It’s that time of year again! The time we all look forward to. No, I’m not talking about the end of winter, although I for one will be glad to be rid of this cold weather. Yes, it does get cold down south, too, but at least we rarely see snow. No, the time I’m referring to is the first Saturday in May when everyone’s hard work finally comes to fruition. Knew that all along did ya? Alright then smarty pants, I’ll throw you for a loop yet. Forget the hyped up, successful juveniles whose names are known nationwide. We all know about them. Instead of giving you the same Derby picks that grace the lists of others, I am going to give you my dark horse selections. Some of them you may have heard of. Some of them may have even been on top prospect lists but for whatever reason have not amassed any points. But others are flying well below the radar. Buckle up buttercup! It’s going to be a face paced, non-stop journey to May if these talented colts want to enter the starting gate on that fateful day.
Northern Lion—(Lion Heart—Obligation North, by Valley Crossing) It took this bay son of Lion Heart three tries to reach the winner’s circle for the first time, but when he finally made it there, he did so with authority. Sent out at increasingly longer distances each time, it took him going a mile and a sixteenth and the opportunity to dictate the pace before he broke his elusive maiden. He has not raced since December despite being entered in the G3 Sam F. Davis, but he has been training steadily for the red hot Mark Casse in southern Florida.
Proud Strike—(Smart Strike—Colonella, by Pleasant Colony) Steve Asmussen trained Proud Strike made some noise at Fair Grounds after finally breaking away from arch rival Bradester. Like Northern Lion, Proud Strike made the most of a 8.5 furlong contest, drawing away to win by 7 ½ lengths after closing from off the pace. He still only has that maiden victory, but he has the opportunity to earn some much needed Derby points this weekend when facing stakes company for the first time in the G2 Risen Star Stakes.
Bradester—(Lion Heart—Grandestofall, by Grand Slam) Though Bradester was nominated for the Gulfstream Park Derby on New Year’s Day, trainer Eddie Kenneally opted to run his charge in “a other than” allowance race on the Derby’s undercard. Like Proud Strike, Bradester is one that many actually do have an eye on, but with no Derby points as of yet, he is still firmly in the Dark Horse category.
Majestic Hussar—(Majestic Warrior—Distorted Blaze, by Distorted Humor) Also in the Kenneally barn, Majestic Hussar is the lesser known of Kenneally’s Derby prospects. Though not as highly touted as his barn mate, the dark bay Majestic Warrior colt has his own calling card. After finishing 7th behind Shanghai Bobby is his stakes debut in the G2 Hopeful, Kenneally wheeled Hussar back into allowance company. He finished a good second behind Falling Sky in mid-December, but came back a month later and soundly defeated Palace Malice, a highly regarded son of Curlin. He has the opportunity to earn Derby points in this weekend’s G2 Fountain of Youth Stakes, but he faces tough competition in the form of undefeated, Grade 1 winner Violence, seasoned runner He’s Had Enough, and Sam F. Davis winner Falling Sky.
Verrazano—(More Than Ready—Enchanted Rock, by Giant’s Causeway) It’s a bit of a stretch to call any Todd Pletcher trainee a dark horse, but Verrazano had a late start. He announced his presence with a runaway victory in a maiden race on New Year’s Day and has done nothing wrong since. But if he’s going to make it to the Big Dance, then he needs to start picking up some points, and fast. His first opportunity to do so comes in the G2 Tampa Bay Derby where he will likely face the unusually named Purple Egg and G2 Kentucky Jockey Club winner Uncaptured.
Falling Sky—(Lion Heart—Sea Dragoness, by Sea Hero) Falling Sky is one of the oddballs on this list in that he has already picked up some Derby points via a score in the G3 Sam F. Davis Stakes. That victory was better than it looked on paper due to a bit of drifting in and out he did in the final turn and stretch drive. He has been quietly good in all four starts, and even with a stakes win, he still is not one that many are talking about. His lone loss was against Purple Egg, but he has the pedigree to run all day. Look for him to be firmly in the mix in the Fountain of Youth. [10 points]
Eton Blue—(Giant’s Causeway—Bird Town, by Cape Town) Eton Blue hails from the barn of Nicholas Zito who incidentally enough trained his Kentucky Oaks and Eclipse Award winning dam Bird Town, who herself is owned by the same connections as her Giant’s Causeway colt. It’s hard not to like a pedigree like that, but Eton Blue is way behind the eight ball at this point. He ran a distance second to Verrazano last out, but something tells me that Eton Blue will do his best running as the distances get longer.
Abraham—(Distorted Humor—Tabarin, by El Prado (IRE)) Abraham is another “dark horse” selection from the Pletcher contingent. With only two races under his belt, it may be difficult to see what the appeal of this colt is. Right now, the best thing this colt has going for him is the fact that he became a winner at 9 furlongs in only his second career start, a win that broke his maiden after being nosed out at 6.5 furlongs in his debut.
Purple Egg—(Lion Heart—Luminous Prize, by Prized) With a name like Purple Egg, it’s not hard to understand why this particular son of Lion Heart already has quite the following. Add in the drama that ensued in getting him to the starting gate, and you have a Cinderella story waiting to unfold. And here’s where the dreaded “but” enters the conversation. Despite being unbeaten in three starts, Purple Egg has yet to reach the starting gate in 2013 due to a slight fever that knocked him out of training at the beginning of the year. His name has been on a few Top Prospects lists, but he will be facing a class test in coming weeks. He is slated to appear next in the Tampa Bay Derby.
Dynamic Sky—(Sky Mesa—Murani, by Distorted Humor) After reviewing the running of the Sam F. Davis, I felt that it would be an insult to Dynamic Sky to leave him off this list. He finished a scant head back to Falling Sky but was gaining ground with every stride. Like that rival, he also has earned Derby points, not just from his Davis second place finish but also from his runner-up finish in the G1 Breeders’ Futurity. I really like stable mate Northern Lion more, but this Casse trainee has more experience, and more importantly, more points. [8 points]
My Name is Michael—(Macho Uno—Graciously Soft, by Vindication) Like Dynamic Sky, another review of the Davis earned this one a spot on my Dark Horse list. In his only start south of the Canadian border, My Name is Michael was a late charging third behind the two Skies in his first and only start so far on conventional dirt. I am not sure where he will show up next, but he is currently under the care of William Mott, and if we know anything, we know that Mott knows how to train for the big races. [2 points]