It’s the time of the year to start searching for a Derby contender to root for in the Run for the Roses.
In selecting your Derby horse, it's just as important as selecting the right sauce for your chicken wing.
With only a handful of 50 point races remaining in the Derby Championship Series, we’ll soon move on to the 100-point races where the top two finishers are all but assured of a gate in Louisville.
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.
To give it a perfect Buffalo-style introduction, the colts will be sorted Buffalo-style: Hot, Medium and Mild.
Hot. To find the top two horses that have risen to the top of most Derby Top Ten lists you have to look no further than California. Last weekend’s ding-dong stretch duel (pictured above) between Bolt d’Oro and McKinzie, where they separated from the rest of the field, is similar to what they appear to be doing to most of this year’s contenders.
The San Felipe ended in McKinzie’s favor, but via a controversial disqualification decision by the California stewards that awarded Bolt the top prize. The stewards ruled based on the inquiry by Bolt jockey Javier Castellano that McKinzie piloted by jockey Mike Smith had drifted out into his path.
The winner by disqualification, a son of Medaglia d’Oro, was the dominant 2-year-old of last year, before suffering defeat in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile to Good Magic. Bolt d’Oro finished third in that race after a wide trip costing him the 2-year-old championship in the process. He showed no signs of dullness after the layoff in his first race of 2018 and secured the San Felipe’s 50 qualifying points, virtually assuring him with a spot on the First Saturday in May.
McKinzie was gutsy not giving way to his rival in the stretch and showed that he can take Bolt d’Oro’s best looking him in the eye. A son of the 2007 Derby winner, Street Sense, was undefeated coming into the race. His pedigree contains the stamina to handle the Derby’s classic distance.
No other colt has shown enough to warrant a hot sauce ranking to date, but plenty of opportunities over the next four weeks exist to change that.
Medium. The medium ranked horses are those colts quietly moving up the ladder with decent, but not mesmerizing performances in the Derby prep races to date.
Enticed, a Godolphin colt that won last weekend’s Gotham around one turn at Aqueduct, will give Sheikh Mohammed a shot at winning his first Derby. This could be sire Medaglia d’Oro’s year with yet another contender lining up for a chance at the roses in May. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin has never won the Derby and has had top flight contenders in the past few years. Could Enticed get him over the hump?
Another horse that joins the "medium" category had the perfect trip in winning the Holy Bull at Gulfstream in February. Audible, the front running son of Into Mischief, will return in next month’s Florida Derby for last year’s Derby-winning trainer Todd Pletcher. He should be the favorite in Gulfstream’s feature race of the championship meeting and dominated in beating some good horses in the Holy Bull. He’s one to keep an eye on heading into the final prep races.
The final horse in this category we’ll see race this weekend at Oaklawn Park in the Rebel. A solid contender always seems to rise out of Hot Springs. The horses exiting the Rebel and subsequently the Arkansas Derby, have fared well on Derby day over the past few years. Solomini, who won by disqualification over McKinzie in the Los Alamitos Derby last fall, will make his 2018 debut for Bob Baffert in the Rebel. The California-based horse is high on most Derby lists is co-owned by Zayat Stables, the owner of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.
He could add a little more sauce to the mix with a dominant performance in the Rebel and join the two California horses in the “hot” category with a win.
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.
A horse who I’d be remiss in leaving off the list is the Ontario-bred colt Flameaway, who won the Sam F. Davis and finished a game second in the Tampa Bay Derby last weekend. Trained by Mark Casse, he is one who we may see down the road in the Queen’s Plate at Woodbine this summer.
Included in our mild category is a horse that finished first in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Del Mar last fall. Mendelssohn captured 20 points with a win at Dundalk in a European qualifying race and sits atop the European leaderboard seeking the one Derby bid available. Building upon an initiative to further international interest in America’s greatest race, Churchill Downs officials partnered with racing officials in England, France and Ireland to create a path to Kentucky Derby 144 for horses based in Europe.
Suicide. There's only one horse currently on the radar that could be dubbed the "suicide" horse, and he doesn’t even have a Derby qualifying point. Justify, who is quickly becoming the buzz horse in social media after two straight scintillating performances at Santa Anita. Granted they were against inferior competition, he drilled a group of allowance horse last weekend after breaking his maiden earlier in the year in his first career race. He’ll look to garner the necessary qualifying points in one final prep race if he wants to contend in the Derby.
He’ll also have the Apollo curse to overcome, as no horse has won the Derby without a 2-year-old start since Apollo in 1882. That’s a long, long time. Horses have come close in the past few years, notably Bodemeister in 2012, who finished second in the Run for the Roses. The son of Scat Daddy will try and break the curse for trainer Bob Baffert.
Time to buy some bleu cheese, your favorite sauce and settle in for some great Derby preps over the next few weeks.