Horse Racing: 2014 Debut of The Countdown to the Triple Crown

It’s that time of year again! with some eight weeks remaining before Horse Racing’s single biggest race in the country, if not the world, the 2014 Kentucky Derby, it’s time to start taking a more serious look at which horses will be among the vanguard come the first Saturday in May.

If you have read this in years past, thanks for coming back. If you are new to this, and my viewers have grown tremendously recently, welcome and here’s how we do this.

About 8 or 10 weeks before the Derby, I list just about every horse who I think has even a remote chance of wearing the roses at about 6:30pm est on the first Saturday in May. Every week, during these next 8 or so weeks, I will be “funneling down” and adjusting the list. Sometimes they’ll be big changes, other times there may be just one or two.

Hopefully, by the time we get to May 1st or 2nd, we’ll have a clearer picture as to who, what, why and how in this years Derby.

1) Shared Belief- at this point, I’m not really that concerned with that quarter crack he suffered a few weeks ago. Yes, I know it made him lose valuable time, (but he did start galloping again this past week) and yes, I know this gelding still hasn’t even run over the traditional dirt surface yet, but still…he’s stays at #1 until he proves otherwise. As I stated before, I haven’t seen this kind of explosive acceleration since Big Brown in the 2008 Preakness. He’s been visually impressive in his three (unbeaten) races and you can’t call the competition he’s run against questionable anymore. He ran past Candy’s Boy in the CashCall Futurity without really being asked and Candy Boy came back to wallop the field in the Robert B. Lewis stakes a couple of weeks ago. Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer moved this beast (literally) to Golden Gates to resume training, citing the surface is “easier on the feet”. But Hollendofer also left handedly said he wasn’t going to rush him to make the Derby. I’ll obviously be keeping a very close eye on his activities…one more little hiccup and I’ll pull him, but for now, this horse has has been nothing short of spectacular.

2) Cairo Prince - I flirted with putting him at #1 after that enormous Holy Bull win. He showed huge talent last year and it’s obvious he’s carried it over to this year. I like his trainer (Kiaran McLaughlin) but I’m a little concerned about him heading to Kentucky for the Derby with just two prep races. (The Holy Bull and the Florida Derby March 29). Nice breeze last week (4F- :48 3/5) and obviously has a world of ability. (Next Start: Florida Derby-March 29)

3) Candy Boy- won Robert B. Lewis Stakes last week by a conclusive 4 1/4 lengths. In fact, while cruising down the lane this colt by Candy Ride was looking around as if to say “Ok, I’m bored…when does this become a challenge”? When Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stephens jumped off the colt afterwards, Stephens said “wow” and that this horse was a “super talent.” (Next Start: Santa Anita Derby April 9)

4) Honor Code-albeit he is a little behind in training, you must keep him in the top five for sure based off last year’s form and scintillating win in the 2013 Remsen against Cairo Prince, where he had the lead, lost it, dug in and battled back to win by a nose. Also, he has the pedigree to be a Derby winner, and I love the versatility he’s displayed. (He can come from way out of early or assume a stalking position depending on the how a race unfolds in front of him). He breezed a half in :49.2 last week and should be ready for his next race in mid-March. ….between him and Top Billing, they form a formidable 1-2 punch for trainer Shug McGaughey, who, of course, won the Derby last year with Orb. (Next Start: Rebel Stakes- March 15)

5) Samraat-
unbeaten in now five races in his career as he won the Gotham last weekend and, like he did in the Withers, once again showed enormous guts and determination. This colt by Noble Causeway has a very efficient stride, he barely brings his feet off the ground when in full stride..almost skipping over the ground and his jogging gate is near flawless. He was sent back to Florida after the Gotham and seemingly has come out of the Gotham well. “He came out of the race great,” said trainer Rick Violette. “He’s a little tired, but he’s supposed to be. Going to Florida this time is a different function than it was last time going down there. It’s more for him to get some sun, graze a little bit…they spend 75% of their energy keeping warm, no matter how many heat lamps or blankets you have. We’re not going to have to do any of that. We’ll have a fan.” (Next Start: Wood Memorial April 6)

6) Intense Holiday- was 4th in the Remsen Stakes and Nashua Stakes last year and began this year with a good late running 3rd behind Cairo Prince in Holy Bull. He then comes from behind to wear down the early leaders and win the Risen Star 2 weeks ago. I mean, Stevie Wonder can see the improvement this colt has made over the past 6 months or so and it appears he is beginning to peak out….the question is, is he peaking too soon? After all, we still have some 8 weeks until the Derby. (Next Start: March 29 Louisiana Derby)

7) Bayern- I’ll probably catch some heat for putting this guy up so high on the list with such little experience and I might be proved wrong. That being said, there is absolutely no denying he has talent…and evidently this is an titanic amount of it. He looked good breaking his maiden, but he literally made me sit back in my chair after watching his second race a couple of weeks ago when he came back and absolutely annihilated an allowance field by 15 lengths with his rider (Gary Stephens) looking like a statue in the saddle….he never really asked him, yet still came home the final furlong in sub :12….that, readers, is mighty impressive. (Next Start: San Felipe March 8)

8) Wildcat Red- sports a 6-4-2-0 career record including winning the Hutchenson two starts back and was dead game in winning the Fountain of Youth in his last. In winning the FOY, he erased some of the doubt I had about him having distance issues. I’m still not completely sold he’s a Derby horse but you can not knock his record or his last two races/wins.

9) Top Billing- …and if I take heat for putting Bayern too high, I’m sure I’ll take some heat for putting this colt too low. He has rocket ship type acceleration, that much is for sure, but he still hasn’t won a stakes race (ever). I know that doesn’t mean all that much because this colt’s talent is obvious. I mean, that was quite a move he made on the far turn of the Fountain of Youth and he ran the final furlong in a shade over 6 seconds.

10) California Chrome seems to have turned the corner in his careeer as his last two races have been clear cut, impressive wins. The only problem I see is that he’s been clearly running against inferior foes (Restricted Cal-Bred races). That being said, he took apart one of California’s top three year olds in Tamarando in the California Cup and Tamarando, who has been as consistent as the day is long, came back to win the El Camino Real Derby. I love that late run he possesses; he looked beautiful in full flight coming down the lane. He had his first work since winning the Cal Cup, drilling a half in :47 4/5 at Los Alamitos. He is definitely one to keep an eye on, but it’s time for him to start accumulating points (and face open company) so he can have a chance to get in the starting gate on the first Saturday in May and he could start that process this weekend. (Next Start: San Felipe March 8)

11) Tapiture- another that I might have too low because he certainly is coming on as the year goes on. This colt by (I’ll go ahead and say it) super-sire Tapit has never off board in five lifetime starts. I didn’t think much of his won Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes last year (weak field ) but the way he manhandled top two year old last year Strong Mandate by 4 ¼ in the Southwest definitely grabbed my attention. He seems to be holding form too as he worked 5F in 1:00.2 last Sunday in preparation for his next start. (Next Start: Rebel Stakes March 15)

12) Conquest Titan- really took to his change in running style (from early speedster to late runner) as he demonstrated with a huge 2nd behind the streaking Cairo Prince in the Holy Bull and remember, he out finished Intense Holiday in that Holy Bull race too. Colt by Belmont Stakes winner Birdstone worked a deceptively quick :48 1/5 half mile last week and I’m curious to see if he keep improving.(Next Start: Tampa Bay Derby March 8)

13) Uncle Sigh- listen, if you like Samraat (like me) you almost have to like this colt too. I mean he was step for step with Samraat in the aforementioned Withers and Gotham. “He came out of the race (Gotham) excellent,” said trainer Gary Contessa. “He’s happy, he ate up, and he looks like a million bucks.” In the Gotham, Uncle Sigh ran just off pacesetter In Trouble in second until the top of the stretch before Samraat ran by both of them on the outside. The whole time however Uncle Sigh and In Trouble raced in close quarters all the way down the lane It was a different experience for Uncle Sigh, who had been on the lead in the Withers (Feb. 1).

“Having to run the way he did probably didn’t help us any (in the Gotham),” said Contessa. “Last time it was on the lead, (in the Gotham) it was between horses, and he was getting jostled.”

14) General a Rod- has never been worse than second in now four lifetime starts and battled Wildcat Red every step of the way in the Fountain of Youth only to get beat a whisker. He is another I’m not thoroughly convinced is a Derby horse but, again, you can’t knock his record or that FOY race. (Next Start: Florida Derby March 29)

15) In Trouble- was unbeaten (2 for2) then ran a huge 3rd in Gotham behind Uncle Sigh and Samraat…not bad for this horses’ first try against Graded Stakes horses and first try around two turns. After setting the early pace I thought he dug in and fought on very well when confronted by those two as he was only beaten by only a half-length for all the money

“You can’t be too disappointed when they run like that,” said trainer Tony Dutrow. “Right now my mind is on the Wood Memorial. He still has questions to answer and I’m going to look at (the Wood).”

 

Honorable Mention


Havana- won the 2013 Champagne Stakes and ran a bang up second in the BC Juvenile last year. He was entered in the Swale Stakes this past weekend but was yanked from the race after a quarter crack was discovered. “When he came out this morning, he was a little tender in his right front foot. We couldn’t really see anything of note,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “I went ahead and took him to the racetrack to see how he was, and he actually trained fine. When he came back, he had a little bit of blood on the inside quarter of his front foot and we saw a little quarter crack there. I don’t anticipate it’s going to be a big deal but the timing couldn’t have been much worse. I really don’t have a firm plan until I can see how quickly we can get this patched and ready to go. I’ve had some of these where you can literally within 48 hours have a patch on and never look back, and some of them can be longer, more drawn-out processes. It’s literally day to day until we see once we get it patched, and then we’ll come up with a plan.”

 

Strong Mandate- not sure what to make of his 2013 debut (second to Tapiture in the Southwest Stakes). On one hand, he was erratic running down the stretch (and was plagued by inconsistencies last year), but on the other hand, he was undoubtedly a tired racehorses in the last quarter mile, so perhaps he just needed the race. I’ve been watching this game a long time and I know (his trainer) D. Wayne Lukas uses these prep races for exactly what they are…prep races…before bringing them to hand when the real money is on the line. I’m going to go ahead and say he needed the race and, after a bad trip that he lost a substantial amount of ground in, he’ll improve dramatically in his next race (Next Start: Rebel Stakes March 15)

 

Vinceremos– could by flying under the radar here. He won Sam F. Davis is game style. (He had the lead, lost it, battled back to regain it and was still able to hold off the oncoming Harpoon, to win by half of a nostril). He worked 4F in :48.2 last week and he could sneak up on us down the road. (Next Star: Tampa Bay Derby March 8)

Albino- led until the final step or two in the Risen Star Stakes and was a solid 2nd in LeComte Stakes before that. (Next Start: March 29 Louisiana Derby)

Ride on Curlin-another who may be flying under the radar. He was 3rd in Champagne Stakes and the Street Sense Stakes last year but came back in ’14 to win an allowance race and then had a ridiculous trip, and ride, in the Southwest Stakes where he finished third after being some 7 or 8 wide at the quarter pole. If he gets a better trip (and anything would be better than his Southwest nightmare) he could make a bigger impression on us. (Next Start: March 15 Rebel)

Solitary Ranger-struggled early in his career but goodness gracious that John Battaglia win this past weekend was monstrous.

Rise Up-this speedster opened his career by winning 4 out of his first 6, but he came a disappointing 7th in Risen Star Stakes. I’m going to give him a pass because the Risen Star was his first start of 2014 and he should move forward off that race.

No Nay Never- if the Kentucky Derby were a beauty pageant, you probably don’t even have to run the race this year…he wins it hands down. Absolutely GORGEOUS colt shipped from over seas and finished a not so bad 2nd in the Swale Stakes in his a) first dirt start and b) his first US start.

Spot-if you like No Nay Never, then you have to like this horse too, being he flew past No Nay Never in the upper stretch of the Swale to put himself (at the very least) on the 2014 Kentucky Derby map.

On the Horizon

War Command is 4 for 5 in England, but never been on the dirt or beyond 7 furlongs. Of course, I’m not even sure if his connection are even thinking Derby but if they are, he’s intriguing

Toormore- is immensely talented and unbeaten (3 for 3 in England). Just to give you an idea of how good he is, he outran Outstrip recently and Outstrip won the 2013 BC Juvenile Turf. Ditto War Command, not sure his owners are thinking Derby.

Outstrip- could be a sleeper…he’s never been off the board in five career races and as I said a minute ago, he won the BC Juvenile Turf last year. Albeit he’s never run on the dirt either, it doesn’t matter all than much. Everything I’ve seen and read about him screams “runner”

Indianapolis– this appears to be one fast horse. He broke maiden at Hollywood getting six furlongs in 1:10.2 , then came back in the San Pedro Stakes and won by 4 ¼ in a lightning 1:08.4. Fast, yes, but a) He only has 2 lifetime starts and here we are in March b) He’s never been beyond six furlongs and here we are in March and c) he was scratched out of the San Vicente with a cough on Feb. 12, and he hasn’t put in a published workout since. Coughs can cause a loss of important training time for extended periods of time and, you guessed it….here we are in March. It doesn’t even look like he’ll make the Derby, but until that’s made official I’ll keep him in there.

Proceed- 3 for 3 in Mexico and won the Mine That Bird Stakes impressively at Sunland Park this past weekend….hey, didn’t Mine That Bird himself come from Mexico to win the Derby? Is there some sort of parallel there?

Ide Be Cool-is an undefeated 6 for 6 in his career in Louisiana and won the Pelican by 2 this past Saturday. The race before the Pelican Stakes he won by 9

Harpoon-came roaring down the stretch to get beat half a nose in the Sam F. Davis two starts back but couldn’t follow that up as he disappointed in the Gotham last Saturday. He came fifth but did pass some horses in the stretch so all was not lost. He does, however need to start improving and quick.

Hartford-could not have been more impressive winning his racing debut by 5 ¾ at Gulfstream. He did it “in hand” and very professionally…certainly looks to have a bright future but…well…don’t get me started with that whole “and here we are in March thing” again.

Hoppertunity-is a half brother to multiple graded stakes winner Executiveprivlegde and appears to have some ability. He finished fourth in the Risen Star recently but had a horrendous trip (broke half a beat slow, got pinch and was forced extremely wide on the far turn) in that race so I’m not so sure how serious I’m going to take that race.

Vicar’s in Trouble- a bit of a head scratcher here because he looked tremendous in winning the Lecomte Stakes last month, yet just about quit running at the eighth pole in the Risen Star and finished a well beaten third. So which Vicar’s in Trouble shows up for his next race? (Next  Start Louisiana Derby)

 Thanks for Reading…