Last week, I predicted that prep races in Miami and New Orleans would produce big changes in the rankings for Derby 139. I had no Idea how big those changes would be.
First, everybody's Derby favorite is gone. Multiple stakes winner Violence ran a brave second in the Fountain of Youth Stakes and returned to the barn with a fractured right front ankle. He will likely be retired from racing.
But when the Derby trail loses a prospect, it is often replaced by a new potential star. That new light in your Derby sky is Orb, a son of Malibu Moon, who got a 97 Beyer figure by passing Violence in the stretch.
Nobody else was close. And so, the Fountain of Youth may have dashed more Derby dreams than it created, but trainer Shug McGaughey may have his ticket to the elusive Derby.
And by now you know that the other Derby prep, the Risen Star, was won by a 135 to 1 shot, who paid $272.40 for a two dollar win ticket at the Fairgrounds. So, what can we make of that?
Well, nobody in this group is giving up on the Derby. I've Struck a Nerve won by a nose over Code West and got a 95 Beyer figure. At the wire, it was five horses across the track within a length and a half.
The four trainers, who were just fell short, were Baffert, Pletcher, Lukas and Chad Brown. I smell a re-match in the Louisiana Derby.
But here's the knock on the Fairgrounds. The Louisiana Derby has become in recent years, a destination for second and third stringers from the big barns who are avoiding tough fields in the east and west.
This time, they were surprised by a hometown horse and jockey James Graham who made a six wide run for the money. But it may take a while to sort out the quality of this field.
Remember, last year's Louisiana Derby was won by Hero of Order at 109 to 1. He has never won another race.
But maybe those grinders you saw lurching for the finish line in the Risen Star are better than the speedballs in Florida and California. In the end, the Derby is about distance more than speed.
Which brings us to this weeks rankings. Farewell to Violence, hello to Orb, the well named son on Malibu Moon. This week our Top Ten shines on...
I think this is the most talented horse of the bunch. Maybe a Tapit can't get the Derby distance but this might be the one to catch. Baffert has already worked him six furlongs for the San Felipe in 1:11. He's undefeated in two races but one of those was a grade two stakes.
He may have exposed a rather weak group of Derby contenders on the east coast of Florida but the pace in the Fountain of Youth was brisk and he closed with a rush. He has a nice distance pedigree on the dam's side, who is by Unbridled. And we have that great story line of the best Hall of Fame trainer never to win the Derby.
You can't teach speed and as Monday's work proved, Verrazano can run :59 and a fifth without much effort. On the debit side, he's still not proven against stakes horses and he's playing catch up with the points system. He's fast but he needs a fast route race to get in the field.
This is his big week. If he wins the Gotham in New York, he jumps near the top of the Derby rankings and he gets 50 points. He's already a double stakes winner as a two year old but this is his first race this year. What kind of horse will show up? The Gotham is the only Derby prep this weekend but it will be one to watch.
5. Shanghai Bobby
A bunch of Florida based horses like Shanghai Bobby are waiting for the Florida Derby as their last race before Kentucky. And under the new point system that's a little scary. If Bobby throws in a clunker, he may be pointing toward the Preakness. Breeders' Cup champion could be one and done.
It's the same drill with this War Pass colt. He looked great winning the Withers Stakes after a troubled trip, but he's depending on one Derby prep as the ticket to Louisville. The points system almost forces a trainer to run his horse in March and April. Some are taking a pass.
7. Super Ninety Nine
He won the Southwest Stakes and it's just a matter of where Baffert places him next. I have a feeling, he could have won the Southwest and the Risen Star in the same week. His pedigree is a little light for the Derby and he might make more money as a sprinter.
8. Code West
Let's don't overlook the second place finisher in the Risen Star. He was passed in the stretch and then rallied to get nipped by a nose. His pedigree by Lemon Drop Kid calls for more distance and he's improving. Gary and Mary West have three legitimate Derby horses. Expect to see a lot of hot pink in the paddock.
Lukas will keep trying in the Louisiana Derby and this horse has enough talent to make the starting gate as the Derby. He has the kind of pedigree that might still be running at Churchill Downs when the rest are stopping.
10. I've Struck a Nerve
OK! Let's include the Derby points leader. For all we know, 51 points might get a horse in the Derby. That final number is still a mystery. He took six starts to break his maiden and before the Risen Star, his best Beyer was a 74. We might never hear from him again. But his pedigree by Yankee Gentleman, is respectable.
Also on the Derby trail, you have to respect Vyjack, who will run in the Gotham. And the Tampa Bay Derby could feature a rematch between Falling Sky and Dynamic Sky. But, look for an outsider to challenge both.
Goldencents has a lot of Derby points and we'll see him next in the San Felipe. And Itsmyluckyday, who won the Holy Bull, will sit until the Florida Derby and hope for the best.
Looking ahead, the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct is March 2 and then the Tampa Bay Derby, with a pretty good record of producing Derby runners is March 9. And also on the 9th, somebody will challenge Bob Baffert's barn in the San Felipe at Santa Anita.
By the way, if you had a win ticket on I've Struck a Nerve at the Fairgrounds, congratulations. You are now in the Long Shot Hall of Fame.