Well, one more round of preps in the bag, with two biggies remaining on Saturday (Blue Grass & Arkansas Derby) and some other scattered randomness around (Lexington, etc.). Rather than do a conventional top-something list, here's a look where horses stand in preparation for the Derby, by arbitrary category.
Let's get this show on the road!
Scat Daddy: Winner of the Florida Derby & Fountain of Youth, he's Todd Pletcher's top shooter, and will try to emulate Barbaro by going into the Derby off a 5-week hiatus. Biggest concerns are (a) that he hasn't really run that fast and hasn't hit a triple-digit Beyer yet, and (b) is by Johannesburg, who nobody is sure is going to sire a 10-furlong horse. Then again, the latter concern is somewhat offset by the fact we've seen Northern Afleet, Distorted Humor and Elusive Quality sire winners of Triple Crown races in the past 4 years. At this point, he looks like the potential Derby favorite (pending the Blue Grass), but with some holes.
Nobiz Like Shobiz: Owns a pair of wins at 9 furlongs, including Saturday's Wood Memorial. Biggest question isn't breeding, it's maturity, as he's a horse that may not like being surrounded by 150,000 people at Churchill Downs, though he looked very professional in the Wood. He should get a much better trip in the Derby behind some actual pace, something he didn't see in the Wood.
Notional: Second to Scat Daddy in the Florida Derby, this horse may get lost in the shuffle come May 5th, despite having a nice pedigree, solid connections, and a good win in the Louisiana Derby. There's some head scratching about his failure to really finish strongly in Florida, but if he's 15-1 in the Derby, you're crazy to not use him a little.
Any Given Saturday: Was my top Derby contender going into the Wood, where he faded to an uninspiring 3rd behind Nobiz and Sightseeing (below) at 3-2. It's not the fact he lost that's troubling, it's the fact that he faded in his first venture past 1 1/16 miles. He's by Distorted Humor, who did sire 2003 winner Funny Cide, but is a miler at heart. Have to wonder if we've already seen how far he can go.
Tiago: Little brother of Giacomo, the execrable 2005 Derby winner, with the same connections, he just won the Santa Anita Derby at 30-1, the first race in which he crossed the finish line in front. This late runner has clunk-up-for-a-share written all over him. Can't see him winning on May 5th though.
Cowtown Cat: Winner of the Illinois Derby, he's the third Todd Pletcher horse in this category. (Don't worry, there are more to come.) What's most notable is the fact his name is god-awful, despite him costing well over a million smackeroos at auction. If you think enough of a horse to pay a small fortune for him, can't you give him a real name?
One more to go, is it enough?
Street Sense: The Derby favorite if he wins the Blue Grass, he's trying to become the first BC Juvenile winner to win the Run for the Roses. He's also trying to become the first horse since Sunny's Halo (1983) to win the Derby with only two starts this year. That didn't work for Point Given; is it gonna work here? On the plus side, trainer Carl Nafzger screamed "I love you!" to Frances Genter (left) when they won the 1990 Derby with Unbridled, so clearly he knows how to kiss some old ass.
Great Hunter: He's also trying to do it off two starts, but in his defense, he ran 7 times last year, which is a ton this day in age. Looked great in winning the Lewis (which Tiago ran a well-beaten 7th in), have to think he's a top contender.
This never works, but what the hell...
Circular Quay: You could argue this is Pletcher's best horse, as with the exception of a time a horse fell in front of him, he's never run a clunker. Still, Todd's gone a bit off the reservation here by training him up to the Derby off an 8-week layoff. Tack that on to the fact that he's a stone closer, has only run twice this year (including the aforementioned race where he pulled up because of a spill) AND hasn't run 1 1/8 miles yet, and this goes from good shot to longshot.
Curlin: This guy's overcoming not only the curse of Apollo (last horse to win the Derby without starting as a two-year old, in the fricking Cleveland Administration), the Arkansas Derby (his prep) will he his third start. THIRD! That's insane! This horse is immensely talented, but I'm half hoping he throws in a relative clunker at Oaklawn to preserve him for the spring.
Dominican: A horse that nobody except for the wiseguys is talking about now (ok, I'm aware nobody is talking about horse racing now, but humor me), but may be on Sunday morning. He's immensely talented, showed great promise as a two-year-old finishing third in the Kentucky Jockey Club, and just won the Rushaway stakes race on the comeback trail after injury. His biggest questions are he may not love 1 1/4 miles (El Corredor?) and he may not have the graded stakes earnings to get him in the gate. But if he runs well on Saturday, his bandwagon's gonna be full.
Are we even going?
Hard Spun: He's undefeated when he's not running at Oaklawn, and the good news is the Kentucky Derby isn't at Oaklawn. The bad news is they're considering not running him anyway, and may point for the vaunted Lexington/Preakness double. Wow, that's ambitious.
Sightseeing: He ran 2nd to Nobiz Like Shobiz on Saturday, but has still only one won race, and Shug McGaughey seems inclined to pass on the Derby and point either for the Preakness or a summer campaign. While discretion is the better part of valor, it's worth noting that Jazil had an almost identical race record last year, and ran 4th in the Derby before winning the Belmont. (Of course, he hasn't done jackshit since then, but flags fly forever, or whatever the horse equivalent of a flag is.)
Chelokee: His 3rd in the Florida Derby was tremendous, as he was blocked by traffic in the stretch, costing him a least 2nd. The problem is while Mike Matz of Barbaro fame wants to run him in the Derby, his graded earnings aren't going to be enough if there are 20 horses. Bah.
We're running for third place!
Zanjero: Spanish for clunker. This guy's a great bet to hit the board at 50-1.
Sam P.: Pletcher's fifth-stringer who was blah in Santa Anita. Pass.
Deadly Dealer: Pletcher's sixth-stringer. He can be the next Coin Silver with some luck. Who's Coin Silver? Precisely.
Teufelsberg: Someone's got to set the pace in the Derby. My buddy does a last place pool for the big race, he's a first-round pick.
Officer Rocket: Every year Bob Holthus tries to suck us in with one of these Arkansas horses, and they never EVER do anything. Don't be fooled.
Coming up this Saturday are the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland and Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn. By next week, we'll have a slightly different perspective on the above, but probably not that much different. At this point, to some degree, you are what you are.