Updated January 7
Louisville, Ky. (WHAS11) - A paddock drama at Hollywood Park and a track record at Santa Anita have launched two new contenders into our Top Twenty.
In fact, the first newcomer has made my Top Five.
Comma to the Top won the CashCall Futurity after causing a 40 minute delay before the Grade One race. First he lost a shoe. Then he stepped on the farrier, who was trying to replace the shoe. Finally a cell phone call located a second farrier, who completed the work. Meanwhile, the other horses and trainers were waiting, some impatiently. And some even suggested that Comma to the Top should be scratched. And that was the only way they could beat him on a rainy night at Hollywood Park. Comma to the Top passed the leaders down the stretch and won by almost two lengths.
And it always catches your attention when a horse wins a maiden race and breaks the track record at the same time. The Factor, trained by Bob Baffert, won a race on the new dirt course at Santa Anita and he covered six furlongs in 1:06.98. That new track has been playing very fast. But under 1:07 in his second start? That's crazy fast.
Both newcomers to the list are training in California but the biggest concentration of Derby contenders this year is in Florida. So let's take you first to Palm Meadows Training Center, the current home of the two year old champion.
1. Uncle Mo.
Your favorite Uncle has been at Boynton Beach for the last month and of course the question is, can he find his Mo-mentum as a 3-year-old.
The speed figures say he's one of the fastest two year olds in recent memory. Now, the Tampa Bay Derby is the next probable race and then owner Mike Repole wants the Wood Memorial as the final prep race. Uncle Mo was sired by Indian Charlie and his Dosage Index is 2.20. Is this Todd Pletcher's next Super Saver or Eskendereya?
2. To Honor and Serve.
The Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct is famous for producing winter book favorites for the Derby, although you have to go back to Thunder Gulch and Go For Gin to find Derby winners, who won the Remsen. But trainer Bill Mott thinks this is his best shot at winning the Derby. So far, Mott is 0 for 7. To Honor and Serve has now won the Nashua and Remsen Stakes, both Grade II. He has a wonderful pedigree, by Bernardini and a Dosage of 2.38. Next race: The Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream.
The winner of the Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill has trainer Eddie Kenneally thinking Derby. In a way, it is amazing Santiva could find the finish line. He was starting under his third trainer in the Jockey Club. Kenny McPeek had Santiva for two races in the summer, then Todd Pletcher started him at Keeneland and now owner Tom Walters has him with Kenneally. He's a Giant's Causeway, ought to run forever and has a Dosage Index of 1.67.
Half-brethren to Super Saver but maybe a little behind last year's Derby winner in development as a 2-year-old. Still Brethren impressed at Churchill Downs by making it two in a row, and giving WinStar a shot at another Derby. This colt is by Distorted Humor, out of Super Saver's dam, Supercharger. The Dosage is 3.00. But like Super Saver, this horse may have to compete with other Derby horses in the Pletcher string. But what if Calvin rides?
5. Comma to the Top
This is a brave horse. He made it through the lost shoe episode, then beat a good field at a mile and a sixteenth in a driving rain. He now has enough graded money to make the Derby. But I have reservations. He's a Bwana Charlie, a relatively new sire, who made most of his money in sprints. The pedigree goes back to In Excess and that line loves synthetic tracks. Still to come, testing Comma to the Top at distance and on dirt. The Dosage Index is 2.20.
6. Dialed In.
Anybody who saw Dialed In break his maiden on November 12 at Churchill knows why this horse has Derby potential. After a terrible trip, Dialed In and Julien Leparoux just inhaled the field in a stunning stretch run. Trainer Nick Zito hopes for a repeat, same time, same track, next May. He's a Mineshaft and the Dosage fits at 3.62. And, oh yes, the dam is a Storm Cat.
He's another maiden winner. But stay with me here, it's early.
In the race after the Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill, this horse broke his maiden at the same distance, but a full second faster than the stakes horses.
Nobody is overlooking a Tapit pedigree these days, and the Dosage Index is 3.00. Steve Asmussen is the trainer, and he'll give Tapizar every chance to make the Derby. But now, he needs a stakes race.
Astrology is another Asmussen trainee, who has already won the Iroquois Stakes. And if you like Santiva, you have to like Astrology who lost by just a head in the Jockey Club Stakes. This is an A.P. Indy colt who has been the favorite in every race that he has run. Dosage Index is 3.62. Looks like a major player if he stays sound.
9. Major Gain.
In the blanket finish at the Jockey Club, Major Gain was the horse to the inside of Captiva and Astrology. He was third, but he had already won the Arlington Washingon Futurity on Polytrack and this proved he can run on dirt. Wayne Catalano is the trainer for Gary and Mary West. He's a More Than Ready, and the Dosage is 2.56.
10. Gourmet Dinner.
He picked up another nice check with a fourth place finish in the CashCall Futurity. It was his first race on synthetic, and he was not that far off the lead.
This horse hit the Jackpot at Delta Downs with $600,000 in graded earnings and a ticket to Louisville if he holds together. The sire is Trippi, which doesn't exactly indicate a love of the Derby distance but the Dosage is OK, 3.00.
11. Decisive Moment
If the Delta Downs Jackpot had been a little longer, this might have been the winner. Decisive Moment is by With Distinction, a son of Storm Cat and the Dosage indicates that he will love longer races. Trainer Juan Arias went back to Florida with 200,000 in grades stakes money and the Dosage of 2.11 means he try the Florida preps.
12. The Factor
The trainer couldn't believe his eyes. Bob Baffert got a present the day after Christmas. When the Factor crossed the finish line, Baffert thought the tote board recorded 1:08 for six furlongs. No. It was a new track record, 1:06.98.
The Factor won by more than 8 lengths and Rafael Bejarano was hand riding toward the end. He's a gray colt by War Front and with a Dosage of 2.73, anything is possible.
13. Boys at Tosconova.
Boys took second place in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile but he was more than four lengths behind Uncle Mo. But, were it not for the dominant Mo, we might be talking about this horse as the best in the East. He won the Hopeful Stakes at 7 furlongs and like most Officer colts, he's an early bloomer. His Dosage is 3.00, and Rick Dutrow is the trainer, but Officers are not known to be very durable.
This is mostly a pedigree hunch but the colt did look very competitive winning a maiden race at Aqueduct. Did I mention that Lauburu is by Unbridled's Song and a half to Oaks winner Ashado? The colt is physically imposing, and the Dosage is 3:31. Just another budding superstar for Todd Pletcher to juggle in his Derby assault.
15. Premier Pegasus.
He is undefeated on the West Coast and won the Hollywood Preview Stakes as a front runner on November 20. The colt is owned and trained Myung Kwon Cho, a businessman from South Korea. The Dosage is 3.62 and the trainer thinks the future might include grass. Has not run since November and is something of a question mark.
16. Rogue Romance.
He won the Bourbon Stakes at Keeneland, which set him up for a third place and a 200 thousand dollar check at the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. That means trainer Kenny McPeek can plot a course for the Derby much like he did last year with Noble's Promise. Rogue Romance has some Derby in his pedigree. He's by Smarty Jones and the D.I. is 3.00.
17. Stay Thirsty.
One of those horses that has the pedigree and shows promise and could develop over the winter. Stay Thirsty is a maiden winner but that won't get you much press in the Todd Pletcher barn. He was second to Boys at Tosconova in the Hopeful and ran 5th in the Breeders' Cup. But he's by Bernardini and has a D.I. of 2.25. Don't be surprised if he pops up and wins a Derby prep.
What would a Derby list be without a long shot from Turfway. Philippe was in the race that Dialed in won at Churchill. And then, in his fourth start he smoked a maiden field at Turfway on December 4. The colt is trained by James Baker and is by Mineshaft out of a Danzig mare. He could use the Turfway preps leading up to the Vinery Stakes as his route to Louisville. Dosage is 3.71.
19. Cool Blue Red Hot
Let's head back to Calder for another Florida long shot.
Cool Blue Red Hot finished second in his New York debut and then won a two turn maiden race at Calder for trainer Angel Penna Jr. This colt is a son of Harlan's Holiday with a nice 2.50 Dosage. The two turn win sets him up for the challenge of stakes races in Florida or New York. Like all maiden breakers, the next race is a key to the future.
20. Awesome Patriot.
This makes two Baffert trained horses in the Top Twenty and there are a couple of more that could become contenders before the spring is over. Awesome Patriot is an Awesome Again offspring, who was third in Hollywood Preview. With Santa Anita now breaking in a new dirt track, the California prep races suddenly become more relevant. Awesome Patriot has a 2.50 Dosage.
And your bonus picks among grass horses that could change surfaces.
It's difficult to leave out a good horse, even if it's a grass horse.
Pluck won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf and then was promptly transferred out of Todd Pletcher's barn when Team Valor sent everything to Graham Motion. There's talk they might send Pluck to Europe for his three year old season, but the first time I saw Barbaro, he was winning a race on the turf. Pluck is by More Than Ready and that should translate to dirt. The Dosage is 1.40.
And as long as we're talking grass, let's talk Soldat (French for solider) who was second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. He was just a length off Pluck at the Downs and picked up $180,000 in graded stakes money.
Soldat had already won the With Anticipation Stakes so he's well proven on grass. Kirian McLauglin trains and the D.I. is 2.47. Probably will stay on grass but in the spring, the smell of roses can be enticing.
And now that we've reached January, the three year old stakes racing begins with the Sham in California and the Lecomte in New Orleans, but beware.
Go back and look at the winners of the early Derby preps in 2010 and see if you recognize any of the names. They are generally flowers that bloom in the winter and by April, they have disappeared. But every win by a three year old these days has an owner and a trainer, smelling roses.
Thanks for reading.