It's March 1st, and we haven't done anything on the Derby yet this year. For shame. Let's skip the pithy introduction and instead take you right to a baker's dozen of horses that are on our radar now for the 136th Run for the Roses.
1. Lookin at Lucky. Last year's 2yo champion--we had the temerity to name him the best 2yo champion of the past decade--has yet to run since winning December's CashCall Futurity, his third G1 win of the campaign. He'll make his first start in a couple of weeks (where, nobody knows) and will probably run in the Santa Anita Derby. The big issues here are that he has never run on the dirt and has never run a particularly fast race.
2. Eskendereya. Named for an Egyptian dance, he romped by 9 in the Fountain of Youth on the 20th over a pretty good field. He'll run next in the Florida Derby. The big question is what he does after that--the Florida Derby is now six weeks before the Kentucky Derby, and as we've documented repeatedly, a recent race is needed to win in Kentucky. The first of four horses on this list that Todd Pletcher trains.
3. Rule. Here's Pletcher's second horse, who just won the Sam Davis at Tampa Bay Downs. There's chatter that he'll also go to the Florida Derby but look for Pletcher to keep this front runner away from Eskendereya and instead point for the TB Derby.
Next Start Tells Us a Lot
4. Discreetly Mine. Pletcher's third horse on this list, he won the Risen Star in front-running style. The question is whether or not he's got the stoutness to go further; he got away with an easy trip, and while his mare has produced some very talented horses (Pretty Wild, Discreet Cat), none of them have been true "stayers." We'll learn a lot in the Louisiana Derby about this horse's ability to go 10 furlongs.
5. Dublin. Ran an okay race off a layoff (and throat surgery) in the Southwest, he looks to improve in the Rebel in two weeks. We'd love to see this guy be as good as he looks, because he's trained by D. Wayne Lukas, and it'd be a hoot to have him back on the Triple Crown Trail with a real contender.
6. Buddy's Saint. Was the second choice in everyone's future books based off his Remsen and Nashua romps in 2009, he ran next-to-last in the Fountain of Youth after a horrible ride and trip. We're less concerned about where he finished than that he probably got nothing out of the race, and is only scheduled to have one more start before the Derby. One start is not the way to go into the race.
7. American Lion. Everyone's sleeper horse last year returned to the races with a poor effort in the Bob Lewis, where he was fractious throughout. Definitely had an excuse for his third place finish, but needs to show a lot more in his next to remain a chief contender.
Do You Intend to Run This Year?
8. Vale of York. Last seen winning the BC Juvenile at over 30-1, his first start this year will be in the UAE Derby in Dubai at the end of the month. It's unclear if he's coming to the US after that for the Derby; his trainer said he may point for Europe instead, which is probably smart, because the horse seems like a synthetic track freak.
9. Super Saver. Pletcher's fourth top contender, we don't get the hype behind this horse. Yes, he won the Kentucky Cup last November, but that race has traditionally produced horses that are overbet in the Derby, not winners. He's well-bred and well-connected, but we're taking him seriously once he actually runs a race this year.
10. Noble's Promise. Arguably the second-best 2yo last year, he's scheduled to make two pre-Derby starts in Arkansas. His breeding, however, leaves a lot to be desired; a horse by Cuvee out of a Clever Trick dam should thrive at 6 furlongs, not 10.
We Just Love the Names
11. Radiohead. Won a strong allowance race on Saturday and is now in the barn of Dicky Dutrow of Big Brown fame. Interesting longshot play, but he needs to win a graded stakes race fast.
12. Caracortado. This year's feel good story, he's undefeated, ran in a claiming race first out (meaning you could have had him for $40k), is a gelding, comes from modest connections, and has rather obscure breeding (Cat Dreams?). We like him more because his name is Spanish for "Scarface".
13. Odysseus. Demolished a field in Tampa Bay by 15 lengths, it's unclear where he shows up next. What is clear is that he's got a world of talent and unlike many others this year, looks to have star potential.