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Submitted by Noel Michaels on Wednesday, March 14, 2018 at 10:33 AM

Kentucky Derby winter book favorites Bolt d'Oro and Good Magic finally have both made their seasonal debuts as another major round of Derby prep races has been completed, giving handicappers a slightly clearer view of the Derby picture and the clock continues to countdown toward the First Saturday in May.

Headline Derby prep races are happening on a weekly basis now and will continue regularly throughout March and April. To date, however, none were more under the microscope than the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park, which featured the seasonal debut of Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Good Magic, and the San Felipe at Santa Anita, which not only featured the awaited return of multiple stakes winner Bolt d'Oro, but also an early-season marquee match-up between he and this year's leading 3-year-old so far, McKinzie.

While the jury is still out on Good Magic's disappointing third-place return effort for trainer Chad Brown in the Fountain of Youth, there was no disappointment whatsoever in the San Felipe, which lived up to its headline billing as Mick Ruiz's Bolt d'Oro and Bob Baffert's McKinzie put on a scintillating show battling down the stretch to a close finish that needlessly ended up being decided by the stewards in Bolt d'Oro's favor.

Without getting into arguments over the merits of McKinzie's disqualification, let's just say that both horses ran their hearts out in the 1-2 finish and stamped themselves as the top two Kentucky Derby contenders as of mid-March. Bolt d'Oro was returning from a string of training set-backs this winter and ran a giant race under the circumstances, while McKinzie proved himself to be the real deal, never yielding and fighting off a seasoned challenger who looked like he was going to zip right by him but never could.  We will look forward to a re-match, hopefully, in the Santa Anita Derby.

Good Magic, on the other hand was dull and without an excuse (other than the layoff) in the Fountain of Youth, which, instead of a one-sided runaway turned out to be a major flop. On the other hand, the race did prove to be a coming-out party, of sorts, for its winner Promises Fulfilled, and to a lesser extent its second-place finisher Strike Power, who was game in defeat for trainer Mark Hennig.  It was Promises Fulfilled who shined for trainer Dale Romans, however, going wire-to-wire and looking like a legit real deal every confident step of the way, just like he did when breaking his maiden at first asking at Churchill Downs last September. Go back and watch that replay and you will see a first starter meant for bigger things evert step of the way. Promises Fulfilled has now won 3 of 4 career races in front-running fashion, with the lone defeat so far a third-place finish in November's Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs.

In a previous article I had mentioned that the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf had become the ultimate key race for this year's 3-year-old division, and that still holds true. However, the Kentucky Jockey Club has now moved up to rival the Juvenile Turf as an equally potent key race on the road to the Kentucky Derby.

Promises Fulfilled exited a third-place finish in the Kentucky Jockey Club to win the Fountain of Youth next time out. The KJC 10th-place finisher, Bravazo, came back to win the Risen Star stakes at Fair Grounds, and now the 7th-place finisher from that race, Quip, returned last weekend to upset the Tampa Bay Derby.  Also last weekend, the KJC winner, Enticed, who had later run a disappointing fourth in the Holy Bull, rebounded with a win in the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct.

Quip, trained by former Bill Mott assistant Rodolphe Brisset, and Enticed, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, earned helpful amounts of points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby series for their victories and both looked good. However, both horses defeated weak fields in the Tampa Bay Derby and Gotham, respectively, and are still a notch below the overall top Derby contenders at this stage of the game. Each have chances to move up, however, if they can follow-up their wins with repeats in their final prep races.

The next major stop on the Road to the Kentucky Derby will be on Saturday, March 17 with the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park. Probables include the likely favorite, the Bob Baffert-trained Solomini, who was a close second in the G1 Los Alamitos Futurity behind next-out winners McKinzie (Sham Stakes at Santa Anita) and Instilled Regard (Lecomte Stakes).  Baffert seeks to continue his annual domination of Oaklawn's Derby prep races, and has chosen Solomini to be his warrior this week.  Top challengers will include the second- and third-place finishers from the Southwest Stakes, Combatant and Sporting Chance, as well as the Todd Pletcher-trained up-and-comer Magnum Moon, and Mark Casse's Mississippi, who has a penchant for running second.

Noel Michaels' Derby Top 5 (as of March 12)

  1. McKinzie
  2. Bolt d'Oro
  3. Promises Fulfilled
  4. Catholic Boy
  5. Sporting Chance

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