Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Kentucky Derby Top 10

Derby Top 10 - Mar 3rd

1. Imperial Council (1)
2. Old Fashioned (2)
3. Hello Broadway (3)
4. Theregoesjojo (new)
5. General Quarters (6)
6. The Pamplemousse (new)
7. Pioneerof the Nile (7)
8. Terrain (8)
9. Friesan Fire (10)
10. Flying Pegasus (new)

Dropped: Capt. Candyman Can (4), Midshipman (5), Break Water Edison (9)

This past week was a very interesting one for the Derby Trail. I had great difficulty deciding the order of my top 10 and I realized that while this crop looks talented there is a distinct lack of contenders who truly look solid at the full 10 furlong Derby distance.

The difficult question for me is: Will talent overcome pedigree and preparation? We have horses like Quality Road and The Pamplemousse who are undoubtedly fast but extremely suspect at the Derby distance. The trouble is horses like Flying Pegasus, Patena, Friesan Fire and I Want Revenge should all like the distance but at this point they're much slower, so much slower that one wonders if they could even catch up with Quality Road before he gets back to the barn.

In the past few years the Derby has been more wide open because it didn't take much to be fast enough. This year I think it will be decided among the select few who prove to be capable of running big figures as well as being stout enough to handle the distance. A return to the old days perhaps. Right now no horse fits both criteria perfectly but the horses that seem to have a greater penchant for stamina still have two preps to go.

This may be the only Derby top 10 out there that doesn't include Dunkirk and/or Quality Road. I chose not to include Dunkirk last week because his race, while visually impressive, wasn't actually that fast and the events of this past weekend prove that anyone who wants to win the Derby this year must be fast. Dunkirk is not some flashy allowance horse who looks faster than the rest of the crop but lacks seasoning, that was Big Brown. Dunkirk is an average horse who lacks seasoning and a true class test.

Quality Road
by contrast is an above average horse. Look back through some old race records if you have them. Horses do not usually run this fast this early. Brilliant specimen's like Formal Gold, Discreet Cat and Lost In The Fog are among the few you'll find that compare. This horse could definitely be as good or better than any of those horses but what does that mean for the Derby? Quality Road was in my top 10 during the month of January and was actually the first horse to be dropped from the list in 2009. What I originally saw in him was the potential that was evident last Saturday. He has the ability to be any kind, as brilliant as any horse we've seen in the last decade. What made me drop him, though, was the lack of stamina in his pedigree. As good as he might be he simply wasn't fashioned to handle 10f. A huge Beyer figure earned in a one turn mile doesn't do anything to change that fact. Quality Road could be the best horse of this crop and he should also handle 9f but the Derby looks too far for him. I was extremely tempted to include him because I do believe so much in his potential but there are other horses out there who should handle the distance and they still have the chance to prove that they're fast enough.

The horse I loved most from this recent weekend action was Theregoesjojo. Ken McPeek emerged from this race with a ton of confidence in his horse. He said prior to the race that his charge was about 80-90% ready then Jojo went out there and made an impressive sweeping move and finished decently to earn a 105 Beyer figure. If this horse still has improvement in him then he could be a monster. McPeek has been talking all spring about bringing his horses along more slowly than he has done in the past. Harlan's Holiday was at his best in February of his 3yo year, McPeek doesn't want to repeat that situation with this horse. He is bred to run all day and I think in a two turn race he'd likely end up being a bit closer to the pace. He is among the fastest horses out there so far. The only reason he failed to move even higher on my list is that he will likely only have one two turn prep race and it will likely be in the Blue Grass which can yield some crazy results. I'd like him more if he was trying to squeeze in a pair of two turn preps or at least if he was running in one of the dirt preps.

Capt. Candyman Can drops out of my list entirely which may seem like a harsh move for someone who has been preaching patience all spring but he showed clear distance limitations and even his trainer is wary about stretching him out again. He is more likely to show up in races like the Bay Shore or Derby Trial. The Kentucky Derby dream is over for him as it is for Midshipman and Break Water Edison who are both injured and off the trail.

The Pamplemousse makes his top 10 debut this week after a massive runaway performance in the Sham Stakes. I think we need to be quick to recognize that while he is beating horses that appear to be somewhat sub par he is doing it in a most impressive fashion. I actually think he will beat Pioneerof the Nile in the Santa Anita Derby. The Derby distance remains a question mark with him as does his ability to handle dirt. I said back in January that this horse looks like a Turf miler and I still think so but he's way faster than Dunkirk and more likely to stay the distance than Quality Road. I just couldn't find 10 horses who were more likely to win the Derby. In fact I could only find 5. I should give a small mention to Take The Points who I thought ran a very good race for his first time over synthetics. I wasn't completely won over but another good race like that makes him as legitimate as anyone.

Flying Pegasus and Terrain are essentially the same kind of horse. Both have been all but forgotten but both have every right to improve enough to be legitimate Derby horses. Realistically they likely need to get 15 Beyer points faster over their next two races. It's a tall task but that's what it will take to be competitive in prep races this spring. They're both bred to get the distance and seem to have a good bit of class. The Louisiana Derby will be extremely important for them. Patena is the same type of horse but I rank him slightly lower because of the reports that he has been struggling with illness recently.

This coming week will feature the highly anticipated stakes and two turn debut of Imperial Council. In a perfect world he'd win the race in Quality Road type fashion but realistically he needs to be in the money, not losing ground at the finish and run a faster race than his most recent sprint. If he does all that then he's done the minimum I expect from him at this time. The Gotham won't be an easy race but I don't mind knowing what he's made of now rather than later.

Old Fashioned, Hello Broadway, General Quarters and Pioneerof the Nile all fly under the radar this week as they work towards starts on March 14th. Much will be learned about them at that time but for now it's just business as usual. As long as they don't get injured they'll likely hold their positions until they get back in the action.

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