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Ranking California's 2014 Kentucky Derby Contenders

Shared Belief close 615 X 400
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire - Alex Evers

 

The 2014 Kentucky Derby is less than four months away, and the first California prep race for newly-turned 3-year-olds is set for Saturday at Santa Anita. Six sophomores will go postward in the Grade 3 Sham Stakes, with the winner set to earn 10 Kentucky Derby points.

Therefore, it's as good a time as any to see how the West Coast 3-year-old picture looks. The top spot on these lists is not in dispute, especially with the retirement of New Year's Day, but once one gets past that imposing presence, the next several spots are wide-open.

1) Shared Belief

Jerry Hollendorfer has had rotten luck with his Kentucky Derby hopefuls, but so far, Shared Belief is doing all the right things. He's 3-for-3, has never been challenged, and his most recent work on dirt was excellent. He's preparing for the Robert Lewis Stakes next month, and he should be a heavy favorite to take down the 10 Derby points that will go to that race's winner.

2) Bond Holder

Some might say I have the Doug O'Neill trainee a few spots too high. My counter has two parts. Firstly, Bond Holder leads all West Coast 3-year-olds with 11 Kentucky Derby points, and is roughly halfway to a spot in that race's starting gate already. Secondly, his best races have come on conventional dirt. Bond Holder became a Grade I winner last October, when he won the FrontRunner, and his fourth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile was deceptively good. He should only improve now that he's shipped to Santa Anita for the winter/spring meet.

3) Tamarando

A consistent sort, Hollendorfer's less-hyped trainee hasn't finished worse than third since his debut. He's also a Grade I winner, but what gives Bond Holder a slight nod over this son of Bertrando is that Tamarando's biggest efforts have come on synthetic surfaces. He's Grade I-placed on dirt, though, and consistency is a big plus this time of year.

4) Midnight Hawk

It seems like Bob Baffert has an endless string of talented 3-year-olds who may be ready to take major leaps forward. Midnight Hawk is the likely favorite in the Sham off of an extremely impressive win at first asking last month at Betfair Hollywood Park. Add in back-to-back bullets at Santa Anita since then, and the son of the speedy Midnight Lute looks very imposing heading into Saturday's co-feature in Arcadia.

5) Candy Boy

This one's only problem may be not liking Del Mar. After two off-the-board finishes there to start his career, he ran second behind Tap It Rich (an honorable mention for this list) at Santa Anita before breaking his maiden in Inglewood and running second in the CashCall Futurity. As a son of Candy Ride, more distance should not be an issue, and he seemed to get better with each start away from Del Mar.

Honorable mentions: Tap It Rich (tons of talent, very immature), Chitu (2-for-2 Baffert trainee, may be best around one turn), Kobe's Back (nightmare trip in the CashCall)

 

What the Nation is saying about Ranking California's 2014 Kentucky Derby Contenders...

i dig shared belif and really like candy boy
Until Shared Belief translates his talents to the dirt,i will leave him as an Undesided. History is against him,but one never knows. An open mind is all i can say about him now. Personally,i think Baffert has the top 2 contenders in Tap it Rich and Indianapolis. Baffert is also loaded with many others. Probably the strongest hsnd that Baffert has had in recent history going into the Classic preps.
Chitu?? Watch out!!!!
Not sure what to think of this bunch. do know that Shared Belief is the best 3-year-old Jerry has had since Event of the Year. Midnight Hawk looks very good and thats about it. I think the best three year old is stabled at Oaklawn Park, and his name is Strong Mandate.
It's a pretty weak Classic distance 3yo group out of CA, so far.
That's good to know, thanks tony.mcgrath.9883;P
Shared belief was a brilliant 2 year old but like many before him will not win a triple crown
so far Shared Belief, Tamarando and Candy Boy seem to lead the pack but anticipating some new prospects to throw their "hats" in the game such a Indianapolis, Kristo, Midnight Hawk, etc.
Finally some respect for Bond Holder
Shared Belief has been crazy good...but I'm waiting to see if that's because he's truly brilliant or just the best of a mediocre California bunch.
Tamarando looks strong!
Paladin,Indianapolis ran and won.
Baffert has another nice one in unraced Indianapolis, one to keep your eye on.
Candy Boy looks real good cosidering that Stevens (atypically) moved him far too early last time and burned him up far turn.
Nice list. At around 5:35pm PST on Saturday, you'll need to add Kristo.

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Meet Andrew Champagne

 

A native of upstate New York and a graduate of Ithaca College, Andrew Champagne fell in love with horse racing at a very early age on summer trips to Saratoga. His turf writing credits include time spent as a sportswriter, weekly columnist, and handicapper at The Saratogian, a summer working for The Saratoga Special, and "field research" at OTB facilities in Saratoga Springs and his hometown of Kingston. He also spent two years in the athletic communications office at Siena College, and interned with NBC Olympics at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.


Andrew moved to Pasadena, Calif., in October of 2013, and now serves as an Associate Producer in HRTV's Digital Media department and Horse Racing Nation's Southern California writer. Follow him on Twitter at @AndrewChampagne, and email him at andrewdchampagne@gmail.com.