Kentucky Derby

Kentucky Derby Contender: Copper Bullet

Copper Bullet winning the G2 Saratoga Special (Credit: NYRA/Chelsea Durand)

With five works at Fair Grounds in the past six weeks, Copper Bullet is back on the training tab as he looks to start his 3-year-old campaign.

Since returning from injury, the Steve Asmussen trainee has logged:

  • 4 furlongs in :50.60 on January 15
  • 4 furlongs in :49.80 on January 22
  • 5 furlongs in 1:02.40 on January 29
  • 5 furlongs in 1:00.80 on February 5
  • 5 furlongs in 1:00.60 on February 12

Though everything seems to be progressing nicely for the More Than Ready colt, his connections have not yet picked a Derby Prep to point towards, mentioning that they want the horse to dictate when he’s ready to race again. Co-owner Winchell Thoroughbreds mentioned that they would like to get him onto the Derby Trail before the major preps stretch out in distance, but they’ve also said that they won’t rush him, so if he’s unable to get back on the track soon, then they will most likely hold him out for a possible try in the Preakness. Winchell and Asmussen also have Combatant, currently 14th in the Kentucky Derby point standings with a trio of second-place Prep race finishes, so that may explain their laidback approach to Copper Bullet’s return. They also know how to deal with a championship-caliber horse: aside from 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner, they campaigned the 2014 Kentucky Oaks winner Untapable.

Big 'Cap Wagering Guide

The Grade 2 Saratoga Special winner is very fast and has never finished worse than second, with a record of 4-2-2-0, but just by reading his race line, the colt is also lightly raced. With such a great record and against classy horses like Hollywood Star, it’s a shame that shin issues after the Saratoga Special kept him out of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Along with Bolt d’Oro, he may have been the speed in that race. It will be exciting to see how the young colt matures from 2 to 3, and his connections’ patience could pay off if he continues to improve.

If he’s able to get back on the racetrack in time to earn Kentucky Derby points (and judging by his bullet work on February 12, he seems close), then there could be some serious money to be made. Copper Bullet reminds me a lot of recent Grade 1 Cigar Mile winner Sharp Azteca. He’s fast and looks very comfortable going around one turn. When he finished second by 1 1/2 lengths in his debut at Keeneland on April 26, the winner was 0.88 seconds away from breaking the track record.

The biggest question is how Copper Bullet will handle the increase in distance. In the Saratoga Special, he was able to relax somewhat off of the leaders and stalk the pace before eventually winning by open lengths. His breeding suggests that he should be able to get the distance, but I’m not convinced that this horse ultimately wants to stretch out. If you look at the post-Kentucky Derby career of his sire, More Than Ready, his connections cut him back to sprinting, and I wouldn’t be surprised if, in the end, a similar path is chosen for Copper Bullet. Still, he possesses so much talent that even though he may ultimately cut back in distance to finish his career, he could still produce some winning efforts on the Derby Trail.

At this point in his career, Copper Bullet has more questions than answers, but as long as he’s able to remain healthy and stay in training, this horse will be very intriguing. His Kentucky Derby odds have crept up since his Saratoga Special win: when Future Pool 2 closed, he was 43-1. If he’s able to rebound from his injury and successfully return to the Derby trail, then he could easily out-perform those odds. He was able to compete at such a high level during his 2-year-old campaign that there could be incredible value here at the beginning of his 3-year-old campaign and into the Derby. As hot as Asmussen is and as talented as this colt is, anything could happen.

Until then, I will be eagerly anticipating this horse’s return.

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