LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- Our first effort at a Derby Top 20 in March is more notable for the horses that have fallen by the wayside, than recent winners on the Derby trail.
Champagne Stakes winner Havana was scratched from the Swale Stakes because of a quarter crack.
Patching a hoof can be a short or sometimes longer healing process so Havana has a setback at the worst time.
Bond Holder, who won a Grade One race in California as a two-year-old was injured on the plane flight to the Risen Star Stakes. He skipped New Orleans and was pointed for the Tampa Bay Derby. Now trainer Doug O'Neill says Bond Holder is still not right. The next race is now unknown.
Shared Belief, the two-year-old champion, has not raced since winning the CashCall Futurity in December and doesn't have a published work since January 3. I hear he's back on the track but he missed a lot of time.
Perhaps concentrating on the Derby defections is an injustice to the three colts who staged a thrilling stretch duel in last Saturday's Gotham Stakes. There is a lot to like about Samraat, his archival Uncle Sigh and newcomer, In Trouble.
It is difficult to compare the New York races to the preps in Florida and California but the top three in the Gotham ran away from Harpoon, who shipped in from Florida with high hopes.
Samraat is the current leader in Derby points with 60. If he stays sound, he's in the starting gate at Churchill Downs and his Noble Causeway breeding indicates that he will run a mile and a quarter.
Uncle Sigh doesn't have as many points, but has a lot of courage. This was the second time he chased Samraat to the finish, and this time he battled between two horses. The running was so tight that his jockey couldn't use the whip.
A re-match is coming in the Wood Memorial, but that may just decide the best horse in New York. However, having watched the Gotham Stakes, I think this trio has Derby credentials.
But number one on my Derby Top 20 is still:
1. Candy Boy
He returned to work after his Bob Lewis Stakes win with a 48.20 four furlongs on February 26. And Candy Boy seems the likely favorite for the Santa Anita Derby. Trainer John Sadler has been on the Derby trail before but has never won the big one.
I'm moving Samraat to number 2 based his 5th straight win in the Gotham Stakes. It was not the fastest Derby prep but he was giving five pounds to Uncle Sigh and he won under a hand ride. My only question here: Can Samraat make a successful transition to Aqueduct's outer track.
This looks like a three year old that has made big improvements over last year. His fourth length win in the Southwest Stakes left a lot of Derby contenders up the track. Strong Mandate was the only horse that was close to Tapiture. They will likely meet again in the Rebel Stakes.
4. Top Billing
He was third in the Fountain of Youth Stakes but he may improve off his first try in stakes company, and he may really improve if the distance is a mile and a quarter. If he wins the Florida Derby, he could come to Louisville as the favorite.
5. General A Rod
He was a close second in the incredibly fast Fountain of Youth. And if he can hold that speed, we have a serious Derby contender by Roman Ruler. Wildcat Red, a talented sprinter, won the race in 1:41 and change. General A Rod was just a head behind.
6. Strong Mandate
D. Wayne Lukas won't give up on this son of Tiznow and why should he? I think Strong Mandate will be a threat to hit the board in every race he runs, including the Kentucky Derby.
7. Intense Holiday
He jumped into the middle of the Derby picture with a big move that won the Risen Star Stakes at the Fairgrounds. Intense Holiday was in 7th place at the six furlong marker and then won by a nose. He certainly flattered the other
horses in Florida by shipping in and beating the best in New Orleans.
By way of full disclosure, I bet an exacta on Albano in the Derby Futures.
He just seems like a lucky horse. He failed to achieve the reserve price at Keeneland so Brereton Jones decided to race him. Now he's graded stakes placed and this story could make a Disney movie.
9. Honor Code
He got a little behind in training after a minor injury and so the Rebel Stakes is the likely coming out party for this son of A. P. Indy. He has all the makings of a Derby winner but he will be facing horses that have already run a race or two this winter. If he wins at Oaklawn…it's a big deal.
10. Uncle Sigh
The difference between numbers 2 and 10 is just a neck. The son of Indian Charlie has shown a lot of courage in his last two races as he chased Samraat to the finish line. If he hits the board in the Wood Memorial, your favorite Uncle and Samraat could meet for a 4th time on May the 3rd.
11. Cairo Prince
I'm one of the few people, who has not ranked Cairo Prince number 1 or 2 . And I do believe he's a great horse. I just don't think he can run a mile and a quarter. But, he might win the Florida Derby at a mile and an eighth. I have never seen so many people gush over a horse with a Dosage Index of 7.00
12. In Trouble
He could be trouble for the other Derby contenders because the Gotham was his first race of the year. In Trouble had not run since last September but had been working bullets for Tony Dutrow in Florida. This was also his first try at two turns. He needs points, but the Kentucky Derby would fit nicely as his third race after the layoff.
13. Wildcat Red
He'll continue to be a factor on the Derby trail but he looks like a horse that is meant to be sprinter. Look for him to set the pace in the Florida Derby but I'd keep him sprinting. There's a lot of money to be made at shorter races.
14. Conquest Titan
He was second in the Holy Bull and it looks like the Tampa Bay Derby is next. The Mark Casse trainee just posted a 1:02.5 work on March 1st. He won an allowance race at Churchill last fall and he's a Birdstone, so a wet track would be in his favor.
This is another horse from the John Sadler barn and he's never been worse than second, I dropped a $2 futures bet on Kristo and a recent 6 furlong work was clocked in 1:10.80. Keep in mind that time was on the fast Santa Anita track. Still, that's moving in the morning. The San Felipe Stakes will be next on March 8.
This is a big, beautiful chestnut, who is working consistently for Bob Baffert.
He held on for second in the Bob Lewis Stakes and may outrun his Henny Hughes pedigree. He does appear to have a sprinter's body but he showed speed and some endurance in the Lewis.
17. Solitary Ranger
He took them wire to wire in the John Battaglia Stakes at Turfway. Solitary Ranger is a Polytrack specialist who also won the Grade 3 Arlington-Washington Futurity last year. His road to the Derby could be the Spiral Stakes or the Bluegrass Stakes at Keeneland. He does like the lead.
18. Ride on Curlin
The Rebel Stakes is next for this horse with serious Louisville connections.
Calvin Borel is the jockey for trainer Billy Gowan. Ride on Curlin has already chalked up a third in a Grade 1 Stakes. He always seems like a threat to hit the board. But, winning at the stakes level may be something else.
He won the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate on synthetic turf so the connections may be looking for Polytrack in his next start at Turfway or Keeneland. The Golden Gate race has never been a great predictor for the Derby.
20. Kobe's Back
He's a Grade 2 winner at 7 furlongs for John Sadler, so next comes the challenge of two turns. This son of Flatter is very fast. It seems he can post a bullet work almost at will. But can he carry his speed against the best three year olds at Santa Anita?
A lot of those questions will be answered this weekend. The Tampa Bay Derby comes up on March 8 at a mile and 1/16th. And a short time later on the West Coast, the San Felipe goes the same distance at Santa Anita.