The Lexington Stakes is not a major Kentucky Derby prep race. Not even close - the Florida Derby, Louisiana Derby, Arkansas Derby, Wood Memorial, Santa Anita Derby and Blue Grass Stakes award 100 Derby points to the winner and 40 to the runner-up. In this race only 10 points are up for grabs for the winner. It is likely going to take more than 30 points this year to get a spot in the Derby starting gate, so winning this race alone doesn't help. The three points leaders in this race only have between 10 and 12 points already, so with a win here would require a tremendous amount of luck to get them into the Derby field. It's still worth looking at the race, though, because of the significance of the favorite and because the top three horses are likely looking towards the Preakness more than the Derby at this point anyway. To preview this race, then, we'll just look at those three runners.
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It's not like this race has never mattered, though it has definitely been awhile since it was relevant. In 1999 Charismatic won this race and then won the Derby and the Preakness. Two years earlier Touch Gold won the Belmont after the Lexington. Hansel in 1991 and Risen Star in 1988 both went on to win the Preakness and Belmont. Master Derby in 1975 was the other winner of a Triple Crown race from the Lexington - he took the Preakness that year. So, it's not impossible that this race will matter this year. Unlikely, but not impossible.
Swipe, Flavien Prat, 9/5: The biggest reason I am interested in the Lexington - and why it even matters at all - is because it marks the long-awaited return to action of Swipe, the Breeders' Cup Juvenile runner-up who hasn't run since that race on Oct. 31. The horse and his connections have to be most relieved that Nyquist, the likely Kentucky Derby favorite, isn't in this race. The Juvenile was the fourth straight race - all graded stakes, with the first three being in California - in which Swipe finished second to Nyquist.
You can't fault Swipe's consistency - in seven career starts he has a win and a third to go with five seconds. He was an overlooked horse at 29/1 in the Juvenile, but that performance - he finished ahead of Brody's Cause, the winner of the Blue Grass Stakes last Saturday - and the strength of Nyquist would have been a launching point into a potentially strong spring, but injuries derailed him. He obviously took a while to come back and be ready to run - he would have aimed for a more advantageous spot that would have at least given him a shot at the Derby if he had been ready sooner. His training has been solid, though, and his breeding is solid, so he is worth a look.
Trainer Keith Desormeaux already has a Derby horse in Santa Anita Derby winner Exaggerator, so we know he has a good touch with three year olds right now. Jockey Flavien Prat, a young French rider, is coming off a very strong Santa Anita meet and will be making his Keeneland debut this week after missing the Breeders' Cup last fall due to injury. Intriguing connections and a very talented horse make it tempting to overlook the massive layoff and take a shot.
Collected, Javier Castellano, 2/1: Bob Baffert's real attention on Saturday will be on the Arkansas Derby where his Cupid is the favorite. He's represented here, too, though. Collected looked like he could be a big force on the California Derby trail this spring when he started the year by winning the Sham Stakes. He lost momentum a month later, though, with a very disappointing effort in the Southwest, finishing fourth behind Suddenbreakingnews and Whitmore, who are both facing Cupid in Arkansas. Baffert effectively gave up on the horse's Derby dreams by sending him to Sunland Park where the Sunland Derby was cancelled due to an outbreak of illness and replaced later by a non-points race that Collected won over Todd Pletcher's Gettysburg, who is also in Arkansas for the Derby. Now Collected is here on the strength of some characteristically strong Baffert works to see if he can climb into the Preakness picture - though Baffert is surely hoping that between Cupid and Mor Spirit he isn't in need of an injection of new blood for the second jewel of the Triple Crown.
Riker, Florent Geroux, 6/1: This horse dominating the two year old scene at Woodbine in the fall, capping it by winning the Grey Stakes, which Mine That Bird also won en route to his shocking Kentucky Derby victory. Then he took the jump up in class to take a shot at the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. It didn't go well - he set the pace but faded late and finished sixth. That cost his trainer his job, and he was moved to the barn of Mark Casse - a long-time dominant Woodbine trainer who is making his mark south of the border these days. Casse laid him off until the Tampa Bay Derby - a race that has turned into a key one because Derby entrant Destin won it, Wood Memorial winner Outwork was second, and Brody's Cause was seventh. Riker did not seem ready off the layoff, and was a non-threatening sixth. Now he's back, and looking to make the same kind of step forward off of Tampa Bay disappointment that Brody's Cause did.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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