Louisville, Ky. (WHAS11) - If you're counting snowstorms it's, been a long winter.
If you're trying to get a horse to the Kentucky Derby, time is running short.
But two horses who won their first race at Churchill Downs in November made big leaps on our Top Twenty list of Derby prospects.
Dialed In won the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream and the $240,000 first prize that almost assures a spot in the Derby. Trainer Nick Zito said simply, "What a horse." What Zito saw, was a horse that trailed by 15 lengths early in the race and then rallied to pass the entire field and hit the wire in 1:35.19 for the one turn mile. It was much like Dialed In's stunning stretch run when he broke his maiden at Churchill.
Meanwhile on the west coast, another Churchill maiden winner was running away with the Grade 3 Sham. Tapizar jumped into stakes company, winning the $100,000 race by more than four lengths. Trainer Steve Asmussen says he has a lot to be excited about.
And Soldat, who was second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf at Churchill, made the transition to dirt, and now appears to be a very serious Derby contender.
That's three of our Top Twenty. Let's see how everybody ranks as our long/short winter continues.
1. Uncle Mo.
Mark your calendar for March 12 when the 2-year-old champion makes his 2011 debut in the Tampa Bay Derby. If you have a déjà vu feeling, this is where Derby winner Super Saver returned to the track last spring. The timing is meant to set up Uncle Mo for a final prep in the Wood Memorial for owner Mike Repole.
Mo is working again in Florida and in six weeks we'll see if this is the same monster that won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
2. Dialed In.
When a maiden winner has you thinking Derby, he must be something special.
Dialed In broke his maiden during a troubled trip at Churchill Downs on November 12 that ended with a stunning stretch run. He did it again at Gulfstream's Holy Bull Stakes. If he wins the Florida Derby, he might be the Derby favorite, depending on Uncle Mo's progress. At the end of the mile in the Holy Bull, he looked like he was just starting to run.
So you thought he was a grass horse. Well, he is, second in the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile Turf. But Kiran McLaughlin decided to try him on dirt, which turned out to be slop. It didn't matter. Soldat beat a good allowance field by more than ten lengths. Second place finisher Cool Blue Red Hot was among a group of Derby hopefuls who were left looking for excuses. Soldat is now officially on the Derby Trail headed for the Fountain of Youth Stakes on February 26.
Steve Asmussen was smart to move this horse to California after he finally broke his maiden at Churchill Downs. Early results from Santa Anita indicate the Derby trail is much tougher in Florida. Tapizar wasted no time jumping from the maiden ranks to stakes winner. In the Sham Stakes, he dueled with the leaders through six furlongs in 1:08:08 and then simply "drew off." Clubhouse ride was a distant second. But Tapizar is the Derby Trail leader in the clubhouse in California.
5. To Honor and Serve
The Remsen Stakes winner has yet to make his 2011 debut but is widely thought to be the second best 3-year -old in the east; second only to Uncle Mo. Trainer Bill Mott thinks this may be his best chance ever to win a Derby. To Honor and Serve is a double graded stakes winner and has a great pedigree by Bernardini. He could meet Dialed In, in the Fountain of Youth.
Eddie Kenneally thinks this is his ticket to the Derby, and Santiva is another reason the Derby Trail in Florida is full of good horses. This son of Giant's Causeway won the Jockey Club Stakes on the last weekend at Churchill Downs. The last horse to win that race: Super Saver. Santiva is another candidate for the Fountain of Youth. You wonder if some of these trainers might look for a softer spot.
7. Comma To The Top
This was the star of a one horse soap opera in late December when he won the CashCall Futurity in a driving rain. He beat a good field that night, even after he lost a shoe in the paddock and caused a delay of about 40 minutes in the post parade. Comma To The Top is a son of Bwana Charlie, who made most of his money in sprint races. And the pedigree traces back to In Excess, a line that loves synthetic tracks. The Dosage is 2.20 and the real test will come on real dirt.
Speaking of softer spots, it looks like the half brother to Super Saver will try the Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay. Tampa is getting to be a popular Derby Trail stop since the races are now graded. For Brethren, this will be a jump from the allowance race he won at Churchill. The question: Can WinStar catch lightning in a bottle two years in a row.
9. Decisive Moment
This is the first of two Derby contenders who started their careers at Calder Race Course in Miami. Decisive Moment first hit the board when he picked up $200,000 for finishing second in the Delta Jackpot. Then trainer Juan Arias took him back to Delta to win the Jean Lafitte (ungraded stake). The Dosage Index (2.11) says he'll love longer races. This is an under the radar contender. Think Smarty Jones and Mine That Bird.
10. Gourmet Dinner
Won $600,000 in the Delta Jackpot and a ticket to Louisville but he just keeps running. The galloping Gourmet was fourth in the CashCall Futurity in California and then came back for a gritty third place in the Holy Bull at Gulfstream. His sire is Trippi and the Holy Bull mile seemed to indicate distance limitations, but Gourmet Dinner could be a millionaire before May. Reminds me a little of last year's Noble's Promise.
Another Asmussen trainee who was sent to California after winning the Iroquois Stakes and finishing second in the Jockey Club at Churchill. He's a son of A. P. Indy and has been the favorite in every race that he has run. And his second place in the Jockey Club was just a head behind the winner. Still needs to make his mark in the Santa Anita Derby preps.
12. Boys at Tosconova
Here's a horse with a good record but a cloudy future.
This Boy chased Uncle Mo to the finish line in the Breeders' Cup but missed his first start in the Holy Bull with what is called "a training setback." Trainer Rick Dutrow said he was being careful, but this is an Officer colt and they are notorious for early flame-outs.
13. Stay Thirsty
Returned to the training track on the same day as stable mate Uncle Mo and it was Stay Thirsty, who worked the bullet at the Palm Meadows training center.
He's just a maiden winner but he was fifth in the Breeders' Cup and this is the kind of Todd Pletcher trainee, who could mature and win a major race before the spring is over.
14. Rogue Romance
He was a third place finisher in the Breeders' Cup and that puts trainer Kenny McPeek back in the Derby chase this spring. McPeek has a farm near Lexington and loves Keeneland, so the goal for Rogue Romance appears to be the Bluegrass Stakes. This is one of the first colts by Smarty Jones to make the Derby trail.
15. Sweet Ducky
Funny name, serious horse. Might have won the Holy Bull had it not been for Dialed In's monster run down the stretch. Ducky is a Pulpit colt with an acceptable Dosage Index of 3.80. He now has $120,000 in graded stakes money and the rest of the winter to pad his resume. Kelly Breen is the trainer.
16. Awesome Patriot
Bob Baffert knows how to get a horse to Louisville in May and this colt has been working nicely for his first prep race at Santa Anita. And, the California races take on added significance this year because of the new dirt track.
Everything old is new again at Santa Anita. Artificial turf made a quick exit.
So far, the new track is lightning fast. Take that into account when watching horses like Awesome Patriot.
17. The Factor
And now the Baffert horse with the Wow! Factor. Yes, the Santa Anita track is fast and here's the proof. The Factor broke his maiden by breaking the track record for six furlongs, a cool 1:06.98. That's crazy fast, even for California. The Factor's last recorded work was: 58 flat for five furlongs. The sire is War Front and the next time this horse runs, everybody will be watching,
This is Bob Baffert: Part Three. Jaycito won the Norfolk Stakes, a grade one for 2-year-olds at Hollywood, but then had a troubled seventh place in the Breeders' Cup. It was so troubling that he wound up in Baffert's barn and recently worked: 59.4 for five furlongs. Probably has a chance to make some money at Santa Anita which has yet to produce a 3-year-old super star.
19. J. P.'s Gusto
Might be a good 3-year-old, if they didn't wear him out last year.
He really went for the gusto with four wins in eight starts including the Del Mar Futurity. It all added up to more than a half million dollars in earnings. David Hoffman's is apparently pointing J P toward the Bob Lewis Stakes. If he stays sound, he has enough money to show up on May 7.
He makes the list because he won a Derby prep at the Fairgrounds that was billed as the start of the Derby trail; maybe, maybe not. Wilkinson is a Lemon Drop Kid colt and it's great to see Neil Howard back on the Derby trail. Wilkinson came up the rail and beat four other horses in the grade 3 and picks up $60,000. But he'll need another big score in Louisiana or somewhere to make the Derby.
And falling out of the Top Twenty:
Major Gain. He's the biggest casualty. The Major won the Arlington-Washington Futurity and was third in the Jockey Club at Churchill. But he never fired in the Holy Bull and finished eighth.
Cool Blue Red Hot has the excuse of a sloppy day at Gulfstream but his second place was hardly within shouting distance of the winner, Soldat.
Phillipe, who broke his maiden at Turfway, went to Oaklawn and finished third in a first level allowance race. It wasn't a terrible run but moving to the stakes level would be a stretch.
Premier Pegasus is still undefeated on the west coast but hasn't raced since November and qualifies as something of a mystery horse.
And finally, we bid adieu to Lauburu. The pricey colt didn't run to his regal pedigree in the allowance race that saw Soldat win in the mud. Another chance is possible, but time is running out.
Yes, the Derby clock is ticking and trainers, east, south and west or trying to plot a course to Churchill Downs.
Coming up on the Derby Trail, the Whirlaway at Aqueduct on February 5. Then on Feb 12, the Sam Davis at Tampa, the Bob Lewis at Santa Anita and the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate.
And yes, the Kentucky Derby is just a little more than three months away.
Thanks for reading.