2012 Kentucky Derby Top 10: A New Leader

HOT SPRINGS, AR - APRIL 14: Jockey Mike Smith rides Bodemeister to win the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park during the Racing Festival of The South on April 14, 2012 in Hot Springs, Arkansas. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

Heading into last Saturday's Kentucky Derby prep races, I was highly skeptical that any horse would run a race that would cause me to bump Gemologist from the top spot he occupied in my first Top 10. Bodemeister obviously had other ideas. Not only was the Bob Baffert colt visually impressive in winning Saturday's Arkansas Derby by over nine lengths, but he scored the biggest Beyer of the prep season - 108 - in the process. The Bris figure for Bodemeister came back at 106, also the highest of the prep season under their system. Equibase gave Bodemeister a 112, which is the 3rd highest prep figure this spring right behind Hansen's Gotham (113) and Gemologist's Wood (114).

Bodemeister has run four races this spring, the last three all occurring around two turns at a mile or more, and he's improved in each of those races. No matter which system you look at, he's been the most consistent horse at the finish line and on paper. Therefore, Bodemeister makes the big leap to the top of this week's 2012 Kentucky Derby Top 10.

The rest of the Top 10 was fairly difficult for me to sort out. Gemologist at #2 seemed simple enough, and I kept Creative Cause at #3 since I think Bodemeister's big win flatters him (and I'll Have Another). After the the top 3, I spent a lot of time ordering and re-ordering my list. Dullahan, Alpha, I'll Have Another and Union Rags are tough to separate.Here are a few of the thoughts I had with each of those four while attempting to rank them:

Dullahan: A lot of people aren't too high on Dullahan due to his synthetic and turf form, but I think he is going to be just fine on dirt considering he ran pretty well at Churchill in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He ran a real slow first quarter in that race but was bumped pretty good exiting the starting gate. The big problem for Dullahan will be trip and traffic; it's tough to pass 15 or more horses in the final quarter mile. He probably needs to show just a little more speed early to increase his Derby chances.

I'll Have Another: I don't know if there is a horse in the Top 10 that I've gone back and forth on more than I'll Have Another. The only poor race of his career came on a sloppy track (remember that if the weather is wet on Derby day), other wise, he's just a 1 3/4 loss to Creative Cause in the G2-Best Pal from a undefeated record. It's hard to pick apart his record and he deserves to be one of the top four or five betting interests at the Derby.

Alpha: I dropped Alpha two spots this week not so much because I've soured on his chances, but rather I was more impressed with Bodemeister and Dullahan. Alpha suffered through a pretty adventurous trip in the Wood, so he has a right to make a big move forward in the Derby. The problem with Alpha, as I see it, is that his poor starts are becoming a consistent event. He steadied at the start of the Wood; he bobbled in the Count Fleet; he threw a fit in the gate at the Breeders' Cup - do we really feel 100% confident that this horse is going to get away cleanly in Louisville? I certainly don't.

Union Rags: Every time I looked at my Top 10 I said to myself, "are you really going to put Union Rags at #6?" That seems too low for a horse that many have in their top 3. I really can't give you any good reason for his placing other than the fact that I liked the horses ahead of him a little more (although I had the biggest debate between Union Rags and I'll Have Another).

At the end of the day, the Top 10, while nice to analyze and debate, is merely a backdrop to the ultimate influence of Derby day betting: the tote board. Short or long odds leading up to the race will have a greater influence on my final wagering decisions than any ranking I may come up with, especially since I view many of these horses in a similar light.

Rank Last Horse Comment
1 6 Bodemeister Has to be on top after crushing the Arkansas Derby. Even more impressive: he's been ultra-consistent all spring and keeps getting better.
2 1 Gemologist Only reason he lost his top spot was due to a huge performance by Bodemeister. Could be decent odds on Derby day now that we have a serious favorite.
3 2 Creative Cause The performance by Bodemeister flatters this colt after he beat the Arkansas Derby winner in the San Felipe earlier this spring. Another colt that has displayed consistency and versatility in his races, and he's bred to want more ground.
4 8 Dullahan Love the way he finished up in the Blue Grass after navigating traffic - couldn't ask for much more from this colt at Keeneland. He showed enough in the BC Juvenile last fall to be considered a threat on dirt. Could be the top closer in the Derby.
5 7 I'll Have Another His win over Creative Cause looks better and better, and it's hard not to like the way he's developed this spring in each of his races.
6 7 Union Rags Seems strange to have Union Rags this far down on the list but it's hard to put him in front of some of the others. He's still a big question mark at 10 furlongs.
7 4 Alpha Ran big despite poor trip in the Wood. As a son of Bernardini, he should enjoy more ground. There's also a good chance that Ramon Dominguez gets off Hansen to ride him in the Derby. May have some health concerns.
8 3 Hansen He's a game horse but he's got to find a way to stalk in the Derby. If he draws an inside post he's got almost no shot to win. If he draws an outside post, I'd move him up a notch in the rankings.
9 9 Take Charge Indy Should get better as he stretches out but he won't get an easy lead at Churchill like he did in the Florida Derby. Post position could be key for this colt as he won't want to draw inside of either Bodemeister, Hansen or Secret Circle.
10 10 Secret Circle I'll keep him at 10, cause he's consistent, but he drifted out (again) and looked tired at the end of the Arkansas Derby. He just doesn't look like a 10 furlong horse.
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