Derby Countdown – March 16

We saw three Kentucky Derby preps run last weekend with the Eclipse Award winning 2YO of 2009 returning in style, an emerging speedballer in California winning, and a resilient colt proving he has a “never say die” attitude at Tampa.  Let’s take a look at the updated Top 10 in my Derby Countdown:

#1 – Eskendereya

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Owner: Zayat Stables

Pedigree:  Giant’s Causeway x Aldebaran Light (Seattle Slew)

Previous Rank: 1st

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: 22-1 (Pool 1), 5-1 (Pool 2)

Best Performance: Fountain of Youth, Gulfstream, 2/20, 1st

Where to next?  Wood Memorial, Aqueduct, 4/3

What’s to like?  A breakthrough performance in the Fountain of Youth made Eskendereya the clear leader of the 3YO division.  He stalked the pace set by Lost Aptitude, took over when that rival was finished, and kicked clear late to win by over eight lengths.  He has a tremendous pedigree for the Triple Crown as there’s nothing but upside with this colt.  According to a late announcement on Tuesday, he will be going to the Wood Memorial. 

#2 – Lookin at Lucky

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Owner: Watson & Pegram

Pedigree:  Smart Strike x Private Feeling (Belong to Me)

Previous Rank: 3rd

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: 8-1 (Pool 1), 9-1 (Pool 2)

Best Performance: Rebel, Oaklawn Park, 3/13, 1st

Where to next?  Wood Memorial, Aqueduct, 4/3 or Santa Anita Derby, Santa Anita, 4/3 or Arkansas Derby, Oaklawn Park, 4/10

What’s to like?  The Rebel was a very, very nice performance by this well-built son of Smart Strike as he showed agility, determination, and quality from start to finish.  He nearly went down on the backstretch after clipping heels with eventual runner-up Noble’s Promise, then rated kindly for jockey Garrett Gomez behind the lead and finished strongly to get up on the wire.  Trainer Bob Baffert said that he had taken it easy on this colt prior to the Rebel and that he really didn’t have him ready to fire his biggest shot.  Trainerspeak is often cheap, but doesn’t it have a bit more meaning coming from Baffert’s mouth?

#3 – Rule

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Owner: WinStar Farm

Pedigree:  Roman Ruler x Rockcide (Personal Flag)

Previous Rank: 4th

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: 24-1 (Pool 1), 20-1 (Pool 2)

Best Performance: Sam F. Davis, Tampa Bay Downs, 2/13, 1st

Where to next?  Florida Derby, Gulfstream, 3/20

What’s to like?  Rule has turned into a professional, classy racehorse as evidenced by his game wire-to-wire decisions in the Delta Jackpot and the Sam F. Davis.  While his last four triumphs have come on the lead, trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez believe he’ll be successful rating.  If he goes to the Florida Derby, Velazquez will be replaced by Ramon Dominguez as he’ll opt to ride Eskendereya.  He should pose a stern challenge to his stablemate and the top dog in this Derby countdown if their paths cross in Hallandale this Saturday.

#4 – Dublin

Trainer: D. Wayne Lukas

Owner: Baker & Mack

Pedigree:  Afleet Alex x Classy Mirage (Storm Bird)

Previous Rank: 2nd

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: 20-1 (Pool 1), 10-1 (Pool 2)

Best Performance: Southwest, Oaklawn Park, 2/20, 2nd

Where to next?  Arkansas Derby, Oaklawn Park, 4/10

What’s to like?  I’m not down on Dublin after his third-place finish in the Rebel.  He was victimized once again by a wide trip and a premature move towards the lead by jockey Corey Nakatani.  It would seem that he’s proven he’s at his best when able to sit back and make one run and a return to that style is probably going to do him a lot of good.  Many have predicted that he’ll top out distance-wise at 7-8 furlongs but his Rebel was not necessarily indicative of a horse who will struggle with 10 panels.

#5 – Awesome Act

Trainer: Jeremy Noseda

Owner: Mrs. Susan Roy & Vinery Stable

Pedigree:  Awesome Again x Houdini’s Honey (Mr. Prospector)

Previous Rank: 5th

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: Field, 3/2 (Pool 1), Field, 3-1 (Pool 2)

Best Performance: Gotham Stakes, Aqueduct, 3/6, 1st

Where to next?  Wood Memorial, Aqueduct, 4/3

What’s to like?  Awesome Act showed no discomfort on dirt in the Gotham Stakes as he rated beautifully behind a fast pace, angled out at the quarter pole, took over and kicked clear to win by almost two lengths.  His pedigree suggested he would handle dirt as he had run exclusively on synthetics and turf prior to the Gotham.  He is being pointed to the Wood Memorial and looms another contender with no distance limitations, some talent, and very good connections on his side.

6. Sidney’s Candy

Trainer: John Sadler

Owner: Craig Family Trust

Pedigree:  Candy Ride x Fair Exchange (Storm Cat)

Previous Rank: Unranked

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: Field, 3/2 (Pool 1), 33-1 (Pool 2)

Best Performance: San Felipe, Santa Anita, 3/13, 1st

Where to next?  Santa Anita Derby, Santa Anita, 4/3

What’s to like?  Sidney’s Candy was able to get away with pretty soft fractions in his first start around two turns but the simple fact that he handled the added ground makes it clear that he has some serious talent.  He has a pedigree that should enable him to go ten furlongs and being a speed horse going two turns on the synthetics is difficult.  While trainer John Sadler is not one of the California conditioners whose horses generally move up on dirt, this guy looks like the type that will based on running style and that makes him awfully intriguing.

7. Odysseus

Trainer: Tom Albertrani

Owner: Padua Stables

Pedigree: Malibu Moon x Persimmon Hill (Conquistador Cielo)

Previous Rank: Unranked

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: Field, 3/2 (Pool 1), 25-1 (Pool 2)

Best Performance: Tampa Bay Derby, Tampa Bay Downs, 3/13, 1st

Where to Next? Wood Memorial, Aqueduct, 4/3 or Kentucky Derby, Churchill, 5/1

What’s to like?  Odysseus backed up his smashing N1X win at Tampa with a gritty, determined win in the Tampa Bay Derby.  He’s obviously a horse that doesn’t have push button acceleration and he needs to be ridden to his stride but it sure did look like he was done when the field reached the top of the stretch on Saturday.  He dug in gamely and was able to re-rally as the horses in front of him began to falter.  Whether the TB Derby was a race of any quality or not remains to be seen but he is at least a horse worth watching going forward.

8. Super Saver

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Owner: WinStar Farm, LLC

Pedigree:  Maria’s Mon x Supercharger (A.P. Indy)

Previous Rank: 6th

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: 20-1 (Pool 1), 24-1 (Pool 2)

Best Performance: Kentucky Jockey Club, Churchill, 11/28, 1st

Where to next?  Arkansas Derby, Oaklawn Park, 4/10 or Wood Memorial, Aqueduct, 4/3

What’s to like?  Depending on what you were looking for your answer may vary, but Super Saver’s 2010 debut was not the sharp effort you’d hope for from a serious contender.  He made the lead in the Tampa Bay Derby and looked to me moving well when confronted at the top of the stretch.  He dug in but that probably had more to do with the fact that none of his rivals were finishing at all and when the smoke cleared he was a narrowly beaten third as the favorite.  He probably gained quite a bit from the race and should be ready to move forward in his 2nd outing of the year.

9. Drosselmeyer

Trainer: William Mott

Owner: WinStar Farm, LLC

Pedigree: Distorted Humor x Golden Ballet (Moscow Ballet)

Previous Rank: 8th

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: 20-1 (Pool 1), Field, 3-1 (Pool 2)

Best Performance: Allowance, Gulfstream, 1/31, 1st

Where to Next? Louisiana Derby, Fair Grounds, 3/27

What’s to like? It goes without saying that I was disappointed in his Risen Star effort last month at Fair Grounds.  He went in a solid favorite and came out of the race with tons of questions about what went wrong and if he’s any good at all.  Trainer Bill Mott will now have to re-set and get him back on track for the Louisiana Derby and possible excuses for the Risen Star stinker are a quick turnaround off of his 2010 debut (20 days) or a horribly slow pace that made it next to impossible for a late runner.  No matter what, he has to elevate his game in his next start or else he’s not going to the Kentucky Derby.

10. Discreetly Mine

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Owner: Mrs. Einar P. Robsham

Pedigree: Mineshaft x Pretty Discreet (Private Account)

Previous Rank: 9th

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: Field, 3/2 (Pool 1), 37-1 (Pool 2)

Best Performance: Risen Star, Fair Grounds, 2/20

Where to Next? Louisiana Derby, Fair Grounds, 3/27

What’s to like? Many, including myself, believed that this son of Mineshaft had the look of a sprinter but trainer Todd Pletcher thought enough of him to try him in last month’s Risen Star at Fair Grounds.  A wire-to-wire win put this guy back in the discussion in terms of the Kentucky Derby, but don’t think he’s through with the questions about whether he can go 10 panels.  He was able to get away with an easy pace in the Risen Star and that certainly ensured he’d have plenty in the tank for the stretch drive.  If he has to work any harder early in the Louisiana Derby, he may be in some trouble.

Races this week: Florida Derby

See you back next week with an update.  With 7 weeks remaining until Kentucky Derby 136 I’ll countdown the last seven Kentucky Derbies.  Here’s the 2003 running:

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