Sunday, January 29, 2012

Derby Top Ten #1

The most anticipated race of the year is the Kentucky Derby (GI). As soon as the race is over, many already begin thinking about the next year’s running. There is no doubt about it; the Kentucky Derby is the greatest two minutes in sports.
This is the list of my top ten 2012 Kentucky Derby contenders as of January 29.
1. Union Rags: As the early Kentucky Derby favorite, Union Rags is at the top of many Kentucky Derby lists. The son of Dixie Union won his first three starts impressively before falling a head short to Hansen in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI). However, he showed up in all four of his races in 2011, displaying his sheer talent. He has a fine pedigree and is a very well-built horse with nearly flawless conformation. Upon seeing him in person at the Breeders’ Cup, I was able to tell that Union Rags is a very classy individual that carries himself with much confidence. He has been working out for trainer Michael Matz at Palm Meadows Training Center, posting pleasing workouts over the dirt surface. His most recent work was a 1:00.82 five-furlong work. As long as Union Rags learns to race less greenly and continues to improve while maintaining his incredible talent, he will be very difficult to beat. Trainer Michael Matz is pointing him towards the Fountain of Youth Stakes (GII) at Gulfstream Park on February 26. For more on why Union Rags is a top Derby contender, please read my Derby Hopeful article on him by clicking here.
2. Discreet Dancer: This Todd Pletcher trainee has been incredibly impressive, winning his first two starts – a maiden special weight and an allowance at Gulfstream Park – by a combined 15 ¼ lengths. He is clearly extremely talented and there is no telling how good he is yet. He will need to prove himself against graded stakes company, but it seems as if he should handle the step up in class well. His pedigree may possibly have distance limitations, but with Gone West as his broodmare sire, he may be able to handle the stretch out in distance. What intrigues me most about his pedigree is that his fourth dam is Lassie Dear, a Reine De Course mare who produced Weekend Surprise – the dam of A.P. Indy and Summer Squall. This hints that he may be better suited to routing than many think. His next start is unknown. For more on why Discreet Dancer is a top Derby contender, please read my Derby Hopeful article on him by clicking here.
3: Algorithms: After two impressive victories at two renowned racetracks (Belmont and Gulfstream), Algorithms emerged on many Derby lists. A son of the young, successful stud Bernardini, Algorithms sat near the pace in his debut at Belmont before stylishly drawing off to win by 5 ¼ lengths. He didn’t start for over six months, reappearing in a six and one-half-furlong allowance optional claiming at Gulfstream Park. He sat off the pace before battling the highly-touted Consortium down the stretch. After digging deep, the bay colt prevailed by a length before galloping out impressively. Today in the Holy Bull Stakes (GIII), the Todd Pletcher trainee effortlessly galloped past Hansen to win by 5 lengths in a final time of 1:36.17 for one mile over a sloppy track at Gulfstream Park. His Preakness Stakes (GI)-winning sire, Bernardini, is of course by the Belmont Stakes- and Breeders’ Cup Classic-winning A.P. Indy. The bottom side of his pedigree also hints that Algorithms will be able to stretch out, as his dam is by Cryptoclearance, who produced the Belmont Stakes-winning Victory Gallop, the Prince of Wales-winning Cryptocloser, and the Breeders’ Cup Classic-winning Volponi. Plus, he is a direct descendant of a Reine De Course mare in Qurrat-Al-Ain. Without a doubt, Algorithms has the makings of a successful racehorse and has already been incredibly impressive. I have a good feeling about him. He may make his next start in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (GII) at Gulfstream Park on February 26.
4. Creative Cause: One of the top juveniles of 2011, this son of Giant’s Causeway looks to maintain his class as a three-year-old. He has raced primarily in southern California, other than his game third-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs. He has never finished out of the money and his wins in the Best Pal Stakes (GII) and Norfolk Stakes (GI) were very impressive. By a prominent sire capable of producing distance horses in Giant’s Causeway and out of a grade one-winning mare who won four stakes races at one mile or longer, Creative Cause should have no problem with the Derby distance. Trainer Mike Harrington is pointing him towards the San Vicente Stakes (GII) at Santa Anita on February 19.
5. Liaison: One of the most quickly improving colts on the Derby trail, Liaison has only suffered one loss in his career. After finishing third in a Del Mar maiden special weight, he won his next three starts: a maiden special weight at Santa Anita, the Real Quiet Stakes at Hollywood Park, and the CashCall Futurity (GI) at Hollywood. In both the Real Quiet and the CashCall Futurity, Liaison held off late runs by Rousing Sermon. Though the other colt was closing impressively, Liaison was determined to hold him off and did so, also galloping out in front. This shows me that he does not want another horse to finish in front of him, which is obviously a very important characteristic. With the late Indian Charlie as his sire, many will doubt Liaison’s ability to get the Derby distance, but through his dam, he traces back to several Belmont Stakes (GI, 12F) winners, such as Victory Gallop, A.P. Indy, Seattle Slew, Secretariat, Native Dancer, Nashua, and Blue Larkspur. In fact, his dam directly traces back to the x-factor (large heart trait) carrier Blue Larkspur (as does Creative Cause’s dam). This colt is royally bred and has plenty of heart. This makes for a deadly combination. Shall he continue his awesome performances, he will likely climb higher on this list. Trainer Bob Baffert is pointing him towards the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (GII) at Santa Anita Park on February 4.
6. Rousing Sermon: This colt has become somewhat of a “wise guy” horse. With impressive closing rallies behind Liaison in his past two starts, Rousing Sermon has shown the potential to become a top colt on the Derby trail. He has already started six times and has not yet finished out of the money. After breaking his maiden and running third in two California-bred stakes, Rousing Sermon was victorious in the Bob Benoit California Cup Juvenile Stakes. He followed up that win with two impressive seconds to Liaison. By a young son of the outstanding sire Pulpit and out of an Awesome Again mare, Rousing Sermon’s pedigree features plenty of successful distance horses that produced horses capable of routing, such as A.P. Indy, Alydar, Northern Dancer, Nearco, and Blushing Groom. Rousing Sermon seems to be coming into his own and once he does, he will be difficult to hold off. Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer is pointing him towards the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (GII) at Santa Anita on February 4.
7. Out of Bounds: After his win in the Sham Stakes (GIII) over Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint champion Secret Circle, Out of Bounds found his position on many Kentucky Derby watch lists. He was very green in that race and took much urging from Garret Gomez to reach the front. His stride was very choppy, but since he is a very tall, green horse, that is understandable. Like Discreet Dancer, there are doubts about distance in his pedigree due to being sired by the brilliant miler Discreet Cat. However, he is a grandson of the distance-producing Unbridled’s Song and by being a son of the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (GI)-winning Unbridled Elaine, he is a direct descendant of the 1956 Broodmare of the Year, Swoon. He clearly has plenty of talent and a royal pedigree, but he will need to mature a bit. Trainer Eoin Harty is pointing him towards the San Felipe Stakes (GII) at Santa Anita on March 10.
8. Hansen: The fields he faced in his first two starts may not have been as high quality as those at tracks like Saratoga, Santa Anita, or Belmont, but Hansen proved superior, winning them by an outstanding combined winning margin of 25 ½ lengths. Though many doubted him for running at Turfway Park instead of tracks such as the abovementioned ones, he was able to defeat top two-year-olds when it counted most: the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He proved very tough in that race and never gave up, holding off Union Rags to win by a head. In his sophomore debut, the Holy Bull Stakes (GIII), Hansen stumbled out of the gate before setting blazing fractions over a sloppy track. Algorithms blew right past him, leaving the 2011 Champion Two-Year-Old 5 lengths behind in second. Many doubt Tapit’s ability to produce a sophomore capable of routing, but the sire has produced Careless Jewel – winner of the Alabama Stakes (GI, 10F) at three, Concord Point – winner of the West Virginia Derby (GII, 9F) at three, Rattlesnake Bridge – runner-up in the Travers Stakes (GI, 10F) at three, Tapizar – winner of the San Fernando Stakes (GII, 8.5F) at four, and Zazu – winner of the Lady’s Secret Stakes (GI, 8.5) at three. Yet Hansen’s sophomore debut did not help his case for a successful sophomore routing career. He will need to learn how to relax, as setting fast fractions and lasting in the Kentucky Derby is a very difficult thing to do. Still, Hansen definitely has talent and when he’s on the top of his game, he is very difficult to pass. He may be seen next in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (GII) on February 26.
9. Gemologist: In 2009, a WinStar Farm-owned and Todd Pletcher-trained colt won the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (GII) before winning the Kentucky Derby the next year. In 2011, a WinStar Farm-owned and Todd Pletcher-trained colt won the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes and looks to do the same as the 2009 victor. His name is Gemologist. The son of the two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI)-winning Tiznow is undefeated in three starts, all of which have come in Kentucky. In his Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes victory, Gemologist defeated the highly-touted Ever So Lucky. Another important aspect of his KJCS win was that it was against a large field at Churchill Downs, which gives him a somewhat similar experience to the Kentucky Derby. His pedigree hints that he will have no distance limitations, as his sire, Tiznow, was a successful router and has produced horses of the same ability. Also, he traces back to Native Dancer four times within his pedigree, three times through Northern Dancer. He clearly has sheer talent and an impressive pedigree, but he may need to step it up a notch to be highly competitive on the Derby trail, as his times are not exactly spectacular. His next start is unknown.
1o: Secret Circle: I am not giving up on this colt, who I have followed since his impressive maiden victory at Del Mar. After he won the Jack Goodman Stakes at Santa Anita easily, I saw him win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint in person. It was clear that he had some learning to do, as he desperately needed to learn how to relax. After all, he helped Trinniberg run the first quarter of the Juvenile Sprint in a breathtaking 20.96 seconds. Bob Baffert began working on teaching the colt to relax and took off the blinkers before Secret Circle made his two-turn debut in the Sham Stakes (GIII) at one mile. This time, he settled off the pace before taking the lead as the field turned for home. He ran well, but could not hold off the charge of Out of Bounds. It was a very good learning experience for him and I hope that Baffert will continue trying to route Secret Circle, as the colt is of course by the Pimlico Special (GI, 9.5F)-winning Eddington and out of a Dixieland Band mare. In addition, his fifth, sixth, and seventh dams are all Reine De Course mares. If Secret Circle can continue to learn, he may be able to be ranked higher on this list. Trainer Bob Baffert is pointing him towards the San Vicente Stakes (GII) on February 19. For more on why Union Rags is a top Derby contender, please read my Derby Hopeful article on him by clicking here.
The Kentucky Derby winner's enclosure awaits.
Photo by Mary Cage
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