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Two Phil's, Kingsbarns Leap Into Derby Dozen

Byron King's Top 12 on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, presented by Spendthrift Farm.

1. Forte  Click Here!
Owner/Trainer: Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable/Todd Pletcher
Pedigree: Violence Queen Caroline, by Blame  
Breeder: South Gate Farm (KY)

Drawn in post 11 in the Florida Derby (G1), last year's champion 2-year-old male could experience a wide trip in the 1 1/8-mile race. But even if he loses a few lengths by running outside, he still ought to be mighty tough to beat. After taking the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) last fall, he won the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) with authority, pushing his record to 5-for-6. "As impressively as he's won a couple of these races, he's kind of come to the wire with his ears up taking everything in," said Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher, a six-time Florida Derby winner.

2. Tapit Trice Click Here!
Whisper Hill Farm and Gainesway Stable/Todd Pletcher
Tapit Danzatrice, by Dunkirk 
Gainesway Thoroughbreds (KY)

Pletcher now is 1-2 in these standings following the Derby Dozen exit of Instant Coffee, who ran a listless sixth, beaten 9 3/4 lengths, when attempting to rally behind a slow pace in the March 25 Louisiana Derby (G2). As for Tapit Trice, the talented gray looked good in his first workout since capturing the March 11 Tampa Bay Derby (G3), breezing a half-mile in :49.82 at Palm Beach Downs March 24 in tandem with stablemate Dreamlike. As well as he ran in the Tampa Bay Derby, closing with a rush after breaking slowly and climbing behind kickback, hopeful to see a more complete performance in the April 8 Blue Grass Stakes (G1) at Keeneland.

3. Practical Move Click Here!
Leslie Amestoy, Pierre Jean Amestoy Jr., and Roger Beasley/Tim Yakteen
Practical Joke Ack Naughty, by Afleet Alex 
Chad Brown and Head of Plains Partners (KY)

The San Felipe Stakes (G2) winner turned in an excellent workout March 26 at Santa Anita Park, roughly two weeks before a start in the April 8 Santa Anita Derby (G1). Breezing by himself, he zipped five furlongs in a bullet :59 1/5 without any urging. At 1 1/8 miles, the Santa Anita Derby should provide a good gauge of this colt's staying ability. He pulled away late in his last two graded starts at 1 1/16 miles, running a bit farther than some other leading stakes-winning progeny of one-turn specialist Practical Joke (i.e. Chocolate Gelato, Tejano Twist, and Little Vic).

4. Geaux Rocket Ride
Pin Oak Stud/Richard Mandella
Candy Ride Beyond Grace, by Uncle Mo  
OXO Equine (KY)

The San Felipe runner-up easily dispatched a workmate in his Sunday breeze at Santa Anita, in which he completed six furlongs in 1:13 while given a stiff gallop out. After a pace-pressing trip in the San Felipe, chasing Hejazi, who weakened to fourth, Geaux Rocket Ride might elevate his game further if able to assert command early in the Santa Anita Derby. The San Felipe was just his second outing after a frontrunning six-furlong maiden win in 1:09 and change.

5. National Treasure
SF Racing, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, Robert Masterson, Stonestreet Stables, Jay Schoenfarber, Waves Edge Capital, and Catherine Donovan/Tim Yakteen
Quality Road Treasure, by Medaglia d'Oro  
Peter E. Blum Thoroughbreds (KY)

Since being withdrawn from the San Felipe with a tender foot, this colt has fired one fast drill after another, with his latest, a six-furlong move in 1:12 1/5 on Sunday being among his most visually impressive. He outworked Reincarnate for five furlongs, then breezed an additional eighth on his own. His connections want him on tilt for his final Derby prep in the Blue Grass. Out of action since finishing third in the Jan. 8 Sham Stakes (G3) at Santa Anita Park, and without any Derby points, he may need a 1-2 finish to garner sufficient points to make the Derby.

6. Reincarnate Click Here!
SF Racing, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, Robert Masterson, Stonestreet Stables, Jay Schoenfarber, Waves Edge Capital, and Catherine Donovan/Tim Yakteen
Good Magic Allanah, by Scat Daddy 
Woods Edge Farm (KY)

On the strength of his troubled third-place finish at Oaklawn Park in the Feb. 25 Rebel Stakes (G2), in which he was shut off in midstretch after being slow to get going early over a sloppy track, he was installed as the 5-2 favorite for Saturday's Arkansas Derby (G1). Before the Rebel, he won a maiden race and the Sham, taking the latter with grit. Stablemate National Treasure got the better of him in a joint drill Sunday at Santa Anita, though it was apparent the connections were looking for a stiffer breeze from National Treasure, who worked an extra furlong after missing the San Felipe with a foot bruise in early March.

7. Two Phil's   Click Here!
Patricia's Hope and Phillip Sagan/Larry Rivelli
Hard Spun Mia Torri, by General Quarters
Phillip Sagan (KY)

Not inclined to overlook the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) winner this year in the Kentucky Derby (G1). Unlike in many years, when turf horses won the Jeff Ruby on Turfway Park's synthetic surface, this colt took it March 25 after going from dirt to synthetic. Two Phil's is a hard-trying, talented 3-year-old—irrespective of surface—similar in versatility to Animal Kingdom, the lone synthetic Jeff Ruby winner to capture the Derby, in 2011. (Rich Strike won the Derby last year after a third in the Jeff Ruby.) Two Phil's even won over a sloppy track at Churchill Downs last year in taking the Street Sense Stakes (G3). His Jeff Ruby was quick (1 1/8 miles in 1:49.03) and he decisively defeated one of the top 3-year-old grass horses in the country, Major Dude.

Two Phil's wins the Jeff Ruby Steaks on Saturday, March 25, 2023 at Turfway Park
Photo: Coady Photography
Jockey Jareth Loveberry celebrates a victory from Two Phil's in the Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park

8. Kingsbarns
Spendthrift Farm/Todd Pletcher
Uncle MoLady Tapit, by Tapit 
Parks Investment Group (KY)

This progressive colt improved to 3-for-3 in capturing the Louisiana Derby (G2), spurting away at the head of the lane and scoring by 3 1/2 lengths. As exciting as his performance was, he enjoyed a favorable trip up front with leisurely splits of :49.60 and 1:14.69 en route to winning the 1 3/16-mile race in 1:57.33, the slowest Louisiana Derby in four runnings at the current distance but a performance that still earned him a 100 Equibase Speed Figure. Runner-up Disarm also ran into traffic problems or he would have been closer to this colt at the finish. This 3-year-old's ability to win on and off the lead should continue to serve him well. 

3/25/2023 - Kingsbarn leads the field into the Fair Grounds Stretch and goes on to capture the 110th running of the Grade II Louisiana Derby.  Hodges Photography / Jan Brubaker
Photo: Hodges Photography / Jan Brubaker
Kingsbarns leads exiting the second turn en route to winning the Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds Race Course

9. Verifying  Click Here! 
Jonathan Poulin, Westerberg, Susan Magnier, Derrick Smith, and Michael Tabor/Brad Cox
Justify Diva Delite, by Repent 
Hunter Valley & Mountmellick Farm (KY)

Trainer Brad Cox tends to give his stiffest drills to his horses two weeks or so before a scheduled start, and so it was for this colt on Saturday. He went six furlongs in 1:12 4/5 at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots in preparation for the Blue Grass, while barnmate Hit Show went the same distance in 1:12 3/5 for the April 8 Wood Memorial Stakes (G2). In winning an allowance optional claiming race at Oaklawn earlier in the year, Verifying pressed the pace and pulled away, a far better trip than when he was fourth after being bottled up in traffic in the Rebel. He also showed promise at 2 by placing behind Blazing Sevens in the Champagne Stakes (G1).

10. Confidence GameClick Here! 
Don't Tell My Wife Stables/Keith Desormeaux
Candy Ride Eblouissante, by Bernardini 
Summer Wind Equine (KY)

Trainer Keith Desormeaux plans to run the Rebel winner next in Kentucky, either in the Blue Grass or the April 18 Lexington Stakes (G3) at Keeneland, or go straight into the May 6 Kentucky Derby. Would not be surprised to see Desormeaux bring this 3-year-old in fresh in the Derby, knowing his colt is already in the race with 57 qualifying points. Desormeaux wants to have a horse with plenty in the tank for the Triple Crown. Two works since the Rebel, coming March 18 and this past Saturday at Fair Grounds, have been relatively easy. Look for him to pick up the pace in his April breezes.

WATCH: Kingsbarns, Two Phil's Score Decisive Derby Prep Wins

11. Rocket Can
Frank Fletcher Racing Operations/Bill Mott
Into Mischief Tension, by Tapit 
Woodford Thoroughbreds (KY)

After racing twice in Derby preps this winter in South Florida, where he won the Holy Bull Stakes (G3) and ran second to Forte in the Fountain of Youth, he travels to Oaklawn Park to run in Saturday's Arkansas Derby. He should provide a barometer of how one of Florida's best stacks up against horses that have been running at Oaklawn and the Fair Grounds this winter. First or second in four consecutive routes, he is a determined colt, though perhaps not with the upside of the divisional leaders.

Rocket Can wins the 2023 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park
Photo: Coglianese Photos
Rocket Can wins the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park

12. Angel of Empire Click Here!
Albaugh Family Stables/Brad Cox
Classic EmpireArmony's Angel, by To Honor and Serve
Forgotten Land Investment and Black Diamond Equine (PA)

While many 3-year-olds are still needing to prove they can go 1 1/8 miles, he has already won the Feb. 18 Risen Star Stakes (G2) at the distance. So class and distance handicappers will likely think more of him than those who emphasize final times and speed figures. The Risen Star developed with a fast early-slow late race shape that played to his closing strength, and his time of 1:51.47 was slow. But 2 3/4 lengths behind him in third was Two Phil's, next-out winner of the Jeff Ruby.