Undefeated in each of his two career starts, Vino Rosso looks very promising.
Each win was by at least 2 lengths, and he did so while increasing distance from 7 furlongs to slightly over a mile, so endurance should not be an issue. The Todd Pletcher trainee is by the two-time Horse of the Year and the 2008 Preakness Stakes winner Curlin, who’s already proven to be a trusted sire with progeny including Stellar Wind, Keen Ice, Irish War Cry, and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Champion Good Magic.
When I looked at Vino Rosso’s past performances, the classic “Pletcher Progression” jumped off the page: maiden special weight win, followed by an allowance-level race. Next on the “Pletcher Progression” is a small stakes, and Saturday’s Grade 3 Sam F. Davis fits the mold perfectly. Pletcher has successfully run horses in the Sam F. Davis over the years, most recently with the 2018 Belmont Stakes winner Tapwrit and the 2016 Belmont Stakes runner-up Destin. He clearly knows if his horses are ready for a bump up in competition.
The Sam F. Davis field will be a bit tougher than the previous horses that Vino Rosso has raced against. Some of the main contenders include the Grade 2 Remsen winner Catholic Boy, the multiple graded stakes-placed Hollywood Star, and the multiple stakes winner Flameaway. This will be an early chance to measure how Vino Rosso holds up against other competitive 3-year-olds, and Catholic Boy has to be the horse to beat. Coming out of a strong winning performance in the Remsen where he beat Avery Island (who came back to win the Grade 3 Withers last weekend), Catholic Boy is actually cutting back in distance, to just over a mile, and will be very tough to beat. Hollywood Star, who is training very well and has an abundance of talent, will be running on late in the patented form of trainer Dale Romans. If Vino Rosso can hold his own against these serious Derby contenders, then he may add his name to the list of viable Derby contenders come May 5.
In both of his races, jockey John Velazquez has done a great job of making Vino Rosso rate, sitting just off the lead and then pouncing once they enter the final stretch run. Johnny V has also not had to use him much beyond just shaking the reins a few times while keeping him under a hand ride. That type of racing style can really benefit him down the road once he gets into the mile and 1/8-type distances. The less that the jockey has to use the horse, the better the horse’s stamina and energy should be later on (Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Belmont). A lightly-raced horse used to be viewed as a negative, but because the Triple Crown Trail is grueling, a fresh horse is always a top priority. To win the Kentucky Derby, horses have to be close to the lead while rounding the far turn, which is the exact style with which Vino Rosso has been getting comfortable. Catholic Boy has a similar running style, so the stretch run could very well come down to the two of them hooking up. Flameaway, a young classy horse that won the Grade 3 Dixiana Bourbon Stakes on a sloppy Keeneland track, seems like he may get to the lead or else run right with Vino Rosso. His only start over a fast dirt track was a sixth-place finish in the Grade 3 Iroquois at Churchill Downs last year. He’s one of the biggest question marks coming into the race, and at this point, I tag him as a horse similar to Exaggerator: leave him off of your tickets on a fast track, but use him on a muddy or sloppy track.
The post-position draw didn’t hurt any of the top horses. Catholic Boy may sit a similar trip that he had in the Remsen, taking back and coming on around the turn. Flameaway may come out running from the gate, as he seems to need to be towards the front in order to remain interested in the race. That leaves Vino Rosso and Johnny V to do pretty much whatever he’d like to do. I expect him to set a stalking trip before eventually hooking up with Catholic Boy in the stretch. However he runs, this undefeated colt will be geared up to face his first true Kentucky Derby test on Saturday.