Kentucky Derby 2012 - The Sweet 16
1. Union Rags (Dixie Union-Tempo, by Gone West) Michael Matz – If not for a wayward path down the Churchill Downs stretch, this might be the undefeated champion of the crop. While the actual champion may not have the classic look of a Derby horse, this one does. Trained by a Kentucky Derby winning trainer, we already know Union Rags can handle traffic, off tracks, and the Churchill surface. He's been working well at Palm Meadows, and should be ready for his return in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream. What's not to like?
2. El Padrino (Pulpit-Enchanted Rock, by Giant's Causeway) Todd Pletcher - Of all the Pletcher hotshots, this is the one I like the best? Yes, and for one simple reason ... distance. The Kentucky Derby may not always be won by the best horse, but it is always won by a horse that can handle ten furlongs the first Saturday of May. El Padrino gives every indication of a horse who can run all day. Even when beaten in an uninspiring Remsen Stakes, he finished full or run when he finally got off the rail. I was looking for a strong performance last week in his 2012 debut, and I was more than pleased in seeing him stride out to and past the wire.
3. Liaison (Indian Charlie-Galloping Gal, by Victory Gallop) Bob Baffert – Many would say that with two sons of Indian Charlie in my Top 8, I am looking for trouble. Not so fast my friends. I was convinced before his untimely death that the 3rd place Derby finisher of 1998 was not only one of America's top sires, but his offspring also seem to love Churchill Downs. Liaison is not bowling them over in California, but he is showing the ability to have something extra in the tank when the race is on the line, much like Silver Charm.
4. Algorithms (Bernardini-Ava Knowsthecode, by Cryptoclearance) Todd Pletcher - His performance in the Holy Bull was big, but what did it really prove? For me it proved that the undefeated son of Bernardini has the class to fit in the highest of levels. I think he would won that race regardless of the track condition. As a one-turn horse, we already know that he can get it done, but he is behind most on this list in that he has yet to be tested around two-turns. The breeding is for the most part promising, but until he proves he can handle a route, I will remain cautiously optimistic.
5. Creative Cause (Giant's Causeway-Dream of Summer, by Siberian Summer) Mike Harrington – This was one of the first juveniles I fell in love with last year. He disappointed me slightly when I saw him beaten in person in the Del Mar Futurity, but he did have a pretty big excuse that day. I like the way he took to dirt and two-turns in the Norfolk, and his Breeders' Cup Juvenile was not far from earning him a championship. Any improvement over the winter should keep this son of one of the best sires in the world on the short list of top contenders.
6. Hansen (Tapit-Stormy Sunday, by Sir Cat) Michael Maker – Yes, I picked against him in the Holy Bull, but that does not mean I still don't like him. In fact, the loss in that race may do him a world of good. Now he knows what he is dealing with when a horse comes right up to him. Of course he will need a better answer than the one offered on Sunday, but considering the stumble, the quick rush to open up a sizable lead, the off track, and most importantly, that fact that it was only the first step on a path designed to have him peaking in May, makes me believe that we will hear far more from the champion before everything is said and done.
7. Out of Bounds (Discreet Cat-Unbridled Elaine, by Unbridled's Song) Eoin Harty – His sire was a star and his dam was a star, so on breeding, he looks as good as any here, provided he can stay the trip. His last race, when he ran down Secret Circle in the late stages of the Sham Stakes, may not look as good on paper as it actually looked to me watching live. He's a big strong colt who appears to have the ability to find extra gears in the stretch. I am wondering if this ranking is too low, as I have a good feeling about him.
8. Ever So Lucky (Indian Charlie-Bally Storm, by Summer Squall) Jonathan Sheppard – He's only had two races, but this is one colt I am definitely rooting for. How good would it be to see the master horseman, Jonathan Sheppard in the winner's circle of the Kentucky Derby? The fact that many don't like his sire at the distance, should be tempered by the rare ability of his conditioner to prepare his horses for any distance. The fact that he has already run two strong races over the Churchill Downs strip also does not hurt one little bit.
9. Rousing Sermon (Lucky Pulpit-Rousing Again, by Awesome Again) Jerry Hollendorfer – What a nice California-bred. All this big strong son of Lucky Pulpit does on each and every occasion is make a strong rally. It does not seem to matter the distance, nor the class, he is going to fire. Having said that, it does bother me a little that on both occasions it looked like he might be able to motor on by Liaison, only to watch that horse find more. Hollendorfer is a great trainer, who should know exactly how to get a horse to run big at the Derby.
10. Gemologist (Tiznow-Crystal Shard, by Mr. Prospector) Todd Pletcher – An undefeated son of Tiznow who already has a big win at the track ... seems like he should be ranked a little higher. Maybe, but I wonder if Ever So Lucky doesn't beat him in the Kentucky Jockey Club with just a little more seasoning. I also would like to see this return to the worktab soon. No works yet could be another example of Mr. Pletcher not asking quite enough from his best horses.
11. Sky Kingdom (Empire Maker-Sky Beam, by Kingmambo) Bob Baffert – This may be the wisest of all the wise guy horses, but I think there is good reason. One of many contenders for his silver-haired trainer, Sky Kingdom certainly takes after his sire as far as the good looks. The CashCall Futurity run was deceptively good, as his trip was far from ideal, and his recent first race on dirt furthers the feeling that this one is getting better all the time. Adding to his appeal, is the belief that distance should not be an issue for him.
12. Discreet Dancer (Discreet Cat -West Side Dancer, by Gone West) Todd Pletcher - When you win your maiden voyage for fun in fast time, and then return to do the same against allowance company, people start talking. Sure enough, this one has received a lot of ink, but who knows? He may be the most talented horse of the crop, or he may be a talented horse who looks really good at beating up on cheaper horses around one-turn. Only time will tell.
13. Alpha (Bernardini-Munnaya, by Nijinsky II) Kiaran McLaughlin – I wanted to rank this one higher, but I just could not for one big reason. That poor performance at Churchill Downs in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile just jumps off the page at me. It reminds me so much of Stay Thirsty, that I can't tell whether I should just wait for the Travers on this one. I like his breeding, running style, connections, and all of his other races, but he will need to bring much more to the table next time he visits Louisville.
14. Junebugred (Corinthian-Dixie Melody, by Dixieland Band) Steve Hobby - Of the first 15 horses on the list, this is the one that may seem not to belong, but I liked the way the little chestnut looked coming up the rail to win the Smarty Jones. And considering that it was only his third lifetime start and his first outside of the maiden ranks, I am willing to rank him this high. I like his bloodlines, and Oaklawn has been a hotbed for Kentucky Derby contenders the last 10 years. The competition will only get tougher, but the horse with the funny name intrigues me.
15. Secret Circle (Eddington-Ragtime Hope, by Dixieland Band) Bob Baffert - Bred for a distance, very fast as a juvenile, and trained by perhaps our best Kentucky Derby trainer ... there seems to be a lot to like here, but the pink elephant in the room is the 1 1/4 mile trip of the Kentucky Derby. Can he handle it? Maybe, maybe not, but I am not ready to give up on him after one game defeat to Out of Bounds in the Sham Stakes.
16. Fly Lexis Fly (Badge of Silver-Becky Loves Silver, by Silver Charm) Neil Drysdale - Where is this horse from, Peru? So why do I like him? Class is a gigantic question mark, but the fact that he has dominated the best in his country, including older, and at distances none of the Americans have dreamed of running yet has to count for something. The Kentucky bred is now in California and working with one of the best trainers in the land, Neil Drysdale. And hey, stranger things have happened.