With less than two months now remaining until the Kentucky Derby, we are starting to get a pretty solid picture of who the top contenders are. Right now it's Union Rags at the top and everyone else trailing, but horses like Alpha, El Padrino, and Hansen have to be considered serious second-tier contenders based off of their last races. The final preps will give us our best indicators of what to look for in Louisville, but the next two weekends could be quite telling as well.
This weekend's two Kentucky Derby preps take us to Santa Anita for the San Felipe and Tampa Bay Downs for the Tampa Bay Derby. Next week it will be the Rebel from Oaklawn. The San Felipe, especially, will be a key race, as most of the top West Coast 3-year-olds should be in the gate. Even with Out of Bounds off the trail, it still looks like a formidable group with Baffert's pair--Fed Biz and Liaison--as well as Creative Cause, Empire Way, Midnight Transfer, Rousing Sermon, and possibly Sabercat. The Tampa Bay Derby is a wide-open affair with Todd Pletcher's Spring Hill Farm the likely favorite leading the charge.
With Pool 2 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager having ended last Sunday, I think there are still several horses flying under the radar. Some of them weren't even individual betting choices in the pool, others were at odds of 30-1 or higher when betting ended. Here are five horses that I think could jump into the picture--either after this weekend is over, or by the time the final preps are run. Not included on this list is Sabercat (he'll either go in San Felipe or Rebel) who I still like and who ended the pool at 30-1, but I don't really consider him a true under the radar horse. After all, he does have $600,000 of earnings.
Empire Way (37-1): Creative Cause is still the more highly-regarded 3-year-old from Mike Harrington's barn, but I'm more inclined to look in this direction. What he did in the Robert Lewis was pretty impressive, considering all of the other horses were staggering to the finish on Santa Anita Speedway. No, he was never going to get to I'll Have Another, but he at least looked like a horse that wanted to finish, and it was his first start on dirt. A full brother to Royal Delta, added distance should only help him. I'm not really expecting him to win the San Felipe, and actually I wouldn't be surprised in Harrington shipped him somewhere else for his final prep--somewhere that was less speed favoring.
Liaison (39-1): Show of hands, who thinks this horse will turn in another clunker similar to the Robert Lewis? Not me. Baffert is the master at getting horses to improve off of bad outings and he's done some interesting stuff with this one since then. On Feb. 22 he worked him a calculated mile, teaching him to settle through a reported first five furlongs in a very slow 1:08, and then letting him finish in :35. He thought the horse was rank early and too fresh in the Lewis, so he's removed blinkers and tweaked a few other things. He came back with a Baffert-like four furlongs in :47 on Monday, which should set him up perfectly for the San Felipe. I expect Liaison to be much better in the San Felipe, perhaps putting himself right back in the mix as a serious contender.
Prospective (not in KDFW): We all have horses that we seem to gravitate toward on the Derby trail (what fun would it be if we didn't?). This is one of mine. I really like how this horse finished races, even when he doesn't have the cleanest of trips. In the Sam Davis, it looked like he was through approaching the stretch, but he somehow found more and edged Reveron for second, beaten only 1 1/4 lengths. If you throw out the Breeders' Cup on a heavy track he's never run a bad race, and I'm expecting him to run well again in the Tampa Bay Derby. He's already got $160,000 of graded earnings, so he just needs a solid, on-the-board finish to keep him on the track to Louisville.
Take Charge Indy (38-1): Finished a good second to El Padrino in that Jan. 29 optional claimer at Gulfstream in his season debut after leading into the stretch. He's been working very well for Pat Byrne at Palm Meadows heading into the Tampa Bay Derby, which is his make-or-break race. He's a versatile type; has shown the ability to come from off of it as he did in the Arlington-Washington Futurity as a juvenile, and has shown tactical speed too. The big question is if he can handle distance. We'll find out more this weekend.
Our Entourage (not in KDFW): Ok, Ok, get the you're-kissing-up-to-Repole jokes out of the way now. I happen to like this Street Cry colt, especially after the way he accelerated in the stretch in his Feb. 25 optional claimer on the Gulfstream turf. This is a talented horse, and guess what, he's rapidly improving. Is he better on turf than dirt? Yes. But that doesn't mean Repole/Pletcher aren't going to give him one chance to make the Derby, and he just might do it. Don't forget, he was a highly-regarded juvenile with a solid pedigree when they paid $350,000 for him. He'll either go to the Wood, Illinois Derby, or possibly Florida Derby for his crack Louisville.
Any under the radar horses that you guys like?