10 Horses to Watch in Kentucky Derby
by Greg Melikov - 04/21/2009
The 135th Kentucky Derby is fast approaching and the cream of the three-year-old crop has risen to the top. The major preps are history so here are my main contenders in the Run for the Roses from the top:
1. I Want Revenge: Two outstanding victories at Aqueduct likely will make him the favorite on the first Saturday in May. Last-to-first winner of Wood Memorial outdid his Gotham performance in a troubled trip during which he spotted the field several lengths at the start and maneuvered through a wall of horses in the stretch to score by daylight. Excellent works for this successful synthetic surface-to-dirt son of Stephen Got Even forecast the winning results in last two triumphs. He could threepeat.
2. Quality Road: The impressive Fountain of Youth-Florida Derby winner developed a not-so-serous quarter crack in his right hind foot, but early treatment paid off. The son of Elusive Quality breezed a half-mile in 48 3/5 Friday on Belmont Park's training track, galloping out five furlongs in 1:02. Big Brown had worse quarter-crack problems and won the '08 Derby off his Florida Derby triumph after a five-week layoff. Keep an eye on his next work.
3. Pioneer of the Nile: The Best of the West after his third consecutive win in the Santa Anita Derby has only one more thing to prove: Can he perform as well on conventional dirt as on synthetic surfaces? I Want Revenge did. It appears the son of Empire Maker should -- his granddad Unbridled took the '90 Derby.
4. General Quarters: The son of Sky Mesa, with the most career starts, likes to win at double-digit odds. He did that in the Sam F. Davis Stakes on the Tampa Bay Downs dirt, and then repeated in the Blue Grass on Keeneland's Polytrack. He does well staying close to the pace before exploding in the stretch. That running style should work to his advantage at Churchill Downs.
5. Musket Man: The Illinois Derby victory against lesser opposition duplicated his Tampa Bay Derby score that left General Quarters in his wake. The son of Yonaguska came off the pace again on the usual speed-favoring Hawthorne track. Can he continue to outrun his pedigree? Several recent Derby winners did. Hmm, you make the call.
6. Friesan Fire: Another train-up-to-the-Derby contender would be the first to triumph at Louisville after a seven-week layoff. He's keeping keep fit at Keeneland after sweeping the Fair Grounds version of the Triple Crown. On Tuesday, the colt breezed five furlongs in 1:00 2/5. Breeding-wise he's No. 1 -- the sire is A. P. Indy and granddad Seattle Slew won the Triple Crown in '77.
7. Papa Clem: Runner-up to Friesan Fire in the Louisiana Derby after setting the pace, the son of Smart Strike rated nicely to rally from the far turn in the Arkansas Derby to edge Old Fashioned by a half-length. However, he came home quite slowly so he must step it up at Churchill Downs.
8. Hold Me Back: The son of Giant's Causeway regressed a bit in the Blue Grass, but had to run on the outside much of the 1 1/8 miles after breaking from post 10. Remember, it was only his second start of the year after winning the Lane's End at Turfway Park.
Dunkirk: The once-buzz horse on the Derby Trail got the help he needed to remain among the Top 20 in graded stakes earnings to qualify for the Run for the Roses. Many experts believe his runner-up performance in the Florida Derby was among the best of the year. He has stepped up big after each of his three starts without racing as a two-year-old. So did Curlin without a juvenile foundation, but he finished third in the '07 Derby.
10. Chocolate Candy: Runner-up in the Santa Anita Derby worked five furlongs in a nifty 59 1/5 on Sunday over the Pro-Ride surface. The multiple stakes winning son of Candy captured the El Camino Real and California derbies, but he still must duplicate or improve his synthetic form on the dirt.