2014 KENTUCKY DERBY GAUGE
1. CONQUEST TITAN
His day of destiny arrives Saturday in the Arkansas Derby, where his Kentucky Derby fate will be determined against tough foes, including Tapiture and Bayern. With just nine Derby points to his credit, a first or second place finish is necessary to solidify his spot in the gate; third place puts him on the bubble. He showed once again his love for his home track, Churchill Downs, when he returned from Florida this week and posted a bullet work there (four furlongs, :47.40). He switches to jockey Calvin Borel for Saturday’s test. “There wasn’t really any big reason for the switch,” Mark Casse said. “Calvin is already there and he seems to be what I thought was a good fit for this horse. He wants to come from way out of it, and Calvin’s pretty good at that. He knows the track like the back of his hand.” If Conquest Titan makes the Derby field, his main obstacle will be maintaining his fitness after two tough races in the span of just over a month.
Pedigree: His sire Birdstone won the Belmont (12 furlongs) and his dam’s sire Mineshaft won the Jockey Club Gold Cup (10 furlongs) and the Pimlico Special (9.5 furlongs).
He’s well-stocked with 42 Derby points, but a good showing in Saturday’s Arkansas Derby would go a long way to answering questions about his distance abilities. The athletic, agile colt will stretch out to 1 1/8-miles for the first time. An emphatic win would put him in line with favoritism with Santa Anita Derby hero California Chrome. This chestnut, however, has the advantage of experience over the Churchill Downs track, where he excelled in the Kentucky Jockey Club.
Pedigree: His dam’s sire, Olympio, was a multi-surface threat who won the American Derby on dirt at 10 furlongs and the Hollywood Derby on turf at 9 furlongs.
I’ve had this son of Tapit on the radar since his eye-catching debut in which he overcame trouble at the start and won a heated pace duel. This Todd Pletcher trainee is lightly-raced and didn’t start at age 2, but there’s a lot to like about his conditioning in Florida during his 3-year-old campaign. He’s shown he can handle adversity, he turned back the brawny battler Wildcat Red while on the rail in the Florida Derby, and he’s faced tough competition. From the looks of his Florida Derby run, he should handle the Kentucky Derby distance. It’s possible he could ship a bit earlier to Churchill Downs, another factor that would work in his favor. “I’m not a 100 percent sure yet,” Pletcher said of scheduling. “I’m thinking about 12 days before. I’d like to have one work at Churchill. I’ll just have to see how the weather is here and how the weather is there. I’ll have to see how things go about flight arrangements and things like that.”
Pedigree: He boasts the perfect pedigree for the Churchill Downs strip, being a son of Tapit out of a Distorted Humor mare. Distorted Humor has been a major influence in the pedigree of several top winners at Churchill Downs, including Kentucky Derby winner I’ll Have Another and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Drosselmeyer.
Although he was no match for California Chrome in the Santa Anita Derby, there’s a lot of upside to this Bob Baffert trainee, who is in the Derby gate with . He’s been quit consistent and his campaign is reminiscent of that of Bodemeister, who was a good second to I’ll Have Another in the Kentucky Derby. He’s a lightweight colt who’s endured three grueling tests at three different tracks in the past two months, so fitness is a concern; however, he’s performed well in all three races and proven he can handle shipping like a pro.
Pedigree: His sire was eighth in the 2007 Kentucky Derby, beat Hard Spun and Curlin in the 9-furlong Haskell Invitational and won the Brooklyn Handicap at 9 furlongs. His dam’s sire, Unaccounted For, won the Whitney Handicap at 9 furlongs and was second to Cigar in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at 10 furlongs.
5. CALIFORNIA CHROME
The stunning chestnut has surged into the Kentucky Derby spotlight and with good reason. His last four wins – including the San Felipe and the Santa Anita Derby – have been overwhelming. He barely exerted himself in the 1 1/8-mile Santa Anita Derby, needing very little urging while drawing away from the field. After crossing the wire, he stopped, looked around and jogged back to the winner’s circle as if it was a public workout. His athletic, muscular physique is a sight to behold and he is a very sound, durable type. While he appears strides ahead of his competitors, there are some factors to consider with the mighty California-bred. The Kentucky Derby will be his first race outside of California and his 11th career start, which is much higher than the average. He’ll likely ship to Churchill Downs on April 28 and will only gallop over the surface. His pedigree screams seven furlongs, but he’s shown he can handle distance challenges up to this point. There are some questions, but there’s no doubt he’s been one of the top performers of this crop who remains on the trail.
Pedigree: Lucky Pulpit’s best races were sprinting on turf, but he boasts the stamina element of California Chrome’s pedigree through the Pulpit line (A.P. Indy). The turf influence is present through Cozzene. On the dam side, Love the Chase won at a mile on synthetic. Her sire, Nor For Love, is a prolific Maryland-based sire known for producing strong sprinters and middle-distance runners.
6. WICKED STRONG
This is a colt who has the “body of work” argument in his favor. He was third behind highly-regarded Honor Code and Cairo Prince in the Remsen, a tough 9-furlong test as a 2-year-old. He finished a puzzling ninth as the third betting choice in the Holy Bull, and some wrote him off as subpar after that performance. He came back with a sneaky-good fourth in a juicy allowance race that featured Constitution and Tonalist, and he proved that he could handle the Gulfsstream surface in that test. In his Wood Memorial win, he did get a favorable trip on what appeared to be the best part of the track, and he closed into a pace scenario that helped his cause with a couple of fading front-runners. No doubt, however, that he finished with a lot of energy, a good sign for the distance capabilities of this son of Hard Spun. This is a wild card to watch.
Pedigree: His sire, Hard Spun, was a multi-surface talent who won twice at 9 furlongs and was second in the Haskell and the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He was second in the Kentucky Derby, third in the Preakness and fourth in the Belmont. Wicked Strong’s dam sire is Charismatic, the tough Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner who fell just shy of the Triple Crown when he was injured during the running of the Belmont, finishing third. This will likely be one of the top classic distance pedigrees in this year’s field.
In a Kentucky Derby loaded with pace, this is a closer who is proven on the Churchill Downs surface. He showed improvement while running well late for third in the Louisiana Derby, enough to clinch 20 Derby points, which likely won’t be enough unless there are some defections. If he makes the field, he’s one to watch, particularly for exotics; a Golden Soul-esque runner for trainer Dallas Stewart.
Pedigree: Master Command, a son of A.P. Indy, won multiple graded stakes races on dirt at 9 furlongs. His dam side is mostly sprint-oriented, as his dam’s sire, Lion Hearted, was best at six and seven furlongs.
8. BOBBY’S KITTEN
It’s all or nothing for this son of Kitten’s Joy in Saturday’s Blue Grass, as he needs a first or second place finish to make the cut. While he appears to be a need-the-lead type, he’s handled adversity in his turf races and has one of the best long-distance pedigrees of any current Derby prospect. Word is this Kitten’s Joy handles dirt better than the numbers show – the question is, can he handle synthetic so he can prove it?
Pedigree: Kitten’s Joy is a prolific sire of turf and synthetic runners and is a strong stamina influence. On the dam side, this colt boasts some dirt influence through the Storm Cat line. His dam Celestial Woods won on all three surfaces and was victorious at 8.5 furlongs.
9. INTENSE HOLIDAY
The Louisiana Derby runner-up – who had a tough trip in that race, including bumping with other horses and nearly brushing the rail – appears to have the desire to run longer distances. His late-closing running style could also be preferential in a field likely loaded with sprint and middle-distance types. He’s faced some of the best of his crop and held his own at Aqueduct, Gulfstream and Fair Grounds. The one drawback is the Kentucky Derby will be his ninth start. He’s in the gate with 93 points.
Pedigree: Harlan’s Holiday is known for producing top juveniles, including Shanghai Bobby. He was tough to beat at 9 furlongs and won the Iroquois at Churchill Downs. His dam’s sire is the prolific, late Unbridled’s Song, who won the Florida Derby, the Wood Memorial and was fifth in the Kentucky Derby.
10. RING WEEKEND
I still like this son of Tapit despite the stretch-running malfunction in the Calder Derby that impeded his rally. Although he wasn’t likely beating Our Caravan, that sudden veer hampered his forward momentum and affected his performance. It’s also a difficult task getting over the deep, unforgiving Calder strip. There’s no word yet on whether or not this son of Tapit will continue to Churchill Downs, but he was third over that surface in an off-turf route race earlier in his career, and there’s a chance he’d take to it.
Pedigree: His dam sire, Cryptoclearance, is a solid classic distance influence. He won the Hawthorne Gold Cup at 10 furlongs, the Donn Handicap at 9 furlongs and was fourth in the Kentucky Derby, third in the Preakness and second in the Belmont.