I'm having to "scratch" three horses due to injuries; Algorithms, Fed Biz and Out of Bounds. However, my top horses have run very much the way I had anticipated in their early preps and I continue with confidence in my third Derby rating. While others are filling out NCAA brackets, I am refining my Derby Top 10 list!!
1) El Padrino: Very professional in his impressive Risen Star Stakes victory which should have tightened his screws based on that long stretch duel with Mark Valenski at Fair Grounds. One more good showing - likely the $1 million LA Derby - and this guy heads to Louisville as a top 3 betting choice. Proved that he can rate just off the lead, a major plus in The Derby.
2) Creative Causeway: Third place finish in the 7 furlong San Vincente and then a hard fought victory in the 8.5 furlong San Felipe against a decent cast, where he hit his best stride at the finish line. A first or second placing in the Santa Anita Derby will have him moving forward into the Derby as a fresh horse with the spacing of his 3YO campaign. Very confident that he will continue to run well with an honest pace and a clean trip.
3) Prospective: Moving him up one spot into my trifecta after Algorithms' injury. After running a solid second in the Sam F. Davis Stakes at quirky Tampa Bay Downs he won their Derby this weekend. He laid closer to the pace in the TB Derby about 6th down on the rail and easily followed the jock's commands on the turn. Now I know why he was my favorite "hunch" play of the winter after taking the Grey Stakes in Canada as a juvenile. Trainer Mark Casse is more dominant than even Todd Pletcher with his northern counterparts and may receive wider acclaim with a good showing by Prospective.
4) 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. Had a solid second place finish this weekend at 9 furlongs on the Gulfstream lawn but couldn't catch Howe Great, who had it all his way. Will follow the path of Paddy O' Prado by heading to the Bluegrass Stakes for a final synthetic prep. After last year seeing Shackleford's handling, I am very much a believer in Dale Romans ability to have a horse ready for the spring classics.
5) Union Rags: I know, I know -- that was a huge win in the FOY, but he had a dream trip and with Algorithms scratching we're still not sure what he beat in that field with those crawling 24 second splits. I still get dejavu with Union Rags reminding me of Uncle Mo and the latter's Timely Writer allowance/stakes win was even more impressive as he geared up for Louisville yet he proved to have distance limitations. As in years past, I certainly hope he heads into Churchill with all the hype continuing as the best way to cash a huge Derby ticket is to beat a heavy favorite:)
6) I'll Have Another: A surprising name considering the Jockey Club's all-business attitude towards approving names after Mike Pegram slipped "Isitingood" by the board some years ago (who went on to become a track record setter, by the way). Flower Alley registered well down the list of 2nd crop sires to close out 2011 at #13, but whenever a distance laden sire produces a horse with a turn of foot like this you'd better watch out. Wouldn't be out of the question to see him run into the exotics on the first Saturday in May.
7)Castaway: After flipping on his back in the Oaklawn infield while being saddled, this 400K plus son of Derby winner Street Sense dusted himself off, then dusted his competition from the outside #11 post. That race clearly was the softer side of the Southwest, but I also believe he left more in the tank and has more upside and distance advantage than Secret Circle or Scatman. Must respect Baffert and the Coolmore connections. Looks like he'll be returning this weekend to Hot Springs for the Rebel Stakes.
8) News Pending: Any handicapper who still follows the "dosage index" theory of Derby winners will be salivating at the 1.33 index and 0.33 center of distribution that this guy carries with the Harlan's Holiday over Lear Fan (via Roberto) damside. But he's still fast enough to finish second in the 1 1/16th mile FOY, which makes him dangerous considering that race typically produces speed oriented results. Dale Romans backup plan if Dullahan doesn't make the field or can't handle traditional dirt surface.
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. His work times have taken a major step forward after that maiden score which is a great sign for such a late closing horse. After taking a NX2 allowance score with Bo-Bo Borel in the irons, will probably wheel back in two weeks rest for the deep Rebel Stakes on St. Patrick's Day.
10) Midnight Transfer: I can't believe I'm using my final pick to add another west coast horse, but he did run within a few lenghts to Creative Causeway withouth the best of pace scenario in the Grade II San Felipe. The son of Hard Spun carries a flat 2.00 dosage index and could be on the improve with only two starts in 2012. Will need to pick up another fat check in the SA Derby to qualify for Kentucky, but with the top west coast horses calling Oaklawn home, that is certainly plausible. Besides, there aren't a lot of attractive horses left on the trail via attrition (other than speedsters Hansen and Alpha, who I am taking a pass on).