Louisville, Ky. (WHAS11) - I'm not lying. A horse named Pants on Fire is the latest 3-year-old to qualify for the Kentucky Derby. A week ago, Pants on Fire was barely on the Derby radar after a sixth place finish in the Risen Star at Fairgrounds. But there he was Saturday, winning the Louisiana Derby and $600,000.
Pants on Fire is just the latest contender, but 2-year-old champion Uncle Mo is not scaring anybody away from Churchill Downs.
In fact, Decisive Moment, who finished second in the Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park, immediately came to Louisville and began training for May 7.
The winner at Turfway was Animal Kingdom, whose pedigree is grass, but who will work at Churchill this month and then Team Valor will decide later if he runs for roses.
Another long-shot who is almost certain to start in the Derby is Twice the Appeal, who won the Sunland Park Derby and $400,000. That's the race that sent Mine That Bird to Louisville but this may be even more of a Cinderella story.
Twice the Appeal broke his maiden on December 29 in a $30,000 maiden claimer at Santa Anita. He's by Successful Appeal and his Dosage Index is 2.11, so he should like the distance. And Astrology finished second at Sunland Park in a nice comeback race, and could get another start before the Derby.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, the UAE Derby may have produced another starter for Kentucky. Master of Hounds, who ran 6th at Churchill in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, finished second in Dubai and collected $400,000 in graded cash. That makes him a lock for the Derby if trainer Aidan O'Brien decides to make the trip.
Among others who ran Saturday and are now headed for the Derby is Mucho Macho Man. He was the favorite in the Louisiana Derby but was third after losing a shoe as he left the gate. Trainer Kathy Ritvo says the Macho Man came out of the race undamaged and his next race is at Churchill Downs.
And Nehro, second in the Louisiana Derby, probably gets another start in Arkansas but already has $200,000 in graded money.
So, one weekend has produced eight almost certain starters for the Kentucky Derby. And four of them were virtual unknowns a week ago.
Which bring us to our Top 20:
A lot of writers have been preparing for the coronation of King Mo on May 7 but here's a tough, professional three year old who might spoil the party. If it rains, which it has the last two years, Soldat moves up even more. He gets a huge test this weekend against a great field in the Florida Derby. Don't be surprised if the bettors abandon Uncle Mo for the winner of this race.
2 Dialed In
He has the fastest closing kick of any horse in this three year old group. I can see a Derby stretch run develop where the speed horses quit running and Dialed In swallows them up in less than an eighth of a mile. Even when he finished second in a recent allowance race, he closed like a freight train.
3. Uncle Mo
Everybody believes this is the second coming of Secretariat but it's probably the second coming of Indian Charlie. It looked like Jaycito would provide some decent competition in the Wood Memorial but now Baffert is waffling on whether to ship his horse. Are two easy prep races enough to get ready for Kentucky?
4. The Factor
He's the Derby wildcard. The fastest horse in the field will likely set the pace, but not many Derbys are won wire to wire. I can see a speed dual developing with others in the field like Pants on Fire. Then as they stagger down the stretch, one of the closers cashes in. On the other hand, he might be a total freak and run them off their feet.
5. Stay Thirsty
Mo's stable mate get's blinkers for the Florida Derby and if he hits the board at Gulfstream there will be two jockeys in the Repole colors on Derby Day. He may be a notch below the top three, but this time of year, a 3-year-old can mature between races. I've always had a feeling that Stay Thirsty might turn out to be better than Uncle Mo.
6. Premier Pegasus
His performance in the San Felipe made him the top Derby horse in California and sent some contenders looking for other races. He goes into the Santa Anita Derby with $228,000 in graded stakes money and repeat of the San Felipe run makes him one of the favorites at Churchill.
7. Mucho Mach Man
He's safely in the Derby field if he stays healthy and will train in Florida before shipping to Kentucky. I believe the lost shoe compromised his stretch run in the Louisiana Derby but Pants on Fire was a tough competitor. He's a good horse and if he gets a good trip at Churchill, anything is possible.
8. Decisive Moment
He's already at Churchill, already training on the track that will be the site of his next race. Juan Arias has shipped Decisive Moment from Calder, to Delta Downs, to Turfway and now to Louisville. In the process he's developed a tough horse and won over $300,000 in graded stakes money. Do not dismiss on Derby day.
His first start back in the San Felipe was not bad (second to Premier Pegasus) and he has Bob Baffert in his corner getting him ready for Louisville. If he ships to New York and finishes second to Uncle Mo, that would set him up to turn the tables on Mo in the Derby. He has $250,000 in purse money and the only question is where to race before shipping to Louisville?
10. Watch Me Go
It's been a couple of weeks since the Tampa Bay Derby and I'm still wondering: Did that really happen? This is another horse training at Calder and running on that deep track at Tampa. The Calder horses come north and show up very fit. Tampa Derby horses have a history of running very well at Churchill. On Derby Day expect long odds, big exotics.
They are rolling the dice on Santiva and waiting for the Bluegrass Stakes at Keeneland. As you know, weird things can happen on Polytrack but Santiva already has $240,000 in graded stakes money, and Giant's Causeways are pretty versatile. The surface might set him up nicely for a run on dirt.
Somehow, I think this half brother to Super Saver may be a better horse than some of the winners this past weekend. But he needs a comeback and he needs some graded cash. And here's an angle that could help Brethren. If Elite Alex doesn't run in the Arkansas Derby, that would free up jockey Calvin Borel. Would that be magic or what? Nobody rides Churchill like Borel.
13. To Honor and Serve
Made $250,000 in a great 2-year-old season and now needs to make his mark as a 3-year-old in the Florida Derby. It will be his second start off a long winter layoff and the only question is, can he handle a really tough field of competitors? Overlooked this spring but good enough to win it all.
It was a winter that included throat surgery and other problems but Astrology returned with a solid second place finish at Sunland Park. If he can get in another good race in three weeks, the Derby might still be possible. It's a matter of playing catch up and perhaps the later Triple Crown races might work better.
15. Pants on Fire
When your horse wins $600,000 in graded stakes money in an afternoon, you make hotel reservations in Louisville. Pants on Fire got better at the right time and tossed in a courageous stretch run to hold off Mucho Macho Man and Nehro. He's by Jump Start and looks like part of the early speed.
16. Anthony's Cross
He's on the graded money bubble as he approaches the Santa Anita Derby. For a lot of horses, this race will be a case of make or break on earnings. With $162,000, Anthony's Cross needs to hit the board, and if he doesn't, it's probably not worth the trip to Kentucky.
17. Twice the Appeal
Welcome to the Top 20, in fact, welcome to our consciousness.
Former claiming horses have won the Derby, Charismatic for one, but this will be a big leap forward. But by making 400 thousand in the Sunland Park Derby Twice the Appeal is certain to make the field. By the way, the pedigree says he can run a mile and a quarter.
18. Silver Medallion
Another contender who’s Santa Anita Derby will be a make or break proposition. Steve Asmussen will have him ready but his claim to fame is a stakes win in northern California. His next race will be in Southern California against the best they can find at Santa Anita.
Another Asmussen trainee, who came out of nowhere to finish second in the Louisiana Derby. He now has $200,000 in graded money and a couple of race options before the Derby. One shot wonder, or contender? We should know in three weeks.
20. Prime Cut
He has no stakes wins, no graded money. But he ran lights out on Derby Day at the Fairgrounds. Prime Cut beat the well regarded Bind by almost a length in an allowance race. And here's the point. It was a mile and 70 yards and just one fifth of a second off the track record. If Neil Howard can get him into a stakes race, look out.
And slipping off the Top 20 list is two horses in the Neil Howard barn.
Machen was 5th and Wilkinson 6th in the Louisiana Derby. Both are nice 3-year-olds, who could make some noise this summer but the Derby is coming too fast.
There was not much positive to say about Positive Response in the Spiral Stakes. He went to the lead and then went away.
Caleb's Posse misses the cut but he could make a comeback in the Arkansas Derby. And Elite Alex was fourth in the Louisiana Derby after a horrible start.
He's got Calvin but still needs a big finish in the Arkansas Derby to make the field.
Coming up this weekend, probably the best Derby prep this year.
The Florida Derby at Gulfstream will dominate the Derby puzzle.
Join me next week when the Derby picture gets a lot clearer.
Thanks for reading.