2014 Kentucky Derby: Mid-March thoughts on the contenders

Doug Pensinger

We're just a month and a half away from Derby Day 2014. Let's take a quick look at some of the current stories on the road to Louisville.

Truth be told, I don't have a Derby horse at this point, nor do I have any semblance of a Top 10 list. I have some colts that I like and I'm interested to see how they finish out the prep race season but, ultimately, I feel like I won't really come up with "my" horse until Derby week when the contenders start to put in their final preparations. However, that hasn't stopped me each weekend from scribbling some notes and thoughts on the current crop of three-year-old colts.

We're only seven weeks away from the 2014 Kentucky Derby which means we're at least at that stage where we have a decent idea of what the field is going to look like on the first Saturday in May. With that in mind, here are a few thoughts on some of the current contenders:

    • Of all the potential contenders for this year's Derby, Honor Code is the one colt I'm having the most difficulty in figuring out his running style. He came from way, way, way off the pace in his first two career starts, both of which were one turn races (7f and 1 mile). Then he sits close to the pace in what can only be described as one of the most absurdly slow races over a "fast" dirt track you'll ever find in the G2-Remsen; the leaders crawled to 1:17 and 2 for the opening six furlongs. And then we get his three-year-old debut where he has to chase the loose on the lead Social Inclusion, a necessity which took away his typically strong late kick.

      At this point, I kind of feel like those early deep closing efforts were more indicative of a still developing colt rather than a preferred running style. But at the same time, Honor Code's last two races were so odd (or at least featured pace situations that he'll never see in a million years on Derby day) that I'm still not sure what this colt really wants to do during the early parts of a race. I'm hoping his next start, whether in the Florida Derby or somewhere else, gives us a bit of a better look at how this colt might run in Kentucky should he make the field.

    • While it's certainly up for debate, put me into the camp that believes Hoppertunity's victory in the Rebel flatters Intense Holiday and the top finishers in the Risen Star. Personally, I'm becoming a bigger fan of Intense Holiday with each passing day as I like the fact he can sit off of a quick pace, and hasn't thrown in the towel if he ends up well back of the leaders. That should be a valuable asset in the Derby. Second, I look at his past races and I see the quintessential grinder that just keeps running and running and running; I don't think the Derby distance will be an issue at all for this colt.

      This is just a gut feeling at this point but I think Intense Holiday may finally be figuring out this whole racing biz.
    • Following a victory in the Robert Lewis Stakes, John Sadler elected to keep Candy Boy on the sidelines until the Santa Anita Derby and, ultimately, put his colt in a "must run well" situation in three weeks. With only 10 points to his name, Candy Boy can't afford anything to go wrong in his final prep race or he'll be on the outside of the starting gate. Currently, 10 horses are clumped together on the leader board with 10 points apiece.
    • In a sure sign that the road to the Kentucky Derby has changed dramatically over the past ten years, trainer Art Sherman remarked that it's possible that San Vicente winner California Chrome could skip the Santa Anita Derby and simply train up to the Kentucky Derby. Points aren't an issue for this colt as his 50 make him a virtual lock to end up in the top 20.

      But a two month layoff going into the Derby? If California Chrome pulls that off it would be one for the books.

    • This weekend's Derby preps features the G3-Spiral on Turfway's Polytrack, and the Sunland Derby out at, well, Sunland Park. Those are the final two preps which award points in the 50-20-10-5 range.

      In the Spiral Stakes, Tamarando is expected to make another start on synthetics (via Brisnet's Handicapper's Edge) following his victory in the El Camino Real at Gold Gate earlier this winter. His three attempts on dirt were decent but, in my view, he's clearly better on plastic and I'm not sure if he'd do much of anything in the Derby. On the other hand, Tamarando certainly fits the "closer" label if you're looking for an off-the-pace colt to get behind.

      I haven't a clue as to which horses are going to end up in New Mexico for the Sunland Derby but if the last couple of years are any indication, Bob Baffert will likely bring a couple of his second stringers in from California with the hopes of snagging the big 50 point prize.

    • And finally, NYRA has sweetened the pot for this year's Wood Memorial by paying all the way to the 8th place finisher. I'm guessing that incentive will help to ensure a full field of colts at the Big A on April 5th. Per DRF's David Grening on Twitter:

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