Derby Countdown – April 13

If the final round of the biggest Derby preps was supposed to clear things up and answer questions it failed miserably.  The longest shot on the board, Stately Victor, scored in the Blue Grass as he charged home from well off the pace.  Longshot Line of David wired the Arkansas Derby battling back along the rail after being confronted by 2nd choice Dublin and 3rd choice Super Saver.  Are Line of David and Stately Victor viable win candidates on May 1?  Highly doubtful with the former but the latter could now be realizing his potential.  Whether you like him or not, it’s safe to say he’ll have to step up his game to be draped in roses.  No change at the top few slots in the countdown as the rest of this crop has failed to deliver a performance that rivals Eskendereya’s last two.

#1 – Eskendereya

Jockey: John Velazquez

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), 5-1 (Pool 3)

Best Performance: Wood Memorial, Aqueduct, 4/3, 1st

Where to next?  Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs, 5/1

What’s to like?  This strapping chestnut colt solidified his credentials for the Derby with a terrific win in the Wood Memorial.  He tracked a moderate pace intently, took over when ready and ultimately kicked clear with jockey John Velazquez a statue in the stirrups.  They’re not even close to the bottom of this horse and he seems to be getting better.  His price won’t be attractive on May 1 but this guy’s going to be very tough to beat.  He is slated to work on Sunday, April 18 at Palm Meadows in South Florida before shipping to Churchill the final week with a workout scheduled (weather permitting) at the ‘Downs on Sunday, April 25th.

What’s not to like?  If some thought that the Wood would expose any issues this guy has then they are probably disappointed that it most certainly did not.  He showed no real weaknesses, so if there’s anything not to like on about him heading into the Derby it could be that he’s not really battle-tested and has enjoyed positive pace setups in his last two victories.  A rodeo with 19 rivals where the early pace is strong could be an issue.

2. Sidney’s Candy

Jockey: Joe Talamo

Trainer: John Sadler

Owner: Craig Family Trust

Pedigree:  Candy Ride x Fair Exchange (Storm Cat)

Previous Rank: 2nd

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: Field, 3/2 (Pool 1), 33-1 (Pool 2), 22-1 (Pool 3)

Best Performance: Santa Anita Derby, Santa Anita, 4/3, 1st

Where to next?  Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs, 5/1

What’s to like?  No horse’s stock has risen as much as this guy’s over the past four weeks.  He backed up his San Felipe victory with a wire-to-wire score in the Santa Anita Derby kicking clear of the competition in the stretch drive.  He never met a challenge from Lookin at Lucky, who ran into trouble around the far turn, and it probably matters not as no one was catching this chestnut son of Candy Ride.  He rolls into Kentucky as the winner of three straight graded stakes races where he’s been in front at every point of each one.  He’s slated to depart for Kentucky today and have two works over the Churchill Downs strip.

What’s not to like?  Trainer John Sadler has blossomed into one of the best in California in recent years.  However, his success has not traveled with him when shipping out of town.  Before Line of David’s win in the Arkansas Derby, Sadler was 0 for his last 16 with horses moving from synthetic surfaces to dirt in stakes races, both graded and ungraded.  There is also serious concern about Sidney’s Candy handling pace pressure.  He has had things his own way at SA and that’s certainly helped him have something left late.  What will he do when met with some resistance in the opening half-mile, especially if drawn outside?

#3 – Lookin at Lucky

Jockey: Garrett Gomez

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), 9/2 (Pool 3)

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

Where to next?  Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs, 5/1

What’s to like?  The 2YO Champion of 2009 will show up in Kentucky with a bruised ego as he was defeated by Sidney’s Candy in the SA Derby.  That result must be handled with care, though, as ‘Lucky ran into a tight spot on the far turn and jockey Garrett Gomez was forced to check abruptly, falling towards the back of the pack.  He picked his way between horses and got in the mix for a minor placing after the trouble and is clearly a horse who’s not going to struggle with the distance of the Run for the Roses.  He didn’t need to do much in the SA Derby in order to stay in the picture and that’s good, because he didn’t do much.  Like Sidney’s Candy, he’s shipping to Kentucky today.

What’s not to like?  The jury’s still out on how good Lookin at Lucky is.  His race on Saturday certainly earns the grade of “Incomplete” because we have no idea what would have happened if he hadn’t been checked on the turn.  I can tell you that I think he would have finished somewhere around where he did, perhaps in 2nd but I doubt he was catching the winner.  He’s now had trouble in each of his last two starts and it’s questionable whether he’s improved as a 3YO.  Is that the type of horse you want at 6-1 in the Derby?

#4 – Rule

Jockey: Ramon Dominguez

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), 30-1 (Pool 3)

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

Where to next?  Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs, 5/1

What’s to like?  Rule contested a very strong pace in the Florida Derby and stayed on well despite being passed late.  He has gradually improved and is a solid animal and he’ll go into the Kentucky Derby off a six week layoff, which should be perfect given that he left a lot on the track at Gulfstream.  Trainer Todd Pletcher should have ample time to try to get Rule to relax a bit in the morning as it’s been his Achilles heel so far.  He’s the forgotten member of the “Todd Squad” and is going to offer tremendous value at the windows.

What’s not to like?  If Rule doesn’t rate in the Kentucky Derby he’s cooked.  Horses like Conveyance, Sidney’s Candy, Line of David, American Lion and maybe even his stablemate Super Saver will put a great deal of pressure on the front end and if he attempts to go with them, survive, and stay on he’ll fail.  I’m still high on this son of Roman Ruler but he’s going to be one of the types that you’re asking to do something they’ve never done before in the Derby and that’s dangerous.

5. Ice Box

Jockey: Jose Lezcano

Trainer: Nick Zito

Owner: Robert V. LaPenta

Pedigree: Pulpit x Spice Island (Tabasco Cat)

Previous Rank: 8th

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: Field, 3/2 (Pool 1), Field, 3-1 (Pool 2), 19-1 (Pool 3)

Best Performance: Florida Derby, Gulfstream, 3/20, 1st

Where to Next? Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs, 5/1

What’s to like? Ice Box burst onto the Kentucky Derby scene with a dramatic last-to-first win in the Florida Derby.  He obviously has very little speed but does have a big late kick and can take advantage of a strong pace setup (as most good horses can).  You’re probably wondering how he could move up three spots in this countdown by only standing in his stall?  That’s because the Derby pace seems like it’s going to be hotter with each passing day and that only helps this son of Pulpit’s chances.

What’s not to like?  Ice Box was a beneficiary of circumstances in the Florida Derby.  Plain and simple the race came back to him and he was there to take advantage.  He is obviously improving but is going to need everything to break right for him to take the top prize on May 1.  Can you take that plunge on him at 25-1?  I can.

#6 – Awesome Act

Jockey: Julien Leparoux

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), 13-1 (Pool 3)

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

Where to next?  Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs, 5/1

What’s to like?  Despite his handy defeat at the hands of #1 Eskendereya, this colt still has some potential.  He clearly is going to benefit from the likely strong Derby pace and if he does so then he can crack the exotics and win if things break right.  He should be able to get the distance without issue and has run well enough on dirt to be considered a fringe player.  His final work at Belmont was this morning and he’s shipping to Churchill by van on Thursday evening.

What’s not to like?  It’s tough not to think that the Wood exposed this guy as a fraud in some ways.  He didn’t get much of a pace to run into but he looked absolutely loaded at the quarter pole and was ultimately outfinished for 2nd.  He may be a quick burst, one run type of horse and those types rarely have success in the Derby where a horse is asked to make a prolonged bid.

#7 – Dublin

Jockey: Terry Thompson

Trainer: D. Wayne Lukas

Owner: Baker & Mack

Pedigree:  Afleet Alex x Classy Mirage (Storm Bird)

Previous Rank: 5th

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: 20-1 (Pool 1), 10-1 (Pool 2), 18-1 (Pool 3)

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

Where to next?  Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs, 5/1

What’s to like?  Dublin was probably a bit too close to the pace in the Arkansas Derby but it was a pace that ultimately stayed together.  He would have fared better if able to tuck in behind the leader, then angle out and make one run.  He has yet to get the type of ride that will work best for him, a ground-saving trip where he can make one run.  The expected pace in the Derby ought to be in his favor as well.

What’s not to like?  The criticism of Dublin will only grow after his somewhat disappointing 3rd place finish in Hot Springs.  It’s tough to say that a 3rd place finish and miss by a half-length is disappointing but it sure did look like this son of Afleet Alex was going to run right by Line of David and Super Saver in the stretch drive.  He may have distance limitations and if so they’ll be his undoing at Churchill.

#8 – Endorsement

Jockey: Robby Albarado

Trainer: Shannon Ritter

Owner: WinStar Farms, LLC

Pedigree: Distorted Humor x Charmed Gift (A.P. Indy)

Previous Rank: 10th

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: Field, 3/2 (Pool 1), Field, 3-1 (Pool 2), Field 9/2 (Pool 3)

Best Performance: Sunland Derby, Sunland, 3/27, 1st

Where to next?  Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs, 5/1

What’s to like? Imagine that, an impeccably bred colt owned by WinStar Farms now on the Derby trail.  It seems like there were about 12 of them when we turned the calendar to 2010.  This guy was not on the Derby radar back then but he is now after a sharp win in the Sunland Derby where he rated kindly, took over from pacesetter Conveyance and kicked well clear in track record time.  While it’s never a great idea to back recent maiden winners in graded stakes, and it’s obvious this guy lacks seasoning, he is a horse moving forward at the moment.  He had his first pre-Derby workout last Friday drilling a half-mile in :46 and 4/5 over the Polytrack at Keeneland.

What’s not to like?  Whether this guy can handle the rapid advance class-wise that he’s undertaking is a serious question.  He broke his maiden just five weeks ago and he’s now less than three weeks from one of the most demanding races in this country.  He has the pedigree and is gradually gaining the experience but he will not go off anywhere near what would be fair odds for a horse with his paltry credentials.

#9 – Super Saver

Jockey: Calvin Borel

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Owner: WinStar Farms, LLC

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

Previous Rank: Unranked

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: 20-1 (Pool 1), 24-1 (Pool 2), 35-1 (Pool 3)

Best Performance: Kentucky Jockey Club, Churchill Downs, 11/28/09, 1st

Where to Next? Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs, 5/1

What’s to like? Super Saver rebounded from a full Tampa Bay Derby effort with a game runner-up finish in the Arkansas Derby.  He gave himself some credibility once again and fully earned his spot in the starting gate, which is positive because you rarely want a horse coming into the Derby off a poor effort.  He likes the Churchill strip and definitely gained some valuable experience in his 2nd start of 2010.  He’s not the worst play at a healthy price in the Derby.

What’s not to like?  The way this Derby is shaping up it just doesn’t seem like his running style is the type that will work.  He has never really passed horses before and that’s likely what he’s going to have to do should the expected hot pace materialize.  He is well-bred, from a terrific barn, and will have a jockey aboard who has won two of the last 3 runnings of the Derby, but this still looks like a bit of a tall order.

#10 – Stately Victor

Jockey: Alan Garcia

Trainer: Michael Maker

Owner: Thomas and Jack Conway

Pedigree: Ghostapper x Collect the Cash (Dynaformer)

Previous Rank: Unranked

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: Field, 3/2 (Pool 1), Field, 3-1 (Pool 2), Field 9/2 (Pool 3)

Best Performance: Blue Grass, Keeneland, 4/10, 1st

Where to Next? Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs, 5/1

What’s to like? The Blue Grass winner gets this week’s “Mr. Irrelevant” title as he makes his first appearance on the Countdown at #10.  This colt became the first offspring of Ghostzapper to win a Grade I race in his triumphant Blue Grass run and it seemed like he finally fulfilled the high expectations trainer Mike Maker always had for him.  He is a big, rangy colt with no discernible distance limitations who likes to run late, so this race may set up beautifully for him.

What’s not to like?  He stinks on the dirt.  His two dirt races since last year’s Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland were horrible.  He was badly beaten in a N1X at Churchill last fall and while he may be a new horse now, it’s a tough gamble to make when a horse is running on this stage.  If he shows some potential in the Derby then the Belmont might be the spot for him provided he can handle dirt.

Races this week: Lexington

See you back next week with an update.  With less than 3 weeks remaining until Kentucky Derby 136 I’ll countdown the last three Kentucky Derbies.  Here’s the 2007 running:

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