March 1, 2016

March Derby top 10 now whittled down to 5...

Well, that wasn't the start to my Derby trail that I was looking for. After 1 or 2 prep races now complete on most circuits, the contenders are starting to separate themselves from the pretenders. I would feel okay with my list had I used Donnie K. Von Hemel's "other" Derby hopeful instead of Synchrony, but my personal rooting interest didn't pan out. And since my Derby listing is about who can possible WIN the roses on the first Saturday in May (rather than hitting board), I now feel the winner comes from this select group of 5...

1) Mohaymen – the easiest of victories without being asked in Saturday’s Fountain of Youth Stakes at sunny Gulfstream Park in Hollywood, FL. He has the appearance of a king among peasants. He was the only horse in the small field that didn’t act up entering the starting gates or during the race. Most trainers tell you it’s the mental side that make super horses (many more are gifted physically). Well, I saw first-hand how this guy knows his job and seems to relish it. With his adaptable running style (usually just off the pace but actually trailed and split horses in this small field), may be too tough to handle in Louisville with a clean gate break. I hope I'm able to say that I witnessed two TRIPLE CROWN winners in a row in Derby prep races. Yes, he may be that good!

2) Suddenbreakingnews (SBN) – debuts on my list at a high position with his masterful stamina breeding (Mineshaft over Afleet Alex mare). In his Southwest victory, Whitmore appeared to be home free in the last sixteenth of a mile but Luis Q had this guy flying late on the outside. He is a tall and lanky horse and has won both sprinting (7 furlongs) and going long with a good foundation of five starts at age two. Reminds me a lot of his damsire Afleet Alex in that he had 6 starts at age 2 and also won sprinting, having that quick turn of foot that creates a winning move at any distance. Southwest Stakes was SBN’s first start off the year and he could improve in future races with that tightener. Really turned heads with his stretch rally into a moderate pace (half mile in :47, 6 panels in 1:12.30). “This is unbelievable where this horse launched (last into stretch).  Wow, what an explosion late!” – Paul LoDuca (TVG network)

3) Brody’s Cause – he certainly hasn’t validated his 3YO form yet as he awaits his first start of 2016 in the Tampa Bay Derby.  But there is always a late bloomer on the Derby trail that makes their presence felt at Churchill Downs. The more I review his juvenile races, he’s already beaten most of the top Derby candidates, sans Nyquist (who I think will struggle with the 10 furlong distance). He is another confirmed closer, which never hurts in the KY Derby. His first major workout back in January at Gulfstream Park over 4 furlongs was a bullet :47.74. When deep closers work that fast, it’s a hugely positive sign.

4) Mor Spirit – so far doing everything right. Probably getting a little more attention than he deserves since he’s handled by Bob Baffert. Received the same Equibase speed rating in his Robert Lewis score at Santa Anita as SBN at Oaklawn even though the speedier SA dirt strip produced nearly 2 full second faster time. Looks steady but not spectacular.

5) Mo Tom – hard luck 3rd place in the Fair Ground’s Risen Star Stakes and being checked into the rail turning for home. Yet he still came running late and if a quick pace materializes on Derby Day he could be a real threat (but I still prefer SBN as a closer). Uncle Mo is the hottest sire going right now and in previous groups top freshmen sires produced major Derby threats (Birdstone, Curlin, Into Mischief).