DERBY TOP TEN
1. Lookin At Lucky (33). Fittingly, the 2009 juvenile champion debuts at #1. As Christine noted in his e-mail, an extremely tough-trip placing in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile separates this colt from an undefeated six-race career. While he probably wouldn’t admit it, figure that Bob Baffert is glad not to have to shoulder that weight. Undefeated horses force trainers to make decisions they might otherwise not want to make. Long range plans include the Wood Memorial, part owner Michael Pegram wanting one dirt prep before Kentucky.
2. Buddy’s Saint (25). Undefeated in three starts, Bruce Levine trainee will try to overcome the fact he won the nine-furlong Remsen Stakes at 2. Counter-intuitively, the race has become a poor harbinger of Derby form recently and two horses defeated in the Remsen made losing debuts as three-year-olds. Levine said the uber-talented colt will have two preps, one at Gulfstream, the other at Aqueduct. One question if Baffert ships into Queens: Can we avoid the East vs. West hysteria this time? Likely, there’s not a chance in hell.
3. Jackson Bend (17). Did everything right but win in his season’s debut when second to Winslow Homer. Purchased privately for the Robert LaPenta-Nick Zito team following an impressive juvenile season, he was given time to develop by his trainer. His placing visually appeared to be a great race to build and the next step includes a second turn, something he handled despite adversity at two. His best weapon, speed and talent notwithstanding, might be racing savvy. He distributes his energy with great efficiency, a must for any aspiring Classicist.
4. Noble’s Promise (14). Winner of Keeneland’s G1 Breeders’ Futurity and G1-placed in the Juvenile and Cash Call Futurity, he has the speed to attend the pace and the kick to finish the job. A winner of half of his six starts, trainer Ken McPeek is adept at making the synthetics-to-dirt transition, a necessity here. But what he owns in Derby style he might lacks in 10-furlong pedigree. The average winning distance of the offspring of the sire and grand-sire is 6.0 furlongs and 6.6 furlongs, respectively. He earned his lofty ranking at two. The question is how will he develop?
5. Conveyance (13). If it’s possible to doubt an undefeated horse, Baffert’s second runner on this list has questions to answer. He passed his two-turn test, winning the G3 San Rafael at a mile, but it was a small field in which he was the dominant speed. Further, he showed his inexperience, lugging in while under pressure in midstretch. But his speed and talent appear boundless. How he handles stronger and more experienced competition could be a lot to ask.
6. Super Saver (10). Another speed horse in the group but is battle tested and rate-able. He showed that dimension winning the G2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes over the Churchill track in his juvenile finale. Pressured throughout, he was relaxed on the lead, Calvin Borel sitting motionless while guiding him under a very loose rein. When Borel was ready, the Maria’s Mon colt drew off sharply with an impressive turn of foot. The Todd Pletcher barn has no shortage of talented three-year-olds. It will be interesting to see in which direction he sends the Churchill lover.
7. Eskendereya (8). Pletcher, Part 11. Long striding Giant’s Causeway colt is versatile, winning from off the pace and on. Both career wins came on dirt surfaces; one dry, the other wet. In his only in G1 appearance, he was forced to check out of the race on the first turn at Santa Anita, losing any chance of winning the Juvenile. His debut win at 3 was more impressive than the running line indicates. He was on a relaxed despite a pressured lead, Johnny Velazquez daring rivals to challenge him. Each time they did, this colt had an answer.
8. Vale Of York (5). Group 1-placed in Great Britain and Italy and a G1 winner on the Pro Ride at Santa Anita, he handed Lookin At Lucky his only defeat. Clearly, this colt has shown class to handle disparate circumstances ,but that hasn’t included dirt. And since he is being prepared in Dubai, that means he will be prepping on a Tapeta surface. What that will mean come May’s first Saturday is anyone’s guess. And if he ships here and wins some dirt prep, can he avoid the dreaded Euro bounce in Kentucky?
9. (TIE) American Lion (4). This tandem is the second and third Derby eligibles that Winstar Farm places on the list, indeed a strong hand if each continues to develop. American Lion was very impressive at two, taking the G2 Hollywood Prevue at 7 furlongs with high style. By Tiznow, from a Storm Cat mare, he has all the pedigree a Derby horse needs. Now, if only it weren’t for that pesky dirt issue…
9. (TIE) Drosselmeyer (4). He broke maiden in his juvenile finale with authority over the Churchill surface but also has run well on any surface over which he was asked to compete. He knows how to distribute his energy, earning excellent performance figures, and has all the tools and pedigree one could want in a Derby horse. Won his three-year-old debut Sunday very professionally under a confident Kent Desormeaux.
HORSE WITH NO FAME: In Week 1, this distinction goes to Eightyfiveinafifty. Of course, the wise guys know him but he’s had only two starts. Third to eventual Hopeful winner Dublin in his Saratoga debut, he won his first start at three sprinting by 17-¼ lengths. His running time of 1:10 4/5 was approximately three full seconds faster than the second best clocking that day. Curious to see what trainer Gary Contessa asks him to do next.
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