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Zipse At The Track

Kentucky Derby 2016 - Zipse's Big Ten

Nyquist cruises home in 2016 Florida Derby
Photo: Gulfstream Park

1. Nyquist 7-7-0-0 (Uncle Mo--Seeking Gabrielle, by Forestry) Trainer - Doug O'Neill  Next Race - Kentucky Derby

Any questions of how the unbeaten champ will return at three are long gone. By trouncing first Exaggerator in the San Vicente, and then Mohaymen in the Florida Derby, the son of Uncle Mo has once again proved to be at the top of this foal class. He can wire, stalk, or come from behind, and there can be no doubting his great desire to get to the finish line first. He has more than earned his title as the 2016 Kentucky Derby favorite. Now comes the hard part -- to actually win the Run for the Roses. As the horse everyone has to beat, he should be the one other jockeys are keeping an extra close eye on. In a 20-horse field, and running farther than he, or any of them, have ever run before, this attention could make it just a little tougher on Nyquist. Still, there is a reason why he has won every race, including six straight graded stakes. Yes, he is that good, and his ability to do just about anything should help with the demands of the big field. It will not be easy, the Derby never is, but this is your most likely winner of America's most prestigious race.

2. Mor Spirit 7-3-4-0 (Eskendereya--Im a Dixie Girl, by Dixie Union) Trainer - Bob Baffert  Next Race - Kentucky Derby

After two straight simple stakes wins in the Los Alamitos Futurity and the Robert B. Lewis, things have gotten more difficult for the son of Eskendereya in his last two. First he could not handle the speed of Danzing Candy in the San Felipe, then he had no answers for the sweeping move of Exaggerator in the Santa Anita Derby. So, where does that leave the Bob Baffert trained colt? It may take a leap of faith, but I believe it leaves him in perfect position for the Kentucky Derby. No one knows how to get a horse ready for Kentucky like Baffert, and add in the experienced hands of Gary Stevens, and I truly believe that they know what they are doing with this one. Shorter races over racing surfaces probably not well aligned with his strengths, got him beat in the last two, but as preps for the big one, they likely did the trick. He has class, tractability, and he always finishes his races well. All of these traits will come in handy on the first Saturday in May, where I expect his team will have him ready to run his best.

3. Brody's Cause 6-3-0-1 (Giant's Causeway--Sweet Breanna, by Sahm) Trainer - Dale Romans  Next Race - Kentucky Derby

Trainer Dale Romans took it slow with the strapping son of Giant's Causeway, and now it all seems like a very good plan. He knew what he had by the end of last year, and realized that he did not have to rush things in 2016. Much like his career debut, Brody's Cause did not look sharp in his first start of the season, but much like last year, he was really ready to go for his second start. The Blue Grass was very much like his last three starts of his juvenile season, only with a bigger, stronger looking winner. Even better yet, it probably was not his best, as you would think another move forward is likely in his third start off the layoff. Ten furlongs would seem to be right up his ally, and his one previous race at Churchill Downs featured an impressive late run that carried him to victory in a good maiden field. My only real question for him is that the Blue Grass was not near the competition he will see on May 7, can he deliver against the best? I think he has a great shot to do just that.

4. Destin 5-3-1-0 (Giant's Causeway--Dream of Summer, by Siberian Summer) Trainer - Todd Pletcher  Next Race -  Kentucky Derby

I am not thrilled with the fact that the full brother to Creative Cause will not be getting in another prep race after winning the Tampa Bay Derby back on March 12. That is the only thing I do not like about Destin, though. He has improved with each and every race, and with three graded stakes races under his belt already in 2016, maybe he does have enough seasoning to handle the Derby. The Tampa Bay Derby was very fast, so perhaps the eight weeks will be what he needs to improve yet again. If he does improve again, Todd Pletcher could be celebrating his second win in the Kentucky Derby. It goes without saying that his form was hugely flattered by Saturday's results. Brody's Cause won the Blue Grass, Outwork won the Wood, and Star Hill ran a solid race in the Blue Grass, after an eight-length loss to Destin last time. Destin, as much as any horse, is one I look forward to seeing work over the track at Churchill Downs before the big one.

5. Exaggerator 9-4-2-1 (Curlin--Dawn Raid, by Vindication) Trainer - Keith Desormeaux  Next Race - Kentucky Derby

We all saw the move on Saturday. An explosive turn of foot through the Santa Anita slop that carried him from way back, to a romping win in California's most important prep for the Derby. Has the talented son of Curlin finally put everything together, or was it a result as much aided by the track condition as anything? Well, I do think that Exaggerator appreciates a wet track. So much so, that if the Derby comes up wet, he could vie for favoritism with Nyquist. I do think the Santa Anita Derby was a break through for him. I have often thought that there was more talent there than his results were bearing out. It also appears that the Desormeaux brothers have found a farther back off the pace running style for him that works. It won't be that easy in the Derby, though. Remember, he was clearly beaten by both Nyquist in both of their meetings, and by Brody's Cause in both of their meetings. Maybe he has found what he was missing and is coming to Louisville 100%, but still, I have to side with those two, who also are coming to the Derby the right way.

6. Mohaymen 6-5-0-0 (Tapit--Justwhistledixie, by Dixie Union) Trainer - Kiaran McLaughlin  Next Race - Florida Derby

Did he just not have it in the Florida Derby day, or was Nyquist simply too good for him? My best guess is it may have been a combination of the two. Two weeks ago, he was the Derby favorite, now he has dropped down behind five on this list, but does that mean he cannot bounce back on the first Saturday in May? I have seen it done before, although I cannot remember a Derby winner taking quite the beating that he did in the race before the first Saturday in May. Also, Zulu's performance in the Blue Grass did nothing to flatter his form. Still there was a reason he won four straight graded stakes races in impressive fashion. Perhaps those performances were his ceiling, but I cannot believe there isn't a better performance in there than we saw nine days ago. Will that be enough in the Derby? Maybe not, but he deserves both respect and a chance.

7. Gun Runner 5-4-0-0 (Candy Ride--Quiet Giant, by Giant's Causeway) Trainer - Steve Asmussen  Next Race - Kentucky Derby

All he does is win. At least he has done that in four of his five races to date, including a win at Churchill Downs in his career debut. So why doesn't Gun Runner get more respect? Maybe it was the late fade in last fall's Kentucky Jockey Club, although in fairness that did come over a messy track. Or maybe it because he did not look great in finishing the Risen Star, although he did still get the win in his seasonal debut. In the Louisiana Derby, in which he won going away, he should have finally opened our eyes, but again, Mo Tom got a lot of the talk for all his trouble. One of the earliest Kentucky Derby runners to Churchill Downs, Gun Runner is laying in the weeds, just waiting to finally earn the respect that he very well may deserve. Unfortunately, I still fall into the doubters side when talking about his chances to win at ten furlongs against the best of his generation. It would not shock me, but I am going to need to see it, before I fully believe. 

8. Cupid 4-2-1-0 (Tapit--Pretty 'n Smart, by Beau Genius) Trainer - Bob Baffert  Next Race - Arkansas Derby

Bob Baffert famously used the California to Arkansas path last year to find Triple Crown glory with American Pharoah. Cupid is not American Pharoah. He is, however, a very talented, late developing colt who seems to be getting better with every start. Two starts back, he broke his maiden nicely, in a performance that now looks even better after seeing what Trojan Nation did in the Wood. I think he was benefited by not being pushed too hard early in the Rebel, but keep in mind, he had to work to get that position after not breaking out on top. The most impressive part of that win at Oaklawn Park, of course, was the last 100 yards, where he gave Whitmore his packing papers after looking like he might get passed. Can he improve upon that big effort in Saturday's Arkansas Derby? Knowing his trainer, the answer is surely yes, and if so, he could arrive to Kentucky a whole lot higher than number eight on this list.

9. Mo Tom 7-3-0-3 (Uncle Mo--Caroni, by Rubiano) Trainer - Tom Amoss  Next Race - Kentucky Derby

Mo Tom is a talented closer. This much we know after seven straight solid come from behind performances. The problem is that he found serious trouble in his final two preps for Louisville. On the one hand, you have to feel like with a clean trip, he really could be picking up the pieces in the ten-furlong Derby, but on the other hand, you have to wonder if either he is a horse prone to find traffic, or he doesn't get just a bit discouraged in the big field after what has happened to him in the last two. In the end, I think his talent will prevail, and he will be able to come running on May 7. Whether or not that is enough to contend for the winner's circle is the biggest question of all. I would not throw him out, but I tend to think he will be more likely looking at a minor award.

10. My Man Sam 4-1-2-0 (Trappe Shot--Lauren Byrd, by Arch) Trainer - Chad Brown  Next Race - Kentucky Derby

Breaking from the 14-hole in the Blue Grass, My Man Sam had a whole lot of running to do on Saturday. Julien Leparoux did a nice job of saving ground into the first turn, but still, last of 14 was a tough spot to be in. Full of run on the far turn, he swung well wide and finished full of run to get up for second behind Brody's Cause. All in all, it was an excellent performance, and his third straight impressive rally. I thought his allowance race second behind the talented speed horse Matt King Coal, was also better than it looked on paper. With three consecutive strong two-turn races under his belt, you would have to feel like the lightly raced colt is ready for the biggest test of his life. From inner-track maiden a few months ago to a Kentucky Derby winner is a huge jump, but another move forward puts him in with a real chance.


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Meet Brian Zipse 

Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Taken to the races at a very young age, he has been lucky enough to see all the greats in person from Secretariat, Forego, and Ruffian through Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, and American Pharoah. Before coming to the Nation, Brian displayed his love for the sport through the development of his horse racing website, which quickly became one of the most popular blogs in the game. His new racing partnership venture, Derby Day Racing, invites more fans to experience the thrill of racehorse ownership.

The Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, Brian authored a daily column as Zipse at the Track, or ZATT for short, and added his editorial flare to the overall content of the website. Now a Senior Writer for HRN, Brian continues to contribute his thoughts on racing, as well as co-hosting the popular racing show, HorseCenter. A big supporter of thoroughbred aftercare, he serves as the President of The Exceller Fund.

Brian's work has also been published on several leading industry sites. He has consulted for leading contest site Derby Wars, is both a Hall of Fame and NTRA poll voter, and is a Vox Populi committee member. 

A horse owner and graduate of DePaul University, Brian lives just outside of Louisville with his wife Candice and daughter Kendra.


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