Road to the Derby – 10 to watch

Road to the Derby – 10 to watch
With just eight weeks left before the Kentucky Derby, it's time to start looking at some of the three-year-old Thoroughbreds that have a shot at winning the race at Churchill Downs on Saturday, May 5, 2012.
While it is still early, the field of horses is slowly beginning to unfold. Still there are no dominant horses out there, like a Secretariat, Big Brown, or even an Uncle Mo, taking the field by storm.
There are a number of horses, however, that are beginning to show good form.
Plus, there’s a potential duo in Union Rags and Hansen that could, maybe, just maybe, if we're lucky, remind us of the days of Affirmed and Alydar. But, that's just a dream. We'll have to wait a while to see what the reality turns out to be in May.
Until then, there are still a number of big stakes races that need to be run before the field of 20 will to come together.
In addition, between now and then, there will be other top contenders that will drop off the Kentucky Derby trail, due to injury or other circumstances.
One such horse is Algorithms, who would have been the No. 1 or No. 2 horse on this list, but who is now going to be relegated to the barn to recuperate after suffering an injury to his right-front leg last week.
Also out already is Out of Bounds, who suffered an ankle fracture during a recent workout and will require surgery.
So, keeping in mind there are a number of top horses who have yet to race, and also that I'm not an expert like one of my favorite writers, Steve Haskin of BloodHorse, let's have some fun for the next few weeks and take a look at 10 horses to keep a watch on lading up to the Run for the Roses.
Pedigree: by Dixie Union-Tempo, by Gone West
Trainer: Michael Matz (Barbaro 2006)
Jockey: Julien Leparoux for FOY; was Javier Castellano
Owner: Phyllis Wyeth – Chads Ford Stable (she is also the breeder)
Career Record: 5 Starts, 4 wins, 1 second, 0 thirds, $1,098,800
Best stakes finishes:
At 2: Won Champagne Stakes (G1, Belmont), Saratoga Special Stakes (G2, Saratoga); 2nd Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1,Churchill Downs).
At 3: Won the Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2, Gulfstream Park).
Except for a poor performance in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, which many folks assign to be a poor ride by jockey Javier Castellano, Union Rags would be undefeated at this point in his career.
Instead, he has one loss – to Hansen – and he no longer has Castellano riding him. Instead, jockey Julien Leparoux got the mount for the recent Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park, where the three-year old out of Dixie Union put on a grand performance to win the race. That performance earned him the top spot on this list, and rightly so.
Union Rags now has enough graded stakes earnings to wait until the Derby for his next race. However, his connections are thinking of giving him one more prep race, possibly the Florida Derby on March 31 at Gulfstream.
Pedigree: Tapit-Stormy Sunday, by Sir Cat
Trainer: Michael Maker
Jockey: Ramon Dominguez
Owner: Dr. Kendall Hansen
Career Record: 5 Starts, 4 wins, 1 second, 0 thirds, $1,473,200
Best stakes finishes:
At 2: Won Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1, Churchill), Kentucky Cup Juvenile Stakes (Turfway Park)
At 3: Won Gotham Stakes (G3, Aqueduct); 2nd Holy Bull Stakes (G3, Gulfstream Park).
Hansen had everything go right last year. He finished the year undefeated after his stunning victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). He then capped his year by winning the Eclipse Awards as Champion Two-Year-Old Male, mostly as a result of that Breeders’ Cup victory.
Unfortunately, his three-year-old season did not start as well as expected, as he finished second to Algorithms in the Holy Bull Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream Park on January 29. However, his connections were not worried, and based on his next race, they were right, as he won the Gotham Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct on March 3.
Like Union Rags, that win gave him enough graded-stakes winnings that he could just sit back and wait for the Derby. But, again, like Union Rags, his connections want to give him one more prep race before the Derby, and that will most probably be the Wood Memorial on April 7 at Aqueduct.
Win or lose in that race, Hansen, who is a stunningly beautiful white (er, gray or roan) colt, will be a horse to watch, not just on the Triple Crown Trail, but throughout his entire career.
Pedigree: Giants Causeway-Dream of Summer, by Siberian Summer
Trainer: Mike Harrington
Jockey: Joel Rosario
Owner: Heinz Steinmann
Career Record: 6 Starts: 3 wins, 1 second, 2 thirds, $539,000
Best stakes finishes:
At 2: Won Norfolk Stakes (G1, Santa Anita), Best Pal Stakes (G2, Delmar)
At 3: Won San Felipe Stakes (G2, Santa Anita); 3rd San Vicente Stakes (G2, Santa Anita)
Creative Cause is another solid thoroughbred, who just seems to keep on improving.
After a third-place finish in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, he started this season with a third-place finish in the Grade 2 San Vicente behind Drill, who also beat him in the Delmar Futurity (G1) last September.
He rebounded strongly though, with an impressive win in this past weekend’s San Felipe Stakes (G2), beating Bodemeister.
How good this Giants Causeway colt can be has yet to be determined. His connections have him pointed to the Santa Anita Derby (G1) on April 7. That race could go a long way in determining how much of a threat he’ll be along the Kentucky Derby Trail for sure. Right now though, he sits comfortably in third on this list based on his last performance.
Pedigree: by Pulpit-Enchanted Rock, by Giants Causeway
Name Translation: According to, his name translates to "The Godfather."
Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Jockey: Javier Castellano (was the rider of Union Rags)
Owner: Let's Go Stable
Career Record: 5 starts, 3 wins, 1 second, 1 third, $266,100
Best stakes finishes:
At 2: 3rd Remsen Stakes (G2, Aqueduct)
At 3: Won Risen Star Stakes (G2, Fair Grounds)
El Padrino’s last performance put him on the map, in terms of horses to watch on the Kentucky Derby Trail and his next race could solidify his position even more.
The race that put him on the map was his win in the Risen Star Stakes (G2) at Fair Grounds on February 25, where he beat out another top Derby contender, Mark Valeski.
The two could potentially meet up once again, if their connections decide to put them up against each other in the Louisiana Derby (G1) on April 1. Another win over Mark Valeski will give the Pulpit-colt enough graded stakes earnings and a solid foundation of results heading into the Kentucky Derby.
Interestingly, El Padrino’s jockey is Castellano, who was the rider for Union Rags in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
Pedigree: Bluegrass Cat-Miner's Blessing, by Forty Niner
Trainer: Steve Asmussen
Jockey: Has not raced this year…
Owner: Winchell Thoroughbreds
Career Record: 6 Starts: 3wins, 0 seconds, 1 third,$681,420
Best stakes finishes:
At 2: Won Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes (G3, Delta Downs), Garden State Stakes (Monmouth)
At 3: Has not run yet
This horse is kind of a mystery horse, in that he hasn’t raced so far this year. However, because of his results this year, his reputation puts him in the middle of this list and, if he lives up to his own expectations, this could be another good horse to watch this spring.
He comes into the season riding a three-race win streak, winning an allowance race last September to break his maiden, then the Garden State Stakes at Monmouth last October, then ending the year with a win in the Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes (G3) at Delta Downs on November 9.
His trainer, Steve Asmussen, still needs to find the son of Bluegrass Cat a steady jockey, as Sabercat has had a different jockey in all six of his races so far. (Calling Robby Albarado anyone?)
Can Sabercat continue his winning ways in 2012? Time will tell. First, he has to have at least one Derby prep race, which could be the Rebel Stakes (G2) at Oaklawn this Saturday. That race will go a long way in determining if he truly belongs on this, or anyone’s, Derby list.
Pedigree: Bernardini-Munnaya, by Nijinsky (Can)
Trainer: Kiaran McLaughlin
Jockey: Ramon Dominguez
Owner: Godolphin Racing LLC
Career Record: 5 Starts: 3 wins, 1 second, 0 thirds, $300,000
Best stakes finishes:
At 2: 2nd Champagne Stakes (G1, Belmont)
At 3: Won Withers Stakes (G3, Aqueduct), County Fleet Stakes (Aqueduct)
Alpha is another possible contender for this year’s Kentucky Derby. While he hasn’t faced any truly stiff competition this year, he has won a pair of stakes races at Aqueduct in the Wither Stakes (G3) on February 4 and the County Fleet Stakes on January 7, and has been working out well at Palm Meadows Training Center in Florida.
In his one meeting with a strong contender, Hansen, in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Alpha finished out of the money. And, with Hansen possibly heading to the Wood Memorial, Alpha’s trainer, Kiaran McLaughlin is not looking for a rematch with Hansen just yet. Instead, he is going to keep his colt in training at the Palm for a possible run in the Florida Derby on March 31.
Avoiding the competition could get Alpha into the Derby, but it could also make things a bit more difficult for the Bernardini colt, in that, he might not get to compete against stronger competitors heading into the first Saturday of May. We’ll see how it all unfolds.
Pedigree: Malibu Moon-Spirited Away, by Awesome Again
Trainer: Mark Casse
Jockey: Luis Contreras
Owner: John Oxley
Career Record: 7 Starts, 4 wins, 2 seconds, 0 thirds, $441,317
Best stakes finishes:
At 2: Grey Stakes (Can-G3, Woodbine)
At 3: Won Pasco Stakes (Tampa Bay Downs), Tampa Bay Derby (G2, Tampa Bay Downs); 2nd in Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3, Tampa Bay Downs)
Coming off his win in this past week’s Tampa Bay Derby, Prospective, who already had two stakes wins in the Pasco Stakes and the Grey Stakes last year at Woodbine, has put himself squarely in the talk with the other horses on the Kentucky Derby Trail.
No doubt, the Malibu Moon colt is continuing to improve, and a possible meeting with Hansen in the Wood Memorial in April at Aqueduct will go a long way in determining where he belongs in this year’s crop of three-year olds. Stay tuned.
Pedigree: Proud Citizen- Pocho's Dream Girl, by
Trainer: Larry Jones
Jockey: Rosie Napravnik (rode him in Risen Star)
Owner: Brereton Jones
Career Record: 4 Starts: 2 wins, 1 second, 0 thirds, $110,952
Best stakes finishes:
At 2: DNR
At 3: 2nd Risen Star Stakes (G2, Fair Grounds).
Right now, Mark Veleski has two wins in his career – a win in a maiden special weight race at Delmar last year and a win in an allowance race at Fair Grounds this year.
However, after his strong second place finish to El Padrino in the Risen Star Stakes (G2) in February, with new jockey Rose Napravnik riding, things are beginning to look better for this Proud Citizen three-year-old.
Add in the fact that he is associated with two class acts – he is owned and bred by Brereton Jones and trained by Larry Jones – and that he has some Old Friends’ karma in that his broodmare sire is Old Friends Retirement Farm’s retiree Fortunate Prospect (okay, I had to get that in there), and Mark Veleski could be a surprise horse to watch this year.
Look for him to run in a rematch against El Padrino in the Louisiana Derby (G2) on April 1 at Fair Grounds against
Pedigree: Empire Maker-Untouched Talent, by Storm Cat
Trainer: Bob Baffert
Jockey: Rafael Bejarano
Owner: Zayat Stables
Career Record: 3 Starts, 1 win, 2 seconds, 0 thirds, $104,800
Best stakes finishes:
At 2: No races
At 3: 2nd San Felipe Stakes (G2, Santa Anita)
Okay, the Kentucky Derby would not be the Kentucky Derby without trainer Bob Baffert having a horse in the race. To date, he doesn’t have one. But, it’s early and Bodemeister is still a very young horse.
Well, after a very close second place to Creative Cause by 3/4 of a length in this past weekend’s San Felipe, where he led all the way only to give up the lead in midstretch, Bodemeister just might be the horse to take Baffert to Churchill.
But, again it is early, and there are still a lot of other horses in Baffert’s barn.
Having said that, Bodemeister finished second in that race, which was only the third in his career – as a three-year old. He never raced as a two-year old. Wow!
A possible rematch with Creative Cause in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) on April 7 could be in his future. If his learning curve continues to improve in logarithmic fashion, Creative Cause is not the only horse that better watch out.
Pedigree: Flower Alley-Arch's Gal Edith, by Arch
Trainer: Doug O'Neil
Jockey: Mario Gutierrez
Owner: J. Paul Reddam
Career Record: 4 starts, 2 wins, 1 second, 0 thirds, $184,000
Best stakes finishes:
At 2: 2nd Best Pal Stakes (G2, Delmar)
At 3: Robert B. Lewis S. (G2, Santa Anita)
I’ll Have Another’s recent win in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G2) got him onto this list, and his recent workouts kept him on the list. Still, this three-year old Flower Alley colt has some more to prove before he gets some serious consideration.
A win, or a solid placing, in the April 7 Santa Anita Derby could go a long way in doing that, so we’ll see how it goes. Until then, keep an eye on his workouts, which have been getting better and better.
Other Horses: Three to keep an eye on, for now (in alphabetical order): Gemologist (T. Pletcher), My Adonis (T. Breen), Secret Circle (B. Baffert)
Who are your favorites? Are they on this list? Leave a comment. Thanks. 


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Older Comments about Road to the Derby – 10 to watch...

I think your list is right on the money. The only questionable horse is Sabercat, but I totally understand why you put him there. I would use the same spot for my long shot Secret Circle. This horse has the most consistent speed of all of the horses. If he can handle the distance, which I think he can, Id put him in as the long shot at #5. Nice list!
How many 3yr olds does Baffert have in his barn? This is astounding, like a magician who keeps pulling another rabbit out of his hat.
Derby Lists are such fun! But how many will be running on the first Saturday in May?
Looks like someone believes in last year's BC Juvenile!

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