here, but he has a ton of talent. He ran 22.76sec for the final quarter to win a seven-furlong allowance here on February 10. He impressed with a good burst to take command off the home turn, despite running green.

This is a step up, but only a good horse could have won in that style and he can take advantage of rivals failing to match his own solid credentials.

Previously in this series

Who might have learned enough to shine in the Risen Star?
Hidden Scroll must show he’s up to it between the ears

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