Monday, April 16, 2012

Derby Top Ten #12

Countdown to Derby Day: 18 Days

As the Kentucky Derby (GI) approaches each year, each contender on the Derby trail is analyzed closely. Weeks before the Derby, we usually have an idea of how good of a crop the year’s sophomores are. This year, the crop appears to be extremely deep. The top contenders have repetitively performed well and still seem to be legitimate contenders as the days grow closer to the first Saturday in May.

In last week’s Derby Top Ten, I felt that my top five horses all had a valid case to take the top spot. This week, the list has become even more pretentious. Any of the top six could be ranked first, though the entire top ten list was very hard to order and I found myself frequently changing my mind. I find very few knocks for several of these contenders. The final works the contenders turn in could certainly change their position on this list. It would be no surprise if this year’s rendition of the Kentucky Derby – as well as this crop of three-year-olds – is talked about for decades to come.

Here is my top ten list of 2012 Kentucky Derby contenders as of April 16.

1. Union Rags: He’s regained his position at the top, simply because he just may be the most brilliant colt of this group. However, he will need to run the race of his life in the Derby, which of course the others will need to do as well. He and jockey Julien Leparoux likely learned much from their Florida Derby (GI) loss and whatever they learned, they will need to apply that to the Kentucky Derby. His position at the pinnacle is quite shaky, but it could become firmer if he works up to the Derby well. For more on why he is a top Derby contender, please click here.

2. I’ll Have Another: This colt is really coming into his own, seeming to be on a road of improvement on his way to the Derby. He is a horse who clearly enjoys to run and strives to finish in front. He is full of talent and comes with a pedigree fit for a Derby winner. He could certainly be underestimated compared to several of these top contenders, but he brings to the table many important qualities: the ability to rate off the pace, the capability of outdueling another horse in the stretch, the speed to finish quickly, the love of running, and obvious improvement. For more on why he is a top Derby contender, please click here.

3. Creative Cause: He has danced every dance and runs his heart out each time he goes to post. His pedigree is certainly suitable for a Kentucky Derby victor and he knows how to get the job done. He also possesses several important characteristics, including being able to settle off the pace, the ability of coming home quickly, the love of longer distances, and sheer talent. For more on why he is a top Derby contender, please click here.

4. Bodemeister: A colt I have followed since he broke his maiden, he received a huge confidence boost in his dominant Arkansas Derby (GI) win. Both of his victories have been absolute romps, which shows that this is a brilliant colt. He ran very gamely behind Creative Cause in the San Felipe Stakes (GII) earlier this year in his graded stakes debut. With the removal of blinkers in the Arkansas Derby, he effortlessly defeated a rather deep field. Some may find it worrisome that he may “bounce” off his overpowering win in the Arkansas Derby, but he has yet to run a poor race. Bodemeister is a horse with plenty of room of improvement, which is quite imposing considering how brilliant he has already proven himself to be.

5. Gemologist: An undefeated colt with a pedigree that will allow him to get the Derby distances, Gemologist is a serious contender. Though most of the final times of his races have not been overly impressive, he is capable of posting a quick final time, as he displayed at Gulfstream. He is not only talented, but he has the important quality of heart and grit. It is also significant that he already has two wins over the Churchill Downs dirt surface, something no other contender can say. For more on why he is a top Derby contender, please click here.

6. Dullahan: He only has two victories to his credit, both of which came at Keeneland in grade one races. This half-brother to the 2009 Kentucky Derby winner, Mine That Bird, triumphed in the Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity Stakes (GI) as a juvenile before finishing a closing fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) behind Hansen, Union Rags, and Creative Cause. He has already proved this year that he has improved, as he finished second in a turf graded stakes at Gulfstream in his 2012 debut before charging late to defeat Hansen in the Blue Grass Stakes (GI) at Keeneland on Saturday. Though his only wins have come over the synthetic, he is bred for the dirt and has performed well over it. In addition, he undoubtedly has a Derby pedigree, being a half-brother to Mine That Bird. He is a valid contender.

7. Alpha: As talented as he has proven to be, seventh place seems to be a very low ranking for him. This just goes to show how contentious this year’s field for the Derby will be. His pedigree should allow him to get the Derby distance and his talent and determination should allow him to run extremely well. Alpha should definitely be taken seriously.

8. Take Charge Indy: Despite being undoubtedly bred for distance, this colt may have distance limitations due to his front-running style. He is talented by all means, but he will have to run the race of his life in the Kentucky Derby. But he certainly has a huge advantage with three-time Derby-winning jockey Calvin Borel aboard.

9. Went the Day Well: Bred for the Derby, this colt runs for the same connections as last year’s Derby victor, Animal Kingdom. He is already proven over dirt – something that Animal Kingdom wasn’t prior to the Run for the Roses. He is expected to make his final prep in this Saturday’s Lexington Stakes (GII) at Keeneland.

10. Daddy Nose Best: This Steve Asmussen trainee was a fairly talented grass juvenile, but has proved to be even more successful as a sophomore, winning over multiple surfaces in two graded stakes. Coming off a win in the Sunland Derby (GIII), he is quite a classy colt with plenty of determination and heart. He has exhibited an impressive stretch drive, but has not always fared extremely well against the highest quality of horses. However, when he faced tough, high-quality horses, he was running on the grass and he just might be better on dirt.

Honorable Mentions:

El Padrino: He was rather lackluster in his fourth-place effort in the Florida Derby and may not make it into the Derby starting gate due to a lack of graded stakes earnings, but if he somehow does find his way into the Run for the Roses, El Padrino will need to run back to his early 2012 form.

Hansen: He has never finished worse than second and is clearly one of the most talented three-year-olds of 2012. However, he still has the issue of setting too quick of a pace before falling apart in late stretch. His pedigree may also restrict him from getting the ten-furlong distance of the Derby. Yet he did make his final prep before his victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile – run at Churchill – over Polytrack and made his final prep before the Kentucky Derby over the same surface. He could certainly perform well, but his front-running style and questionable pedigree make his chances quite uncertain.

Mark Valeski: He is a gritty, talented colt, but it is disappointing that he could not get past the longshot Hero of Order, who ran poorly in the Blue Grass, last out. This, of course, could be due to losing a shoe, but he also may be a horse that tries hard each time he races but can never quite cross the wire first. Nevertheless, he is a hard-trying colt.

Sabercat: A colt that definitely has the earnings for the Kentucky Derby, Sabercat rebounded off his disappointing Rebel Stakes (GII) performance to finish a closing third-place in the Arkansas Derby. He may have found his groove again, but will have to run a tremendous race to be a threat in the Kentucky Derby.

Secret Circle: Though I declared him my Derby colt as soon as he broke his maiden, I believe Bob Baffert should restrict this colt to races under ten furlongs. Though bred for longer distances, Secret Circle seems to have the mindset for middle-distance races or sprints. But if his connections do intend to enter the Derby with him, they certainly have a talented, determined colt on their hands.

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