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Road to Kentucky Derby 136 - vol. 1

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Chuchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky.
Chuchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky.

Beginning this Wednesday and continuing every Wednesday until the first Saturday in May, I'll take a look at where things stand on the road to this year's Kentucky Derby.  I'll re-cap any preps from the week before, take a quick peek at any races coming up, and eventually provide some sort of Top 10 list which will prove to be incredibly inaccurate by the time the starting gate opens on May 1st.

With that in mind, let's dive in.

Last Week

While it's still early in the sorting out process, last Saturday provided a brief glimpse at some of the horses that we should expect to move forward on the Derby trail over the next month or two.  The Derby preps really don't begin to gain steam in the February (as I'll detail below) but these first two races certainly can give us a little bit of a clue as to which contenders might warrant some extra attention.

I'll start in Florida with the Holy Bull, where Winslow Homer fought gamely through the stretch to deny the favorite, Jackson Bend, the top prize.  (Holy Bull Results Chart)  I would expect to see the top three finishers (Winslow Homer, Jackson Bend, and William's Kitten) along with maybe Homeboykris advance out of this race towards the G2-Fountain of Youth.  The top two in here, however, were clearly the best of the field, finishing more than three lengths ahead of the 3rd place horse.  Winslow Homer, to me, looks like a horse that could develop into a big time player this spring given his connections and his ability to rate early.  At the same time, Jackson Bend proved that his Calder success was no fluke and really ran a tough, tough race considering he was up near the early lead, went three or four wide into the turn, and still had every chance to win in the stretch.  He could take a big step forward when he goes two turns.

Down in New Orleans it was the closer, Ron the Greek, that rallied past the field in the final 1/16th of a mile to score a nice upset in the Lecomte (Results Chart).  The performance was visually impressive but I'm not sure how much stock to put into it considering that the rest of the field (other than the other closer, Letsgetitonmon) were all out of gas at the top of the stretch.  The final spits for the field in the last quarter mile and 40 yards were beyond abysmal with the two closers the only horses to run that final distance in less than :27 seconds.

Despite his loss, big respect has to be paid to Maximus Ruler, who did all the dirty work on the front end only to come up a length and a half short.  If you look at that results chart you'll see that the other three horses that went towards the lead early all faded badly in the stretch, similar to Maximus Ruler.  But all of those horses came into the Lecomte with a recent race under their belt while Maximus Ruler hadn't seen a race since the end of November.  I think that's an important point going forward and indicates to me that this colt has a high ceiling in terms of his short term development.  I'm not yet convinced that he's a Derby horse given his running style, but his next couple of races could be big performances depending on the spot and if he's able to improve. 

Coming Up

The prep action will now take a breather for a couple of weeks as there are no races of note in store for this weekend.  Once we get into February, however, things start to pick with preps in California and New York on Saturday, February 6th, and an interesting little Grade 3 event on the turf in Florida on Sunday the 7th.  Here's a snapshot of the stakes races for three year olds over the next few weeks:

Date

Race

Track

Distance

2/6

G2-Robert S. Lewis

Santa Anita

1 1/8 Miles

2/6

Whirlaway Stakes

Aqueduct

1 1/16 Miles

2/7

Hallendale Beach (Turf)

Gulfstream

1 1/6 Miles

2/13

G3-Sam F. Davis

Tampa Bay

1 1/6 Miles

2/15

G3-Southwest Stakes

Oaklawn

1 Mile

2/15

G2-Vicente Stakes

Santa Anita

7 furlongs

2/20

G2-Risent Star

Fair Grounds

1 1/16 Miles

2/20

G2-Fountain of Youth

Gulfstream

1 1/8 Miles

2/20

G2-Hutcheson Stakes

Gulfstream

7 furlongs

2/27

G3-Sham

Santa Anita

1 1/8 Miles

That's a lot of big time Kentucky Derby preps taking place next month, with possibly the biggest being the clash in Florida on the 20th when it is expected that Winslow Homer, Jackson Bend, and Buddy's Saint will all be entered in the G2-Fountain of Youth.  Buddy's Saint won all three of his starts as a two year old, including dominating performances in both the G2-Nashua and G2-Remsen at Aqueduct.  

Top 10

I'm going to save any Top 10 stuff for a few more weeks since it's really way too early to try and come up with any type of decent contender ranking.  Without a list of the early Triple Crown nominations (which should be released at some point in the near future) it's tough to truly assess this year's crop of three year olds.  Plus, I'm still trying to decide what I'm going to do with the California contenders and their synthetic surface form, especially considering Lookin' at Lucky's status as one of the early favorites.

If you've got your Derby horse, or just some names that you are watching closely, feel free to drop it into the comments.