LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) – The last two major preps for the Kentucky Derby were won by horses that were not on anybody's top ten list, or anybody's top twenty.
Dance with Fate won the last Bluegrass Stakes on Polytrack, giving clear evidence why Keeneland is switching back to dirt.
Trainer Peter Eurton brought a horse from California, who was born and bred to run on Poly. The sire, Two Step Salsa, is a Petionville, one of the most notorious Polytrack sires.
The bottom of the pedigree is Saint Ballado. That's Poly and grass, and finishing kick all wrapped into one.
Dance with Fate beat a Keeneland nightmare. It was a collection of last call horses, who couldn't win here, hit the board there, or had run badly on dirt. It was the reason that this once key Derby prep has become irrelevant.
Meanwhile in Hot Springs Arkansas, the million dollar Arkansas Derby was won by Danza, a name you would recognize only if you watched Who's the Boss on TV back in the 80's (Danza---as in Tony).
Danza's only previous win was a maiden race at Belmont last July. Even though he was trained by Todd Pletcher, Danza was so lightly regarded that he left the starting gate at 41-1. The exacta with another Derby qualifier, Ride on Curlin, was $561.40.
Danza is a Street Sense, who made his racing reputation as a sprinter. But the Dosage Index is a 3.00 so the distance potential is not that bad.
Tapiture, who was thought to be the best of the Arkansas horses finished fourth. He also qualifies for Louisville. Bob Baffert's Bayern set the pace in the Arkansas but faded in the stretch and finished third. That means he doesn't have enough points.
And so with three weeks until Derby, the Top Twenty is a re-count of the twenty horses who have qualified for the race. But keep in mind, there are always injuries, defections and owners who just decide not to run.
From the Top:
1. California Chrome
He'll show up as the Derby favorite and is heralded as the second coming of Swaps who won in 1955. His trainer Art Sherman was the exercise boy for Swaps, so let the stories begin.
He won the Florida Derby, which I believe was the best collection of contenders in any prep race. Wildcat Red and Cairo Prince may be challenged by distance but they are "nails" down the stretch and this guy beat them.
He's the New York bred who never quits. He got nailed at the wire by Wicked Strong in the Wood Memorial but in a re-match, anything is possible. Samraat and Wildcat Red are the toughest, bravest horses in this bunch.
There's nothing wrong with chasing California Chrome to the finish and this son of Any Given Saturday has already shipped to Louisiana and Arkansas for prep races. He beat the best in Arkansas and if he improves, this is a horse who has a chance to win the Derby.
5. Wicked Strong
He's under the radar no more. Wicked Strong made the kind of move in the Wood Memorial that can win over Churchill's long stretch. However, he's been great in New York, but had terrible races in Florida.
6. Ride on Curlin
He may not win but this horse loves to hit the board. You can usually count trainer Billy Gowan's horses on one hand, but he's done a great job piling up Derby points in prep races. This is the ultimate pick in exotic wagers.
7. Intense Holiday
He won the Risen Star and was second in the Louisiana Derby. The Fairgrounds was not full of great horses this spring, but this was the most consistent. He'll have to improve but could be in the mix.
8. General A Rod
He was down at number 18 on the points list, but he ran in those tough races at Gulfstream. He chased Wildcat Red, who can really stretch out as a sprinter.
It will be interesting to see what A Rod does at the Derby distance.
He has a win over the Churchill track and seemed to improve this spring until coming up short in the Arkansas Derby. It seems that Tapit is a great sire, until the races get longer.
10. Vicar's in Trouble
This is the first of two Ken Ramsey horses in the Derby and this one got a great ride to win the Louisiana Derby. But the sire is Into Mischief, and the Dosage Index is 5.00. Remember Vyjack and Goldencents, by the same sire, who came up short last year.
Talk about off the radar. This horse wasn't even on the radar when he was in the post parade. Well, at least he won a race last year, and he won the Arkansas Derby on dirt. He was 41-1 in Arkansas and I wouldn't be surprised if he's even higher on the first Saturday in May.
The winner of the Sunland Derby comes to Louisville as Bob Baffert's second stringer behind Hoppertunity. He'll win the title of "Most Photogenic" on the backside and looks like a sprinter. But, he won at a mile and an eighth.
13. Midnight Hawk
He's a grinder, who likes to hit the board and made a lot of points in California. But Baffert is ready to enter him in the Illinois Derby. He says Kentucky is not out, but I think he's looking for a softer spot and I doubt he runs back that quickly. There might be an opening here.
14. Candy Boy
I've always liked this Candy Ride colt and had him at the top of the list for a while. He's probably better than many ranked above him and has a lot of distance potential. You might have a winner here, at a real nice number.
15. Ring Weekend
He won the Tampa Bay Derby, then Graham Motion went looking for a softer prep and finished second in the Calder Derby. Tampa horses tend to run tough at Churchill and Ring Weekend's chances might depend on the trip. He's also a Tapit.
16. Dance With Fate
He's third on the points list and 16th on this one. The owners were just hoping to win the Bluegrass with a Polytrack horse. They weren't even thinking about the Derby. Now they are thinking, but they might pass.
17. We Miss Artie
Artie Schiller is a grass sire, but he's producing Polytrack runners like We Miss Artie. He won the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland last fall and the Spiral this spring. And they have one thing in common, synthetic turf.
18. Uncle Sigh
He's on the bubble as the 21st horse on the points list but those kind usually make the field. He made his reputation on Aqueduct's inner track and did not do much in the Wood. But any defections and he's likely to run.
19. Medal Count
He won the Transylvania Stakes and trainer Dale Romans gambled by running him in the Bluegrass Stakes just 8 days later. The result was second place and 50 Derby points. He's by Dynaformer out of an Unbridled's Song mare. And unlike other Polytrack pretenders, this horse should like dirt.
20. Cairo Prince
A few people are still picking him to win the Derby. And he might, if the Derby was a mile. Pioneer of the Nile is producing great middle distance horses like Vinceremos, Social Inclusion and Cairo Prince.
I've left a few hints along the way, but next week, I'll talk about horses in this group that can't win the Derby, and then, the week of the Derby, I'll narrow it down to a half dozen that can win.
On Thursday, I'll try to pick a winner. That's the final piece of the puzzle.
Happy Derby everyone.