Gary Roedemeier's Top Twenty Update
March 12, 2013
At Tampa Bay, Verrazano found the bridge to the Kentucky Derby.
His three length win in the Tampa Bay Derby clearly made him the early favorite. And it certainly made him the horse that nobody wants to run against.
Trainer Todd Pletcher says the Florida Derby, Wood Memorial or the Arkansas Derby are all possible as Verrazano's next race.
Other Derby contenders looking for points will be watching and heading elsewhere if they can. That may include several of Pletcher's own three year old's.
At Tampa, Verrazano accomplished a lot of firsts. It was his first stakes win, his first race around two turns and his first 50 points on the Derby trail.
All of that came on the deep Tampa track that has produced two Derby winners in the past six years. Verrazano also racked up a 101 Beyer Speed figure.
And who was second? How about Ken McPeek's Java's War, who now has 22 Derby points and moved into 8th place on the list. Falling Sky was third and he has 20 points.
Meanwhile on the west coast, the expected showdown between Goldencents and Flashback turned out to be a battle for second place. The two speedballs hooked up in a San Felipe speed duel.
After six furlongs in 1:09.94, the closers came with a rush and Hear the Ghost was leading the pack when they hit the wire. The son of Ghostzapper gives Jerry Hollendorfer a shot at the Roses. Flashback held on for second, but Tiz the Minister was a fast closing third. Goldencents was fourth.
It was the first time past six furlongs for Hear the Ghost but he seems to love the extra distance. And for the connections of Flashback and Goldencents, it will be trying to determine how to harness that speed with just one more race before May. Both horses hit the wall at a mile. As you know, the Derby is a little farther.
So here's the updated Twenty for the Derby and I am highly suspicious of the ability of many of these horses to run a mile and a quarter. As you might remember, at the Kentucky Derby, it's who's running at the end.
He's now the big horse, but even he is suspect for a mile and a quarter. His dam is by Giant's Causeway and that could provide stamina from the bottom of the pedigree. Also of some concern, he grabbed a quarter in the Tampa Bay race. The trainer says it's a minor injury, but on the Derby trail, nothing is minor.
The Gotham Stakes produced this strong Derby contender who has now won four in a row. The 50 points probably gets him in the Derby but if the Wood Memorial is next, he could face Verrazano and Over-analyze. The strong female side of the pedigree makes him a distance threat.
This is another horse with a strong pedigree on the female side. And his next race is still undecided. Shug McGaughey may be one of those trainers, who is watching where Verrazano goes. Or maybe he's just watching who goes where. He beat Violence, who is now injured, but nobody else was close in the Fountain of Youth.
4. Shanghai Bobby
This is your Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner, who finished second in his only start this year. Bobby has 24 Derby points, and one race to pick up some more. The Florida Derby is the target, but a bad race and he's on the outside looking in at the Derby party.
Here's another serious contender from the Pletcher barn and he appears to be headed to the Louisiana Derby. Revolutionary won the Withers Stakes after a terrible trip. So he's tough and he should bring some quality to the Fairgrounds.
The Louisiana Derby has not been a great Derby prep in recent years.
6. Hear the Ghost
There were a few ghostly whispers before the San Felipe about this horse, then suddenly this apparition came flying down the stretch to upset a couple of favorites. Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer has dominated racing in Northern California but no so much Santa Anita. This could be his ticket to Louisville.
Just based on numbers, this is still the fastest horse of the early Derby preps. But now he needs to gather some points in the Florida Derby. In his favor, he's been working for Eddie Plesa at the deep Calder track. Calder builds stamina.
The last breeze was a mile.
8. Super Ninety Nine
He won the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn, so Bob Baffert is hoping for more of a good thing in the Rebel. This son of Pulpit is another fast horse, who may have distance limitations but not so far. By the way, Baffert hasn't lost an Oaklawn prep in two years.
He went from first place to ninth in a mile and a sixteenth. Flashback actually hung pretty tough in the stretch to stay in second place in the San Felipe. But, was he cooked in a speed duel or exposed as a horse that won't go much beyond a mile? If he can't learn to rate in the next month, he might as well stay home.
The winner of the Lecomte Stakes goes looking for more Derby points in the Rebel, and Wayne Lukas worked him six furlongs to get ready. I've got a feeling we'll see an improvement off his run in the Risen Star. And he could still get another shot in the Arkansas Derby.
11. Tiz a Minister
If you got excited by Hear a Ghost in the San Felipe, then get excited about this guy. Tiz a Minister was a flying third in that race. His style is closing from way back and sometimes that works at Churchill Downs. The breeding is modest, by Minister's Wild Cat.
A great two year old, whose first race this year was pretty flat. He was fifth in the Gotham Stakes, but maybe he needed a race. Was Overanalyze really Overrated? He gets one more shot at Derby day glory.
13. General Election
This is my annual long shot from Turfway Park.
He won the John Battaglia and can shoot for Derby points in the Spiral Stakes or the Bluegrass. But those are bigger races with faster horses.
14. West Hills Giant
A New York bred son of Frost Giant, who finished second in the Gotham Stakes. He was an unknown until his front running effort at Aqueduct. But now he's ready for another run in the Wood Memorial and who knows.
15. Den's Legacy
Has been working five furlongs under a minute for Baffert in California and may now come east to test the contenders in Arkansas. He was second in the Bob Lewis Stakes and the Sham. If he improves, anything is possible.
16. Falling Sky
He won the Sam F. Davis and then stayed on for third in the Tampa Bay Derby. He needs some more points but he's very consistent and he could make the Derby with one more good race. And he has time.
He was third in the Gotham and got ten points as a lightly raced maiden winner. Elnaawi is by Derby winner Street Sense and has trainer Kiaran McLaughlin to get him ready. But for this horse, it's a case of playing catch-up.
Here's the grass horse, that has created a case of Derby fever for trainer Gary Contessa. He won the Palm Beach Stakes and that race produced third place Derby horse Paddy O'Prado. Now, they plan a race on Polytrack to get enough points to get to Churchill dirt.
19. Java's War
Ken McPeek jumped right in the middle of the Derby picture with the Tampa Bay Derby runner up. But now something amazing. McPeek has suggested taking Java's War to Dubai for the UAE Derby. That is a 100 point race, but…the Dubai trip tough on a horse. More likely destination: Bluegrass Stakes.
I list this horse because Doug O'Neill says he's not giving up.
The son of Into Mischief will get a shot at the Santa Anita Derby but I'd be surprised if he can rate or make a mile and an eighth.
Looking ahead to this weekend, the 600 thousand dollar Rebel Stakes is the last stepping stone to the Arkansas Derby and you can expect a big field of three year old's looking for Derby points. Baffert, Lukas and Asmussen are expected to have horses in the starting gate. And we'll be down to seven weeks until Derby 139.