LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- Around Groundhog Day, the Kentucky Derby is wide open - even a groundhog has shot. Including the recent Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita, 44 horses have earned points along the Derby Trail.
Havana, Cairo Prince and Honor Code are the leaders with 14 points each. At the bottom of the list, seven horses have one point. Their owners are no doubt overcome by Derby fever. And, they could have legitimate hopes.
Starting February 22, the Derby prep races jump to 50 points for first place. That would add up to 51 points. Win and you're in - plus the current points leaders may be vulnerable.
Havana, was passed in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile as he struggled to finish. He's now being pointed toward the seven furlong Swale Stakes at Gulfstream. That could be a step toward the Florida Derby or the realization that Havana is a one turn horse. The son of Dunkirk has won at a mile, but the Derby is a little farther.
Honor Code beat Cairo Prince in the Remsen Stakes then things turned sour. Trainer Shug McGaughey had to slow down on training when the horse bruised his ankles at Payson Park. Now he's at Gulfstream but hasn't worked since January 18th. It's hard to play catch-up on the Derby trail.
Then there's Cairo Prince, who nobody could catch in the Holy Bull Stakes. But here's the cautionary note on the Prince, he's a Pioneer of the Nile and his Dosage Index is 7.00. That's right, 7.00.
Pioneer of the Nile is off to a good start as a sire, but he was best running a mile and an eighth. To make things worse, the dam's pedigree is Holy Bull, another Derby disappointment.
If your looking for Derby distance potential, then the Bob Lewis Stakes was a good place to observe. The winner, Candy Boy, galloped out like he could run forever.
Candy Boy beat two Bob Baffert trainees at the wire. Chitu and Midnight Hawk both ran tough races but there's a question whether they want more distance. Meanwhile with a Dosage of 1.67, it seems that trainer John Sadler has a real contender with his Candy Ride colt.
A showdown with another Candy Ride, two year old champion Shared Belief, could come in the Santa Anita Derby.
So can we make some sense of this first month on the Derby Trail and come up with a Top Twenty? Let's give it a try.
1. Candy Boy
He stalked in fourth place and ran by three good horses. Oh, and did I mention that he had Gary Stevens in the saddle. The jockey comeback story of 2013 enters a new year. If he stays sound and does well in the Santa Anita Derby, you'll see him at Churchill in late April.
Shades of Funny Cide we have a New York bred on the Derby radar. He's won four in a row including the Grade (III) Withers Stakes in New York. Samraat got into a match race with fellow New Yorker Uncle Sigh and won by a length. Everybody else was ten lengths behind. He has a nice distance pedigree by Noble Causeway and a Dosage of 1.22.
3. Top Billing
Let's give him third billing. That's because his next race will be his first stakes race. With stablemate Honor Code not likely to make the Fountain of Youth, it looks like Top Billing will get his chance in the last big prep before the Florida Derby. His pedigree is just what you want for the classic races: Curlin out of a A. P. Indy mare. D. I. 2.27. Lots of potential.
4. Strong Mandate
He was inconsistent as a two year old but he finished third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile after starting in post position 14. Now, comes the three year old test and D. Wayne Lukas is very consistent. This colt has worked on Jan. 2, 12, 20, 27 and Feb. 2. He'll be ready for the Southwest at Oaklawn on Feb. 17th. If he stays sound, he's a threat to hit the board or win in May.
Every year just before Derby, I stand outside Todd Pletcher's barn and watch a parade of Derby horses head to the track at 8:30 a.m. Commissioner should be in the parade this year. He has already defeated Top Billing in an allowance race and broke his maiden at a mile and an eighth. He's been working 5 furlongs right around a minute and he'll be a serious contender in the Fountain of Youth. His sire is A.P. Indy. D. I. 2.60.
Can a Tapit win the Derby? We may find out this year. There are at least a half a dozen Tapit's on the Derby trail and this one has a win at Churchill in the Jockey Club last November. Tapiture has been working every seven days for Steve Asmussen. It appears he'll face a strong field of Derby possibles in the Souithwest at Oaklawn
7. Conquest Titan
This is one of those horses that might finish second or third during the prep season and then jump up and win the Derby. The Birdstone pedigree with Mineshaft on the bottom certainly calls for more distance and if it rains, well, you know Birdstone's love the slop. Conquest Titan has an allowance win at Churchill and Mark Casse says his horse loves the track. Dosage. 2.43
8. Cairo Prince
If this guy wins the Derby, the Dosage Index goes out the window. This is a really fast horse. But he lost the Remsen to Honor Code after he passed him in the stretch. His next race will be the Florida Derby at the same distance. He might make the distance but the field will be loaded. He gets to the Derby but I doubt he gets a mile and a quarter.
9. Vicar's in Trouble
Which brings us to another distance challenged pedigree: Into Mischief. Into Mischief produced Derby runners Vyjack and Goldencents last years. Goldencents later won the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, which seems about right for his sire. Vicar's in Trouble was very impressive winning the Lecomte Stakes at a mile and 70 yards. Will he fade as the races get longer? Dosage Index 5.00.
10. Shared Belief
He's the two year old champion. If they can keep him sound anything is possible. When we last saw Shared Belief he was dusting #1 rated Candy Boy by almost six lengths in the CashCall Futurity. But that was in December. Since then, there's been a foot abscess, a quarter crack and weeks of silence from trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. Derby winners don't usually miss six weeks of training.
Now here's a brief look at some other horses I like on the Derby trail.
11. Tanzanite Cat won the Smarty Jones Stakes
12. Uncle Sigh is the N. Y. bred who matched strides with Samraat in the Withers.
13. Almost Famous was fourth in the Holy Bull but Pat Byrne has a horse with the potential and pedigree to get better.
14. Kristo was second in the Sham Stakes and worked :59.2 on Feb. 10th. May ship out of Southern California for next start.
15. Albano is a half brother to stakes winner Mark Valeski. He was second in the Lecomte and could improve for trainer Larry Jones. Morning work times are not spectacular.
16. Indianapolis: What would the Derby be without Bob Baffert? This son of Medaglia D'Oro won a six furlong stakes and will stretch out soon.
17. Harpoon may be in the Pletcher parade this spring. He's never been worse than second, including a fast closing finish in the Sam Davis at Tampa.
18. Intense Holiday is another Pletcher trainee that dodged the traffic and finished third in the Holy Bull. He'll be back on Feb. 22 in Florida or Louisiana.
19. Hartford also gets a possible ticket to the parade. He won at first asking and Stonestreet would love to make the Derby.
20. And finally Gold Hawk out of the Asmussen barn, looks to bounce back after a third in the Lecomte. Gold Hawk gets a new jockey in Corey Nakatani for the Risen Star.
Looking ahead: The next races for Derby points are the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate on February 15 and the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn on February 17. The Risen Star at the Fairgrounds and the Fountain of Youth will start the 50 point races on February 22.
Good luck and thanks for reading.