With only 4 Saturdays remaining before the 136th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, it’s time to once again wade into the murky, otherworldly ether of the 3-year-old division of thoroughbred horse racing and attempt to find reason. That task has become easier thanks to the HD broadcasts of the Wood Memorial and Santa Anita Derby on NBC last Saturday and the jaw dropping 109 Beyer earning performance of Eskendereya in the Wood.
The victory solidified the colt with the Egyptian name as the top contender and most likely favorite for the first Saturday in May. That doesn’t mean it’s a slam dunk that Eskendereya will win the Derby. Remember, just last year we were in virtually the same position after I Want Revenge wowed us with an impressive Wood victory only to wind up being a late scratch on Derby morning. For now though, it’s clear that Eskendereya deserves to be considered the top of the class.
Of course, Eskendereya wasn’t the only show in town. American Lion wired the field to win the Grade 3 Illinois Derby, and across the nation in California Sidney’s Candy turned in another brilliant front running performance that featured an odd, nearly catastrophic ride for the favored Lookin at Lucky. Evidently Garrett Gomez went after Victor Espinoza (who was aboard longshot Who’s Up) after the race.
The victories by American Lion, Eskendereya, and Sidney’s Candy bring up another question for the 2010 Derby: pace. So far it looks like any number of contenders on the graded earnings list will be on-or-near the lead. At some point that has to factor into the equation when ranking these horses.
That being said, I’m not sure if it’s going to matter, and there’s simply no way to ignore the dominating nature of Eskendereya’s performance. Without hesitation, I move the colt above my beloved Odysseus in this, our sixth installment of the Derby rankings.
- #1 Eskendereya
Monster performances in the G2 Fountain of Youth and G1 Wood Memorial establish the Todd Pletcher trained son of Giant’s Causeway as THE horse to beat in the Kentucky Derby. Worthy favorite. If there is a weakness, perhaps he will be more vulnerable with a hotly contested pace?
- #2 Odysseus
I may be dropping him from my top spot, and a sub-par performance this weekend could leave him on the outside of the top 20 on the graded earnings list headed to the Kentucky Derby, but I’m loyal to my favorites – and there’s been something about this chestnut beauty that has stirred my emotions since I first spotted him after the allowance score at Tampa Bay Downs. I’d prefer the Arkansas Derby be his final prep, but it looks like he could face Interactif and Aikenite in the Toyota Blue Grass instead. God go with you wherever your travels may take you, big red horse!
- #3 Lookin at Lucky
Like many, there was a moment in the Santa Anita Derby where I feared for the sport that one of our bigger 3-year-old “stars” was injured. Thankfully, it appears that the son of Smart Strike came out of the race okay, although his jockey was a bit fired up. Bob Baffert didn’t get the trip he wanted in the Santa Anita Derby, but the gutsy way he fought back for 3rd after being nearly stopped on the track showed what this horse is all about. He may be a bit crazy in the head, but he’s the kind of guy you’re always going to respect in a fight.
- #4 Sidney’s Candy
It feels almost sacrilegious to rank a “speed horse” 4th on this list. I’m sure there will be numerous folks pointing out the folly for having done so, without even reading what follows. The fact of the matter is that I’m not putting this horse here because I believe he has the 4th best shot to win the Derby. I’m putting him here because I think he has earned the right to be ranked among the top 4 horses prepping for the Derby. It looks to me like the son of Candy Ride can answer the distance question, but the way the Derby is shaping up the pace scenario will likely be an altogether different story.
- #5 Ice Box
Given the potential pace setup for the Kentucky Derby, it seems as though a Grade 1 winning closer belongs in the top 5, even if he was dusted by Eskendereya in the G2 Fountain of Youth in February. He was “off slow” that day, and may be in better form now. His running style, his experience against the likely favorite, his G1 prestige, and the likely pace outlook for Kentucky Derby 136 all suggest he belongs in the discussion.
- #6 Mission Impazible
Rousing victory for the son of Unbridled’s Song in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby gives Rajiv Maragh something to think about with respect to the Kentucky Derby and Odysseus.
- #7 Endorsement
The more I see of this colt, the more I like him. Won the Grade 3 Sunland Derby in record time of 1:48.46 over Conveyance and Tempted to Tapit. The son of Distorted Humor seems to be peaking at the right time and I love his fast improving form. Some question whether he is headed for a bounce in the KY Derby, and have suggested he’s just an inflated G3 winner (like Odysseus), but my gut tells me this is a better race horse than many yet realize.
- #8 Awesome Act
Had the second worst trip of the day last Saturday (with top honors going to Lookin at Lucky) after being under a stranglehold from jockey Julien Leparoux in the early goings of the G1 Wood Memorial. My guess is they were trying to force him to relax some early on. A gorgeous looking son of Awesome Again, on his best stuff I think he’s a much better horse than what we saw, despite the thrashing the entire field took. Jackson Bend, Schoolyard Dreams, and Awesome Act were fighting it out for the minor awards, and sir Awesome was able to hang on for show. Needs a better trip to be a player in the Derby.
- #9 Noble’s Promise
Will likely continue to be the Rodney Dangerfield horse of this list that gets no respect from outsiders. In fact, I think he and Jackson Bend are the most routinely disrespected horses of the entire crop, which is a shame considering these two give it their all each time they touch the track. Yes, smart guys, I know he’s a son of Cuvee, but evidently someone has forgotten to tell this horse he doesn’t belong. Over $700k in graded earnings and a shot in the G1 Arkansas Derby up next.
- #10 Interactif
Stays on this list because we need another off-the-pace type and he probably has as good a shot as any to win the Blue Grass this weekend and further solidify his graded earnings qualifications. I toyed with adding Setsuko to the top 10, but it looks like that one is “on the bubble.” This colt could make some noise on national television this weekend.
- Blind Luck – likely Oaks favorite would seem to make some sense if they gave her a shot – she could probably beat many of these colts.
- Jackson Bend – colt just keeps on hitting exactas – despite all the haters.
- Pleasant Prince – 2nd place finisher of the G1 Florida Derby
- Super Saver – will look for an improved performance this weekend
- Drosselmeyer – Had a nice effort in the G2 Louisiana Derby
- Dean’s Kitten – Not sure he beat anyone in the Lane’s End, but that was a 9 furlong Grade 2 victory.
- Dublin – reunites with jockey Terry Thompson for the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby on 4/10.
- Conveyance - was no match in the stretch for Endorsement in the G3 Sunland Derby.
- Setsuko – closed well in the Santa Anita Derby, but may miss the graded earnings cutoff. Was on our initial top list of the year.
- Devil May Care – Todd Pletcher says the Bonnie Miss winner deserves to be in the discussion.
Up next up are the Grade 1 Toyota Blue Grass at Keeneland and the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park. We’ll have selections for each race available by Friday evening. Last weekend 8 out of the 9 horses we gave out in our Derby Fever selections wound up hitting the board, with two top choice winners (Eskendereya and American Lion) along with a 2nd choice winner in Sidney’s Candy.