Countdown to Derby Day: 25 Days
The Kentucky Derby (GI) trail is the most unpredictable course of events in all of horse racing. You can begin the year with a solid favorite like Union Rags, but four weeks out, you may end up with your number one horse as a horse that commenced the year with a victory as a huge longshot. By Derby day, things could very easily change drastically yet again.
I feel that my top five horses all have a valid case to take the top spot, but I had to rank them somehow. If they were all to be crossing a finish line, it would be a very tight blanket finish.
Here is my top ten list of 2012 Kentucky Derby contenders as of April 10.
1. I’ll Have Another: Many believed his dominant longshot victory in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (GII) to be a fluke, but the colt impressed me immediately in that win. He first appeared on my second Derby Top Ten and has been ranked in the top six ever since, his highest ranking coming when he was ranked in fourth twice. This is a colt who clearly loves to run, as he displayed in his Lewis victory. Though he romped in the Lewis, his Santa Anita Derby (GI) triumph was even more impressive, as the son of Flower Alley defeated a tougher field and completed the nine-furlong race in its fastest clocking since Point Given’s victory in 2001. He outkicked the previously top-ranked Creative Cause, his long stride allowing him to outduel the gray colt. He displayed great grit and determination, as well as a clear love of running. This colt just seems to be getting better and better and has every right to be number one.
2. Creative Cause: This colt is still a brilliant runner and is bred extremely well for distance. Though discouraging that he could not prevail in his battle with I’ll Have Another, the colt – as usual – turned in an excellent performance. Nonetheless, he was beat fair and square. It matters more in Louisville, however, and he still certainly has a valid shot at a Derby triumph. For more on why he is a top Kentucky Derby contender, please click here.
3. Union Rags: Though disappointing that he lost the Florida Derby (GI), it is not discouraging. In fact, I believe the colt and Julien Leparoux learned plenty from the loss. Union Rags also proved that he is ready for more ground, as he found his best stride in the final sixteenth before galloping out ahead of the others. It could also be a good thing that he lost his final prep, as thirteen of the last twenty Kentucky Derby contenders did not win their last race before the Derby. For more on why Union Rags is a top Kentucky Derby contender, please click here.
4. Take Charge Indy: With A.P. Indy as his sire and the multiple grade one-winning daughter of Dehere, Take Charge Lady, as his dam, Take Charge Indy’s pedigree suggests that Triple Crown distances will not be an issue. However, his front-running style just might. Nonetheless, with three-time Kentucky Derby-winning rider Calvin Borel as his jockey, Take Charge Indy certainly has an advantage that the others don’t.
5. Gemologist: There are mixed feelings surrounding Gemologist’s victory in the Wood Memorial Stakes (GI), but I believe they should mostly be positive feelings. The time was certainly not spectacular and was over three seconds slower than I’ll Have Another’s Santa Anita Derby win. Though Santa Anita is a much faster-playing track than Aqueduct, the one-mile fraction in the Wood was over two seconds slower than the final time of the Comely Stakes (GIII) for fillies over the same track. Nonetheless, Gemologist showed a great amount of heart. He appeared to be struggling in late stretch and it seemed as if Alpha would fly right past him, but the son of Tiznow found another gear to hold off Alpha, exhibiting the important quality of not wanting a horse to go past him. Being undefeated, the colt needed a test in his final prep before the Derby and he got just that. Don’t let the slow time of the Wood be too discouraging; this colt is capable of producing a fast time – he did so in his dominant allowance win at Gulfstream. He also has an advantage no other Derby contender has: two victories at Churchill Downs. For more on why he is a top Kentucky Derby contender, please click here.
6. Alpha: Though he had had quite a victorious season prior to the Wood, I felt that he needed to prove himself in New York’s premier Derby prep. He did just that, running his heart out to finish second by a neck behind Gemologist. He rallied very well but just could not get past Gemologist. I could criticize him for this, but, as aforementioned, Gemologist seems to be the type of horse that doesn’t want another to pass him. Nonetheless, Alpha ran a very good race on Saturday and stamped himself as a serious Derby contender.
7. Bodemeister: He has some growing up to do, but Saturday’s Arkansas Derby (GI) should be a good learning experience for him. This race is expected to be an easier task for him than the Santa Anita Derby would have been. He already has a tough test under his belt from his runner-up finish in the San Felipe Stakes (GII), so it could certainly be a plus that his race in the Arkansas Derby is expected to be fairly easy, though he is facing tough stablemate Secret Circle. An easy start could be a great confidence boost and learning experience for this improving Bob Baffert trainee. But, more than likely, he will need a victory.
8. Dullahan: The Blue Grass Stakes (GI) on Saturday will tell us much more about him, but this half-brother to Mine That Bird has the right pedigree and what appears to be the right racing talent to be a top Derby threat. Trainer Dale Romans has had good performances in the past two Derbies, with a fourth-place finish by Shackleford last year and a third-place result by Paddy O’Prado in 2010. Perhaps this is his year. Still, Dullahan will have to run the race of his life.
9. Hansen: As I’ve said about this colt for quite a long time now, his talent cannot be denied. However, his ability to get ten furlongs is doubtful. He may be maturing, but like many others, we’ll know more after this weekend. In addition, it could certainly be to his advantage that he is making his final prep before the Derby over Polytrack, as he made his final prep for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) over Polytrack before taking the Juvenile at Churchill.
10. Went the Day Well: By Derby runner-up Proud Citizen and out of a daughter of the two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI)-winning Tiznow, this colt certainly seems to have the bloodlines that will allow him to conquer the Derby distance. He, unlike his connections’ Derby-winning Animal Kingdom, has already won over a dirt surface. He is likely to make his final start for the Kentucky Derby in the Lexington Stakes (GII) at Keeneland two weeks before the Run for the Roses.
Daddy Nose Best: Fairly successful over grass courses as a two-year-old, Daddy Nose Best has proved versatile as a sophomore, winning a graded stakes on the synthetic and on the dirt. He has displayed much grit and an impressive stretch drive. The main worry is that he has not faced the highest quality horses yet this year and when he did on the grass at the Breeders’ Cup, he did not exactly fare extremely well. Nonetheless, this Steve Asmussen trainee seems to be blossoming.
El Padrino: His stretch rally in the Florida Derby was uninspiring, which is discouraging in relation to his chances in the Kentucky Derby. Nonetheless, El Padrino is a talented horse with a distance-based pedigree. Still, he needs to step it up.
Heavy Breathing: He is quite inexperienced and that certainly could have played into his lackluster third-place finish in the Spiral Stakes (GIII), but if his pedigree is any suggestion, this colt has the potential to become a star. Should he get in one more start that will allow him to acquire adequate graded stakes earnings (he would likely need a victory), perhaps he could be a threat in the Derby. But, like his stablemate El Padrino, he will need to step it up.
Hero of Order: I don’t think he really wants to go much longer and I don’t know that he’s as talented as so many others. In addition, since he is not nominated, he may not make it into the Derby field anyways.
Howe Great: He can run on both dirt and turf and though he has Sunday Silence as his grandsire, his pedigree doesn’t give much more suggestion for distance. We’ll learn more about him in the Blue Grass on Saturday.
Mark Valeski: It has been declared that his lameness after the Louisiana Derby is not an issue. He is a game horse, but he may be the type that tries hard every time but never quite gets there. Nonetheless, he is tough.
Optimizer: He’ll need to prove himself in Saturday’s Arkansas Derby, showing that his impressive runner-up finish in the Rebel Stakes (GII) was not a fluke.
Prospective: We’ll know much more about him after Saturday, when he takes on several top-class horses in the Blue Grass. With a good performance, he could prove that he’s not just a Tampa Bay Downs hit. But it must be taken into consideration that, even if he runs a great race on Saturday, a good performance could be due to the fact that the race is on the synthetic, as that is the surface he excelled over as a juvenile.
Secret Circle: Still a personal favorite of mine, this colt clearly has a will to win. He will face a tougher field in the Arkansas Derby than he has in his past two starts, but if he’s as tenacious as he has been and can live up to the stamina in his pedigree, then Secret Circle could certainly turn in another good performance. This race should tell us if he’s going to the Kentucky Derby or not.