Happy Derby season to all! With the first real Derby prep weekend on tap with the Robert Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita, Withers Stakes at Aqueduct and Sam Davis (not "the Candyman" Sammy Davis) at Tampa Bay Downs, it's time to get some picks registered.
Last year my Derby top 10 list was abysmal pretty much the entire season, although I did connect with Animal Kingdom as my long-shot play the first Saturday in May. I started 2011 off with Dialed In (wow, has he even threatened since the FL Derby?), To Honor and Serve (late bloomer) and Uncle Mo (clearly a hedge). However, two years ago I would venture to guess my top five as of February 1st proved to be as accurate as anyone in our industry since I had Lookin At Lucky first (Preakness), Super Saver second (KY Derby) and Drosselmeyer fifth (Belmont), nailing the Triple Crown in my early book top five! Furthermore, I had Eskendereya ranked at #7 a month before he freaked in the Fountain of Youth - and after a poor ninth place finish in the BC Juvenile (save that thought).
So I'm banking on the fact that I am more of an even year kind of guy -- here goes the 2012 Derby inaugural top 10 list that I will be updating about every 3 weeks...
1) The Godfather (errr.... El Padrino): First off, you've gotta love the name. I'm an actual Godfather six times over to various nieces and nephews and my wife can quote the movie like it's nobody's business ("Luco Brossi sleeps with the fishes" or "Leave the gun, take the cannoli"). Looking at Pulpit's progeny record on www.bloodhorse.com it's shocking that this big name sire has so few millionaires. Particulary, not all that much success with his sophomores (i.e. Pyro, Corinthian, Essense of Dubai) with the fluke Ice Box running into the Kentucky Derby exacta in 2010 on a wet track being the lone exception. Pulpit is seven years older than his son and the "it" sire Tapit, yet the son has as many North American millionaires as his pappa, including BC Juvenile champ Hansen (um-bop). And to add insult to injury, Tapit's stud fee is nearly three times that of the elder statesman (still both are young by sire standards, though). Imagine how Pulpit feels at family barbecues when Tapit rolls up hours late in his Jaguar with booze and smoke billowing from his ride, "Yo dad... I need another hundo for my date tonight -- taking Smart Strike's daughter out to the movies." I say Pulpit has had quite enough and will rectify the situation with his first Derby winner. You've gotta love the Giant's Causeway dam completing this powerful breeding nick pattern.
2) Creative Causeway: This is a beautiful grey blob (props to Silver Charm) of Giant's Causeway who has done little wrong in his five starts at two, including three Grade 1's and a Grade 2. This guy has so much back class at this young age and has duplicated the juvenile race pattern of 2YO AND 3YO Eclipse Champion, Lookin At Lucky, with nearly identical success. He was given about two months off after his show finish in the BC Juvenile by conditioner Mike Harrington and has returned smartly to the worktab. As Harry Caray would say (another grey blob)... "I smell trouble here, Sherri."
3) Algorithms: Being of German descent and a tax accountant by trade, I respect this name. Dictionary.com defines this noun as, "a set of rules for solving a problem in a finite number of steps, as for finding the greatest common divisor." Absolutely exploded in his first start beyond a sprint distance and being by Bernardini out of a Cryptoclearance mare this mo-fo should want to run all day long. Clearly is poised to be the next "Big E" - a budding star at Gulfstream from the Pletcher barn - IF he can stay healthy. Three starts and three convincing wins. Not only that, but when a horse bred for distance is as fast as this mo-fo at five and six furlongs, you have a top Derby candidate on your hands (see Lil E. Tee).
Frankly, I could stop my Derby top 10 at this point as confident as I am in these three selections. I'm looking down at about two dozen more names on my yellow pad with most of them containing a line struck through their names after viewing race replays or looking over race charts. But for the love of the game I will press on with as many names as my faith allows me to put to writing...
4) Prospective: I love me some Malibu and Coke Zero. Oh, what I meant to say is that I love Malibu Moon as a sire. Especially with the cross to Awesome Again, who I believe is an underrated sire and could very well follow in his father's (Deputy Minister) footsteps to become an excellent broodmare sire. This guy has a double dose of Seattle Slew coursing through his veins and if you didn't notice, the Slew swept the Triple Crown back in 1977. Some will say that he does not fit with the top 3YO's since he finished up the track (13th) in the BC Juvenile, but please refer to where Eskendereya placed in my earlier paragraph. Obviously, colts at this age change quite a bit as their skeletal systems continue to develop and I'm willing to chalk that up to a bad day at the office.
Speaking of chalk, most of you are probably wondering where the top two finishers of the BC Juvenile will rank, Hansen and Union Rags. Well hold that thought, because I will have to see one or both win at 9 furlongs before I put these speed oriented bred horse on my list of colts, geldings or fillies that could actually WIN a Derby (and/or Triple Crown race). I'll eat my words if I must, but at this moment Union Rags reminds me quite a bit of Uncle Mo (finally proved that he was NOT a distance horse in the BC Classic). Not only that, at least Uncle Mo's BC Juvenile win was scintillating visually and time-wise, while the 2011 edition leaves a lot to be desired with the positive split times of each quarter mile. Thus, I'm going with horses who could threaten the winner's circle at 10 furlongs, not "hang on" for third.
5) Out of Bounds: I'm a little nervous about this pick, but that's why they call it horse racing, right, right?? His dosage index is in the vicinity of 6.00, but he has a nice stride to him and good running style of laying off the pace but always within striking distance. I hear some chatter that his sire Discreet Cat could be the next great miler sire, just like his dad Forestry struck with Shackleford last year. His Sham Stakes win against Baffert's Secret Circle (who had the speed edge) was a classic cat-like move of sitting and pouncing in the stretch. Meooowwww.
6) Dullahan: This guy had no chance in the BC Juvenile when they were walking through slow mid-race fractions, but still managed a nice rally from 13th and last to get up for 4th. Versatile enough that his connections can't yet commit to dirt or turf, thus his 2YO season was a work in progress. After two full months off (I like this training strategy - Victory Gallop came back strong at Oaklawn Park after a few months off) he's just now back in training at Gulfstream and may only get two starts prior to The Derby. Could be the fresh horse to take the bouquet of roses much like Animal Kingdom last year.
7) Mr. Bowling: Impressive Lecomte Stakes winner at Fair Grounds is sired by a new son of Gone West that also has Atigun firing at Oaklawn Park. Was a beaten favorite finishing third at Churchill Downs in the Iroquois last fall under Calvin Borel. Working very fast at the Gentilly Avenue track, which is encouraging for a distance laden horse. Larry Jones is known for his magic with the fillies, but maybe this is his ticket to Derby day.
8) Fed Biz: Here's another Giant's Causeway (embarrassment of riches) colt out of a Wild Again mare. For those that don't recall, Wild Again was the winner of a hotly contested inaugural Breeders' Cup Classic race. He proved valuable as a sire although he hasn't been in the press in quite a while. He was euthanized in 2008 at age 28 after servicing many mares in meritorious service at Three Chimney Farms. Though only having a maiden score under his belt, Baffert has him cranked up on the west coast for a big debut soon.
9) Najjaar: Dan Peitz has had his fair share of quality horses in his day and is very high on this son of Jazil for Shadwell Stable. Took a while to break his maiden but exits a key race at Oaklawn Park on January 14 where a couple have come back to get their picture taken as well. If he gets some pace to set things up for him it could prove to be what elevates him to the top of his division on any given day.
10) Reckless Jerry: Last year it was Oklahoma based Donnie Von Hemel who was dancing for joy with the success of Caleb's Posse and Alternation. This year it could be fellow Oklahoman Toby Keith's turn to strike it big on the national stage. Reckless Jerry ran well in the midwest last fall and came out sharp in a close second while racing wide to Junebugred (Corinthian) in the Smarty Jones Stakes on opening weekend. His sire, Cactus Ridge (Hennessy), also was raced by Keith's Dream Walkin Farms and scorched the track from 4 1/2 furlongs to one mile before he was injured undefeated after his Grade 3 Arlington-Washington Futurity score. His son Reckless Jerry has revenge on his mind, much like Toby when he sang, "we'll put a boot in your ass, it's the American way..." in his Red, White and Blue tribute tour.