LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- Two new Derby contenders jumped into the points race over the weekend at the Tampa Bay Derby and the San Felipe Stakes.
Ring Weekend and California Chrome and now likely Derby starters and both are from the Pulpit family.
Let's get right to the Top Twenty and see where they fit among the other Derby potentials.
This is a new number one. It's the answer to the question, "If they ran the Derby tomorrow, who do you think would win." Samraat has won two tough races in New York and seems to have speed and the ability to rate. It's a Funny Cide feeling.
2. Candy Boy
He was clearly the best horse on the west coast after the Bob Lewis Stakes but now comes California Chrome. Their running styles were almost identical and unless Baffert has something up his sleeve, it will be Candy versus Chrome in the San Anita Derby.
The next test comes March 15 in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn with both Strong Mandate and Ride on Curlin likely to challenge Steve Asmussen's Tapit again. If Tapiture continues to improve he'll be the Arkansas Derby favorite. But beware of Bob Baffert shippers, who won this race three years in a row.
4. California Chrome
I have friends who make fun of California breds and immediately dismiss them from Kentucky Derby consideration. This might be the exception. He's also from the Pulpit line. His sire is Lucky Pulpit, and he's won five races. He jumped out of state bred races and ran away from Midnight Hawk. Just hitting the board in the Santa Anita Derby assures a trip to Kentucky.
5. Strong Mandate
He doesn't have to win the Rebel Stakes but a strong showing would sure keep him in the Derby mix. Wayne Lukas gave the son of Tiznow a 5 furlong maintenance work last week in 1:03 4/5th. He reminds me a little of Will Take Charge, who won this race last year.
6. General A Rod
The only bad thing about this horse is his name which brings memories of a discredited baseball player. But he has all the right names in his pedigree. Roman Ruler is the sire and the dam is a Dynaformer. He dueled Wildcat Red in the Fountain of Youth but he's the horse that will go longer.
7. Intense Holiday
After a brief rest he came back with an intense workout after winning the Risen Star Stakes. Pletcher took the Starlight Racing star back to Palm Meadows where he ripped off a 47.90 four furlongs over the weekend. The Louisiana Derby is the next likely race but he already has enough points to make the Derby.
Brereton Jones just needs to hit the board at the Louisiana Derby to qualify this half to Mark Valeski. But you might remember that Jones chose not to run Mark Valeski in the Derby even though he qualified. The Joneses, Brereton and Larry, may have to be convinced that they have a Derby horse in order to run.
9. Honor Code
Shug was going to run him in the Rebel Stakes, then backed off and entered an allowance on Wednesday at Gulfstream. That means no travel, less risk, but no Derby points. Honor Code has some points (14) after winning the Remsen Stakes but his next stakes races (Florida or elsewhere) might be all or nothing.
10. Uncle Sigh
He's the other New York bred that has chased Samraat on the inner track at Aqueduct for two stakes races. Uncle Sigh already has 24 Derby points and can solidify his place in the Derby starting gate by hitting the board in the Wood Memorial.
11. Ring Weekend
Everything went his way in the Tampa Bay Derby. He got the inside post, grabbed the lead, and moved 8 lengths ahead down the back stretch with Daniel Centeno who knows the Tampa track better than anybody. Negative: A Tapit has never won the Derby. Positive: Trainer Graham Motion has.
12. Cairo Prince
I'm more confused by this horse than any on the list. He's number one on the list of many Derby "experts." Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin talks about him like he's Secretariat. But his sire, Pioneer of the Nile is unproven at the Derby distance and his Dosage Index is a terrible 7.00. He might win the Florida Derby at a mile and 1/8th…..but what about the next 1/8th?
13. Wildcat Red
He has to be mentioned because he's won two stakes races in a row. But his sire was a sprinter. I'm talking a 6 or 7 furlong sprinter. The next race, the Florida Derby is a mile and an 1/8th. There is some distance potential on the bottom of Wildcat Red's pedigree, (Racene, a Miner's Mark mare) but they can make lot of money with this guy as a sprinter.
14. In Trouble
A very close third place in the Gotham was his first race of the year, so if he needed a race, he might be real trouble for Samraat and Uncle Sigh in the Wood Memorial. He had not raced since last September, so trainer Tony Dutrow had him ready. He does need to win some Derby points in the Wood.
15. Midnight Hawk
He returns to the Top Twenty after finishing second California Chrome in the very fast San Felipe Stakes. The Hawk may not be Bob Baffert's best Derby horse but he's been very consistent and has 32 Derby points. That's probably enough to make the field. And if you’re in, you have a chance.
I'll be watching closely to see where Baffert enters this son of Henny Hughes.
If they gave the Derby trophy on looks, this is my candidate for most photogenic. He was second to Candy Boy in the Bob Lewis Stakes and Baffert could ship to the Rebel or the Sunland Derby.
17. Ride on Curlin
His next chance comes in the Rebel Stakes and he gets a new rider in Kent Desormeaux. Calvin Borel jumps over to ride Street Strategy for Randy Morse.
Ride on Curlin has been good enough to hit the board in the Champagne Stakes and the Southwest but he needs a break through race for trainer Billy Gowan.
18. Kobe's Back
It will be fascinating to see who ships from Florida and California looking for Derby points in the Rebel Stakes. Kobe's Back is one of the possibles after he won the San Vincente Stakes at 7 furlongs. He worked 6 furlongs at Santa Anita on March 7 in 1:11 flat. That was the bullet.
19. Solitary Ranger
Get ready for the Polytrack division of the Derby trail. Solitary Ranger won the John Battaglia Stakes and will probably be challenged in the Spiral at Turfway by a group of horses that thrive on synthetic race tracks. The Turfway race and the Bluegrass Stakes has become a separate path to the Derby. The approach is to make points, and then pray your horse can switch to dirt.
I'm keeping Kristo in the Top Twenty because he chased a wicked pace in the San Felipe and he could have the kind of pedigree, (Distorted Humor) that could thrive on the Churchill dirt. He could be grinding down the stretch on the first Saturday in May and surprise a lot of people. And if it rains, Kristo probably gets a lot better.
So far, the road to Derby 140 is dotted with great performances by horses whose pedigrees are questionable for the Derby distance.
We lost one top contender last week when Top Billing cracked a cannon bone and was sidelined for surgery.
Next is the Rebel Stakes on March 15. I'll have a preview coming up later in the week.