Derby Top 10 - Feb 17th
1. Imperial Council (1)
2. Old Fashioned (2)
3. Hello Broadway (3)
4. Capt. Candyman Can (4)
5. Midshipman (5)
6. General Quarters (new)
7. Pioneerof the Nile (7)
8. Terrain (8)
9. Break Water Edison (9)
10. Friesan Fire (10)
Dropped: Vineyard Haven (6)
Prior to this weekend I said that Imperial Council needs to get to work pretty soon to retain his lofty #1 status. He did make it to the races but not in the type of race I was expecting. I thought he would debut in a route race or at least a flat mile but Shug got him started in a 6.5f race. It's hard to tell what you even want to see from a Derby contender in a 6.5f race but my opinion of his race was that he did what was necessary. He showed the ability to sit off the pace and settle, he won in decent racehorse time and he was going stronger at the finish than he was at the start. It's not a performance that will blow you over backwards but I think it's what he needed to get to the next step which is now some kind of route stakes race in March. I suspect the Gotham is the primary target although the Tampa Bay Derby might also be considered. The 94 Beyer Speed figure he received is nice and solid for the type of race it was.
Some still have legitimate concerns over whether or not Imperial Council is a real Derby horse. I have some concerns myself but what I see in him is simple. He's got talent and the it's the right kind of talent. He looks like a router who is classy enough to win sprints. His breeding, his tactical speed, his likely preparation schedule and his connections all seem to be spot on. Even his speed figures are right where they need to be at this point in the season. It's a year where very few horses have stepped in and raised the bar so despite the fact that he still hasn't gone long in a stakes race he's not far behind the best. He has all the tools, but the hardest part remains. He has to use those tools to build a Derby winning combination.
Old Fashioned didn't run well enough to move up my list but he did not run poorly enough to move down. He didn't show the same explosiveness he displayed in the Remsen but I'm sure Jones didn't want him anywhere near that sharp. As I mentioned last week I trust Larry Jones maybe more than any other trainer and he surely knows that a sophomore better not be at his best in February. Old Fashioned kept his winning streak alive with a workmanlike performance from off the pace. It's good to see a new dimension from him.
The biggest news of the weekend in my opinion was the breakout performance of General Quarters. I know it was at Tampa and some horses (Deputy Glitters, Fierce Wind, Limehouse) don't really bring that form with them once they leave but this was the first big performance of the Triple Crown trail and I think the horse has the tools to improve on this form. It's the first time this year I've jumped on a horse right after a stakes win, even Pioneerof the Nile and Friesan Fire took some time to earn my respect. I have General Quarters ranked 6th overall which makes him the lowest ranked contender that I don't have major doubts about. All the horses above him have tools they just need to prove what they've got. All the horses below him have shown some key tools but are still missing some.
General Quarters was not much of a two year old but all his trainers saw talent in him. He was rounding into form and in many ways his big win was not the shock it appeared to be at first glance. He is bred to get the distance at least as well as any other contender and his tactical speed is fabulous. His stride sort of reminds me of Skip Away, every stride seems like a flourish of activity but unlike Skip Away he has already shown that he can handle Churchill Downs. He has a good build for a router but still seems a bit immature. He may grow into that body a bit over the spring and become a really powerful specimen. I'm not concerned by the sudden leap in his speed figures. Routers often see such improvement when they finally get to go two turns. I think he's likely to equal or better that figure next time out.
His preparation will be solid with intended starts in the Tampa Bay Derby and Blue Grass Stakes. I wish only the best to this big horse with little connections. He is first one to really stand out this spring.
Vineyard Haven drops completely out of the list after his performance in the UAE 2000 Guineas. I know I gave Break Water Edison a pass after his bomb in the Hutcheson but I thought this race by Vineyard Haven was worse in a few ways. First off Vineyard Haven was never likely to get more than two starts before the Derby. This was one of them and it stunk. He never looked comfortable and it seemed as though he hated the track. You know his next prep will come over this same track. He's not a good bet to compete in the Derby let alone have a winners chance.
My Top 10 has changed very little from January to now. My first ranking of the year had 7 of the same horses. Square Eddie, Vineyard Haven and Quality Road have been replaced with Pioneerof the Nile, Friesan Fire and General Quarters. This ranking will change very little over the next few weeks as well since the Fountain of Youth is the next major prep race. Not many allowance winners have caught my eye aside from Imperial Council of course and very few races run this year have changed my perceptions that were formed based on these contenders two year old form. But March brings a whole new set of challenges and how these horses perform will weigh heavily into the ranking they're given.
There will still be twists, turns and unfortunately injuries. It's going to be lots of fun seeing the true Derby horses come to the fore.