We’re a mere 43 days from the First Saturday in May and it's that time of the year when we evaluate the current Kentucky Derby contenders Buffalo-style. It’s time to judge the Kentucky Derby contenders by applying just the right sauce in judging whether each colt is hot, medium or mild on this year's trail.
There are two races remaining in the 50-20-10-5 leg of the Kentucky Derby Championship Series, concluding this weekend with the races at Turfway Park and Sunland Park, the next seven races of the Series will offer the top four finishers 100-40-20-10 points, respectively and most assuredly gain the winners an entry gate in this year’s Run for the Roses.
Several horses have already fallen off the trail most notably, Texas Red, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner who was shelved this week due to injury. Khozan, a highly-regarded maiden winner at Gulfstream bowed out in recent weeks.
Keeping with our mid-March tradition of looking at the current leaders in the chase for the first leg of thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown, let's check out the 3-year-old colts that are creating a buzz on the Derby trail. In concert with prior years, the colts will be sorted Buffalo-style: Hot, Medium and Mild.
Hot. Two horses have gained the most steam as the hot horses both happen to come out of the Bob Baffert barn. Baffert has trained three Derby winners in his career, his last coming in 2002.
American Pharoah, the son of the 2009 second-place Derby finisher Pioneerof the Nile out of a Yankee Gentleman mare won last weekend’s Rebel Stakes at Gulfstream in relative ease winning by 6 1/4 lengths besides the fact he lost a shoe in the process. It was his 2015 debut for Zayat Stables and he will likely run in the Arkansas Derby as a final prep.
Baffert has separated his two stars with Pharoah running in the Midwest at Oaklawn and Dortmund, the son of 2008 Derby winner Big Brown staying on the west coast at Santa Anita. The big strapping chestnut will likely race in the Santa Anita Derby next which would be his third consecutive graded stake at the Great Race Place. He has won five straight and is as hot a horse there is in the land.
Medium. Our medium horses are those colts quietly moving up the ladder with decent, but not mesmerizing performances in the Derby prep races to date.
A horse that meets our "medium" category had the perfect trip in winning last weekend's San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita Park. Carpe Diem, sired by Giant’s Causeway out of a Unbridled’s Song mare, grabbed valuable Derby points in winning the Tampa Bay Derby two weeks ago and will garner a gate in Louisville propelled by that victory. The runner-up in the highly competitive BC Juvenile looked sharp on Tampa’s deep dirt course.
Staying in the South, Upstart has done nothing wrong in winning back-to-back Gulfstream stakes, although he was disqualified from his win in the Fountain of Youth for interfering with the ultimate winner Itsaknockout. His speed numbers regressed from the Holy Bull, but he has bloodlines that suggest that he can go a mile and a quarter with Belmont winners on both sides of his pedigree. Trainer Robert Evans will try and win the Florida Derby, a race that consistently propels top Derby contenders to Churchill Downs.
Mild. The horses fitting the mild category are those that will probably qualify for a spot, but are rather bland at the moment, requiring additional spices and seasoning.
Staying completely under the radar is a horse named Mubtaahij who will be challenging Maftool next weekend in Dubai in the UAE Derby, a 100-point race. Both of these horses could cross the pond and attempt to become the first to win the Derby off a prep race in Dubai. They’ve both been impressive heading into this race and I’d say that one of these could certainly be a win threat in the States.
Rounding out our mild category is War Story trained by Tom Amoss. He finished a strong second in the Risen Star at the Fair Grounds coming off a second in the Lecomte, and should be a major factor next weekend at the Louisiana Derby. The son of Northern Afleet will look to break into the win column in the Big Easy and has the goods to start making some noise.
Suicide. If I had to tag a horse in this category it would be Daredevil, not just because of the name, though it does fit. He seems to be a colt that will savor shorter distances and likely will become a decent sprinter for Pletcher. With the added distances in the prep races, this category seems to be phasing out.
So pick up some bleu cheese, your favorite sauce and settle in for some great Derby preps over the next few weeks.
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.