With a little more than five weeks to go until the Derby and about 10 prep races remaining, it's not a bad idea to take a quick look at the graded earnings list. Granted, there is still a lot to be decided as we hit the homestretch and defections almost always happen in the last couple of weeks, but it is still worth taking a snapshot at what the field of 20 might look like on May 1, and how much it will take to get in.
The first thing that jumps out at me about the list is the amount of money the top 20 have already accumulated. Sidney's Candy and Odysseus, who share the 19/20 spot, already have $180,000 in graded earnings. That is a fairly high number for mid-March considering the most lucrative prep races still remain and there is a good chance that several horses not currently in the top 20 will be there when the weekend is over.
All three U.S. prep races are wide-open this weekend--the Lane's End, Louisiana Derby, and Sunland Derby. With the purses in each race $500,000, $750,000, and $800,000, respectively, that means there is a possibility that five new horses could jump into the top 25 (the three first place finishers and runner-ups in the Louisiana Derby and Sunland Derby). Of the 3-year-olds racing this weekend, only Discreetly Mine (Louisiana Derby) and Conveyance (Sunland Derby) are currently in the top 20. If they were to finish third or worse, the whole Derby picture changes--as far as earnings are concerned.
And don't forget about the $2 million UAE Derby on Saturday. The first, second, and third-place finishers of that race would also earn enough to qualify for the Derby. While it is highly unlikely that all three would point for Churchill, there is a decent possibility that at least the winner would, especially if it is Godolphin's Mendip. That would possibly mean six new horses in the top 25 by the time Saturday is over.
As far as the current list goes, from what I know there are at least four horses in the top 20 that are not pointing toward the Derby--No. 2 Vale of York, No. 3 Blind Luck, No. 7 D' Funnybone, and No. 8 Devil May Care. There are also questions about No. 14 Make Music For Me (Blue Grass), No. 17 Radiohead, and No. 18 Uh Oh Bango (Arkansas Derby), but I have not read anywhere that they are not still on the trail. Taking the first four I mentioned out of the equation, that would vault Backtalk, Super Saver, Pleasant Prince, and Eskendereya into the current top 20. Eskendereya currently has $150,000 in earnings.
The question is, will $150,000 be enough this year? Right now, based on what I have outlined above, I'm not so sure. Eskendereya still has a big race remaining--the Wood Memorial on April 3--but should he finish out of the money in that race, there is the possibility that he wouldn't be in the top 20 come Derby time.
Last year, the top 13 horses had more than $200,000 in graded earnings, but the No. 20 horse, Nowhere to Hide, had only $55,500. In 2008, the number was much higher even after a few late defections. Denis of Cork, who went on to finish third in the Derby, got in as the last horse with $165,000 in graded earnings. In 2007, Imawildandcrazyguy drew in with $104,000.
Going back even further (courtesy of the good folks at Churchill Downs' media department) in 2006 it was Flashy Bull with $109,000, 2005 Going Wild ($57,250), 2004 Song of the Sword ($132,500), 2003 Ten Cents a Shine ($46,240 when there were only 17 horses entered), and 2002 Wild Horses ($100,000).
As you can see, the amount of graded earnings to qualify for the top 20 varies greatly every year. There is still a long way to go and a lot to be decided, but earnings are now something to at least start thinking about.
I'll be back on Friday afternoon with thoughts on the preps and a few World Cup races. If you are free, please join me for the live chat at noon eastern on Friday.
**Note: According to a Santa Anita press release, Todd Pletcher is now pointing Interactif toward the Blue Grass on April 10. Rafael Bejarano will stay aboard for the mount.