Thursday, May 3, 2012

2012 Kentucky Derby Field Analysis

The Kentucky Derby is to horse racing fans as Christmas morning is to young children. Enthusiasts of the sport of kings await the race for months and once it finally comes, they relish it like a child enjoys his or her new gifts. Dubbed the Run for the Roses for the garland that is presented to the winner of the most prestigious race in the world, the Kentucky Derby is a race that makes legends and is an event that is sure to be thrilling. This year’s running of the Kentucky Derby features a very competitive field that has the potential to make the one hundred thirty-eighth Derby one for the ages.

Listed below are all of the horses entered to run in the 2012 Kentucky Derby, along with descriptions of their pedigrees, racing records, final preparations, and my opinions of them. The colts are listed in post position order.

#1. Daddy Long Legs: By the grade one winner at nine furlongs, Scat Daddy, and out of a stakes-winning mare who was never victorious beyond one mile, Daddy Long Legs appears to have distance limitations. Even his damsire, the talented sprinter Meadowlake, does not help Daddy Long Legs’ case. In addition, this Aidan O’Brien trainee is bred on the same Hennessy/Meadowlake cross as the grade one-winning sprinter Henny Hughes.
Daddy Long Legs
Photo by Mary Cage

After winning his debut as a juvenile in Ireland, Daddy Long Legs contested in the Champagne Stakes (GII) at Doncaster, finishing fourth. Following a win over eventual Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (GII) winner Wrote in the Royal Lodge Stakes (GII) at Newmarket, Daddy Long Legs vied for the title of Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) amidst most of the best two-year-olds in the world. However, he never made an impact at Churchill Downs and finished twelfth, beaten by approximately 19 ½ lengths while showing no affinity for the dirt surface of the Louisville oval. He has only made one start this year, winning the mile-and-three-sixteenths UAE Derby (GII) by 1 ¼ lengths, outrunning his pedigree.

Daddy Long Legs did not ship to Churchill until Tuesday, which I find extremely discouraging. The trip from Ireland to Kentucky is surely a very taxing trek for a young Thoroughbred. In addition, he had barely any time to train over a surface that he has not appeared to like. Had he had a chance to train over the Churchill Downs surface more, perhaps he would enjoy racing over it better. But because he made the trip so close to the race, Daddy Long Legs faces a huge disadvantage.

With the worst post in the field, breeding more suitable for a miler, an obvious dislike of a track that he has had a scarce amount of conditioning over, and a grueling trip just days before the race, Daddy Long Legs has too much going against him to run very well in the Derby.

#2. Optimizer:
This D. Wayne Lukas trainee is sure to relish the ten-furlong distance of the Kentucky Derby. His sire, English Channel, won five grade ones at eleven furlongs or longer and his dam, Indy Pick, is a daughter of the Belmont Stakes (GI, 12F)- and Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI, 10F)-winning A.P. Indy.
Photo by Mary Cage

Optimizer debuted on the grass, winning a maiden special weight at Saratoga prior to running a game second in the With Anticipation Stakes (GII) over the same course. Following a good third behind Dullahan in the Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity (GI) over Keeneland’s synthetic surface, Optimizer made his dirt debut in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI), running an unspectacular eighth. His final start as a juvenile - which was also his second start at Churchill Downs - was a decent fourth-place finish in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (GII) behind Gemologist. After two disappointing finishes in the Smarty Jones Stakes and Risen Star Stakes (GII), Optimizer made a dazzling move to finish second in the Rebel Stakes (GII) at Oaklawn Park. However, he returned to his dissatisfactory ways in finishing ninth in the Arkansas Derby (GI).

The colt has worked twice at Churchill in preparation for the Kentucky Derby, his most recent work a respectable five furlongs in 1:00.40.

Optimizer has shown ability to run a good race, but I do not foresee him running well in the Derby, especially with his far inside post. He has not won since breaking his maiden and has never won on the dirt. The hot pace will help set him up for a good run, but he appears to have too tall of a task in the Derby.

#3. Take Charge Indy:
He has the most accomplished parents of any horse in this field, as far as racetrack performances are concerned. His dam is the multiple grade one-winning daughter of Dehere, Take Charge Lady. His sire is A.P. Indy, both a champion on the track and in the breeding shed. Though Take Charge Lady never won beyond nine furlongs, she was a multiple grade one winner at that distance. A.P. Indy, however was a grade one winner at ten and twelve furlongs and is the sire of horses of the same capabilities.
Take Charge Indy
Photo: Terri Cage

Take Charge Indy was forwardly placed in his debut, which he won over Arlington Park’s all-weather track by 6 ½ lengths. Following a game runner-up finish in the Arlington-Washington Futurity (GIII) in which he closed from off the pace, Take Charge Indy finished fourth and fifth in the Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity (GI) at Keeneland and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) at Churchill, respectively. In both races, he sat off the leaders. In his first start as a sophomore, Take Charge Indy pressed the pace in an allowance optional claiming at Gulfstream Park before finishing second to El Padrino. His big break came in the Florida Derby (GI), in which he set a solid pace before winning by a length.

Though it’s encouraging that Take Charge Indy has performed decently at Churchill Downs, I would have preferred for him to make his final preparations below the Twin Spires rather than at Palm Meadows Training Center in Florida. His final work was a bullet 1:00.47 five-furlong move at the aforementioned training center, which is a good drill, but one I’d rather him have made at Churchill Downs.

Despite the fact that some seem to be worried about his front-running racing style, Take Charge Indy has performed well off the pace and should be able to do that again in the Derby. However, he will need to use his speed to gun out of the gate. His pedigree obviously supports him, but he will need to be on the very top of his game to run a stupendous race in the Run for the Roses. For more on why Take Charge Indy is a top Kentucky Derby contender, please click

#4. Union Rags:
With Dixie Union, a grade one winner at nine furlongs sired by a son of 1964 Kentucky Derby winner Northern Dancer, as his sire, Union Rags may appear to not have quite enough stamina for the Derby. However, his dam, though she never won beyond six furlongs in three starts, is a daughter of Gone West – who is also the damsire Frost Giant, a grade one winner at ten furlongs, and the sire of several distance horses, including Came Home, Commendable, Johar, and Marsh Side – and the graded stakes-winning daughter of Nijinsky II at eleven furlongs, Terpsichorist.
Union Rags
Photo by Mary Cage

Union Rags has shown the most brilliance of any of these colts throughout the course of his career. He debuted at Delaware Park, rallying to score by 1 ¾ lengths. He then pressed the pace in the Saratoga Special Stakes (GII) before sweeping to an effortless 7 ¼-length victory despite drifting out in the stretch. In the esteemed one-mile Champagne Stakes (GI) at Belmont, Union Rags came from off the pace to capture the race by 5 ¼ lengths. The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) seemed like his for the taking, but he missed by a head after veering outward in the stretch despite making a breathtaking run. His three-year-old debut could not have been any more impressive; Union Rags rallied from off the leaders to take the Fountain of Youth Stakes (GII) by four lengths. However, in his final prep race for the Kentucky Derby, Union Rags encountered a bit of a troubled trip in the Florida Derby (GI) and despite making a respectable move in late stretch, the talented colt finished third.

Union Rags has already run a very remarkable race at Churchill Downs and has trained over the track before and fortunately, he had his final work for the Kentucky Derby beneath the Twin Spires. That work was also one of the very most impressive of all final moves over the track. He completed five furlongs in 59.80, commandingly and efficiently breezing over the track. He seemed to relish the going and looked well within himself as he completed the notable drill, displaying his beautiful stride.

This Michael Matz trainee has the potential to a great horse. Having seen him in person at the Breeders’ Cup, I feel that he is tremendously special and a truly incredible athlete. The colt is indisputably brilliant and clearly loves the track at Churchill Downs. With his imposing training moves, Union Rags seems poised to run a magnificent race. I would have liked to see him draw a post farther to the outside, but he has shown tactical speed before and should be able to get away from the gate well to find a good position. After all, it was just two years ago that Super Saver won from the same post. For these reasons and his encouraging pedigree, Union Rags is my top selection for the Kentucky Derby. For more on why Union Rags is a leading Kentucky Derby contender, please click

#5. Dullahan:
As a half-brother to 2009 Kentucky Derby victor Mine That Bird, Dullahan may as well be authorized for the ten-furlong distance of the Run for the Roses. Though his sire, Even the Score, is not as stamina-influencing as the sire of Mine That Bird, Even the Score has still sired progeny capable of winning at ten furlongs.
Photo: Terri Cage

Dullahan has made three starts at Churchill, none of which resulted in trips to the winner’s circle. He made his first two starts beneath the Twin Spires, finishing a distant third and fifth, respectively, in tough maiden special weights. Following a close second-place finish in his turf debut at Saratoga, Dullahan ran a game third in a turf graded stakes at the same historic New York oval. Despite having never won, Dullahan started in the Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity (GI) over Keeneland’s synthetic surface, rallying to take the race by ¾ of a length. After a decent fourth-place rally in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) over the Churchill dirt, Dullahan made his sophomore in the Palm Beach Stakes (GIII) over Gulfstream Park’s turf, coming from off the pace to finish second. He then returned to Keeneland to take yet another prestigious race over the Lexington track’s synthetic, sweeping to victory in the Blue Grass Stakes (GI).

It was important that Dullahan received extensive training time at Churchill Downs prior to the Kentucky Derby, as he needed to grow adapted to dirt. Though he knows the track well, he does not appear to enjoy traveling over it as much as he relishes the turf and synthetic. His final work came on Saturday in a 1:01.20 five-furlong work at Churchill, in which he seemed to be slightly struggling over the surface.

Dullahan is obviously bred for the Derby and is among the most talented Derby entrants, but he has never come within six lengths of winning on dirt. He will have to show a new affinity for the surface in order to be successful. As a closer, post five should benefit him and was a draw his connections were openly very pleased with. For more on why Dullahan is a top Kentucky Derby contender, please click

#6. Bodemeister:
Sired by the Belmont Stakes (GI, 12F)-winning Empire Maker and out of a Storm Cat daughter whose damsire is A.P. Indy, Bodemeister is clearly bred for long distances.

Bodemeister never raced as a juvenile and broke his maiden in his second start, coasting to a 9 ¼-length victory. With that win, he immediately landed on my radar. Following a game runner-up finish behind Creative Cause in the San Felipe Stakes (GII) at Santa Anita, Bodemeister crushed the field in the Arkansas Derby (GI) by 9 ½ lengths while setting the pace.

Trainer Bob Baffert allowed Bodemeister to adapt to Churchill Downs, giving the colt two sharp five-furlong works over the Louisville track. His final preparation, a 59.60 drill over a muddy track, was a work of art, displaying his beautiful action as he coasted over the track.

Bodemeister will need to settle in the Derby to avoid a deadly speed duel, and with post six, he has several speed horses drawn outside of him, which could put him in trouble. But should he rate under Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith and get a good trip, we could be in for a treat, as this is a very brilliant colt. Bodemeister is my second choice in the Run for the Roses. For more on why Bodemeister is a top Kentucky Derby contender, please click

#7. Rousing Sermon:
By a sprinting son of Pulpit and out of an Awesome Again mare who never won beyond a mile and one-sixteenth, Rousing Sermon’s sire and dam do not give him the stamina you would think both his grandsires, Pulpit and Awesome, would give him. His dam is a half-sister to a millionaire, but that horse was never victorious beyond seven and one-half furlongs. Don’t let the names A.P. Indy, Awesome Again, Alydar, and Wajima deceive you; the cross on which Rousing Sermon is bred on yields an average winning distance of six furlongs.

After coming from off the pace to win a maiden at Hollywood Park, Rousing Sermon turned in two closing third-place finishes in California-bred stakes races over Del Mar’s synthetic. After rallying off the leaders to take a state-bred stakes in his dirt debut at Santa Anita, Rousing Sermon closed to finish second to Liaison in two black-type races over Hollywood’s cushion track, including the CashCall Futurity (GI). Continuing his closing style into 2012, he finished third in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (GII) prior to completing a fifth-place performance in the San Felipe Stakes (GII) and a third-place result in a weak Louisiana Derby (GII).

Rousing Sermon made most of his preparations for the Derby at Hollywood Park, though he turned in his final work at Churchill Downs – performing a breeze later than any other Derby contender did. He put in his final drill on Tuesday, going five furlongs in 1:00.40 to record the second-fastest work of eighteen. I was incredibly impressed with how he looked and how he covered the ground.

Though Rousing Sermon is one of the most physically impressive horses in the field, I do not expect for him to win the Derby. However, his late-running style against the hot pace that is likely to be set will benefit him and could even provide him with a better performance than solely his bloodlines would.

#8. Creative Cause:
Sired by Giant’s Causeway and out of a grade one winner at nine furlongs, this gray colt will likely love the route of ground offered to him in the Derby. Female family one has produced the second-most amount of Derby victors as far as female families is concerned, and Creative Cause is a member of that female family.
Creative Cause
Photo: Terri Cage

An accomplished juvenile, Creative Cause won his first two starts, including an effortless Best Pal Stakes (GII). Following a rough runner-up finish in the Del Mar Futurity (GI), Creative Cause dominantly captured the Norfolk Stakes (GI) at Santa Anita. He ended his juvenile career with a good third-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) behind Hansen and Union Rags. Going seven furlongs in his first start as a three-year-old, Creative Cause ended up third in the San Vicente Stakes (GII). He then captured the San Felipe Stakes (GII) over Bodemeister prior to finishing a nose behind I’ll Have Another in the nine-furlong Santa Anita Derby (GI).

Though I would have preferred for him to have more training time at Churchill Downs, it is reassuring that he has already performed well below the Twin Spires. Fortunately, his final work came at the Lousville track, in which he worked a good half-mile in 47.80.

Creative Cause is certainly one of the most accomplished, consistent horses entered in this year’s Run for the Roses. He is a horse you can rely on, as well as one that will relish the ten-furlong Derby distance. He will be a major threat Saturday evening and has a good position in post eight. For more on why Creative Cause is a top Kentucky Derby contender, please click

#9. Trinniberg:
By a stallion who never won beyond a mile and a mare who was never capable of winning at a distance longer than six furlongs, Trinniberg will be left exhausted by the end of the Derby. Any stamina influences in his pedigree, such as Storm Cat and Halo, are at least four generations back and are only part of a select few.
Photo: Terri Cage

Trinniberg dominantly won his debut at Calder Racecourse, completing five furlongs in a final time of 59.24. Following a fifth-place finish behind Union Rags in the six and one-half-furlong Saratoga Special Stakes (GII), Trinniberg outran his 68-1 odds to finish a close second in the seven-furlong Hopeful Stakes (GI). Both of these races came over an off track at Saratoga. Trinniberg ran another close second next out, this time in the six-furlong Nashua Stakes (GII) at Belmont. In the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint at Churchill Downs, Trinniberg attempted to set the pace before faltering to finish seventh of nine. In his sophomore debut, the son of Teuflesberg set a blistering pace in the seven-furlong Swale Stakes (GIII) before drawing off to a six-length victory. His three-length victory in the seven-furlong Bay Shore Stakes (GIII), which was his final race before the Derby, also was won with a front-running style. 

Trinniberg has been galloping at Churchill Downs, but his final work came at his home track Calder, at which he posted an unglamorous 1:15.40 six-furlong breeze. He has been very physically imposing in his gallops at Churchill, but his immense muscling implies that he would better enjoy sprinting distances.

Trinniberg is a gifted colt, but he will not be effective at ten furlongs. A one-turn race would be a much better choice for him.

#10. Daddy Nose Best:
A son of the multiple stakes winner at nine furlongs, Scat Daddy, and a mare by the Kentucky Derby- and Belmont Stakes (GI, 12F)-winning Thunder Gulch, Daddy Nose Best’s pedigree gives the impression that he will relish the ten-furlong expanse of the Run for the Roses. He also receives stamina influence from his second dam, a graded stakes winner at a mile and one-sixteenth who is a daughter of the Preakness Stakes (GI, 9.5)-winning Pine Bluff. It could also be beneficial that he has several crosses of Mr. Prospector, Northern Dancer, and Storm Bird.

Daddy Nose Best
Photo: Terri Cage
Though he has not won over its dirt oval, Daddy Nose Best has a great amount of experience at Churchill Downs. His first two starts came there and though they were both losses, he did turn in a good runner-up finish ahead of Dullahan below the Twin Spires in his first race. Following a good turf debut that resulted in a second-place finish at Saratoga, Daddy Nose Best broke his maiden in a race of similar conditions. He turned in a good third-place performance in the Summer Stakes (GIII) prior to finishing sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (GII) at Churchill Downs. Three weeks later, he scored in an allowance over the same grass course. On New Year’s Eve, he finished fifth in the Eddie Logan Stakes at Santa Anita on the turf before gamely winning the El Camino Real Derby (GIII) at nine furlongs on the synthetic by a nose. In his final prep race for the Kentucky Derby, he rallied to take the Sunland Derby (GIII) by ¾ of a length in his first dirt victory.

Daddy Nose Best has not only raced more at Churchill Downs than any other Kentucky Derby contender, but he has also had more works over the Louisville track in preparation for the Run for the Roses. Following two five-furlong breezes and one six-furlong work over the Churchill Downs dirt, Daddy Nose Best covered an effortless half-mile in 49.40 for his final Derby work. He has traveled beautifully over the main track at Churchill Downs.

Daddy Nose Best has the most racing experience of any of these horses, as well as the most experience at Churchill Downs. Though he has not won on the main track there, he has been training wonderfully over it and looks better than ever. This colt is getting better and better and looks absolutely tremendous. A great race by him in the Kentucky Derby would be no surprise to me, especially with his good draw.

#11. Alpha:
By the classic-winning son of A.P. Indy, Bernardini, and out of the stakes-winning mare at eleven furlongs, Munnaya, Alpha’s damsire is the multiple group one winner at long distances, Ezzoud. This colt is bred through-and-through for stamina, so surely he will not have an issue with the distance of the Kentucky Derby.
Photo by Mary Cage

After impressively breaking his maiden at Saratoga, Alpha finished a good second behind Union Rags in the Champagne Stakes (GI). A chaotic, troublesome Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) for Alpha in which he bled resulted in an eleventh-place finish. He rebounded as a three-year-old, winning an ungraded stakes and a grade three at Aqueduct before finishing a game second in the Wood Memorial Stakes (GI) to the undefeated Gemologist. His road to the Derby was a disordered one, spotted with indecisive moments and an infected laceration that briefly kept him out of training after the Wood.

I would have preferred for Alpha to train up to the Derby at Churchill Downs, but he made his final preparation over the Belmont Park training track, completing a sharp five-furlong drill in 59.54.

Despite his troublesome Derby trail, I am encouraged by Alpha’s stamina-based pedigree and racing record full of game performances. He will need to behave well in the gate, but should he live up to his bloodlines and the capability he has shown, Alpha should run a great race on Saturday, which is why he is part of my spectacular eight on my Derby Top Ten. Also, he has a good post in gate eleven. For more on why Alpha is a top Kentucky Derby contender, please click

#12. Prospective:
Malibu Moon, a son of the Belmont Stakes (GI, 12F)- and Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI, 10F)-winning A.P. Indy, has sired two graded stakes winners at ten furlongs. He is the sire of Prospective, who is out of Spirited Away, a stakes winner at a mile and one-sixteenth who is sired by the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI, 10F)-winning Awesome Again. This pedigree hints that Prospective should be able to handle the ten-furlong distance of the Derby.

Following a rallying runner-up finish in a turf maiden special weight at Woodbine, Prospective broke his maiden over the track’s synthetic surface after pressing the pace. Like 2009 Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird, Prospective took the Grey Stakes (GIII) at Woodbine before running last in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI). Unlike Mine That Bird, however, his Breeders’ Cup start came at Churchill Downs. His sophomore debut came in the Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, in which he rallied to score his first dirt victory. He then finished a good second in the Sam F. Davis Stakes (GIII) at the same track prior to winning the Tampa Bay Derby (GII). His final Derby prep resulted in a disappointing sixth-place finish over Keeneland’s Polytrack in the Blue Grass Stakes (GI).

Prospective has looked absolutely outstanding while training at Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby, displaying great muscularity and beautiful carriage of himself.
He has the second-most amount of works over the Louisville track of Derby contenders, all of which were five-furlong drills. His final breeze resulted in a final time of 1:01.20.

If looks were the only things that mattered, Prospective would certainly be one of my top picks. However, he ran extremely poorly against many of these horses at Churchill Downs in November and he likely will not be able to defeat this time around, either, though he will probably run better than he did last fall.

#13. Went the Day Well:
By Derby runner-up Proud Citizen and out of a Tiznow mare, Went the Day Well seems to have the pedigree to handle the Derby distance. He also descends from a series of Reine De Course mares, including an Irish Oaks winner. He will also likely receive much stamina influence from his third dam, as she is a daughter of Majestic Light.

After two starts in England, including a rallying runner-up finish that convinced Team Valor International to purchase him, Went the Day Well made his United States debut, rallying for a fourth-place result at Gulfstream Park. He then broke his maiden over the Gulfstream dirt after being forwardly placed. Like stablemate Animal Kingdom, Went the Day Well easily won the Spiral Stakes (GIII) at Turfway Park en route to the Kentucky Derby.

Also like stablemate Animal Kingdom, who of course won the 2011 Run for the Roses for the same connections, Went the Day Well turned in a notable final work for the Derby a week before the prestigious race. He covered five furlongs at Churchill Downs in 1:01 flat, traveling over the ground well.

Went the Day Well certainly has a liable shot at repeating Animal Kingdom’s feat on the first Saturday in May. His pedigree should allow him to get the distance, he has already won over dirt, he has displayed improvement and capability, he has a good post, and in his final work, he appeared to like the Churchill Downs dirt. Went the Day Well could provide his connections with back-to-back victories in the world’s greatest race, or at least a very remarkable performance. For more on why Went the Day Well is a top Kentucky Derby contender, please click here.

#14. Hansen:
A son of a grade one winner at nine furlongs in Tapit and a sprinting mare, Hansen does not seem to be bred for ten furlongs. Tapit has sired a ten-furlong grade one winner in Careless Jewel, but for the most part, his offspring have been mostly successful as juveniles and at distances at nine furlongs or shorter. Hansen's full brother, Tapanna, has never won beyond one mile.
Photo: Terri Cage

The nearly-white colt made his first two starts on Turfway Park’s synthetic surface, capturing those races by a combined 25 ½ lengths after setting quick fractions. He then upset Union Rags by a scant head in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI), leading from start to finish yet again while setting a rapid pace. He was handed his first loss when he made his sophomore debut, being soundly defeated by Algorithms in the Holy Bull Stakes (GIII) on an off track at Gulfstream Park after being rank early on. He rebounded next out, showing a new dimension in the Gotham Stakes (GIII) when he settled off the pace slightly before going on to win by 3 lengths. In his final prep for the Derby, the Blue Grass Stakes (GI) over Keeneland’s Polytrack surface, the colt was very rank and set blistering fractions before falling short to Dullahan.

Like he did before capturing the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Hansen made his final preparations for the Derby at Churchill Downs Trackside Training Center, which has a similar surface to Churchill. His final work was a 1:01.20 five-furlong breeze, in which he yet again moved in swift fashion but covered the ground nicely.

It is a major worry that Hansen will be too rank in the Derby, as he is drawn outside the rest of the speed and the pace that will be set is expected to be very hot. Horses like Trinniberg, and possibly Bodemeister and Take Charge Indy as well, could cause Hansen to get caught in a speed duel, which is a situation that his pedigree would not aid him with at all. The colt will need to do what he has scarcely done: relax off the pace. If the colt cannot settle, he will be in big trouble in the Derby.

#15. Gemologist:
As a result of the mating between the two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI, 10F)-winning Tiznow and the Mr. Prospector mare Crystal Shard, Gemologist is bred to love the mile and one-quarter distance of the Kentucky Derby. As a broodmare sire, Mr. Prospector has yielded the two-time ten-furlong-winning Horse of the Year Mineshaft and the grade one winner at ten furlongs Rock Hard Ten.

The only undefeated horse in the field, Gemologist is also the only horse with two victories over Churchill Downs’ dirt surface. He debuted at Turfway Park as a juvenile, setting the pace en route to a 5-length victory. The WinStar Farm-owned colt then won an allowance optional claiming at Churchill Downs in similar fashion prior to taking the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (GII) by 1 ¾ lengths after settling just off the pace. Gemologist did not make his sophomore debut until March, trouncing rivals in a one-mile allowance optional claiming at Gulfstream Park and completing the race in an impressive final time of 1:35.95. In his final prep race for the Derby, he was forwardly placed before gamely outdueling Alpha to win the Wood Memorial Stakes (GI) by a neck at nine furlongs at Aqueduct.

I would have, of course, preferred for Gemologist to have his final work at Churchill Downs, but it is not too much of an issue in my opinion due to the fact that he obviously likes the track. He made his final preparation at Palm Meadows Training Center in Florida, posting an easy half-mile work in 50.39 seconds on Sunday over an off track, setting the fastest work of the day at four furlongs.

Gemologist has all you could want in a top Derby contender: pedigree, racing talent, an affinity for Churchill Downs, correct conformation, a good post, and the ability to rate off the pace. The only problem may be that most of his times have not been spectacular. Nonetheless, he is a reliable horse with a practical chance to win. For more on why Gemologist is top Kentucky Derby contender, please click

#16. El Padrino:
By a son of A.P. Indy in Pulpit and out of a Giant’s Causeway mare, El Padrino appears to have the stamina to do well in the Derby on the surface. Delve in more and you’ll find additional routing influences in the multiple crosses of Mr. Prospector, Blushing Groom, Secretariat, and Nasrullah found in his pedigree. It is also encouraging that El Padrino descends from female family thirteen, which also yielded the 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew.

Following a game runner-up finish in his debut at Saratoga as a juvenile, El Padrino dominantly captured a one-mile maiden special weight at Belmont Park, trouncing his rivals by 12 ¾ lengths over a sloppy track. In his final start as a juvenile, “The Godfather” ran a willing third in the Remsen Stakes (GII) at nine-furlongs at Aqueduct. Straight off the heels of an impressive allowance optional claiming victory in front of eventual Florida Derby (GI) victor Take Charge Indy over a sealed track at Gulfstream, El Padrino displayed great determination while capturing the Risen Star Stakes (GII) at the Fair Grounds by a nose over Mark Valeski. Despite the hype surrounding him, the flashy chestnut colt was rather flat when finishing fourth behind Take Charge Indy, Reveron, and Union Rags in the Florida Derby.

Though I see works at Churchill Downs in preparation as a huge advantage, trainer Todd Pletcher chose to keep the son of Pulpit in Florida to train for the Derby. His most recent work was a very slow half-mile over an off track; El Padrino posted a final time of 53.34 at Palm Meadows Training Center. But Todd Pletcher does not typically work his horses tremendously fast anyhow.

Though El Padrino’s final prep race for the Kentucky Derby was quite dull, he has shown brilliance in the past and has the pedigree for ten furlongs. He will certainly have to show much improvement and is not included in my top ten, but El Padrino should not be forgotten and has a good post, breaking from the same gate as last year’s victor. For more on why El Padrino is a top Kentucky Derby contender, please click

#17. Done Talking:
Sired by Broken Vow, a two-time graded stakes winner at nine furlongs and out of a graded stakes-winning middle-distance mare by Dixieland Band, Done Talking is covered for nine furlongs, but is a bit on the fence as far as the distance of ten furlongs is concerned. He is bred on the same cross as the successful sprinter and miler, Cotton Blossom, and that cross only has an average winning distance of just over six and one-half furlongs.

Done Talking broke his maiden in his third start at Delaware Park as a juvenile prior to rallying to take a Parx allowance by 1 ¾ lengths. He then finished a decent fourth in the nine-furlong Remsen Stakes (GII) at Aqueduct to end his two-year-old campaign. Making his sophomore debut in the Gotham Stakes (GIII) at Aqueduct in March, Done Talking never made an impact and finished tenth. A month later, he faced an easier field in the Illinois Derby (GIII), grinding his way to a ¾-length victory in a very sluggish final time of 1:53.88 for nine furlongs.

Done Talking has been turning in unpretentious works at his home track, Laurel Park in Maryland. Working primarily at either four or five furlongs, Done Talking’s final work was a modest 1:01 flat move for five-eighths of a mile. I’d rather he have made his final preparations at Churchill, though, as he has never been to the track and could have used any available time to train there.

I do not foresee Done Talking performing very well in the Kentucky Derby. He is much slower than most of the other contenders and is simply eclipsed by their talent.

#18. Sabercat: A result of the mating between Derby runner-up and Haskell Invitational (GI, 9F)-winning Bluegrass Cat and a daughter of Travers Stakes (GI, 10F)-winning and Derby runner-up Forty Niner, Sabercat seems to have the pedigree for the Derby. The most intriguing, and possibly most advantageous, factor of his pedigree is that he is a direct descendant of the great broodmare La Troienne, who is found in the dam line of Derby winners Go for Gin, Sea Hero, Smarty Jones, and Super Saver.

After rallying to take fourth and third, respectively, in his first two starts, both of which came at Churchill Downs, Sabercat finished a poor eighth in his turf debut at Saratoga. Returning to the dirt, this time at Monmouth Park, Sabercat battled the eventual multiple graded stakes-placed My Adonis on the pace before prevailing by a half-length to break his maiden. He won with a forwardly placed run in the Garden State Stakes prior to rallying from near the back of the field to take the Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes (GIII) by four lengths. His sophomore debut was incredibly disappointing, however, as he ran eighth in the Rebel Stakes (GII). He ran much better next out in the Arkansas Derby (GI), but his third-place finish there was not flashy.

Unlike his racing performances this year, Sabercat’s final training for the Derby over Churchill Downs’ dirt surface has been remarkable. He has traveled over the ground well and his final work over the track – a 48.40 half-mile breeze – was very visually impressive.

Though Sabercat has worked well over the track, many of the others seem to outshine him. He has not performed tremendously well in the afternoon this year and appears to be a step below the rest of the field.

#19. I’ll Have Another:
By the Travers Stakes (GI, 10F)-winning Flower Alley and out of an Arch daughter, I’ll Have Another has a carefully constructed ten-furlong pedigree. His dam is not only by the sire of the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI, 10F)-winning Arch, but she is also a granddaughter of the stamina-influencing Pleasant Tap. He is also the direct descendant of a Reine De Course mare in Pontivy.

I’ll Have Another led from start to finish in his career debut at Hollywood Park and after that win, he took on graded stakes company in the Best Pal Stakes (GII) at Del Mar, finishing 1 ¾ lengths behind Creative Cause while crossing the wire in second. He then shipped east for the Hopeful Stakes (GI) at Saratoga, in which he encountered a sloppy track and finished sixth, surfacing from the race with an injury that prevented him from racing again until February. When he returned, he effortlessly trounced his rivals in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (GII) over a fast dirt track at Santa Anita despite being dismissed as a longshot. In his final prep, the Santa Anita Derby (GI), the stunning chestnut colt ran down Creative Cause in the stretch to prevail by a nose.

Against my preference, I’ll Have Another made his final work at Hollywood Park rather than Churchill Downs, turning in a nice six furlong work in 1:13.80. He shipped to Churchill Downs a week before the Derby and though I would have liked to see him get in a work over the track like rival Creative Cause did, he has had several brisk gallops over the Louisville track, galloping over the track so commandingly that he might as well have worked.

I’ll Have Another has the pedigree, the brilliance, the conformation, the running style, and the ability to run an elite race in the Kentucky Derby. However, he may be slightly harmed by his far outside post. For more on why I’ll Have Another is a leading contender for the Kentucky Derby, please click

#20. Liaison: The sire of Liaison is the late Indian Charlie, who was a grade one winner at nine furlongs but tired to finish third in the Kentucky Derby. Liaison should garner more stamina from his dam, however, as she is a daughter of the Belmont Stakes (GI, 12F)-winning Victory Gallop and a granddaughter of the Belmont- and Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI, 10F)-winning A.P. Indy. He is also a direct descendant of the Hall of Fame Reine De Course mare who won the Kentucky Oaks, the Coaching Club American Oaks when it was contested at eleven furlongs, and several other prestigious races, Real Delight.

After a third-place finish in his debut, which came at one mile over Del Mar’s synthetic track, Liaison rallied to win a seven-furlong maiden over Santa Anita’s dirt. In his stakes debut, Liaison rallied yet again to capture the Real Quiet Stakes by a half-length over Hollywood Park’s cushion track. In his final start as a juvenile, he triumphed in the CashCall Futurity (GI) at the same track, settling off the leaders before getting up to win by a neck. In his sophomore debut, Liaison did not appear to have the needed kick, but before he could even complete the race, he clipped heels and unseated his rider. In the San Felipe Stakes (GII) next out, the colt closed from off the pace but could finish no better than fourth. In the Santa Anita Derby (GI), Liaison yet again failed to show his old spark and crossed the wire in sixth.

Bob Baffert shipped Liaison to Churchill Downs despite the fact that he was unsure whether the colt would run in the Derby or not. The decision rested on his final works, and when Liaison strikingly covered five furlongs over the Louisville track in 1:00.80, the son of Indian Charlie found himself entered in the greatest two minutes in sports.

Liason was spectacular in his final work, but he very well may have been a better juvenile than a sophomore. And although he should receive stamina from his dam side, the distance of ten furlongs is still questionable of the colt. A good performance would not be totally shocking, but Liaison has been outperformed by several of these horses in 2012 and likely will be on Saturday, especially with his post on the very outside.

Also Eligible:

#21. My Adonis:
By Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI, 10F)- and Dubai World Cup (GI, 10F)-winning Pleasantly Perfect and out of a mare by Elusive Quality, who is the sire of the Derby- and Preakness Stakes (GI, 9.5F)-winning Smarty Jones, My Adonis appears to have the pedigree to get the Derby distance.

My Adonis broke his maiden in his fourth start at Monmouth Park, romping over a muddy track at one mile and seventy yards. He followed up that win with an easy victory in the Jean Lafitte Stakes at Delta Downs. Following a very disappointing ninth-place performance in the Delta Downs Jackpot (GIII), My Adonis ran a decent third behind Algorithms and Hansen in the Holy Bull Stakes (GIII) over a sloppy track at Gulfstream. He ran behind Hansen yet again next out, finishing second behind the champion juvenile in the Gotham Stakes (GIII) at Aqueduct. His final prep for the Derby was a poor seventh-place finish in the Wood Memorial Stakes (GI).

My Adonis’ final work came at Monmouth Park in a 1:01.60 five-furlong move.

Though bred for the distance, I do not expect for My Adonis to perform well in the Derby should he draw in.

As mentioned, this year’s running of the Kentucky Derby features one of the deepest fields in years. My top selection for the Run for the Roses is the brilliant Union Rags, though I very much like Bodemeister, I’ll Have Another, and Creative Cause as well. I also cannot discount Went the Day Well, Gemologist, Dullahan, or Alpha. Good longshot plays appear to be Daddy Nose Best, El Padrino, and Sabercat, though high odds will be found on Rousing Sermon and Prospective as well, both of which could be useful in the exotics. The 2012 Kentucky Derby is wide open, but I truly feel as if Union Rags is poised to run a spectacular race. No matter how the race turns out, the Kentucky Derby will surely be an exciting race worthy of being the event that is most anticipated annually in the sport of kings.

For my final rankings for the Kentucky Derby, please refer to my
Final Derby Top Ten, which can be found here.

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  1. Very informative, thanks

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