Monday, February 22, 2010

Derby field taking shape ... of a blob

Maybe more than in any other season of recent memory, I'm impressed by the field of Kentucky Derby hopefuls as February makes the turn for home into March.

"Impressed" not quite so much by the brilliance of talent -- though there are some very nice horses vying for those 20 starting gate spots -- but by the depth of the pool of hopefuls. With a couple of notable exceptions, it's hard to separate the top 25 to 30 horses that could be considered most likely to make their way to Churchill for the first Saturday in May.

Saturday's brace of races -- six that were considered potential Derby-preps -- added to the reputations of some contenders, but also muddied the waters a bit.

On Saturday night, I picked my initial 10 horses for the annual Road to the Roses competition online, and scored a few points (though not nearly enough for weekly honors) as D' Funnybone came home winner of the Hutcheson, and Eskendereya won the Fountain of Youth, with another of my choices, Jackson Bend, figuring, as well.

But those 10 horses aren't exactly the top 10 contenders in my mind. They were chosen solely to score points in the contest (and not well-chosen, at that), while there are others who weren't running last week (Lookin at Lucky, particularly) who belong high on the list.

So I guess I'll chime in with my Top 10 Derby Contenders as of Feb. 22, on the heels of some key races that have helped shape my opinion -- from mere blob, to a blob with some gelatinous qualities that will set up a bit more over time. And if I'm wrong and the blob never takes on a winning form, we can just make Jell-O shots and forget our worries.

1. Eskendereya (Giant's Causeway-Aldebaran Light, by Seattle Slew). Stellar winner of the Fountain of Youth at 9 furlongs, and bred to get the mile and a quarter of the Derby (and perhaps beyond) with ease. Sire Giant's Causeway had three Grade 1 wins going 10 panels or more, this colt's dam was by a Triple Crown winner in Seattle Slew, and second dam Altair was by Alydar, who was second in all three TC races to America's last Triple Crown winner, Affirmed. No doubt the horse has the pedigree and class to run in Derby company, and trainer Todd Pletcher should get him there. ... Pletcher, however, is yet to win a Kentucky Derby. Perhaps this colt will be his first.

2. Lookin at Lucky (Smart Strike-Private Feeling, by Belong to Me). Divisional champ at 2, but unraced thus far at age 3 and didn't exactly set the world ablaze with his 1:15 and change 6-furlong work today at Santa Anita. Prior works had been much sharper, however. He was the classiest 2-year-old in the country last year, but needs to get off the sidelines and back in a race to regain the No. 1 spot in my mind. I'm also not very compelled to give much weight to Cal-based horses until I've seen them on real dirt, so Lucky might be the only name from that circuit in this Top 10.

3. Conveyance (Indian Charlie-Emptythetill, by Holy Bull). Not thrilled with his pedigree for getting the distance, all though the sire was third in the Derby himself. But it's hard to ignore 4-for-4 and the ability to transition from synthetic, on which he won the San Rafael S.-G3 at Santa Anita onto conventional dirt, over which he annexed the Southwest S.-G3 at Oaklawn on Saturday. Dam was a three-race maiden who hasn't yet produced anything else of note, and second dam In The Till (Mr. Prospector) was unraced, but did produce several stakes-placers.

4. Rule (Roman Ruler-Rockcide, by Personal Flag). I'm not entirely convinced of this colt's pedigree for getting a mile and a quarter, but also can't ignore that his second dam is Belle's Good Cide, who was dam of Derby/Preakness winner Funny Cide, and some doubted that gelding's ability to get a classic distance, too, until he dusted favored Empire Maker in the Churchill stretch and crushed 'em all two weeks later at Pimlico. Rule broke maiden at a mile and has a pair of Grade 3 wins at a mile and a sixteenth, so two turns in itself isn't a problem. We'll see if he can carry his brilliance to 10 furlongs.

5. Odysseus (Malibu Moon-Persimmon Hill, by Conquistador Cielo). Only three races under his belt, but the last two -- a maiden-breaker at Gulfstream in January and a recent allowance score at Tampa -- were impressive. Could be the Big Brown of 2009, though hopefully without the brittle feet. Malibu Moon can get a classic-distance horse, especially with the stamina of Conquistador Cielo (a Belmont winner) and Nijinsky II (St. Leger winner at 14f) on the dam's side in this one. Look out for him in the Tampa Bay Derby on March 13.

6. Buddy's Saint (Saint Liam-Tuzia, by Blushing John). Broke maiden in the Nashua Stakes at age 2, then showed he could get a distance by winning the 9-furlong Remsen S.-G2, a long haul for a juvenile. Desperately needed a race off the layoff in the Fountain of Youth Saturday, and failed to figure.

7. D' Funnybone (D'Wildcat-Elbow, by Woodman). Sharp winner of the Hutcheson S.-G2 at Gulfstream Saturday would merit more consideration if he had success at a route of ground to his credit by now. The Hutcheson was but 7 furlongs and he won it well, but were the "real" Derby hopefuls in the 9-furlong Fountain of Youth at the same track on the same day? It isn't inconceivable that D' Funnybone can get the Derby distance. His dam is by Woodman, a reasonable source of stamina, and second dam Elvia was by classic-distance sire Roberto out of a blacktype mare by classic-distance sire Lyphard. ... So I ask trainer Rick Dutrow, "When are we gonna see this boy get some ground?"

8. Super Saver (Maria's Mon-Supercharger, by A.P. Indy). Another Pletcher trainee who will benefit from that conditioner's ability to get horses to the big race, albeit not yet to win it. I like that the colt won at a mile and a sixteenth as a juvenile in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, and it was over the Derby's own Churchill Downs strip. Full sibling Hedge Fund has run 53 times and earned more than $151,000. Since Super Saver is yet to start in 2009, he also needs to come out of the gate in March looking less like a horse coming off a layoff and more like a serious contender, or it might be hard to get him positioned to win on Derby Saturday.

9. Dublin (Afleet Alex-Classy Mirage, by Storm Bird). Colt came up short in the Southwest to Conveyance, but does have credentials. A G1 winner at 2, however, he seems a bit hit-and-miss. Of his five races as a juvenile, he won two and failed to hit the board in the other three. Dam was a G1 winner herself, and produced G2-placed Mike's Classic. So there's some class on the page for this one.

10. American Lion (Tiznow-Storm Tide, by Storm Cat). OK, so another Cal-based runner did sneak into the mix. I like this one because he should be able to race over real dirt, as did sire Tiznow, though the Tiznows are shining on synthetic, as well. Dam's side of the pedigree is far more built for speed than the sire's, but second dam City Band was a G1 winner at a mile and a sixteenth and Tiznow's influence should help this colt stretch a bit beyond that limit.

Now let's see how long they stay in this order -- or even present on the list -- in my mind. I suspect it won't be long.


  1. Ah, Derby lists ... :)

    Conveyance doesn't belong on this list, in my humble opinion. From what my eyes have seen, he has no shot at 10F. I'd put Dublin far ahead of Conveyance on any Derby list. Dublin was just getting moving in the stretch run, and would have beaten Conveyance by a good 5+ lengths at 10F.

    I think you're missing Dave in Dixie (second to the fabulous Caracortado in the Bob Lewis and the clear winner at a longer distance) and Discreetly Mine, who I was siding against on Saturday (because he hadn't run against anybody), but proved me very, very wrong.

    I love this time of year. I truly do!

    David H.

  2. There are likely holes in my logic, and horses that will prove themselves better (or worse) than I might think today.

    I do think Conveyance has a shot at 10 furlongs. Obviously dam-sire Holy Bull had no trouble with 9 furlongs and was a G1 winner at 10. I'd like to see more stamina in his pedigree, but he isn't the "shortest-looking" horse in the top 20 or 25, either.

    But I agree, this time of year almost is better than Derby Day itself. That's the giant climax, of course. Then two weeks later, we see if the Derby winner can take the Preakness and turn the Belmont into a riveting 2 minutes and 20-odd seconds of television.

  3. #6 Buddy's Saint should he be pointed to The Wood Memorial, is still a player !

    He suffered "the throwout trip".
    His performance had little to do with the vacation and almost entirely the bumper cards scenario that occurred when jockey Lezcano tried to squeeze himself in between #1 Aikenite (Alan Garcia) and the rail.

    I have the video on my page. Please take a look
    at "the pinball effect".

    Buddy's Saint's Bruce Levine is a master at firing off the shelf and if Buddy's Saint didn't suffer cuts and bruises (or internal injuries) I look forward to a markedly good showing on the rebound in another month.

  4. I agree with TKS, Buddy's Saint deserves more consideration for his horrible trip in the Fountain of Youth, he is much better than that.
    I have to admit that I wasn't completely sold on Conveyance before the Southwest. I still have doubts that he can carry his speed farther, but I love Indian Charlie runners!
    Eskendereya was very impressive the way he won, although I think Buddy's Saint was the best horse in the race, I have always been a huge fan of Eskendereya.

  5. Yeah, Buddy's Saint is too low on the list. He should at least be ahead of Odysseus, who I have admired solely on potential.

    I'm not counting out Conveyance yet for the speed on the top side.


I welcome comments, including criticism and debate. But jerks and the vulgar will not be tolerated.