Here’s the updated list of my Top 10 contenders for the Kentucky Derby from bottom to top Dave Letterman style:
Rule: Trainer Todd Pletcher’s horse had his four-in-a-row streak stopped in the Florida Derby, finishing third after setting a very fast pace. Experts called it a tightener. Louisville awaits him. Next race: Kentucky Derby.
Conveyance: One of trainer Bob Baffert’s stars tasted defeat for the first time in the Sunland Derby at 1 1/8 miles, giving up the lead in the stretch after capturing the Southwest Stakes. It might be a case of like sire, like son as Indian Charlie couldn’t get the 1 1/4 miles at Louisville. We shall see. Next race: Kentucky Derby.
Dublin: The son of Afleet Alex, following epiglottis surgery last fall, hit the board in the Risen Star and Rebel Stakes. The colt has something to prove – can he win? More distance may suit him. Next race: Arkansas Derby on Saturday at Oaklawn Park.
Ice Box: Nose winner in the Florida Derby is training up to the big race. Two of the past Kentucky Derby champs did the same, but didn’t lay off seven weeks. His dad Pulpit dueled for the lead in ’97, finished fourth and suffered a left hind leg injury. Ah, but he turned out to be a great sire.
Odysseus: Malibu Moon sibling scored his third straight triumph this year with a nose victory in the Tampa Bay Derby, following an equally impressive 15-length score in allowance company. Next race: Blue Grass Stakes on Saturday at Keeneland.
Mission Implazible: Another Pletcher horse surprised in Louisiana Derby, making up more than two lengths in stretch, to win by three-quarters of a length. Son of Unbridled’s Song improved off fourth finish in Southwest Stakes. It’s on to Kentucky.
Sidney’s Candy: Do you remember Pioneer of the Nile, that captured three straight stakes last year in California? However, the son of Candy Ride led at every call in all three, while the son of Empire Maker didn’t make the front in the Santa Anita Derby and San Felipe until the stretch. Pioneer of the Nile was runner-up at Churchill Downs. But few go wire-to-wire. Last winner to do so: War Emblem in ’02.
Endorsement: The son of Distorted Humor, which has sired a slew of Kentucky Derby contenders that included ’03 victor Funny Cide, won the Sunland Derby covering the 1 1/8 miles in 1:48 2/5, cruising after breaking his maiden. Time was quick for only his third career start. Worth a look.
Lookin at Lucky: Lady Luck hasn’t smiled on Baffert’s main man in three of his past four races, including the Santa Anita Derby, where he endured the most troublesome trip of any Run for the Roses prep. He is 2 for 4 in fields of 10 or more. That doesn’t bode well for the son of Smart Strike, since there will likely be 19 or 20 runners on May 1. But don’t count out the gutsy runner.
Eskendereya: What does a Pletcher 3-year-old do following an inspiring 8 1/2-length win in the Fountain of Youth? Well, he follows with an impressive 8 1/2-length victory in the Wood Memorial. Pletcher correctly pegged the son of Giant’s Causeway before his performance at Aqueduct: “The one thing that we’ve been very confident in all along is he wants to run the distances of the classic races. I don’t see a mile and a quarter or even a mile and a half being a problem. He has natural stamina — he’s physically a strong horse. He holds up to his races.” Meet the favorite at Churchill Downs.