9th Annual GQ Derby Double Dozen: Better Late Than Never

9th Annual GQ Derby Double Dozen: Better Late Than Never
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire/Zoe Metz

GQ Derby Double Dozen, an annual (typically early February) tradition I started in 2008 at my previous blog website (WNST.net). This years’ edition comes a bit later, but hopefully offers the same amount of buzz as years past.

The GQ Derby Double Dozen is my list of the top 24 three-year-old thoroughbreds that I humbly believe have the best shot of getting to Louisville on the first Saturday in May and not only break from the starting gate at approximately 6:20pm (EDT), but have the pedigree to WIN the 2016 Kentucky Derby at the classic distance (1¼ miles).

Here’s how the previous eight GQ Derby Double Dozen lists have fared in picking the Kentucky Derby winner…

2008: Big Brown was ranked #2.

2009: Mine That Bird was not on the list (nor was on anyone’s list); Derby runner-up Pioneerof the Nile was ranked #1.

2010: Super Saver was ranked #10.

2011: Animal Kingdom was not on the list; my #1 was Santiva who finished 6th at 34-1 just 5½ lengths behind the winner.

2012: I’ll Have Another was ranked #10.

2013: Orb was not on the list; my #1 (Tiz The Truth never made it to CD and my #2 (Revolutionary) ran 3rd.

2014: California Chrome was ranked #19; my #1 (Commissioner) did not start in the Derby, but nearly wired the Belmont Stakes field at 28-1, losing by a head to Tonalist who happened to be #8 in the GQ Derby Double Dozen.

2015: American Pharoah did not make the list and my #1 (Itsaknockout) did start in the Derby, sent off at 30-1 and finished 9th as he was steadied in a jam up under the wire the first time, losing any chance from that point on.

When you review this list, many of you will surely question my horse racing wisdom. That’s fine. What you won’t see is a weekly update to this list, as you will with many others, as a number of these “can’t miss” prospects fall out the Derby Trail either due to injury or the fact they failed to move forward off previous promising efforts.

In the 2015 GQ Derby Double Dozen reasons for why the eventual Triple Crown winner did not make the cut were provided in detail. To summarize, American Pharoah was a ridgling last February, which would have made him the first ridgling to win the Derby and had a Dosage Index of 4.33. Prior to last year, since 1940 only five (5) Derby winners have had a Dosage Index above 4.00. All five occurred from 1991-2009, during an era where the vast majority of horses were bred for speed not stamina.

Many will say, Dosage Schmosage… it no longer applies in the 21st century. And many have been correct… especially in 2015, but old habits are hard to break, so Dosage will still be considered but not as far as causing a three-year-old to be an automatic toss.

Again, this “Double Dozen” is not about listing the leading contenders who are likely just to get to the Derby 142 starting gate. It’s about which twenty-four three-year-olds I believe have the pedigree to WIN when asked to run 10 furlongs and carry 126 lbs. for the first time in their racing career. Period!

Below is the 2016 list which shows my ranking, horse name, trainer, current jockey and facts/comments which still includes the Dosage Index (if you don't know what this is... Google it)... even though the majority of contenders pass that test (Dosage Index of 4.00 or under).

 #1 – Mor Spirit (B. Baffert / G. Stevens)

PA-bred dark bay son of Eskendereya cannot be judged by his work ethic in the morning as his work tab will never impress the Clockers, but he’s a different animal in the afternoon. Part of the exacta in all five outings, winner of three including the G1 Los Alamitos Futurity and G3 Robert B. Lewis, will undoubtedly point towards the G2 San Felipe Stakes (Mar. 12 at SA). Interesting that last Fall after breaking his maiden at SA, Baffert shipped him to CD where he was runner-up on a sloppy surface in the G2 KY Jockey Cup Stakes. Surely Baffert wanted to see how this colt travelled and handled the CD dirt oval. DI=1.57

It is my belief that Mor Spirit could soon put on the kind of performance his sire did in the 2001 Wood Memorial but an injury forced him to miss the Kentucky Derby…

 #2 – Mohaymen (K. McLaughlin / J. Alvarado)

KY-bred gray son of Tapit is one of many undefeated three-year-olds on the Derby Trail, but visually has been the most impressive one in all four of his career outings. In his 2016 debut and most recent start, the G2 Holy Bull Stakes (Jan. 30 at GP), he toyed with his competition as the jock never moved in the saddle, which amounted to a paid workout. Seems to be the worst kept secret being he closed as an unprecedented 4-1 second-choice in the Derby Future Pool #2 on Feb. 14 as “All Other 3-year-olds” closed as expected favorite at 5-2. His trainer can barely contain his excitement every time the media asks about him. If he stays healthy over the next two months, he could become the tenth gray to win the KY Derby. Giacomo (2005) was the most recent gray to win it. His next start will in the G2 Fountain of Youth (Feb. 27 at GP). DI=3.00

 #3 – Mo Tom (T. Amoss / C. Lanerie)

KY-bred dark bay son of sophomore sire Uncle Mo and owned by Tom Benson who also owns the NFL New Orleans Saints, won the G3 Lecomte Stakes prior to salvaging the SHOW purse after a troubled trip in the G2 Risen Star at Fair Grounds (see below; #2). Though his dam side has sprinter influence, trainer Tom Amoss insists as this colt continues to mature, the longer the races the better he’ll be. DI=1.55

 #4 – Danzing Candy (C. Sise, Jr. / M. Smith)

This late-blooming KY-bred dark bay son of Twirling Candy woke-up in his second career outing to break his maiden the day after Christmas followed by another front-running victory versus N1X going one mile on Feb. 4, both coming at SA. One would think the connections have their eye on the G2 San Felipe Stakes (Mar. 12 at SA) in hopes of continued progress and maturity while jumping on the Road to the Roses. DI=3.80

 #5 – Zulu (T. Pletcher / J. Velazquez)

KY-bred dark bay son of Bernardini cost a cool $900k at a Fasig-Tipton two-year-old in training March sale. With only two races, both winning efforts over a “good” and “sloppy” track under his belt, the future looks bright. Based on his work tab, he should run best over a fast track… which could be scary good. Well backed in both efforts proved it’s no secret he could deliver the goods on the way to Louisville. The Pletcher trainee is on track to start in the G2 Fountain of Youth (Feb. 27 at GP), the third start at GP in as many career starts and his first at two-turns. DI=2.38

 #6 – Rally Cry (T. Pletcher / J. Castellano)

KY-bred dark brown son of Uncle Mo was sent off as the 1-5 Post Time favorite in his debut at Aqu in November, but weakened to finish third in a field of seven but made amends a month later when stretched out to one mile at GP, winning by three-lengths. In his third and most recent outing (Jan. 29 at GP) showed a lot of heart when steadied at the quarter pole, losing all momentum yet gathered himself, swung 5-wide in the stretch and rallied to finish third, 4¼ lengths behind fellow Derby Trail wannabe Shagaf who had a dream trip in victory. Shows regular works since but no concrete plan from the Pletcher camp on next start. DI=3.50

 #7 – Exaggerator (J.K. Desormeaux / K. Desormeaux)

KY-bred dark bay son of Curlin was a busy two-year-old racing six times, four of those in graded stakes while winning two of them (G2 Saratoga Special and G3 Delta Jackpot). He made his three-year-old debut in the G2 San Vincente (Feb. 15 at SA), a runner-up finish to two-year-old champion Nyquist. The Desormeaux brothers look to make amends for the disappointment felt when Texas Red failed to convert the BC Juvenile-KY Derby Double last year. Next start appears to be in the G2 San Felipe (Mar. 12 at SA). DI=3.40

 #8 – Smokey Image (C. Gaines / V. Espinoza)

CA-bred chestnut son of Southern Image is a perfect 6 for 6 and answered his critics as to whether he could carry his speed two-turns when he easily won the state-bred restricted California Cup Derby in his most recent effort (Jan. 30 at SA). His dam sire (Free House) hit the board in all three Triple Crown races in 1997 and won the G1 Pacific Classic and G1 Santa Anita Handicap, aka The Big Cap, in 1999 travelling the KY Derby distance, so pedigree experts already knew he was capable of going long. It will be interesting to see if Triple Crown stud jockey Victor Espinoza elects to keep the mount or look to another promising three-year-old as this one seemingly points toward the G2 San Felipe (Mar. 12 at SA). DI=2.60

 #9 – Cherry Wine (D. Romans / C. Lanerie)

KY-bred gray son of Paddy O’Prado started his career much like his daddy did… on the turf yet he broke his maiden impressively, albeit in his fifth career start when that race was taken off the turf. He followed that with an easy victory versus N1X. A typical Romans trainee who is slow to develop with an eye on the big prize, the Kentucky Derby. Has the pedigree to get the 1¼ mile Derby distance and displays a ferocious closing kick that is ideal for the long stretch at CD. Was pointed towards the G2 Fountain of Youth (Feb. 27 at GP) but had a slight fever prior to entry time, so Romans must call an audible. It might have been a blessing in disguise because GP is historically a track that favors early speed, especially on big race days. Stay tuned. DI=3.80

#10 – Awesome Speed (A. Goldberg / I. Ortiz, Jr.)

KY-bred dark bay son of Awesome Again started his career in a forgettable way… a seventh-place finish travelling 5½ furlongs on Aug. 31 at Prx . Since then he has reeled off three consecutive victories… the first two at Lrl, a maiden score beating the likes of multiple graded stakes placed Vorticity, followed by a win in the James. F. Lewis III stakes over heavily favored King Kranz. With the connections taking steps towards the Derby Trail, he completed his natural Hat Trick in the Mucho Macho Man stakes at GP on Jan. 2. Pointed towards the G1 Fountain of Youth (Feb. 27 at GP), he should continue to move forward as he competes in two turn events. DI=3.00

#11 – Gun Runner (S. Asmussen / F. Geroux)

KY-bred chestnut son of Candy Ride is the first starter out of the G2 winning mare, Quiet Giant made his sophomore debut a winning one in the G2 Risen Star (Feb. 20 at FG). His only defeat (4th) in the G2 KY Jockey Cup (Nov. 28 at CD) was over a sloppy track. Ownership experienced the thrill of victory last year with superstar filly Untapable winning KY Oaks but her male stablemate Tapiture, ran a disappointing 15th in the Derby. Gun Runner carries the hopes this year and will point towards the G2 Louisiana Derby (Mar. 26 at FG). DI=1.25

#12 – Shagaf (C. Brown / I. Ortiz, Jr.)

KY-bred bay son of 2006 Preakness Stakes winner Bernardini has just two starts under his belt… both were winning efforts travelling one mile in distance. His debut maiden win came in late November at Aqueduct, the venue in which may be where he surfaces for his third start, in the G3 Gotham Stakes (Mar. 5). In each start he displayed tactical speed which typically comes in handy in a twenty horse field at CD on the first Saturday in May. DI=3.80

#13 – Whitmore (R. Moquett / M. Smith)

KY-bred chestnut gelded son of Pleasantly Perfect has the enigma that only two geldings, Funny Cide (2005) and Clyde Van Duesen (1929), have won the Derby. So you like those odds… 2 in 141 runnings?! On a positive note his pedigree suggest that he’ll “run all day”. Whether he can increase his speed to go with that stamina is the $64,000 question. Runner-up in the G3 Southwest Stakes (Feb. 15 at OP) after encountering trouble at the half mile marker, ran a winning race until caught about 50 yards before the wire by deep closer Suddenbreakingnews. DI=2.38

#14 – Mt Veeder (B. Baffert / M. Garcia)

KY-bred chestnut son of Ghostzapperhas been on the shelf since a disappointing sixth-place finish in the G1 Front Runner in September at SA; when watching the replay, he got soundly bumped by on the first turn, forcing him to duck out about 6-wide. From that point he remained wide throughout the contest, drawing even with the two-year-old champion and eventual winner (Nyquist) at the head of the stretch, but had nothing left for the final furlong. His extended time off may indicate an issue coming out of that rough and taxing trip, but current work tab shows a return to the races in the afternoon may not be far away. An ultimate Sleeper selection. DI = 3.00

#15 – Brody’s Cause (D. Romans / C. Lanerie)

KY-bred bay son of Giant’s Causeway rebounded nicely from a forgettable debut last Summer to break his maiden in second start at CD when ignored at the windows (33-1) then won the G1 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity in his next start at Kee. His deep closing running style was witnessed by millions when he rallied from the clouds to get third-place in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, less than three-lengths behind two-year-old champion Nyquist. Scheduled to make sophomore campaign debut in the G2 Fountain of Youth (Feb. 27 at GP). DI = 1.38

#16 – Greenpointcrusader (D. Schettino / J. Bravo)

KY-bred dark bay son of Bernardini won’t turn three-years-old until May 14, which is 7 days after the Kentucky Derby. Amazingly was sent off as the 7-2 Post Time favorite in the BC Juvenile, only to finish a disappointing seventh. He made his sophomore campaign debut on Jan. 30 at GP in the G3 Holy Bull, relegated to chase Mohaymen in a small field where there was no pace. With his natural off-the-pace running style, Gulfstream Park is not where he should be prepping in hopes to earn enough points to qualify to Run for the Roses on the first Saturday in May. Connections now seem to realize that as they will point him to the G2 Louisiana Derby (Mar. 26 at FG). DI=2.71

#17 – Vorticity (J. Lawrence, II / J. L. Ortiz)

KY-bred dark bay son of Distorted Humor resumed his training at the Fair Hill Training Center following two runner-up finishes in graded stakes at Aqu (G3 Withers and G3 Jerome). Never off-the-board in five career starts, including the graded stakes placements at Aqueduct, where he broke his maiden in November, prior to winning the Marylander Stakes (Dec. 5 at Lrl). It seems he’s on schedule to be entered in the G3 Gotham Stakes (Mar. 5 at Aqu) or opt to head south for a piece of the $900k being offered in the G2 Rebel (Mar. 19 at OP). DI=2.69

#18 – Cupid (B. Baffert / M. Garcia)

KY-bred gray son of Tapit purchased for $900k as a yearling but took a while to mature as a racehorse and may still be trying to figure it out. He didn’t get to the Winners Circle until his third start, a 1 1/16 mile event after failing to keep pace in his first two outings, both sprints. With one of North America’s most underrated jocks in the saddle, this late-bloomer could show up in Arkansas for the G2 Rebel and/or G1 Arkansas Derby if Baffert believes in him. Being unraced at age 2 immediately raises the “Apollo” red flag. DI=3.00

#19 – Suddenbreakingnews (D. Von Hemel / L. Quinonez)

KY-bred bay gelded son of Mineshaft out of an Afleet Alex mare certainly is bred to get 10 furlongs and showed off his potential when coming from the clouds to win the G3 Southwest (Feb. 15 at OP). Not too often does a five time starter at Remington Park make noise along the Derby Trail but this one might, but that “gelding winning the Derby” is an albatross around his neck. He’s versatile in his running style and has been part of the Exacta in all six starts. Next logical start would be in the G2 Rebel Stakes (Mar. 19 at OP). DI=4.20.

#20 – Dazzling Gem (B. Cox / S. Bridgmohan)

KY-bred bay whose sire Misremembered won the G1 Santa Anita Handicap which is contested at the KY Derby distance of 1¼ miles. This late-bloomer made his racing debut at age 3 a winning one on Jan. 18 at OP and followed that up by winning a 1 1/16 mile N1X at OP on Feb. 13, the same day and distance of the G3 Southwest Stakes. His winning time was 3/5 of a second slower than the Southwest winners time. Appears to have the ability to take next step and compete in the G2 Rebel (Mar. 19 at OP). Huge hurdles in winning the Derby are unraced at age 2 and lofty Dosage Index (5.00).

#21 – Blue Creek (C. Appleby / W. Buick)

GB-bred bay son of Street Cry made his career debut shortly after ringing in the new year (Jan. 1 at Mey) at one mile winning by five-lengths and proceeded to gallop out strongly doubling the that margin by the time he reached the backstretch. Bred to go long, as he is the first foal of a three-time Group 1 winning filly at distances from 8 to 12 furlongs, while making only eight lifetime starts. In his second start, another one turn one mile event he got off slowly and was ridden hard most of the way only to manage a runner-up finish as the heavy favorite to a five-year-old gelding who was a next out winner. Next up will be the UAE Derby (Mar. 26 at Meydan) which is worth 100 Derby qualifying points to the winner and 40 to the runner-up. Hence, he could find his way to Louisville to race on the first Saturday in May attempting to break the Apollo (unraced at two-years-old) jinx and win the Kentucky Derby, in just his fourth career start to boot. DI=2.00

Maiden win for Blue Creek at Meydan “…galloped out a mile in front of the others…he won by five but as they galloped out towards the backstretch he was ahead by 10 lengths.”

#22 – Matt King Coal (L. Rice / TBA)

KY-bred bay son of Cool Coal Man has the all-important Mr. Prospector influence both top and bottom. Has been away since breaking his maiden in gate to wire fashion on Oct. 29 at Bel in his third career start. After a third-place finish on the turf at Sar in his debut, got nosed out by Gift Box in an “off the turf” maiden 1 1/16 mile event while finishing eighteen-lengths in front of the SHOW horse. On Feb 7 he resumed training at Belmont and appears to be a potential starter in the G3 Gotham (Mar. 5 at Aqu). DI=3.00

#23 – Adventist (L. Gyarmati / K. Carmouche)

KY-bred chestnut son of Any Given Saturday took the ambitious leap from debut maiden winner on Dec. 19 at Aqu to the G3 Withers Stakes (Jan. 30 at Aqu) and got black-type by virtue of his third-place finish, just 1¾ lengths behind the winner (Sunny Ridge), while still a bit green. Imagine what he is capable of if he continues to mature and figures out how to go about his profession. Skies the limit as his next test will likely come in the G3 Gotham (Mar. 5 at Aqu). DI=2.73

#24 – Songbird (J. Hollendorfer / M. Smith)

Why not?! People often change their mind don’t they? This KY-bred dark bay daughter of Medaglia d’Oro has been the three-year-old the entire racing world has been buzzing about as being the best in the world. So why not take on the inferior 2016 class of males? One primary reason is the owners, Fox Hill Farm witnessed another one of their brilliant fillies, Eight Belles, finish second in the KY Derby then tragically breakdown just a few yards beyond the Finish Line. For now, there is no indication that Songbird, undefeated through her first five races, will ever face her male counterparts, but just in case a miracle occurs and she finds her way into the starting gate at CD on Saturday May 7 instead of Friday May 6 (in the KY Oaks), she at least deserves an honorary spot on this list. Note: Her placement at #24 does not indicate that the twenty-three that precede her on this list could beat her. DI=3.00

The most notable omission from this double dozen list is the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and two-year-old Eclipse award winner Nyquist. Besides the BC Juvenile jinx, his Dosage Index equals 7.00. Only one Derby winner had a Dosage Index that exceeded 6.00 (1991 - Strike The Gold was 9.00). To see the Dosage Index of all past Derby winners click here.

Nyquist has the appearance of a horse with a “refuse to lose” attitude, but his lack of stamina may trump that. Plus, instead of staying on the West Coast to prep at Santa Anita, team Reddam/O’Neill has decided to chase a hefty bonus if the BC Juvenile winner can also win the G1 Florida Derby (Mar. 26 at GP). Maybe they realize 10 furlongs is pushing his distance limits, so why not go for the bonus money as a nice consolation prize? Just food for thought.

FACT: Last year, American Pharoah became the first Derby winner since the inception of the GQ Derby Double Dozen list in 2008, who I specifically mentioned/explained why they did not make the list.

There you have it. Now give me your best shot. Who would you put on and/or take off the 9th annual GQ Derby Double Dozen?

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                Meet Gary Quill

  I am the most passionate person on the planet when it comes to thoroughbred horse racing! One sunny summer day in 1964 at Timonium Race Track is where my Dad and mentor introduced me to “The Sport of Kings”. Since that day, I have had the pleasure to visit over 40 different tracks across North America. Though an IT professional by trade, I’ve had a part-time gig with the Maryland Jockey Club since 1988.

here are thousands of rail-birds who claim to be great handicappers. Well, I don’t claim to be the best… just the most passionate and one that won’t tout “chalk”. Like a savvy stock broker, I look for value and often find it. Unlike the talking heads on horse racing television networks and the dozens of websites featuring handicapper’s opinions, I’m ACCOUNTABLE. That is, good or bad, you’ll always know how my previously posted picks performed along with a running record of my BEST BET and LONGSHOT Play of the Day selections for Maryland tracks (Laurel and Pimlico) at TheRacingBiz, see "The GQ Approach".

   In addition to focusing on the Maryland thoroughbred racing circuit, each year I follow the Derby Trail and post “GQ’s Derby Double Dozen” in early February. 

   My personal mission is to rejuvenate interest in thoroughbred horse racing. Being able to share my energy, thoughts and opinions on this sport via HRN will certainly help the cause.


"I lost $2 at Santa Anita and I've spent $3 million trying to get it back." - Mickey Rooney

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