Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Kentucky Derby Top 10

Derby Top 10 - Apr 14th

1. I Want Revenge (1)
2. Dunkirk (2)
3. Friesan Fire (3)
4. Papa Clem (7)
5. Quality Road (4)
6. General Quarters (new)
7. Desert Party (8)
8. Pioneerof the Nile (9)
9. Chocolate Candy (10)
10. Square Eddie (new)

Dropped: Old Fashioned (5), Terrain (6)

This is the final installment of the Derby top 10. It seems like an eternity since we've discussed the merits of horses like Vineyard Haven, Capt. Candyman Can and Break Water Edison. It's even hard to remember what we saw in them. My first Derby top 10 of 2009 only featured two or three horses that will probably be in the Derby. Square Eddie, Terrain and Quality Road. I haven't kept faith with any of them all the way through with Terrain being the last of my originals to be dropped this week.

My list, like most others is dominated by a big 5. This is the small and select group that my winning selection will emerge from unless something drastic and unforeseen totally changes the picture. The bottom 5 on my list are simply interesting horses that could run well on Derby day and fill a spot on some exotic.

I Want Revenge is still the horse I prefer the most. There is simply nothing to dislike about him, meanwhile every other contender does have something slightly amiss. Whether it be the ability of Dunkirk to stay 10f or Friesan Fire's layoff plus a lack of 9f experience or Quality Road's feet. They all have something to overcome. Quality Road is ranked as the least of my top 5 because I have the most questions about him but he could still wind up being my selection.

My big question with Papa Clem is can he run fast enough to beat these other monsters. He is definitely the slowest of my elite quintet but there is a Silver Charmish tenacity about him. In the Bob Lewis he looked I Want Revenge in the eye and said "no you don't". He likely never saw Pioneerof the Nile. In the Louisiana Derby where connections said he was less than comfortable he still stuck his neck out and denied Terrain the place spot. Then again in Arkansas he out-dueled a good horse in Old Fashioned. My figures say he is fast enough but he is not as fast as the other four. He gets my respect for his guts more than his speed. In a race where many things can go wrong it's nice to have a little money on the stubborn horse that has the toughness to overcome.

General Quarters makes it back onto the list after having been dropped for his flop in Tampa. I almost feel that his ranking is too high because I think he'll prove to be a bit inferior but realized that I like all the horses beneath him even less. Tactical speed is a precious commodity and this horse has it. It will always give him the advantage over a horse like Hold Me Back or West Side Bernie. My main concern with him is that if the trouble he faced in the Tampa Bay Derby was enough to get him beaten how will he deal with the trouble in the Kentucky Derby. There are a ton of stalker types this year. Space will be at a premium in the first and second flights.

Some may notice the somewhat odd inclusion of Square Eddie at the tail end of my list. We all know the story. He's had just a single race this year and has been injured all spring. The consensus is that his connections are just suffering from an advanced case of Derby fever but I think they actually have a bit of horse to work with. The San Rafael was just a cobweb cleaning, he wasn't primed for the race but he still ran well enough to suggest that he moved forward from his 2yo form. In fact he earned a career high Beyer in the loss. He's a bit of a galloper who will appreciate more distance and I think he may just show a preference for the dirt.

There is still a good deal against him. For me to truly like his chances he will have to run well in the Lexington and earn a new career high Beyer. Running well includes winning or finishing in touch with the winner, closing well, showing good tactical speed and not getting passed in the lane. It's not such a stretch to believe that he could accomplish those things, although big Beyers have been hard to come by at Keeneland. Since the introduction of Polytrack the Lexington has produced better figures than the Blue Grass so there is hope that this year could be the same.

I suppose at the base of it my contrarian nature is tempted by this horse because no one believes in him. His record should have earned him at least a little faith in his ability. Do I think he has a great chance in the Derby? No, but I don't think there are 10 horses that do and I prefer a horse that still has a chance to move forward over a bunch of horses that are decidedly slow.

There are still 10 or more horses that will run in the Derby but did not make my list but I must confess that I don't fear any of them. Is there an unmentioned horse out there that could suck up and run 4th? Yes, but for the most part I feel like all the real contenders are among this group of 10. I've really enjoyed following the Derby trail this year, whether or not this list ends up being of any use at all is really secondary. I'm in this to enhance my enjoyment of the sport and that mission has certainly been accomplished.

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