With nearly two months of the Derby prep trail completed, quite honestly I have not been blown away with the 3-year-old crop as a whole. Maybe that's why the horse I have ranked No. 1 on my list doesn't even have any graded earnings yet. I'm hoping my outlook changes in March.
Admittedly, Eskendereya's Fountain of Youth performance was superb and if he can follow it up in the Florida Derby he will be a legitimate favorite on May 1. But I have learned my lesson over the last couple years. That is, I don't get overly excited about one win. I need to see a horse repeat the performance.
It seems that every time a horse wins a prep race, the following week many people automatically vault them to the top of their Derby lists. Not that my list is any better than others, but I tend to look at potential rather than what-have-you-done-for-me-lately. It's a long road to Churchill Downs and many factors are involved--pedigree, speed figures, running style, times, connections, etc. So, when I see a horse wire the field in a prep after setting dawdling pace, I don't get too cranked up.
My list may be a little unorthodox, but it is made with an eye focused solely on May 1. Feel free to agree or pick it apart.
1. Odysseus: The most visually impressive 3-year-old I have seen up this point, and that is why he makes the top of my list. I know he's only won a maiden sprint and a first-level allowance, and hasn't faced anything yet, but his turn of foot in the Tampa allowance race was spectacular. It reminds me of Big Brown's allowance win at Gulfstream two years ago. I like his pedigree and his running style. Can't wait to see him in the Tampa Bay Derby next month.
2. Caracortado: Too high? Well, he demolished a pair of colts (Tiz Chrome and American Lion) that many had ranked in their top 10 before the San Rafael, so I don't think it's a reach. This guy may be a California-bred gelding, but he shouldn't be considered a sleeper any longer. He is undefeated in five starts, earned a solid 97 Beyer last out, and also has a win on dirt when breaking his maiden at Fairplex (I know, it was only four furlongs). I guess people will start to take him seriously if and when he beats Lookin at Lucky.
3. Eskendereya: There is no doubt his Fountain of Youth effort was the best 3-year-old prep all season. He looks like the real deal and if he wins the Florida Derby he will give Pletcher his best chance at a Kentucky Derby to date. I will caution, however, that it was just one win. How many times have we seen a horse win a prep in commanding fashion and regress next time out? Again, he looks legit, but let me see it again.
4. Dublin: I was very impressed in a losing cause. He broke terribly in the Southwest and had way too much ground to make up in a one-mile race, especially going wide. But he was flying at the end in his first start of the year and I believe he will improve in the Rebel. Watch out.
5. D' Funnybone: I may be in the minority here, but I think this colt has Derby potential. I know the Hutcheson was only a sprint, but it was the way he did it--professional and easy while making his first start of the year. He has good tactical speed too. Getting 10, or even nine furlongs, is a legitimate concern based on pedigree and his failure in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, but I give him a chance. His next race will tell the story.
6. Interactif: Ok, it may seem like I'm still reaching with this colt, but I'm not giving up on him yet. I see talent. I still believe he is better from off the pace and if ridden that way, can be a force. We saw it last year. I'm hoping for a rider change. Pletcher still undecided on his next spot--turf or dirt--but the Santa Anita Derby is the one that matters anyway.
7. Drosselmeyer: I didn't think his first stakes effort was bad at all. He was chasing a slow pace and was making up ground at the end. Mott knows 1 1/16 miles was too short for him. The colt relishes extra ground. I expect him to improve in the Louisiana Derby. We will hear from him again.
8. Super Saver: Like everyone else, I am anxiously awaiting his return. He's had a long time off. I don't expect his next race (either the Rebel or Gotham) to be his best; its his final Derby prep that I will be watching closest. Time will tell with this colt.
9. Christine Daae: I know, she hasn't routed, faced stakes company, taken on colts, or done anything worthy of making a top 10 Derby list. It's a hunch, folks. But like Odysseus, I saw an incredible talent in her maiden win at Gulfstream. I hope she confirms it in the Davona Dale. Her works say she will. If not, call me an idiot. If so, don't be shocked if she winds up facing the boys in March.
10. Lookin At Lucky: He's the 2-year-old champ and has done little wrong in five starts. So why is he so low on my list? Quite simply, I'm not sure he is fast enough. His Beyers have been average and he hasn't beaten anyone by more than 1 3/4 lengths. And he hasn't raced on dirt yet. But he is a champion and he does have Baffert in his corner. If he keeps winning, I will have to change my mind. By the way, what is up with his work on Monday-six furlongs in 1:15.40?
Best of the rest:
Conveyance: He probably deserves to be on this list. But I just have doubts about his ability to carry his speed 10 furlongs. His style isn't going to change.
Rule: Also deserves respect. His Sam Davis win was very solid. I can't help think he is one-dimensional though. His next race will tell the story.
Discreetly Mine: How many front-running contenders does Pletcher have? The pace in the Risen Star was embarrassingly slow.
Noble's Promise: Almost forgot about him its been so long.
Buddy's Saint: The Fountain of Youth was not his fault. One of the worst riding errors you'll see. But I also question the spot he was thrown into off his layoff. Next one will let us know how good his 2-year-old wins were.
Jackson Bend: An honest and tough colt. I just don't think he wants to go any further.
Sidney's Candy: Not getting too revved up about a sprint on Pro-Ride.
Dave in Dixie: Was coming on very well in the Robert Lewis.
Tempted to Tapit: Good try in his first stakes effort. But it will be tough to win route races with his style. He wants the lead.
Cardiff Giant: Was also making up good ground on Conveyance.
Connemara: Might be too slow.
Fly Down: Zito horse turned in a solid nine-furlong allowance effort in his first start of the year. Intriguing.
Maximus Ruler: I felt like I needed to add him; hope he makes his next work. I still like him.