Resilience, Sierra Leone and Stronghold punch tickets for Kentucky Derby


Resilience, Sierra Leone and Stronghold posted impressive victories on Saturday in New York, Kentucky and California, respectively, in win-and-you’re-in prep races on the road to the 150th Kentucky Derby, the preeminent competition for three-year-old thoroughbred racehorses in the United States.

Resilience started the trio of prep races when he won the $750,000 Wood Memorial Handicap (G2) at Aqueduct in New York City. He pressed the pace from the start and pulled away in the stretch for a win by 2 1/2 lengths over 99-1 longshot Society Man and third-place Protective (38-1).

Resilience, who went to the post as the 9-2 third choice, is owned by Emily Bushnell and Ric Waldman, is trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott and was ridden to the victory by John Velasquez. He has now won twice (both in 2024) in his six-race career with a second and a third. Resilience was fourth in his most recent race, the Risen Star (G2) at Fairgrounds in New Orleans.

Morning line and post-time favorite Deterministic never fired and finished a non-threatening eighth of 12 horses.

Some two hours later, late running favorite Sierra Leone roared from next to last on the backstretch to first at the finish to capture the $1 million Blue Grass Stakes (G1) at Keeneland in Lexington, Ken.

Sierra Leone, owned by Peter M. Brant, Mrs. John Magnier and others and trained by Chad Brown, went off at odds of 8-5 and cruised under the wire with the urging of jockey Tyler Gaffalione to win by 1 1/2 lengths.

Sierra Leone has won three of his four career races, with a second in the other. Just a Touch was second with 51-1 longshot Epic Ride finished third in the field of 10. Second choice Dornoch was fourth.

Stronghold, the 2-1 second choice, outdueled even-money favorite Imagination over the final furlong and half in a stirring battle in the stretch to win the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby (G1) at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif. Stronghold, ridden confidently by Antonio Fresu, pressed the pace throughout the race and caught and passed Imagination at the 1/8th pole before prevailing by a driving neck.

Stronghold is owned and bred by Eric and Sharon Waller and is trained by Philip D’Amato, who will send his first horse to the Kentucky Derby. Stronghold has raced six times, with three wins (including most recently the Sunland Park Derby (G3) in New Mexico) and three runner-up finishes on his resume. E J Won the Cup finished third at odds of 23-1.

The winning trio from Saturday join Fierceness (the Florida Derby winner), Forever Young (UAE Derby), Endlessly (Jeff Ruby Steaks), Catching Freedom (Louisiana Derby) and TO Password (Japan’s Fukuryu Stakes) as likely starters and horses to watch at Churchill Downs in Louisville on May 4.

Arkansas Derby winner Muth, trained by the controversial Bob Baffert, is not eligible for the Kentucky Derby because of Baffert’s suspension by Churchill Downs Inc.