New Faces Still on Derby Horizon

Here we are heading to Saratoga with its two important Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) preps and only days away from the Haskell Invitational (G1). And we still have the Ellis Park Derby, which is likely to attract several Derby hopefuls based in Kentucky.

After the top three ranked 3-year-olds - Tiz the Law, Honor A. P., and Art Collector - there appears, at least for now, to be a gap to the rest of Derby hopefuls, which could be narrowed if proven stakes horses Authentic, Dr Post or Ny Traffic should run a huge race in the Haskell and give the impression of being a Derby horse.

But there are still openings for new faces to emerge on the scene. Here are several horses who have shown promise to keep an eye on, even though they have yet to make a major impact on the Derby trail.

1. MYSTIC GUIDE - Back in April I ranked the new faces on Derby Dozen and this son of Ghostzapper was ranked No. 2 behind Pneumatic. I am still just as high on him and stated back then: "I believe he will be a major Derby contender by late spring or summer and will be ranked right up with the best once he beats winners." Well, he still hasn't beaten winners, but in his only start since then he ran an excellent second in a 1 1/16-mile Belmont allowance race to Tap it to Win, who turned in one of the most electrifying performances of the meet on an uncontested lead the whole way. This colt has a beautiful stride and a look of class about him. and we will finally get a chance to see where he stands when he faces a field of other promising new faces in the Peter Pan Stakes (G2) July 16.

2. CARACARO - With only two career starts and not having run since Jan. 11, he has a lot to prove and a lot of catching up to do, but he was so impressive breaking his maiden at a mile at Gulfstream Park I pointed him as a potential Derby horse to an owner who was looking to purchase a promising unproven colt. Unfortunately, he got hurt shortly after and we haven't seen him since. The Peter Pan is an ambitious spot for his return after being sidelined for over six months, but even a solid in-the-money performance could propel him into a starting berth in the Runhappy Travers Stakes (G1). He had been training at Gulfstream West (formerly Calder Race Course), and after a bullet half-mile work in :47 3/5 he turned in a pair of solid six-furlong works, including a sharp move in 1:11 3/5. Now at Saratoga, he blew out three furlongs in :38 in the slop for the Peter Pan. We will see how far he has progressed in all this time.

3. SONNEMAN - I had him ranked No. 3 behind Mystic Guide back in April. Yes, he did run in the listed Easy Goer Stakes and his past performance line is going to look odd and unusual, finishing second, beaten 19 3/4 lengths. Ignore that completely. After a bunch of scratches, this stone closer found himself in a match race with a speed horse and had no chance to win, if you know anything about match races. He tried to stay close and make an early move, but once it was turned back the race was over and jockey Jose Ortiz eased him through the stretch. The reason a margin was listed was because in a match race you have to give the winner a margin of victory, as they did with Chris Evert when she beat Miss Musket by 50 lengths in their match race and Man o' War when he won a match race in the Lawrence Realization by 100 lengths. The truth is, Sonneman, a son of Curlin, has a powerful closing kick and he will be trying two turns for the first time in the Haskell, a very ambitious spot over a speed-favoring track against far more accomplished horses. If he is just closing at the end against this field, even finishing fourth, it could set him up beautifully if they want to bring him back in the Travers, or they can train him up to the Derby, which would seem the more likely of the two. I just like the overall appearance he makes, the look of class about him, and feel as if he is crying out for more distance.

4. COUNTRY GRAMMER - This son of Tonalist broke his maiden going 1 1/8 miles in only his second career start and first on dirt. Off that slowly run race he was not ready to keep up with horses like Ete Indien in the Fountain of Youth Stakes, in which Ete Indien wired his field by 8 1/2 lengths. Although fifth, he was beaten only a half-length for second. After a layoff of over three months, he returned and ran a strong third in Tap it to Win's allowance romp, 1 1/2 lengths behind Mystic Guide, in a race run in a blazing 1:39 3/5 for the 1 1/16 miles. That should set him up for a big performance in the Peter Pan for trainer Chad Brown. It is interesting to note that Javier Castellano, who rode him in his last two races, will be aboard Caracaro in the Peter Pan, while he gets Irad Ortiz Jr. Not only is he by a Belmont Stakes winner, he is inbred 3x4 to Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes (G1) winner Pleasant Colony and his dam traces to Filly Triple Crown winner Chris Evert.

5. CANDY TYCOON - Another entered in the Peter Pan. I don't know how far he wants to go, but he is coming off a strong second in an allowance race at Oaklawn back in May to Rushie, who came back to finish third in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) and Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G2). Before that he finished second to Ete Indien in the Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2), and although he finished far up the track in the Curlin Florida Derby (G1), he had a horrible trip. He hasn't run in two and a half months, but I like the fact he's been working over the Oklahoma training track at Saratoga and has four works over that track, the last two at five furlongs.

6. MO HAWK - Once trained by Bob Baffert, this son of Uncle Mo, who sold for $925,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale, was turned over to Rodolphe Brisset after finishing fourth in the Sunny Slope Stakes at odds of 1-2 and second in an allowance race. Brisset put him in a one-mile allowance race on the grass at Indiana Grand, which he won by 1 1/2 lengths after pressing the pace. If you like the grass back to dirt angle and like his half-mile breeze in :47 4/5 at Keeneland and the switch to Joel Rosario in the Peter Pan Stakes then you might have enough reasons to give him a longshot chance.

7. CHESTERTOWN - Talk about huge sales prices, this New York-bred son of Tapit sold for a whopping $2 million at the OBS 2-year-old sale. He has shown promise, breaking his maiden in state-bred company  going a mile in his second start, but was beaten in his first two open-company races as a big favorite in each one, but they were both solid efforts. He didn't have the best of trips when well-beaten in the Louisiana Derby (G2) and didn't run again for nearly three months when he returned to finish second in a state-bred allowance race at Belmont, pressing a fast pace in the mud, again as a big favorite at 6-5. Trainer Steve Asmussen will try blinkers for the Peter Pan and go with his number one rider, Ricardo Santana. So this is another handicapping angle, and we'll see if he can start running to his enormous sales price.

8. JESUS' TEAM - I have no idea what to make of this horse after he jumped up from back-to-back impressive victories for $32,000 and $25,000 claiming tags, respectively, to finish second to Sole Volante, beaten only three-quarters of a length in a classy one-mile allowance race at Gulfstream, finishing ahead of stakes winners Shivaree and Ete Indien, while earning a big 106 Equibase speed figure. He earned a 97 speed figure in his previous race, so perhaps we are looking at much-improved horse, just like Maximum Security last year when he jumped up from a $16,000 claiming tag. Now he moves way up in the Haskell Invitational, where you would think he'll be way overmatched. But nowadays you just never know.

9. ANCIENT WARRIOR - The son of Constitution made an auspicious debut last November at Del Mar when he scored by 4 1/4 lengths in 1:09 3/5. He had to move to Oaklawn Park when his trainer Jerry Hollendorfer was forced to move his stable, and although he didn't win in his three allowance starts there and one start at Churchill Downs, all in sprints, he is listed as a probable in the Haskell Invitational. On the surface he doesn't appear to belong in that race, but Hollendorfer is no dummy when it comes to spotting his horses and there has to be a reason why he will to stretch him out in grade 1 company in a race loaded with top-class speed horses. Whether it is Hollendorfer's decision or not we will see what happens.

Also in the Peter Pan is CELTIC STRIKER, who was the recipient of that match race debacle. He does have stakes experience, but was well beaten in the grade 3 Gotham and Matt Winn Stakes following an allowance victory at Parx. I have no idea what to make of this horse. If you go by stakes accomplishments then you have to give MODERNIST a big chance in the Peter Pan after failing to run a lick in the Belmont Stakes (G1), in which several top horses ran poorly and apparently didn't handle the track. But based on his victory in a division of the Risen Star Stakes (G2) and his third in the Louisiana Derby, despite a wide trip, you would think he will be the likely favorite in the Peter Pan.

Looking ahead to the Haskell, Authentic, Dr Post, and Ny Traffic look to be the standouts..The Ellis Park Derby could provide a classy matchup between Blue Grass winner Art Collector and Sole Volante, who exited the Belmont Stakes (G1) with a sore back, but is doing fine now. If he needs the points to get in the Derby he will run in either the Ellis Park Derby or the Travers. If he doesn't need the points there is a chance he could run in the Saratoga Derby (G1), returning to the grass, which would set him up for an intriguing grass to dirt angle in the Kentucky Derby.  But either way, he needs another race. Art Collector will be nominated to the Ellis Park Derby and a decision will be made whether to run one more time or train up to the Derby, which would mean an eight-week layoff. He does have a good foundation under him and has finished first in his last four starts, and he's probably the most versatile of all the Derby hopefuls, having won on the lead, just off the lead, and from seven to eight lengths off the pace.

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