LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) – In the past two weekends, trainer Bob Baffert has qualified three horses for the Kentucky Derby.
Two of those contenders finished 1-2 in the Sunland Derby assuring more than 50 Derby points for Chitu and Midnight Hawk.
We're assuming that 50 points is a lock to make the Derby starting gate and as of March 24th Baffert had three of the top six horses on the points list.
Hoppertunity, the winner of the Rebel Stakes is third with 55 points, Chitu, who won at Sunland is fourth with 54 and Midnight Hawk has collected points in several races for a total of 52.
Now, seven races in April will offer 170 points apiece and that will no doubt change the standing and create new leaders, but it's unlikely any of them will oust the Baffert trio from the top twenty. Hoppertunity could run again in April.
And with those races that promise 100 points to the winner, what do you look for in April, to predict a Derby winner on May 3? Many times the answer is not an April winner.
Perhaps the most famous third place horse in the Wood Memorial is Triple Crown winner Secretariat. Funny Cide, Monarchos and Go for Gin were all second in the Wood before they won the Derby.
Silver Charm and Real Quiet were second in the Santa Anita Derby before winning the big one in Louisville. The Bluegrass Stakes in the days before Polytrack produced third place Unbridled and fourth place Sea Hero who would wear roses a few weeks later.
Winning the Kentucky Derby is mostly about timing. It's a horse peaking at the right time, with the right weather and the best trip. It could be that crazy three-year-old monster that is simply better than the rest.
So here's the Top Twenty on March 24, as we continue the search for the winner of Derby 140.
He's first on the points list (tied with We Miss Artie) and first on this list.
If he finishes third in the Wood, he might be the second coming of Secretariat. If he stays sound Samraat will be one of the half dozen horses that could win the Derby.
2. Candy Boy
He's long been considered the leading Derby contender on the West Coast. But he's been resting on the ten Derby points that he won in the Bob Lewis Stakes. That's not enough. Trainer John Sadler better hope this horse doesn't miss the break and miss the points. He could just miss the Derby.
3. California Chrome
This is perhaps the most touted California bred horse in years. And the pending showdown with Candy Boy in Santa Anita Derby should be great. Let's hope they both make it to Derby day.
As we said earlier, this Bob Baffert trainee could make the Derby field with his 50 points from the Rebel Stakes. Baffert hasn't announced the next step but he could stay home and run in the Santa Anita Derby, which would make it a three way showdown.
5. General A Rod
I think this will be my pick for the Florida Derby. He has enough speed to stay with the sprinters (and there are many) and he has the pedigree to carry that speed for more distance. By the way, the Florida Derby is a race that has produced winners that also win in Louisville.
6. Intense Holiday
Same day, different race. Intense Holiday will try to cement his worthiness for a Derby shot in the Louisiana Derby. Todd Pletcher will ship in from Florida where Intense Holiday has been working a regular four furlongs. He'll be picking up the pieces in the long Fairgrounds stretch.
7. Uncle Sigh
Has been almost joined at the hip with Samraat but things could change when they move to the Aqueduct outer track. Little things like the surface change could make a big difference on April 5th. And the speedy Social Inclusion will be entered to make things more interesting on the front end.
If Hoppertunity stays home, then Tapiture should be the favorite for the Arkansas Derby. But there are a couple of big questions: How good is this group of horses in Arkansas? And will there be any problems from the controversy swirling around the Asmussen barn? That looks like a Derby story that won't go away soon.
9. Ride on Curlin
He needs more points to make the field but he certainly fits with all the Derby contenders. Curly needs to hit the board in the Arkansas Derby but he's shown the ability to finish second or third in a lot of big races.
He returns for the Louisiana Derby and has been breezing up a storm for trainer Larry Jones. I'm a little concerned that the Istan pedigree will stretch to a mile and 1/8th. But he's a serious contender on Saturday.
11. Ring Weekend
This is an interesting approach. He won 50 points in the Tampa Bay Derby so Graham Motion is skipping the tough 100 point races and going to the Calder Derby as a prep for Kentucky. No points, but no sweat.
12. Cairo Prince
The experts love him and so do the futures bettors.
The likely Florida Derby favorite is at the top of most Derby lists.
But he tossed in a clunker work on Saturday, four furlongs in :50.90. He carries the banner for the Pioneer of the Nile pedigree. Will that carry him to the Derby distance, either in Florida or Kentucky?
He's a great looking chestnut, who looked great winning the Sunland Derby. But he's by Henny Hughes, who was a confirmed sprinter. He does get a lot of distance from his dam's side, which is A. P. Indy. He'll probably be at the Derby but the challenge is distance.
14. Social Inclusion
It's the year for distance challenged pedigrees. This is another Pioneer of the Nile who blew the doors off Honor Code in an allowance race and set a track record. Now he goes to Aqueduct and colder weather. He's a late bloomer but with a lot of talent.
15. Wildcat Red
Yikes! It's another sprinter, but the sire is D'Wildcat, who was a sprinter's sprinter. Wildcat Red is likely to take the lead in the Florida Derby and on a weekend when The Wildcats play the Red from Louisville, maybe it's an omen.
16. We Miss Artie
He dearly Missed Polytrack and won the Spiral Stakes. But on dirt, he's not so great. It's not impossible that an Artie Schiller will transfer his form to Churchill, but this horse has a history of running clunkers on the dirt. I'd run this horse in the Bluegrass Stakes and make that "his Derby."
17. Midnight Hawk
He hasn't won a race since the Sham but he's been piling up Derby points by hitting the board. At Sunland Park, it didn't look like he wanted more distance, neither did Chitu for that matter. But, I'm guessing they both wind up at Churchill.
18. Strong Mandate
His last shot is the Arkansas Derby, where he needs to hit the board and show that he belongs on the Derby trail. If this Wayne Lukas trainee gets a clean trip then anything is possible. I think he still has a chance to win the Derby if he can get in.
19. In Trouble
After a great comeback race in the Gotham this son of Tiz Wonderful could surprise in the Wood. He's been breezing nicely in Florida and if he improves off the Gotham, Tony Dutrow might have something here.
20. Vicar's in Trouble
And finally, this Louisiana bred, who won the Lecomte Stakes gives the Louisiana Derby a shot after finishing third in the Risen Star. Vicar In Trouble had to overcome the number 13 post to hit the board. This is a good horse, but once again, his pedigree may be challenged by the distance.
So the first of the big Derby preps will be run on Saturday.
The Florida Derby sends out a bunch of speedballs on a speed favoring track.
The Louisiana Derby seems to favor closers as they grind down the stretch and the UAE Derby in Dubai is run on Cushion Track (another synthetic) with the promise that the winner or someone may ship to Louisvile from the Middle East.
It's a long trip with a history of little or no success.
Among those to watch in the UAE will be Giovanni Boldini, who was second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf last year.
It's make or break time on the Derby trail. Good luck.