The $400,000, Class 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes Saturday at Churchill Downs is a very important race for 2 year old males on the early road to the 2023 Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve and could provide us with a number of top horses to watch next spring when they her 3 year old campaigns as it awards qualifying points for the 149th Derby among the top five finishers on a 10-4-3-2-1 basis next spring. Last year’s Kentucky Jockey Club winner, Smile Happy, finished second in the 2022 Risen Star Stakes and the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes before finishing eighth in the Kentucky Derby. 2021 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes runner-up Classic Causeway won both the Sam F. Davis Stakes and the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, finishing 11thth in the Kentucky Derby, while last year’s Jockey Club Stakes third-place finisher, White Abarrio, won both the Holy Bull Stakes and the Curlin Florida Derby Presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms in Xalapa before finishing 16thth at this year’s run around the roses.
This year’s group of nine rising stars doesn’t have a standout per se, but they do have a strong field starting with Grade 3 Street Sense Stakes runner-up Hayes Strike. Street Sense 5th place finisher Red Route One was previously 3rd in Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity Class 1 and may have a big impact on the result as does Breeders’ Futurity 4th place finisher Instant Coffee. Then there’s Freedom Trail, who is making his debut on the dirt after winning the Awad Stakes on grass in just the second start of his career, having also won on his debut. Similarly, in September, Gigante won the Kitten’s Joy Stakes on grass ahead of a 10th-Placed in the much tougher Grade 2 Castle & Key Bourbon Stakes last month. Curly Jack is another likely contender, having won the Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes at the Kentucky Jockey Club 1 1/16 mile distance in September before winning the Grade 1 FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance 3 finished fifth out of 10 weeks ago. Cyclone Mischief and Denington go into the race with their first wins and hope to take their game to this level with tiered stakes. Western Ghent rounds out the field after finishing bottom of 10 in the Street Sense.
Red Route One made his career debut with two rounds on grass last summer in Saratoga, no easy feat for a young stud. After finishing fifth in that race, Red Route One improved significantly, winning by nearly four lengths at Kentucky Downs, also on turf, in September. The colt, who switched to dirt for the first time a month later in the Breeders’ Futurity, broke 11th In a field of 14 horses and despite being wide in the far corner, he rallied for third place while the top two were trailed by seven lengths. It was a strong field as winner Forte returned to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, a race Red Route One had entered in the Street Sense Stakes a week earlier. That choice didn’t help, however, as the track got sloppy at Churchill and the colt finished fifth out of 10. Despite this, his performance in the Breeders’ Futurity resulted in a strong 94 Equibase Speed Figure, which ties for best dirt figure in the field with Instant Coffee. Red Route One could be the horse to beat if he returns to this effort. This is especially true as jockey Tyler Gaffalione is a first-time entry and has won by a 25% clip for the past several years riding for trainer Steve Asmussen.
freedom path has the best performance in the last race in this area and increased his record to a perfect two-on-two when he won the Awad Stakes with a 96 Equibase Speed Figure four weeks ago. That win, like his debut win a month earlier, came on turf but the colt has good breeding which suggests he can carry his top form onto dirt. Additionally, trainer John Terranova has won six straight in 27 starts over the past two years, a pretty strong 22% win rate, suggesting Freedom Trail is back on track. Given that this is only the third start of his career and he improved from a debut count of 82 to his final 96, if he continues to improve Freedom Trail has a strong chance of winning for the third time in three starts .
instant coffee finished even, or very close, fourth in the Breeders’ Futurity, just inches behind third-placed Red Route One. That was his first attempt at a two-lap race after his debut seven-stay win at Saratoga a month earlier. Like others in this space, Instant Coffee is on a discernible pattern of improvement, rising from 89 to 94 over the last month. As such, and as last weekend’s Futurity brought in next Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Forte, as well as runner-up in the Bob Hope Stakes has produced, this stallion should be considered a strong contender for this year’s Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes.
The rest of the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes field with its best Equibase speed number is Curly Jack (92), cyclone nonsense (78), Denington (78), giant (81), Hayes Strike (77) and Western Ghent (70).
Red Route One