It’s the end of March, we are 39 days from the 143rd Kentucky Derby which will take place on Saturday, May 5th at Churchill Downs in Louisville. As we approach the last couple weeks of Derby preps the field is growing more clear by the week, but as far as a betting favorite is concerned we couldn’t be farther from it for the first time in many years. When Bob Baffert’s MASTERY went down with a front left leg fracture it really opened up Derby-favoritism for any horse that wanted to take it. After the major Derby preps are complete we may have a significant favorite, but this season feels unique for some reason. We have had so many favorite’s win recently that we are due for something “Mine That Bird-like”.
Here are my current TOP 8 CONTENDERS in the Run for the Roses…
#8 – MALAGACY: It’s hard for me to put a horse with only three starts on this list, but Malagacy is undefeated for a reason. There are a couple unanswered questions leading into his last Derby prep. The major one question mark is ‘Distance?’ How far will Malagacy’s pedigree take him. If you watch his last and only Derby prep the G2-Rebel Stakes from Oaklawn Park, he battled his ass off to stay on the front end, but he looked to be getting a little leg weary late as he started to drift in. That’s okay in March, it was his first Derby prep, but improvement in April is a necessity to keep him as a legitimate threat to hit the wire first on Derby day. His sire Shackleford was a front-running beast, but he could not sustain it at 10 furlongs. Can Malagacy?
#7 – REACH THE WORLD: You can’t leave Bob Baffert off this list, can you? A lot of people have dismissed him after Mastery broke his leg in the G2 – San Felipe. I think West Coasters are well aware of Reach the World and the talent he brings to the table, but the national scene hasn’t heard of him and they won’t until Santa Anita Derby day. Reach the World is sired by Tapit (enough said on top right?) and is out of Reach The Stars who was by the great Galileo. His breeding screams 10 furlongs and if things go right on April 8th, than Reach The World will shoot up Derby Watch lists. You can say you heard it hear first.
#6 – TAPWRIT: I absolutely was in love with this horse in the G3 – Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, and was ready to reap the benefits of taking down McCraken until he showed me how talented he was when he swooped by the entire field 4wide on the deep, sandy surface. McCraken proved the best that day, but I thought we would see a rematch in the Tampa Bay Derby; it didn’t happen because their were some issues with McCraken, but Tapwrit proved to be the beast he was and won the Tampa Bay Derby and back into favor with me. I still have a little doubt about how quick a turn of foot he has, but he is getting better and he will have to prove that to me in his next prep, the G1 – Bluegrass Stakes at Keeneland.
#5 – CLASSIC EMPIRE: The 2-year-old Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Champion and Eclipse Award winner for 2-year-old of the Year came back as a 3-year-old in the Holy Bull Stakes and looked completely flat. I am not sure if they just weren’t completely ready off the layoff or something went amiss on the track. You can forgive one start off a layoff, but this next start coming up in the G2 – Bluegrass Stakes is the time to get back in good graces of people that road you as a champion in 2016. It will be interesting to see how Classic Empire shapes up against many improving horses. It is going to be a tough full field of promising horses a week from Saturday, Classic Empire did well back in November, I think he is ready to do it again.
#4 – STATE OF HONOR: This is probably the most surprising horse you see on this list. He currently only has 22 Road to the Kentucky Derby points, but that could be enough this year depending on how these final preps go. Here are the things to like about State of Honor: He went very fast on a track that can eat horses up in the Tampa Bay Derby, after going :23 something in the second quarter of that race, he showed the ability to hang on for 2nd in the race. He will be a very good price in the upcoming Florida Derby, and you will get another chance to see how much this horse has improved. He definitely is a price horse at this point, but if Mark Casse can train this one to rate a little bit better on the lead to leave more in the tank when it’s needed, State of Honor could be a very difficult horse to pass in the final furlongs on Derby day. Also he has by To Honor and Serve (Bernardini) and he’s got (Elusive Quality) as the Damsire. Can’t get a whole lot better when you’re looking to score with a price.
#3 – GUNNEVERA: This horse has done everything right as a 3-year-old and you will see him at or near the top of most lists. He finished a good 2nd in the Holy Bull ahead of Classic Empire, then followed that up with a win in the Fountain of Youth. Not only a win, the most impressive win by a 3-year-old to date. He crushed in the Fountain of Youth and it wasn’t even close. The Florida Derby is this coming weekend and everyone will be looking to see how he takes the challenges and can build up that stamina for the 10 furlong affair on May 5th. I honestly don’t think he has what it takes, but he will be in prime condition as most will.
#2 – GIRVIN: Girvin is probably the second surprise on this list because I have him so high compared to a lot of people, but I can promise you this. Right now, my win bet for the Kentucky Derby is going on GIRVIN and I will tell you why. He won the Risen Star from the rail which is no easy task in itself. If you watch the stretch run of this horse, it looks like he looks his rival in the eye, and says I got you punk and kicks it into another gear. We will have to wait and see how the Louisiana Derby develops, but if I am right and things break cleanly for Girvin, this horse will be one of the Derby favorites headed into May 5th.
#1 – MCCRAKEN: He set a track record down at Tampa Bay Downs in the Sam F. Davis and did looking like he was galloping over the course. Granted, there have been a number of track records broken at the track this year, but McCraken has looked so impressive it’s impossible not to put him at the top of this list. He was near dead last in that start at Tampa and he literally just circled the field without question and cruised by all of them and opened up with the exception of one horse, Tapwrit, he went by Tapwrit, but when that happened, Tapwrit was urged and he kicked it into another gear as well and was moving just as quick as McCraken late, but it was too late. So, McCraken makes the top of the list and we will also find out in the Florida Derby if McCraken is healthy which is most important, and second, how good a turn of foot does he really have because I believe other horses will be aware of that this time around, and likely won’t let him get the jump. So we are going to see how good McCraken can kick it in and if he has to circle the field again and can do it. I will be wishing him luck and I believe he can do it until he shows me otherwise.