For almost four months, the Kentucky Derby had a favorite. Then it was March.
Good Magic was anointed the favorite after his win in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and then took the winter off. Of course, only one Breeders' Cup two-year-old champion has ever won the Derby. That was Street Sense in 2007.
And when Good Magic ran third in last Saturday's Fountain of Youth Stakes, it looked like more of the same. Good Magic was not gaining down the stretch but he may not have been totally fit after the long layoff.
He was 4 1/2 lengths behind Promises Fulfilled, a son of Shackleford, who is looking forward to the Florida Derby and is now second in Derby qualifying points.
Strike Power stretched out to two turns for the first time and held on for second place. And trainer Mark Hennig says it's likely that he'll try a re-match in the Florida Derby.
Meanwhile, now down to one more prep race, it looks like Chad Brown is likely to run Good Magic back in the Wood Memorial in New York or the Bluegrass Stakes at Keeneland.
But this week, the prep action really gets going with the Gotham Stakes in New York, the San Felipe at Santa Anita and the Tampa Bay Derby. Those are all 50 points to the winner, and we could get three more Derby starters out of that.
So let's stack up the Derby Top Twenty, now that we have absolutely no clear favorite.
Last year Bob Baffert didn't have a Derby starter but this year, he may have three or more. On Sunday morning, undefeated McKinzie, set up for his run in the San Felipe with a 7-furlong work in 1:23.8. I saw the work on TVG and McKinzie looked like a runaway train. He's a Street Sense and distance shouldn't be a problem.
2. Bolt d'Oro
We'll apparently settle this one-two thing on Saturday at Santa Anita. Bolt d'Oro is a double Grade I winner and was third in the Breeders' Cup. With Medaglia d'Oro as the sire and an A.P. Indy mare, this guy is bred for distance. But the question, as with many three-year-olds, is how will he do in his first race of 2018.
At this point, it's really difficult to tell which is Baffert's best horse. Solomini, has not won a stakes race but he was disqualified after finishing first in the Los Al Futurity. He was second to Good Magic in the Breeders" Cup. He just worked a bullet six furlongs in 1:11.4. Baffert will divide his contenders by sending Solomini to Arkansas for the Rebel Stakes on March 17.
4. Good Magic
It's too early to give up on the Breeders' Cup champ and his 34 Derby points probably already gets him in the field. But his next race may tell Chad Brown whether to run for the roses or take a pass and head for Baltimore. He's not a big horse, like his sire Curlin, but the pedigree is there for a mile and a quarter.
OK! Which trainer has a horse with the most Derby points in the first week of March. The answer: D. Wayne Lukas. Bravazo, a nicely bred colt by Awesome Again won the Risen Star Stakes at 21 to 1. Bravazo has a couple of break-out races on his resume this year. If he improves anymore "the Coach" will be giving interviews in early May.
6. Promises Fulfilled
Winning a 50-point Derby prep at Gulfstream Park is not exactly chopped liver. This son of Shackleford stunned the field in Florida at 18 to 1. He even runs like Shackleford. He grabbed the lead and never looked back. But to win a longer race, he'll have to outrun his pedigree.
7. Catholic Boy
You might want to think about including Catholic Boy in your Derby exotics. It seems like he's always around at the finish. His worst was a 4th in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. But he won the With Anticipation at Saratoga and the Remsen at Aqueduct. And he already has a second this year in the Sam Davis at Tampa Bay. Not crazy about the pedigree but Bernardini on the bottom gives some staying power.
If you like Bravazo then you have to consider this guy, who lost the Risen Star by just a nose. He has two good races under his belt this year and might be a candidate to break-out for Steve Asmussen. The only caution: In recent years, the Fairgrounds group has not been as good as the East and West coasts. He already has 22 Derby points.
9. Avery Island
He recently made his mark in New York with a win in the Withers Stakes at Aqueduct but he's training in Florida for Kiaran McLaughlin.
Avery Island is a Street Sense out of the powerful Godolphin barn. He's not a flashy or particularly speedy colt but he just keeps running. HIs next chance could be in the Louisiana Derby.
10. Free Drop Billy
Dale Romans passed on the Fountain of Youth for Billy, while his other horse was winning the race. So, it looks like the next opportunity, is to Drop him into the Gotham Stakes, a 50 pointer this weekend in New York. Romans may have a good feeling about the Gotham since he won it last year. Billy needs some points to make the Derby. He ran a good second in the Holy Bull Stakes but now needs to improve.
Todd Pletcher is the trainer of this New York-bred that has won three in a row, including the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream. And there must be high hopes for this colt because Louisville based Starlight Racing just bought in for a piece of the action. The other partners are WinStar Farm and China Horse Club. The plan for Audible is to train up to the Florida Derby.
The winner of the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay, Flameaway was a modest 10 to 1 longshot, who held off favored Catholic Boy in the stretch.
Owner John Oxley actually had to talk trainer Mark Casse into trying Flameaway in the Davis and now the Tampa Bay Derby or one other Derby prep is likely.
13. Vino Rosso
If there was one horse that seemed to give hope for the future in the Sam Davis, it was Vino Rosso. He's a Curlin colt that was closing with a rush.
This is a Pletcher trainee and has raced just three times. But Pletcher has a way of getting his horses to the Derby with a big score in April. Mike Repole is the owner.
14. Firenze Fire
This is the Derby contender with the most points that you've never heard of.
But he made a lot of noise late last summer as a two-year-old. Firenze Fire won the Sanford Stakes at Saratoga and then beat two-year-old champion Good Magic in the Champagne at Belmont. He may have already outrun his pedigree and the Gotham Stakes will be a real test this weekend.
15. Strike Power
He won the Swale Stakes in Florida at seven furlongs and then hung very tough as he chased Promises Fulfilled in the Fountain of Youth. He finished second in the 400 thousand dollar race and was well clear of Good Magic. But his sire is Speightstown and there's a question if he wants to go much farther.
There's always a group of horses playing catch-up on the Derby trail and it seldom works. But Bob Baffert does have a prodigy by the name of Justify who dazzled by winning a 7-furlong maiden race by 9 1/2 lengths. Then Starlight bought a piece of that horse and it begins to take on mythical qualities.
If they get him to the Derby, it would take two stakes races in Arkansas. But, not likely.
17. Instilled Regard
Here's a California based horse, who was making his reputation by running in New Orleans. First, he won the Lecomte Stakes in January and returned for the Risen Star. But this time, he was beaten by Wayne Lukas' Bravazo and two others. Still has 19 Derby points and hitting the board again would put him in the field.
He picked up ten Derby points with a third-place finish in the Risen Star and you have to think that Todd Pletcher will find a spot for this improving colt that will give him a chance at the Derby. He's another WinStar homebred. The farm has a number of Derby candidates and is buying more on the fly.
Lombo jumped into the Derby picture with a front-running victory in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita. Trainer Michael Pender calls Lombo a high octane horse, who is still trying to figure out the racing game. However, the Lewis was not a particularly fast race and Lombo will have to pick up the pace next time.
20. My Boy Jack
He was a winner in the Southwest Stakes and moves on to the Rebel, coming up in Arkansas. The Creative Cause colt is another joint venture by the Desormeaux brothers, who train and ride. He chased McKinzie in the Sham Stakes and finished third. Better horses will test him next time.
So, the weekend of March 10th on the Derby trail will be a time of weeding out the pretenders from the contenders.
The deep, sandy track at Tampa will host the Tampa Bay Derby at a mile and a 1/16th. Remember that Tampa Bay form often translates to a good performance at Churchill.
Santa Anita stages the San Felipe as their next step on the Derby trail for California horses. And New York hosts the Gotham Stakes at one mile.
And then on the 17th of March, the Rebel at Oaklawn and "yes" the Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway.
I'll take mine medium rare.