Monday, April 2, 2012

Derby Top Ten #10

Countdown to Derby Day: 32 Days

Here is my top ten list of 2012 Kentucky Derby contenders as of April 2. Things have changed!

1. Creative Cause: He is bred to run all day, which is certainly an advantage for him. He has learning to do – mostly to run straight – but is clearly a brilliant colt. He seems to be improving and has a tough task in Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby (GI), but if he’s as talented as he has appeared to be, we just may see something special. For more on why he is a top Derby contender, please click here.

2. Union Rags: His third-place finish was likely as a result of a rough trip. He was pressured by El Padrino throughout the race and got caught in traffic around the far turn. When Leparoux was searching for a seam as they sat behind a wall of horses, Union Rags lost his momentum. Yet the way he accelerated once he did find room was quite impressive. What is very encouraging about his Florida Derby (GI) performance was that he galloped past the others after the wire, showing that he is ready for more ground. This colt is brilliant and just came up unlucky on Saturday. Don’t discount him. For more on why he is a top Derby contender, please click here.

3. Take Charge Indy: By A.P. Indy and out of the multiple grade one-winning mare Take Charge Lady, this colt should have no problem with the Derby distance. He has always performed well and ran the race of his life in the Florida Derby (GI), leading from start to finish to win by a length. Perhaps his biggest advantage at the Derby other than his pedigree is his jockey, Calvin Borel – the winner of three Kentucky Derbies. He is a serious contender.

4. Gemologist: He has noticeably improved since his juvenile year, which is tremendously important. He will need to show that he can compete against high-class competition in the Wood Memorial Stakes (GI) this Saturday for two main reasons: to prove himself and to gain essential graded stakes earnings. He is already a graded stakes winner, but he certainly needs more earnings to be allowed into the Kentucky Derby starting gate. Possibly his most intimidating advantage over other hopefuls is his pair of victories at Churchill Downs. For more on why he is a top Derby contender, please click here.

5. I’ll Have Another: He has much to prove this Saturday in the Santa Anita Derby, but one thing is clear about this colt: he loves to run. He was impressive in the Robert B. Lewis (GIII), romping with his ears pricked. However, he has not started since that graded stakes triumph in February. Should he perform well against the likes of Creative Cause and Paynter this weekend, it is onto Louisville, where the distance of the Derby should not be a problem for this son of Flower Alley.

6. Bodemeister: Yet another blossoming colt, Bodemeister still has some maturing to do. He is taking an easier path to the Kentucky Derby by making his final prep in the Arkansas Derby (GI) on April 14, but that race will also allow him to more likely acquire obligatory graded stakes earnings. He is certainly a talented, gutsy horse with bloodlines that should allow him to go long.

7. Dullahan: As a half-brother to Mine That Bird, the “Does his pedigree allow him to get the Derby distance?” question is dismissed. He will face some very tough horses, such as Hansen and Howe Great, in the Blue Grass Stakes (GI) on April 14, but it is, of course, at the same track at which he captured the Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity (GI).

8. Hansen: His talent is unquestionable, his beauty even more firm, but his ability to get the Derby distance is slightly shaky. He may be too speedy, though he has proved that he can rate off the pace. What looks to be his biggest test of the year is approaching: the Blue Grass on April 14. He will need to turn in a remarkable performance.

9. Went the Day Well: His connections have “been there, done that.” But you can bet they wouldn’t mind doing it again. Went the Day Well has the same owner, trainer, and jockey combination as last year’s Derby winner, Animal Kingdom. However, he seems to be even more appealing that Animal Kingdom was. He has a very distance-based pedigree and has already won over dirt. He will also get one more prep than Animal Kingdom did, which could come in the Coolmore Lexington Stakes (GII) at Keeneland on April 21. I am very impressed by this colt and he has an extremely good chance to ascend on this list should his final prep go well.

10. Daddy Nose Best: He was a nice grass juvenile and has proved to be very versatile, winning graded stakes on both the synthetic and dirt this year. However, he has not always fared very well against high-class horses (he finished sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf). Yet he is on a roll and is flourishing under trainer Steve Asmussen.

Honorable Mentions:

Alpha: He will need to run an absolutely terrific race in the Wood Memorial Stakes this weekend. I am not yet fully convinced by him, but if he runs excellently on Saturday, he will surely be a top contender.

El Padrino: He ran a disappointing fourth in the Florida Derby and was certainly outkicked. His win in the Risen Star Stakes (GII) wasn’t very flattered by Mark Valeski’s runner-up finish behind and enormous longshot in the Louisiana Derby (GII). Nonetheless, El Padrino is a talented colt. But he needs to step it up.

Heavy Breathing: He finished a fading third in his first graded stakes attempt in the Spiral Stakes (GIII), but his royal pedigree suggests that he will be able to stretch out. He has one more chance to prove himself, as there is time for him to race once more before the Derby. Perhaps he will not make it to the Run for the Roses, but Heavy Breathing could certainly become something special down the line.

Hero of Order: His victory in the Louisiana Derby was extremely unexpected, as he paid over $220 to win. He was clearly decelerating down the stretch and his pedigree suggests that he doesn’t want to go much farther. It seems likely that he won’t make much impact on the running of the Kentucky Derby. In addition, he’s not nominated.

Howe Great: His grandsire may be Sunday Silence, but there is not much else support for Triple Crown distances in Howe Great’s pedigree. The colt is clearly talented and versatile, but I believe his connections have a better shot at repeating in the Derby with Went the Day Well.

Mark Valeski: He’s talented, but is he talented enough? He finished fourth behind Union Rags in their debuts before winning a maiden special weight and allowance optional claiming. He ran remarkably in his nose defeat behind El Padrino in the Risen Star, but when El Padrino ran an unimpressive fourth in the Florida Derby, he was not flattered. His defeat by a horse that paid $220.80 in the slow Louisiana Derby was not becoming, either. Hopefully he’s not the type that tries hard every time but doesn’t quite get there. It is also worrisome that he may have soundness issues after throwing a shoe in the Louisiana Derby.

Optimizer: His closing kick in the Rebel Stakes (GII) was impressive, but the race also set him up for such a performance. The colt has been very lackluster against top competition for the most part, so he will have to prove next out that his performance in the Rebel was not a fluke.

Paynter: As mentioned last time, he is only on this list for his talent. He is expected to run in this Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby (GI), which is a very huge, intimidating step up for him. He has only started once, winning a five and one-half furlong maiden special weight remarkably against a small field. Now he will go a mile and one-eighth against some of the best three-year-olds in California. Even if Paynter wins the Santa Anita Derby, I would prefer for the colt’s sake that his connections skip the Kentucky Derby with him.

Prospective: He clearly has an affinity for Tampa Bay Downs, but when he’s faced very tough competition in the past, he has not fared so well. He, like many others, will need to prove himself in his final prep for the Derby.

Street Life: He is obviously bred for the Derby and has been very impressive in his past two starts. Street Life’s start in the Wood Memorial this Saturday will determine whether he is going to the Derby or not. He will be contesting against the talented horses Alpha and Gemologist, which will not make it an easy race for him. But that is a good thing, as he needs to show that he is capable of being competitive against high-class horses before his connections even begin to think about shipping him to Louisville.

Some of the top contenders for the 2012 Kentucky Derby
All photos except for Alpha's by Terri Cage; Alpha's photo is by Mary Cage
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