There has been a lot of talk on this blog about Old Fashioned's performance in the Southwest. Considering what he did in the Remsen, was it all that we expected out of his 3-year-old debut? Were the relatively average final splits (:51 1/5) too slow for a legitimate Derby favorite? Was his victory just an average showing based on a) less than stellar competition and b) a track that had an obvious speed bias?
While all of the above are legitimate questions, one thing that cannot be denied is that Old Fashioned is our early Derby favorite after one full round of Derby preps. There is no way of getting around that. The colt is undefeated in four starts with his victories coming by a combined 26 lengths. He is a push-button horse, has already proved he can go two turns and the Southwest proved that he can rate (something Larry Jones already knew).
You're not in love with his pedigree? You want to see him face better? You are reserving judgment until a horse looks him in the eye in the stretch? Not crazy about his 93 Beyer? Ok. I'll buy all that. Just don't tell me that there has been a more impressive horse from October through now. If you want to make the argument of one horse, and one horse only - Pioneerof the Nile - I will listen. But he has not raced on dirt and that cannot be understated.
In closing, Old Fashioned did exactly what I needed to see in the Southwest. Did he blow me away? No. But considering he was coming back from an 11-week layoff and was making his 3-year-old debut, the effort was good enough. As we all know, the Derby is not won in February. But until round 2 is complete, Old Fashioned is your unquestioned Derby 135 favorite.
Below is my unscientific top 10 as of Feb. 17.
1. Old Fashioned
2. Pioneerof the Nile - The unquestioned best of the West. He has the right running style, right connections and has done nothing wrong. It will be interesting to see if Baffert gives him a prep on dirt.
3. Chocolate Candy - He is probably higher on my list than many, but I like what I see. All he has done is win four of his last five, and the one loss was by 1 1/2 lengths to Pioneerof the Nile in the CashCall. The El Camino was a nice effort, despite what some are saying about his running style. It was his first time going nine furlongs and his splits were more than adequate. I loved his heart and this colt will only get better. Looks like the San Felipe will be next. Like above, lack of dirt experience is major question.
4. Friesan Fire - Can't knock the colt even though I'm not in love with his turn of foot from a visual standpoint. I thought he would take a minor step back in the Risen Star but he only got better. The blinkers have done wonders for him and that means he's likely to keep improving. I still remember my conversation with Larry Jones last summer when he told me this was the most talented horse he ever had in his barn. The A.P. Indy colt is clearly the best of what looks like a very average Louisiana group.
5. Mr. Fantasy - You guys all know I fell in love with this colt a couple weeks ago. Nothing to report since then and no logical reason to have him this high on my list or ahead of Haynesfield other than my gut feelings. Can't wait until the Gotham. I'll either look like a genius or an idiot.
6. Hello Broadway - Speaking of an average group, the Florida contingent hasn't blown me away either and he looks like the best of the bunch. Tagg will try him at Tampa Bay it looks like and then we'll find out if he is for real. Not a bad move considering the way Gulfstream has been playing. I expect bigger things from this guy.
7. Stardom Bound - There is nothing you can really say negative about her. I don't care what her Las Virgenes Beyer said. She dances the dance every time out and has that killer instinct that all the great ones have. I hope they keep her on the Derby trail.
8. West Side Bernie - I'm not ready to give up on this guy yet. The Holy Bull could not have set up any worse for him considering his post and the deep track. He'll rebound next time.
9. Haynesfield - Hasn't faced much of note but his speed numbers are solid and he showed he's getting better with every race. Asmussen factor cannot be underestimated either.
10. Midshipman - It kills me to put a horse on this list that isn't even in the country but I always felt he was better than Vineyard Haven anyway. We'll just have to wait and see.
As for some of the popular ‘now' horses I left off my list - Patena, Desert Party, General Quarters, Imperial Council, Giant Oak, Capt. Candyman Can - I'm not impressed as some. I need to see more before they crack my list and many may be too far behind to catch up. I'm big on experience.