The Kentucky Derby. It’s the most anticipated race of the year, the one that immortalizes whatever horse wins the race more than any other race is capable of. Thousands of fans flock to Louisville, Kentucky each year to watch twenty exclusive Thoroughbreds contest in the greatest race in the world while millions tune in on their televisions across the world to watch the Run for the Roses. The Kentucky Derby is the race that defines the sport of horse racing, and it is less than a week away.
In the past few weeks, my Derby Top Ten has been very tightly packed as far as ranking the horses goes. The top eight – yes, eight – are all horses I believe have a very good chance to win the Derby. The final works, as expected, played a major role in the final rankings of these horses. Though this is the final Derby Top Ten of 2012, a final field analysis of the Derby will be posted later this week.
Here is my final top ten list of 2012 Kentucky Derby contenders (as of April 30):
1. Union Rags: He was impressive as soon as he arrived at Churchill Downs, displaying his beautiful bay frame that has clearly filled out and matured. In his first gallop over the track since arriving on Thursday, the son of Dixie Union effortlessly skipped over the track. While training amongst other Derby hopefuls at Churchill Downs, I saw him as a man among boys. His final work was considered by many, including me, to be the most impressive of Saturday’s works. He posted a remarkable final time of 59.80 for five furlongs and galloped out in an notable 1:13 4/5 . According to rider Julien Leparoux in his blog post on ESPN, the colt finished very strongly and could’ve galloped out in 1:12, but plans were for the bay three-year-old to take it easy. By Dixie Union and out of a Gone West mare, Union Rags does not possess bloodlines that scream stamina and distance, but they do appear as if they will allow him to go the Derby distance when combined with his obvious talent and heart. For more on why Union Rags is a top Kentucky Derby contender, including more information on his racing record and pedigree, please click here.
2. Bodemeister: A colt I have followed since he broke his maiden, Bodemeister may very well be the most brilliant – or at least among the most brilliant – of this group. However, he just may be hindered by the quick pace that is sure to form, especially because of Trinniberg’s participation in the race. Yet, his connections believe that this colt is capable of rating off the pace. And he certainly has connections that can be respected and trusted, as both his trainer, Bob Baffert, and jockey, Mike Smith, are members of the Hall of Fame. Should he settle off the lead in the Derby, we could be in for a treat. A son of Empire Maker and the graded stakes-winning Storm Cat mare Untouched Talent, Bodemeister also has the pedigree to aid him in his Kentucky Derby expedition. He was among those that had very remarkable final works for the Kentucky Derby, galloping effortlessly over a muddy track en route to a final time of 59.60 for five furlongs. For more on why Bodemeister is a top Kentucky Derby contender, including more information on his racing record and pedigree, please click here.
3. Creative Cause: He has been moved above I’ll Have Another, simply because he has already performed well over Churchill Downs' dirt surface and got a work in over the Downs’ dirt, whereas I’ll Have Another made his final work at Hollywood Park. By Giant’s Causeway and out of a grade one-winning mare whose dam is a daughter of Skywalker, Creative Cause has a pedigree that implies that he will have no problem with the Derby distance. He also has the talent to run a spectacular race in the toughest race of his life, as he has never finished out of the money. Despite having a shoe issue when he arrived at Churchill Downs two days ago, he worked a tremendous half-mile in 47.80, appearing to handle the surface very well. Creative Cause poses a huge threat in the Kentucky Derby. For more on why Creative Cause is a top Kentucky Derby contender, including more information on his racing record and pedigree, please click here.
4. I’ll Have Another: News that the colt had had extracorporeal shock wave therapy on his topline due to soreness in his back planted seeds of worry into the minds of many. However, trainer Doug O’Neill voiced that nothing is wrong with the colt and that he is doing just fine. I find this extremely easy to believe, as – though I have not used shock wave therapy – my own horses sometimes have soreness in their backs that must be treated and they often perform even better after treatment. Also, he breezed a nice six furlongs in 1:13 4/5 at Hollywood Park in his final work for the Derby following the shock wave therapy. I’ll Have Another, a result of the mating between Flower Alley and an Arch mare, has the bloodlines to back him up for ten furlongs. In addition, he is on a road of improvement and is certainly a gifted colt. For more on why I’ll Have Another is a top Kentucky Derby contender, including more information on his racing record and pedigree, please click here.
5. Went the Day Well: Carrying the same connections as the 2011 Kentucky Derby victor, Animal Kingdom, back to Louisville, Went the Day Well is coming off an impressive victory in the Spiral Stakes (GIII) – just like Animal Kingdom did. Also like last year’s Derby winner, Went the Day Well made his final preparation the Saturday before the Derby and impressed many while doing so. The bay colt completed five furlongs in 1:01 seconds flat, moving over the dirt surface at Churchill Downs beautifully. As a son of Derby runner-up Proud Citizen and the Tiznow mare Tiz Maie’s Day, Went the Day Well will likely relish the ten-furlong distance of the Kentucky Derby. His magnificent final work, combined with his obvious racing talent and stamina-based pedigree, is what moved him up so high on this list. For more on why Went the Day Well is a top Kentucky Derby contender, including more information on his racing record and pedigree, please click here.
6. Gemologist: Undefeated with two wins at Churchill Downs to his credit, Gemologist is clearly ahead of the others in several fields. However, most of the final times in his races have not been exactly spectacular, though he completed a brisk mile in his effortless open allowance victory at Gulfstream. Not only is he unbeaten and gifted, but he has a stamina-based pedigree with Tiznow as his sire and a Mr. Prospector mare that descends from female family ten as his dam. In his final preparation for the Kentucky Derby, Gemologist stayed at Palm Meadows Training Center in Florida to post a half-mile work in 50.39. Though this final time may be a bit disappointing, it must be noted that it was performed over an off track. I would have preferred for him to have his final tune-up at Churchill Downs, but it is certainly to his advantage that he has already been victorious there twice. For more on why Gemologist is a top Kentucky Derby contender, including more information on his racing record and pedigree, please click here.
7. Dullahan: Though he has never won on dirt, he has turned in good performances over Churchill’s main track and has gotten more training over the Louisville track than most Derby contenders. Trainer Dale Romans expressed that Dullahan likes the Churchill surface, which is the same conventional dirt oval over which the colt ran a rallying fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI). However, in his final work for the Run for the Roses, the chestnut colt didn’t appear to handle the dirt track as effortlessly as I wanted to see him handle it, carrying his head a bit higher than usual and moving a bit too roughly, as if he was working too hard to get a grip on the track. This reinforces the worry that he may be a solely a turf and grass horse, but it is an advantage that he has gotten more time to adapt to and work over the track than most others. As a half-brother to Mine That Bird, it is nearly completely certain that Dullahan will be competitive at ten furlongs. For more on why Dullahan is a top Kentucky Derby contender, including more information on his racing record and pedigree, please click here.
8. Alpha: People seem to view him as an unlucky horse, between his gate troubles, bleeding in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, indecisive road to the Derby, and the laceration that became infected after his runner-up finish in the Wood Memorial Stakes (GI). However, he has only run one bad race in his life and that was his disappointing but understandably poor performance in the Juvenile. Since then, he has not finished out of the money. Though I would like to see him train more over the Churchill surface, it is encouraging that the colt has trained and raced on it before, even though it was with a unsatisfactory result. Alpha is bred for Triple Crown distances, being by A.P. Indy’s impressive son Bernardini and out of the stakes-winning mare at eleven furlongs, Nijinsky II’s daughter Munnaya. His final work was a brisk 59.54 seconds for five furlongs over Belmont Park’s training track on Saturday. For more on why Alpha is a top Kentucky Derby contender, including more information on his racing record and pedigree, please click here.
9. Daddy Nose Best: Though he has not fared extremely well against the best of competition, this Steve Asmussen trainee has been impressive this year, winning two graded stakes on two different surfaces. Since shipping from Santa Anita to Churchill approximately a month ago, Daddy Nose Best has had more recent works over the Churchill Downs dirt surface than any other Derby contender, and he has been covering the ground extremely well. In his final work, he looked exactly spectacular while traveling a half-mile in 49.40 for trainer Steve Asmussen, who does not work his horses very quickly. This impressive training over Churchill’s dirt could certainly give him a towering advantage.
10. Take Charge Indy: Despite the fact that many seem to worry about his front-running style, the only start in which he actually set the pace was in the Florida Derby (GI). With horses like Hansen, Bodemeister, and Trinniberg in the mix, Take Charge Indy will need to resort to his previous style of settling off the pace. He seems to have matured with age, but, of course, will need to run the best race he’s ever run in order to capture the Kentucky Derby. One of the most beautifully bred horses in this year’s group of horses pointing towards the Derby, Take Charge Indy is sired by the great A.P. Indy and is out of the multiple grade one-winning Dehere mare Take Charge Lady. Like many other contenders, I would prefer that the colt made his final work at Churchill Downs, but rather it came at Palm Meadows when he turned in a five-furlong work in 1:00.47. He will only gallop at Churchill in preparation for the Derby. For more on why Take Charge Indy is a top Kentucky Derby contender, including more information on his racing record and pedigree, please click here.
El Padrino: Practically forgotten about since his lackluster fourth-place performance in the Florida Derby (GI), it seems as if his impressive victories prior to that had been pushed aside. In winning the Risen Star Stakes (GII), El Padrino showed grit and determination as he defeated eventual Louisiana Derby (GII) runner-up, Mark Valeski, by a nose. Prior to that, he’d easily defeated future Florida Derby (GI)-winning Take Charge Indy in an allowance optional claiming at Gulfstream Park. I find it a bit discouraging that he will have little training time over Churchill, but it is, however, heartening that he should have plenty of incentive to handle the ten-furlong distance of the Derby, as his sire is A.P. Indy’s son Pulpit and his dam is by Giant’s Causeway. His final work came at Palm Meadows, in which he breezed a half-mile in 53.34 seconds. Though this time is very slow, it must be taken into consideration that he worked over a muddy track. Again, it is discouraging to me that he has not trained at Churchill Downs and will only get a small amount of galloping time over its dirt oval. For more on why El Padrino is a top Kentucky Derby contender, including more information on his racing record and pedigree, please click here.
Hansen: Last year’s two-year-old champion clearly has an affinity for the Churchill Downs dirt, having won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile over that surface last fall. He has also been training over Churchill Downs’ Trackside Training Center, which he trained over last year prior to capturing the Juvenile. His final work, in which he posted a time of 1:01.20 for five furlongs, came over that surface. Though he displayed that he could settle when winning the Gotham Stakes (GIII), he showed in the Blue Grass Stakes (GI) that he prefers to go to the lead and set quick fractions while being headstrong. This simply will not work for him in the Derby. You also have to do some digging to find major stamina influences in his pedigree, as he is by Tapit and out of the sprinting mare Stormy Sunday. He’s gifted, but the Kentucky Derby may not be the suitable race for him.
Mark Valeski: A very robust horse, Mark Valeski is coming off two impressive, hard-trying runner-up finishes at the Fair Grounds. He certainly has an excuse for losing the Louisiana Derby (GII), having lost a shoe, but because of that loss and the brief soreness he had from losing the shoe, he has been fairly forgotten about. He has been lightly training over Churchill Downs, displaying his imposing build, and though he looked good in his final work of 1:00.20 for five furlongs this morning, he may not run.
Optimizer: Though he is unpredictable in how well he will run, his final work was relatively noteworthy. Breezing over an off track, the bay colt completed five furlongs in 1:00.40.
Prospective: The Tampa Bay Derby (GIII) winner is entering the Derby off a disappointing finish in the Blue Grass Stakes (GI), but he has looked tremendous while training at Churchill Downs. He is a very muscular individual and though he may be outclassed in this field, he is still an magnificent specimen. Though a bit rank at the beginning of his 1:01.08 five-furlong work, he settled nicely and appeared very ready.
Sabercat: Though rather unimpressive in his 2012 starts, he did show some improvement when finishing third in the Arkansas Derby (GI). He has traveled well over the Churchill dirt and in his final work, he moved over the ground effortlessly en route to a 49.40-second half-mile breeze.
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