March 10, 2014

Derby Top 10 - March update

Not the hot start I was looking for having to toss a couple of my top choices so early. But rather than simply add all the round 1 winners, I'm passing on many of these front-running types since that seldom works out at Churchill Downs in a 20 horse field.  I'd rather give another try to those horses that couldn't make up the ground on several speed bias tracks (i.e. Gulfstream, Santa Anita, Tampa Bay).

Commissioner - failed to finish ahead of a 73-1 and 43-1 shot in the FOY with no real excuse.

Top Billing - broken cannon bone in training  and off trail.
Conquest Titan - failed to threaten at Tampa Bay on a speed favoring track, prefer Vinceremos.
My updated ranking (in order of preference) follows...
1. Candy Boy – Candy Ride/In Excess
John Sadler is trying to dethrone Bob Baffert as the west coast Derby trainer with his deep bench this year, led by Candy Boy. As I stated last month, Candy Ride could be the next Malibu Moon of sires to break out with a quality crop this year.  As increasingly likely that Shared Belief will not make the Derby parade, he appears to be the best of the west. I will take my chances that California Chrome is a speed-only type of horse with his freakish San Felipe romp -- similar fractions to Game on Dude's record breaking performance the following day on the same Santa Anita strip in the Big Cap.

2. Intense Holiday - Perhaps I found his gutsy Risen Star win so impressive since it helped fuel a nice trifecta ticket for me, but he appears to have taken that step against top company he has been holding for so long. Albano was tough as nails in defeat, but like brother Mark Valeski he may prove to be not quite on the same level of top national Derby horses as they stretch out in distance. Frankie Brothers went over budget bidding for this guy for Starlight Stables and said he had a hunch he could be a top flight colt, so this former top conditioner's (and husband of Donna Barton-Brothers) intuition is good enough for me.
3. Strong Mandate – Tiznow/Deputy Minister
I'm moving him up based on the wilting of my other top picks and the fact that his bad trips are consistently keeping him slightly under the radar. Sure, it looked like he was soundly defeated by Tapizar last out but he never quit churning and will be that much tighter off a fairly lengthy layoff (by D. Wayne Lukas standards, anyway). I like his tactical speed and ability to stay close to fast splits and still have some punch left, as he showed in Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He will be my top choice in the Rebel Stakes on Saturday.
 4. 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. Still waiting on Florida Derby or Wood Memorial in April to see if he's still got it.

5. Vinceremos - Pioneerof the Nile/More Than Ready

I guess I failed to learn my lesson with Verrazano last year, as I like another horse with miler More Than Ready in the breeding. But Pioneerof the Nile came out swinging with his first crop, similar to Into Mischief last year who had multiple offspring in The Derby starting gate. I like the grit these horses tend to have and he was second best out of a better than average Tampa Bay Derby, where he took a step forward in defeat over several other that regressed from the Sam Davis prep. Owners WinStar Farm and Twin Creeks Racing (of Louisiana/Florida) have pledged a portion of his earnings to a therapeutic riding center in Florida named in Vinceremos' honor, so this is my special interest story of all the Derby horses thus far. (Remember Afleet Alex and Alex's lemonade stand in 2005?)

6. Tapiture - Tapit/Olympio 

Southwest Stakes win at Oaklawn was moi impressivo, but he did have the perfect ground-saving trip along the rail and spurted away from Strong Mandate on the turn to put the race out of touch. Of the many standout performances of Winchell-Asmussen led runners, I prefer the filly Untapable who smashed in the Fair Ground Rachel Alexandra Stakes under Rosie Napravnik. Of couse, with the new points system for Derby qualifying I doubt she attempts, or makes, the field. Still a very professional effort at Oaklawn with some back-class at Churchill Downs and you would expect another move forward in his second start off layoff.
7. 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 was a one-pace horse in the San Felipe, and that was chasing California Chrome all the way around the track. He'll need to find another gear in the SA Derby and I'm not sure if that means going straight to the front or settling off the pace for a new look.  But if Baffert can't figure it out, nobody can. This could be the first horse I ever saw with a Dosage Index under 1.0 – 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!

8. Ride on Curlin – Curlin/Storm Cat
Calvin Borel decided to push him early in the Southwest due to his outside post and he never really got a breather because of hustling early and being very wide around the first turn. He still fought hard in the stretch to keep the show spot after running a lot further than his peers, so I think he'll be fine in the Rebel this Saturday as long as Borel lets him relax early and comes with one big run. People forget he was a solid 3rd in the Grade I Champagne behind Havana and Honor Code last fall. Speaking of which, I’ve left 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.).

9. 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. This guy is the best of the bunch bred for the 10 furlong Derby distance being thrown from a Pleasant Colony mare. He is still eligible for a NX2 allowance race after running behind free-running Constitution (another Tapit up and comer), but his lone win came easily at 9 furlongs two races back and next start likely the Florida Derby at 9 furlongs. He must run first or second to make the starting gate at Louisville but I think he'll get to those speedy sorts down at Hallandale Beach next time around.
10. Kristo-- Distorted Humor/Capote

He needs to get his head straight in a hurry. All that misbehaving in the stretch for that size of a horse is awkward to watch - drifting out on the turn and pulling Joel Rosario repeatedly towards the rail. Has not threatened the winner in his last two starts now at Santa Anita but generally the SA Derby brings out a larger field where the front-runners are pressured between calls and he could possibly pick up the pieces. Not sure he's best suited for 10 furlongs, but I'd rather give this physical standout one more chance to put it together late than to jump on the bandwagon of one of these speed demons.
Good luck with your picks along the Derby trail!