Commissioner -- A.P. Indy/Touch Gold
Over the past few years I have pointed out my favorite breeding nick of the crop and that often comes through on the first Saturday in May (see Super Saver). Not only does this guy look as good as his breeding, but he returned from a 4 month layoff to beat a solid field at Gulfstream Park and has already won 2 races at 9 furlongs. “The Commish” will be going postward in the Fountain of Youth Stakes down at Gulfstream Park for team Pletcher and WinStar Farm. When I first saw Honor Code last fall, I had hoped he would bring A.P. Indy a much deserved Derby winner in his final foal crop. But at this point my money is on Commissioner to fill that role.
Kristo -- Distorted Humor/Capote
This colt has run well twice since stretching out to two turns for under-rated west coast conditioner John Sadler. Bejarano had ridden him in every start and appeared to be race-riding against the heavy favorite Midnight Hawk in the Sham Stakes. With a normal size field he should be able to get a better stalking trip. I loved Funny Cide the year he brought home the roses and Distorted Humor is capable of siring another Derby winner. For those bettors out there, Kristo is #11 in the current Derby futures pool at a whopping 99-1!
Top Billing – Curlin/A.P. Indy
My 2nd favorite breeding in this year’s crop will tackle Commissioner again in the Fountain of Youth. Last year there were clear “key races” on the Derby trail (such as LA Derby) and the FOY should go a long way to sort out the wheat from the chaff in this crop. Not much separated him and Commissioner when they squared off recently and they appear to be the class of a very deep Gulfstream contingent. It looks as if California is also coming up strong this year – not so much New York (recent state bred winners of Withers) or Louisiana. Too early to tell with the Oaklawn horses.
Midnight Hawk – Midnight Lute/Wolf Power
Bob Baffert trainee has a lovely motion with his head very low (ala A.P. Indy) and great extension. He will attempt to keep his hot streak going in the Bob Lewis (Silver Charm fame). Speaking of streaks, owner Mike Pegram is on fire with his homebred stallion Midnight Lute (Mylute 3rd in last year’s Derby and Shakin It Up - Govenor Charlie just ran 1-2 in the Grade 2 Strub stakes). This could be the first horse I ever saw with a Dosage Index under one – it’s a scant 0.71. Compare that to Derby futures individual favorite Cairo Prince of 7.0 and we’ll see if this Dosage index is invalidated this year!
Strong Mandate – Tiznow/Deputy Minister
D. Wayne Lukas stormed back onto the Triple Crown scene in 2013 and looks capable of backing that up with another victory this season with one of his typical speed-oriented types. The Champagne flop was awful but his BC Juvenile show spot was great considering his suicidal pace (think Palace Malice in last year’s Derby). Tiznow has not had a lot of success on the Derby Trail so generally I discard his progeny but leave out a live D. Wayne Lukas horse at your own peril. He will try to add points to the Derby qualifying board in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn on President’s Day.
Ride on Curlin – Curlin/Storm Cat
Time to throw a sleeper pick in and who better than a proven classic distance sire. I was in attendance at Oaklawn to see ROC’s return sprint victory and his versatile form reminds me a great deal of a past Oaklawn great, Afleet Alex. I’ve heard reports from Billy Gowan that he hasn’t missed a beat since shipping south and he has already proven he’s very competitive with stiff company up north. Not sure why a horse like Rise Up is in the individual Derby futures pool when ROC finished 4 lengths ahead of him in the Iroquois Stakes at Churchill last fall and also 3rd in the Grade I Champagne behind Havana and Honor Code. Speaking of which, I’m leaving both of these big names out due to their late starts back on the trail. They will have to earn their way back onto my list, as many top juveniles fizzle out before the Derby arrives (Shanghai Bobby, Uncle Mo, etc.).
Cairo Prince – Pioneerof the Nile/Holy Bull
There is not one horse on this list that I am more impressed with at the moment. However, sitting on the bench until the Florida Derby for his final prep seems a bit absurd to me. I’ve already mentioned the Dosage jinx with his numbers so you would think his team would want to build some foundation through an extra start against fresh faces. Palace Malice tried the LA Derby route last year for more points/experience and even though he was totally stymied on the turn and missed the board look how the rest of his year turned out.
Conquest Titan – Birdstone/Mineshaft
Closed from the clouds to finish a distant second behind Cairo Prince in the Holy Bull, but has also thrown in a couple of clunkers showing speed earlier in his career. Without a doubt his daddy and paternal grandpa made their way from the back of the pack, as he is getting accustomed to. Certain breeding lines (namely, Unbridled and other Mr. Prospector lines) have a way to throw out classic winners, so if his older brother Mine That Bird can win the Derby, certainly he has a shot!
Candy Boy – Candy Ride/In Excess
My first winning horse as an owner was from the In Excess male line, so this one caught my eye. Due to the hoof abscess issue with Shared Belief, this is my favorite candy in this year’s sophomore crop, also a personal favorite sire of mine. Another from the stable of California based John Sadler that could keep improving. For some reason, Candy Ride reminds me a lot of Malibu Moon, who threw out quality runners year after year but finally broke through with his first Derby winner last year in Orb. Perhaps 2014 will be “Year of Candy” as well as year of the Horse (recent lunar new year).
Tonalist – Tapit/Pleasant Colony
If super-sire Tapit is going to find success on the Derby trail it should very well be this year with all his bullets. And since Hansen proved that Tapit can get a great 8-9 furlong horse but probably not 10 furlongs, what a better nick than with stamina-laden Pleasant Colony. I am curious as to the training pattern by veteran turf horseman Christophe Clement alternating 5 furlong with 3 furlong breezes. In only two races, he has an obvious style of lagging well behind at the break so perhaps he is trying to put more speed into this well bred colt. Regardless, I wanted to throw another off the radar horse in my inaugural Top 10 and he fits the bill.
GOOD LUCK WITH YOUR DERBY FUTURES BETS AND HANDICAPPING THE 2014 DERBY TRAIL!!!
Bubble horse: Vicar’s in Trouble – Into Mischief/Vicar