By the end of March, the Kentucky Derby trail is designed to leave you in total confusion. It is a giant puzzle with dozens of moveable parts and now points.
By April, your spirits are lifted by daffodils and some rising stars that win Derby preps. The million dollar races seem to clarify the jumble of times and numbers.
But then, in most years, the Derby will break your heart. The weather might have changed, your numbers don't pan out, your theories went awry, and somebody else is screaming that they picked the winner.
That's why, in the year that you finally hit the winner, it's so much fun. You feel brilliant. So, the winner is out there. You just have to study and find the horse that will wear the roses.
Two horses in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park gave us that sense of possibility when they finished one-two. Both are trained by four time Derby winner D. Wayne Lukas. By now, you know that Will Take Charge nosed out stablemate Oxbow. Let's see where they rank in this week's Top Twenty.
This is either the Derby favorite or the bridge between Brooklyn and Staten Island. Until he runs again in April, the winner of the Tampa Bay Derby, is the Derby favorite. He's won three races by a total of 27 lengths.
Speaking of New York, Vyjack made 50 Derby points by winning the Gotham Stakes. His trainer Rudy Rodriguez got 20 days for an anti-inflammatory drug violation. But Rudy will be back one day before the Wood Memorial.
Is that a late bloomer or a full moon over Gulfstream? Orb won the Fountain of Youth Stakes for Shug McGaughey and should add to his 50 Derby points in the Florida Derby. That race is shaping up as a small but quality field.
What a set of connections. D. Wayne Lukas trains for historic Calumet Farm, with jockey Mike Smith. Actually, it's the new ownership of Calumet, Brad Kelley from Franklin, Ky. He lost the Rebel by a nose, but pedigree says he should run forever.
5. Will Take Charge
It's Lukas again. The coach is probably tanned and rested with a new pair of sunglasses and picking out Derby suits. The Unbridled's Song colt is out of the champion mare Take Charge Lady. Jon Court could be grinning all the way to the winner's circle.
6. Shanghai Bobby
The Florida Derby will be Bobby's last chance to get some Derby points.
The Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner desperately needs to hit the board to qualify. I don't need to tell you how many things can go wrong in a horse race.
He won his last race in New York, is training in Florida and will race in the Louisiana Derby. Revolutionary won the Withers after one of the worst trips in recent memory, but trying to translate his past performance to the Fairgrounds looks like a nightmare.
I know, he's got the best numbers of any horse running on the East Coast. But he won the Holy Bull Stakes and the as a long time ago in January. He's the one to catch in the Florida Derby and Eddie Plesa better hope he can't be caught in the points game.
9. Hear the Ghost
Until somebody beats him in the Santa Anita Derby, this appears to be the best of the West Coast bunch and that includes more than a half a dozen over in the Baffert barn. Jerry Hollendorfer trains the Ghost that might Zap them all.
He was second to Hear the Ghost in the San Felipe and Baffert has now bumped jockey Julian Leparoux and picked up Garrett Gomez for the next race. By the way, that's called spinning a jockey.
11. Den's Legacy
I'm ready to wheel this horse in my Derby trifecta. He doesn't win but he's always in the top two or three. Most recently, he chased the two Lukas horses home in the Rebel. He's hit the board in California and Arkansas. And there's always that horse that peaks for the Derby.
12. Super Ninety Nine.
So much for that trip to Arkansas; the horse that skipped over the mud in the Southwest Stakes finished 5th on a dry track. So back to California for the Santa Anita; Baffert may have to be satisfied that this is a miler.
Every Kentucky Derby needs a horse that fans in Kentucky will have trouble pronouncing and so we give you Elnaawi, third in the Gotham Stakes.
The colt is by Derby winner Street Sense and has trainer Kiaran McLaughlin to get him to Churchill. Kiaran will help us with the pronunciation, I'm sure.
14. Palace Malice
A third place in the Risen Star brings this Dogwood Stable colt back for a shot at the 100th Louisiana Derby. The Fairgrounds Derby has become a place for second stringers from the east and the West Coast to seek a win. I'm rooting for Cot Campbell.
15. West Hills Giant
This is a New York bred, who was second in the Gotham. He's still lightly regarded but if he gets some more points in the Wood Memorial, you'll be seeing him in the paddock at Churchill Downs. That's the way this points thing works.
16. General Election
My Turfway longshot stays on the list. He'll be looking for Polytrack points in the Spiral Stakes this weekend. But, there will be an overflow field of grasslike pedigrees looking for the 50 Derby points. Somebody is going to win a ride down the Interstate.
He's apparently set for the Bluegrass Stakes and his connections hope to pull a Paddy O'Prado by winning the Palm Beach and then using Keeneland as a springboard to the Derby. It might work. Grass horses have been making a successful move to the Derby in recent years.
18. Code West
If there's a Derby prep on the schedule, Bob Baffert will probably have an entry.
This one returns from a second in the Risen Star to give the Louisiana Derby a shot; lost by a nose last time.
19. Tiz a Minister
He was a fast closing third in the San Felipe and was right on the tail of Hear the Ghost. If he runs that race again we might be talking Derby.
20. Channel Isle
What? Another Lukas Derby horse! Yes, and this is a grass pedigree by English Channel who is heading for the big bucks at Turfway. The way things have been going for Lukas…..I wouldn't be surprised to see him grab the points.
The Spiral on Saturday, March 23, and the Sunland Derby on the 24th are the last of the 50 point races. Beginning with the Florida Derby, the point spread for the first four positions will be 100-40-20-10. That means the race for the Derby starting gate is literally wide open. It's a little like basketball this time of year, only with dogwoods blooming in the background.
Good luck and thanks for reading.