Team Valor's Barry Irwin sent me a message last week to tweak my Top Twenty. I had included Team Valor's Howe Great in my list of Derby contenders. He was number 16 and would have been higher, but the Hat Trick colt has been winning stakes on grass.
But having won the Kentucky Derby with a grass pedigree in 2011, I considered it likely that Howe Great might get a shot at the Roses if he continued to win, which he did.
But, Mr. Irwin says, not so fast. HIs message touted his Derby horse as Went the Day Well, an English import, who broke his maiden on the dirt at Gulfstream on March 3.
On his website, Irwin admits it "sounds kind of nutty to be talking Triple Crown with a colt that couldn't break his maiden in two starts in England." But the pedigree by Proud Citizen out of a Tiznow mare is no joke.
Irwin thinks there might be time for two more races that would get Went The Day Well into the Derby starting gate.
But getting back to Howe Great. Methinks Barry protests too much.
The colt won the Palm Beach Stakes by a length over Dullahan and is now headed to the Bluegrass Stakes. Could it be Polytrack to dirt again? It worked for Animal Kingdom.
I'm keeping Howe Great in my list of Derby possibles but I'll put Went The Day Well on the watch list. And I'll also be watching Team Valor three year olds, State of Play and Lucky Chappy this spring.
And we wish the best to Derby champion Animal Kingdom, who suffered another hind leg injury this week. He made a great comeback at Gulfstream Park and was headed for the Dubai World Cup, when the new injury intervened.
And by the way, thanks for the note Barry.
And now the Top Twenty. And this may have never happened before.
The top three are the first three finishers in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last November. Union Rags, Hansen and Creative Cause have all returned to win major prep races in the past weeks.
1. Union Rags
He was second in November but as the races get longer he should have an advantage over his old buddy in the white coat. But is a mile and a quarter a bit much for a Dixie Union colt?
It was a new Hansen in the Gotham Stakes. He was relaxed and rated nicely. Looks like he's set for the Wood Memorial where the race will be longer and the competition better on the Aqueduct outer track.
3. Creative Cause
He's the final Breeders' Cup horse to return with a win and he beat a good field in the San Felipe. And this horse can still improve. He ran very green down the stretch, weaving all over the place and still catching Bodemeister.
4. El Padrino
He fits right with the top three and his stretch drive in the Risen Star to beat Mark Valeski was one of the best races of the year. He's now Todd
Pletcher's number one Derby hope.
Oh my! He almost ran down Howe Great in the Palm Beach after a long layoff. If he gets any better, he'll be a handful on Derby Day. Now he heads to the Blue Grass Stakes on a track where he won last fall.
He's in the top ten because he ran his heart out in the San Felipe. It was a fast pace and he might have beaten Creative Cause, had he not veered into the vision of the other horse, and re-started his engine. If only he had a few more races.
7. Mark Valeski
The Louisiana Derby will be the defining moment for this Proud Citizen. Will he improve and will El Padrino come back to New Orleans to challenge him. Trainer Larry Jones needs one more good race to get to Churchill.
It looks like he'll have enough graded money to get to Louisville but does he belong. This is the last of the once formidable group of Bernardinis to hit the Derby trail. So, does he tackle Hansen in the Wood, or Union Rags in Florida?
A decent race on either track makes him a player.
You'll probably know the story on Sabercat this weekend at the Rebel. He returns from a long vacation following his Jackpot win at Delta Downs. This is another horse with the money but does he have the class to compete.
Winners get recognized in this column. Owner John Oxley returns to the Derby trail with this Malibu Moon, who won the Tampa Bay Derby and can pick his next spot before the month of May. The Beyer was just an 88 but Tampa Bay is a tough, tiring track. His only clunker was the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
11. News Pending
He was big news at Gulfstream when he jumped into the Derby picture with a second in the Fountain of Youth. Now he's one of four Derby contenders in the Dale Romans' barn. But he needs to hit the board again to make the Derby.
12. Howe Great
Still on my list. Hey, I'm a stubborn midwestern German.
That Palm Beach was a fast mile and an eighth. Let's see what he does on the Poly.
13. I'll Have Another
One of several Derby contenders who are putting all of their graded stakes eggs in one race. I'll Have Another needs a good race in the Santa Anita Derby or he's on the bubble.
This is the Churchill Jockey Club winner and Todd Pletcher has waited "forever" to bring him back to the track. Now he's pointed to a Gulfstream allowance race, not a stakes. Doesn't sound good.
Drops a little on the list because of inactivity but he may move a little higher in the Baffert barn because of Derby attrition. He won a division of the Southwest Stakes and needs another good race to make the field. But, he'll have two shots at making more money. The Rebel Stakes is possible.
16. Secret Circle
This is another Baffert contender, who may have distance limitations, and also the question, where do they spot him next? He loved the track in Arkansas, so a plane ride is not out of the question.
17. Take Charge Indy
Pat Byrne took a bit of a gamble and scratched out of the Tampa Bay Derby. It was the Number Ten post position that made them stay home. That means the Florida Derby is now all or nothing for this well bred son of A. P. Indy.
He was fourth in the San Felipe and that was just enough to give him another chance. If Baffert can work his magic, Liaison, has plenty of money to make the field.
19. Midnight Transfer
A very nice third place in the San Felipe for Carla Gaines and with a little improvement, he's right up with Bodemeister and Creative Cause. They all ran fast at Santa Anita. But, that track is not like Churchill Downs.
20. Went the Day Well.
OK Barry! I'll play along.
You think he'll love the distance? So, where are young going to spot him?
The Spiral Stakes is sitting out their like a plumb for a somebody.
Would Team Valor try that again? I wouldn't be surprised to see the green and red silks in the post parade.
The Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn is the 17th of March and the Spiral at Turfway is the 24th. Then comes the serious Grade 1 stuff and the big money.
And by the way, if you don't like my list, or you have some other ideas, send me a note on Facebook.
Thanks for reading.