While the past week didn’t produce any shocking upsets or long prices in the major Derby preps, it was arguably the most important of the entire campaign. It now appears that The Pamplemousse will be off the Kentucky Derby trail. The impact of this blow was softened somewhat by a dominating performance from I Want Revenge in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial, proving that he is a legitimate Derby threat (and possibly more). Everyone is furiously adjusting their rankings taking into account the recent changes as all of the roads to the Derby begin to converge.
We’re getting down to H-hour, folks. You can feel it in the air. I even cut my lawn this weekend for the first time this Spring. I’m a bit upset that we’ve lost The Pamplemousse, as he was one of my favorites, but I’m hopeful that a horse like Dunkirk will now find a way to squeeze into the field. He’ll make it a more interesting race if he does. With a month to go, here’s how I rank ‘em.
- #1 Quality Road - Hard not to give him the slight edge by virtue of his brilliant wins in the Florida Derby (G1) and the Fountain of Youth (G2), but it was not an easy decision. His sire, Elusive Quality, also gave us Smarty Jones a few years back, and we all know how that turned out. The biggest question he will face is whether the track at Gulfstream Park was favoring his speedy style. With the defection of The Pamplemousse the likely pace outlook has changed. I think it will take a horse who is somewhat forwardly placed to win it now, and Quality Road should be right there. A sensational colt who could be our best Triple Crown threat.
- #2 I Want Revenge- Feel you could rank the top three runners as 1, 1A, and 1B. I Want Revenge was just absolutely dominating in winning the Wood. He had no business winning that race, and he didn’t even have to win it. The fact that he did so makes it a mind blowing performance – off the Richter scale impressive. It’s exciting to see jockey Joe Talamo have his chance on a big named 3-year-old. Looks like a force to be reckoned with.
- #3 Friesan Fire – Drops a bit, though not by anything he has done. It’s just that as impressive as he looked winning the Louisiana Derby (G2), Quality Road and I Want Revenge have looked even better. Larry Jones is giving the colt a long break before the Triple Crown campaign begins, and he’ll go into the Derby on 6 weeks rest. I know some folks are questioning that, but I would not question anything Jones does with 3-year-olds as for my money he’s the best in the business with them. I would not forget about this guy come the first Saturday in May. He threw a sharp bullet work just before his performance in the Louisiana Derby (G2). Pay attention to how he works leading up to the big day.
- #4 Pioneer of the Nile - Moves to the front of the California division by virtue of his victory in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) as much as the defection of The Pamplemousse from the Derby trail. Many think he’s bred for turf/synthetics, but he’s a fighter that finds a way to win. The obvious challenge in predicting his Derby potential is that we’ve yet to see him run on true dirt and won’t until the first Saturday in May. For what it’s worth, the colt is currently on top of our 3-year-old colt standings over at the TBA.
- #5 Dunkirk – Still has to draw into the field, but if he does he has to be given a chance. The only horse to have bested him thus far is Quality Road, so if that one is a serious contender than Dunkirk must be as well. I’d prefer to see him pack on a little muscle before the Derby, but this guy still has a world of upside potential. Didn’t look like he enjoyed his hard effort in the Florida Derby (G1), but is bred to go the distance. I suspect he’ll be the “wiseguy” horse going into the Derby. With the loss of The Pamplemousse and the wins by Musket Man and I Want Revenge last weekend, he just might make it into the field. It’ll be close.
- #6 Old Fashioned – Has a chance to redeem himself in the Arkansas Derby next week. At one point this guy was the favorite for the Derby. He let one horse get passed him in the stretch of the Rebel (G2) and then came crashing to earth. Clearly he is option B now behind Friesan Fire for Larry Jones, but this colt could still make some noise before all is said and done.
- #7 Desert Party – I felt that this was the right spot for one of the two Godolphin runners from Dubai (Regal Ransom, winner of the G2 UAE Derby, being the other). You could rank whichever one you like the most here. My feeling was that Desert Party would get a chance to prove the UAE Derby effort a fluke and turn the tables on Regal Ransom. There doesn’t seem to be much separating these two. This guy’s stock will rise or fall depending on how he looks once arriving in Kentucky.
- #8 Win Willy – I’ve been on this guy’s bandwagon since his run in the Rebel (G2), and will likely remain on board for the ride as far as he takes us. I was blown away by his powerful move in the Rebel. If he defeats Old Fashioned again in the Arkansas Derby, than he’ll prove he’s a legit contender. His chances in the Derby will likely come down to the pace setup and what gate he draws as he seems to be a closer.
- #9 Chocolate Candy - Ran well in the Santa Anita Derby but could not get past Pioneer of the Nile. He’s another who it will be hard to gauge on true dirt until we see some strong workouts.
- #10 Musket Man – Not sure how this guy will stack up against the big boys as he’s been facing weaker competition, but he is a horse who knows how to find the winner’s circle. A $15,000 purchase at the September 2007 Keeneland sale, he continues to move forward with each performance. Illinois Derby win gives him victories at 4 tracks now in just 6 lifetime starts. That’s got to count for something and suggests he’ll ship well to Kentucky.
Other horses to keep an eye on include: Papa Clem, Theregoesjojo, Regal Ransom, and Mafaaz. Up next this weekend are the Arkansas Derby (G2) and the Blue Grass (G1).