Ranking is what horse racing enthusiasts do the best. We rank our race picks, we rank horses not just against others of their generation, but against other eras as well. Ranking is how debates and conversations are made, because everyone has opinion and everyone believes they are right. Besides just ranking individual horses, racing also measures the talent and overall depth of a division by the entire crop. Many consider 2007’s sophomore’s to be one of the strongest crops in recent history, while years like 2008 and 2011, both pale in comparison to even average years.
The year of 2012 is already about to meet its first deadline for comparison, seeing as the final major Kentucky Derby preps are now in the books and the First Saturday in May is only a short two weeks out. In light of this, I found myself wondering, how does this crop of three year olds compare to ones of recent years? Are they above average, below? Are they excellent or underwhelming?
Last year, after the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, I made a statement to many of my friends, saying that I believe the incoming crop of three year olds was going to prove to be one of the deepest in years. After looking back over all the Kentucky Derby preps run in 2012, I have not altered my stance on bit. I believe this is one of the deepest, most talented groups of sophomores since 2007, the crop that Curlin, Street Sense, Hard Spun, Rags to Riches, and Zenyatta hailed from.
For years, injuries have plagued the major players early on in the year. 2008 saw the loss of the talented Larry Jones trained, Old Fashioned. In 2009 I Want Revenge and Quality Road, the two strongest favorites that year both succumbed to injury. 2010 Todd Pletcher lost his top prospect the dominant Eskendereya, who not only went off the Derby trail but was retired all together. 2011 lost Uncle Mo, who had been 2010’s champion two year old. Up to this point, the same cannot be said for 2012, a year not plagued by injury to favorites, but the consistency of the best of the previous year and the rise of new talent.
An amazing fun fact to prove the depth of this crop is that 8 of starters from last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile are very likely to make the starting gate of the Kentucky Derby. That my friends is over half of last year’s Juvenile field, in fact it would be 62%. Another fun fact, five of those eight were the top five finishers, Hansen, Union Rags, Creative Cause, Dullahan, and Take Charge Indy. All have won graded stakes this year, two of them have won grade ones, while the other three have yet to finish out of the top three. If that does not portray the strength of this year’s crop then I don’t know what does. Besides the starters from the Juvenile, you also have graded stakes winning juveniles like the unbeaten Gemologist, Delta Jackpot winner Sabercat, stakes place Rousing Sermon, and CashCall Futurity winner Liaison all landing a spot in the Derby gate.
If the old talent coming back to run well wasn’t enough for you then I suggest you take a look at some of the new names that have popped up over the course of the prep season. The biggest name on the list is Baffert’s Bodemeister. The colt has done nothing but impress since his maiden, and after an eye popping Arkansas Derby beat down, he now owns the highest Beyer Speed Figure of any three year old running this year, a 108. There is also Mark Valeski, trained by Larry Jones, and second in both the Risen Star and Louisiana Derby. Lastly, one horse that seems to be a tad bit forgotten is Spiral winner, Went the Day Well. Being by Proud Citizen and out of a Tiznow mare there is no denying that this colt will relish the Derby distance.
These are not opinions, these are cold hard facts, and these facts show that this crop is most likely the deepest crop of three year olds since 2007. We have been abnormally lucky with only two major injuries to top contenders Secret Circle and Out of Bounds, when in past years it would seem like Derby contenders drop like flies, one by one. This has allowed the best of the best, the best of last year and the best of the new talent to all come together. Making one of the deepest, most contentious Kentucky Derby fields we have seen in a long, long, time.