Sunday, February 16, 2014

Kentucky Derby Contenders Analysis and Updates

It may only be February, but the Road to the Kentucky Derby is in full swing and with the first round of major preps nearly behind us, I thought this would be the perfect time to discuss who I view as some of the top contenders. While I won't rank my Kentucky Derby contenders this far out, I'll put them in three groups based upon how I view their development at this point. 

Leading Contenders

Cairo Prince (Pioneerof the Nile - Holy Bubbette, by Holy Bull) 
Impressive in his four career starts, three of which were in graded stakes. His only loss came at the hands of Honor Code in the G1 Remsen, by the slightest of margins. Regardless, he looked to be the better of the two in that one, as he had a wider trip than the winner, was carrying more weight, and was still gamely fighting on up to the wire. He's clearly the most accomplished of the true contenders at this point and he showed exactly what he's made of when winning the Holy Bull Stakes in dominant fashion.
What to Watch For: His pedigree and build are borderline for that of a true router, so it'll be important to see how he comes home in his next prep, the Florida Derby, which will be over nine furlongs. I wouldn't be terribly put off if he doesn't win that race as long as he's not staggering home, however, because he will have had two months in between preps and may very well need the run. It's also important to note he has never ran behind another horse in any of his races to date, so a solid finish despite running between and behind others would be a major plus. 
Last Result: 1st in G2 Holy Bull Stakes, Expected Next Start: Florida Derby

Candy Boy (Candy Ride - She's an Eleven, by In Excess)
Always in the mix, this son of Candy Ride lost to Tap it Rich before breaking his maiden over the synthetic track at Hollywood Park. He finished a very nice second to Shared Belief in the CashCall Futurity after being the first to make a run at the pacesetter Brother Solider and backed that performance up with a win in the Robert B Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita, which was on the dirt.
What to Watch For: Candy Ride is a prolific synthetic and turf sire, so it will be important to see if Candy Boy can have back to back strong performances on the dirt. Additionally, this is the time of year during which Candy Rides have historically been strong, but they are all too often surpassed by the more progressive colts as the Kentucky Derby approaches. He doesn't need to do much more, but a solid finish in the Santa Anita Derby, particularly because that will come after a two month layoff, will be a good sign.
Last Result: 1st in G2 Robert B. Lewis Stakes, Expected Next Start: Santa Anita Derby

Noble Moon (Malibu Moon - Mambo Bell, by Kingmambo)
A winner in two of his three starts, this son of Malibu Moon (who also sired last year's Kentucky Derby winner Orb) has one of the more interesting and balanced pedigrees of the bunch. After breaking his maiden in his first attempt, he ran a deceivingly good third behind Cairo Prince in the Nashua after being bumped at the start, which forced him to rally from the back of a field of twelve. The plan was for him to next run in the Remsen, but he was forced to scratch after breaking out in hives and instead he made his next start in the G2 Jerome, which he won. It wasn't the flashiest of victories over a relatively weak field, but surely he needed the run. He missed some time with niggling injury issues since, but is said to be galloping at the moment.
What to Watch For: If he is really going to run in the Gotham, he needs to start working this week. Having ran last month, it shouldn't take much to get him back to top fitness, but he'll absolutely need to be on his A-game if he's going to compete in the loaded Gotham, which may include Uncle Sigh, Surfing U S A, and Harpoon. Distance shouldn't be an issue, but he is bred to be a late developer, so watch for continued development, and perhaps a breakout performance, in his upcoming races.
Last Result: 1st in G2 Jerome Stakes, Expected Next Start: Gotham 

Vicar's In Trouble (Into Mischief - Vibrant, by Vicar)
One of the speedier horses in the bunch, Vicar's In Trouble has found new life since arriving at the Fair Grounds, where he is undefeated, has won his two starts by a combined total of just under twenty lengths, and has logged some of the higher speed figures of the bunch.
What to Watch For: The biggest question for this son of Into Mischief is whether or not he will continue to be able to stay the distance. Last year, two Into Mischiefs: Goldencents and Vyjack both shined at this time of the year, but were unable to effectively stretch out to ten furlongs. The upside for this colt is that he ran greenly at times in the LeComte, as he swerved coming down the straight and looked to switch back to his left lead, so there is a possibility for improvement.
Last Result: 1st in G3 LeComte Stakes, Expected Next Start: Risen Star 

Samraat (Noble Causeway - Little Indian Girl, by Indian Charlie)
Undefeated in four starts, Samraat has done nothing wrong to this point. He demolished the field when he won by over sixteen in the Damon Runyon, although Deceived blowing the break certainly helped him quite a bit there. His win in what was essentially a match race versus Uncle Sigh in the G3 Withers was mighty impressive, however, in that he showed an ability to rate just off the pace.
What to Watch For: While I severely doubt his ability to stay for more than nine furlongs, it will be just as important to see how he can hang in a race that has a fair amount of early speed. He's made his mark by feasting off of easy leads and him and Uncle Sigh weren't exactly flying early on in the Withers. His distance limitations may very well be exposed should he have to work harder early on.
Last Result: 1st in G3 Withers Stakes, Expected Next Start: Undecided, but will be one prep (Louisiana Derby, Florida Derby, or Wood Memorial most likely)

Shared Belief (Candy Ride - Common Hope, by Storm Cat)
Two-year-old champion Shared Belief marked himself a major contender when he blew away a talented field that included stakes winners Tamarando and Bond Holder at Hollywood Park. Not only is he undefeated in three starts, but is one of the few who has posted triple digit Beyer speed figures along the way. All of his wins, however, have come on synthetic surfaces.
What to Watch For: The obvious question is whether or not he will successfully transition to dirt, although given his build and stride, I tend to think he will even though Candy Ride isn't known as a dirt sire. The bigger question, however, will be his ability to get back on track after being off the worktab since the start of the year. He was initially supposed to run in the Robert B Lewis, but plans have since changed and although he has resumed training, it will be vital that he records works soon if he wants any chance at making it to the Kentucky Derby.
Last Result: 1st in G1 CashCall Futurity, Expected Next Start: Undecided (San Felipe, perhaps?)

Progressive Types

Conquest Titan (Birdstone - Miner's Secret, by Mineshaft)
I'm typically not a fan of three-year-olds who have ran more than five times and haven't yet won a graded stakes race for fear that they're just not good enough to compete, but a change in running style and a pedigree that points towards late development is enough to maintain my interest in this well-bred son of Birdstone. After moderate success as a two-year-old, his running style was switched to that of a deep closer and he immediately won an Allowance Optional Claimer over next time winner General a Rod at Churchill Downs. He most recently finished a distant second to Cairo Prince in the Holy Bull after impressively coming through the field to get a piece.
What to Watch For: He's bred to be a Classic distance runner, so he should have no issues staying. He should continue to log solid finishes and his speed figures should raise the further he has to run. Plenty of horses were able to close at Gulfstream on the day of the Holy Bull, so it will also be important to note whether or not he will be able to complete the same sweeping run from the back next time out.
Last Result: 2nd in G2 Holy Bull Stakes, Expected Next Start: Fountain of Youth

Top Billing (Curlin - Parade Queen, by A.P. Indy)
He's won two out of three, with his only loss coming to the highly regarded Commissioner and is definitely the "buzz horse" following his impressive Allowance Optional Claiming win over Surfing U S A on the Holy Bull undercard. His pedigree screams Derby runner, but as was mentioned with Conquest Titan, it's again worth stating that many runners were able to close at Gulfstream that day, contrary to popular belief. Regardless, the patience he showed and the ease with which he was able to pass his competitors was eye catching.
What to Watch For: Unlike most of the others on this list, Top Billing has yet to compete in stakes company, so we'll have to see whether or not he can truly compete at this level in his next outing. It's also worth noting that was his third career start and horses tend to improve in the third start of a form cycle, so whether or not he can back up that effort next time out will be important.
Last Result: 1st in Allowance Optional Claimer, Expected Next Start: Fountain of Youth

Almost Famous (Unbridled's Song - Wild Gams, by Forest Wildcat)
Another horse who's bred to run ten furlongs, Almost Famous wasn't on my radar until watching him run in the Holy Bull. He had been headstrong in his three starts prior, so it was no surprise to see him on the lead in the Holy Bull and with Cairo Prince and Coup de Grace breathing down his neck, it was also not surprising he was unable to hold that lead, even moreso if the track was slightly favoring horses coming from off the pace. All in all, I like that he didn't fold after losing the lead and it's worth noting he galloped out past everyone (although in fairness, Cairo Prince was likely eased, so his short gallop out was deceiving).
What to Watch For: He's one who seems as if he'd relish a longer trip, but an inability to rate could be his downfall. It's just too hard for a horse who absolutely needs the lead to be successful consistently. If they're able to get him to rate off the pace, that's a major plus. It will also be important to keep a close eye on his works to ensure they're on a regular schedule because Unbridled Song's historically have troubles staying sound.
Last Result: 4th in G2 Holy Bull, Expected Next Start: Fountain of Youth

Albano (Istan - Pocho's Dream Girl, by Fortunate Prospect)
Having never finished outside of the top three, Albano has proven himself as one of the more consistent horses of this group. After finishing third in a twelve horse field Maiden Special Weight at Churchill Downs, he won two straight, one of which was a stakes at Fair Grounds. He most recently finished a distant second to Vicar's In Trouble in the LeComte, but his gallop out was eye catching to say the least. He's a half to multiple graded stakes winner Mark Valeski. 
What to Watch For: A horse who strikes me as one who will have no problems staying the distance, his main issue is in the speed department. He's bred to mature late, which gives hope for improvement, but he needs to find a bit more speed in order to avoid being just a plodder.
Last Result: 2nd in G3 LeComte, Expected Next Start: Risen Star

Uncle Sigh (Indian Charlie - Cradlesong, by Pine Bluff)
He dueled and narrowly went down to Samraat in the Withers, but he did the dirty work in that race and often it's tougher to be the "hunted" in these match race types. Of those two, I prefer this son of Indian Charlie, who appears on paper to have a much better chance of getting the distance. His one win was a blowout victory in a Maiden Special Weight, but it's the grit and fight he's shown in his two runner-up finishes that should bode well for him going forward.
What to Watch For: Another one who's shown a need for the lead, it will be important to see how he handles a race with an abundance of early speed and if he is able to learn to rate.
Last Result: 2nd in G3 Withers, Expected Next Start: Gotham

Chelios (Distorted Humor - Grat, by A.P. Indy)
After closing to finish second to Cherubim, Chelios immediately went to the front, set fast fractions, and never looked back to break his maiden in his second start over six and one half furlongs at Santa Anita. He made a major statement that day and what's even more interesting is that his pedigree suggests this half to Old Time Hockey wants no part of running in sprints. He should relish stretching out and mature late, which makes that speedy and dominating of a performance all the more impressive. It's also worth noting that his sire Distorted Humor is one of the few horses who has sired a winner of all three Triple Crown Races in Funny Cide (Kentucky Derby & Preakness) & Drosselmeyer (Belmont Stakes).
What to Watch For: We have to be realistic, he has only ran in Maiden Special Weights to date, so although he was very impressive, it wasn't like he was running against a tough field by any means. That being said, he doesn't have much time to waste, he needs win his upcoming races if he wants to be in the gate for the Derby.
Last Result: 1st in Maiden Special Weight, Expected Next Start: Undecided (Maybe an Allowance?)

California Chrome (Lucky Pulpit - Love the Chase, by Not For Love)
Two straight dominating wins have thrust this son of Lucky Pulpit into the limelight, the most recent of which was over Tamarando in the eight and one half furlong California Cup Derby at Santa Anita. Prior to that, he won by over six lengths in the King Glorious Stakes at Hollywood Park and he notched very high speed figures for both of those victories.
What to Watch For: This one appears to be an inconsistent sort, but when he fires WATCH OUT! The biggest thing to watch for him will be whether or not he can sustain his success on dirt. One huge run switching from the synthetic to dirt is one thing. Running consistently well over the dirt is a whole different ballgame.
Last Result: 1st in California Cup Derby, Expected Next Start: San Felipe Stakes

Raw Talent

Bobby's Kitten (Kitten's Joy - Celestial Woods, by Forestry)
If you watched the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, it was impossible not to take notice of Bobby's Kitten, who set blistering fractions before being passed by Outstrip and Giovanni Boldini late. How he held on for third in that race after the pace he set is still mind boggling to me. Prior to that, he had run three times, two of which he won easily. The talent is there, he's proven to be able to hang against top class rivals, has tons of speed, and being by Kitten's Joy, distance is not an issue. Add to that he will be taking arguably an easier route to the Derby, as he'll be avoiding the premier dirt preps and the fact that he is definitely Ken Ramsey's number one and you better believe that if he has the points, he'll be in the Derby.
What to Watch For: Kitten's Joy is the top turf sire in America by far and although he's not known to sire dirt runners, it's not unheard of (see multiple graded stakes winner Csaba). His ability on dirt will be a question that won't be answered until the Derby, itself though as he won't run on it beforehand. For him, we'll be watching for a solid prep on turf before it's all on the line in the Blue Grass. He'll likely need to finish top two there and we'd love to see him show an ability to harness in a bit of that early speed instead of flying out of the gate guns blazing.
Last Result: 3rd in G1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, Expected Next Start: Palm Beach Stakes

Giovanni Boldini (War Front - Dancing Trieste, by Old Trieste)
The Aidan O'Brien trained runner up in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf was bred in West Virginia. He's won twice in Europe, both of which were on synthetic tracks and his only losses both came on turf and were at the hands of two seriously talented two-year-olds: Toormore and Outstrip. He will most likely be O'Brien's main charge at the UAE Derby at Meydan
What to Watch For: If he does in fact run in Dubai, he is definitely the one to watch, but it's how he exits that race which will be of utmost importance. While I'm not the biggest fan of the UAE Derby route to the Kentucky Derby, he does have some dirt influences in his pedigree and has proven class. If he wins in Dubai and exits that race well, he could be a dangerous sleeper.
Last Result: 2nd in Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, Expected Next Start: Undecided (Maybe UAE Derby?)



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