2014 KENTUCKY DERBY GAUGE
He’s vaulted to the top spot after a surreal trip in the Rebel Stakes in which he forced his way into open space, was knocked and yet kept running alongside winner Hoppertunity. Although he came up short in that slugfest, this son of Tapit has proven to be the most consistent of the Kentucky Derby contenders. As I’ve mentioned before, this colt displayed a superior level of agility and athleticism even as a 2-year-old in the Kentucky Jockey Club. He’s also quick to respond to jockey’s cues. The Rebel was taxing, but also solid preparation for the 20-horse rumble on the first Saturday in May. The Arkansas Derby is a possibility and the stretch out to 1 1/8-miles will be his top test. 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.
2. CONQUEST TITAN
No faith is lost, but there are concerns as he hasn’t returned to the work tab since finishing fourth in the Tampa Bay Derby. The Arkansas Derby was mentioned as a possibility as he has just nine Derby points. 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).
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.
I pointed out his fourth-place Risen Star performance as “sneaky good,” and he followed up with a sharp, albeit rough, win in the Rebel that moves him up two spots. The victory not only showed he’s progressing on the right timetable, but he can also ship and run well without issue. The Arkansas Derby or Santa Anita Derby is next, and all he needs is a good showing for fitness as he’s already landed a spot in the gate, 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.
He’s steadily training at Payson Park for his next assignment. 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.
6. 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.
A diversion from Oaklawn to Sunland Park for the Sunland Derby could prove a smooth move for this tough gelding. He posted a fabulous bullet work on March 16 in preparation, and all he needs is a strong performance in this Derby prep to line him up perfectly for the Run for the Roses. He broke his maiden in a big way at Churchill Downs, so there’s no question of surface. 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.
8. 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.
9. GOLD HAWK
You gave up on him? I haven’t yet, not after he posted a sensational bullet six furlong work at Fair Grounds on March 17. His problem has been using up too much energy prior to his races. I’m giving him another chance as he prepares for a possible start in the Louisiana Derby. Sire Empire Maker won the Florida Derby, Wood Memorial and the Belmont Stakes and dam Caressing won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and the La Troienne.
No works yet and I might be in denial he’s not making the Derby. Still, I’ll leave him on the list until official word. 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.
DERBY GAUGE: TIER 2
11. CAIRO PRINCE
This son of new sire Pioneerof the Nile continues training steadily at Palm Meadows. He 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.
12. CANDY BOY
The Santa Anita Derby is next. 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.
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.
14. GLOBAL STRIKE
One must respect 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.
15. STRONG MANDATE
He didn’t show any late kick in his fourth-place showing in the Rebel, and it appears others are passing him by – literally – in their progression. He looks better suited for shorter distances.
He’s back exercising after suffering a bruised hoof that has delayed his training and could be headed to either the Arkansas Derby or the Santa Anita Derby. 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?
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. He’s listed as possible for the Santa Anita Derby.
18. INTENSE HOLIDAY
He continues to train very well at Palm Meadows and there’s no doubt he’ll be a player on the Louisiana Derby scene. His pedigree is more middle-distance friendly, and the Harlan’s Holiday progeny are often at their best in their juvenile season, but he’s one to keep an eye on.
Let’s see if it was a traffic-troubled trip from the rail that hampered him in the Fountain of Youth. We’ll find out more in Saturday’s Sunland Derby, where he’ll need to be close to the pace.
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.