Photo: Eclipse Sportswire - Alex Evers
1. Honor Code (A.P. Indy - Serena’s Cat, by Storm Cat) Shug McGaughey – It was a noteworthy decision for sure, when his connections passed on the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in favor of more time and the Remsen Stakes at the end of November. Skipping the Cup, with a horse who very well could have won, tells us one thing … they are focused on the 2014 Kentucky Derby. Honor Code’s veteran trainer, Shug McGaughey finally broke the seal, and won the Derby this year with Orb. In Orb, this time last year, he had a promising juvenile who could turn out to be something good. In Honor Code, McGaughey looks to have something substantially more special. The son of A.P Indy has demonstrated a closing kick that you just don’t see in American juveniles anymore. His maiden win, and his near miss in the Champagne have fans excited, and for good cause. Continued development is all that stands between him and a big shot on the First Saturday in May.
2. Coastline (Speightstown - Culinary by El Amante) Mark Casse – I consider it only a matter of time before the tandem of trainer, Mark Casse, and owner, John Oxley, win a big one in the States, and in Coastline, they might have just the horse to do it. Sire Speightstown might sound a bit short on the distance front, but don’t forget he he has already had sons Haynesfield and Golden Ticket win major races at the Derby distance. It doesn’t hurt that his female family has a strong international flare, and dam, Culinary was a fine runner. I really liked what I saw in his career debut when chasing Almost Famous around, and that belief came to fruition with a nice maiden score at Keeneland in his second start. He followed that up with an impressive win over a good field in the one-mile Street Sense Stakes under the twin spires of Churchill Downs.
3. Strong Mandate (Tiznow - Clear Mandate, by Deputy Minister) D.Wayne Lukas - A bit on an enigma wrapped up in a riddle to date, I tend to look a this one’s three strong efforts, rather than dwelling on his two failed efforts. His maiden and Hopeful wins at Saratoga were nothing short of powerful, and it wouldn’t be much of stretch to say he was best in the BC Juvenile. Hung out to dry from his outside post position, he pressed fast fractions all the way and looked good coming back at Havana down the lane. We know Lukas knows how to get a horse to the Triple Crown, and this one has the pedigree to stay the trip. He also looks like a type who can win from a variety of different early positions. I don’t know what happened in the Champagne, but I still like him.
4. New Year's Day (Street Cry - Justwhistledixie, by Dixie Union) Bob Baffert – Do you remember Justwhistledixie? She was the filly all the rage one spring in Florida before an injury knocked her out of the Kentucky Oaks. As a son of hers, and established distance sire, Street Cry, this one has the bloodlines to be a good one. So far, he has done nothing to disappoint. After making up ground in his debut sprint, New Year’s Day came back nicely to beat the good Bond Holder in a key maiden race at Del Mar. Trying dirt at Santa Anita for trainer, Bob Baffert, he had a series of good works before the Breeders’ Cup, and then ran big to rally along the inside and grab all the money in the Juvenile. It is a win that not only likely will give him an Eclipse Award, but also demonstrates he can handle the dirt.
5. Shared Belief (Candy Ride - Common Hope, by Storm Cat) Jerry Hollendorfer – Anyone who saw the recent Hollywood Prevue has no alternative but to be impressed with this son of Candy Ride. The way he rocketed down the Hollywood Park stretch away from the good, Kobe’s Back, for new connections, Jim Rome and Jerry Hollendorfer, was a real eye-opener. It shouldn’t have come as too big a surprise though, as he did very much the same in his career debut at Golden Gate Fields. He has never run beyond seven furlongs, nor on dirt, so there are major questions still to be answered, but look for him to take another step forward as the horse to beat in next month’s CashCall Futurity. His talent is undeniable.
6. Green Mask (Mizzen Mast - Bonsai Beauty, by Forestry) Wesley Ward - You will not find this one on most expert’s list at this point, but I believe it is only a matter of time, before you do. Along with the horse directly above him on this list, this Wesley Ward charge impressed me as much as any juvenile going short so far this year. Green Mask has run only once so far, a dominating win in a six-furlong Keeneland maiden race, but he continues to impress in the mornings. While it is true that there is plenty of speed within his pedigree, he does have enough stamina influences in there to believe that immense talent can carry him a long way as the important races get longer on the Kentucky Derby trail. Look for him to make his way west, and for his next start to come in a stakes race.
7. Cairo Prince (Pioneerof The Nile - Holy Bubbette, by Holy Bull) Kiaran McLaughlin – Another impressive colt with only two lifetime starts, the son of good looking young sire, Pioneerof the Nile is undefeated and untested to date. While both breaking his maiden at six furlongs by 2 3/4 lengths at Belmont, and then scoring in Aqueduct’s one-mile Nashua Stakes by 2 1/2 lengths, Cairo Prince uncorked a devastating turn of foot to effectively end each contest at the top of the stretch. This knockout punch will be tested when the competition gets tougher and the distance increases. Both of those should take place when he is expected to challenge the top one in what should be a very interesting renewal of the Remsen Stakes. While I like the prospects of Pioneerof The Nile offspring around two-turns, this one does half plenty of speed influence on his female side.
8. Havana (Dunkirk - Missy Turtle, by Kyle’s Our Man) Todd Pletcher - He truly has done nothing wrong in his three lifetime starts, including a win in the Grade 1 Champagne and a second place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, but still, I find myself struggling to rate him any higher than eighth. He has that look of so many good two-year-olds that struggle as their late wind becomes more important in races of nine furlongs or longer. While his breeding does not scream sprinter, I am going to need to see how is precociousness at two carries over to three, before I get too excited about him as a legitimate Derby contender. Still, his obvious class does warrant a prominent position in my first Down and Derby Sweet 16.
9. Smart Cover (Any Given Saturday - Crazy Cousin, by Smart Strike) Dale Romans – Color me far from convinced that September’s Iroquois Stakes is going to wind up being a key race, but the way this one closed down the lane of the Churchill Downs stretch was something to remember. Making up about seven lengths in the final furlong, the Donegal Racing runner fell just short of getting by stablemate, Cleburne, for the win. Already a winner on turf at Ellis Park, Smart Cover has the pedigree to go long, and a conditioner, in Dale Romans, who is destined to win the Kentucky Derby sooner or later. It’s never too early for me to look for a stretch runner in the Derby, and this one intrigues me.
10. Almost Famous (Unbridled’s Song – Wild Gams, by Forest Wildcat) Pat Byrne – This good looking son of Unbridled’s Song received a lot of ink after an impressive debut performance at Churchill Downs in which he bested my highly rated, Coastline. That outcome was reversed, though, when the two came together in the flat-mile Street Sense Stakes. Coastline was the more experienced by that point, and Almost Famous faded in the stretch to finish fourth. A good bounce-back performance, where he dominated a well-intended allowance field, going two-turns, did a good job of restoring some of his lost luster. Obviously talented, I wonder if his pedigree has enough on the female side to get the ten furlongs. He could get his initial stakes score in the Kentucky Jockey Club, also at Churchill Downs, coming soon.
11. Noble Moon (Malibu Moon - Mambo Bell, by Kingmambo) Leah Gyarmati – Trainer Leah Gyarmati not only has a real Kentucky Oaks prospect in the barn, in Sweet Reason, but she also has this interesting son of Malibu Moon. He began his career by taking his speed all the way in a six-furlong maiden event. He only won by three-quarters of a length, but showed good heart keeping his competition at bay. Sent off as a long shot in his second start, the Nashua Stakes, he had no chance to flash any speed, as he was bumped solidly at the start. Employing completely different tactics, he stormed from last to just miss the place spot, despite a wide run around the final turn. He never threatened the winner, Cairo Prince, but it’s easy to imagine that things could have been very different with a better trip.
12. Bond Holder (Mineshaft - Cielo Girl, by Conquistador Cielo) Doug O’Neill – With six starts, this is the most experienced colt on the list. Improving with each start for Kentucky Derby winning trainer, Doug O’Neill, he ran a good second to New Year’s Day in his first non-sprint, before finally breaking his maiden in the Grade 1 FrontRunner Stakes, with a big late rush. He ran into, and lost, to that familiar foe again in the BC Juvenile, but did nothing to discourage those who like him, with a solid rally to complete the superfecta. He may not have the talent of many on this list, but his consistent late run, coupled with a pedigree which should not quit, make him an interesting prospect for next spring.
13. Tap It Rich (Tapit - Gold Canyon, by Mr. Prospector) Bob Baffert – An explosive debut performance, in which he came from well back to win going away by better than four lengths at Santa Anita, sent him headlong into the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile as the now horse. Let go as the 3-1 second choice, this son of Tapit didn’t exactly throw in a clunker, but could manage no better than fifth in the large field. Still, it was a lot to ask of the $510,000 yearling purchase in only his second lifetime start, and at the wire, he was only 3 1/4 lengths behind the winner. Look for the Baffert trainee to be given a little more time now, and we may well see more good things from the impressive maiden winner down the road.
14. Mexikoma (Birdstone – Toccet Over, by Toccet) Rick Mettee – After doing nothing to speak of in a turf debut at Saratoga, this son of a Belmont winner, came back to dismantle a maiden field at Delaware Park. That win, and his good looks, prompted Team Valor to purchase him privately. Turned over to Rick Mettee, they shipped him out west for a quick return on the investment, but things did not pan out. Way back early, he did show plenty of interest in the stretch, though, and was actually not far from hitting the board. All and all, it was a good performance. If you like the long winded types, this one fits the bill, as 1 ¼ miles should be well within his scope.
15. In Trouble (Tiz Wonderful - Ballpark Butterfly, by Grand Slam) Anthony Dutrow – On the shelf after having a knee chip removed, this son of Tiznow demonstrated a lot to like before his juvenile came to a close. A sharp maiden win at Saratoga was followed by a 2 ¾ length victory in the Futurity Stakes at Belmont. While both of those wins came at six furlongs or less, the Tony Dutrow runner has the kind of breeding that you look for in a Derby runner. As a grandson of Tiznow, and with a stamina rich female family, look for this one to stretch out successfully when he does come back to the races.
16. Culprit (Street Sense - Caught in the Act, by A.P. Indy) Dale Romans - One of three from the Romans barn that I considered for this last spot, Culprit is still very much a work in progress. Liked enough to be placed in a graded stakes on turf in his second start, while still a maiden, he showed good late interest on that day, as he done in each start. The son of Derby winner, Street Sense, is not only bred for class, but he should run all day. Rebounding from that try in the Bourbon, the Donegal charge made use of his late-running ability to get up in a one-mile maiden race at Churchill. He only won by a half-length that day, but it looked like a strong field for maidens, and he has the look of a horse that will only improve with age.