Kentucky Derby Top 13 NOTE: Ordering of the horses in the following description does not imply order of preference...
1. SABERCAT - Steve Asmussen - Once the son of Bluegrass Cat was given two turns on a fast dirt surface he developed into a win machine. Of course one can hold slightly slower BRIS speed numbers and the fact that his last two stakes wins were the Garden City at Monmouth and the Delta Jackpot at Delta Downs, but this is one well-bred colt and he is being handled by the less than conventional but nonetheless highly successful Steve Asmussen. He has learned to re dogged in his last three races and I’m not about to dismiss a horse that knows how to win…especially when he does so in the Asmussen barn.
2. BATTLE HARDENED - Eddie Kenneally - Although the Sam F. Davis has not sent many colts on to greater glory along the Derby trail, his decisive victory in that race was a statement. Remaining confident despite a trio of failed MSW tires, trainer Kenneally entered him in the Davis despite having him cross-entered in a MSW at Gulfstream Park. He had shown good tactical speed in a pair of two turn MSW races, one at Churchill Downs and one at Gulfstream Park. In the Davis he once again settled just off the pace and drove clear of the next three finishers as they battled through the lane. Another son of Giant’s Causeway he deserves a spot until proven otherwise.
3. OUT OF BOUNDS - Eoin Harty - Have to admit that any of the next three could replace each other in the rankings, but after watching him rally to break his maiden when given enough ground in his second career start (7 furlongs) and then experiencing him win the mile Sham Stakes with an equally impressive closure of ground, I was sold on him. He still needs to tangle with a few of the more experienced west coast top-liners, but if he is anything at all like his sire Discreet Cat and carries the stamina of his dam Unbridled Elaine, who won the BC Distaff, he will be just as impressive as he moves forward.
4. ALPHA - Kiaran McLaughlin - After his workmanlike disposal of his rivals in the Grade III Withers he must be placed on the list. He has now won 4 of 6 in his career, finished second to near-front-of-the-list Union Rags in the Grade I Champagne and turned in his only bad race when he bled in the Grade I BC Juvenile. Trainer McLaughlin appears judicious in choosing his opposition (developing confidence can’t be over-rated)as he moves forward, but the son of Bernardini certainly went about his business professionally in the Withers and easily beat the opposition he was supposed to.
5. LIAIASON - Bob Baffert - Not willing to throw him out due to circumstances beyond his control. The son of Indian Charlie out of the Victory Gallop mare Galloping Gal has the perfect combination of mile speed on the male side and female stamina. He was a perfect 4 for 4 heading into Saturday’s Grade II Robert B. Lewis and was in good striking position when longshot Groovin Solo came out sharply as they left the far turn and caused Liaison to clip heels and lose rider Bejarano. His Grade I Cash Call Futurity rally to victory last fall when he bid and went on while between horses speaks to his talent, so there is no reason to think any less of him after Saturday’s unfortunate outcome.
6. HANSEN - Michael Maker -The 2-year old champ sent up some warning flares when he showed in the Holy Bull that he still needs to learn to rate. But it is difficult to keep such a talented and speedy colt off this list, especially since he might have been extra ramped up off the layoff (many young horses are) and ran over a sloppy and sealed race track. In his next start we’ll find out if he can mature and learn to relax enough to put his speed to good use or if the son of Tapit is another in a long line of precocious speed balls that developed that aspect early in their careers and never showed any other talent.
7. CREATIVE CAUSE - Mike Harrington - Has done little wrong in his five lifetime races except finish close up thirds in the Grade I Del mar Futurity and Grade I BC Juvenile. The son of Giant’s Causeway was brilliant in winning the Grade I Norfolk at Santa Anita last fall and he has been kept to task with a string of 6 furlong works of late. His two losses might appear as negatives, given how he was in contention but didn’t get it finished, but those races also revealed a sustained even-fraction pace that could serve him well as he stretches out.
8. UNION RAGS - Michael Matz - All his head loss in the Grade I BC Juvenile did was put that oh-so-slight blemish on a sterling 2-year old campaign. If you want to argue that he is the best 3-year old colt that has raced so far you won’t get any argument from me. He was professional and dominant in winning the Grade I Champagne Stakes at Belmont as he simply waited on horses before taking off. That two turn victory followed a pair of sprint (MSW breaker and Grade II Saratoga Special) victories that looked like workouts. Was probably best in his neck loss in the BC Juvenile as he was 5-6 wide much of the way.
9. ALGORITMS - Todd Pletcher - The professionalism this guy showed in his Holy Bull Stakes win at Gulfstream on January 29 speaks volumes about how far along he is after only three career races. The son of hot young sire Bernardini wasn’t bothered at all by hugging the rail through some pretty quick fractions (stayed in contact with Hansen’s out-of-control early pace) while in hand and still had plenty left to stride away through the stretch. Undefeated in three career starts he has gotten better with each. One of them has to be first on the list and since this guy hasn’t had a blemish yet and hasn’t even been urged yet, he’s earned it.
10. GEMOLOGIST - Todd Pletcher -The undefeated son of Tiznow has yet to make his 3-year old debut, but if his juvenile season is any indication, when he does we can expect something serious. He has already shown his versatility by driving to victory in his career debut when he won off by 5 lengths over the synthetic surface at Turfway Park. He followed that up with a pair of handy wins at Churchill Downs, first capturing an entry level allowance race, then very professionally making a 4 wide move before drawing clear to win the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. He’ll likely only have two preps before the Derby, but in recent years that has not been the hurdle it once was.
11. EL PADRINO - Todd Pletcher - The ridiculousness of riches continues again in 2012 for trainer Pletcher who also has this obviously talented son of Pulpit in his barn. Bred to get better the longer they run, the colt made his 3-year old debut a winning one as he shook loose after being squeezed in tight on the far turn in an entry level allowance blowout (garnered a 111 BRIS speed number) as he validated his troubled trip third in the Grade II Remsen in his 2-year old finale. Pletcher may send him in the Fountain Of Youth Stakes at his Gulfstream park base, so we should know a lot more after that, but even though his resume is not laced with high profile gigs, he has looked the part when he has been on the track.
12. EMPIRE WAY - Mike Harrington - Sleeper number one. I’ve often noted over the years that progeny of multiple graded stakes winner Empire Maker often take a while to develop and if the rousing second place finish in the Grade II Robert B. Lewis is any indication, this guy might be ready to move forward substantially. Out of an A.p. Indy mare, distance is most definitely in the blood, as has been exhibited by his 6 wide late bid in the Grade I Cash Call Futurity in his 2-year old finale and his rallying move to the rail for his placing in the Lewis. His late pace BRIS speed numbers are spectacular so he is definitely one with the potential to move up on this list.
13. CONSULADO - Mike Puype - Sleeper number two. The son of More Than Ready has only raced twice and broke his maiden in his second career try on January 7 at Santa Anita. But his breeding (out of a Broad Brush mare) suggests he’ll go on in distance. It was his eye-popping maiden breaker and a series of very fast works since which peaks the interest. He of course needs to face convincing opposition, but watching that maiden win definitely opened my eyes so I’ll be following him carefully.
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