This past weekend saw two Kentucky Derby prep races in the Spiral Stakes and the Sunland Derby. In my opinion, neither race really produced anything of substance, with the possible exception of the runner-up finisher in the Spiral Stakes, Uncaptured. Having said that, this coming weekend should go a long way in bringing even more clarity to the Kentucky Derby picture, as the Florida Derby, Louisiana Derby and UAE Derby will be run on Saturday. Each race carries 170 vital Kentucky Derby qualifying points, with 100 of them going to the winner and assuring them a starting spot in Louisville. This week’s top ten list remains status quo, but I suspect things will look slightly different this time next week. Here is this week’s top ten:
OFF THE LIST: None
1) Orb (Malibu Moon – Lady Liberty, by Unbridled)
Orb has been working fantastically since his last start in the Fountain of Youth, and it appears as though it’s all systems go for the Florida Derby on Saturday afternoon. When Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey says he was, “…tickled to death…” with Orb’s last workout, any fan of his has to be rather excited about his chances moving forward. There may only be a little more than five weeks until the Kentucky Derby, but that’s an eternity in horse racing. Anything can happen, but it appears Orb is ready to roll heading into his final Derby prep.
2) Hear the Ghost (Ghostzapper – Rehear, by Coronado’s Quest)
Jerry Hollendorfer has to be equally excited about the chances of his young colt, Hear the Ghost. Hear the Ghost worked a strong six furlongs earlier this week, and it appears he’s another that is primed for a strong showing in his final Derby prep, that being the Santa Anita Derby on April 6. He got a favorable set up in the San Felipe (much like Orb did in the Fountain of Youth), but being able to make up ground on a speed favoring strip is a great sign. Could this be Ghostzapper’s first truly special runner? Time will tell.
3) Flashback (Tapit – Rhumb Line, by Mr. Greeley)
Flashback has talent, but I’m worried he may be his own worst enemy. He’s still very lightly raced, but he MUST learn to relax throughout the early stages of a race. With 30 points to his name, he’ll need to put forth a respectable effort in the Santa Anita Derby to qualify for the Kentucky Derby. I’m confident Bob Baffert will have him ready to run a strong race in two weeks.
4) Power Broker (Pulpit – Shop Again, by Wild Again)
The deck is stacked against Power Broker. Having only 10 qualifying points at this point, Power Broker is going to need to run the race of his life to even get into the Kentucky Derby. I have no question about his ability, but I do wonder if he’s going to be capable of firing a big effort in his first start in nearly five months. Baffert has said he could be ready to run in either the Santa Anita Derby or the Wood Memorial, and if that’s the case, I think the Wood is the easier of the two spots – even if my number 5 runner will be the HEAVY favorite in that race…
5) Verrazano (More Than Ready – Enchanted Rock, by Giant’s Causeway)
Verrazano has much of the racing world buzzing – so much so that he is a solid individual favorite for the Kentucky Derby. Closing at 7-1 in the final Derby future pool, you can be assured that should he win the Wood Memorial with the same amount of ease that he has in his three prior starts, you’ll be looking at a solid favorite for the 139th Kentucky Derby. Should he win, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Verrazano be the 5/2, 3/1 favorite at Churchill Downs. If he were to lose…we’d have a whole new ballgame.
6) Itsmyluckyday (Lawyer Ron – Viva La Slew, by Doneraile Court)
The likely favorite for this weekend’s Florida Derby has been training wonderfully at Calder, and trainer Eddie Plesa, Jr. couldn’t be more pleased with his progress. He’ll be matched up with Juvenile Champion Shanghai Bobby once again, as well as Orb this Saturday. I think this is easily the best Derby prep to date, and I suspect people will look back at it and agree. Itsmyluckyday can go a long way toward cementing himself as the strong Derby second choice with a good showing at Gulfstream Park Saturday afternoon.
7) War Academy (Giant’s Causeway – Cabbage Key, by A.P. Indy)
The more I look at things and consider his breeding, the more and more I’m falling in love with War Academy. Bob Baffert has mentioned the Arkansas Derby and Bluegrass Stakes as final preps for the son of Giant’s Causeway, and while I understand the logic behind considering the Bluegrass at Keeneland, I think this is a no-brainer…send him to Oaklawn. If you feel the same way I do about the Derby preps that have been run at Oaklawn as I do, you’ll understand why I think the Arkansas Derby is ripe for picking. I’d almost be willing to take ANY shipper heading in for the race over the horses that have run in either the Smarty Jones or the Rebel. If War Academy goes there, I think he’s got a great chance of taking down the victory and making some noise in Louisville.
8) Revolutionary (War Pass – Runup the Colors, by A.P. Indy)
Todd Pletcher needs to separate his three-year olds so they don’t take one another out of the Derby picture, so I understand the rationale behind running Revolutionary this Saturday in the Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds. That said, I’m not sure he’s even the best Pletcher runner that will be in the Louisiana Derby (Palace Malice). The New York preps have been just as suspect as the Arkansas preps to this point in my opinion, so I’m anxious to see what Revolutionary does in a much deeper field this weekend.
9) Palace Malice (Curlin – Palace Rumor, by Royal Anthem)
Palace Malice is the Pletcher runner I’d prefer going forward in their three-year old campaigns. Obviously Revolutionary could take a major step forward this weekend, but I think Palace Malice has tons of potential. Some would argue that Oxbow’s great run in the Rebel Stakes would validate or confirm that the Risen Star Stakes was actually a decent race…I’m still withholding judgement there, but of the runners coming from the Risen Star, Palace Malice is the one I’d take moving forward.
10) Vyjack (Into Mischief – Life Happened, by Stravinsky)
Without question, the horse that has received much praise yet still needs to confirm his ability. Vyjack hasn’t done anything wrong to date, but as I stated earlier – I’m not sold on the New York preps to this point. The way he’s won his two races have been impressive, no doubt. The competition he’s beaten has also been rather suspect at this point. If he runs huge in the Wood Memorial against the likes of Verrazano and possibly Power Broker, then I’ll reconsider my thoughts about Vyjack.