Down and Derby - Sweet 16 (2) - 2012 Kentucky Derby

Down and Derby - Sweet 16 (2) - 2012 Kentucky Derby
Photo: Charles Pravata/Eclipse Sportswire

1. Union Rags (Dixie Union-Tempo, by Gone West) Michael Matz – Javier Castellano has made his decision and now he is going to have to live with it. In all seriousness, I wish the young rider well, and I know sticking with trainer Todd Pletcher had a lot to do with the decision making process, but I cannot help feeling that Castellano got off the best horse of this crop and the most likely horse to wear roses this spring. We should learn about the 3yo version of Union Rags in the upcoming Fountain of Youth Stakes with new rider, Julien Leparoux.

2. El Padrino (Pulpit-Enchanted Rock, by Giant's Causeway) Todd Pletcher - It seems like this one has gotten a lot of attention of late, and clearly I am one that likes him a lot. The Kentucky Derby distance is one that will turn many pretenders away, but I do not expect that to be true for this great grandson of Seattle Slew. His 2012 debut, in which he ran right by Take Charge Indy, was first rate, and although both career wins were on wet tracks, I see great promise in his dry track races as well. Pletcher needs to split up the ranks, so El Padrino will prepare for the Derby over the generally deep surface at the Fair Grounds, starting with the Risen Star.
3. Creative Cause (Giant's Causeway-Dream of Summer, by Siberian Summer) Mike Harrington – This was one of the first juveniles I fell in love with last year. He disappointed me slightly when I saw him beaten in person in the Del Mar Futurity, but he did have a pretty big excuse that day. I like the way he took to dirt and two-turns in the Norfolk, and his Breeders' Cup Juvenile was almost good enought to win and earn him a championship. Now he looks ready for his three-year-old debut armed with a series of strong works. Sunday's San Vincente should be further proof that he is one of the classiest members of his generation.
4. Algorithms (Bernardini-Ava Knowsthecode, by Cryptoclearance) Todd Pletcher - His performance in the Holy Bull was big, but what did it really prove? For me it proved that the undefeated son of Bernardini has the class to fit in the highest of levels. I think he would won that race regardless of the track condition. As a one-turn horse, we already know that he can get it done, but he is behind most on this list in that he has yet to be tested around two-turns. The breeding is for the most part promising, but until he proves he can handle a route, I will remain cautiously optimistic. He will be in for a major test when he challenges the top one in the Fountain of Youth.
5. Empire Way (Empire Maker-Delta Princess, by A.P. Indy) Mike Harrington – I have a sneaky suspicion that trainer Mike Harrington is primed to become a household name this spring. Creative Cause is the proven horse in the barn, but Empire Way may become the real star in a few months. The regally bred, full-brother to champion Royal Delta started his career with a flashy rally to win his debut last November, but has gone 0 for 3 since. So why do I like him so much? Simple, his breeding not only suggests class, but also that he will get better with experience and distance. He is already getting better with every start, and I think his rally into a moderate pace in the Lewis was a perfect stepping stone to have him ready for his best at ten furlongs on the first Saturday in May. 

6. Hansen (Tapit-Stormy Sunday, by Sir Cat) Michael Maker – I believe the loss in the Holy Bull will do last year's champ a world of good. He now knows what he is dealing with when a horse comes right up to him. Of course he will need a better reply than the one offered on Sunday, but considering the stumble, the quick rush to open up a sizable lead, the off track, and most importantly, the fact that it was only the first step on a path designed to have him peaking in May, makes me believe that we will hear a lot more from Hansen before everything is said and done. No matter the color of his tail and mane, I think the easier path through New York will also serve him well.


{How do the fans rate the 2012  Kentucky Derby Contenders?}

7. Out of Bounds  (Discreet Cat-Unbridled Elaine, by Unbridled's Song) Eoin Harty – His sire was a star and his dam was a star, so on breeding, he looks as good as any here, provided he can stay the trip. His last race, when he ran down Secret Circle in the late stages of the Sham Stakes, may not look as good on paper as it actually looked to me watching live. He's a big strong colt who appears to have the ability to find extra gears in the stretch. I am still wondering if this ranking is too low, as I have a good feeling about him. His rider, Garret Gomez is reportedly healing well from his recent injury, and really wants to make it back in time to ride this one in the San Felipe.

8. Gemologist (Tiznow-Crystal Shard, by Mr. Prospector) Todd Pletcher – It's good to see this one back on the worktab of late. Still undefeated, the son of the two-time BC Classic winner looked very professional in winning a graded stakes over the Churchill Downs strip last fall. It always worries me when a sophomore waits this long to return to the races, but as well proven over the last several years, only two starts before May seems to be a successful way to prep for a run for the roses.


9. Alpha (Bernardini-Munnaya, by Nijinsky II) Kiaran McLaughlin – He's got a lot going for him, as far as breeding, looks, running style, and 2012 form, which leaves the only real question of class. Considering that he was no match for Union Rags in the Champagne, and then  fizzled in the BC Juvenile, class is still a big question. In his recent wins at the Big A, he did not beat much, so I will need to see him run against a bit better before getting overly excited. If he comes back in the Gotham, Hansen will give him a good test, if not we will have to wait for the Wood to see him run against good ones.

10. Fed Biz (Giant's Causeway-Spunoutacontrol, by Wild Again) Bob Baffert - As unprofessional as he looked down the Santa Anita stretch in his most recent win, I simply cannot rate this horse too low. I can only imagine how good he might look if he continues to develop, changes leads properly, and runs a straight course to the wire. He has plenty of questions to answer, not the least of which is whether he can collect enough graded earnings even to make the Kentucky Derby starting gate, but the talent is most certainly there for him to get bizzy in stakes racing.

11. Bodemeister (Empire Maker-Untouched Talent, by Storm Cat) Bob Baffert – Speaking of talent, did you see that streak of lightning with the blue shadow roll on Saturday. It's hard to rate a horse who has only run against maidens this high, but the thing about it is, I think he actually beat good horses in that win, and he not only beat Welter Weight and Stirred Up, he destroyed them. Who knows if Baffert can have him really ready for the Derby, but one thing I know for sure is I will be watching his next start with great interest.

12. Discreet Dancer (Discreet Cat -West Side Dancer, by Gone West) Todd Pletcher - When you win your maiden voyage for fun in fast time, and then return to do the same against allowance company, people start talking. Sure enough, this one has received a lot of ink, but who knows? He may be the most talented horse of the crop, or he may be a talented horse who looks really good at beating up on cheaper horses around one-turn. Only time will tell, and that time looks like it is coming soon when he matches strides with Union Rags and Algorithms in the Fountain of Youth.

13. Liaison (Indian Charlie-Galloping Gal, by Victory Gallop) Bob Baffert – This was one of my bigger droppers since my first installment of Down and Derby a few weeks ago, and with good reason, as even before dumping his rider, he was not doing a whole lot of running in the Lewis. While I had to drop him, I could see a bounce back for this colt who looked so good as a juvenile. He never really looked comfortable with his position during any point of the last failed effort.

14. Ever So Lucky  (Indian Charlie-Bally Storm, by Summer Squall) Jonathan Sheppard – I really like this colt a lot, but the signs are not looking as promising as I would hope. After being a little sore following his solid stakes debut in his second career race last November, he lost his chance to return in last weekend's Hutcheson Stakes when the Gulfstream Park track was sloppy all week, prompting a less than pleasing work according to his trainer Jonathan Sheppard. Scratched from the Hutcheson, luck needs to turn around soon if this talented colt is going to make the Derby.

15. Sabercat (Bluegrass Cat-Miner's Blessing, by Forty Niner) Steve Amussen - The winner of the rich Delta Jackpot is starting to turn some heads in the morning again as he readies for his sophomore debut in the San Felipe for trainer Steve Asmussen. It took him a while to develop as a juvenile, but that experience may prove valuable as he looks to build up to Louisville with only two preps this year. Because of that win in December, he is already one of the best bets to make the field with the money already in the bank.

16. Take Charge Indy (A.P. Indy-Take Charge Lady, by Dehere) Patrick Byrne - While I felt that El Padrino was much the best in there recent meeting, I am beginning to take a closer look at this guy. His connections seem to think that he is screaming out for a distance of ground, which is always a good sign when searching for a Derby horse. He has also kept excellent company, and has yet to run a bad race. I'm not crazy for the fact that he has yet to demonstrate the ability to battle to the wire for a win any of his last four races, but with his excellent breeding, it would not be a shock to see him put everything together this spring. 

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, American Pharoah and Justify. Before coming to HRN, 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 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, created the popular racing webcast HorseCenter, 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 hosting HorseCenter. A big supporter of thoroughbred aftercare, he serves on the Board 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 and is a Vox Populi committee member. He is a voter for racing's Hall of Fame, as well as a weekly NTRA poll voter. 

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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