Louisville, Ky. (WHAS11) - The big weekend of Derby prep races produced two more horses who made the Derby with one big race. With a couple of exceptions, the field on May 7 will be full of one hit wonders, hoping for another miracle.
Add to the list of Derby starters, Brilliant Speed who brings Polytrack credentials to Churchill after winning the Bluegrass Stakes. His resume is really just one good race.
Not only did Brilliant Speed win the Bluegrass at 19-1, not a single favorite finished higher than fifth. Because of that, the two dollar superfecta paid $129,000. The trifecta was a little over $6,000.
An hour later, another long shot made the Derby field by winning the Arkansas Derby at 25 to 1. Archarcharch stunned the crowd at Oaklawn and produced a winning smile from jockey Jon Court.
But Archarcharch may have a legitimate shot on Derby Day. He did win two of the three prep races at Oaklawn and he won on dirt. He and second place Nehro produced a $416 exacta.
Nehro also advances to Louisville because he was also second in the Louisiana Derby. Second place in two million races means $400,000 in graded stakes money. Nehro has just one win, his maiden race, but in this Derby he could be dangerous. Hey, in this Derby anybody could be dangerous.
And as the horses and the people begin to congregate on the backside at Churchill Downs, Nehro has all the marks of the "Now Horse." He's going to create a lot of buzz among the folks in Louisville, who are about to become horse experts for a couple of weeks.
But this Kentucky Derby may be as difficult to handicap as any I've seen in 26 years. Here's my ranking of the contenders and pretenders.
1. Dialed In
Saw him win his first race in November and thought he had great potential.
Nick Zito thought the same thing. He's done everything right in Florida and even looked great in the race he lost to an older horse. His turn of foot in the last 1/8th of a mile may be the most memorable thing about this Derby. His stretch run reminds me of Zenyatta.
The Arkansas Derby has become such a good predictor for the Kentucky Derby that "Archie" surely will go off at lower odds than 25-1. Trainer Jinks Fires won his first Grade One at Oaklawn and his son-in-law, Jon Court is the rider. He overcame the 10th post position and closed four wide to win. Another closer looking for a good trip.
The Nehro bandwagon is leaving the depot. He finished second in two Grade One stakes races, so this is a serious horse who might be getting better. And consider these times. Nehro was second by a neck in Arkansas. That raced was timed in 1:49.34. At Keeneland, the Bluegrass Stakes was run in 1:50.92
I know, its different surfaces, but the field at Oaklawn was much tougher.
4. Toby's Corner
This is another 3-year-old, who closed with a rush to win a million dollar race and beat Uncle Mo to boot. The time at the Wood Memorial was 1:49.9 and that puts Toby very much in the mix with the guys in Arkansas. His sire, Bellamy Road, also won the Wood.
5. Mucho Macho Man
He finished third in the Louisiana Derby even though he lost a shoe coming out of the gate. That race finished in 1:49.92. So you get the point. If Macho Man keeps all four shoes he should be right there at the finish. And a reminder to start watching the works at Churchill to see who handles the track.
6. Pants on Fire
This is the horse that actually won the Louisiana Derby and did it in front running fashion. This is one horse that could be part of the pace in the Derby and that could set it up for a closer. But there was no denying, Pants on Fire ran like it in New Orleans.
Haven't heard much about Soldat since his less than inspiring run in the Florida Derby. He had an almost perfect record coming up to that race but got caught down on the rail and trudged home. By the way, he's a War Front, the same sire as The Factor, and their last races are very similar.
8. Midnight Interlude
The clock struck Midnight at the Santa Anita Derby when the two favorites scratched. If you want to compare times, the S.A. Derby went in 1:48.66. But that's partially a product of the new dirt course at Santa Anita which is still lightning fast. So, Bob Baffert is now best friends again with jockey Victor Espinoza and headed to Louisville.
9. Uncle Mo
Now, the official mystery horse.
After winning the two year old championship, he was mysteriously slow returning to the track this spring. Mo's connections mysteriously went looking for easier races. It turned out the Wood Memorial was not easy enough.
Todd Pletcher says Uncle Mo had a G.I. infection and that could be an excuse.
They're still on the Derby trail, they say, but don't be surprised if he doesn't run.
10. Decisive Moment
He was the first contender to arrive at Churchill Downs and trainer Juan Arias loves the way he's training. Do not dismiss a well conditioned horse that ships in from the soft sand of south Florida. I would not be surprised to see Decisive Moment hit the board.
11. Comma to the Top
If they decide to run, this is a very tough competitor. The goal was supposed to be just the Santa Anita Derby but then Comma ran a very good second and lost only in the final strides. The challenge for this horse is the distance and they may choose to fight another day.
He missed the Santa Anita Derby with a bruised foot and now Baffert is ready to run him in the Lexington Stakes, the annual last call for graded stakes money. But, Jaycito needs the race more than the money. He must prove he's sound.
13. Twice the Appeal
The winner of the Sunland Park Derby is another of those one race wonders that we have come to love or dismiss in the Derby prep season. But Sunland will always be remembered as the race that produced Mine That Bird, and the lesson that Derby winners can come from anywhere.
14. Animal Kingdom
A grass pedigree and a Polytrack resume, but with enough graded stakes money from the Spiral Stakes to make the field. He may love the dirt at Churchill Downs but Turfway is not one of those races that has been sending a lot of winners to the Derby.
15. Brilliant Speed
You can lump him in with Animal Kingdom after the upside down finish at Keeneland. He closed from dead last on Polytrack to punch his ticket to Louisville. But will he be like recent Bluegrass winners, Monba, Stately Victor and others who were Poly-wonders?
16. The Factor
If he had won the Arkansas Derby, he might have been the favorite for the Kentucky Derby. But, he stopped. And now, you wonder if this speedball will even make the trip to Kentucky. He has enough money if they want to enter, but if a horse can't run a mile and an eighth….well…..
On the bubble for graded stakes money, but it looks like he might get in. Shackleford ran very well on the front end at the Florida Derby so he deserves a shot. With some improvement…anything is possible. But he's another contender with basically one good race.
18. J P's Gusto
I list him because he has enough money to get in the field but he tired badly in the Arkansas Derby and that was his second bad race in a row. Still, if they want a Derby horse, they can run.
19. Stay Thirsty
Another horse with enough money to start after winning the Gotham Stakes. But he looked outclassed in the Florida Derby. If the Repole Stable wants to show the silks, he's a classy horse, but maybe not Derby class.
20. Watch Me Go
The Tampa Bay Derby winner will probably make the field, but this horse had very little "Go" in the Illinois Derby. As I've mentioned before, Tampa horses have a tendency to run well on Derby Day.
There is precious little graded stakes money still to be earned in the three weeks before the Derby, so most of the open spaces in the starting gate will be determined by connections who decide not to run.
I think the biggest question mark is Uncle Mo, who was everybody's favorite just a couple of weeks ago. They say he won't run if he's not 100 percent, and that number gives a lot of opportunity to scratch.
There are also a half dozen horses with enough money to run in the Derby but not enough pedigree to make mile and a quarter.
So, now it's time to wait and watch, re-visit the pedigrees, and see who will be running at the end of the Kentucky Derby.
I'll start to narrow down the contenders next week.
Thanks for reading.