With less than 2 months to go before the famed “run for the roses” in the 2010 Kentucky Derby, it’s time to once again put pen to paper in what figures to be another futile attempt to make some sense of the contenders we’ve seen thus far. The weekend past was a tale of two emotions: “Twas the best of times, twas the worst of times.” We watched the emergence of a star-in-the-making in Awesome Act’s powerful Gotham performance. Then we watched in disbelief as Blind Luck failed to catch Crisp at the wire in the Santa Anita Oaks, despite running her heart out in the stretch.
The defeat of Blind Luck means that I had to drop her off my Derby rankings list, especially since I only go 10 deep in the actual rankings. I still think she’s as good as the top 10 colts around, and would expect a rebound next time out. Real estate, however, becomes precious with so little time ahead. The loss all but assures that if she travels to Churchill Downs, it will be to run in the Oaks rather than the Derby. Personally, I’ll be holding out hope that she throttles the Oaks field and then points for the Preakness or Belmont. A guy can wish, can’t he?
As for Awesome Act’s performance, let’s just say that heading into post he looked like a million bucks. I had advised playing against him in our selections for the Gotham that morning, but once anyone got a look at him in the post parade, it’s hard to imagine they didn’t have a fairly good idea of what was about to happen. I wound up posting on Twitter that “if he runs as good as he looks, the Gotham might be over already.”
Sure enough, it was.
The weekend ahead figures to be equally as compelling. The San Felipe, Tampa Bay Derby, and the Rebel await. Of course, the most important “prep” races happening this weekend aren’t likely to involve 3-year-olds. The return of 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra in the New Orleans Ladies and that of 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic champion Zenyatta in the Santa Margarita will be the biggest shows in town, and rightly so. And just in time to start breaking out the grills and go exploring this vast expanse we’ve not seen for many months, formerly buried in snow, that locals refer to as “outside.”
Yes, there’s much to be excited about this time of year. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the updated rankings of the contenders for the 2010 Kentucky Derby.
No change at the top spot. Todd Pletcher’s son of Giant’s Causeway catapulted to the top of many Derby watch lists after his dominating performance in the Fountain of Youth. Up next will be the Florida Derby. At first I didn’t think I’d keep him on top for long, but now it’s starting to seem like it will take a pretty big performance in one of the Grade 1 preps to knock him from this position. I’ve warmed to him. He’s a legitimate #1 on such lists based on what we’ve seen from the crop overall.
A wise man once told me to always remember the horse you rode in on. All kidding aside, I’m typically loyal to a fault, and this may well be another fait accompli for yours truly. There was something Curlin-esque about this colt when I first saw him in a replay against allowance runners at Tampa Bay. On the surface, he’s done nothing that warrants this aggressive a ranking, having not earned a single dollar of the all-important graded stakes money he’ll need to secure a starting spot in the Kentucky Derby on May 1st. That being said, he’s slated to take on Super Saver and others in the Tampa Bay Derby. If he’s anywhere near the horse I think he is, we’ll see it this weekend. I’m trusting my gut on this one. I think this is a race horse here, and a pretty darn good one at that.
3. Lookin at Lucky
If he had stayed in California and not tried the dirt in any of his prep races, I was ready to keep ‘Lucky out of my top 3 positions all season long. Now that Bob Baffert seems committed to having Lucky try the dirt in the Rebel, I’m interpreting the decision as a confident, bold move by a trainer who thinks he may have something special. I applaud the decision by Baffert. The synthetic-to-dirt angle was huge for several runners prepping for the Derby last season, and if not for the freak injury to I Want Revenge, may have been one of the primary story lines about last year’s Derby winner. Ironically, in a round about way and due to his initial races at Woodbine, the synthetic-to-dirt angle did ultimately factor into the victory of 50/1 longshot Mine That Bird. Many people that I trust insist this is a special horse. If he wins big on the dirt in the Rebel against what figures to be a salty field, Eskendereya could have some company at the top of the list. Also note that ‘Lucky will be wearing a hood for the first time as Baffert tries the blinkers-on approach.
4. Awesome Act
I struggled with where to properly rank the overnight sensation that has invaded our shores from across the pond. Looked sensational prior to the Gotham and then ran like a horse that meant serious business. Was the Gotham the toughest race we’ve ever seen? Absolutely not, and there’s no question he’ll get tested by better horses in his next starts, but the point I’m focusing on his how “much the best” he was. This guy is a legitimate Derby contender, and he’s got a jockey in Julien Leparoux that you just knew was going to wind up on a big time contender sooner or later. Full disclosure? Though I advocated playing against him in the Gotham, he’s probably my 2nd favorite on this list behind Odysseus.
I keep thinking of former Eagles and Vikings wide receiver Cris Carter whenever I think of this horse. “All he does is win horse races.” Now that Lookin at Lucky has shipped east to Arkansas for the Rebel, “Scarface” finds himself the top dog in California at the moment. I expected him to challenge Lucky if he had remained in California, and it looks like he should have a much easier time now if they chose to keep him local. It’ll be hard to rank a horse higher until we see them on dirt, but this guy is a proven winner and figures to remain so for the foreseeable future.
Probably the horse who suffers the most from the “what have you done for me lately?” syndrome that bloggers like me are self-described masters at. Todd Pletcher’s run away winner of the Sam F. Davis will likely point to the Wood or the Florida Derby. Considering Eskendereya is likely Florida Derby bound, my money would be on the Wood as his final destination.
7. Discreetly Mine
The most difficult of the ubiquitous Pletcher clan to put a finger on. Folks either love him or hate him. I think he beat 3 quality horses in Ron the Greek, Tempted to Tapit, and Drosselmeyer in the Risen Star. Up next is likely the Louisiana Derby. I’m still not sure if he’ll want 10 furlongs, or if he’ll be able to rate effectively, but if he answers positively to both of those questions he’s certainly talented enough to be a factor in the Derby. In keeping with the theme of discretion in this horse’s name, I’ll confide that I sneakily swapped positions with Rule and Discreetly Mine since our initial rankings were published.
Sort of an odd addition to the list considering he didn’t race this past weekend and was defeated in his most recent start. Why the vertical move up my list then? I toyed with ranking the 1st and 2nd place finishers of the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park in this spot. The winner, Conveyance, does not appear to be pointing to any local races though, while the place horse, Dublin, will now get to run into yet another Bob Baffert monster in Lookin at Lucky in the Rebel. I thought Dublin might’ve been the best horse in the Southwest, both before and after the race was run. Could give Lucky some fits in the Rebel.
Another of the Cris Carter type runners that simply goes out and wins races. The undefeated son Indian Charlie opened his career out west with victories that included the Grade 3 San Rafael on January 16. The victory in the Southwest at Oaklawn proved he could handle the conventional dirt. Isn’t that the knock we horseplayers always use on west coast horses until they come east? Okay, so now that he’s bested that challenge, what next? Well, thanks to Baffert sending Lookin at Lucky to Oaklawn for the Rebel, Conveyance has seemingly been officially relegated to “plan B” status. He’ll be headed to the Sunland Park Derby for his next start if current indications prove true.
10. Sidney’s Candy
I maintain that this could be any kind of horse. The sensational winner of the San Vicente was at one point rumored to be considering the Gotham at Aqueduct. Obviously that didn’t happen, and it appears the son of Candy Ride may be the best remaining challenger for Caracortado out of the California crop for the moment while Lucky visits the south.
Others to watch:
I’m keeping my eyes on several horses, including those we mentioned in our initial rankings like Dave in Dixie, Jackson Bend, Buddy’s Saint, Drosselmeyer, and Ron the Greek. I guess you could add Alphie’s Bet to that list following his performance in the Sham.
One horse you may notice I haven’t mentioned yet is Super Saver. I know many are extremely high on him and one might think that fresh off of the experience of publicly doubting Awesome Act I might be inclined to be accepting of such highly touted horses, but my thoughts remain that I need to see something for 2010 from this horse before I add him to the list.
Guess what? He gets a chance to prove that to you and me this weekend, so the wait won’t be long. It just so happens it’s my boy Odysseus he’s running against, and it goes without saying where my heart will be in that race. Hopefully my wallet doesn’t follow with reckless abandon.