At first glance, Hofburg doesn’t look like a traditional Kentucky Derby contender.
That’s half-true; he’s anything but traditional, yet he’s definitely a contender. So much so that he’s been tagged as the “Wise Guy” horse for this year’s Run for the Roses.
Hofburg debuted for trainer Bill Mott at Saratoga last fall with an even fourth-place finish covering 7 furlongs. While not visually impressive, both the first- and third-place runners, Bourbon Resolution and Lionite, have run in Grade 1 races since, and Mott is not a rev-them-up-first-time kind of trainer.
After a six-month layoff, Hofburg returned at Gulfstream Park in March to break his maiden. Before diving into why this race was ultra-impressive, take a look at the replay (Hofburg is the 11):
His trip was absolutely terrible. Jockey Jose Ortiz askes him out of the gate to rush up, but that strategy backfires immediately, and he’s seven to eight wide on the first turn. Down the backstretch, Hofburg was able to settle nicely, especially for his second time on a race track, and started to move without being asked just after the 1/2-mile pole. Despite being hung four-wide on the second turn, he took over the lead at the top of the stretch. By that point, Ortiz knew that Hofburg was loaded. Notice how he looked back no less than four times to see if anyone was charging, which is a great sign when a horse will be asked to go longer distances in later starts. Hofburg got a little lazy on the lead, but he quickened up nicely when some pressure came from the 10.
Hofburg continued next to the Grade 1 Florida Derby, where he benefited from a hot early pace and chased the eventual winner, Audible, from the top of the final turn to the wire without gaining or losing ground. This was another impressive performance and gave validation that he belongs among the top 3-year-olds in this year’s class.
Hofburg’s progression of races says exactly what Mott thinks of Hofburg. Mott is known for taking his time and allowing a horse to come into his or her own and will generally place horses in more conservative spots instead of pushing the envelope. With Hofburg, he’s chosen to do the opposite, aggressively placing him at every opportunity, and when you dive into his pedigree, you can see why.
Hofburg is by Tapit out of Soothing Gold and a half-brother to Emollient, a horse that won four Grade 1 races, each at distances over 1 1/16 miles. Also on his dam side are two Belmont Stakes winners, Touch Gold and A.P. Indy, so the additional distance of the Kentucky Derby should not be a problem. The Belmont will most likely be his next start if he’s unable to win the Kentucky Derby.
With all of the upside that Hofburg possesses, he will have to overcome some major obstacles to win:
- Lack of experience
- Coming into the Derby with just three career starts is a major issue. He looked green down the stretch in both of his Gulfstream starts and will have to mature.
- Running style
- Stylistically, it looks like he’ll be coming from far back. In a field of 20, he’ll need to get the perfect trip or be very wide. Horses like Justify, Magnum Moon, Good Magic, and Bolt d’Oro will get the jump on Hofburg due to positioning, and I’m not sure that he can run them down in the stretch.
All of this adds up to a tier-two contender. Hofburg arrived at Churchill on April 23rd and galloped 1 1/4 miles over a good track the following day. He’ll have a new pilot for the Derby, with Irad Ortiz, Jr. picking up the mount after his brother chose to ride Good Magic.
On the first Saturday in May, this is the perfect horse to use in multi-race wagers and in the second-, third-, and fourth-place spots on exotic tickets.