Louisville, Ky. (WHAS11) - Usually, you come away from a weekend of Derby prep races with a glimpse of a possible new champion. Not this week.
Three preps in Louisiana, Arkansas and California produced more yawns than Derby horses.
The Risen Star at the Fairgrounds, the Southwest at Oaklawn and the San Vincente at Santa Anita produced some fringe contenders, who might be limited by speed and distance.
The Risen Star made the races in Florida look important when Mucho Macho Man beat a field, including Santiva, Rogue Romance and Machen. Macho Man had run fourth to Dialed In, Sweet Ducky and Gourmet Dinner at Gulfstream Park. But, the Florida race was a lot faster.
Speaking of fast, Bob Baffert unleashed The Factor again at Santa Anita and he won the San Vincente with fractions of :22.2, :43.4, 1:07.3 for 6 furlongs and finished 7 furlongs in 1:20:34. Sway Away finished second and was gaining at the wire. Baffert says The Factor has world class speed but with just two races, its unknown if or when he'll try two turns. Trainer Jeff Bonde was encouraged by Sway Away's run and says he'll get a chance at another Derby prep.
Then late Monday afternoon, I took some time to handicap the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn. I thought the California transfer J P's Gusto looked ready to run and there was Calvin Borel, ready to roll on Elite Alex. I had completely overlooked Archarcharch, a horse with a triple grass pedigree, who seemed unlikely to win at 16-1. Of course, he passed the field, four wide at the top of the stretch and trainer Jinks Fires started planning his route to the Derby.
The time for the mile was a modest 1:38:23, but the son of Arch beat a lot of horses with Derby hopes.
See, I told you there was not much to get your heart thumping, unless you think The Factor can run that fast for a mile and a quarter. If he can, we might be talking match race with Uncle Mo.
Now to our weekly Top 20. At this point the Top 5 seems solid. But the rest of our list is very fluid.
1. Uncle Mo
Mo spent Presidents Day working five furlongs at the Palm Meadows training center. The two year old champion is still scheduled for his first race of 2011 on March 12, but the connections are now considering a one turn mile at Gulfstream in addition to the Tampa Bay Derby. ; Decision this week.
2. Brethren gets a breather after his easy win in the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa. And because he has the same trainer as Uncle Mo, it's not likely they would meet until May 7. You might remember that half brother, Super Saver made his last Derby prep in Arkansas. But with Mo headed to the Wood Memorial, Brethren could race again in Florida.
3. Dialed in
Wanted Prep race for the Florida Derby: Nick Zito has decided to skip the Fountain of Youth for his late running son of Mineshaft. Now it's back to the condition book to find a two turn race, before the Florida Derby on April 3.
The Fountain of Youth fits perfectly for Soldat and don't blame Kiaran McLaughlin if he prays for a little rain. Soldat posted a 102 Beyer in the slop at Gulfstream Park when he beat a good field of allowance runners by ten lengths.
It might be comforting that Dialed in is headed elsewhere.
5. To Honor and Serve
This horse might be the favorite in the Fountain of Youth but he hasn't run since winning the Remsen Stakes November 27 in New York. To Honor and Serve might be trainer Bill Mott's best chance to win a Derby. But Mott is notoriously conservative when it comes to the Triple Crown.
He stays at number 6. And second place in the Risen Star may be just what this contender needed. He'll get another start or two before May and that should be a nice prep for Santiva. This is a son of Giant's Causeway and they take a while to develop. The second place at the Fairgrounds was not bad considering he had been off since Thanksgiving.
7. Mucho Macho Man
He hits the list because he's a winner.
The Macho Man was a bridesmaid in New York and Florida chasing the likes of To Honor and Serve but a trip to New Orleans was just what he needed to find the winner's circle. Trainer Kathy Ritvo took the blinkers off for the Risen Star and now everybody can see the path to the Derby.
8 Rogue Romance
Also a decent run in New Orleans for the first start of the year for Rogue Romance. Ken McPeek has done the Derby drill as recently as last year, so he knows how to bring a horse home for the big race. Rogue Romance is by Smarty Jones, he has plenty of graded money, and he certainly can improve.
He ought to be grassgrassgrass.
But he won on dirtdirtdirt at Oaklawn.
And so we have a new contender on the Derby trail who is bred for the turf top and bottom. But the Dosage Index is 1.73 and he put in a powerful run to sweep by the field in the short stretch in Arkansas. Now he moves to the Rebel and probably the Arkansas Derby. But he'll have to prove himself in another race.
10. J P's Gusto
Second to the Arch---etc….in the Southwest and since this was his first start of the year, it was acceptable and keeps J P in the Derby hunt. He had 8 starts last year but gets a new trainer in Joe Petalino. Jockey Ramon Dominguez said he handled the dirt surface at Oaklawn just fine.
11. Gourmet Dinner
Might be the richest and most experienced horse if he makes it to Churchill Downs. He's made almost $1 million in earnings and now points toward the Fountain of Youth. His record is 4 wins in 7 starts plus a second place. He's always around and he could be around the Downs on May 7.
12. Silver Medallion
He's been resting since winning the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate and he advances in the California rankings because of injuries to Tapizar and Clubhouse Ride. There's really no leader in the 3-year-old ranks in California, so why not this guy. His Dosage Index is 2.33 which means two turns should not be a problem.
13. The Factor
OK! He won at 7 furlongs. Can he go farther?
The pedigree says it's possible but time is running short to advance this lightly raced colt along the Derby trail. Bob Baffert says he doesn't want to rush The Factor. But can he rate, and can he run a mile or longer? The clock is working against him, but the trainer says this horse is as fast as any on the track.
He's been working every week at Santa Anita, so it's about time for a race.
Bob Baffert is now training this colt, who won the Norfolk Stakes last year, but hasn't run since a troubled trip in the Breeders' Cup. It's hard to judge a Derby contender until they run, and this one is still nothing but potential.
15. Sweet Ducky.
One of the better horses in Florida, who almost won the Holy Bull Stakes. Dialed in nipped him at the wire. The next race, possibly the Fountain of Youth or the Louisiana Derby, will be huge for Ducky. He needs a little more graded money and must show that he belongs with the Derby field. Kelly Breen is the trainer.
16. Anthony's Cross
With graded stakes money from the Bob Lewis Stakes in his saddle bags, Anthony's Cross jumps to the top of the Santa Anita horses who would like a plane ticket to Louisville. Trainer Eoin Harty has 2 months to get this son of Indian Charlie to the Derby.
17. Riveting Reason
Lost the Bob Lewis Stakes in a photo finish and has hit the board in three stakes races. Riveting Reason is the kind of consistent horse that will eventually win a big race. And you know what race they'd like to win.
This horse ran in the Breeders' Cup as a maiden.
Neil Howard is back on the Derby Trail with this son of Lemon Drop Kid. But can he improve after winning the Lecomte in New Orleans over a pretty modest group of three year olds. He won $60,000 in the Lecomte but needs another score to bring Howard back home with a Derby starter.
19. Stay Thirsty
Has been chasing Uncle Mo around the training track in Florida, which is not bad company, but how will Todd Pletcher split them up and get them to the Derby.
It looks like the Gotham Stakes is on the agenda for March 5 and if Stay Thirsty can run without Uncle Mo, he just might win a race.
20. Decisive Moment
Just hanging on to a top 20 rating because he has enough graded stakes cash and his race in the Risen Star was not terrible. He finished 5th in New Orleans and may be one of those horses that can make the Derby field, if his connections "want a horse in the Derby."
And falling out of our Top 20 for the Derby:
He was 4th in the Risen Star and may have Derby potential but time may also be running out for this lightly raced. Machen won a maiden race on January 2 and then scored in an allowance race by 5 lengths on January 30. Does Neil Howard want to rush this colt in the weeks ahead?
He's at Santa Anita in the Asmussen barn but the work tabs have not been exciting and there is no mention of a planned race. Astrology won the Iroquois at Churchill in November and ran a good race in the Jockey Club. But the winter has been too quiet.
The Derby trail moves back to Florida this weekend with two preps at Gulfstream Park. The Fountain of Youth, at a mile and an eighth, figures to draw a field of heavy hitters taking aim at the Florida Derby. With a $400,000 purse, it's a virtual "win and you're in" for the Kentucky Derby.
And the Hutcheson Stakes on the same card could attract a field of Derby trail wannabes who are looking for a platform to get in the big dance on April 3.
Thanks for reading. I'll update next Monday.