Another year, another Derby winner to chase. It's never easy but I always find it fun. Lists obviously have dubious value especially at this time of year but I think they serve a couple of purposes. They give us something to talk about which builds anticipation. They can also cause us to do some exploration which is both fun and another way to help get us excited about the big day. With my lists I usually try to pick horses that I think could win the Derby come May not just the horses that I think should be the lowest odds for the race if it were run today.
If you have a list toss it out there! I plan to update mine monthly until March then it'll be time to update every week.
Here is my initial top 10 for the 2017 Derby as well as some horses on my radar.
2. Classic Empire
3. Mo Town
4. Irish War Cry
5. Beach Bum
7. Golden Hawk
9. No Dozing
Radar: Good Samaritan, Uncontested, Wild Shot, Royal Copy, Pretty Boy Flash, Irish Freedom, Takaful, Gormley, Running Mate, Alum, Commandeering, Hollow Point
McCraken – Like many people I think he is developing into a really nice horse and one that feels like a comfortable selection for the Derby. He has all the skills you like to see. He should enjoy the distance. He finishes very well, he seems to be fine settling well off the pace but also seems to have a quick and powerful move in him. I like also that he has a conditioner best known for patience who hails from the methodology that brought Street Sense to the limelight. I think he represents the most complete package of Derby skills and untapped potential. Most likely he’ll winter in Florida and he may even face Classic Empire in the Blue Grass if all goes well.
Classic Empire – Unlucky not to be #1 I think but I am always a little less comfortable with horses that seem to be more fully exposed as 2yo’s from a development standpoint. He might just get better and better but I get the feeling that the race he ran in the BC Juvenile was likely about as good as it gets. The good news for him is that very few, if any, of the horses in this crop will get to that level by Derby time. He’s got good tactical speed and will be able to get first run on all the other man contenders at this point who seem a little shorter on early speed. This will definitely be an advantage in the preps but may not be as deadly on Derby day. I would expect him to win every race from now until the Derby and look very tough on paper.
Mo Town – I realize that having him on my list means that I have the last 3 “major” 2yo prep winners on the top of my list which makes my opinion both obvious and extremely unlikely to be correct however if you just look at each horse in isolation I think it’s fair to recognize that unlike some years where some unsuitable horses win the big races all of my top 3 really do seem to be bright Derby prospects. Mo Town looks every inch a stayer and closes out his races very powerfully. I like the way he is able to rate and make a move when asked. He does not seem like a horse who would be pace dependent. He could likely be placed anywhere. It sounds as though he will have a long hiatus as his trainer was talking about maybe the Gotham next. That means he’ll just have two preps and very little margin for error. Two preps isn’t bad but for this horse it means he really has to show he’s got the stuff as a 3yo. His Remsen was a good performance but it was good for a 2yo. A repeat of that race would get him 13th on Derby day so he needs to be getting much better. The good news is that I think he has every reason to get better.
Irish War Cry – In most years it seems like there is a horse who kind of comes from nowhere and is just really good. Irish War Cry may be that horse. He’s just made a single start but I think he showed enough in that one event to potentially mark him as a special horse in the making just like his sire, Curlin, did in his debut. It was just a maiden event at Laurel but the manner in which he won stood out as exceptional and may have been the best maiden performance of any 2yo this year. He didn’t show much speed from gate and soon fell well behind the field. They were not really going fast up front but this horse swept by them all and opened up with breathtaking ease. Having stamina on both sides it seems like he’s not really be best suited to a 6f spring with a slow/moderate pace but he was clearly just worlds better than his opponents. I’ll be interested to see the path Graham Motion takes with him but I do trust his trainer a fair bit. He knows how to get a good horse ready.
Beach Bum – Another horse with just a maiden win to their credit. I wasn’t expecting to be wowed when I watched this Baffert entrant run but I really was. I know it’s very early in his career but he definitely gave me that “Derby horse” kind of feeling. He made the customary Baffert sweeping move on the turn. He finished with good energy and has the physical look of a powerful router. He’s by Arch and Storm Cat which might make some think about Turf for him but Baffert doesn’t seem to even know where the Turf courses are located at the tracks he frequents Arch is certainly not a purely Turf stallion but the old adages about Turf horses being more comfortable at CD than most other main tracks might give some people more hope. Bottom line, he looks like an exciting prospect for a barn that regularly produces top Derby contenders. Mastery has shown more talent up to this point but I actually feel that Beach Bum might like 10f more. If it’s not just my over active imagination I would think of Beach Bum as more like Real Quiet and Mastery more like Indian Charlie. Both really talented but one better suited to winning classics while the other better suited to winning preps.
Mastery – Californians have had a pretty good run in the Derby and it’s felt like the balance of power has really been tipped towards the west in recent years. It was a bit shocking to see the KY crew and eastern horses come to SA and sweep the Juvenile completely. It’s hard for me to believe that no big horse will come from Cal but it’s probably true that none of the major contenders from the west coast were in the BC Juvenile. That leads me to start looking around for the less experienced or exposed members of the west coast contingent and at this point Mastery looks to be the best of them. I’m not really sure that he’s a horse who will relish 10f early in his career but he seems to have some real talent. He’s got speed but he’s not speed crazy. It would be no surprise to see him become the best of the west. I expect him to do quite well in the preps.
Golden Hawk – For a stakes winner he is a relative unknown and could certainly be considered a reach for a race like the Derby but I suspect that being in the Casse barn means that if he’s healthy he’ll at least get a shot in a recognized Derby prep and from there we’ll see how good he is. The main question mark over him is that he has never been on dirt but he is by Tapit out of a Gone West mare. That is certainly not a Turf only cross I think it’s just the fact that he was based with Casse’s Canadian string that he has only been on Turf and Synthetic. He has speed but he’s not crazy, I actually think he is going to the front because he is better than the horses he is facing. He seems like a horse who wants to boss others around. I am a little concerned about having two members of the Casse team on my list just from the standpoint that he has already had a good many potentially good looking 2yo’s and he really has failed to make most of them into anything substantial as 3yo’s. However I do feel like the Casse stable is gaining more and more momentum on the national stage. Maybe this is the year they’re able to get into the Classics in a major way.
Hemsworth – I’m not privy to some of the more interesting conversations that happen between insiders but I do find it interesting that a horse who had never hit the board in two lifetime starts shows up in a G-2 and not only goes off at 6/1 but runs away and hides. Albertrani obviously saw something in this maiden that caused him to even try the Nashua in the first place but then the result turned out to be amazing. He simply outclassed the field and while likely the horses behind him have no great future awaiting It was impressive to see him bury this group. What does it mean going forward? He’s got a Grade A pedigree like all Godolphin horses and he looks like someone who can handle some distance. I would imagine the sky is the limit. I actually expected him to be in the Remsen but then I thought perhaps with Takaful and Newman in the race the stable didn’t want to overload but then he also hasn’t worked since the Nashua so hopefully he’s okay and just getting a break. I find injury news sometimes hard to come by in horse racing so forgive me if he’s on the shelf for some reason I’m not aware of.
No Dozing – This is a horse I actually liked going into the Breeders Futurity. While he failed that day it was nice to see him bounce back in the Remsen and run with some credit. He kinds of feels like a horse who will belong in Graded company but might end up being kind of a middle class citizen. It would be a big step to get to the point where he might be expected to beat the best of this crop but I think he’s on a good path.
Basha – Another wild card addition to the mix. I had actually never heard of his trainer Gilberto Zerpa. This horse has a pretty upper class pedigree being by Uncle Mo out of a Lemon Drop Kid so he’s not your typical Calder class horse. In two lifetime starts he has been well meant, well bet and has delivered pretty impressively. They have only been in sprints at tracks where mostly humble horses compete but he seems to close races really well and already he’s shown speed and the versatility to get shuffled back and just sweep around the field. He could be quite good. Honestly he looks like a candidate for a buyout by a stable who wants a Derby shot.
Good Samaritan – Connections have said they want to put him on the main track because there aren’t many great targets on the grass early on. They’re right and if this horse likes the main track he needs to be well respected. I’m just a little hesitant on him though because he doesn’t look like a dirt horse to me.
Uncontested – He’s just had two starts, a nice looking maiden win and a decent 4th against McCraken. We don’t know enough to make a call but he definitely belongs on the radar
Wild Shot – Like No Dozing he seems like a pretty solid horse who will often run well but may not really be one who turns into a horse that can beat the best of his generation. He has good speed but I don’t really love his breeding for the stretch out.
Royal Copy – I can’t find any conclusive injury news on him but clearly he has an issue or Lukas would be running him every other weekend.
Pretty Boy Flash – I actually don’t know if he is still a thing. He doesn’t have any recent workouts but I did like him as a prospect with some scope for improvement. Obviously winning a race would be a big plus for him but he showed quite a bit of talent and has every chance to get better for Asmussen.
Irish Freedom – He looked like a bit of a grinder when breaking his maiden at 6f at Del Mar but he’s bred to go long so he can be forgiven. He also runs for the Baffert barn so he’ll get a healthy amount of attention as soon as he is able to reappear.
Takaful – His maiden win was fantastic and then he seemed restless in the Remsen and set a pace that played against his chances. I think he’s a work in progress but there is some talent to work with. I’d worry about his capability of going long but perhaps the Remsen was just a bad day.
Gormley – He looked great in the Frontrunner and terrible in the Juvenile. Most likely he’s better than his BC attempt. If he gets back to his best he is definitely one that looks like a top notch candidate.
Running Mate – Hard to tell what to make of this Larry Jones trainee after just one start. It is certainly possible that he could be a dominant force in the southwest derby preps.
Alum – He looked good in his one start. Pletcher is really quite short of good horses so maybe this is a bright light in the making for him.
Commandeering – He has the feeling of a slow burner who should improve with time and distance. Pletcher may bring him along in the style of Impeachment and Invisible Ink. Definitely a long shot but worth monitoring.
Hollow Point – Had a nice maiden win recently and is worth monitoring. He’s not particularly brilliant but I’d expect him to have a chance to improve once going two turns. If he stays healthy he’ll get a shot in a prep race at one point.
Last edited by Kennedy
on Thu Dec 01, 2016 3:47 pm, edited 2 times in total.