Making the Grade, which will run through the 2019 Belmont Stakes, focuses on the winners or top performers of the key races, usually from the previous weekend, who could impact the Triple Crown. We’ll be taking a close look at impressive winners and evaluating their chances to win classic races based upon ability, running style, connections (owner, trainer, jockey), and pedigree.
Well Defined took a significant step forward on Feb. 9 in the $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes when he led from start to finish en route to his first graded stakes victory. The dark bay or brown gelding has flashed dazzling performances in his seven career starts, but those flashy wins are mixed with a few disappointing performances that stand out as a cause for concern. Let’s evaluate Well Defined’s chances to become a major player on the Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve.
Ability: A homebred of Gil and Marilyn Campbell’s Stonehedge operation in Williston, Fla., Well Defined sparkled in his career debut when scoring a front-running victory by 3 ¾ lengths on June 2, 2018, at Gulfstream Park.
He pressed the pace from second in his next start on July 6 and faded to seventh before again dictating the pace and running second by a half-length in the FTBOA Florida Sire Affirmed Stakes on Sept. 1, both at Gulfstream.
In his fourth start, Well Defined turned in the type of eye-catching victory that every owner dreams of when leading at every point of call on his way to a 7 ½-length runaway in his first try around two turns in the 1 1/16-mile FTBOA Florida Sire In Reality Stakes on Sept. 29. He earned a monster 111 Equibase Speed Figure and a very strong 91 Beyer Speed Figure that both indicated he had potential to be special.
Well Defined’s In Reality tour de force led to a start in the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on Nov. 2 at Churchill Downs. Champagne Stakes winner Complexity seized command early in that race while Well Defined raced in third, a length back, through the opening quarter-mile and fourth by three lengths through a half-mile. Unable to set the pace against elite competition, Well Defined faded late and finished 12th of 13, beaten by 21 ¾ lengths.
By this point, the pattern seems pretty clear. If Well Defined takes command early he is extremely difficult to beat, but if he’s forced to rate behind horses the results have not been positive.
In his 3-year-old bow in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes going a mile on Jan. 5, Well Defined could not beat longshot Gladiator King to the front. He raced in second through the first quarter-mile and then faded to a well-beaten fifth.
Given how well he’d performed when setting the pace, it made sense that first-time rider Pablo Morales went right to the front in the 1 1/16-mile Sam F. Davis in what looked like an make-or-break race on the Derby trail for the Florida-bred gelding.
Well Defined opened a three-length lead through an opening quarter-mile in 23.23 seconds and maintained a clear advantage into the stretch, where he pulled away to win by 2 ¾ lengths at 7-1 odds.
Well Defined completed his final sixteenth of a mile in 6.29 seconds and his final five-sixteenths of a mile in :30.99, so he was still moving quite well in the final stages of the race.
He earned a 97 Equibase Speed Figure, which matched what he posted in the Affirmed but was still 14 points off his career-best 111 earned for winning the In Reality. The 93 Beyer Speed Figure for Well Defined’s Sam F. Davis win was just three points off the best figure (96, Tax, Withers Stakes) for the eight Derby scoring races in 2019 to date.
Running style: It’s crystal clear from Well Defined’s seven starts that he prefers to set the pace in his races and the results are significantly better when he is able to take command early. He has a high cruising speed, which should be viewed as an asset, but the fact that he seems to pack it in late if he does not dictate the pace is a significant concern. There is never a shortage of runners vying to set the pace or race just off the early leader in the Kentucky Derby. As we saw in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, a scenario in which Well Defined drops back early out of his comfort zone could mean his chances are entirely determined by the first 100 yards of the race when 20 horses form a cavalry charge into the first turn.
Connections: Gil and Marilyn Campbell in 1988 purchased the Waldemar Farms, the birthplace of 1975 Kentucky Derby winner Foolish Pleasure, and started Stonehedge Farm South. According to the farm’s website, Stonehedge breeds, foals, sells, trains, and rehabs horses on the 500-acre property that can accommodate 180 horses. Larry King, whose father managed Waldemar, is the farm manager at Stonehedge.
The Campbells have raised dozens of stakes winners on the property and as owners won the Tampa Bay Derby in 2011 with Watch Me Go. Other graded stakes winners raced by the couple include Always Sunshine, Friel’s For Real, Blazing Sword, and Ivanavinalot, the latter a Grade 2 winner who is the dam of champion Songbird.
Watch Me Go finished 18th in the 2011 Kentucky Derby for the Campbells.
Kathleen O’Connell has won 2,047 races since taking out her trainer’s license in 1981 and has amassed 75 stakes wins and eight graded stakes victories through Feb. 11. A former exercise rider from Detroit, O’Connell ranks second all time among female trainers by career wins. She trained Blazing Sword and Ivanavinalot for the Campbells and also trained elite turf sprinter Lady Shipman and last year’s Grade 2 Princess Rooney Stakes winner Stormy Embrace.
Pablo Morales is one of five jockeys to ride Well Defined. Morales has won 1,747 races since he took out his jockey’s license in 2005, including 40 stakes victories. Well Defined’s win in the Sam F. Davis was Morales’ second graded stakes triumph; his other came aboard The Daddy in the 2005 Super Derby more than 14 ½ years ago.
Pedigree: Well Defined is from the ninth crop of Grade 2 winner With Distinction, by Storm Cat. With Distinction was a stakes winner sprinting who ran second by three-quarters of a length in the Grade 2 San Antonio Stakes going 1 1/8 miles in 2006. Well Defined is one of 30 stakes winners sired by With Distinction, including multiple graded stakes winner Distinctiv Passion and his leading earner Decisive Moment. Multiple stakes winner Merit Man ran third in the 2013 Florida Derby. Much of With Distinction’s success has come with sprinters as his average winning distance in 6.33 furlongs (a little more than three-quarters of a mile).
Well Defined is out of unraced Fru Fru, whose sire (father), Medaglia d’Oro, provides a stamina influence. His grandam (maternal grandmother) is stakes-winning sprinter Lolabell, by Phone Trick.
Well Defined clearly has the ability to carry his speed around two turns effectively, but this is not a pedigree laden with stamina influences and I think there is reason to be concerned about his ability to defeat elite 3-year-olds at 1 ¼ miles … especially given the fact that he appears to be a racehorse who needs to lead.