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Kentucky Confidential

Profile: Brilliant Speed

Brilliant Speed before winning the Bluegrass Stakes. (Eclipse Sportswire)

It took him a little while, but Live Oak Plantation’s Brilliant Speed has learned how to be a racehorse. The Dynaformer colt took five tries to break his maiden at age 2, finally getting it right on the turf December 26 at Tampa Bay Downs. Now, he has blossomed at age 3, as evidenced by his explosive, last-to-first move to win the Grade 1 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes on April 16.

That win on Keeneland Race Course’s Polytrack surface propelled Brilliant Speed into the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby, which is run on dirt, of course. So far, all of Brilliant Speed’s highlights have come on turf or synthetic surfaces.

There are, however, reasons to give him another shot on dirt. Brilliant Speed’s dirt efforts were his first two career races, and he broke slowly both times. He rallied to finish a distant fourth in his debut and then tried to stalk a quick pace and got tired next time. He was green — inexperienced looking — both were sprint races, and Brilliant Speed is a much more effective horse going long around two turns. Most importantly, he has matured physically and mentally a lot since last summer.

After the maiden win, Brilliant Speed placed in two good turf stakes races at Gulfstream Park, where he showed he could handle traffic, relax in a pack of horses and fire a big closing move. In the Blue Grass, he passed 11 horses, and ran a final three-eighths of a mile in about 33.40 seconds. That is smokin’ fast.

It is important to point out that a huge closing move on Keeneland’s Polytrack fits the profile of a turf horse more than a Derby horse. Most turf races are a slow procession followed by a sprint to the wire. That style adapts well to Keeneland’s Polytrack.

Dirt races, especially the Derby, are won by horses that can grind out quarter-mile after quarter-mile, probably while taking some dirt in the face. Dirt racing is more about stamina and heart. You will rarely, if ever, see a final three-eighths of a mile in 33.40 seconds in the Derby.

So far in the synthetic era, the best horse on the synthetic generally has not been best on dirt, but Brilliant Speed is consistent — he has hit the board six consecutive times — and he is improving. He also is by Dynaformer, a positive influence at the Derby distance of 1 1/4 miles.

If Brilliant Speed takes to dirt, he is a threat to hit the board in the Derby. Watch his workouts at Churchill for additional clues on the surface question.

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Author PhotoAn award winning newspaper journalist from Chicago’s south side, Pete Denk moved to Lexington, Kentucky, in 2005. He wrote for Thoroughbred Times for five years, as a staff reporter and later as sales editor. Denk headed up the Times’ auction coverage for three years. Still based in horse country, he now works as a freelance journalist and consultant. More by  ›