Since January, we have seen pretty much the same names on the Derby Dozen and other rankings, but it is important to note that we see that every year, and very often the Derby winner is not on those early lists. Who, at this time, had heard of or paid any attention to Animal Kingdom, Big Brown, Mine That Bird, Funny Cide, War Emblem, Grindstone or Giacomo?
So, let’s assume that this year’s Derby winner still has not busted out yet and is a rare find on any Derby lists, just as the aforementioned horses were. To deviate from the typical lists we’ve seen every week, this might be a good time to make a secondary list of less-accomplished horses and see how it compares to the current Derby Dozen and the Top 12 point getters on the first NTRA 3-year-old poll after the Derby is run.
Here then is our Second Wave Top 20. Some horses no doubt have been left out, so feel free to toss any names our way we may have overlooked. There’s nothing to prevent us from making it a Top 20 list.
1—TREASURY BILL – He actually made our Top 12 list last week, only to fall down one spot this week, but remains our No. 1 live longshot, even though he has yet to go two turns. It is because of that we have him prominent on our radar screen, because he is bred to run all day and shouldn’t have run as well as he did in sprints, especially against a crack field of fast horses in the San Vicente Stakes. He’ll be facing a tough field in the Rebel, but a win or a second would catapult him way up on everyone’s list. We have written about him extensively already.
2—RYDILLUC – He’s a total guess, coming off three monster turf scores and a poor showing on dirt in his career debut, but if he does make a successful transition to Polytrack in what promises to be a large Blue Grass field and then handles the dirt at Churchill Downs, we’re looking at a horse who could be very special, based on what he’s shown in all aspects of the game and a pedigree that is predominantly dirt-oriented. His upside is tremendous and we’ll see if he can take advantage of it. Remember, most of the horses on this list have big question marks, that’s why they’re on this list and not on the main list. But with question marks comes big prices if they answer those questions correctly.
3—ELNAAWI – His Gotham third was very impressive, especially for a horse with only two career stakes and first in a stakes. He had to overcome an eventful trip, while losing a lot of ground and racing greenly. This was an excellent learning experience. He has the looks and the pedigree and can only improve big-time off this race. Unlike the top two, he is proven on dirt and around two turns. He just lacks their power and quickness. But he definitely looks like a Derby-caliber colt if he can pick up enough points in his next start, likely the Wood Memorial.
4—DEPARTING – This is another colt who has shown the kind of smooth, effortless stride you look for in a good horse. He obviously needs to move forward off his impressive victory in the Texas Heritage Stakes at Sam Houston after being scratched from the Risen Star because of a bad post, and he’s had only three career starts and wasn’t beating a top-class field. But he did earn an excellent 97 Beyer in the Texas Heritage without feeling the whip once and was being geared down in the final yards, galloping out strongly. We just love the way he moves, so, going mainly on the visual aspect, he does look like a talented colt with great promise.
5—BALANCE THE BOOKS – With him it’s all about the dirt. If he handles it, he is most certainly talented enough and classy enough to win the Derby. The big negative was having to miss the Palm Beach with a fever, and Chad Brown will have to go to Plan B and run him in the Spiral and then wheel him back in three weeks in the Blue Grass, so he has a lot of cramming to do. Like Rydilluc, we won’t know if he can handle dirt until Derby Day, assuming he makes the starting gate. Although there is an abundance of grass in his pedigree, there is enough dirt to suggest he will handle it. What he does have going for him is a powerful stretch kick and a determination to get to the wire first, as narrow a margin as that might be. All in all, we just think he’s a very good horse.
6—DICE FLAVOR – Another who has never been on dirt, and his sire, Scat Daddy, has become known more as grass sire, but there is something about this colt that stood out when he crushed the field in the El Camino Real Derby in his first start on a synthetic surface. He appeared to be in serious traffic trouble turning for home, but when a hole opened, he was steered to the outside and burst through in an instant and was gone, demonstrating a smooth, fluid stride. If he can move with that kind of authority on both grass and synthetic, perhaps he’ll take to the dirt as well.
7--SHAKIN IT UP – Unlike Baffert’s other big guns, he will be taking the likely easier route in the Sunland Park Derby. That race, which has produced a Derby and Belmont winner in the last few years, should get him into the Derby, but will it get him into the winner’s circle of the Derby? If he stretches out successfully off his victory in the San Vicente over Treasury Bill, he can definitely make some noise in Kentucky, especially with his pedigree, but winning the Derby off only one two-turn race is very rare.
8—CROP REPORT – Another grass horse, but those are the ones who have that unknown quality and might be worth taking a shot on, as long as you realize you are indeed taking a shot, based on a guess that they’ll handle the dirt. This European import made his U.S. debut in an allowance race on grass, and although he finished third, he had way too much ground to make up after breaking a step slowly. But he made an absolutely striking appearance before the race and exhibited a monster turn of foot, rallying between horses once he found room,. All in all, there was enough to see to suggest there could be something special there
9—OMEGA STAR – Forgetting the fact he’s been running in Cal-bred races since going to John Shirreffs and was upset in his last start at 4-5, the son of Candy Ride has a ton of potential, as long as he’s ridden the right way. He might have taken the lead too soon in the Cal Breeders Championship, stretching out from 6 ½ furlongs to a mile, and was caught late by an improving and far more experienced Tiz a Minister, both of whom will be moving way up in class in the San Felipe. Shirreffs has been giving him a steady diet of six-furlong works and teaching him to save his best running for the end. What was most impressive about him in his maiden score was his long, powerful stride, with a reach like his broodmare sire Fusaichi Pegasus. We’re not saying he’s going beat the likes of Flashback and Goldencents, but keep an eye on him in the stretch, especially if the pace is hot.
10—HEAR THE GHOST – There has been a lot of buzz over this Ghostzapper gelding, who has only run in two sprints in his career. He looked sensational in his maiden victory, powering home with an eye-catching stretch run and then closed very fast in the final yards to finish second to the swift Distinctiv Passion in the six-furlong San Pedro Stakes, run in 1:08 2/5. There is no doubt he has a great deal of talent and carries a lot of intrigue with him as he tackles the San Felipe. But never having run farther than six furlongs, he has an awful lot of catching up to do if he’s going to be considered a legitimate Derby horse.
11—GROUND TRANSPORT -- Began his career with a good second to Departing at six furlongs, and then followed that up with a pair of smart victories at Fair Grounds going two turns. He is another who is a beautiful mover, and mowed down his opponents with an explosive final eighth in his last start, and there's no telling how good this horse is. Being by Big Brown makes him even more exciting. Would love to see him face Departing again in the Louisiana derby to see who has made the most progress.
12--TIZ THE TRUTH – We have him ranked No. 10 only because he has had to battle a quarter crack, which caused him to miss a start, and you never want to have any setbacks on the Derby trail. This son of Tiznow looked so good breaking his maiden at a mile we put him in the Top 12, despite his never having faced winners. Normally, we would dismiss him completely with a quarter crack, but Baffert said he’s confident he can get him fit and ready for the Wood Memorial. So, based on that comment, we’ll keep him here, and if he does make it to the Wood in good shape, we would have to take him a lot more seriously
13—MUDFLATS – This colt really intrigues us, mainly because everyone is going to dismiss his fifth-place finish in the San Vicente after running a dismal race in the Jerome following his purchase by Doug O’Neill. But we actually thought he ran a huge race in the san Vicente and made a giant leap forward in the race. He was into the bridle early this time and made a good move on the far turn to reach contention, only to appear to clip heels after turning for home and have to steady just when the real running began. He dropped back to last and out of contention, but once he found his best stride, he was running strong in the final sixteenth and just missed fourth by a head and third by three-quarters of a length. He came out of the race sharp, as indicated by his :59 2/5 work. Tail-female family traces to major stamina influences Stage Door Johnny and Herbager.
14—WAR ACADEMY – It’s way too early to give up on him after his fourth-place finish in the San Vicente, in which he was beaten only 2 ½ lengths. With 2 ¾ lengths separating the entire field of six, the race did not get good speed figures, but the feeling here is that every one of those six horses are top-notch stakes horses. This son of Giant’s Causeway hadn’t run since Nov. 9 and had only one maiden victory under his belt. He ran into some traffic at the top of the stretch and had to wait for a hole to open, while stablemate Shakin It Up got the jump on him and went on to victory. He is another who probably has too much catching up to do, and he’ll need to find two more races in order to make the Derby.
15—GOVENOR CHARLIE – Like War Academy, he’s trained by Baffert and has only two career starts, but in his last start, he ran an extremely game race, stretching out from six furlongs to a mile and battling back to out-game the highly regarded Footbridge. The son of Midnight Lute ran the mile in a solid 1:36 1/5, with the remainder of the nine-horse field strung out over 22 lengths. He’s one of the lesser known Baffert 3-year-olds, but expect to hear his name a lot more in the months to come. He is another who needs to find two more races somewhere.
16—CARVE – This is an interesting colt in that he was claimed by Steve Asmussen for $30,000 in his career debut from Al Stall and Claiborne Farm/Adele Dischneider, which certainly is something you don’t see every day. That was at 1 1/16 miles at Oaklawn and the gelding won impressively by four lengths. Asmussen gave him Lasix for an allowance/optional claimer and the son of First Samurai again came charging down the stretch, this time running down the Baffert-trained Title Contender, who had opened a three-length lead at the eighth pole. He still has a ways to go to prove his speed and class, and he’ll get the opportunity in the Rebel Stakes.
17--SALUTOS AMIGOS – He will attempt to stretch out from six furlongs to 1 1/16 miles in the San Felipe. What he brings is excellent speed, breaking his maiden in his last start, pressing a :43 2/5 half and winning going away by almost four lengths in 1:08 2/5. He is on this list because he looked like he wanted to go on, and there is a ton of stamina in his female family. He also turned in a bullet six-furlong work in 1:12 3/5, so trainer Eric Guillot is obviously putting some bottom into him. Something’s got to give with three San Felipe starters on here, and all three have an extremely tough task even to finish in the money, and that also includes the aforementioned Tiz a Minister, who has a devastating closing kick, and the newly blinkered Kochees.
18--HONORABLE DILLON -- Was debating whether he was "unknown" enough to be put on this list, based on his victory in the Hutcheson Stakes, but decided to add him, because he still will be a good price in the Tampa Bay Derby. He also is somewhat unknown, not having been two turns and racing greenly in the Hutcheson. His pedigree suggests he'll stretch out with no problem, and if he can learn to switch leads and be more focused in the stretch, he has every right to improve. He certainly doesn't need to beat Verrazano or Dynamic Sky and Falling Sky to move forward off this, but if he's competitive against those horses and races more professionally, then he'll be on everyone's radar screen.
19--NINA'S DRAGON -- If I were starting this list over, I would rank him higher, but it's tough to start shifting places now. Not only has he run well on dirt, even though it was at Pleasanton, and not only was he closing fast to be second in the El Camino Real Derby in only his fourth career start, but looking at his pedigree, his sire, Tizbud, is a full-brother to Tiznow, Budroyale, and the dams of Paynter and Oxbow, and his maternal great-grandsires are Seattle Slew and the little known Superbity, who won the the grade I Flamingo Stakes and is by Groshawk, a grade I-winning son of Graustark. So, there is plenty of class and stamina on dirt in his pedigree.
20--TITLETOWN FIVE -- Wayne Lukas has been extremely high on this colt, especially after his stunning nine-length maiden romp at Churchill Downs last fall. He returned in the Gazebo Stakes at six furlongs after a four-month layoff and battled head and head the whole way, only to be caught in the final furlong by a 10-1 shot from Steve Asmussen. The horse he battled with early faded to last, beaten over 13 lengths. Titletown Five is by Tiznow, so he has every right to stretch out, and you can bet Lukas will give him the opportunity.
Download the 2013 Triple Crown Preview with Steve Haskin's Kentucky Derby contender ratings.