Destination Louisville

New Year’s Day has come and gone and that means the race for the Kentucky Derby has begun. Some are ready to become immersed in it, while others aren’t quite ready to smell the roses and taste the mint juleps this early in the year.

But regardless of whether you’re ready or not, the long, arduous journey has begun. Picture the masses gathering at the Verrazano  Bridge for the New York Marathon, knowing they have 26 grueling miles ahead of them. Now picture the mass gathering of four-legged steeds and their trainers, from Florida, Louisiana, and Arkansas up to New York, and west to California. Ahead of them are approximately 26 perilous furlongs, each one filled with exultation or heartbreak. By the first Saturday in May, only 20 will qualify to enter the realm of immortality.

Some of the human participants will have only one shot at glory, knowing their quest could end with each race, with each workout, with each gallop, with each innocuous little stone on a horse path, and with each kick against the stall wall. Others will begin their march with a battalion of Derby hopefuls. But even sheer numbers do not assure a starting berth.

We have seen an interesting group of 2-year-olds stamp themselves as potential Derby horses, but how they make the transition from 2 to 3 remains to be seen. And there is the excitement of knowing that for the next month and a half, each maiden race or rare allowance race could bring a new exciting face on the scene.

Although lists of Derby contenders change on a daily basis, here is our first feeble attempt to rank some of the leading hopefuls, both proven and unproven. We have separated the proven horses from the maiden winners, as we have seen way too many horses break their maidens as if they are the next superstar only to plummet back to earth when they face winners. Yes, there will be horses some feel belong on here that have been omitted. That is because it is impossible to catch every promising maiden winner or runner-up, while others will be left off due to simple oversight. So, feel free to add any names you feel are deserving of mention.

1—Violence (Todd Pletcher/Medaglia d’Oro) – He is the one horse with no knocks. He is undefeated in three starts at three different racetracks on both coasts, at three different distances from seven furlongs to 1 1/16 miles, and he is already a grade I and grade II winner on dirt and synthetic. He is bred to run all day and is from one of the most potent tail-female lines in America. And unlike a lot of Pletcher’s previous Derby hopefuls, he has the perfect running style, settling early in fifth, fourth or third and wins by only as much as he has to, while appearing to have a lot in reserve. He also is as impressive looking a 3-year-old as we’ve seen and just seems to glide over the ground. For him to travel to California and win a grade I in his first try over a synthetic surface, just cruising past the leader inside the eighth pole, was extremely impressive. In short, he seems to have everything you look for in a Derby horse.

2—Power Broker (Bob Baffert/Pulpit) – This is a high ranking for a horse who finished fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at odds of 2-1 and who is a bit on the light side, with the hot blood of Pulpit running through him. Baffert will have to handle him with kid gloves and we doubt you’ll see him have more than two starts before the Derby. With that said, his 6 1/2-length romp in the grade I FrontRunner Stakes in his dirt debut was brilliant, and he was given zero chance in the Breeders’ Cup by going six-wide on both turns and in fact was wide every step of the race. He still managed to make a threatening move to reach contention in the upper stretch over a speed-favoring track, but failed to sustain it after having lost so much ground. He still was beaten only five lengths. If he can keep together and cool off that hot Pulpit blood, he can go a long way, especially with his strong tail-female family, being inbred to Buckpasser, and his dam being a half-sister to Miss Shop, a grade I winner of over $1.1 million.

3— Shanghai Bobby (Todd Pletcher/Harlan’s Holiday) – Boy, if only his female family had a bit more stamina, he would be hands-down the number one Derby contender. With names like Orientate, Mt. Livermore, Carson City, and Valid Appeal on the dam side, we just don’t know how far his extraordinary talent is going to carry him. Yes. Carson City is the broodmare sire of Barbaro, but Barbaro was by Dynaformer, one of the great stamina influences. With that said, you simply cannot ignore what this colt has accomplished, winning the Hopeful, Champagne, and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, which is just what we’ve been looking for in our next Triple Crown winner. His victory in the Hopeful was brilliant, and his five-length romp in the Champagne (the classiest 2-year-old race in the country in our opinion) was extraordinary, as he tracked a solid pace and flew home his last quarter in :24 1/5. He showed his courage winning the BC Juvenile after tracking a blistering pace (:45 2/5, 1:10 1/5). Even though they crawled home, there were a lot of good horses behind him and he could be excused for regressing after his Champagne score and traveling cross-country. Based on his talent and accomplishments, this colt right now is in a class by himself.

4—Normandy Invasion (Chad Brown/Tapit) – The jury is still out on him, only because his female family is so speed-oriented, with broodmare sire Boston Harbor and great-grandsire Capote, and his tail-female family tracing to Royal Serenade, a champion sprinter in England. His third dam, Gay Serenade, did produce two-turn stakes horses Gulls Cry and Sole Mio (who made some noise on the Derby trail), but there is a lot of speed to overcome. With that said, his nose defeat in the 1 1/8-mile Remsen Stakes was one of the most impressive races by a 2-year-old last year, as he unleashed an explosive move on the far turn and was able to sustain it to the wire. At this point, we just don’t know if he hung a little at the end or the victorious Overanalyze ran his guts out to hold him off. Maybe it was a combination of both. We just have to decide whether he wants to keep going or whether he reached his limit at nine furlongs. For now, that move he made and the smoothness of his stride is enough to keep him in the Top 5.

5—Dewey Square (Dale Romans/Bernardini) – This well-bred son of Bernardini somehow wound up breaking his maiden by nearly 12 lengths at Hoosier Park before easily taking an allowance race at Churchill Downs. He then finished a strong third, beaten 1 1/2 lengths, in the Kentucky Jockey Club. He’s been turning in some strong works at Gulfstream and should come out running in 2013. Love his inbreeding to Dr. Fager and Secretariat, with classic winners Pleasant Colony and Assert also in his female family. Add sire Bernardini and his descendants Seattle Slew and Spectacular Bid and you have a ton of class, speed, and stamina top and bottom. Dale Romans is a heartbeat away from a Derby score, having finished third twice in the last three years with grass and synthetic horses. He finally has a pure dirt horse, who already has won at Churchill Downs.

6—He’s Had Enough (Doug O’Neill/Tapit) – One of the oddest race records we’ve seen for a young 3-year-old, and until he runs again you have to throw out his three out-of-the-money finishes on synthetic and grass and just go by his remarkable second, beaten a head, in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, in which he overcame a horrendous trip to just miss catching the 2-year-old champ. In his last start, the CashCall Futurity, he again had a bad trip, breaking slowly and dropping back to 11th and then getting bumped in the upper stretch. All things considered, his fifth-place finish wasn’t all that bad. His pedigree is strong on both ends. Third dam, Courtly Dee, a granddaughter of War Admiral, produced major stakes winners Althea, Native Courier, Twining, and this colt’s second dam, Aquilegia. He’ll follow last year’s Derby winner I’ll Have Another and debut in the Robert Lewis.

7—Uncaptured (Mark Casse/Lion Heart) – We don’t know how far his sire can carry him, but Lion Heart did win the Haskell and was runner-up in Smarty Jones’ Kentucky Derby. Although this colt’s tail-female family is pretty obscure, his dam is by Arch and he is inbred top and bottom to Hail to Reason, one of the great classic influences. With six victories in seven starts, he has a strong foundation, and his six wins have come at six different distances from 4 1/2 furlongs to 1 1/16 miles. What is even more impressive is that he never tailed off, winning the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes in his final start in one of the gutsiest performances of the year, defeating a tough colt in Frac Daddy and the aforementioned Dewey Square, who is ranked ahead of him based mainly on pedigree. In his previous start he trounced Belmont Futurity winner Overanalyze by eight lengths in the Iroquois, and that colt came back to win the Remsen. This colt looks like a throwback to the tough, hard-knocking horses of the past.

8—Overanalyze (Todd Pletcher/Dixie Union) – He is obviously a talented, gutsy colt, but he needs to show more consistency. His first two wins were followed by a well-beaten defeat (seven and eight lengths), but his victory in the Remsen over Normandy Invasion was a big effort, and you have to love it when they dig in the way he did. He’s been galloping steadily and reportedly is progressing beautifully for his debut. Pedigree isn’t exactly inundated with stamina, so we don’t know how much farther he wants to go, although we do like his broodmare sire, Unaccounted For, who spent the end of 1995 chasing Cigar.

9—Goldencents (Doug O’Neill/Into Mischief) – His victory in the Sham was more workmanlike, and he was a under a heavy barrage of whips by Kevin Krigger, who hit him about a dozen times left-handed and then eight times right-handed through a final eighth in :13 3/5. He’s by a relatively obscure stallion (until Saturday) and he has a relatively obscure tail-female family, and seemed one-dimensional until the Sham when he was outrun early by the Baffert-trained Manando and sat off the pace for the first time, which made this a big step forward. He is a flat-out runner with a world of speed and the ability to carry it a distance. How far, we still have no idea. Following his 7 1/4-length romp in his career debut going 5 1/2 furlongs over Del Mar’s Polytrack, he was ambitiously shipped east for the one-mile Champagne Stakes, coming with a ton of hype. Sent off at 7-2, he went to the front and ran hard the whole way, finishing second to Shanghai Bobby. Not being nominated to the Breeders’ Cup, he waited for the rich Delta Jackpot and scored a wire-to-wire victory, winning by 1 3/4 lengths over Bern Identity. It will be interesting to see where he goes from here as far as looking like a classic-type horse.

10—Bern Identity (Kelly Breen/Bernstein) – He’s never run a bad race in seven starts and has proven to be a strong stretch runner, despite an abundance of speed in his pedigree and three unraced mares in his tail-female family. We don’t know how far he wants to go, but you can be sure he’ll be making a good deal of noise on the Derby trail. He broke his maiden by nearly 14 lengths going five furlongs at Belmont and followed that up with a classy score in the Sanford Stakes. After a lackluster third in the Hopeful, he won a prep for the Delta Jackpot by three lengths before closing strongly to finish second to Goldencents in the Jackpot. You had to love the way he was gobbling up ground down that short stretch. So far, it’s hard to knock him.

11—Frac Daddy (Kenny McPeek/Scat Daddy) – Hard to get a good grasp of his pedigree, as he seems to have a little of everything, but nothing outstanding. The Scat Daddys are runners, but we don’t know how far they want to go, and his broodmare sire Skip Away, hasn’t produced any classic horses. His tail-female family traces to Fast Hilarious, who had a ton of speed, but could carry it a mile and a quarter. And his great-grandsire, Fast Play, should give him some stamina. He nearly beat the far more experienced Uncaptured in the Kentucky Jockey Club, coming off a 9 3/4-length rout in a 1 1/16-mile maiden race at Churchill. He settles off the pace nicely and like several other top contenders this year, has good tactical speed. There are few more dangerous trainers than McPeek, who knows how to get a horse geared up for a big race.

12—Shakin It Up (Bob Baffert/Midnight Lute) – He’s improving with every start and was closing strongly to be finish third in the Hollywood Prevue. He had a few issues after that, but is back in serious training and has three strong works under him. Most are anxious to see him at two turns, considering he’s by sprint champ Midnight Lute, but remember, Midnight Lute is by Real Quiet, out of a Dehere mare and was only a sprinter because he had a breathing problem. Dam is by Vindication, out of Hall of Famer Silverbulletday, so his pedigree is all Baffert top and bottom. His tail-female family has strong Rokeby Stable blood combined with stamina influence Tom Rolfe.

13—Fury Kapcori (Jerry Hollendorfer/Tiznow) – He’s tough, has plenty of speed, and can carry it. His only two victories have come at Fresno and Golden Gate, but strong seconds in the CashCall Futurity and Real Quiet stamp him as a class horse. Any son of Tiznow with speed and class has to be respected as a tough competitor and he fits that bill. In fact, he can boast of having a two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic winner as sire and a front-running Kentucky Derby winner (Go For Gin) as broodmare sire. He won’t get much help from his tail-female family. Hollendorfer always dangerous, but has had tough luck on the Derby trail. Back working at Hollywood.

14—Capo Bastone (Todd Pletcher/Street Boss) – He’s been turned over to Pletcher and is now another foot soldier in that vast army of Derby hopefuls. Street Boss, a pure sprinter, may turn some off, but Street Boss is by Street Cry, out of an Ogygian mare, so don’t let that bother you too much. His broodmare sire is Handicap Triple Crown winner Fit to Fight. Not much going on in tail-female family. He’s been progressing from race to race, finishing fourth in the Del Mar Futurity, third in the FrontRunner, and a fast-closing third, beaten 2 1/4 lengths, in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He should like the tracks back east.

15—Dynamic Sky (Mark Casse/Sky Mesa) – His only dirt appearance was a sixth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, but we saw enough in that race to believe he is a live future book longshot. Every one of his four career starts has been in stakes and he broke his maiden in the Simcoe Stakes at Woodbine in a gutsy performance. After a good second in the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland, he hit the dirt at Santa Anita and was moving inside Power Broker on the turn when Capo Bastone came charging inside him and basically wiped him out, shoving him out into Power Broker and putting him in a tight squeeze with two horses leaning on him from both sides. His jock finally bailed out and then yanked him hard to the inside. By then he was pretty much done, but still was beaten only 5 1/4 lengths. Casse emerging as an elite trainer, and owner John Oxley won the Derby with Monarchos.

16—Mylute (Tom Amoss/Midnight Lute) – He’s certainly well seasoned with seven starts and he appears to be improving with each one. His second to Bern Identity in the Jean Lafitte stamped him as a colt with promise, and he followed that up with a strong third in the Delta Jackpot behind Goldencents and Bern Identity. Sent to Fair Grounds, he decimated a good allowance field by 10 3/4 lengths going a mile and 70 yards. Finishing second was the highly regarded General Election, who was coming off an impressive three-length maiden score at Churchill Downs. His broodmare sire, Valid Expectations, is known more for speed than stamina, but it does give him 5x4 inbreeding to In Reality, and his maternal great grandsire is Strike the Gold, who is a rare find in American pedigrees. He also traces to Al Hattab, and they don’t come any tougher than that hard-knocking gray.

17—Itsmyluckyday (Eddie Plesa Jr./Lawyer Ron) – Have no idea what to make of this colt. He came up through the ranks at Monmouth and then Calder, where he won back-to-back stakes at five furlongs and a mile and 70 yards. He can be excused for his sixth in the Delta Jackpot, and his fast-closing fourth in the Dania Beach on grass was a good effort. But who could have predicted he’d win the Gulfstream Park Derby by 6 3/4 lengths in a startling 1:34 1/5 for the mile. And this after stalking a :44 4/5 half and 1:09 three-quarters. He still came home his final two eighths in a respectable :12 2/5 and :12 3/5. He should handle longer distances, and other than his sire being inbred 5x5 way on top to Nearctic, he is pretty much an outcross. His next against better company will tell a lot.

18—Delhomme (Todd Pletcher/Dixie Union) – He hung tough after setting all the pace in the nine-furlong Remsen Stakes, finishing third and getting beat only three-quarters of a length. Prior to that, he broke his maiden on the front end at Belmont, covering the mile in a sharp 1:35 2/5. He did, however, come from sixth to finish second in his career debut at Saratoga going six furlongs. Dixie Union, as everyone knows, sired last year’s Belmont winner, dispelling doubts he couldn’t sire a distance horse. His broodmare sire, Out of Place, won the Clark and placed in the Whitney and Donn Handicaps among others, and his maternal great-grandsire is El Prado, so distance should not be a problem. He would move up with a good debut coming from off the pace.

19—Brown Almighty (Tim Ice/Big Brown) – This is another horse who had a horrible trip in the Breeders’ Cup; his coming in the Juvenile Turf. After breaking from the outside, he was moved prematurely on the backstretch to take the lead, normally the kiss of death on the grass. He hung tough and was still right there in the upper stretch when Fantastic Moon and Kieran Fallon ducked in sharply and knocked him off stride and into a crowd of horses. Desormeaux had to take up, and pretty much wrapped up on him and let him coast to the wire. So, ignore that ninth-place finish and hope he takes to the dirt at Oaklawn. He is a stakes winner at Louisiana Downs and was beaten a neck in the Sunday Silence Stakes and 1 1/2 lengths in the Bourbon Stakes at Keeneland. The Big Browns should handle the dirt, but his tail-female family is pretty obscure. Broodmare sire Gone For Real is a son of Gone West, out of a Drone mare, and Drone is one of those hidden gems.

20—Balance the Books (Chad Brown/Lemon Drop Kid) – All his races have been on grass and his tail-female family is mostly European grass breeding, but the rest of his pedigree cries dirt and that’s where we’d like to see him next. By Lemon Drop Kid, out of a Seeking the Gold mare and inbred 4x4 to Buckpasser, that’s pretty much all you need to know. He is a relentless and powerful stretch runner and came flying late to win the With Anticipation and Bourbon Stakes before finishing a fast-closing third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, coming from 12th in a 14-horse field and encountering traffic problems in the stretch. It’s time to see if he’s a Derby horse. If he doesn’t handle the dirt, no harm done. But if he does, watch out. We’d have him ranked higher, but he hasn’t worked since the Breeders’ Cup.

21—Gulfport (Dale Romans/Unbridled’s Song) – It wouldn’t be the Derby trail without a talented Unbridled’s Song and wondering if he’ll stay sound. This colt, out of the million-dollar earner Dream Supreme, is one of those horses who has excelled only at Churchill Downs, where he has two victories and a second, while getting beat 7 1/2 and eight lengths in his two starts at Belmont and Saratoga. But his last two races at Churchill were very impressive and he recently turned in a six-furlong drill in 1:12 2/5 at Gulfstream. Now we just have to see how he’ll handle Gulfstream in the afternoon and how far he wants to go.

22—Den’s Legacy (Bob Baffert/Medaglia d’Oro) – He needed to run a big race in the Sham to wipe out his poor FrontRunner performance, which was his only start on the dirt in eight career starts. He ran well enough, but had the perfect ground-saving trip and looked like a potential winner after cutting the corner into the stretch. But he didn’t show much punch through the stretch and just sort of plodded his way into second through a final eighth in :13 3/5. His female family is OK, especially his inbreeding to Tom Fool. Baffert has several maiden winners that probably are higher on his radar, but you have to at least admire his consistency and ability to handle all surfaces.

23—Avie’s Quality (Josie Carroll/Elusive Quality) – Although Elusive Quality sired Smarty Jones, there is always the question of stamina with his offspring. However, this colt has run four times, all around two turns, and his last two victories – the Display and a maiden race – were impressive enough to suggest he wants to keep going. There is also the matter of his never having run on dirt. You can’t tell much from his two slow breezes at Palm Meadows. His broodmare sire, Lord Avie, recently died at age 34 and he would be a fitting legacy to a tough, gallant warrior. His maternal great-grandsire is the classy Arctic Tern, a son of Sea-Bird, and his third dam is by the stamina influence Pretense, so his female family should carry him a long way if he handles the dirt. If you’re a follower of the Rasmussen Factor (RI), he is inbred to Somethingroyal through Secretariat on top and Sir Gaylord on bottom.

24—Fortify (*Kiaran McLaughlin/Distorted Humor) – Finishing second in the Hopeful, third in the Champagne, and fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and having a strong pedigree top and bottom normally would put him a lot higher, but he’s been sent to Dubai, so we have no idea how much progress he’ll be making at 3 and how he will handle the Tapeta surface at Meydan. Even if he does handle it, will racing on that surface help him get to the Derby as a legitimate contender? Way too many question marks with him to rank him any higher. Love his inbreeding top and bottom to Tom Rolfe.

25—Tulira Castle (James DeVito/War Pass) – He’s alternated wins and seconds in his four starts and is coming off a strong allowance victory at Gulfstream going a mile in his dirt debut. He now needs to step up and face better quality horses. He certainly has the pedigree. Although we don’t know much about War Pass as a sire yet, his potential is unlimited and this colt’s female family is chock full of intriguing horses you don’t see in many pedigrees, such as broodmare sire General Assembly (Record-breaking Travers winner and Kentucky Derby runner-up to Spectacular Bid), Unconscious (California Derby winner and favorite for the 1971 Kentucky Derby), and Unconscious’ sire Prince Royal II (a son of Ribot who won the 1964 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe). And his fourth generation sire in his tail-female family is Tom Fool, who rarely appears that close up in a pedigree anymore.

Others to watch -- Archwarrior Remember him? He was once the next coming…before he even started. So strong was the hype preceding his debut, many felt his 3 1/4-length victory was below their expectations, despite running the six furlongs in 1:10 flat. He still was bet down to 3-1 in the Champagne Stakes, but after a lackluster fourth-place finish, he pretty much disappeared. He returned to the work tab with an easy three-furlong breeze on Dec. 24, but we’re still waiting for his next work. Vyjack remained undefeated with a gutsy win in the Jerome, but the two horses he beat were 41-1 and 39-1, so we don’t really know the quality of the field. He still has to prove he wants any part of classic distances. Runner-up Siete de Oros, a Parx shipper, battled gamely the length of the stretch with blinkers on. Purple Egg, undefeated in three starts and a stakes winner at Tampa, was scratched out of the Gulfstream Derby, so we'll have to watch him closely. Avare looked impressive winning the off-the-turf Eddie Logan Stakes, but we really don’t know what he beat and he still has questions to answer. Manando ran a big race in the Sham, coming off a maiden victory and hanging on stubbornly to finish third after outrunning Goldencents early. Bradester and Gunderman ran one-two in a recent allowance race at Gulfstream, but the latter lost a lot of ground and was coming back at Bradester at the finish. My Name is Michael ran a strong second in the Display Stakes at Woodbine, but has never run on dirt. Maryland-based Whiskey Romeo is bred for speed, but has been untouchable in three career starts. Always in a Tiz finished second to Vyjack in an allowance race after breaking his maiden in his career debut. Forty Tales looked good winning an allowance race at Parx for Pletcher and is now two-for-two. Distinctiv Passion is a fast horse who’s won two in a row sprinting in California, but distance is a big question, despite maternal great-grandsire Greinton. Same with Spectacular Bid winner Merit Man. Look for third-place finisher Little Distorted to improve stretching out. Smooth Bert is a solid New York-bred who won the Damon Runyon going a mile in his last start. Two Pletcher colts, Darwin and Micromanage, have a ton of ability, but probably will be heard from later on.


1—Verrazano (Todd Pletcher/More Than Ready) – His career debut was a near-perfect victory, in which he did displayed a good deal of class for a first-time starter. There is always the question of distance with his sire, but he is a half-brother to last year’s highly ranked Derby contender El Padrino. He settled nicely in third and seemed comfortable tracking a :22 1/5 and :45 flat pace. He cruised up to the leader at the head of the stretch, switched leads on cue, and drew off with complete authority under a hand ride, while striding out beautifully at the finish. He has good length to him and appears to be a powerful, well balanced colt.

2—Revolutionary (Todd PLetcher/War Pass) – There is no telling how good this colt is and how much room for improvement he has after breaking his maiden in his fourth start going a flat mile. What was more impressive than his 8 1/2-length margin and how effortlessly he drew off was the fact that he did it while racing very greenly in the stretch. He was on such cruise control down the lane that Ramon Dominguez turned around to see if anyone was near him. Whether the colt was getting bored or was just green, he switched leads three times in the final sixteenth. He changed to his right lead turning for home and seemed to be moving smoothly when he switched back to his left lead for two strides, then back to his right lead, and back to his left nearing the wire. We loved the way he was striding out and how strong he was galloping out. His female family is loaded with class and stamina (out of an A.P. Indy mare), and his tail-female family traces to fourth-generation stallions Tom Rolfe and Herbager, two of the great stamina influences of our time.

3—Flashback (Bob Baffert/Tapit) – He was highly touted going into his debut and lived up to the billing, drawing off to a 3 1/2-length victory after settling nicely in fourth early, while about seven off the rail. He changed leads smoothly, and after a single cross by Julien Leparoux, drew clear while throwing his ears around. Love the fact that this was a seven-furlong race, which made it more a test of class than pure speed. Third-place finisher, Appealing Tale, came back to break his maiden at a mile by 6 1/4 lengths. His broodmare sire, Mr. Greeley, isn’t known for stamina, but his tail-female family has Pleasant Colony in the third generation and Nijinsky in the fourth, and he’s inbred 4x4 to Nijinsky. The only issue we have right now is the fact that he’s had physical problems since that race and we’ll have to monitor his progress very closely. With only the one start, there isn’t much room for error or any setbacks.

4—Omega Star (John Shirreffs/Candy Ride) – From a visual standpoint, he was as impressive as anyone, displaying a combination of class, speed, and professionalism in his first start since being transferred from Jimmy Jerkens to Shirreffs. Breaking from the disadvantageous rail going 6 1/2 furlongs, he eased back to seventh, while rating beautifully for Corey Nakatani. With swift fractions of :21 4/5 and :45, he bided him time patiently, waiting for an opening. As soon as a seam developed, he just glided right through, opened a clear lead and drew off under no urging in the slightest, showing off his long, fluid strides, in much the same manner as his broodmare sire, Fusaichi Pegasus. You might say his stride was somewhere between his sire’s and broodmare sire’s. Love his inbreeding top and bottom to Lyphard and having Roberto in his tail-female family. If you’re not familiar with his maternal great-grandsire Alzao, he is the broodmare sire of Japanese superstar Deep Impact.

5—Mountain Eagle (Nick Zito/Birdstone) – This is the best of the Whitney family blood, with Birdstone on top and Silver Spoon on bottom through her classy, well-bred daughter Inca Queen.  With a pedigree likes this, it is unfortunate he had to be gelded. After a decent fourth at 29-1 in his debut at Churchill Downs, he turned in a huge effort stretching out to a mile at Gufstream, tracking the pace and then coming home his last quarter in :24 2/5, while drawing off to win by 4 1/2 lengths in 1:35 4/5. The fact that he was able to accomplish that while never switching leads makes you wonder how much he can improve if he gets his lead changes straightened out.

6—War Academy (Bob Baffert/Giant’s Causeway) – Pedigree-wise, it doesn’t get much better, with Giant’s Causeway on top, broodmare sire A.P. Indy, and a strong tail-female family, with Gone West and Nureyev and the classy mare Gay Missile. His career debut going 6 1/2 furlongs wasn’t anything flashy, but he showed all the signs of a good horse. Settling off the pace in third, he was hard-ridden on the turn, responded to a left-hand whip and ran hard to put away his stablemate Denzel, while being forced out a bit in the stretch. We love the way he built up momentum in the final furlong and the way he was striding out at the finish.

7—Belvin (Bob Baffert/Empire Maker) – Another impressive Baffert maiden winner, he was coming off a strong fast-closing second in his career debut to Distinctiv Passion, who came back to win an allowance race on the front end in 1:08 3/5. Although he had to battle for a length victory in his next start, after sitting just off the pace, it was a fast-run race, with blazing fractions of :21 3/5 and :44 2/5 and a final time of 1:14 4/5 for the 6 1/2 furlongs. He showed a lot of fight, turning back the serious challenge of Forest Boy, who came charging up alongside him in the upper stretch. But he dug in and was easing clear at the wire before opening up by five lengths on the gallop-out. He is inbred top and bottom to In Reality, one of the more potent inbreeding stallions of recent years.

8—Appealing Tale (Peter Miller/Tale of the Cat) – Stamina is a question mark, but he did break his maiden going a mile, while drawing off to a 6 1/4-length victory in his third start. In his previous start, he was third behind Flashback and Mentor Kane. He has good tactical speed and is showing marked improvement with every start. By Tale of the Cat, out of an Unbridled’s Song mare, and Valid Appeal his maternal great-grandsire, there are major distance concerns, but the way he’s been running, he should be effective at least up to a mile and an eighth.

9—Palace Malice (Todd Pletcher/Curlin) – He hasn’t run since his impressive maiden score at Saratoga Aug. 4, but has been working steadily at Palm Meadows. In his career debut he was beaten a half-length by the talented Carried Interest, and then captured a 6 1/2-furlong maiden race by 3 1/2 lengths in a sharp 1:16 2/5. This is an appropriate year for Cot Campbell and Dogwood to finally land the roses, and this colt certainly has the pedigree. The Curlins have come out running, and broodmare sire, Royal Anthem, was a classy horse who could run all day. Tail-female fourth generation is strong, with Roberto and BC Classic winner Skywalker.

10—Declan’s Warrior (Nick Zito/Majestic Warrior) – Not much to tell yet based on his only start back in October at Belmont, in which he closed like a rocket from far back to just get up by a neck going 5 1/2  furlongs in a sprightly 1:03 4/5. Sent off at 34-1, he dropped back to last from the rail and saved ground every step of the way. He closed relentlessly after appearing to beaten at the eighth pole. His most recent work was a sharp three-furlong drill in :35 flat. Not quite sure about Majestic Warrior as a classic sire, but he is by A.P. Indy, out of a Seeking the Gold mare. No distance concerns at all in female family, tracing to Hail to Reason, Herbager, Northern Dancer, and Prince John.

(We wanted to put Orb on the list off his mile maiden score in November, but he had one work in Florida on Dec. 24 and hasn’t worked back. We’ll keep an eye on him on the work tab.

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