On the heels (pun intended) of two of the greatest campaigns by a filly or mare of all-time in Rachel's 2009 and Zenyatta's 2010 season, it's time that the Derby sophomores reclaim the headlines. And there appears to be a talented enough crop to do the job in 2011 led by Uncle Mo, who has received the most amount of hype for a juvenile that I can recall since Arazi in 1992 and Favorite Trick - the Juvenile champion and overall Horse of the Year in 1997. Speaking of droughts, Lookin At Lucky broke a historic one last year when he was the only 2YO champion to repeat as 3YO champion since Spectacular Bid waaaaayyyy back in 1979!
Those of you who share my passion for handicapping potential Derby horses will notice a trend in this year's bumper crop. A strikingly high percentage of the early favorites hail from the A.P. Indy bloodline, many through sons of his such as Bernardini, Mineshaft or Pulpit. So while A.P. Indy himself had to be withdrawn on the morning of The Derby in 1992 due to an abscessed hoof, this "sire of sires" seems well armed to exorcise his Derby demons in 2011 through his progeny (speaking of demons, has anyone else seen The Rite yet?).
It is with supreme exuberance and confidence that I unveil my original Top 10 Derby list for 2011. As always, I welcome your feedback on my list, either to agree or argue some of my controversial selections. You will notice that I always avoid pure chalk, so you will surely find some nice future Derby pool bets out there with several of my selections. Also, as a reminder, I had all three triple crown winners of 2010 on my inaugural list, even though Super Saver and Drosselmeyer were relatively under the radar as of February 1st, see following comment:
2) Super Saver - My favorite bloodlines for this year's bunch includes a proven sire in Maria's Mon (Monarchos in 2001) from an A.P. Indy mare. As my family in Arkansas would say, "It just don't get no better than that."
2011 Derby list #1
1) Dialed In - Surely the recency effect is why I'm putting this guy in my top spot, as he broke poorly then absolutely leveled the field in the one-mile Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park last week. After a dry spell in the classics, Nick Zito heated up last year with Ice Box and Fly Down and seems to be... well, "dialed in" with this one for long-time owner Robert LaPenta.
2) To Honor and Serve - Bill Mott broke through in Triple Crown races with Drosselmeyer in last year's Belmont and this one seems to be uber talented. Note that he dominated the same two Aqueduct graded stakes as Buddy's Saint - last year's "it" horse at this point. But he's won 3 of 4 at three different tracks, which gives me a better feeling. This 575K yearling purchase is one of several live runners by hot sire Bernardini, who is so highly thought of that Zenyatta chose him as her "first" to take a roll in the hay with next week!
3) Uncle Mo - This tends to be where I start the heavy favorites in my lists, just high enough not to look stupid if he wins the Triple Crown, but with a couple others ahead to say "I told you so" if his form doesn't carry over into his three year-old season. Trust me, I know this horse has all the tools - I was there to see him go from second on the turn to squirt to a five length lead with no urging whatsoever. As for the distance concern being out of Indian Charlie, several recent Derby winners have been out of true milers and his damsire is Arch. Sound familiar? Proud papa to Blame - who held off the mighty Zenyatta over 10 furlongs on the very track that Uncle Mo will seek history.
4) Machen - Here is where I expect to get some puzzled looks. This horse has only started twice - both in 2011 at the Fair Grounds against non-winner allowance horses. But he is conditioned by a veteran horseman in Neil Howard and could be his biggest thing since Summer Squall. Although not by A.P. Indy, I love both his mama and his papa. Distorted Humor sired Funny Cide ('03 Derby winner) and Ready's Gal was a multiple stakes winner out of a terrific producer of juveniles - More Than Ready. Machen's most recent runaway win at over a mile proves he's just hitting his stride. He COULD be another late developing type, ala Big Brown.
5) Santiva - The son of top sire for 2010 (Giant's Causeway) has shown versatility in his four starts on three different surfaces while stalking in a couple of contests and coming from the clouds two back on the Keeneland polytrack. He showed his guts in his last race when he came back again between horses to score a narrow victory and seems to be a very manageable horse, which is rare for a young sophomore. His race replays indicate that he wants more ground, which works out nicely for the 1 1/4 miles of The Derby, but he must prove his worth on the tough Gulfstream path via Fountain of Youth off a long layoff... stay tuned!
6) Tapizar - This son of Tapit by a Deputy Minister mare has stepped up his game by leaps and bounds his last two races, improving times by 3 full seconds each race at the same distance (although the most recent was the new dirt course at Santa Anita leading to record times). I don't like his front-running style, but according to some quotes he doesn't appear to be a speed or nothing horse, such as Sidney's Candy or Rule from last year. Steve Asmussen hopes to bounce back from a lackluster season and is taking an atypical Santa Anita path to Louisville with this one.
7) Jaycito - At first glance, I thought this son of Victory Gallop was overrated. Some good results on the left coast before throwing in a clunker to finish 7th in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile on dirt at Churchill Downs - we've all seen this pattern before! But upon further review, this colt has had abysmal luck in each start, yet has managed to already win a Grade I start at over a mile while outfinishing the heralded J P's Gusto. His BC race was a total toss when he bolted terribly on the first turn, yet he managed to pass 3 or 4 horses before the wire. Speaking of bad luck, his owner, Ahmed Zayat, owned Eskenderaya last year, who I believe would have been a Triple Crown winner had he not been injured before The Derby. Perhaps the racing gods will settle his tab this year. The talent filled Robert Lewis Stakes next weekend at Santa Anita awaits.
8) Elite Alex - The obvious son of Afleet Alex is also trained by Tim Ritchey, who is unguardedly high on this one. He stumbled at the break of his Oaklawn stakes debut (sound familiar - Afleet Alex being tripped by Scrappy T. at the head of the stretch in Preakness?!) and came back with some nicks and bruises after finishing a game second, but turned in a scorching bullet work a few days ago before the ice storm blanketed the mid-south. As if a 3YO champion father wasn't enough, he carries the Fappiano (via Unbridled) and Nureyev bloodlines on his bottom side, which gives him about as many pluses as I can circle on a five-cross chart. Can't wait to see this guy in person on President's Day for the Southwest Mile.
9) Washington's Rules - In this time of political turmoil, this son of Roman Ruler wants to buck the system (ha - I made another joke, get it... "buck" the system?). I really like this sire (son of Fusaichi Pegasus via Mr. Prospector) and have my eye on a couple recently turned 2YO's of Roman Ruler - who if he wins will immediately become more expensive! But I love the fact that his damsire is only the grittiest horse ever (along with Skip Away), Silver Charm. This guy can close like a freight train and if he's in the mix in the final furlong is likely to win on heart alone.
10) Sweet Ducky - This Pulpit pupil ran in the wake of Dialed In last time out at Gulfstream. If history repeats itself, he could be like Jackson Bend last year, who followed around Eskenderaya twice but then proved to be about as good as anybody else. Also, I must give props to my brother Danny "Duck" on the name, who was anything but sweet. Take the Steelers and the points with this guy in the futures book, and you've got a pretty sweet parlay going!
So many more horses on the bubble, but they'll have to wait for future defections. One teaser is Rocking Out, who has only a maiden score but is bred to go long.
Can't wait to see how these stack up, now send me your picks!