Photo: Eclipse Sportswire - Alex Evers
With just seven weeks to go until the
2014 Kentucky Derby, the list of contenders from the West Coast is
still very much in flux. Since my last set of rankings, which was
published earlier this month, we've had plenty of movement, with a
couple new arrivals and a new No. 1.
For those who didn't see my original
post, these rankings take into account both a horse's talent and his
Kentucky Derby points. These points carry significant weight; after
all, if a horse doesn't have the points, he's not running, regardless
of the talent he possesses.
With that in mind, here's the new
10) Kobe's Back (last rank:
Kentucky Derby points: None
1st in San Vicente
What the heck happened in the
Rebel? The John Sadler trainee couldn't have looked much better in
the San Vicente and couldn't have looked much worse at Oaklawn Park.
I think the real Kobe's Back is somewhere in the middle of those two
efforts. Sadler has enough time for one last shot at Derby points in
early-April, although he may very well concentrate on one-turn
sprints going forward.
9) Dance With Fate (last rank:
Kentucky Derby points: 8 (32nd)
credentials: 2nd in El Camino Real Derby
hard-knocker hasn't run since my last post. He's been working
steadily at Santa Anita, and his most-recent five-furlong drill
Saturday may indicate Peter Eurton is cranking him up for one final
shot at Derby points. Outside of his career debut, his lone misfire
came in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, and one more top-two finish in a
Derby prep probably means he's in the gate, provided his connections
pony up the Triple Crown nomination fee.
8) Chitu (last rank:
Kentucky Derby points: 4 (T-38th)
credentials: 2nd in Robert B. Lewis
Chitu's been on
the bench since a strong second to Candy Boy in January, but his
worktab is solid and consistent. He's not exactly bred to go a mile
and a quarter, but he's shown a ton of talent and considerable grit
in his three starts. It wouldn't be surprising if he shows up in a
Derby prep these next few weeks.
7) Schoolofhardrocks (new to
Kentucky Derby points: 5 (T-33rd)
credentials: 3rd in San Felipe
made just his second career start in the San Felipe, and his first
since an eye-catching maiden win last summer at Del Mar. It's
entirely possible he wasn't fully cranked for that race, even though
nobody was beating California Chrome that day. With improvement, he
could easily grab more points and a spot in the Derby starting
6) Bayern (last rank: 5th)
2014 credentials: 1st in NW1
Bayern scratched from the San Felipe due to a minor
injury. That won't knock him off the Derby trail, though, and Bob
Baffert hinted we'd likely see him next in either the Santa Anita
Derby or Arkansas Derby. He needs to run well, but there's no reason
to think that he can't given how impressive he's been to this
5) Midnight Hawk (last ranked: 8th)
Derby points: 32 (8th)
2014 credentials: 1st
in Sham, 2nd in San Felipe, 3rd in Robert B.
I was actually pretty impressed by Midnight Hawk's
second-place finish in the San Felipe. He didn't show any signs of
immaturity, he chased a pretty hot pace, and if California Chrome
doesn't run, he wins by more than six lengths. He's pretty securely
in the Derby field if Baffert opts to send him to Louisville, he
hasn't had any interruptions to his campaign, and he seems to have
improved off his dud in the Lewis.
4) Tamarando (last ranked:
Kentucky Derby points: 12 (19th)
credentials: 1st in El Camino Real Derby, 2nd
in Cal Cup Derby
Tamarando is the probable favorite in next
weekend's Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park. A top-two finish probably
punches his ticket to Churchill Downs, and he's certainly shown an
affinity for synthetic surfaces. If he runs like he can, trainer
Jerry Hollendorfer could be Derby-bound (though not with the horse we
all thought he'd get there with, Shared Belief).
3) Candy Boy
(last ranked: 1st)
Kentucky Derby points: 10
2014 credentials: 1st in Robert B.
Candy Boy hasn't run since the Lewis, and he's being
pointed to the Santa Anita Derby. This strategy has risks, as if he
bounces or doesn't run well off the layoff, he probably misses out on
the Kentucky Derby. However, if he repeats his showing in the Lewis,
where he showed a lot of maturity in beating Chitu and Midnight Hawk,
he'll be very dangerous in California's traditional springboard to
the first Saturday in May.
2) Hoppertunity (new to the
Kentucky Derby points: 55 (2nd)
credentials: 1st in Rebel Stakes, 4th in Risen
Hoppertunity had room to move forward off the Risen Star,
and he certainly did that. He beat Tapiture and Strong Mandate in the
Rebel, though the race was contested over a wet track. We know he can
close, we know he can beat good horses, and he seems to be coming
around at just the right time.
1) California Chrome (last
Kentucky Derby points: 50 (T-4th)
credentials: 1st in San Felipe, 1st in Cal Cup
I wasn't sold on California Chrome two weeks ago. He had
zero Derby points, he'd never won a graded stakes race, and I didn't
think the Cal Cup Derby field, save for Tamarando, was anything
special. I wanted to see him run for Derby points...and when he did,
my opinion did a 180-degree turn.
His run in the San Felipe is
one of the most impressive races run by a 3-year-old this year. He's
Derby-bound if all goes well, and while the breeding may be suspect,
his talent sure isn't. As of right now, he's the 3-year-old to beat
on the West Coast.