Derby Top 10 - Apr 7th
1. I Want Revenge (1)
2. Dunkirk (8)
3. Friesan Fire (3)
4. Quality Road (5)
5. Old Fashioned (6)
6. Terrain (7)
7. Papa Clem (9)
8. Desert Party (new)
9. Pioneerof the Nile (10)
10. Chocolate Candy (new)
Dropped: Imperial Council (2), The Pamplemousse (5)
This is the second last installment of the Derby Top 10 and although it's been a fun experience it will be a bit of a relief not to have to find 10 Derby horses every week. The task of finding enough horses to fill this list is becoming increasingly difficult. By now it is pretty obvious that there simply aren't 10 horses with a real chance to win the Derby. It's a high quality renewal of the Derby which means fewer horses have the chance of winning it. I'd almost be happier if this list only included the top 7.
Injury and under performance opened up two slots this week and I had a genuinely difficult time filling those slots. I ended up adding Chocolate Candy and Desert Party. Neither horse has made the top 10 anytime this year and to be truthful I don't like their chances of winning. They made the list because I think they can finish in the top half of the Derby field.
There was plenty of excitement generated from the Derby prep races this past weekend. I Want Revenge was phenomenal in the Wood Memorial. He more than confirmed the impression that he originally made in the Gotham. He is a very talented horse and he is good enough to beat Quality Road. You don't see many horses run faster closing fractions in a dirt prep race. I Want Revenge got the last quarter in 11.96. The last horses to win prep races while closing them that quickly were Curlin, Afleet Alex and Perfect Drift. None of those horses won the Derby but they certainly gave a good account of themselves. The speed figures say that he's the second fastest horse behind Quality Road but visually I think he has a better set of tools for the Derby and I have every confidence that he can beat the Jerkens horse.
Dunkirk made a huge move up the rankings this week despite not running and despite the fact that he isn't even guaranteed to be in the Derby. Two factors have contributed to this climb. A closer inspection of the Florida Derby has me thinking that if the pace turns out a little bit differently Dunkirk can turn the tables on Quality Road. I know Quality Road kicked clear of him when challenged but Dunkirk had already done so much running just to get to that point. On another day I think Dunkirk might be able to beat Quality Road and since he's the horse we're all measuring against I think that count for quite a bit. The second factor is that these final preps have given me enough data to run some models and projections for the Derby and Dunkirk really does fit most of my criteria. I'm not thrilled that he isn't a stakes winner but few would argue that he lacks the quality to win a stakes race. The only reason he hasn't won a stakes is because he's only run in one of them.
Friesan Fire sits quietly in the number three slot. I'm not in love with him but very few horses have done enough to usurp him. He's a solid horse trained by one of the hottest current Derby trainers around. I don't like the lack of 9f prep but the distance should not hamper this horse. If he doesn't have the quality to beat I Want Revenge or Dunkirk he certainly has the quality to second or third.
The news surrounding the quarter crack of Quality Road is actually not my main concern with this horse. If it drags on another week and pushes back a workout then it becomes a big deal until then my other concerns are enough to keep him out of the top spot. I put a good deal of faith in numbers and some of them just don't add up for this horse. He's a very scary horse to oppose but he would not be the first scary horse to lose the Derby. My prediction with him is that he'll either win the race or miss the first three spots altogether. For the purposes of this list that sees him ranked behind the horses who have a winning chance but they're also horses that I think would hit the board if defeated.
Old Fashioned is the last horse on the Derby trail with a real chance to be ranked in the top 2. He has had his detractors up to this point and has almost become something of a forgotten horse but he is still capable of that big race. The distance question looms but as long as he can close out his next race with decent fractions I'll be satisfied. Old Fashioned needs to either win the Arkansas Derby in good order or run a massive race in defeat behind a very good winner. I doubt he will do well enough to take over the #1 slot but I think he definitely has the potential to be ranked higher than his stablemate.
Terrain and Papa Clem have it all to prove. They're both solid but uninspiring types who always look likely to hit the frame but never appear likely to blow away their rivals. I suspect that neither of them have strong chances of winning the Derby. I really only think my top 5 have that chance but both are horses I'd want to use underneath in the Derby based on the information we have right now. I expect both of them to run solid races in their last preps finishing no worse than second. If they jump up and run better than expected I'm certainly open to moving them up.
The main concern with Desert Party is his ability to cope with genuinely fast horses. He hasn't faced any this spring and he will have to in the Derby. His performances have been good enough but I think they're a bit short on class. An interesting stat on Godolphin is that despite the fact that they seem to come with horses that don't belong no Godolphin Derby entrant has ever finished out of the top 10. There are quite a few American operations that would love to have a similar distinction. Desert Party is likely to run a non-threatening 7th which I suppose makes him one of the Top 10 Derby horses.
Pioneerof the Nile is a horse I've been looking to drop for weeks now but the challenge of finding 10 better options is still too difficult. I'm quite sure that I don't like this chances of winning the Derby. The positives for this horse are that he wins, he is bred for the distance, he has acquired some tactical speed and his trainer is top notch. The negatives unfortunately outweigh all the positives listed in my opinion. The strikes against him are that he's untested on dirt and I still think he moves like a turf horse, he is also too slow to win this race. None of his figures have come back very high and worst of all I think was his closing fractions in the Santa Anita Derby. Some people were talking about this being an impressive race and how it finished like a turf race. Neither of those observations are accurate.
He was rank and all over the place early. He made a nice middle move but it's not like he was Dunkirk cutting into the lead of impressive horses. He simply got closer to a bad horse setting a slow pace. His closing fractions were horrendous for a synthetic race with a slow pace. Chocolate Candy and Mr Hot Stuff both ran faster closing splits. 12.50 may be "fast enough" when compared with historical races but synthetic races almost always have faster closing splits than dirt races. It's highly likely that he'll enter the Derby with the worst synthetic closing splits of any horse in the race. I simply can't get behind a slow horse who finishes races slowly. I think he'll be the sucker horse of the Derby but will probably still finish among the top 10.
Chocolate Candy ran a good and genuine race in the Santa Anita Derby. He out closed Pioneerof the Nile and would have been ranked above that one had he not all but stopped in the gallop out. He tries hard and he ought to like dirt but he's not fast enough and he does worry me a bit at 10f. When you have to find 10 horses you simply end up having to take a few like him.
We've almost made it to the end of the trail, just three key races remain. I'm expecting that the established class of horses like Old Fashioned, Terrain and Papa Clem will do well in those final preps. I'm not terribly excited about the Derby chances of the late comers like Hull and Charitable Man. I think they're both good horses but not Derby horses. General Quarters, Theregoesjojo and Patena all saw their stars fall in their last races but I'd accept any of them back into the fold if they run better than expected. Hold Me Back is the one horse I'm not sure what to do with. His Lane's End was impressive enough but he's unbeaten on synthetics and ran poorly in his only start on dirt. He could be the newest version of Dominican.