2014 KENTUCKY DERBY GAUGE
1. CONQUEST TITAN
With just nine Derby points after his fourth-place finish in the Tampa Bay Derby, Conquest Titan faces a challenge making the gate for the Run for the Roses. Because there’s still hope, he remains at No. 1, as I still feel he’s the best contender for the first Saturday in May. The speedy Florida tracks aren’t showing off his late-closing style and that’s hampered him as far as gathering points; however, nothing I’ve seen in his stakes races there has led me to believe that this colt isn’t a leader for the Kentucky Derby. He loves the Churchill Downs surface – but will he get there? He’s a lightweight colt, so two taxing races close together – such as the Arkansas Derby before the Kentucky Derby – might not be optimal. 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).
Saturday should shed more light on this appealing chestnut contender as he faces new – and tough – competitors in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn. A dominant win in that test could vault him into the No. 1 spot, as he’s also one who has shown an affinity for Churchill Downs. How he handles speedy types like Kobe’s Back will be quite telling; so far, he’s progressed perfectly for trainer Steve Asmussen. 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.
The precocious son of Tapit will take a major step up in class in the Florida Derby, trainer Todd Pletcher reported. “We just felt like he’s home, he’s 2-for-2 over the track, and even though it looks to be a very tough race with Cairo Prince pointing for it, we felt like it was the right spot for him,” Pletcher said. “He’s passed every test so far, but this will certainly be the biggest test he’s had.” I’ve ranked him high on the list despite the obvious obstacles – he has no points yet and yes, Apollo, he didn’t race at 2 – because I don’t see him as the usual Gulfstream need-the-lead, blossom-early type. His debut was proof he can overcome adversity, as he overcame a troubled start to win going away. He also boasts the perfect pedigree for the Churchill Downs strip, being a son of Tapit out of a Distorted Humor mare. He needs to overcome his habit of breaking slowly and rushing up.
4. STRONG MANDATE
Will the Southwest Stakes runner-up turn the tables on Tapiture in Saturday’s Rebel? It’s quite possible considering it is his second race off the layoff for trainer D. Wayne Lukas. His sire is a two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic winner and his dam’s sire Deputy Minister won the Donn Handicap (9 furlongs).
His status for the Kentucky Derby is questionable after he was sidelined by an illness that caused him to miss training. Trainer Bob Baffert: “He’s been jogging, but nothing serious. He’s just in light training. . . I’m not going to push him. If they can’t make that window, I don’t really press on, so I probably won’t know for another couple of weeks, but I’m not even thinking about it (Derby) right now.” The question is his distance top; it might be 9 furlongs. His sire won the Travers at 10 furlongs and was very consistent at 9 furlongs against top company. His dam’s sire Beau Genius won multiple races at 9 furlongs.
The son of Any Given Saturday could emerge as a top Derby contender – or be removed from early lists – depending on his Rebel Stakes performance. This race is key for the Bob Baffert runner as he could earn enough points to land him in the gate and put him on a timetable for either another prep or to sit tight. He’s another who didn’t race at 2, but appears quite promising. How far can he go? That’s the question. 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.
While all options are open for this long-striding son of Tapit, trainer Christophe Clement said the Wood Memorial is a top consideration. That race could suit this colt very well and he’s one who is in desperate need of Derby points. His sire is known for middle-distance progeny, but his sons and daughters have historically fared very well at Churchill Downs. His broodmare’s sire, Pleasant Colony, won the 1991 Kentucky Derby and Preakness and was third in the Belmont.
8. RING WEEKEND
Trainer Graham Motion is back on the Derby scene with this son of Tapit, a gelding who pulled off the surprise front-running upset in the Tampa Bay Derby. He’s quite versatile, having won from off the pace and from an outside post at Gulfstream as well. He’s run well on all three surfaces and his only “off” race was his debut in the slop at Saratoga. He’s really blossomed in his 3-year-old season, and the path to the Derby could be unique but savvy as he’s likely for the Calder Derby on April 5. A race over that track could give the colt a solid foundation heading into Churchill Downs, where he was third in his second start. 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.
9. BOBBY’S KITTEN
The son of Kitten’s Joy is a wild card as he’s made a name for himself on turf but has yet to try dirt. His 3-year-old debut was a pro performance as expected as he beat a solid foe in Global View in an allowance at Tampa Bay. He’s likely to make his Derby prep in the Blue Grass Stakes, where all will be on the line as he has no Derby points yet. If he qualifies, he’ll be first-time dirt in the Derby, and all eyes will be on how he takes to the surface in the week leading up to the first Saturday in May. Sire Kitten’s Joy is a supremely prolific turf and synthetic sire and is also known for producing long-distance runners. On the dam side, there’s some standard dirt influence through Storm Cat. Full brother Major Marvel tallied most of his victories on turf but did win his debut on dirt at Charles Town.
A little concerned as he wasn’t entered in the Rebel Stakes Wednesday as expected. New sire Tiz Wonderful is a son of the legendary Tiznow and was 2 for 2 at Churchill Downs in his short career. His dam’s sire, Halo’s Image, won multiple stakes races at 9 furlongs.
DERBY GAUGE: TIER 2
The son of Duke of Marmalade is likely a turf horse, but sometimes these long-distance grass runners can transfer to dirt. No doubt he’s got an affinity for endurance tests with his sharp performances so far at nine furlongs.
12. CAIRO PRINCE
This son of new sire Pioneerof the Nile has drawn a lot of attention after his dominant Holy Bull performance and rightfully so. His campaign has been well-timed by Kiaran McLaughlin and he could come into the Derby with the perfect foundation behind him. Florida Derby is next. I remain curious about his ability at 10 furlongs.
13. KOBE’S BACK
He’ll need to rely on his sire side for the stamina as there’s not much to pull from on the dam side, but one can’t ignore that powerful win in the San Vicente, his 3-year-old debut. We’ll get to know him better in Saturday’s Rebel Stakes.
14. STREET STRATEGY
The son of Street Sense is another who would have to buck the “Curse of Apollo,” and he’s an outsider for the Derby, but the gray colt is one who could step up in Saturday’s Rebel Stakes with Calvin Borel.
The son of Malibu Moon continues to improve and was making a nice late rally in the Tampa Bay Derby. He’s fine on the surface switch and distance; the question is class as he’s possible for the toughest prep, the Florida Derby.
16. CANDY BOY
Gary Stevens is crazy about this colt, a son of Candy Ride who has been quite consistent since October of his 2-year-old season. Unlike most Candy Ride progeny who excel on turf and synthetic, this colt is better on dirt. It’s not a pedigree that screams 10 furlongs on dirt at Churchill Downs, but he did look impressive in the Robert B. Lewis.
17. CALIFORNIA CHROME
Jaws dropped when he dominated the San Felipe Stakes to extend his winning streak to three. While the California-bred is obviously a legitimate contender, he’ll go into the Derby with at least nine starts and the dam side of the pedigree is predominantly speed.
18. GLOBAL STRIKE
I don’t know what Todd Pletcher’s plans are for this maiden winner, and he’s running against the clock, but respect for any colt who can wing it on the front end and win the way he did at 1 1/8-miles in just his third start. The son of Smart Strike looks like he wants to run all day; he was second to Tonalist in his second start.
According to DRF, he’s back exercising after suffering a bruised hoof that has delayed his training. The son of Offlee Wild is a Bodemeister type who didn’t start his career until January. Pedigree is solid, but I won’t be sold until he wins beyond a mile and beats a substantial field. What will happen when things don’t go his way?
Great pedigree for Churchill Downs, but the 10 furlongs is a question.
21. TEXAS RYANO
This maiden-winning son of Curlin is doubtful to make the Derby, but he is working on dirt at Santa Anita.