Louisville, Ky. (WHAS11) - One contender is off the Derby Trail this week because of an injury.
One contender is way off the Derby Trail because he was sold to the President of Chechnya and shipped to Dubai.
And another contender is off the Derby Trail because he just disappeared.
The vanishing thoroughbred is the very accomplished Gourmet Dinner, who won the Delta Jackpot and has almost $1 million in earnings.
But, the horse has not worked since a second place finish in the Fountain of Youth Stakes and was apparently taken to a farm in Ocala without comment from the trainer or owner.
Sweet Ducky was put on an airplane for Dubai after he was sold for what trainer Kelly Breen calls "a lot of money." The new owner Ramzan Kadyrov, plans to run Ducky in the UAE Derby on March 26. This time of year, if a horse is shipped to Dubai, we simply say "Goodbye." But new trainer, Herman Brown, says the Kentucky Derby is still possible.
And the more common defection this week was Rogue Romance, who has been sidelined with a foot fracture. Trainer Ken McPeek says Rogue Romance will miss the Derby but should return later in the year.
And while it's the season of sudden disappearances, it's also the time when a horse can win a stakes race and be right in the middle of the Derby picture. Everybody is now watching, Watch Me Now, after he stunned the Tampa Bay Derby field, and the newest "Now" horse is the Factor.
Bob Baffert's speedball, traveled to Arkansas and ran the first 6 furlongs of the Rebel Stakes in a swift 1:10 and change and then ran away to win by more than six lengths. The Factor ran another Beyer Speed figure over 100 - 103 to be exact, but this time it was at a mile and a sixteenth. The Rebel was a two turn stretch out that turned a sprinter into a Derby candidate.
Which means we now have a son of War Front who is a Derby contender on the East Coast. That would be Soldat. And we have a contender, who is a son of War Front on the West Coast, the Factor. If you listen, you can hear the cheering at Claiborne Farm, where War Front stands for $10,000. However, the price may be going up. And The Factor's stock is going up on our Top 20 list.
Next stop is the Florida Derby which is shaping up as a great Derby prep. It will probably be the strongest field before May7. Winner gets to be second choice to Uncle Mo if he wins the Wood.
2. Dialed In
There are a lot of good horses on this list, but this one probably runs the stretch fastest of all. Dialed In has a remarkable closing kick, which he showed even in the allowance race, where he finished second. But, like most closers, he'll need a good trip to pass the field.
3. Uncle Mo
Connections have flirted with the Florida Derby but will probably stick with the Wood Memorial as the final prep. But with the purse up to $1 million, there will be plenty of challengers. Bob Baffert will likely ship Jaycito in from California and he's won this race twice before.
4. The Factor
Yes, he's that good. I kept thinking he would stop after the fast start at Oaklawn Park and he just kept running and running fast. Baffert seems likely to ship back in for the Arkansas Derby and take The Factor up to a mile and an eighth.
5. Stay Thirsty
It's going to be interesting to see how Repole Stables' second stringer stacks up against the Florida Derby field. If he runs well, Stay Thirsty is a real threat to hit the board at Churchill Downs.
6. Premier Pegasus
The Santa Anita Derby is now the stepping stone for this colt who ran away from a good field in the San Felipe Stakes. He proved that he can hold his speed around two turns, but in his previous race, he was third to The Factor.
7. Mucho Macho Man
He will be the favorite in the Louisiana Derby and that will be his chance to confirm his status as one of the Derby favorites. But it's a big field with 13 entries and that could mean traffic trouble. Beware an upset at the Fairgrounds.
Moves up, mainly because other contenders moved out.
But when he ships to New York, he'll follow the successful move of recent California three year olds who found the winner's circle at the Wood Memorial.
His second place in the San Felipe leaves room for improvement.
9. Watch Me Go
Two weeks ago, I couldn't have picked this horse out of a police line-up. Then he wins the Tampa Bay Derby over that deep track and he's in the Top Ten. I just have this odd feeling that Tampa horses will continue to run well in the Derby.
Will Eddie Kenneally's strategy work?
Santiva is skipping the Louisiana Derby and apparently waiting for the Bluegrass Stakes at Keeneland. And that means, Polytrack. In the days of the dirt track, the Bluegrass was one of the best predictors for the Derby. Now it's almost a race to be avoided, or a last chance for horses with Poly loving pedigrees.
Can he be the second comeback kid from Arkansas? That was Bill Clinton's campaign chant 20 years ago, and now the brother of Super Saver needs a comeback from the dull effort at Tampa Bay. I'm not sure he can run as fast as The Factor on any track.
12. Anthony's Cross
Which brings us to the California horses, who have drifted down the list because they haven't run in a while. Anthony's Cross skipped the San Felipe after his win in the Bob Lewis and he looks likely for the Santa Anita Derby.
13. Positive Response
Shipped in from California to win the John Battaglia and will stay at Turfway for the Spiral Stakes and a shot at 500 thousand. But he's not alone. The Spiral has 18 entries for 12 spots in the gate. This will be a cavalry charge of turf horses and Polytrack hopefuls looking for enough money to van down to Louisville.
14. Decisive Moment
A Florida shipper, who will likely make the field at Turfway and has plenty of graded stakes cash. Decisive Moment has made a lot of money hitting the board in Florida and Louisiana. But, how will he like the Poly?
15. Caleb's Posse
He makes the list based on his ability to chase The Factor in the Rebel Stakes.
In fact, I'm beginning to become conscious of at the number of times I have mentioned The Factor as the benchmark in these ratings. Caleb still beat a lot of good horses in this race like J P's Gusto and Sway Away.
He was fourth in the Risen Star stakes and with Santiva headed elsewhere and Rogue Romance injured, that means Machen could go off as one of the favorites in New Orleans. Neil Howard has two chances to come home with a Derby horse and both are in this race.
Neil Howard: Chapter Two. Wilkinson won the Lecomte Stakes with a nice rail trip, but that was January 22. Eight works later, it's time to run for $1 million and a chance walk over to the Churchill track on May 7.
18. To Honor and Serve
Bill Mott has never been known as a trainer who targets the Derby, and he's been very conservative with this double Grade Two winner. If he beats Soldat and Dialed In on April 3, he will have earned his way to Louisville. And the Derby will be his third start off a long winter rest. However, lots of questions, like can you win a Derby off just two starts?
19. Silver Medallion
Another California hopeful, who won at Golden Gate but has yet to prove his metal at Santa Anita. A good horse, but can he catch the likes of Premier Pegasus on the fast dirt in California.
20. Elite Alex
Scratched from the Rebel to run for the million at the Fairgrounds. He scratched because he drew the outside post, #9. At New Orleans he draws #12. But maybe that's not so bad. He's a closer and he has Calvin Borel in the saddle. If it rains watch out.
21. (A bonus pick) Astrology
He was a star last autumn at Churchill Downs but it's been a long winter.
Astrology hasn't run since Thanksgiving when he was part of that photo finish with Santiva in the Jockey Club. Now after some throat issues, Astrology turns up in the Sunland Park Derby. It's a graded stakes with 800 thousand in purse money.
If he wins, he's in. Maybe the Derby or maybe the Preakness.
And falling off the list this week.
He's a millionaire and maybe that's why Gourmet Dinner is resting after a full winter of cashing checks.
The odyssey of Sweet Ducky is reason enough to watch the UAE Derby, which is run on Tapeta in Dubai. Some 4-year-olds from the Southern hemisphere also qualify.
Rogue Romance is on the shelf with a cracked foot but McPeek says he'll be back in two or three months. But in horse racing, a crack is never good.
Also, Archarcharch is not listed this week. He seemed to be laboring down the stretch ever though he finished third in the Rebel.
J P's Gusto is another horse in need of a revival. The connections love him, but he got a troubled trip in the Rebel and time is short.
And finally, Riveting Reason is off and maybe out. It's a foot problem and it's not a good time for that.
Now, preps to watch this weekend: It's about as diverse a weekend as you could imagine.
The UAE Derby at Meydan in Dubai is considered to be a Derby prep, sort of.
Flying a horse to Louisville from half way around the world has never produced a Derby winner.
Oddly, running a horse 90 miles away from Louisville on Polytrack at Turfway has also not been a great way to win a Derby. But it will get you to the starting gate.
The UAE Derby and the Vinery Spiral Stakes are on March 26 along with the Louisiana Derby. From a preliminary look at the fields, they are not strong, and upset winners would not be a surprise.
And looking for a Derby wildcard? I think the Sunland Park Derby could produce almost anything. Remember Mine That Bird? If you believe in the El Paso connection, Sunday is your day.
Thanks for reading.