Newcomers added as Kentucky Derby field nears completion

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
Sierra Leone wins the Blue Grass Stakes. Photo courtesy of Keeneland
1 of 3 | Sierra Leone wins the Blue Grass Stakes. Photo courtesy of Keeneland

April 8 (UPI) -- Stronghold and Resilience ran their way into the Kentucky Derby field during the weekend with victories in the Santa Anita Derby and Wood Memorial, respectively, all but finalizing a lineup that includes the winners of all the big American prep races and two colts based in Japan.

The strongest showing of the weekend, however, may have been put up by Sierra Leone in winning the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland. He was already ensconced in the Derby field with a victory in the Risen Star at Fair Grounds.


After 35 races on the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" competition, Sierra Leone tops the leaderboard with 155 points, followed in order by 2023 Juvenile champion and this year's Florida Derby winner, Fierceness, and Louisiana Derby winner Catching Freedom. Stronghold and Resilience, outsiders from the top 20 before the weekend, vaulted into the No. 4 and No. 5 spots.


Japanese colt Forever Young, winner of the Group 3 Saudi Derby and Group 2 UAE Derby in Dubai, holds the No. 6 position and T O Password, winner of the "Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby" gets an automatic bid.

The only remaining stop on the "Road" is next weekend's Lexington Stakes at Keeneland, which awards just 20 points to the winner. The results conceivably could shake up the very bottom of the standings where Mystik Dan resides at No. 18 and No More Time at No. 19 with 46 and 45 points, respectively.

We also have results from around the world, from South Africa to Japan and Ireland to Hong Kong, from roses to cherry blossoms, so let's set sail:

The Road to the Roses

If any horse made a statement in the final round of Kentucky Derby preps, it was Sierra Leone in the $1 million Grade I Blue Grass at Keeneland.

The Gun Runner colt balked at the gate, delaying the start, and then got away next-last in the 10-horse field. But with Tyler Gaffalione riding in total confidence, Sierra Leone swept around rivals into the stretch and kicked on past them all, winning by 1 1/2 lengths over Just a Touch.


Epic Ride was third at long odds.

Sierra Leone got his third win from four starts. His only loss came in the Grade II Remsen at Aqueduct in December, by a nose to Dornoch. Dornoch went on to win the Fountain of Youth easily March 2, but finished a dull fourth in the Blue Grass.

Stronghold, last seen winning the Grade III Sunland Park Derby in New Mexico, battled head-to-head with the favorite, Imagination, through the stretch run in Saturday's $750,000 Grade I Santa Anita Derby before prevailing by a neck.

A Ghostzapper colt with Antonio Fresu up for trainer Phil D'Amato, Stronghold now has three wins and three seconds from six starts. Imagination, winner of the Grade II San Felipe Stakes in his previous start, is trained by Bob Baffert and is not eligible to accrue points or run in the Kentucky Derby.

At Aqueduct, Resilience took charge in the lane to win the $750,000 Grade II Wood Memorial Stakes, earning his spot in the Kentucky Derby.

Also claiming a spot is the runner-up, Society Man, who went to the post at odds north of 100-1. Resilience, an Into Mischief colt trained by Bill Mott, finished fourth in the Grade II Risen Star at Fair Grounds in his previous outing.


Society Man, by Good Magic, reported eighth in the Grade III Withers on Feb. 3, and then dropped back into the maiden ranks to get his first victory March 9. He is trained by Danny Gargan, who also has Dornoch in his barn and said he expects both to line up in Louisville.

On the Kentucky Oaks front ...

Friday's $600,000 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland had the first three finishers from November's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies and a hot late-bloomer in a rugged field of eight.

But it was Leslie's Rose, slightly overlooked at the betting windows, who found the extra turn of foot in the stretch and kicked away to a 3-lengths victory. The Breeders' Cup winner, Just F Y I, was second, 3/4 length ahead of the newcomer, Impel.

Leslie's Rose, with Irad Ortiz Jr. up for trainer Todd Pletcher, stalked the pace to the top of the stretch before running on to finish in 1:43.85.

Leslie's Rose started her career with a win at Aqueduct just two weeks after the Breeders' Cup and won again in January at Gulfstream Park in January. She finished third in the Grade II Davona Dale at Gulfstream March 2, which apparently diminished her appeal to the wagering public at Keeneland.


Pletcher said she had an opportunity to go through a tight opening in that race but "she just wasn't experienced enough to do that at that time. ... So we said, 'Let's just stick to the game plan,' and I'm glad we did."

Nothing Like You, with red-hot Frankie Dettori up, blew by the odds-on favorite, Kinza, in the stretch run of Saturday's $300,000 Grade II Santa Anita Oaks and drew off to win by 7 1/2 lengths. Both fillies are trained by Baffert and thus not eligible for the Kentucky Oaks.

Nothing Like You, a Malibu Moon filly, won the Grade II Starlet at Los Alamitos in December but was fourth in the Grade III Las Virgenes Feb. 10, 12 3/4 lengths back of the winner -- Kinza.

Where's My Ring attended the pace in Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Gazelle at Aqueduct, moved when asked by jockey Jose Lezcano and got home first by 4 1/4 lengths as the solid favorite. Regulatory Risk and Gin Gin filled the trifecta slots.

Where's My Ring, a Twirling Candy filly, ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:50.33. She entered the fray still a maiden but did finish second to Kinza in the Grade III Santa Ysabel in her previous start.


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