McLean: Sticking with Roadster atop Kentucky Derby rankings

April 18, 2019 08:59am

The preps are now done. The points have been tallied. The field for the 2019 Kentucky Derby seems to be set — for the most part.

And, still?

There is so much confusion. There is so much debate. There is so much to be decided.


Oh, the top horses seem to be pretty much set, although one could debate whether one should be considered better than another.

Is Roadster better than Omaha Beach? I guess Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith gave us his opinion when choosing to ride the latter on the first Saturday in May.

Is Game Winner, who won over the Churchill Downs’ main track last November to capture the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, better than his last two second place finishes to Omaha Beach, and Roadster?

Is Tacitus, winner of the last two in a row, better than any of the above?

Is War of Will’s hind end better now, and ready to overcome his ninth-place run in the Louisiana Derby? Is Code of Honor better than his third in the Florida Derby? Are Haikal and Tax — and the Wood Memorial — better than people will give them credit?

Who is better?

Who is best?

But the thing that makes this year’s field for the Kentucky Derby such a debate — at least in my mind — is that five horses on my “Others List” are likely to make their way into the starting gates for the world’s most prestigious race. And by virtue, five horses that I think are much better in their performance levels and are included in the "Top 20" list could be looking from the outside and hoping just to wedge their way in.

Five. Wow. That’s 25% of the field.

So, in one way, I'm sorry some of those main contenders won’t get a chance to show their wares in this year’s Derby. But we are now able to concentrate more on the ones that we think are at the top of this year’s pecking order.

Signalman, who has had an up-and-down spring for trainer Ken McPeek, looked like the old self in running third in the Blue Grass Stakes in the last out, and he ran very well at Churchill Downs in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last November, too. But he is at No. 22, and currently on the outside — casting a wistful eye.

Anothertwistafate, second in the Lexington Stakes this past Saturday and No. 7 on our top Kentucky Derby rankings list, will not get in, unless there are some serious defections. Currently, he sits at No. 23 on the list.

Bourbon War, fourth in the Florida Derby in his last out, currently is at No. 25 in the points category, and is seriously doubtful now to make this year’s field. I have loved this son of Tapit all Spring, and I think he would be a tough out in this year’s Kentucky Derby. I have him No. 9 in my standings.

And, there are both Sueno and Instagrand — neither of whom are likely to make this year’s field.

Sad. I thought they could add some punch and pizzaz to the party.

But make no mistake. This year’s field certainly has some quality to it.

Roadster remains at the top, coming off an impressive win in the Santa Anita Derby, when he whooshed past Game Winer in the stretch. Since coming back from his throat surgery, Roadster — a smaller body type than some of Bob Baffert’s latest racing monsters — is undefeated at 3 and starting to fulfill the promise that he showed the barn experts as a 2-year-old last summer.

Game Winner remains at the top, 1A, coming off his second in the Santa Anita Derby. This guy started the year undefeated and the 2-year-old champ. Now, after a nostril loss to Omaha Beach and a premature run in the Santa Anita Derby, the glamour seems to be lost. I would not be so dismissive. He has a win over the track where the Kentucky Derby is contested. He has a running style that has performed well in recent Derbys — as a stalker. And, he has a trainer known for pulling off May Magic.

Tacitus looks to be the most improved horse on the year, coming off back to back wins — including a nice rail-skimming win in the Wood Memorial.

And, there is Omaha Beach. He looked to be in absolute cruise control in the Arkansas Derby — dispatching all rivals, including Baffert’s third Derby hopeful in Improbable.

No matter who gets into the starting gate, it will be thrilling. And, we will finally get a chance to see who is truly best.

Points / RankHorseTrainerComment
100 / 5RoadsterBob BaffertLooking Better & Better As We Approach May
85 / 8Game WinnerBob Baffert“Game” Is Very Game / Has Win at CD
150 / 1TacitusBill MottMay Be Highly Underestimated
137.5 / 2Omaha BeachRichard MandellaLooked on “Cruise Control” in Arkansas Derby Win / Wow?
60 / 12War of WillMark CasseWorked Out of Gate at Keeneland / Can He Overcome LA Derby?
38 / 23AnothertwistafateBlaine D. WrightCouldn’t Get the Win in Lexington, but Traffic Issues/Game
52 / 14TaxDanny GarganFormer Claimer In the Derby? / All Our Dreams Here
70 / 10HaikalKiaran McLaughlinHas a Solid Late Run / Can He Use It in Louisville?
31 / 25Bourbon WarMark HennigIf He Has the Points to Get In, Watch Out / Best to Come
74 / 9Code of HonorShug McGaugheyBetter-Than-Looked in Florida Derby Against Bias
65 / 11ImprobableBob BaffertLike His Grit, but a Son of City Zip in at 1 1/4-Miles?
110 / 3VekomaGeorge WeaverBlue Grass Was Impressive / Running Motion? Not So Much
50 / 16Win Win WinMichael TrombettaLike This One / A Lot / But Running Style Begs Traffic Woes
38 / 22SignalmanKen McPeekRan Better in 2nd Start Off Layoff / Can He Move Forward?
100 / 6By My StandardsW. Bret CalhounWill Have To Make Giant Step Forward in KY Derby
50 / 15Cutting HumorTodd PletcherFlattered by Anothertwistafate In Lexington
32 / 24SuenoJ. Keith DesormeauxHad Traffic Issues in Lex, Too / Looks Second Tier, Though
30 / 26InstagrandJerry HollendorferDistance Now Becomes A Concern / 3rd of a Layoff?
40 / 19SpinoffTodd PletcherCan He Add Distance to His Game?
53.5 / 13Long Range ToddySteve AsmussenWon the Rebel, But Arkansas Derby Was Not Impressive
The Others
104 / 4Plus Que ParfaitBrendan WalshRan 13th behind War of Will Before Shipping to the Dubai
100 / 7Maximum SecurityJason ServisUndefeated in 4 Career Starts / Same Owners as Game Winner
50 / 17Country HouseBill MottHas Won Only Once in 6 Starts
41 / 18Gray MagicianPeter MillerHas Won Only Once in 8 Starts
19 / 20Master FencerK. TsunodaHas Won Twice in 6 Starts
40 / 21BodexpressGustavo DelgadoStill a Maiden


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The Pressbox is your source for news, handicapping and interviews with the industry's biggest stars. Gene McLean is the Founder of The Pressbox and The Louisville Thoroughbred Society. No one in this industry has more talent in reviewing, forecasting and handicapping.

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