The three prep winners this weekend were all terrific in different ways. Many questions were answered and now we are left with a pretty clear picture of the top New York and California contenders. After this weekend's Blue Grass and Arkansas Derby, the real fun begins.
Like almost everyone, I thought I Want Revenge's Wood performance was simply terrific. Overcoming the bad break and traffic trouble was downright gutsy. I said I needed to see him do it twice and now he has - in different ways. No doubt he's one of the top three contenders going into next month.
As impressed with I Want Revenge as I was, Imperial Council disappointed me even more. No excuses. He had the perfect trip but simply couldn't get the distance. He is a talented colt that just isn't ready yet.
Pioneerof the Nile continues to impress in different ways. Once again, the pace scenario wasn't ideal for him in the Santa Anita Derby but he still got it done. He's won four graded stakes in a row and Baffert says he'll be even better for the Derby. Clearly the best of the West. But don't forget about Chocolate Candy. His effort was very game. See below.
As for the Illinois Derby, hats off to Musket Man. I dismissed him too, but he was so much the best and is now a legitimate contender going to Churchill. What a great story too. A $15,000 yearling with a decent chance in the world's biggest race? Can't ask for more than that.
Here's a new top 12 with one major weekend of racing remaining. I've added two this week because I couldn't keep out a couple longshots.
1. Pioneerof the Nile: On paper, this colt doesn't blow you away, but make no mistake, he is a beast. Gomez had to all but strangle him through the backstretch to get him to relax in the Santa Anita Derby and even though he finally got his way and made the front, still had a strong kick in the final furlong. He just refuses to lose, which his four straight graded stakes wins confirm. Only question left to answer his how he handles Churchill dirt. We'll find out soon enough.
2. Quality Road: With the injury to The Pamplemousse, he should have the perfect scenario in the Derby. There really won't be too much speed to challenge the son of Elusive Quality and he might just have things his own way. How many potential Derby horses ran the splits he did in the Florida Derby? And we now know he can get the distance. The recent news of a quarter crack will be a question mark for the next three weeks though.
3. I Want Revenge: The Wood performance was astounding, no two ways about it. It proved he can win from off the pace, as well as sitting just off early speed. Looks like the total package.
4. Friesan Fire: Will come into the Derby with seven weeks off and never having gone more than 1 1/16 miles. That is a tall task. But Larry Jones sent Hard Spun off a six-week layoff and he did just fine. Who am I to question one of the best trainers around? Remember, this colt keeps getting better.
5. Old Fashioned: I haven't jump shipped on this colt, like some. I expect a big Arkansas Derby performance and if it happens, he'll be right back in the mix.
6. Desert Party: Is still going to be dangerous on Derby day. He's got the pedigree and has already proven himself over here. He's a tough customer.
7. Chocolate Candy: Might be the best chance at a longshot score in the Derby. His Santa Anita Derby was huge, considering his six-wide trip that caused him to lose significant ground. He was slowly closing in on POTN in deep stretch and the extra distance should help him. I'd love to see Baze get the mount.
8. Musket Man: You can't knock him now. He has turned in two very nice graded wins, on two different surfaces. And he has wins at four different tracks overall. He made a believer out of me.
9. Regal Ransom: His UAE Derby win might have been a fluke to some, but not me. He's got good speed, pedigree and is also proven over here. He'll be another big overlay on Derby day, and that's what I look for.
10. Theregoesjojo: I'm still hanging on, huh? Perhaps. But he's being pointed towards the Blue Grass Stakes and an in-the-money finish gets him in. I still don't think we've seen his best. Best of all, McPeek has changed riders to Borel. Thank God.
11. Hold Me Back: I'm adding an extra spot here because I like this colt. His Lane's End looks better to me every time I watch it. Is he a synthetic specialist? Maybe. But remember, his Remsen wasn't all that bad. If he takes to Churchill, another huge opportunity for a big price. Mott is still one of the best ever. Never discount him.
12. Terrain: Another added spot because a big Blue Grass performance will make him dangerous on May 2. The Derby would be the third start off a layoff.