Here is my list of Kentucky Derby contenders as of March 27.
1. Union Rags: He has every reason to be in the top position, as he is clearly absolutely brilliant. He will need a spectacular performance in next weekend’s Florida Derby (GI), but if he’s anything like the Union Rags we’ve seen, he will have the perfect final prep for the Kentucky Derby. For more on why he is a top Derby contender, please click here.
2. Creative Cause: He clearly has plenty of stamina and raw talent. The way he was just beginning to accelerate at the end of the San Felipe Stakes (GII) was incredibly impressive, denoting that this colt is ready for more ground. He could not quite keep up with Union Rags and Hansen in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI), but he did gallop out ahead of them. For more on why he is a top Derby contender, please click here.
3. El Padrino: He is a tough, talented horse, but he will be on the top of his game in the Florida Derby against the likes of Union Rags. He is a versatile colt with plenty of potential, but will need to run well this weekend. For more on why he is a top Derby contender, please click here.
4. Gemologist: He is bred for ten furlongs, has obvious talent, and is improving. He will need to acquire more graded stakes earnings in order to make it the starting gate on the first Saturday in May, but if he does, it will be his third time to race over the Churchill Downs surface, which is more than any other Kentucky Derby hopeful. This gives him a huge advantage. For more on why he is a top Derby contender, please click here.
5. I’ll Have Another: It is discouraging that his connections are waiting so long for his final prep, as it would be benefical for him to get more than two preps into him. However, his win in the Robert B. Lewis (GIII) was very impressive, as he seemed to just be winning for fun. He will face a tough field in the Santa Anita Derby (GI) on April 7 and will need to run a tremendous race, but he certainly seems to have the talent to do so.
6. Bodemeister: He is also improving, which is extremely important. His race in the San Felipe was importantly, though he very well may have been growing fatigued near the end of the race. However, as mentioned, he is improving. His work on Friday was very impressive, as he had to maneuver nine other horses but still effortlessly outworked them all without any asking from Martin Garcia. He should not be underestimated.
7. Mark Valeski: Plain and simple, he will have to win or at least run a very remarkable race in the Louisiana Derby (GII) this weekend. He is clearly talented and full of heart, but he will need to continue to justify his position on this list. He could very well provide Rosie Napravnik with her second mount in the Kentucky Derby.
8. Dullahan: Obviously bred for the Derby, Dullahan has also proven to be talented. His final prep in the Blue Grass Stakes (GI) on April 14 will need to be an impressive effort, but he has already run well over the Keeneland surface, winning the Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity (GI) there.
9. Hansen: He is clearly a brilliant horse that loves to run and he has improved by learning
to rate, but it is still uncertain whether he will get the Derby distance. His final prep, which will be in the Blue Grass, will be against a deep field, but he is already proven over the Polytrack. Also, Hansen has proved that racing over a Polytrack surface prior to making a start at Churchill Downs is a successful strategy for him. He won over Turfway’s Polytrack before triumphing in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill last year.
10. Went the Day Well: It was practically déjà vu when this colt won the Spiral Stakes (GIII) at Turfway on Saturday for Team Valor and Graham Motion. A year prior, Animal Kingdom had won the race for the same connections. Ironically, they both even broke from post four. We all know how the Spiral set up Animal Kingdom for the Kentucky Derby: he went on to win the Run for the Roses. At this stage, Went the Day Well is already a step ahead of Animal Kingdom: he has already been victorious over dirt. Also unlike last year’s Derby winner, Went the Day Well is likely to make one more prep before the Kentucky Derby. Barry Irwin is even more confident in him than he was in Animal Kingdom and rightfully so. Went the Day Well is obviously a very talented colt. He also has encouraging bloodlines. By Derby runner-up Proud Citizen and out of a Tiznow mare, Went the Day Well seems to have plenty of stamina in his pedigree.
Alpha: His connections finally decided on his final prep for the Derby: the Wood Memorial. This will be his stiffest competition of the year and his chance to prove himself. He must run well against the likes of Gemologists and the others likely for the Wood in order to be a top contender.
Cigar Street: Featured in Late Blooming Three-Year-Olds, Cigar Street is slated to make his graded stakes debut this weekend in the Louisiana Derby. It will be the toughest race of his life and he will certainly need to run well to acquire sufficient graded stakes earnings. He clearly has the pedigree to get there and appears to have the talent as well.
Daddy Nose Best: A decent turf horse as a two-year-old, Daddy Nose Best began his sophomore campaign on the synthetic in the El Camino Real Derby (GIII), in which he outdueled Lucky Chappy for a nose victory. His second start as a three-year-old came in the Sunland Derby (GIII), which was his third try over dirt. Though it seemed as if Isn’t He Clever would pull of the win, Daddy Nose Best dug in for the three-quarters of a length victory, drawing away at the wire. This son of Scat Daddy clearly wants more ground and has plenty of talent. However, he will need to prove that he can compete against the very best contenders. Nonetheless, Daddy Nose Best possesses unquestionable talent.
Heavy Breathing: Despite an uninspiring third-place finish in the Spiral, I felt he needed to at least be mentioned. He is beautifully bred, being a direct descendant of La Troienne and a full brother to Frost Giant. The Spiral was the toughest field he’s faced yet and he has already been a mile and one-eighth twice, more times than any of these other horses. Perhaps, he can learn more and get one more start in before the Derby. However, if that is the case, Heavy Breathing will need to win or perform extremely well in that start.
Howe Great: Proven on both dirt and turf, Howe Great has proved to be brilliant. However, his pedigree only gives small hints at stamina. I believe his connections have a better shot with Went the Day Well.
Optimizer: His runner-up finish in the Rebel Stakes (GII) was his most impressive start in quite some time, but the fast fractions set him up for his performance. He has not fared well against the best in the past, but perhaps he has improved. Or, perhaps, the Rebel was a fluke. Only time will tell.
Paynter: He is only on this list for his talent, but I hope that his connections skip the Derby for him. He has the pedigree for it, but not the experience. I would not be surprised if he made a splash in the Illinois Derby (GII) on April 7, but with only a maiden sprint currently under his belt, Paynter is certainly not ready for the grueling Kentucky Derby.
Prospective: His good performances this year may just be due to an affinity towards the Tampa Bay Downs’ surface. He was a successful juvenile in Canada, but did not defeat a single horse in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He will need to prove himself.
Street Life: He has been incredibly impressive and certainly has a Derby pedigree, but Street Life has no graded stakes earnings. He will quickly need to acquire an abundant amount of them to be allowed in the Kentucky Derby starting gate, but if he does not, look for him in later races.
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