March 18, 2013

KY Derby Top 10 list - March 16th update

1) Verrazano  -  More Than Ready by Giant’s Causeway: It was a risky move putting him on top of my inaugural list but he redeemed my faith by easily winning the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby over a respectable field. Java's War was a long-shot runner up in that race but has a fair amount of back class as a 2YO. I would have preferred seeing Johnny V. wait a bit longer rather than taking the lead after only 3 furlongs but he seemed ratable early and a jock is supposed to take the lead if they know they have the best horse. Waiting for the Wood Memorial for a race that should be suited perfect for this speed oriented type. We'll see how the pace scenario shapes up for the big one, but I hope he gets a little dirt in his face in New York.

2) Revolutionary – War Pass out of a G1 winning AP Indy mare. Still hasn't raced after his swooping last to first victory at Aqueduct in early February.  Pletcher is handling him with kid gloves opting to wait for the long stretch of the Louisiana Derby in two weeks where he must run 1st or 2nd just to make the big dance. I'm not crazy about this race pattern but I do think he has immense talent. Cherokee Run sire line is known to be short on stamina, but it has produced some Yonaguska runners that have carried their speed up to the Classic distances (Musket Man). His damside is loaded with stamina via Seattle Slew and a cross of Hoist The Flag, resulting in a low 3.00 dosage index (historic threshold says under 4.0 has the best chance).

3) Oxbow – Awesome Again by Cee’s Tizzy mare.  Nearly identical breeding as Paynter last year who proved to have Grade I class.  Awesome Again may be one of the most underrated sires out there as he has quietly sired four Breeders’ Cup winners, the best being Horse of the Year Ghostzapper (but also runner-up, Game on Dude).  After a troubled 4th place finish in Fair Grounds Risen Star stakes, he redeemed himself with a gutsy Rebel Stakes, where he was nipped on the wire after again being wide on the first turn. The most consistent runner in this bunch has the tactical speed needed to establish position early in these longer races. It was ironic that even though Bob Baffert got all the praise heading into the Rebel Stakes, D. Wayne Lukas ran one-two proving that the old master may have a Derby bullet still left.

4) Flashback – Tapit colt by a Mr. Greeley mare = SPEED. I even more question his 10 furlong ability after that fade in deep stretch in the 1 1/16th mile San Felipe, but most pundits will automatically dismiss this horse after his first loss.  He pressed insane fractions (sub :46 and 1:10 splits) and still held 2nd place from a deep closer, so I think that race was huge in his career development.  Appears to have the most raw talent of any in this bunch, so we’ll see if he’s a true miler or able to carry his speed into the Classics like a War Emblem and Bodemeister - previous Baffert speedballs.

5) Vyjack - Into Mischief by Stravinsky mare: New addition to the list after his Gotham Stakes win at Aqueduct. I had held his front running style against him, but then he circles the field from dead last in his last start, which gives me more of a reason to like this guy. Into Mischief is a hot new sire this year who has plenty of stamina influence. The trainer, Rudy Rodriguez, was just suspended over a month for his horses testing positives for medical violations, so he could be the Doug O'Neill of this year's Derby!

6) Den's Legacy - Medaglia d'Oro by War Chant mare: New addition. The iron horse of this generation of lightly raced colts, having run 11 times. Most importantly, 6 of those races occurred after Nov. 1st and he has hit the board each and every time.  He has run behind Goldencents, Flashback and now Will Take Charge and Oxbow in the Rebel Stakes, in which I thought he ran great considering he raced down on the inside of a track favoring outside horses all weekend. As the competition increases he seems to keep improving and should relish the extra distance.  The Ford family of Arkansas appear to have a sure ticket to Louisville with this guy!

7) War Academy – Giant’s Causeway by an A.P. Indy mare (he’s a popular damsire this season).  I have tremendous respect for the Coolmore team behind this runner and Baffert can get them ready late in the season.  After running 4th in the 7 furlong San Vicente at Santa Anita, Baffert wheeled him back in a two turn allowance race a few days ago where he won for fun. Mike Smith is very high on this horse and he is one of the best jockeys still riding in my book, especially in money races. He will also need a top 3 finish wherever he runs in his final prep to sneak into the Derby field. I hope after Super Ninety Nine's flop in the Rebel I can see him first hand for the Arkansas Derby.

8) Code West - Lemon Drop Kid by Saint Ballado mare: New addition. This Baffert charge is one nostril away from having enough points to make the KY Derby field and much more respect out of the Risen Star. I Since I have two other horses from that race in my top 10 list, I might as well add the one with the best stamina breeding for the Derby distance. Besides, I think Martin Garcia inherited the lead based on the slow fractions and he just tried to steal the race. When a horse gets passed and comes again late in the race, I want to bet that horse back and that is exactly how the stretch duel went down. His owners - Gary and Mary West - have supported our sport for many years and he would be a well-deserved Derby entry in my book.

9) Palace Malice – Curlin by a Royal Anthem mare. Many young sires make their mark with 3YOs in their first or second crop (i.e. Birdstone, Street Cry, Flower Alley). Ran a solid third in his 3YO debut, one spot ahead of Oxbow who flattered in the Rebel Stakes. I think he can fare a little better in the LA Derby after a trip over the surface and a touch more distance. Certainly a long-shot at this point, but I'll stick with him to see if he qualifies.

10) Frac Daddy – Scat Daddy by Skip Away mare:  Still no race since my original comments due to quarter crack and throat ulcer - it will all be riding in the Florida Derby. But I think that group is fairly weak with Shanghai Bobby, Orb and Itsmyluckyday all being overrated. Let's put it this way, if these horses come up big in the KY Derby, I'm toast with my tickets! His damsire Skip Away was as game as they came at 9-10 furlongs for two years and even defeated the great Cigar (while getting 5 pounds).

Off my list: Violence (injury), Zeewat (5th at Golden Gate prep), Always in a Tiz (regressed in Southwest Stakes).