Kentucky Derby Rankings – Week 1

It’s hard to believe it’s been a whole year since we embarked on the Derby trail raving about a Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner trained by Todd Pletcher and owned by Mike Repole. Well, here we go again, only this time it appears as if we may have a freaky version of Forte in Fierceness, who has sent all speed ratings through the roof. Join us each week as we follow his progress, as well as the fate of the Bob Baffert horses, which includes two other potential freaks. So, we’re off on what could be a wild ride. ~ Steve Haskin

Derby Rankings: January 22, 2024 – Week 1

By Steve Haskin


1—Fierceness (Todd Pletcher, City of Light – Nonna Bella, by Stay Thirsty)

There isn’t much to add to what everyone already knows about this colt and what he accomplished in one of the most brilliant victories ever in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. If you are going to nitpick you can deduce from his one appearance in the slop that he is vulnerable on a wet track, which I am not conceding yet, and you can point out the overall lack of success in the Derby by BC Juvenile winners. But let’s remember no major 2-year-old stakes have been successful in the Derby, as the vast majority of winners in the last 20 years were late developers and did virtually nothing at 2. All we know for sure is that his speed figures have been off the chart, including an outrageous negative-1 ½ Thoro-Graph figure in the Juvenile; he floats over the ground, and he is bred to run all day, which we will get into next week. Some may feel his speed figures have been too fast too early, leaving little room for improvement, but it’s possible this colt is so special that his triple-digit Beyer and Brisnet figures are actually at the lower end of his scale and his ceiling is through the clouds. He has already looked sharp in his works and at this early stage I don’t see anyone who can touch him. He’s getting sharper with each work, his last five furlongs in :59 3/5, as he nears his debut in the Holy Bull Stakes.


2—Locked (Todd Pletcher, Gun Runner – Luna Rosa, by Malibu Moon)

Yep, going Pletcher one-two, which is not unusual this early in the year. I know he was a well-beaten third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, but I can’t overlook his gutsy victory over a very promising colt in The Wine Steward in the Breeders’ Futurity, in which he overcame the far outside post, going six to seven wide on the first turn and four wide on the second turn, a slow pace, and still battled gamely the length of the stretch to eke out a victory. He had no shot coming from well off the pace in the BC Juvenile against Fierceness while down on the rail. I believe he would have been much closer at the end had he stayed inside, which opened wide, and gone around a tiring General Partner instead of swinging five-wide and losing ground and valuable forward momentum. I did love the way he leveled off and closed a ton of ground, while reaching out with powerful strides. Before you label him as a pure closer he tracked the pace in second going a flat mile in his maiden score at Saratoga, opened a five-length lead at the quarter pole and powered home to win by 7 1/4 lengths over eventual Jerome Stakes winner Drum Roll Please, earning a strong 105 Brisnet speed figure and a 109 late pace figure.


3—Sierra Leone (Chad Brown, Gun Runner – Heavenly Love, by Malibu Moon)

This colt has quite a hefty $2.3 million price tag to live up to, but so far you have to love what you’ve seen. In his career debut going a flat mile at Aqueduct, which I love to see, he displayed good low action with his neck stretched out and great reach to his stride. He swung five-wide nearing the top of the stretch and was a bit green ducking in slightly after turning for home, but he quickly straightened himself out and took off with a big burst of speed after being hit once right-handed and was moving so fast while leaning in a bit it looked as if jockey Manny Franco, who was way up and back in the saddle, was merely holding on as Sierra Leone charged past the leaders. Stretching out to 1 1/8 miles in the Remsen, he was far behind the next to last horse in the field of 10 over a muddy sealed track that was favoring speed, then unleashed a monster move, going from 10th to first from the three-eighths pole to the eighth pole and looked like a certain winner, but he angled in toward the rail and let Dornoch, who he had passed, see him and re-rally to beat him a nose. If he stays out in the middle of the track I believe he wins, but either way, this was only his second career start, while Dornoch had already run three times, at a mile and 1 1/16 miles, and Sierra Leone still ran a faster Thoro-Graph number. He just needs a little maturing and polishing before we see the finished product. Brown said he is doing “outstanding” and he “couldn’t be happier” with him. Watch for him to return to 1 1/8 miles in the Risen Star Stakes.


4—Timberlake (Brad Cox, Into Mischief – Pin Up, by Lookin At Lucky)

Yes, his well-beaten fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile was a big disappointment, but I am still convinced that was just an off day and he is a far better horse than that. Perhaps I am still a fan of the Champagne Stakes and put too much importance in that race, but he was very impressive that day, winning off by 4 1/4 lengths, even if it was on a sloppy track. And before you make too much of his Breeders’ Cup flop it is important to note that after his excellent 102 Brisnet speed figure in the Champagne he actually moved forward, running a 103 in the BC Juvenile, and he also ran triple-digit late pace figures in both races. One reason why his BC Juvenile was very deceiving is that when he won the Champagne his Thoro-Graph number went from a 10 in his second-place finish in the Hopeful to a 2. That big a jump has “bounce” written all over it, and visually his Juvenile was just that. But amazingly he actually ran another 2. By pairing up his 2 you would have thought he won or at worst finished a close second, but it just shows what a freaky race Fierceness ran. Of the 39 Derby Future Wager horses he ranks second in the Brisnet Prime Power ratings with the same number as Fierceness. Let’s also remember he has a lot more speed than you might think, breaking his maiden at seven furlongs by 9 1/4 lengths after setting blistering early fractions of :22 1/5 and :45 1/5. I can’t recall a trainer as confident in his horse before a big race as Cox was before the Juvenile. He had his first breeze of the year at Fair Grounds and I can’t wait to see this colt run when he returns, possibly in the Risen Star Stakes.


5—Parchment Party (Bill Mott, Constitution – Life Well Lived, by Tiznow)

Although I prefer he didn’t have to come from so far back in his two starts I admire this colt a great deal, especially his professionalism and toughness. No matter how many times I watch his debut going 1 1/16 miles the more amazed I am that he was willing and able to squeeze through a opening on the rail so narrow he actually brushed against it a couple of times. Yet he shrugged it off and was able to draw clear to win by 1 1/4 lengths and gallop out way ahead of the others. Mott thought so highly of him he put him in the Street Sense Stakes, but scratched when it came up sloppy. Fortunately he found a 1 1/16 mile allowance race and again he dropped back to last and made a big run along the inside on the turn. But this time jockey James Graham was not going to have a repeat of his debut and swung him to the outside where he rallied between horses and charged past the leaders to win by 1 1/2 lengths under a hand ride with his ears pricked. The fourth-place finisher, Catching Freedom, came back to win the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn January 1. Although these weren’t the ‘wow’ performances you normally like to see and he  has a great deal of improving to do on his speed figures I feel this is a colt who has a great deal of upside, the right mindset, and should keep improving the farther he goes, and with cleaner trips. I just would like to see more tactical speed so he doesn’t put himself in compromising positions against better horses.


6—Dornoch (Danny Gargan, Good Magic – Puca, by Big Brown)

As everyone knows by now this is a full-brother to last year’s Kentucky Derby winner Mage who looks like a bargain now at $325,000. I love that he’s run four times already at four different distances at four different racetracks in three different states.  After a pair of strong seconds at Saratoga and Monmouth, the latter in the Sapling Stakes, he was 1-2 when he wired his field by 6 1/2 lengths at Aqueduct, earning an excellent 95 Brisnet speed figure. But he also was weaving in and out the entire length of the stretch and failed to switch leads no matter how hard Luis Saez tried to make him. Then in the Remsen Stakes over a speed-favoring muddy and sealed surface he set the pace under pressure and began to open up when he ducked in sharply and bounced off the rail. Once he got back in stride, Sierra Leone had already gone by him and looked like a sure winner. But to his credit he not only came on again to win by a nose, he ran straight and true along the rail and wasn’t intimidated at all when Sierra Leone came in and was laying all over him in the final yards.  So what do we make of this colt? Was bouncing off the rail the best thing to happen to him, providing enough of a wake-up call to knock the greenness out of him? We know he has speed and can carry it and we know he’s tough and obviously has the pedigree. All we need to see now is a workout.


7—Honor Marie (Whit Beckman, Honor Code – Dame Marie, by Smart Strike)

He is another colt who comes from far back and will have to depend on contentious paces, which he didn’t get when the speedy and classy Otto the Conqueror got loose on the lead in a allowance race and pulled away in the stretch. But it was Honor Marie’s first and third races that stamped him as a serious horse to watch. In his career debut he made a big move and swung six-wide, but had to swerve when another horse came out in his path. He quickly leveled off and closed fast to win under a hand ride in 1:10 3/5 for six furlongs. After his second to Otto the Conqueror, who would go on to win the Springboard Mile, he rebounded big time by coming from far back to win the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes after rallying along the inside and then swinging six-wide turning for home. He drew off to beat a battle-tested warrior in Real Men Violin by two lengths and then galloped out 15-20 lengths ahead of the others. I like his Brisnet speed figure progression, going from an 80 to 90 to 96 and his 102 late pace figure last out. That progression can also be seen in his Thoro-Graph pattern of 11 to 7 to  5 ½. If you like to see the Rasmussen Factor (RI) in a pedigree, as many do, which is the inbreeding to a top-class mare, Honor Marie is inbred top and bottom to the speedball Crimson Saint through her daughter Terlingua and her son Royal Academy. Now if some of her speed can rub off on Honor Marie perhaps he wouldn’t be so pace dependant. A good sign was his sharp :59 3/5 work.


8—Otello (Chris Clement, Curlin – Isabella Sings, by Eskendereya)

I admit this colt fascinates me and part of that fascination is based on his career before he ever started. He was entered going two turns on October 13 at Aqueduct but was scratched after drawing post 14. Clement tried Laurel on October 22, but had to scratch again when he drew post 12. He found another two-turn race at Aqueduct on October 26, but the colt drew post 14 and was scratched yet again. Still persistent to find a two-turn race Clement entered him at Aqueduct on November 11, but amazingly he drew post 15 and was scratched for the fourth time. Clement finally gave in and entered him in a one-turn mile drawing post 3 on November 24…42 days after entering him for the first time. But his maiden race did not go as smoothly as hoped, as Otello got bottled up in traffic all the way around the turn and had to steady slightly nearing the top of the stretch. He tried to power his way through, but got sideswiped twice and shoved in toward the rail by the 6-5 favorite. But he was relentless and kept coming to wear down the Rick Dutrow-trained J D Factor by a neck in a sharp 1:37. His next start was the one-mile Mucho Macho Man Stakes at Gulfstream. Again stuck in traffic behind the leaders, the horse in front of him swerved and bore out and Otello had no choice but to squeeze through a tiny opening on the rail. For a while it looked as if he was toiling in fourth and going nowhere, but again he kept coming with great determination and was able to win by a half-length in 1:37 3/5. He carries his legs beautifully and is very professional, always keeping a straight course. His next step will be the big one.


9—Conquest Warrior (Shug McGaughey, City of Light – Tea Time, by Pulpit)

Here is an odd lead-in for you. I can’t help but think back to my days as librarian for the Racing Form and receiving a photo of a horse returning to the winner’s circle after winning a six-furlong allowance race at Hialeah. The first thing I noticed was how enormous this horse was. I looked at the caption in the back and was shocked to see this giant of a horse had run the six furlongs in 1:09 4/5, a second off the track record. That horse was Forego, and in some ways I got the same feeling recently after watching another giant of a horse overcome trouble after trouble in a one-mile maiden race and still somehow find a way to win. Like Forego, young 3-year-olds that size with such big bounding strides are not supposed to do the things Conquest Warrior did.  We’re talking about a 17 hands colt who early last August already weighed a massive 1315 pounds. A $1 million yearling purchase, he has always had a great mind and does whatever you ask of him. After getting squeezed badly and bumped around at the start of a one-mile maiden race last out and dropping back to ninth he blew by horses on the turn, then was forced to steady twice in traffic at critical points in the race and still was able to close relentlessly to wear down the promising Pletcher colt Antiquarian with a final eighth in :12 2/5. Finishing fifth was another Pletcher colt, the 8-5 favorite Be You, who had already finished fourth in the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes and third in the Grade 1 American Pharoah Stakes. He needs to get faster, but is still getting a crash course in what this game is all about and this race was enough of an eye opener to take him seriously.


10—Catching Freedom (Brad Cox, Constitution, Catch My Drift, by Pioeerof the Nile)

Other than his close fourth behind Parchment Party, in which he had a troubled trip in the final furlong looking for running room, he’s run big, winning his two other starts, including the Smarty  Jones Stakes, despite still being a bit green. In both his victories he had similar trips, racing on the inside then swinging five-wide and coming home strongly. In the Smarty Jones he didn’t change leads until inside the eighth pole when hit once left-handed. But, like his maiden score when he closed his last eighth in :12 1/5, he powered home with a final sixteenth in :06 1/5. He is owned by the Albaugh family, who won last year’s Arkansas Derby with Angel of Empire, and they are looking forward to stretching Catching Freedom, who is inbred 4 x 4 to Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Unbridled, out to 1 1/8 miles in the Risen Star Stakes.


11—Track Phantom (Steve Asmussen, Quality Road – Miss Sunset, by Into Mischief)

With three straight victories and back-to-back stakes scores it’s time to take this colt very seriously. He has excellent and consistent early speed and seemed apparent in Saturdays’s Lecomte Stakes. In that race the once heralded Nash was intent on getting the lead this time, but couldn’t outrun Track Phantom, breaking from the far outside. Most of the two-turn horses so far haven’t been that fast regarding their overall speed ratings and brilliant performances, but they are an improving bunch and this colt has been progressing with every start, culminating with his 2 ¾-length victory over Nash. Being by Quality Road, out of an Into Mischief mare there is a lot to like, although the bottom part of his pedigree is that not that strong, Asmussen has a number of live Derby horses, but he has moved to the top for now.


12—Snead (Brendan Walsh, Nyquist – Raffle Ticket, by A.P. Indy)

His first two races were on the turf, and although he closed well late in both of them he didn’t display the kind of turn of foot you want to see in a grass horse. His third start was taken off the turf an he relished the slop, closing relentlessly to draw clear late by 1 1/2 lengths. That was the end of his days being entered on the turf. Walsh found a 1 1/16-mile allowance race for him at Fair Grounds, and in his first start on a fast dirt track he turned into a different horse, exploding past horses nearing the half-mile pole with an electrifying move from fifth to first and quickly opening a commanding lead. In the stretch he kept pouring it on, pulling away to a 7 ¼-length victory and then drawing well clear on the gallop-out. That performance was good enough to put him in the Gun Runner Stakes. Sent off at 9-1, he broke a step slow and dropped back to sixth in the seven-horse field. He then displayed that big turn of foot again, going three-wide and looking like he was going to blow by everyone, but he just couldn’t finish if off and had to settle for second behind Track Phantom, which looks like a much better performance now that Track Phantom has come back to score an impressive victory in the Lecomte Stakes. I love his Thoro-Graph pattern and the way this colt is improving I feel he could be the big overlay in the latest Derby Future Wager with odds of 89-1 as of Sunday afternoon.


13—Liberal Arts (Robbie Medina, Arrogate, Ismeme, by Tribal Ruler)

He’s not going to dazzle you with brilliant performances, but if it’s versatility and steady progress you’re looking for, he’s run five times, at five furlongs, six furlongs, seven furlongs, one mile, and 1 1/16 miles, finishing in the money in all of them, while increasing his Brisnet speed figures from a 66 to 74 to 82 to 86 to 92 ad his Thoro-Graph numbers from 20 to 13 to 11 to nine to a solid 6 1/2. He still needs to keep getting faster, but he’s sure heading in that direction. He’s also won on fast and sloppy tracks and can come from anywhere — first, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh at the second call. In short, this is the kind of horse every trainer would love to have in his barn. As for his competition he beat Otto the Conqueror going seven furlongs and the latter has not lost since, winning three straight, including the Springboard Mile.


14—Real Men Violin (Kenny McPeek, Mendelssohn – Meg Fitz, by Tapit)

What? You have a horse with one victory in six starts in your top 15? Sometimes you just take a liking to a horse and look past his record, which in his case is deceiving as he has finished in the money in all six of his starts, on fast, muddy, and sloppy dirt tracks and twice on the grass. He has also shown steady improvement in his performances and speed figures, and in his only victory two starts back he had to squeeze through a narrow opening and then ran down Track Phantom, who had opened a three-length lead in the stretch, to win by a half-length, with Track Phantom 7 1/4 lengths ahead of the third horse. And Track Phantom went on to win his next three starts, including the Gun Runner and Lecomte Stakes. Real Men Violin came off that maiden score to finish a strong second to Honor Marie in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, in which he made a bold move along the rail to reach contention, but dropped back after running into a wall of horses. He  waited patiently for a hole to open and when one did along the rail he shot through and battled the length of the stretch with the promising Stretch Ride, only to have Honor Marie roll by to win by two lengths. I love how he keeps moving forward and getting classier with each race.


15—Stronghold (Phil D’Amato, Ghostzapper – Spectator, by Jimmy Creed)

Surely there has to be a good 3-year-old in California that isn’t trained by Bob Baffert. This colt has had a taste of racing on both coasts, dividing his four career starts between Kentucky and California. He actually showed a great deal of promise with a strong second first time out at Ellis Park going six furlongs and then stretching out to a mile at Churchill Downs and running down Track Phantom to win by 1 1/2 lengths in 1:35 4/5 with Resilience closing for second. And both those colts look like serious Derby horses. Sent to California, where D’Amato is based, he was no match for Nysos in the Bob Hope Stakes, but was a clear-cut second. Then in the Los Alamitos Futurity, he was in tight quarters, came through a big opening on the rail and was out-dueled by the Baffert-trained pacesetter Wynstock, taking a couple of bumps in the final sixteenths ad falling a half-length short. But he did earn a strong 99 Brisnet speed figure, a 10-point jump from the Bob Hope Stakes. He’ll have his fill of Baffert horses this winter, Derby or no Derby, and he just has to bide his time and keep improving. I just don’t know how far he wants to go.



With Churchill Downs basically holding a gun to the heads of Bob Baffert’s owners and telling them to move their 3-year-olds to another trainer by January 29 or don’t plan on running in the Kentucky Derby it has forced a last-minute move in the first Derby Rankings. With the Baffert-trained Nysos and Muth both initially ranked it took an other-worldly performance by first-time starter Maymun to convince us to move Baffert’s horses to Knocking on the Door until we see what happens in the next seven days.

Will Baffert’s owners, mainly Amr Zedan, owner of Muth and Maymun and Baoma Corp’s Charles Chu, owner of Nysos, remain loyal to their trainer or send their horses to another trainer for the next three months? The three previous horses who have left Baffert’s barn to train for the Derby and run – Messier, Taiba, and Reincarnate – finished 15th, 12th, and 13th, respectively, beaten a total of 61 lengths. And Zedan, who had the Derby taken from him in 2021 with the disqualification of Medina Spirit, was the owner of Taiba. A couple of Baffert’s owners, including the owner of Los Alamitos Futurity winner Wynstock,  have already said they will not take their horses away from him.

Nysos, Muth, and Maymun have to be considered three of the four most talented 3-year-olds in the country and their loss would leave the Derby with a gaping hole from January 29 to Derby Day. So if those three were being ranked, here is what it would look like without the actually rankings:

NYSOS (Nyquist –Zetta Z, by Bernardini)

I believe he could be a budding superstar and thought so highly of him I have already written an entire column on him. If this was a normal year he would be ranked a clear-cut No. 2. His two races have been flawless, and even though they both were sprints I was impressed with everything I saw. He looked as close to the perfect horse as you could hope for when he broke his maiden in spectacular fashion and then followed it up with a sensational score in the Grade 3 Bob Hope Stakes. The son of Nyquist has checked off every box in maiden and stakes company and is now ready to stake his claim as a major star. The qualities that caught our eye were his mechanics, smoothness of his lead changes, temperament, intelligence, and just overall demeanor. Combine all them with his brilliant stats – six furlongs in 1:08 4/5 at Santa Anita and seven furlongs in 1:21 3/5 at Del Mar; margins of 10 ½ lengths and 8 ¾ lengths; and breaking his maiden wire to wire with blinkers and winning  the Bob Hope coming from fourth in a four-horse field without blinkers. That last fact demonstrates his versatility and ability to adjust to changes in equipment and running style. In the Bob Hope, he galloped out some 20 to 25 lengths ahead of the others. As for his mechanics he has such an easy-going flawless stride and ran straight through the stretch without any inclination to drift off his path. I always watch the head-on to assess a young horse’s stride. Watching him, his stride and balance were so perfect you could not see his back legs behind his front legs; that’s how perfectly he carries his legs under him.

MAYMUN (Frosted – Handwoven, by Indian Charlie)

Everything I said about Nysos and his perfect mechanics apply to this freak of a horse. The word has been out on him since Jessie Longoria, who bought the colt as a yearling for $50,000 in partnership with Paul Neatherlin, told Neatherlin, who had bought and pinhooked the ill-fated Maple Leaf Mel, that their Frosted colt looks like he’s special. Longoria broke and trained the colt and told Neatherlin he was so freakishly fast he couldn’t work him for fear he would go too fast. They both realized that once this colt did breeze at the Ocala 2-year-old sale he would be headed for big numbers. Not only was he fast, he had a wonderful mind, a great walk, and flawless conformation, and was everything Neatherlin looks for in a young horse. And on top of everything he has the same Tapit – Indian Charlie cross as the spectacular Flightline. So it was on to the sale with high hopes, and even there they had to be extremely careful how he went in his prep breeze. Even with him under stout restraint he went his eighth in :10 1/5, out three furlongs in :33. In his official breeze he, as expected, had jaws dropping when he went his eighth in :09 3/5 and galloped out in a mind-blowing :31 4/5. Their $50,000 yearling was now a $900,000 2-year-old headed to Bob Baffert. Fast forward to this past Saturday and his eagerly awaited debut, in which he charged to the lead and then settled nicely, setting what looked like a nice easy pace. But the tote board read :21 3/5 for the quarter and :43 4/5 for the half and he wasn’t even being asked. When Juan Hernandez finally set him down he drew clear on his own and coasted to a 7 1/2-length victory, earning a 94 Beyer figure, and like Nysos galloped out some 15 lengths ahead of the runner-up, who was about 15 lengths ahead of the others. With Zedan already having Muth, if he gets Derby fever in the next week I would guess he will not move this dynamite of a horse to another trainer at this early stage of his career.

MUTH (Good Magic – Hoppa, by Uncle Mo)

At least he has more of a Baffert foundation under him than Baffert’s other two freaks. Muth has proven himself to be a versatile, hard-knocking colt who simply was unable to handle Fierceness in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and Baffert has already done right by him this year by dropping him back to seven furlongs in the San Vicente, which he won impressively. That is an old-school move, as just about every superstar from the 1940s thru the 1970s who were successful 2-year-olds going a mile or farther began their 3-year-old campaign in a sprint. Trainers back then who were ready to embark on the Derby trail felt it was important to sharpen up their horses first. The last big-name 2-year-old to do that was juvenile champion Nyquist, who also won the San Vicente and then captured the Kentucky Derby. Nyquist, of course, is the sire of Nysos. We’ll have to wait and see what Zedan decides to do. The bottom line is that hopefully we will know by the next Rankings whether Churchill Downs has lost three of it’s top contenders and two of the most brilliant 3-year-olds in the country.

As you can see, we have started off with a Top 15 just to get a feel for this crop of 3-year-olds. If you don’t see the name of a Derby hopeful you are following, remember this is only week one and we don’t want to overload and dilute this section. There will be more horses mentioned in detail next week.

We’re also going to start off a bit differently this year because of the number of horses who were so brilliant breaking their maiden in sprints we can’t separate them and need to see how they do against winners. Each one looks capable of becoming the next exciting star on the Derby trail and another impressive victory will likely launch them into the Top 5.

The ones who provided that sensational knockout blow include Godolphin’s KNIGHTSBRIDGE, who demolished his field by 10 lengths going seven furlongs at Churchill Downs in 1:22 4/5. What was most impressive was running his final eighth in :12 1/5 while going from four lengths in front at the eighth pole to 10 lengths in front at the wire.  He has a regal look about him with his arched neck and attractive head. beautiful head and the way he carries himself. He had his first work back for Bill Mott with a half-mile breeze in :50 1/5 at Payson Park. Another potential monster to keep a eye on is the Rick Dutrow-trained EL CAPI, a son of Maclean’s Music who put on a dazzling display of speed winning his debut going seven furlongs at Aqueduct by 9 1/2 lengths in a rapid 1:21 4/5 after blazing fractions of :44 3/5 and 1:08 3/5 ad earning a sensational “1/4” Thoro-Graph number. I don’t know how fast that sealed muddy track was, but you don’t see horses running that fast at Aqueduct in December, especially in their career debut. The big question obviously is how far this colt wants to go.

Next up we have the Saffie Joseph-trained MERIT, a son of Mastery, who I love as a sire and loved as a racehorse. All Merit did was win first out by 10 lengths going seven furlongs, and he did it coming just off the pace in third. Forget the time of 1:25 1/5, as the Gulfstream surface has been playing very slow. He did run a 92 Brisnet speed figure and a strong late pace figure of 104. Todd Pletcher looks to have a runner for the New York races in TUSCAN SKY, who won his career debut going six furlongs in the mud by 5 1/4 lengths and doing it from off the pace, while earning a strong 97 Brisnet speed figure. From a visual standpoint I like everything I see and the fact he is by Vino Rosso and his tail-female family includes stamina heavy horses Vigors and Ruritania pretty much assures that we’ll see improvement the farther he goes. Speaking of Pletcher and brilliant maiden sprint winners with a ton of stamina, BORN NOBLE has an even stronger distance pedigree, but still was able to win his career debut by 5 1/2 lengths going seven furlongs after tracking the early pace and drawing off in the stretch. I was so taken with his amazing tail-female family it inspired an entire column recently.

Two horses who broke their maiden impressively going two turns in their second start and bear watching are IMPERIAL GUN, a son of Gun Runner trained by Steve Asmussen, who did all the right things winning by 5 3/4 lengths at Oaklawn Park, and his stablemate, the $1.4 million yearling purchase HALL OF FAME, who no doubt loved stretching out, romping by 10 ¼ lengths at Fair Grounds after tracking the early pace from the inside.  Another son of Gun Runner, he was being pushed at the three-eighths pole but had no trouble pulling away from the field and winning with complete authority. One horse who won  big going two-turns in his fourth start was the Bill Mott-trained RESILIENCE, a son of Into Mischief who improved with first-time Lasix and the addition of John Velazquez in the saddle, drawing off to a 4 1/4-length victory at Gulfstream. His only inbreeding is to Halo, which bodes well for his class and stamina.

Steve Asmussen has several other promising 3-year-olds who bear watching, headed by two colts with excellent early speed who have shown they can carry it at least a mile. They are the hard-running OTTO THE CONQUEROR, who has battled on or close to the lead in all his races and is riding a three-race winning streak, including his Springboard Mile score, and the undefeated speedball CARBONE, who blasts out of the gate on his own and dares anyone to outrun him. So far, no one has come close. He is by sprint champion Mitole, who did win the Met Mile, and Mitole is by stamina influence Eskendereya and is a half-brother to Kentucky Derby, Belmont Stakes, and Dubai World Cup runner-up Hot Rod Charlie. So it will be interesting to see how far Carbone can carry his speed.

I can’t write about Conquest Warrior without mentioning his stablemate CHANGE OF COMMAND, who has won his last two starts after finishing fourth, then third, then second in his first three starts. So he obviously is improving steadily. Both colts are owned by Don Adams’ Courtlandt Farms, who paid $1 million for Conquest Warrior at the Keeneland September yearling sale and $1,050,000 for Change of Command a bit later in the sale.

One of the more perplexing horses we’ve see so far is the runaway Pasco Stakes winner BOOK’EM DANNO, who no doubt will appeal to all Hawaii Five-O fans. A winner of four of his five starts by an average margin of 7 ½ lengths, he is a New Jersey-bred by an Indiana-bred sire who stood in New York. Book’em Danno has won the Smoke Glacken Stakes at Monmouth, the Futurity Stakes at Aqueduct, and the Pasco at Tampa Bay Downs, all sprints. His only defeat came when he stretched out to a mile and was caught late, finishing second. He has a ton of speed in his pedigree so we’ll see how far he wants to go.

We have to start off the year with one under-the-radar sleeper, and this week we’ll go with GETTYSBURG ADDRESS, who should be a good price next time out and might be sitting on a big effort. He began his career with a hard-earned victory at Ellis Park, wearing down the leader late. He went right into the Street Sense Stakes after scratching out of the Iroquois Stakes and set the pace, but tired on the sloppy track and faded to fourth. He ran next in the Smarty Jones Stakes and was creamed from both sides at the start, dropping back to last. He rallied late to finish fourth, beaten three lengths by Catching Freedom and missing second by a half-length. It will be interesting to see where Brad Cox runs him next.

Next week we will cover horses such as STRETCH RIDE, more on OTTO THE CONQUEROR, JUST STEEL, AIR OF DEFIANCE, BENTORNATO, the undefeated Japanese colt FOREVER YOUNG, and others.

Photo Courtesy of Benoit


Racing historian, author, and award-winning retired journalist for the Daily Racing Form and The Blood-Horse, Steve Haskin was inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame’s Media Roll of Honor in 2016. Known for his racing knowledge and insightful prose, he has been an exclusive contributor to since 2020.



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297 Responses to “Kentucky Derby Rankings – Week 1”

  1. mark f kennedy says:

    Well the one thing about OTELLO IS , He did have an 83 back in Nov and lets not forget he did bounce off the rail in his last race, so while agree Fierceness is the one to beat, the Curlin’s do improve in leaps and bounds as they get older so, ill throw some bucks his way to maybe spoil the apple cart.’

  2. Matthew W says:

    CDI gave an ultimatum, and they changed the date…. switching barns has not worked, so they all stood pat…..I thought this might happen this year….and Bob has some nice ones—that may make Saratoga in early June the place to be …

    • Davids says:

      There are always positives, Matthew. The Met Mile might have a few of Bob Baffert’s 3 year olds this year. Maymun, this race is meant for you.

      • Matthew W says:

        Yes Davids I thought that myself. .. Maymun in the Belmont and Nysos in the Met Mile….but they will need to sort things out— by running in PREPS…..nobody doing anything nefarious, CDI set the terms, they thought the owners would capitulate, and they did…at first but not this year, they and standing with Bob, we’re in a strange time, where people are trying to win by omitting their competition, CDI has made it personal, they SET THE TERMS and then they CHANGED THE TERMS……

    • mark f kennedy says:

      I think it may be a good thing. While i agree he needed to be punished , he has done the time. I think what he will do now is run everything he has in these derby preps as if he was going to the derby. It will show how ridiculous these point preps as he denies other horses points making this yr derby probably pretty low to get into.

  3. Discopartner says:

    I understand the owners thumbing their nose at CDI, but will this add another year to the ban? The Hatfields and McCoys got started this way.

  4. Bill Dawson says:

    With the latest news that the owners will remain loyal to Bob Baffert, and not transfer their top colts to other trainers, I’ve listed my top 15 Derby prospects. Fierceness remains on top, but at this time, the other 14 are not necessarily in preferential order.

    1) Fierceness
    2) Track Phantom
    3) Otello
    4) Merit
    5) El Capi
    6) Otto the Conqueror
    7) Sierra Leone
    8) Snead
    9) Catching Freedom
    10) Real Men Violin
    11) Locked
    12) Dornoch
    13) Knightsbridge
    14) Carbone
    15) Tuscan Sky (new addition)

  5. John Goggin says:

    As a follow up to the previous comment (Biill Dawson) the Los Angeles Times reported just two hours ago that not one owner with a three year old colt whereas Bob Baffert is the trainer is going to transfer their horses to another trainer on this deadline day as instructed by Churchill Downs.
    I’ve already made known my opinions here but these owners just delivered basically Churchill Downs and CEO Bill Carstanjen the one finger salute.

    • Bill Dawson says:

      I like your style John, thanks for the input.

    • Zanytactics says:

      Do you actually believe that anyone at CDI or CEO Bill Carstanjen really care? I’m certain no one will be losing sleep over the decisions of these enablers.

      • John Goggin says:

        It’s not what I believe. I have my own opinions. But “really care”? Trying asking that question to Carstanjen some time.

        • Zanytactics says:

          Everyone has an opinion. I have a strong feeling that the folks at CDI won’t miss the headache associated with one BB. Also, his enablers spent multi millions to sit this one out….ouch!

  6. Bill Dawson says:

    When the first Saturday in May rolls around, I wonder how many owners that didn’t transfer their Derby prospects to other trainers, will be thinking, “Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda”. Loyalty is one thing, but money talks and BS walks. 🙂

    • Bruce says:

      No news on the baffert horses yet?? Little late in the evening to get anything now, so it’ll probably hit in the morning??

      • Counter Fit says:

        Almost three hours ago the Los Angeles Times reported Baffert was quoted to have told them “Nobody is going to transfer their horses.” That’s that.

  7. Nelson Maan says:

    I was not surprised for Speak Easy’s Beyer (100) on his marvelous 7 Furlongs in 1:21.96 … his 7 furlongs was the fastest at Gulfstream in the last three years. Even the record for the 7 furlongs of the Sir Shackleton Stakes is a comparable 1:21.92 by 4-YEAR-OLD Vekoma in 2020. For 3-year-olds you can confirm that the last fastest Swale was in 2016 (1:21.81). Furthermore, if you check the times for 7F-Graded Stakes at Gulfstream you would see that the standard is around 1:23.

    It is easy to be gobsmacked by such displays of speed but sometimes things could go off course with racehorses …

    You may remember an enigmatic colt bred by Juddmonte named Hidden Scroll who debuted at Gulfstream winning by 14 lenghts clocking an spectacular 1:34 4/5 for the mile on the slop. Among the colts he defeated that day was Bodexpress who subsequently was second in the Florida Derby as a maiden and ended his (4y-old) campaign capturing the Grade 1 Clark Stakes…

    Anyway, Hidden Scroll was “rushed” to the FOY stakes and the Florida Derby and failed in both Stakes as the favorite…His Bill Mott was as perplexed as anyone.

    Another perplexing case was Dennis’ Moment’s. He lost his jockey in his 2-year-old debut but broke his maiden next out by 19 lengths in 1:21 4/5 for the 7F at Ellis. The son of Tiznow won the Iroquous Stakes next and then decided he did not like to run anymore after an awful stumbling at the start of the BC Juvenile.

    So, using optimistic caution for Speak Easy, I would like to wait til his third start to make a better judgement about his potential as a Triple Crown player.

    It was Justify’s third start (winning the Santa Anita Derby) what stamped him as freak … then again, you may say that this happened with Rock your World as well but never won a race again after his (3rd start) romp in the Santa Anita Derby…

    You know what I meant with having a wary attitude when it comes to finding a super star these days…

    • Ms Blacktype says:

      Nelson, this is the time of year when newly minted 3YOs come out of the woodwork and stamp themselves as contenders. I personally think that Speak Easy is the real thing — even if he’s trained by Todd Pletcher! TAP is due for another Derby, but then Steve Asmussen is long overdue for his first. Will be interesting to see how Speak Easy progresses. So far none of Asmussen’s horses looks like another Epicenter but you don’t have to have the most touted horse to win the Derby.

      Eagerly awaiting Steve Haskin’s next column. I expect he’s texted every owner of a Baffert-trained horse and is awaiting news on whether the plan is to stand pat or to transfer. I have a sixth sense that this is the year most if not all owners have had enough of the CD ban.

      • Davids says:

        You never know, Nelson. Mage won the same race last year that Speak Easy won and he went on to take the roses. How often does history repeat? You lose a Parchment Party but gain a Speak Easy. The chess board to the Kentucky Derby will continue to play out its game. We are mere pawns playing our part as we head to Churchill Downs in three month’s time.

        At least we now know something concrete, the Bob Baffert trained horses won’t be competing which is a windfall for all the other owners and trainers that desperately desire to capture those red roses.

  8. Dewey Hebert says:

    According to Mike Maker, The Wine Steward is back in training with light gallops the last couple of weeks. He’s not sharing any plans for TWS’s next race but also has not ruled out the Derby. At this point, I would think it unlikely that The Wine Steward would be tight enough for a run at the Derby, but you never know until he runs in a couple of preps.

  9. Bill Dawson says:

    Today, January 29th is D-Day, as in decision day for the owners of their respective colts to either stand pad with Bob Baffert or transfer them to other trainers. It should be an interesting day.