Uncle Mo Todd Pletcher
Indian Charlie—Playa Maya, by Arch
Boy, am I going to get hammered for this move. I just cannot come up with a #1 that I’m totally comfortable with, so I am going back to the horse most people thought was a superstar only a couple of weeks ago and who had an encouraging 5-furlong work Tuesday. He’s been cleaning up his feed and you have to assume he will be 100% healthy on May 7. As gifted as he is, that's good enough for me. You also have to assume the Wood was a total aberration and he’ll get close to those three “zero” Thoro-Graph numbers he ran as a 2-year-old. I may be totally off base and will live with it if I am, but if he was only 70% for the Wood, as they feel he was, and still only got beat 1 1/4 lengths by a highly regarded horse, maybe, just maybe, we’ll see the real Uncle Mo on the first Saturday in May if Pletcher can get him fit enough and sharp enough. I also like him because most everyone has deserted him. But that’s just me.
Dialed In Nick Zito
Mineshaft —Miss Doolittle, by Storm Cat
I have total faith in Nick Zito getting him to the Derby in the best possible condition. And I believe he’s an immensely talented horse. But there is a little concern putting a horse on top with only four career starts and so few works, especially since the last horse to win the Derby with only four career starts was Exterminator in 1918. He will have his final work Thursday at Palm Meadows. His work regimen has been conservative to say the least, but by necessity, due to his quick rise to stardom. I still like this horse a lot, and #2 isn’t exactly chopped liver. Plus, most everyone has him on top and this isn’t the year to go with the crowd. But that’s just me.
Archarcharch William Fires
Arch—Woodman’s Dancer, by Woodman
His “1” on Thoro-Graph in the Arkansas Derby is the fastest number earned by any of the Derby horses this year. If he pairs up in the Derby or even regresses a little it should be good enough to put him right there at the finish. He does have a good number in the Southwest and the Sugar Bowl in December to fall back on, so even if he does regress coming back in three weeks, it shouldn’t be by very much. He has all the tools and there is nothing to suggest he won’t run another big race on May 7
Toby's Corner Graham Motion
Bellamy Road—Brandon’s Ride, by Mister Frisky
Speaking of Thoro-Graph, he’s been extremely consistent in his last five races, but will have to improve off his Wood Memorial figure. He does have a lot of room for improvement, so he still must be considered a top contender. Uncle Mo obviously has to improve as well, but his numbers last year tower over these horses. Toby has improved with blinkers and with maturity, and he’s become a more determined runner who is only going to get better.
Mucho Macho Man Kathy Ritvo
Macho Uno—Ponche de Leona, by Ponche
I like the bottom Ritvo is putting in him. His 7-furlong work on Saturday was significantly slower than his previous 7-furlong drill, but this was only a maintenance move over a sloppy track. Expect a bigger work next time. What I also like about him is that he has a big Thoro-Graph number (“3/4”) in last year’s Remsen, and is steadily heading back to that number, improving with every start without taking any huge leaps forward. He is the kind of steady grinder that should just keep coming.
Pants on Fire Kelly Breen
Jump Start—Cabo de Noche, by Cape Town
There isn’t much more to stay about him that wasn’t said in the last Derby trail column, where I even convinced myself he is a major contender and a vastly improved horse with a super pedigree. The six weeks should actually help him, because he jumped from a steady run of “6s” on Thoro-Graph to a “2 3/4” in the Louisiana Derby after recovering from a lung infection. He’s been working up a storm and should be fresh and fit for the Derby, especially with six two-turn races and a one-mile race under him. I moved him up from #11 to #6 this week and if he works huge at Churchill I can see him shooting right to the top and becoming a definite bet come Derby Day.
Nehro Steve Asmussen
Mineshaft —The Administrator, by Afleet
The main question with him is, can he improve again in the Derby, making this third start in six weeks with only five career starts under him? He’s accomplished a lot in a short period of time and didn’t make his career debut until Dec. 12. Fortunately, his Thoro-Graph figs also show moderate, steady jumps with no gigantic career best number, which will help him if he is to make another move forward in three weeks. What was encouraging about the Arkansas Derby was the way he galloped out well past everyone. I especially want to see his energy level leading up to the Derby. He has proven his versatility and ability to rally from anywhere on the racetrack. Can anyone say wise-guy horse? I only latch on to wise-guys horses if I’m the only wise guy, but that’s just me.
Midnight Interlude Bob Baffert
War Chant—Midnight Kiss, by Groom Dancer
Like Dialed In, he’s made only four career starts and has burst on the scene off a maiden win. He also didn’t run as a 2-year-old, so he has history against him. But boy did he look good in the Santa Anita Derby. He did make a four-point Thoro-Graph jump winning that race, and likely still has to improve off it to win the Derby. Other than Comma to the Top, we really have no idea what he beat in the Santa Anita Derby, and Silver Medallion (who finished a close fourth) didn’t fire as expected in the Coolmore Lexington Stakes. But despite the questions (who doesn’t have questions?), he does have star quality and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him put Apollo to rest once and for all.
Soldat Kiaran McLaughlin
War Front—Le Relais, by Coronado’s Quest
I will state right now that this horse may be ranked too low, but I want to digest everything about him for a few more days and see how he works at Churchill. His :59 flat work at Palm Meadows last week was fantastic and that alone makes him a horse to definitely reevaluate. I just realized something writing this comment: I don’t know where to put any of these horses. This is the perfect year to heed one of my favorite quotes: “It takes a horse to make a person look like an ass.”
Stay Thirsty Todd Pletcher
Bernardini—Marozia, by Storm Bird
Yes, I’m resurrecting another old friend. If you didn’t like the Uncle Mo move you’ll probably hate this one. But his bullet five-furlong breeze in 1:00 over a sloppy Churchill surface shows he at least likes the track, and I like the fact he was one of the first arrivals at the Downs. So, while we’re forgiving bad performances, why not forgive his Florida Derby? I actually wasn’t expecting a top effort because I don’t like horses going up north from Florida and running in cold weather and then going back down to Florida, especially when it’s an extremely hot day. The bottom line is that, although I feel by having only two preps he needed at least one gut-wrencher, he did beat Toby’s Corner convincingly. I just don’t know if he’s battle-tested enough.
Shackleford Dale Romans
Forestry—Oatsee, by Unbridled
He turned in a sharp bullet 5-furlong work in 1:00 1/5 with a final eighth in :12 2/5 over a sloppy track at Churchill Downs. He still needs another defection to get in, and is much more deserving than several of those ahead of him. He is one horse who looks ready to peak on Derby Day.
Brilliant Speed Tom Albertrani
Dynaformer—Speed Succeeds, by Gone West
He is another I devoted an entire column to in the belief that he should be taken more seriously than just another synthetic/grass horse. There are enough classic influences in his pedigree to suggest he will handle the dirt fine. Of course, there is never any way of knowing for sure, but at the price he’s going to be, it just might be worth it to take a shot on him.
Animal Kingdom Graham Motion
Leroidesanimaux—Dalicia, by Acatenango
We were all looking forward to seeing how he worked over the dirt at Churchill Downs, but bad weather forced him to remain at Keeneland and his work over the Polytrack did not go as expected, so we’ll have to until next week. It would have been more reassuring to see two dirt works in him, but that’s not going to happen, so we’ll just have to hope we see enough out of next week’s work to get a feel for him one way or the other.
I’ve decided to hold off on The Factor
until he works and is actually confirmed as a Derby starter, then he’ll be ranked accordingly. The same goes with Master of Hounds
. We’ll wait until he finishes all his works and gets on the plane for Kentucky. One horse who has become an enigma is Santiva
, a one-time highly regarded horse who wasn’t able to show his best form in the Blue Grass Stakes due to traffic problems. Did he get enough out of that race to prepare him for a top effort in the Derby? It’s only appropriate that we end with another question.
To participate, use your cursor to drag the selections on the left to the blank placeholders on the right. Once you have completed ranking all of the horses, submit your entries and compare your results to the rest of the community. A first place ranking will earn 12 points, second place receives 11 points, and so on.