A month and a half ago, Ocean Knight (Ocean Goddess, by Stormy Atlantic) debuted at Aqueduct. He won the six-furlong maiden special weight at Aqueduct easily.
Yesterday’s Sam F. Davis Stakes (GIII) was his first race since then. The talent was a given, though a host of questions followed him into the starting gate. Ocean Knight drew the 11 gate in a field of 12, guaranteeing he would be wide for at least part of his trip. He was trying a route for the first time; though trainer Kiaran McLaughlin has a strong strike rate with first-time routers, there was no guarantee he would handle it. He was the least experienced runner in the field; though others were stepping from maiden company into stakes, Ocean Knight was the only one with only one race behind him. Finally, he had been working at Palm Meadows, not Tampa Bay Downs — so, even though the ship was not the longest, it was anyone’s guess how he would handle the notoriously odd track.
Ocean Knight had no idea about any of these questions. He only knew it was race day.
He broke from that outer gate, and settled about two lengths off Catalina Red and Divining Rod. He took the turn three wide, but had no trouble staying within striking range. Down the backstretch he remained to the outside, but gradually gained on the lead. He took the far turn three wide again, outside of both Divining Rod and My Johnny Be Good, was also making his run in between.
With his inside position, Divining Rod hit the stretch first, with My Johnny Be Good and Ocean Knight fanned just behind. Approaching the furlong pole My Johnny Be Good started to fold, but Ocean Knight sustained his rally. He drew even nearing the sixteenth pole. Divining Rod fought back tenaciously when Ocean Knight headed him, but the son of Curlin was just too good. He inched forward in the last few strides to win by a neck.
Once again, Ocean Knight lived up to his promise. He was caught wide both turns, covered more ground than everyone but Bears Personality (the only one drawn outside him), and still hit the wire first. The Derby trail is long, and he has far more to prove between here and the first Saturday in May. He must stay healthy, and continue to perform and progress on race day. Still, that is the same task that every horse trying to get to the Kentucky Derby currently faces, and Ocean Knight is heading in the right direction so far. He has done everything asked of him, and has the time and opportunity to get better yet.