The Road to the Kentucky Derby is drawing very close. Last year’s course of 3-year-olds never did form itself out entirely and we are going into another Kentucky Derby without a pre-eminent favorite. The fantastic news is that many prospective contenders have acquitted themselves well during training period, so the parity comes from a place of strength rather than weakness.
With only Saturday’s Arkansas Derby left one of the final round of homework races, here’s a look at the top 10 Derby horses to follow:
Justify: Here’s your probably Derby favourite, after he bested Bolt d’Oro in the most anticipated showdown of the prep season last weekend. Some traditionalists will always be careful of a Derby competitor who didn’t operate as a 2-year-old. But with the modern tendencies in scheduling, we’re going to see more and more lightly raced celebrities. Other skeptics will notice that Justify moved to the lead too easily in the Santa Anita Derby and has small shot of repeating such a comfortable trip at Churchill Downs. Fair enough, but he showed real control in withstanding a challenge in the battle-tested Bolt d’Oro. His gift is unquestionable.
Audible: Tell me if this sounds familiar: Tank horse trained by Todd Pletcher wins the Florida Derby and looks set to peak at Churchill Downs. That has been the story for 2017 Derby champion Always Dreaming, also it seems to be the situation for Audible as well. He’s done everything right this season, also has shown he can win huge races either by stalking the speed or coming out well back. He is the third or second betting choice on Derby day, but he’ll have many advocates.
Mendelssohn: Here’s your intriguing wild card. We have learned to be skeptical of Derby contenders coming off superficially impressive victories in Dubai. However, Mendelssohn opened a great deal of eyes using all the 106 Beyer Speed Figure he earned for his March 31 romp (by 181/2 crosses) in the UAE Derby. Irishman Aidan O’Brien, his trainer, is among the finest in the world. And he’ll be the rare global horse treated as a serious hazard at Churchill Downs.
Bolt d’Oro: This California contender has not quite lived up to the expectations push him as the favorite in last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He finished third in the Juvenile, then next to the since-injured McKinzie at the March 10 San Felipe Stakes (he had been pushed to first by a disqualification) and second to Justify in Santa Anita. On the flip side, he is run well enough from the best competition in this course to suggest he cannot be written off at the Derby. Trainer Mick Ruis has said Bolt d’Oro will be better at the Derby’s 1 1/4 miles, along with his expertise could benefit him in the intelligently complicated 20-horse race.
Magnum Moon: Here’s Pletcher’s other leading competition. He’ll have another opportunity to grow his situation in Saturday’s Arkansas Derby. Magnum Moon didn’t operate as a 2-year-old, but he has already won three races this past season, including an extremely promising attempt at the March 17 Rebel Stakes. If he is as good or better this weekend, he could vault up the list of contenders.
Good Magic: The 2017 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner came out apartment at his first race as a 3-year-old, the March 3 Fountain of Youth Stakes. But he set himself back on track with a solid win Saturday in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland. The Blue Grass certainly did not feature the best field of the prep season, and skeptics will note that Great Magic hasn’t shown the brilliance of a few contenders over him on this list. But trainer Chad Brown does an excellent job of getting his horses ready to operate in the big races.
Vino Rosso: Another Pletcher-trained competition, and no one’s better at steering his horses during Derby prep season. A disappointing start to his own 3-year-old effort had pushed him off several Derby buzz lists, but Pletcher felt his talent wasn’t always there in training and that he would flourish at more spaces.
Noble Indy: should he have needed to fight so tough to beat middling competition? His owners had previously described him as a “brat” on race day, so overall, the victory was a step in the perfect direction. A large enough measure, given the Derby competition? We shall see.
Solomini should join Justify from in the field at Churchill Downs, presuming he plays well in the Arkansas Derby. He’s inconsistent in training but Mr. Consistency in his results — consistently pretty good, not great enough to win against top competition. He will have to step forward Saturday at Oaklawn for anybody to take him seriously in the Derby.
Quip: Here is another horse who may move up with a fantastic performance in the Arkansas Derby. He is run just after in 2018 but delivered an easy career best in winning the March 10 Tampa Bay Derby. He’s a part of a loaded Derby team from WinStar Farm which also comprises Justify, Audible and Noble Indy.
Honorable mention: inexperienced Florida Derby runner-up Hofburg, Kiaran McLaughlin-trained Wood Memorial runner-up Enticed, nine-race veteran My Boy Jack.