Sunday, April 22, 2012

Derby Top Ten #13

Countdown to Derby Day: 13 Days

The Kentucky Derby (GI) closes in on us quickly and before we know it, we are keeping our eyes focused on the starting gate nestled at the top of the stretch at Churchill Downs, waiting for a large field of high quality three-year-old Thoroughbreds to burst out of the gate to launch the greatest two minutes in sports. Though any of the horses can win, there is typically only a select few that spectators and experts believe have a legitimate chance to win. However, in 2012, a large amount of the horses pointing towards the Derby seem to have a realistic chance to triumph in the Run for the Roses. Though this makes it very difficult to rank them, it suggests that this year’s rendition of the Kentucky Derby will be one for the ages.

I feel as if any of my top seven could be ranked first and that each horse on this list has a valid chance at winning. The addition of Trinniberg, a sprinter, to the mix should benefit many of the horses who come from off the pace, but may harm the horses who prefer to be on the lead. This certainly played a role in the changes on this week’s list. The final works will also play a huge role, but when it comes down to it, we will not know until about two minutes after these Thoroughbreds break from the gate at Churchill Downs.

Here is my top ten list of 2012 Kentucky Derby contenders as of April 22:

1. Union Rags: He is full of sheer brilliance and when he’s on the top of his game, he is awfully difficult to defeat. Of course, he will need to run the best race he’s ever run in the Derby, but he clearly has the talent to run a tremendous race. This Michael Matz trainee, like Barbaro, made his penultimate work for the Kentucky Derby at Keeneland. In this work, the colt breezed a half-mile in an impressive time of 47.20 seconds. The work (which can be viewed here) is made even more remarkable by how effortlessly he moved. In fact, the work looked much slower than it actually was. He will soon ship to Churchill Downs for his final preparations, including his last breeze before the Derby, which will be a more serious work than Friday’s. He does have an advantage over many contenders regarding Churchill – he has already performed well over its dirt surface. For more on why he is a top Kentucky Derby contender, please click here.

2. I’ll Have Another: On this list, he is just an extremely scant nose behind Union Rags. Already a very talented horse, he seems to just be getting better and better. His six-furlong work on Thursday at Hollywood Park went very well, in which trainer Doug O’Neill remarked that the colt grew stronger as he went along. He is expected to ship to Churchill Downs a week before the Derby, which is a shorter amount of time than I would like to see, but still gives the colt a decent amount of time to adapt to the Churchill surface. For more on why he is a top Kentucky Derby contender, please click here.

3. Creative Cause: Bodemeister may have ran the most impressive race on the Derby trail this year, but Creative Cause defeated him prior to that race. Creative Cause is a horse who tries hard every time and as a result of his determination, he has not finished out of the money. He also comes with the package of a top Derby prospect: talent, a noteworthy performance over the Churchill dirt surface, the ability to settle off the pace, good acceleration, and a pedigree full of stamina. For more on why he is a top Kentucky Derby contender, please click here.

4. Dullahan: Derby pedigree: check. Racing talent: check. Ability to come off the pace: check. Decent performances over Churchill dirt: check. Extra training time at Churchill: check. Improvement: check. Capable connections: check. Dullahan has everything you could want in a Kentucky Derby winner and certainly has a very reasonable chance to win, though he may be better on turf and synthetic. Like the other horses in the top four, Dullahan should benefit from the addition of Trinniberg. For more on why he is a top Kentucky Derby contender, please click here.

5. Gemologist: Normally, an undefeated colt with two wins at Churchill Downs would be ranked first on this list. Gemologist is a member of my “Super Six,” or my top six horses on this list that could all be ranked first, but since this Kentucky Derby is shaping up to be immensely competitive, he is ranked fifth. Not only is he capable of dominant victories, but he has also proven that he can dig in and prevail because of his heart as well. Though not all of his times are spectacular, he has made it clear that he can post quick times. With a pedigree that will also back him up, Gemologist possesses many important qualities for a Derby prospect. Though he may be slightly affected by the addition of Trinniberg, he is capable of rating off the pace, so Trinninberg should have much less of an influence on him than horses such as Bodemeister or Hansen. For more on why he is a top Derby contender, please click here.

6. Bodemeister: It cannot be denied that his Arkansas Derby (GI) victory was absolutely brilliant and breathtaking. Though his wins have come in races in which he set the pace, Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith has expressed that he believes his mount is capable of rating. He will need to do so, especially with the addition of Trinniberg – a horse who sets quick fractions. If Bodemeister cannot learn to settle, his chances could certainly be harmed by the presence of Trinniberg. By Empire Maker and out of a Storm Cat mare, Bodemeister should have no problem with the Derby distance. Bodemeister could very well be ranked first, especially considering he will train over the Churchill surface longer than most Derby contenders, but instead, I rank him in a sixth that would earn him a position at the top if the group of Derby hopefuls this year wasn’t as deep as it is and if Trinniberg had not joined the mix. For more on why he is a top Kentucky Derby contender, please click here.

7. Alpha: A very talented colt in his own right, Alpha is certainly a legitimate Derby competitor. Though his only start at Churchill Downs was a very poor finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvneile (GI), in which he finished behind many top Derby candidates, it is believed that he bled in that race. He has turned in nothing but good performances this season and is coming off an impressive second-place finish behind Gemologist in the Wood Memorial Stakes (GI). I do find it a bit discouraging, however, that he will make most of his Derby preparations at Belmont Park and will not ship to Churchill until April 30 and that he missed a bit of training time due to a laceration. I would prefer for him to have a longer amount of time to adapt to the Churchill dirt. Nonetheless, this colt is bred through and through for the Derby and just may be very underestimated. He will also benefit from the addition of Trinniberg. Do not forget about Alpha on Derby Day; he is an extremely talented horse.

8. Take Charge Indy: Both of his parents are grade one winners capable of winning at a mile and one-eighth or longer. His sire, the great A.P. Indy, was not only capable of winning the Belmont Stakes (GI, 12F) and Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI, 10F), but he was also capable of producing horses who could win at the same distances as well. Many believe, however, that Take Charge Indy may have distance limitations, partially because of his front-running style. But he does have an advantage that the others don’t: three-time Derby-winning jockey Calvin Borel.

9. Went the Day Well: Taking the same route as his stablemate, 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom, to the Run for the Roses, Went the Day Well does have something Animal Kingdom didn’t: a victory over dirt. The way he strode home in the Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes (GIII) – the same race Animal Kingdom won before triumphing in the Derby – was very impressive. He also worked well at Keeneland on Saturday, completing six furlongs in 1:14.40 despite dreary conditions. He will ship to Churchill soon.

10. Daddy Nose Best: He has definitely blossomed and is coming off of two impressive performances. However, he has not exactly fared well against the toughest competitors. But he does have experience over the Churchill dirt and is a great stretch runner.

Honorable Mentions:

El Padrino: He’s gritty and talented, but his fourth-place finish in the Florida Derby (GI) was rather flat. Though it was not a spectacular performance, El Padrino has already proven that he is a gifted colt.  Yet he seems to be more deserving than some of the horses that may keep him from getting into the Derby due to graded stakes earnings.

Hansen: He is a brilliant colt, but he has the terrible problem of too frequently going to the lead and setting blazing fractions without rating. This is something that will likely harm him in the Derby if he does so. Though many other horses have pedigrees that suggest more capability of getting the Derby distance than his does, Hansen may have enough stamina in his bloodlines to allow him to be victorious at ten furlongs. But most importantly, he will have to find the ability to settle in order to be triumphant at a mile and one-quarter.

Mark Valeski: He is clearly a hard-trying colt, but there is the worry that he’s a colt that tries hard each time but never prevails. Nonetheless, he could certainly be a profitable horse for handicappers on Derby Day.

Sabercat: His dull performance in the Rebel Stakes (GIII) may very well be a throw-out race, but even his third-place finish in the Arkansas Derby implies that he will have to run the best race he’s ever run to pull off a victory in the Kentucky Derby.

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