Starting in the new year I'll be updating my personal Derby Top 10 on a weekly basis, until then I'll just post my initial list. I apologize for it's length. I promise that the weekly updates won't be nearly this long. I just wanted to give you all an idea of why I liked these specific horses. From this point on the Top 10 will be focused primarily on recent occurances not past accomplishments, but I felt a solid base of context was necessary. That and I just started writing and didn't realize how much I'd done until it was too late!
Derby Top 10 - December
1. War Pass
2. Colonel John
3. Tale of Ekati
5. Court Vision
6. Cave’s Valley
7. Kodiak Kowboy
8. Majestic Warrior
9. Wise Answer
10. Riley Tucker
War Pass had to be put on top of the list at this point because the reality is that no horse has proven himself to be in the same class as him thus far and it is entirely possible that we are simply witnessing one of the great talents of our time. That often gets said about 2yo’s that look promising but War Pass is utterly dominant and has received the highest speed figures of any 2yo on record. Some talk warily of his ability to stretch out or what might happen to him when he is faced with a speed duel but his competition tried that in the BC Juvenile and no horse in that race was capable of going with him early and of course none could catch him late. This was not merely a front running score it was a clear display from War Pass that he is in a different class. For the record I’m not fond of how Zito prepares his Triple Crown horses but War Pass could be good enough to overcome that. Colonel John has impressed me as the best of the rest, the 2yo crop has not seemed to be very good but sometimes that happens when you have a real star. Colonel John has all the right tools to eventually be a #1 Derby horse. He’s quick, he’s got some handy speed, he’s bred to run long and he’s already handled two turns with ease. He has not yet run on real dirt and so far Tiznow’s progeny has been better on All-Weather tracks but I’m not going to assume that’s a problem until it becomes one. Tale Of Ekati is a horse I regard very highly. I disliked him in the Juvenile because I thought he was not prepared the right way for it. Still he ran a good race to be 4th while appearing not to get a hold of the track. He’s a quick horse who I think we’ve yet to see the best of. Tagg should take him along the traditional Gulfstream/Aqueduct route and I expect him to be a dominant horse in the preps. I have Pyro ranked 4th despite his fine late closing finishes and good speed figures. I do love the way he runs on and one can hardly be blamed for losing to War Pass but he’s lost to him 3 times in a row and that kind of dominance can effect a horse mentally. I want to see him start to win some races and he should get a chance to do that at the Fair Grounds. Court Vision has everything you could ask for from a Derby prospect except for the fact that he seems about 10 lengths slower than the best of this crop. He may improve as time goes on and a look at his record and accomplishments without race times make him a peer or War Pass. But this is the value of speed figures. When they are consistently slow it often indicates that the horse is slow. I have a wary eye on Court Vision if he does not start to get fast in a hurry he won’t stick around long. Cave’s Valley is a bit of an oddball selection but I find it hard to criticize an undefeated Saratoga maiden winner who has already won two minor stakes races going long. He is 3 for 3 lifetime with a 92 Beyer around two turns, his other figures have been quite slow though and there is some question as to why he has been kept at Delaware recently if he’s so good. But he got an excellent form reference in the Remsen when Atoned nearly beat Court Vision after almost falling. Cave’s Valley beat Atoned twice in a row including one very dominant performance. That form suggests he can run with many of the best horses in the East. He has good early speed but has also won from off the pace and is conditioned by Micheal Trombetta who had Sweetnorthernsaint a few years back. He might take the winter route through Aqueduct or head to Gulfstream after a run in the Delta Jackpot. Kodiak Kowboy is the class benchmark of the generation. Like Scat Daddy or More Than Ready he is a classy and consistent horse who probably has distance limitations but that should not affect him in the preps where he will be a tough horse to beat every time he runs. Do I see him winning the Derby? Probably not, but at this early stage I’d rather highlight a horse who will be a major factor in the preps than some maiden. Majestic Warrior gets one race to prove that his Champagne was a fluke. The Hopeful form did not work out at all and if not for his breeding I would have likely tossed him already. But he was so bad in the Champagne that he deserves another shot. Wise Answer is another horse that is on a short leash as far as his standing in this ranking goes. He’s shown brilliant speed going short and long and for the most part he’s been fantastic. He also got a great form reference from Check It Twice, a horse he demolished in the In Reality who has not lost since. But he might be nothing more than a Calder flash so I’ll want to see him confirm this form on another track. If he proves to be just as good away from Calder he could easily be a top 3 prospect. Riley Tucker is another Mott horse that I think highly of. He struck me as a very good horse that has yet to figure things out. He was far too good for the horses he faced in his debut then ran a good third to Kodiak Kowboy and The Roundhouse in the Saratoga Special. He was ridden too aggressively on the front end that day and tired. In his next start he was taken back and made a good run to the front but seemed to pull up a bit once he hit the front and Wicked Style came on again to deny him by a head. He has since been injured and Mott does not have him back on the work tab but I liked what I saw from his juvenile campaign so if he comes back in good time and continues to improve he could be a very useful horse.
On the radar:
Salute The Sarge – A very consistent performer in California I don’t think the Breeders Cup was necessarily a good indication of what he could do on dirt. He get’s another try.
Slew’s Tiznow – Pointing to the Hollywood Futurity and could be one of the favorites for that race. The form from the Breeders Futurity has not worked out all that well yet but he does appear to be a progressive sort.
Wicked Style – Another Juvenile retread, he looked great prior to the race so I can’t toss him based on a bad performance in the slop.
Atoned – Although Cave’s Valley handled him with ease and Court Vision overcame trouble to deny him atoned does appear to be a solid competitor who might turn the corner and become a good one.
Etched – If he were staying in the US he’d be in the top 5 but preparation in Dubai will leave him with a lot to do. He has been phenomenal so far and Anak Nakal a horse he teased in his last start came back to win a G-2.
Country Star – The only filly I’m really watching to have an impact against the boys. Most likely she’ll be run conservatively but it’s possible that she might get a chance against the boys. She certainly appears to have plenty of talent.
Fidelio – Probably Frankel’s best 2yo male, I believe he even tabbed him as his Derby horse. He won his first start well then looked green when losing to War Pass but he still finished second that day ahead of Pyro. Incidentally he and War Pass are the only horses to have beaten Pyro. Did not show much in the Breeders Futurity but dirt may be the key with him.
Alaazo – A Zayat maiden winner for Mott. He won his 8f debut after an extremely eventful trip. He broke slow and endured some bumping that basically caused him to blow the first turn. He made a strong middle move then ran down the loose leader on Monmouth’s speed favoring summer strip. The figure was modest but this horse is bred to get better and better being by AP Indy out of Atelier. He was obviously injured after that start but hopefully he comes back in good order. He is my number prospect among horses who have not yet run in a stakes race.
J Be K – Another Zayat undefeated maiden winner except this one runs for Baffert. He got a huge figure in his first start and it will be interesting to see what he does next.