Derby Contenders to Watch in 2018

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

With less than two weeks remaining in 2017, and with a quiet pre-Christmas weekend of racing ahead of us, now seems like as good a time as any to look over a few up-and-coming juveniles that could make some noise on the 2018 Road to the Kentucky Derby. Without further ado, here are a few colts that have caught my attention....


When Nero made his debut on August 27th at Del Mar, he came with a reputation as a very promising prospect for trainer Bob Baffert. The son of Pioneerof the Nile had sold for $950,000 as a yearling and had trained well leading up to his first start, and as a result he was sent off as the odds-on favorite at 1-2.

Turning for home, Nero appeared to be on his way to an easy victory. He had dueled hard for the lead through fractions of :21.97 and :45.75, and passing the eighth pole he held a 2 ½-length lead. However, in deep stretch he appeared to completely lose focus and began easing up, giving away his clear advantage to the late-running future stakes winner Beautiful Shot. Nero tried to battle back, and was re-accelerating at the finish, but it was too late to regain the lead and he missed in narrow fashion.

Following that promising but frustrating debut, Nero went to the sidelines and hasn't run since, but he's been training steadily at Santa Anita in preparation for his return, posting seven workouts (five of them from the starting gate) in the last two months. There is a seven-furlong maiden race for juveniles in the conditions book for opening day at Santa Anita, and it would come as no surprise to see Nero target that race for his return. I think he has a bright future.


Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer could be back on the Derby trail this year with Shivermetimbers, who finished third behind the likes of McKinzie and Cool Bobby in his first two starts before breaking through with a big win on November 23rd at Del Mar.

Facing eight rivals while going a mile, Shivermetimbers showed speed from the start under jockey Mike Smith and helped set fractions of :22.78, :47.05, and 1:11.74 before engaging in a lengthy homestretch battle with eventual runner-up Peace. The two colts raced on nearly even terms through the homestretch, with Shivermetimbers maintaining a narrow edge to win by a head while stopping the clock in the solid time of 1:36.94, good enough for a 90 Beyer speed figure.

Peace also deserves a lot of respect for finishing so close to Shivermetimbers after enduring a wide trip. Trained by Richard Mandella, Peace had previously unleashed a big late rally to run second sprinting six furlongs in his debut at Santa Anita, finishing ahead of the future Grade 1-placed colt Instilled Regard. Peace shouldn't be a maiden for much longer and could join the Derby trail with an impressive win next time out.

Tricks to Doo

It's not every day that you see a horse win a race despite one of the reins breaking at the start, but that's exactly what happened when Tricks to Doo broke his maiden on October 27th at Laurel Park. Coming off of a solid third-place finish in his debut at Keeneland, the Arnaud Delacour-trained colt was favored at 1-10 to defeat nine rivals while sprinting six furlongs at Laurel. But about a furlong into the race, the left rein snapped and jockey Feargal Lynch had to guide Tricks to Doo with one rein and a grip on the colt's mane.

Under the circumstances, finishing the race was impressive enough. So the fact that Tricks to Doo won by 5 ¾ lengths in the rapid time of 1:09.98 (earning an 82 Beyer speed figure) was icing on the cake.

Tricks to Doo subsequently demonstrated that his maiden win was no fluke by dominating the six-furlong Inaugural Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs last Saturday, racing to the lead through fractions of :22.40 and :45.45 before drawing off through a final quarter-mile in :24.13 to win by an easy 7 ¼ lengths, earning an 89 Beyer.

Only time will tell if Tricks to Doo will be as effective in route races-he's yet to run beyond six furlongs, and his pedigree is geared toward sprinting, though his half-brother Including did win a couple of claiming races around two turns. But the talent is certainly there, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see Tricks to Doo follow in the footsteps of his Delacour-trained stablemates No Dozing and Divining Rod and turn up in a Derby prep race at Tampa Bay Downs this winter.

Now it's your turn! Which up-and-coming Derby contenders are you excited to see in 2018?


J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website

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