Archive for the ‘2010 Derby Countdown’ Category

The favorite’s away, which contenders will play?

April 27, 2010

The news on Sunday morning that probable Kentucky Derby favorite, and #1 on my Derby Countdown for the last eight weeks, Eskendereya, would be scratched was a bitter pill to swallow.  Not only had I become a fan of the horse, I really believed he was a cinch to win the race with anything close to what he puet forth in the Fountain of Youth and Wood Memorial.  Now, we’re left with a full field of horses whos accomplishments are not particularly impressive and who have never posted a Beyer figure of 102 or more.

Here’s a short list of who I’m looking for to run a big race and who I think is worth trying to beat:

CONTENDERS

Ice Box – This son of Pulpit stands to get a great pace setup in the Derby.  He benefited from a strong pace in the Florida Derby and the likelihood of a quick tempo in this affair is terrific.  He will handle the distance without issue and is reportedly training great at the ‘Downs.

Lookin at Lucky – Yes, I’m a chalk-eating weasel for even bringing up the Derby favorite but if you believe the pace is going to be strong then you have to like this guy.  He’s another who has looked great in the mornings and his white-haired fox of a trainer has done pretty well in this race over the years.

Awesome Act – Jockey Julien Leparoux likened this son of Awesome Again’s lost shoe in the Wood to a tire blowing out on your vehicle.  He believes it was the reason why this guy fought with him so much down the backstretch and ultimately came up empty in the waning stages.  There are still minor concerns about whether he can finish his move in a 10 furlong race but he’s a very interesting candidate for the top honors.

PRETENDERS

Sidney’s Candy – If this son of Candy Ride wins, I lose.  I have been against him since they crossed the wire in the Santa Anita Derby as he was the beneficiary of a dream pace setup.  I have serious doubts about whether he can handle a pace duel or rate comfortably off the pace.  In order to back a horse who’s going to need to do something they haven’t before you need a good price to reward your faith and this guy will not go off a good price.

Paddy O’ Prado – There’s been a great deal of talk about this colt’s appearance at Churchill Downs in the morning over the last few days.  It’s really no great surprise that he’s taken to the sloppy surface well as many turf horses are also generally able to run well on wet tracks.  However, this guy has not made a start on dirt and this is a very tough time to be asked to go a furlong farther than he ever has before.  The more aggressive style he’s shown in his last two races will lead to him getting scorched in this event.

Noble’s Promise – How would you like a horse who is coming off a dull effort from which he exited with a lung infection, who’s bred to be a sprinter?  That’s what you’re getting with this guy and he’s another who’s going to be a much shorter price than he should be since I honestly think he should be 50-1.

I’ll be back with more thoughts over the next few days and a complete analysis of the Kentucky Oaks on Friday morning.  Click here for my Kentucky Derby Contender Profiles.  Until then I’ll leave you with a replay of the 2009 Kentucky Derby:

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Derby Countdown – April 20

April 20, 2010

The Lexington was not supposed to produce a Kentucky Derby starter nor did it look like it contained any serious 3YOs and that was confirmed with Exhi’s wire-to-wire win on the Polytrack at Keeneland.  There were no other prep races run last weekend and we’re down now to just days rather than weeks before the Run for the Roses.  Unlike most years the Derby Trial could have an impact on the Kentucky Derby itself with both Pleasant Prince and Eightyfiveinafifty seeking one of the final slots in the starting gate May 1.  Only one change in the Countdown…

#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 worked on Saturday to avoid bad weather heading into South Florida on Sunday and shipped to Churchill today.  His final work is slated for either Saturday or Sunday of this weekend.

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 arrived safe and sound at Churchill last week and took his first spin around the ‘Downs on Sunday.  His workout turned heads as it seems like he’ll have no issues handling the conventional dirt under the Twin Spires.

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.  He arrived in Kentucky a week ago and posted his first workout last Thursday.  The reports weren’t particularly flattering as he came off the track blowing hard and supposedly seemed somewhat uncomfortable on dirt.  His next scheduled move will be tomorrow.

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 – 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.

#5 – 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.  He arrived at Churchill today after working in company with Mission Impazible on Sunday at Palm Meadows.  He was outworked by his stablemate and that is certainly a cause for concern, though trainer Todd Pletcher says he’s not much of a morning superstar.

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.

#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: Derby Trial

See you back next week with an update.  With less than 2 weeks remaining until Kentucky Derby 136 I’ll countdown the last two Kentucky Derbies.  Here’s the 2008 running:

Derby Countdown – April 13

April 13, 2010

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:

Derby Countdown – April 6

April 6, 2010

The picture is gradually becoming clearer as we now have a solid Derby favorite, Eskendereya, as he crushed the competition for a second consecutive time with a Wood Memorial victory that was earned with devastating ease.  He is a force to be reckoned with on May 1.  Out west Sidney’s Candy emerged as California’s co-top dog with a SA Derby win in a race where the favorite was not able to factor into the decision after encountering trouble on the far turn.  The Illinois Derby produced another inconclusive result as American Lion went wire-to-wire after setting slow fractions on a day where the wind blew mightily down the homestretch.  It’s hard to imagine anyone from that event making an impact in Louisville.  Anyway we’re into the final weekend of the big-time preps which means the big day is right around the corner…

#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), 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. 

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

Trainer: John Sadler

Owner: Craig Family Trust

Pedigree:  Candy Ride x Fair Exchange (Storm Cat)

Previous Rank: 6th

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.

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.  In fact, Sadler is 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

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Owner: Watson & Pegram

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

Previous Rank: 2nd

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.

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

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Owner: WinStar Farm

Pedigree:  Roman Ruler x Rockcide (Personal Flag)

Previous Rank: 3rd

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.

What’s not to like?  If Rule doesn’t rate in the Kentucky Derby he’s cooked.  Horses like Conveyance, Sidney’s Candy, 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 – Dublin

Trainer: D. Wayne Lukas

Owner: Baker & Mack

Pedigree:  Afleet Alex x Classy Mirage (Storm Bird)

Previous Rank: 4th

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?  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.  He’ll now be ridden by Terry Thompson again, who piloted him to a strong 2nd place finish in the Southwest.  The Arkansas Derby field is shaping up to be small, probably between 6 and 8 horses, so it looks like the perfect opportunity for this son of 2005 Preakness and Belmont winner Afleet Alex to assert himself.

What’s not to like?  Critics are maintaining that Dublin is a one-run sprinter who flattened out after being in contention in the Rebel.  That is a consideration at this point and one has to wonder if he’s the type that’s going to be able to sit back and make one run in the Derby, a race that often goes to a horse with that type of style.

#6 – Noble’s Promise

Trainer: Kenneth McPeek

Owner: Chasing the Dreams Racing 2008

Pedigree:  Cuvee x The Devil’s Trick (Clever Trick)

Previous Rank: Unranked

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: 36-1 (Pool 1), 26-1 (Pool 2), 19-1 (Pool 3)

Best Performance: Rebel, Oaklawn, 3/13, 2nd

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

What’s to like?  You’ll probably wonder where this guy’s been and why his debut in the countdown comes so late in the year but I had reservations about where he stacked up with the rest of his generation.  As time goes by it’s becoming clear that he’s pretty darn good.  His Rebel was a solid race as he moved into the pace a bit prematurely and nearly saw the whole thing out.  He should progress in his 2nd start of 2010 and is in the care of a good horseman.

What’s not to like?  Trainer Ken McPeek has remarked multiple times that he’s waiting on this colt to let him know if he has distance limitations.  So far he really hasn’t and if the ride had been a bit more patient in the Rebel he probably would have a graded stakes win as a 3YO to match his GI win as a juvenile.  So, his pedigree is of some concern but luckily we’ll see just how much of a problem it is in Saturday’s Arkansas Derby.

7. Odysseus

Trainer: Tom Albertrani

Owner: Padua Stables

Pedigree: Malibu Moon x Persimmon Hill (Conquistador Cielo)

Previous Rank: 7th

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: Field, 3/2 (Pool 1), 25-1 (Pool 2), 18-1 (Pool 3)

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

Where to Next? Blue Grass, Keeneland, 4/10

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.

What’s not to like?  I can’t be certain that the Tampa Bay Derby was any good.  While many are caught up in the hubbub of how Odysseus looked beaten then re-rallied, it did seem as if the race was served up to him as he started running again.  No one made a winning move in the stretch and it turned into an eyesore with the final three-sixteenths seeming to take an eternity.

8. Ice Box

Trainer: Nick Zito

Owner: Robert V. LaPenta

Pedigree: Pulpit x Spice Island (Tabasco Cat)

Previous Rank: 9th

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).  He will be moving in the right direction late in Louisville and can grab a share if the pace boils over.

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.

#9 – 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), 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 heels 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.

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 but those types rarely have success in the Derby where a horse is asked to make a prolonged bid.

10. Endorsement

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.

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 four 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.

Races this week: Arkansas Derby, Blue Grass

See you back next week with an update.  With 4 weeks remaining until Kentucky Derby 136 I’ll countdown the last four Kentucky Derbies.  Here’s the 2006 running:

Derby Countdown – March 30

March 30, 2010

Three preps were run in this country last weekend as the UAE Derby run in Dubai looks like it will not produce any starters in the Kentucky Derby.  The Louisiana Derby and Sunland Derby were both won by “new shooters” as Mission Impazible scored his first win since his debut victory at first asking last spring at Keeneland.  Endorsement stepped up off of a maiden win to take the Sunland Derby over Conveyance, who continues to look like a horse who will have serious trouble with ten furlongs.  The Lane’s End at Turfway did not feature an effort from any horse that makes you think they could contend in the Kentucky Derby, especially the winner Dean’s Kitten.  Beginning this weekend things really kick up a notch with the Wood Memorial, Illinois Derby, and Santa Anita Derby slated for Saturday.

#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), 5-1 (Pool 3)

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. 

What’s not to like?  Todd Pletcher’s record in the Kentucky Derby is the only real knock on this colt, at least until he runs on Saturday in the Wood Memorial.  There has to be some concern that he could leave a big race on the track at Aqueduct off of six weeks’ rest and be able to duplicate it in the Kentucky Derby.

#2 – Lookin at Lucky

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Owner: Watson & Pegram

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

Previous Rank: 2nd

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?  Santa Anita Derby, Santa Anita, 4/3

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?

What’s not to like?  Are you sure you know how good Lookin at Lucky is?  He has met almost every challenge and proven more than capable to win with adversity, with good trips, and with bad, so he’s certainly durable.  However, he has yet to run a race that makes you say, “If he runs back to that he wins the Derby.”

#3 – Rule

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Owner: WinStar Farm

Pedigree:  Roman Ruler x Rockcide (Personal Flag)

Previous Rank: 3rd

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.

What’s not to like?  If Rule doesn’t rate in the Kentucky Derby he’s cooked.  Horses like Conveyance, Sidney’s Candy, 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 was hoping to see a more relaxed horse on Saturday and we just didn’t see it.

#4 – Dublin

Trainer: D. Wayne Lukas

Owner: Baker & Mack

Pedigree:  Afleet Alex x Classy Mirage (Storm Bird)

Previous Rank: 4th

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?  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.

What’s not to like?  Critics are maintaining that Dublin is a one-run sprinter who flattened out after being in contention in the Rebel.  That is a consideration at this point and one has to wonder if he’s the type that’s going to be able to sit back and make one run in the Derby, a race that often goes to a horse with that type of style.

#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), 13-1 (Pool 3)

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.

What’s not to like?  The quality of the Gotham field is very suspect and Awesome Act is going to potentially come into the Kentucky Derby with only two starts as a three year-old.  While that hasn’t been as much of an issue in the past few years, it is for a lightly raced horse from across the pond who didn’t debut until March 6.

6. Sidney’s Candy

Trainer: John Sadler

Owner: Craig Family Trust

Pedigree:  Candy Ride x Fair Exchange (Storm Cat)

Previous Rank: 6th

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

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.

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.  In fact, Sadler is 0 for his last 14 with horses moving from synthetic surfaces to dirt in stakes races, both graded and ungraded.  That has to be of at least some concern, right?

7. Odysseus

Trainer: Tom Albertrani

Owner: Padua Stables

Pedigree: Malibu Moon x Persimmon Hill (Conquistador Cielo)

Previous Rank: 7th

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: Field, 3/2 (Pool 1), 25-1 (Pool 2), 18-1 (Pool 3)

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

Where to Next? Blue Grass, Keeneland, 4/10

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.

What’s not to like?  I can’t be certain that the Tampa Bay Derby was any good.  While many are caught up in the hubbub of how Odysseus looked beaten then re-rallied, it did seem as if the race was served up to him as he started running again.  No one made a winning move in the stretch and it turned into an eyesore with the final three-sixteenths seeming to take an eternity.

8. Ice Box

Trainer: Nick Zito

Owner: Robert V. LaPenta

Pedigree: Pulpit x Spice Island (Tabasco Cat)

Previous Rank: 9th

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, 3/27

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).  He will be moving in the right direction late in Louisville and can grab a share if the pace boils over.

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.

9. Mission Impazible

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Owner: Twin Creeks Racing

Pedigree: Unbridled’s Song x Hold Your Peace (La Paz)

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: Louisiana Derby, Fair Grounds, 3/27, 1st

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

What’s to like? It was widely held that Mission Impazible was a sprinter who trainer Todd Pletcher was forcing into route races.  He silenced me and the other critics with a win in the Louisiana Derby where he rated kindly behind the pace and finished well when asked.  He is clearly improving with experience and he seemingly has no serious distance limitations.

What’s not to like? The final three furlongs of the Louisiana Derby were excruciating.  A Little Warm nearly stayed the course and he’s a horse who looks like he’ll be at his best at 7-8 furlongs.  Mission Impazible was basically the last man standing in a war of attrition.  He’d have to improve considerably to factor in the decision in Louisville.

10. Endorsement

Trainer: Shannon Ritter

Owner: WinStar Farms, LLC

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

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: 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.

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 five 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.

Races this week: Wood Memorial, Santa Anita Derby, Illinois Derby

See you back next week with an update.  With 5 weeks remaining until Kentucky Derby 136 I’ll countdown the last five Kentucky Derbies.  Here’s the 2005 running:

Derby Countdown – March 23

March 23, 2010

There was only one Kentucky Derby prep run last weekend, the Florida Derby, and the result showed us how this division can be turned upside down countless times before May 1.  Ice Box was victorious at better than 20-1, narrowly edging Pleasant Prince, who was better than 25-1.  Post time favorite Rule ran a gallant race to finish third and appears as if he may still be unable to harness his early speed for ten furlongs.  Nonetheless, he’s a solid colt who may only need a modicum of improvement to be draped in roses.

#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. 

What’s not to like?  The “switcharoo” that his connections pulled on Tuesday regarding where he’d make his final prep is not a cause for concern.  I guess it’s a tad disconcerting that he’ll have six weeks between the Fountain of Youth and Wood Memorial and if he fires a big shot in the Big Apple, will he be able to run back to it in four weeks?

#2 – Lookin at Lucky

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Owner: Watson & Pegram

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

Previous Rank: 2nd

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

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

Where to next?  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?

What’s not to like?  Are you sure you know how good Lookin at Lucky is?  He has met almost every challenge and proven more than capable to win with adversity, with good trips, and with bad, so he’s certainly durable.  However, he has yet to run a race that makes you say, “If he runs back to that he wins the Derby.”

#3 – Rule

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Owner: WinStar Farm

Pedigree:  Roman Ruler x Rockcide (Personal Flag)

Previous Rank: 3rd

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?  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.

What’s not to like?  If Rule doesn’t rate in the Kentucky Derby he’s cooked.  Horses like Conveyance, Sidney’s Candy, 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 was hoping to see a more relaxed horse on Saturday and we just didn’t see it.

#4 – Dublin

Trainer: D. Wayne Lukas

Owner: Baker & Mack

Pedigree:  Afleet Alex x Classy Mirage (Storm Bird)

Previous Rank: 4th

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.

What’s not to like?  Critics are maintaining that Dublin is a one-run sprinter who flattened out after being in contention in the Rebel.  That is a consideration at this point and one has to wonder if he’s the type that’s going to be able to sit back and make one run in the Derby, a race that often goes to a horse with that type of style.

#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.

What’s not to like?  The quality of the Gotham field is very suspect and Awesome Act is going to potentially come into the Kentucky Derby with only two starts as a three year-old.  While that hasn’t been as much of an issue in the past few years, it is for a lightly raced horse from across the pond who didn’t debut until March 6.

6. Sidney’s Candy

Trainer: John Sadler

Owner: Craig Family Trust

Pedigree:  Candy Ride x Fair Exchange (Storm Cat)

Previous Rank: 6th

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.

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.  In fact, Sadler is 0 for his last 14 with horses moving from synthetic surfaces to dirt in stakes races, both graded and ungraded.  That has to be of at least some concern, right?

7. Odysseus

Trainer: Tom Albertrani

Owner: Padua Stables

Pedigree: Malibu Moon x Persimmon Hill (Conquistador Cielo)

Previous Rank: 7th

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? Blue Grass, Keeneland, or Arkansas Derby, Oaklawn, 4/10

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.

What’s not to like?  I can’t be certain that the Tampa Bay Derby was any good.  While many are caught up in the hubbub of how Odysseus looked beaten then re-rallied, it did seem as if the race was served up to him as he started running again.  No one made a winning move in the stretch and it turned into an eyesore with the final three-sixteenths seeming to take an eternity.

8. Super Saver

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Owner: WinStar Farm, LLC

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

Previous Rank: 8th

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.

What’s not to like?  I expected more from his 2010 debut.  It seemed as if he was quite a bit better than his rivals in the TB Derby and would be able to give up a conditioning edge based on his individual talent.  The fact that he lost doesn’t make me give up on him but I have doubts about whether he can stay the course in the Derby and move forward even enough to crack the superfecta.

9. Ice Box

Trainer: Nick Zito

Owner: Robert V. LaPenta

Pedigree: Pulpit x Spice Island (Tabasco Cat)

Previous Rank: Unranked

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

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

Where to Next? Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs, 3/27

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).  He will be moving in the right direction late in Louisville and can grab a share if the pace boils over.

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.

10. Discreetly Mine

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Owner: Mrs. Einar P. Robsham

Pedigree: Mineshaft x Pretty Discreet (Private Account)

Previous Rank: 10th

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

Best Performance: Risen Star, Fair Grounds, 2/20, 1st

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.

What’s not to like?  This guy has two questions to answer.  The first is whether he can win without being able to set very moderate fractions.  The second is whether he can stay ten furlongs.  He can start to answer these questions in the Louisiana Derby, where he’ll meet 12 rivals in the now extended Fair Grounds staple.

Races this week: Lane’s End, Louisiana Derby, Sunland Derby

See you back next week with an update.  With 6 weeks remaining until Kentucky Derby 136 I’ll countdown the last six Kentucky Derbies.  Here’s the 2004 running:

Derby Countdown – March 16

March 16, 2010

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:

Derby Countdown – March 9

March 9, 2010

Well it’s been a month and many of the top Kentucky Derby prospects have run, some have left the trail, and more have emerged.  Here’s my most recent Derby Countdown.  Each Tuesday leading up to the Kentucky Derby I’ll go through my Top 10 Kentucky Derby prospects, starting with this week.  Be sure to comment and post your Top 10. 

#1 – Eskendereya

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Owner: Zayat Stables

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

Previous Rank: 2nd

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?  Florida Derby, Gulfstream, 3/20

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.  He’s headed to the Florida Derby where he might meet many of the same horses he already defeated and from there it’ll be six weeks to the Run for the Roses.

#2 – Dublin

Trainer: D. Wayne Lukas

Owner: Baker & Mack

Pedigree:  Afleet Alex x Classy Mirage (Storm Bird)

Previous Rank: Unranked

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

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

Where to next?  Rebel, Oaklawn Park, 3/13

What’s to like?  Already a Grade I winner from 2009, Dublin made his 2010 debut in the Southwest at Oaklawn Park.  He raced wide the entire way after a tangled beginning and eventually finished a fast-closing second to the speedy Conveyance.  He looked like a colt who would relish more ground and trainer D. Wayne Lukas has been high on this son of Afleet Alex since the Saratoga meet in 2009.  He will face a stiff challenge in the Rebel with it scheduled to be the 2010 debut of Lookin at Lucky.

#3 – 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: CashCall Futurity, Hollywood Park, 12/19, 1st

Where to next?  Rebel, Oaklawn Park, 3/13

What’s to like?  The Eclipse Award winning 2YO of 2009 has yet to make his 2010 debut but it will come this Saturday in the Rebel.  Trainer Bob Baffert has already shipped a horse into Oaklawn to win a 3YO stake race at this meet with the aforementioned Conveyance and it would seem that Lookin at Lucky is over whatever plagued him earlier this winter.  He will wear blinkers for the first time in the Rebel, one would guess to make him relax a bit more early.  While he’s the de facto leader of the division right now, the ground on which he’s perched is getting shaky.

#4 – Rule

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Owner: WinStar Farm

Pedigree:  Roman Ruler x Rockcide (Personal Flag)

Previous Rank: 6th

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 or Wood Memorial, Aqueduct, 4/3

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.  After the Davis Pletcher said that this son of Roman Ruler would be pointed to a Grade I and the possibilities right now are either the Florida Derby or Wood Memorial.  It’s safe to say he’ll be a major factor in either.

#5 – Awesome Act

Trainer: Jeremy Noseda

Owner: Mrs. Susan Roy & Vinery Stable

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

Previous Rank: Unranked

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. Super Saver

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Owner: WinStar Farm, LLC

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

Previous Rank: 8th

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?  Tampa Bay Derby, Tampa Bay Downs, 3/13

What’s to like?  Super Saver will make his 2010 debut in the Tampa Bay Derby and take the two prep route that Carl Nafzger used for Street Sense (though it’s unclear if Super Saver will run in the Blue Grass).  He closed 2009 in style with a handy win in the Ky Jockey Club at Churchill and he obviously has some talent.  Whether he’s progressed in the 3+ months he’s been away from the races will be determined by the Oldsmar engagement.

7. Caracortado

Trainer: Mike Machowsky

Owner: Blahut Racing, Lo Hut Racing

Pedigree: Cat Dreams x Mons Venus (Maria’s Mon)

Previous Rank: Unranked

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

Best Performance: Robert B. Lewis, Santa Anita, 2/13, 1st

Where to Next? San Felipe, Santa Anita, 3/13

What’s to like?  The 3YO leader on the West Coast is a Cal-bred gelding.  Say what?  That’s right, Caracortado (Spanish for scarface) asserted himself as the top dog out west when he rolled by the embattled pacesetters in the Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita last month.  With Lookin at Lucky headed to Oaklawn, this son of Cat Dreams will now be the favorite in the San Felipe, presumably his penultimate start before the Derby with the SA Derby in between.  How far will this guy go and how long will the dreams last?  Who knows, but don’t bother waking his most gratified connections.

8. Drosselmeyer

Trainer: William Mott

Owner: WinStar Farm, LLC

Pedigree: Distorted Humor x Golden Ballet (Moscow Ballet)

Previous Rank: 1st

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.

9. Discreetly Mine

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Owner: Mrs. Einar P. Robsham

Pedigree: Mineshaft x Pretty Discreet (Private Account)

Previous Rank: Unranked

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.

10. Dave in Dixie

Trainer: John Sadler

Owner: Ike and Dawn Thrash

Pedigree: Dixie Union x Risk (Wavering Monarch)

Previous Rank: Unranked

Kentucky Derby Future Wager Odds: 28-1 (Pool 1), 22-1 (Pool 2)

Best Performance: Robert B. Lewis, Santa Anita, 2/13, 2nd

Where to Next? San Felipe, Santa Anita, 3/13

What’s to like? At no point between his debut last year at Del Mar and his 2010 debut in the Robert Lewis was John Sadler shy about his thoughts on Dave in Dixie.  He believed he was a nice horse all along and his Lewis effort showed that it’s not all talk as he finished a fast-closing second behind #7 CARACORTADO.  He is now also being pointed to the San Felipe and his chances may be bolstered by the presence of his stablemate Sidney’s Candy.  That son of Candy Ride has plenty of speed and this son of Dixie Union would be best served by having an early target.  Here’s to hoping for a breakthrough performance.

Races this week: Tampa Bay Derby, Tampa Bay Downs, Saturday, Rebel, Oaklawn Park, Saturday, and San Felipe, Santa Anita Park, Saturday

See you back next week with an update.  With 8 weeks remaining until Kentucky Derby 136 I’ll countdown the last eight Kentucky Derbies.  Here’s the 2002 running:

Derby Countdown – February 2

February 2, 2010

Each Tuesday leading up to the Kentucky Derby I’ll go through my Top 10 Kentucky Derby prospects, starting with this week.  Be sure to comment and post your Top 10. 

#1 – Drosselmeyer

Trainer: Bill Mott

Owner: WinStar Farm LLC

Pedigree:  Distorted Humor x Golden Ballet (Moscow Ballet)
Current Wynn Future Book Odds: 30-1

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

Where to next?  Fountain of Youth, Gulfstream, 2/20

What’s to like?  This guy’s pedigree is tremendous as his dam, Golden Ballet, was a multiple graded stakes winner in her day and his sire has already produced multiple Classic winners.  He ended his 2YO campaign with a smashing maiden victory in what was his first start on dirt.  In his first start as a 3YO he handily defeated a solid field of allowance rivals going nine panels at Gulfstream as he finished up in 1:49 and 2/5 while drawing away late. 

# 2 – Eskendereya

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Owner: Zayat Stables LLC

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

Current Wynn Future Book Odds: 30-1

Best Performance: Gulfstream Allowance, 1/7, 1st

Where to next?  Fountain of Youth, Gulfstream, 2/20

What’s to like?  After running his record on dirt to 2-2 with a sharp allowance win at Gulfstream, trainer Todd Pletcher made it clear that this son of Giant’s Causeway would make his next start in the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream.  The GP allowance win was his first start as a 3YO and he stopped the clock in an impressive 1:36 and 3/5 for a mile on a track that was not playing particularly fast.  He has a leggy pedigree and is certainly one to watch going forward.

# 3 – Lookin at Lucky

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Owner: Mike Pegram, Paul Weitman, Karl Watson

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

Current Wynn Future Book Odds: 7-1

Best Performance: Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Santa Anita, 11/7, 2nd

Where to next?  San Felipe, Santa Anita, 3/13

What’s to like?  The Eclipse Award winning 2YO is currently being freshened for his 3YO debut, which is scheduled for March 13 at Santa Anita in the San Felipe.  He will run in two preps before the Kentucky Derby and his trainer is certainly no stranger to Churchill Downs glory with three Derbies under his belt.  Many have been kind of sour on this guy because of his seemingly ordinary Beyer figures and his unimpressive, grinding style.  Dirt will be an unknown if he shows up in Louisville with only two starts at Santa Anita as a three year-old but there’s no question that he has a solid foundation and will be ready to roll when it counts.

#4 – Jackson Bend

Trainer: Nick Zito

Owner: Robert V. LaPenta

Pedigree: Hear No Evil x Sexy Stockings (Tabasco Cat)

Current Wynn Future Book Odds: 20-1

Best Performance: Florida Stallion Stakes In Reality Division, Calder, 10/17, 1st

Where to next?  Fountain of Youth, Gulfstream, 2/20

What’s to like?  After losing his debut, this son of unheralded Florida stallion Hear No Evil rattled off five consecutive wins at Calder.  The most impressive of those was on the Festival of the Sun program as he took the In Reality Division of the Florida Stallion Series.  He was purchased shortly after that race by Bob LaPenta and sent to trainer Nick Zito and his first start back was strong as he contested the pace in the Holy Bull and fought all the way to the wire.  He looms a serious prospect for the Fountain of Youth and bigger races beyond.

#5 – Buddy’s Saint

Trainer: Bruce Levine

Owner: Kingfield Stables

Pedigree: Saint Liam x Tuzia (Blushing John)

Current Wynn Future Book Odds: 10-1

Best Performance: Nashua, Aqueduct, 11/6, 1st

Where to next?  Fountain of Youth, Gulfstream, 2/20

What’s to like?  This strapping chestnut has crossed the wire first in each of his three career starts but was disqualified in his debut and placed second.  He posted a breakthrough performance in the Nashua drawing off to win and earn a gigantic Beyer figure of 102.  He regressed a bit in the Remsen when stretched out to nine furlongs but was still victorious and is now being freshened for a start in what’s shaping up as the race of the spring, the Fountain of Youth.

#6 – Rule

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Owner: WinStar Farm, LLC

Pedigree: Roman Ruler x Rockcide (Personal Flag)

Current Wynn Future Book Odds: 30-1

Best Performance: Delta Jackpot, 12/4, Delta Downs, 1st

Where to next?  Fountain of Youth, Gulfstream, 2/20 or Sam F. Davis, Tampa Bay, 2/13, Risen Star, Fair Grounds, 2/20

What’s to like?  One piece of WinStar’s loaded 3YO hand, this Todd Pletcher trainee reached new heights when sent to the bayou following a maiden win in New York.  He won the Jean Lafitte by nine lengths and subsequently scored again at Delta on a sloppy track in the Delta Jackpot.  Donnie Preston, yearling manager of WinStar farm, had this to say to Steve Haskin of the Bloodhorse about Rule, “Rule was our LeBron James, because of his athleticism and his strength,” he said. “He was muscular, well put together, and well balanced; just what you wanted to see. He was the one yearling everyone looked at. He was a given.”  (www.bloodhorse.com) He’s been active throughout the month of January, which portends a start at some point in February.

#7 – Tiz Chrome

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Owner: Lanni Family Trust, Mercedes Stables LLC, Bernard C. Schiappa

Pedigree: Tiznow x Woodland Shadow (Woodman)

Current Wynn Future Book Odds: 20-1

Best Performance: Stuka, Hollywood, 12/19, 1st

Where to next?  Robert Lewis, Santa Anita, 2/6

What’s to like?  After being privately purchased following a strong debut at Churchill, this well-bred son of Tiznow debuted for trainer Bob Baffert in a sprint stake on closing weekend at Hollywood.  He was a handy winner drawing off late to win by four lengths.  His first start around two turns will take place this Saturday in the Robert Lewis at Santa Anita and the added ground should pose no great obstacle to him.

#8 – Super Saver

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Owner: WinStar Farm, LLC

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

Current Wynn Future Book Odds: 35-1

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

Where to next?  Fountain of Youth, Gulfstream, 2/20 or Risen Star, Fair Grounds, 2/20 or Rebel, Oaklawn, 3/13

What’s to like?  Like many of the other WinStar colts on the east coast it’s unknown where this son of Maria’s Mon will surface to make his 3YO debut but it does seem as if he’s a bit behind the other Pletcher-WinStar colt, Rule.  He has only worked twice as of February 1, but he ended his 2YO campaign in fine fashion taking the Kentucky Jockey Club in wire-to-wire fashion.  He may have benefited from cruising on an uncontested lead at Churchill but he accelerated nicely when confronted and obviously has some serious talent.  Expect to see him later this month or in March.

#9 – Maximus Ruler

Trainer: Clark Hanna

Owner: Don L. Benge

Pedigree: Roman Ruler x Lost Love (Lost Code)

Current Wynn Future Book Odds: 100-1

Best Performance: Churchill Allowance, Churchill Downs, 11/28, 1st

Where to next?  Risen Star, Fair Grounds, 2/20

What’s to like?  Despite many being down on this son of Roman Ruler after his defeat in the Lecomte, I am of the opinion that he showed the type of ability that afternoon in New Orleans that you’d like to see in a 3YO making his 3rd career start.  He contested a solid pace, battled gamely, looked to be home free then got caught in the final strides by a closer who had lingered at the back of the pack then made one big run.  He should benefit from the experience earned that afternoon and you can probably count on a more patient ride from Francisco Torres, or whomever is aboard, in his next outing.

#10 – William’s Kitten

Trainer: Mike Maker

Owner: Ken and Sarah Ramsey

Pedigree: Kitten’s Joy x Blush (Menifee)

Current Wynn Future Book Odds: 60-1

Best Performance: Kentucky Jockey Club, Churchill Downs, 11/28, 2nd

Where to next?  Fountain of Youth, Gulfstream Park, 2/20

What’s to like?  Rapidly becoming the “suck-up” second horse that you want in the bottom of your Derby trifecta, this son of William’s Kitten has now been in the money in all three starts over conventional dirt and he was the only horse to make a meaningful off the pace move in the Holy Bull.  He’s clearly going to benefit from the added ground he and his peers will go starting with the Fountain of Youth.  It’s also worth noting that with each in the money finish his graded earnings will stack up but his odds on 5/1 will go up because of his lack of a killer instinct.

Races this week: Bob Lewis, Santa Anita, 2/6

See you back next week with an update!  Until the final countdown on April 27 I’ll include a Kentucky Derby beginning with 1998!  Enjoy!