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The Best of the Rest

 I’m not implying that the top contender for the 2013 Kentucky Derby has already been found. Albeit a very healthy group of top level entries have already rested their case, the major preps will not conclude until this weekend. The closing arguments for Orb, Verrazano, Goldencents and Revolutionary were compelling. From derby hopefuls to legitimate post time favorites they, along with their connections, closed their trail to the Kentucky Derby with a bang. But again, I won’t say that the best is among them; not yet at least.
 
 
On Saturday we revisit Oaklawn Park for the Arkansas Derby before we realize how close we are to the first Saturday in May and we circle back to Kentucky for the always coveted Blue Grass Stakes. The thrill of the prep season comes when you think you’ve found the horse that will eventually wear the roses. That moment may have already arrived but as long as there are major prep races to be run, an aha moment may still be waiting.
 
 
So who is the best of the remaining derby hopefuls that are prepared to present their closing argument this weekend? Everyone’s opinion can vary quite a bit on that question. To make it even more difficult is the amount of horses that there are to choose from. But, from the 10 horse field in the Blue Grass and the 14 entries in the Arkansas Derby only a few have been chosen. Without further deliberation……let’s break it down.
 
 
Arkansas Derby
 
 
Den’s Legacy – 20 points
 
I begin with this Bob Baffert horse and son of Medaglia d'Oro because he’s always willing to race against the best. And by willing I mean challenge. He broke through for the first time in the G3 Generous Stakes at Hollywood Park in November. He has yet to hit the winner’s circle since but his results in his next four races make you ponder when it will happen next. Because it has to be soon right? Never missing the board in races won by Goldencents, Flashback, Will Take Charge and Violence makes it very clear that he has the ability to qualify for the Kentucky Derby. To confirm that, a big effort on Saturday could become the race that his connections have been waiting for all along.
 
 
Oxbow – 36 points
 
Oxbow is without a doubt D. Wanye Lukas' best shot at winning the 139th Kentucky Derby. Because he’s gobbled up the most points of anyone in the Arkansas Derby and because of his huge win in the G3 Lecomte Stakes (11 ½ lengths), Oxbow has earned the highest ranking of any of the horses racing on Saturday thus far. Bringing a little more of the wow factor to this horse is the rider that has been chosen by Lukas. Gary Stevens and Lukas both celebrated their first Kentucky Derby victory with the lovely lady Winning Colors in 1988 and did it again with Thunder Gulch in 1995. This legendary team is pretty cool to see again on the trail and it puts the possibility of a hat trick back on the table.
 
 
Falling Sky – 20 Points
 
After arriving on the scene with a win in the G3 Sam F. Davis Stakes, the John Terranova trained colt and son of Lion Heart took a step back with a third place finish in the G2 Tampa Bay Derby. But, how big of a step back was it when you consider who finished in front. Losing to Verrazano is not a bad thing at all so I can’t ignore that. Plus, I also can’t ignore his training this past Sunday. From Churchill Downs Falling Sky showed signs that he is ready to run as he clipped through 5F in 59.60. It ranked him first from a total of 13 on the day and proved that he is training well and is in a good position to make a case.
 
 
Notable derby hopefuls left out - Am I missing something? War Academy 0 points, Overanalyze 10 points, Texas Bling 9 points
 
 
Blue Grass Stakes
 
 
Uncaptured – 30 points
 
Once thought of as a horse that was headed in all the right directions his stock began to plummet after the only race of his sophomore season. Although his 2nd place finish in the Spiral Stakes was not ideal for Trainer Mark Casse, you can’t forget that it was his first race after a four month layoff. If he still has it and is holding onto it for a better time then Keeneland should be a great place to get started. The synthetic track at Woodbine is where the son of Lion Heart began his career a perfect 4 for 4. So, switching back to an All Weather track should not be a problem. With 30 points already to his name a win or a sound 2nd place effort will take him back to where he likes to be - Churchill Downs . So far in his young career he's already enjoyed the winners circle there on two occasions and a return this spring will create a lot of attention.  (G2 KY Jockey Club 11/24 - G3 Iroquois, 10/28)
 
 
Java’s War – 22 points
 
Comparable to Falling Sky, I’m also looking at Java’s War because of his finish behind Verrazano in the G3 TB Derby. However, there is one real big difference between them that attracts my attention to Java’s War. Although he was no match for big V he made a big comeback from well off the pace and closed strong to finish 2nd. The effort hints that he is ready for the distance and has even improved since then. The son of War Pass is trained by Kenny McPeek and he returns him to Keeneland for the second time. He finished 3rd last fall in the Breeders’ Futurity so his familiarity with the surface puts him in a good spot to make the leap into the Kentucky Derby field.
 
 
Rydilluc – 0 Points
 
Since the moment Gary Contessa scored in the G3 Palm Beach Stakes at Gulfstream Park he seemed to be decided on this as his next race. Given the fact the Rydilluc is pretty much a turf horse doesn’t mean that his trainer doesn’t think he’s got something special in his barn. As opposed to as many other avenues there are to qualifying for the Kentucky Derby this camp has decided on putting all of their eggs in the Blue Grass Stakes basket. It’s all or nothing on Saturday but one race and one win is all that it takes. 
 
 
Notable derby hopefuls left out - Am I missing something? Dynamic Sky 13 points, Palace Malice 10 points, Fear the Kitten 6 points
 
It's going to be a very exciting closing weekend of major Kentucky Derby preps. It's been a long and exhausting road so far but if you're still in the hunt for qualifying then please; the floor is yours and we are ready for your closing argument.  

 

What the Nation is saying about The Best of the Rest ...

In the Blue Grass, Tesseron is the best looking 50-1 M/L runner I've laid my eyes on in quite some time. In the Arkansas Derby, War Academy is getting too much respect. He ran behind Treasury Bill in the Sham who was up the track in the Rebel.
Den's Legacy is Baffert's version of Secret Circle from last year. Except he's not a great sprinter either.
Falling Sky and Java's War are the two in here tht I find the most compelling.
War Academy is a very well-bred horse who didn't take much urging to win that OC last time. He's going to have faster early fractions this time with Divine Ambition and Falling Sky to his outside. He should get a clean trip; we'll see how that fast 8.5f translates to Oaklawn. I give him a good shot though.
There is a lot at stake for some talented horses. I'd love to see Rydilluc run big!
Glad you didn't list War Academy as he will vie for KY Derby favoritism after Saturday ala Bodemeister
Good list of horses I would add Overanalyze and Palace Malice, although Im not sure the Ark woulda been a beter place for PM. It is interesting to see who will make the derby for these races are loaded with futures long shots. Ive Got Dens Legacy at 70-1, PM at 50-1 and falling sky at 75-1, so Id wont those three in!
I think five of the six you mention have a decent shot to run big on Saturday, and obviously, I love Oxbow. The one I don't see is Den's Legacy. I mean Den's Legacy ... are we really talking about Den's Legacy here??? In all seriousness, I've been saying all along that Den's Legacy is best suited to rally in one-turn races. If he wins tomorrow ... I lose.

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