2009 Kentucky Derby Contenders

Courtesy of Rob Fundter, The Amateur Capper

An Embarrassment of Riches: Part 1

Great horses, Kentucky Derby winners in this case, possess the ability to adapt to different circumstances and win.  This year's Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands 3y.o. crop, thanks to the absence of Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome, has quality that we haven't seen in years.  There is more than one contender deserving of the adjective "legitimate" which will make selecting a winner on May 2 a challenging prospect.

At the top of the heap, in order of ultimate prep race dates, are FRIESAN FIRE, QUALITY ROAD, I WANT REVENGE, and PIONEEROF THE NILE.  Each of these colts has risen above the race circumstances to win their final prep race.  In fact, they will go into the Derby with at least two straight graded stakes wins.

FRIESAN FIRE was first in the Kentucky Derby clubhouse.  His Louisiana Derby (G.2) win on March 14 completed a sweep of the graded stakes program at Fair Grounds that included the Risen Star (G.3) February 7 and the Lecomte (G.3) January 10.  The Lecomte win was his second in blinkers which seems to have brought out the potential that his breeding suggested.  His first two graded stakes wins featured a Larry Jones trainee that got the lead into the stretch and increased the margin from the stretch call to the wire.  However, the Louisiana Derby was his definitive race this winter.  The son of 1992 Horse of the Year A.P. INDY sailed home 7 ¼ lengths best over a sloppy Fair Grounds main track.  While the surface was an excuse for well-bet also-rans PATENA and FLYING PEGASUS, FRIESAN FIRE got his final 2 ½ furlongs in :30.02.  That fraction was 5 lengths better than the come-home time he earned in the Risen Star win.  The result of the Louisiana Derby was flattered by PAPA CLEM's win in the G.2 Arkansas Derby April 11.  Third place TERRAIN finished 4th in the Blue Grass (G.1) while fourth place GIANT OAK ran 2nd in the Illinois Derby (G.2).  All three are expected to be part of the 20 horse cavalry charge on Derby day.  LARRY JONES has a live shot with FRIESAN FIRE to improve on his two consecutive runner-up finishes (HARD SPUN in '07, EIGHT BELLES last year).

QUALITY ROAD answered the two-turn question with an emphatic Florida Derby (G.1) win March 28.  The son of ELUSIVE QUALITY, sire of 2004 Derby winner SMARTY JONES, confirmed to his doubters that his Fountain of Youth win was no fluke.  He sits at or near the top of many Kentucky Derby contender lists.  What sets QUALITY ROAD apart from the others in this discourse is his speed, agility, and respiratory capacity all rolled into a massive 17 hands package.  In the Gulfstream Park signature prep race, JOHN VELAZQUEZ extricated his steed from the rail before traffic engulfed them into the first turn.  The JIM JERKENS trainee tracked a fast pace, cruised effortlessly to the lead on the far turn, and idled awaiting his rider's instructions.  While Velazquez searched for DUNKIRK, GARRETT GOMEZ launched his mount on a winning sneak attack some four or five wide.  Velazquez realized his mistake and frantically asked QUALITY ROAD for his best.  His colt responded like champions do, quickening at the top of the stretch to match DUNKIRK's momentum, then outran his foe to the wire with a solid :12.44 final furlong en route to a track record.  With THE PAMPLEMOUSSE and OLD FASHIONED out of the picture due to injury, UAE Derby (G.2) winner REGAL RANSOM will be QUALITY ROAD's pace foil.  Nothing comes easy in the Kentucky Derby, that's why it's such a special feat and a race that crowns champions.

I WANT REVENGE authored the most eventful Derby prep of the year when he won the Wood Memorial (G.1) on April 4 in dramatic fashion.  The son of STEPHEN GOT EVEN put the hearts of DAVID LANZMAN, IEAH, and JEFF MULLINS into their stomachs when he got left at the gate.  JOE TALAMO  recounted that his mount was startled when a neighboring starter rammed the gate just prior to the bell.  The young rider showed the composure of  a 20 year veteran, allowing I WANT REVENGE to find his best stride.  He picked off the back markers with successively faster ¼ mile splits but ran into a roadblock coming off the turn.  So special is this colt that Talamo was able to dial down to a simmer despite being ready to boil.  Showing that luck is needed even when you're 10 lengths best, I WANT REVENGE was fortuitously bounced out to the four path while trying to find running room.  He shot through a seam and was gone in a blink.  Realistically it took him :11.96, the fastest 9f final 1/8 of the prep season...FROM A STANDSTILL!  Don't be surprised if he's the starting favorite...he's already seen just about everything bad that can happen and overcame it all.

Last but certainly not least is PIONEEROF THE NILE, twice the conqueror of I WANT REVENGE.  The BOB BAFFERT trainee is on a four race win streak that includes the Hollywood Futurity (G.1) on Cushion Track, widely considered the synthetic track most like dirt.  Who can argue with the success of I WANT REVENGE at Aqueduct.  PIONEEROF THE NILE has gotten no love in my sample polls.  When asked which contenders were the most likely Triple Crown Winners, the son of EMPIRE MAKER got a measly 5 votes while QUALITY ROAD led the lot at 17.  FRIESAN FIRE, THE PAMPLEMOUSSE, and I WANT REVENGE tied for second at 11 tallies.  All PIONEEROF THE NILE does is win, any way his rider pleases.  His San Felipe (G.2) win has proved a key prep, with I WANT REVENGE emerging as the New York kingpin and PAPA CLEM winning the Arkansas Derby.  His final 1/16 in the San Felipe was the fastest final fraction of the '09 preps at 8 ½ furlongs.  That day he made two distinct moves.  The first was matching the second ¼ fraction of the leader (:23.83) after a personal opening fraction of :24.68.  He idled to :24.47 when the pace of the race slowed markedly (:25.07) to the 6f mark, but accelerated again with a :23.41 fraction to the mile mark while racing wide on the final turn.  His subsequent races showed his ability to adapt against slow fractions.  GARRETT GOMEZ allowed him to press the leader on the backside in both the San Felipe and last out in the Santa Anita Derby.  The tandem even got the lead at the ½ mile mark last out instead of allowing his outclassed competition to put them into a precarious position.  Don't sleep on PIONEEROF THE NILE...he may send your Derby wagers up the river without a paddle. 

Enjoy the next few weeks.


Leave a Comment:

Pedigree Shelly

    IWR is still my Derby pick What he overcame in the Wood was incredible! So is his jockey! I'm sorry but I think Dunkirk is a little overrated he is a nice horse but Quality Road was just the best horse that day ! Speed bias or not !

24 Apr 2009 10:39 AM
anti draynay and thong song!

Oh no another crack in the foot for Quality Road.....NOT GOOD. Hey Draynay where you at now? Get on the Musket Man bandwagon now before it leaves! If QR doesnt run this race is wide open!

24 Apr 2009 10:56 AM

OK this has been really hard.  G Gomez on Pioneer?  Todd Pletcher hasn't done well lately in Derby's.  I think that GGomez has this race.  It is amazing that he is the top jockey and never won a Derby.  That is what I heard.  I think that the easiest way to hit this super/trifeca/exacta is to box all these horses.  Just too close to call.  

24 Apr 2009 11:09 AM
The Rock


I told you man. You're the ultimate jinx. Every horse you tout something bad happens to them. Not only one quarter crack, but now two! lol. Karma's a B**ch ain't it? lol

24 Apr 2009 11:28 AM
Greg J.


   I am disappointed in you, lol, I already stated numerous times, Frisan Fire Will Win, Hands down, Everyone else is running for second, lol....

   No seriously, Anyone and Everyone has a chance, But if you add up everything, I.E., Pedigree, Experience, Speed, Concentration, Break-out speed from gate, Turn of Foot, Adversity, Trainer, Winning three in a row, Post position(Fire has won from inside and far outside).....WILL TO WIN...

   Add that all up, In my humble opinion, And I have to conclude, their is only one choice...

"Friesan Fire"......

24 Apr 2009 11:30 AM

Square Eddie might be a nice horse to throw in a trifecta box, at 25 or 30-1.  With his closing kick, the Derby could be perfect for him.  Maybe not to win, but 2nd or 3rd.

24 Apr 2009 11:30 AM

Quarter crack or not,QR won't win the Derby anyways..too many Bulldogs lining-up for the race.It's like a Private School Athlete(QR)who beat-up on a bunch of outmatched preppy dudes,going up against faster,Hardened Inner-City School Athletes(IWR,FF,POTN,GQ),the likes he's never faced and will be out of his comfort zone.

Plus,if it wasn't for his terrible trip in the TB Derby..General Quarters would've/should've won that race too.MM is pretty good,but 'The General' is better and owns him....now drop-down and give me 20!!

24 Apr 2009 11:34 AM
Big Al

The 7th race at Hollowood Park on Thursday 23rd was enough to show everyone the confidence & talent Mr. Joe Talamo has on his mounts. My Pick, I WANT REVENGE.  

24 Apr 2009 11:55 AM

anti draynay,

I just spotted nay nay outside of Quality Road's stall. He was on his knees praying to the Derby Gods. If i'm not mistaken I saw a tear trickling down his cheek.

Wonder who he might pick if QR doesn't make it. He's pretty much bashed everyone else in the field. On second thought he's changed his mind so many times he'd probably say he was on the winner from the start anyway.

24 Apr 2009 12:15 PM

I agree that POTN does not get the respect he deserves. I know may ppl say he won't adapt to dirt, but i don't see why the think that. This horse is one of the most versitle horses in the Derby, he's run on two surfaces and won and can win from anywhere. Also he has a big long stride which is good for a dirt horse. Is he explosive yes, but longer strides are more productive on dirt, plus his last work on dirt was great. This horse deserves more respect then he gets. Right now he's one of the most accomplished horses in the Derby and is being overlooked.

24 Apr 2009 12:42 PM

I'm Going with General Quarters

hes got the right stuff

to get it done,

and Pioneerof the Nile

GGomez great team

right there!!,

just good luck to everyones


24 Apr 2009 1:09 PM

DON'T RUN QR IN THE DERBY!!!!!! Give those quarter cracks time to heal.....

24 Apr 2009 1:50 PM
Douglas Rutherford

West Coast Superstars seem to always run dull in the Derby. Its amazing. With all the hype again on another West Coast Superstar, I believe I have to believe in it this time and go another way. I cant believe SQUARE EDDIE isnt getting much attention. I know that his speed rating hasnt been above 100, but is there a chance that he could become another Canadian winner such as Northern Dancer and Sunnys Halo! I thought Eddie ran well in the Coolmore Lexington Stakes. Showed ability to pounce with authority even though getting beat at the wire.

24 Apr 2009 2:01 PM

SLEW.em.ALL:  You are such a smart handicapper.  You choose four (adding GQ to your swelling list of Bulldogs) in order to improve your chances of preserving your handicapper's life against the awesome threat of a Quality Road blowout.  I lift my hat to you Bro.  Well now that the "hurricane" may be diverted away from pulverizing your reputation due to another unfortunate quarter crack you might think about coming out of hiding from behind four horses and selecting ONE like the rest of us brave ones. LOL.

If QR is taken out of the race I'll go for Friesan Fire to crown Larry Jones' career and give the over-rated AP Indy his first Derby get.

24 Apr 2009 3:26 PM
Billy's Empire

West Side Bernie can pull off a shocker

24 Apr 2009 3:58 PM

Slew'em "QP won't win the Derby crack or no crack" Now there is an expert for you...Clueless

24 Apr 2009 4:53 PM

Rana,Rana,Rana---tsk,tsk.It just so happens that my 3 Bulldogs are hard to separate,it's like picking a favorite child of mine.Though I'm leaning towards The Cali Reaper(IWR),I like em' all the same.My M.O for the longest has been: if I like more than 1 horse equally,box em',why leave the 'threat' out of the mix?

And I'm not sweating QR whatsoever,my dilemma is in choosing between my 'Dogs...Also,if you'd check,you'll notice that I've been very high on General Quarters since right before his Sam F.Davis score.He's the real deal too buddy!Of course he'll also be in my Tix. Brave?..u go right ahead and pick 1 horse in this tough field,I'm trying to win money not bragging rights.

You know,I live vicariously....through myself!  Stay thirsty my friend!   lol

24 Apr 2009 5:12 PM

Here's the winning trifecta play for the Derby.  Larry jones has come in second in the last two.  Guess what? It will happen three times in a row.  So, leaving QR out for now (status looks iffy with new quarter crack), you put IWR, GQ, POTN, MM, Papa Clem and Dunkirk on top over FF over all.  GL!

24 Apr 2009 5:27 PM

Whoever thinks GQ has any kind of a chance should take a look at his works. It has been widely reported more than once he does not like the CD track. He's struggling everytime he trains over it. Toss this dog out.

24 Apr 2009 5:48 PM

Great comments.

SHELLY:  IWR is a great pick!!!  Looks like the form from the G.2 San Felipe is strong w/ IWR's NY success, PAPA CLEM winning in Arkansas, PotN holding serve in CA.

STARDUST:  If you liked DUNKIRK prior to GOMEZ choosing, why not stick with him.  The game's about solid opinions and this is a talented field top to bottom.  The trip will be paramount and remember that PRADO's already won a KY Derby.  Not only was DUNKIRK expensive but he's proven himself as talented as his price tag promised.

GREG:  Can't talk you off FRIESAN FIRE for all the reasons you mentioned.  Blinkers have focused him, he adores an "off" track as much or better than fast footing.  Good luck.

ALAN:  Great value comment on SQUARE EDDIE, especially with the possibility of QUALITY ROAD defecting, which may leave EDDIE in the catbird seat.  Between 20-1 or 30-1 on the BC Juvenile runner-up who's beaten PIONEEROF THE NILE twice???  People forget, NAKATANI's just as hungry as GOMEZ for a Kentucky Derby win!

SLEW.EM.ALL:  How can you say QR is a "private school" "preppie" type when your choice is the one with the letters "GQ"?!?!?!

BIG AL:  I love TALAMO, too, but he's so young and hasn't seen enough racing to be GARRETT GOMEZ or MIKE SMITH, or even STEVE CAUTHEN or RONNIE FRANKLIN.  I WANT REVENGE is good but no AFFIRMED or SPECTACULAR BID...yet.  Case in point - the G.3 Sixty Sails H. at Hawthorne last Saturday and the horrible ride he gave to SANTA TERESITA, the 4-5 favorite, who was ridden along the rail right into the same type of roadblock he was sending IWR into during the Wood Memorial.  The mare was five lengths best in the 6 horse field yet officially got beat by a head.

LDP:  You're preachin' to the choir!  PotN gets much respect all over my blog.

LEAH:  Throwing mad luck right back at you and GQ!

KAREN:  I'm with you...let's hope they're prudent with QR.  My guess is that the old school training knowledge and respect for the horse will guarantee a scratch while QR gets healthy for the Haskell or Jim Dandy and Travers prior to the Breeders' Cup.

D. RUTHERFORD:  SQUARE EDDIE hasn't gotten press because he was injured...did you catch the comment of ALAN?  This may be the price play.

RAMAGULZION:  Can't see how A.P. INDY is over-rated.  He was HOY and 3y.o. CHAMPION.  Sired 2000 Derby runner-up and MG1 winner APTITUDE, Preakness winner and MG1 winner BERNARDINI, 2003 HOY MINESHAFT, MG2 winner and sire PULPIT, in addition to G.1 winner and sire STEPHEN GOT EVEN (sire of I WANT REVENGE and Champion 2y.o. STEVIE WONDERBOY), 2y.o. Filly Champion TEMPERA, 3y.o. Filly Champion and Belmont S. winner RAGS TO RICHES.  

24 Apr 2009 8:28 PM

gw----What?..GQ broke his maiden @ Churchill 1st time out and he had a tremendous work there before the Bluegrass,that's a fact!..somebody lied to you,or you're spreading false rumors.The track has been dead all week,don't sweat the work-out times,no worries.

You should be worried that QR won't have a work over the Churchill surface.Toss the 'Gimp b4 it's too late.

24 Apr 2009 9:30 PM

GMAN:  Too rich for my amateur blood but I wish you good luck.  Perhaps I'll stick with the FRIESAN FIRE underneath key in the exacta.

GW_BUSHWACKER:  Good advice.  I'll play devil's advocate and remind those who are waffling on GQ because of the reported dislike for CD main track that GQ won on dirt this year(Tam), broke his maiden at CD, and got the "breezing" designation for his bullet work on 4/4 prior to the Blue Grass win.  Sometimes it's best not to overthink things.

24 Apr 2009 9:41 PM

With GQ out of the way (my first choice), RR will still, FP or WW, may surprise. The track is to d--- hard. Oak'S and Derby, may be a surprise.

25 Apr 2009 3:10 AM
Travis L


GQ doesn't train well at CD, his bullet 58 work is what made me rich in the Bluegrass. He also broke his maiden there, I'm not saying his last work was good, but do some research before you blog.

25 Apr 2009 10:22 AM


I agree.  Take the horse out of the Derby!! No more bad things can happen this year.  A quarter crack is a quarter crack and he doesn't like the dirt.  Also the traffic.  That could hurt his foot.  


I like Pioneer of the Nile a lot.  I want to go with FF because Greg has been very good with these horses.  On another note, I feel that PON will win it with the horse/jockey combo.  Edgar on Dunkirk is a good call but you are right.  He has won the Derby.  

I just don't know.  I think that I am going to wind up going with Greg.  No matter what I do, they are being boxed.  I "think" PON will win it and FF come in second.  

Greg J.

I think that General Quarters is going to do well in this race too.

This is a very hard Kentucky Derby and a dead heat is not out of the picture.  

25 Apr 2009 11:13 AM

Again, I think it is sad there seem to be no horses that are really at that superior quality.  All seem to be about the same, so it goes to the break and which horse has the best trip.  The times, workout or race, are not anything outstanding, although they are beautiful animals, would not risk anything if it were mine..

25 Apr 2009 3:02 PM

Left this out, I think this will be the first time the Oaks will be on even ground with the Derby, very talented fillies.  Rachel Alexander is so exciting to watch elegant beautiful horse.

25 Apr 2009 3:11 PM

Mr. Fantasy wins the Withers in 1:34.91.  That figures to a Beyer rating of 114.

Not sure how it will be adjusted due to track conditions, but it was certainly impressive!

25 Apr 2009 6:19 PM

AMATEURCAPPER:  AP Indy is indeed overrated as a sire of classic/triple crown winners.  After sixteen years at stud covering the best broodmares in North America he is yet to throw a Kentucky Derby winner.  His preakness winner Bernadini was a great racer but won that race by default (in the wake of Barbaro's breakdown).  Belmont Stakes winner Rags To Riches was his only 'legitimate' classic winner in my opinion and her dam Better Than Honour is due the major slice of the credit, having thrown Jazil(Seeking The Gold) the 2006 Belmont winner.  I am not denying his accomplishments on the track neither his general quality as a sire of stakes horses and sire of sires.  Its just that over the years his progenies have tended to be hyped as great Derby types in the run up to the triple crown races when in fact there is paltry supporting evidence.  

26 Apr 2009 12:57 AM

TSALI:  Can't agree that the Oaks as a whole will be comparable to the Derby but agree 100% that RACHEL is looking like a super-filly.

ALAN:  MR. FANTASY sure looked great rebounding from his bounce in the Gotham vs. I WANT REVENGE.  He will be ultra-tough in the Preakness with the sharp, relatively flat turns at Pimlico usually favoring speed/tactical types.

More impressive to me was THIS ONE'S FOR PHIL who got a horrendous ride from Dominguez and only went down by 1 3/4 when he suffered more trouble than the distance he was defeated by.  Gave the winner 7 lb. and finished 7 1/2 clear of 3rd while proving that he's not the speed-crazy gelding at a one turn mile that set the pace in the Fountain of Youth.  This one's for real...I'd love to see him in the Met Mile!

26 Apr 2009 1:08 AM


    I got to see the replay of the withers, and it was an impressive race. Both the first and second place horses had some trouble at the gait, and both ran great races. Mr.F looked like he won it easy, despite the margin, the jockey in the later stages was just hand riding Mr. F. I was also impressed with the consistancy of the splits. The first Quarter in 23, second in 22.8, then the last two went in 24.3 and 24.7. Guess there is another horse that can run a fast mile, and i believe he beat out Dray's beloved QR's mile time. This horse will be a force to be reckoned with if he goes to the Preakness.

26 Apr 2009 7:38 AM

Has any horse ever won the Derby coming off a 7 week layoff?  

26 Apr 2009 2:12 PM

My two bits on winner:  Upset is the usual word at the Derby it seems.

General Quarters because he's the feel good, last chance story and they do win - who was the 90 yr/old lady and her horse that won a few years back?

I Want Revenge because he gets thru traffic with the luckiest kid in the world - Joe Talamo who to win at 17/18 is another Derby type upset.

26 Apr 2009 7:53 PM

I PRAY I should live to see the day I own an over-rated producer like AP Indy...

27 Apr 2009 7:31 AM

da3hoss:  Market forces and the "almighty" dollar doesn't make a great stallion.  Undoubtedly investors in these over-hyped stallions become very wealthy but for the purists it is the accomplishments of progenies in championship races like the Triple Crown that sets apart the great ones.  Also you should reflect upon the quantity and quality of mares bred in relation to the output of truly classic performers.

27 Apr 2009 11:23 AM

RANAGULZION:  If Kentucky Derby winners is the only criteria for a great stallion, you're correct.  I believe that a great stallion throws horses like himself...if given the time.  The worst thing to happen to MAJESTIC WARRIOR was to win the G.1 Hopeful.  A.P. INDY-sired runners need more time...unfortunately the Breeders' Cup chase has ruined his progeny.  Look to his sons, where less is expected of them to be early producers.  Case in point...STEVIE WONDERBOY, was Champion 2y.o. sired by STEPHEN GOT EVEN.  I WANT REVENGE will start Derby 2009 as the favorite.

HOUSEHOLDER:  I don't know about the 7 week layoff...GRINDSTONE in 1996 was the last Derby winner I recall winning the LA Derby (Funny Cide ran 3rd in '03 before 2nd in Wood and won Derby) but even he had another prep in the Arkansas Derby prior to the big race.

MERRYWRITER:  GQ would be an upset but IWR will be the likely favorite.

DA3HOSS:  I hope you get one!

27 Apr 2009 4:01 PM

Hope everyone got to see the Star of the week-end run today.. There is not any other horse at Churchill Downs that can measure up to Rachel Alexander, she is the balm!!!!  

01 May 2009 6:08 PM

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