Derby Rankings: Week 3

Because of all the activity this week and so many horses now firmly entrenched on the Derby trail we are extending the Rankings to a Sweet 16 to give as many horses as possible ample space and a place on the list of top prospects. ~ Steve Haskin

Derby Rankings: Week 3, Feb. 1

By Steve Haskin


1. Greatest Honour (Shug McGaughey, Tapit – Tiffany’s Honour, by Street Cry)

It was a bold move putting an unspectacular maiden winner at No. 2 last week and it’s probably a bolder move elevating him to the No. 1 spot over a champion and two-time grade winner, especially when he beat a questionable field that had very little stakes experience. But sometimes you have to go by your gut feeling when you think you see all the qualities that make a Derby horse, and this colt certainly looked like a Derby horse when he crushed his field by 5 3/4 lengths in the Holy Bull Stakes. You’re not going to find a stronger pedigree, as we mentioned in detail in Week 1, and I moved him up from No. 5 to No. 2 last week when a very fast horse he ran right behind in two sprint races, Caddo River, came back to romp by 10 lengths in the Smarty Jones Stakes and the second- and third-place finishers in his maiden victory both came back to run huge races next time out. He was originally scheduled to run in next week’s Withers Stakes because of the 1 1/8-mile distance, but the horse McGaughey was pointing for the Holy Bull couldn’t make the race, so he decided to keep Greatest Honour in Florida and run at the shorter distance. In the Holy Bull he showed he could lay within striking distance, make a sweeping four-wide run, and draw off at will, running solid fractions of :24 1/5, :23 2/5 :23 4/5, :24 4/5 and :06 3/5. He is the consummate pro with no quirks and he runs perfectly straight down the stretch. The first time I saw him he looked like a classy horse and he has improved his speed figures with every race.


2. Essential Quality (Brad Cox, Tapit – Delightful Quality, by Elusive Quality)

Yes he still deserves to be No. 1 and Hot Rod Charlie showed the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile was a legitimate race with his gutsy performance in the three-horse blanket finish of the Robert B. Lewis Stakes. But you still want to see what kind of transition he makes from 2 to 3, and a win in the February 13 Risen Star likely will put him back at No. 1. His works are progressing nicely and he has now had two solid five-furlong drills in 1:01 2/5 and 1:01 3/5 as he prepares for his 3-year-old debut, where he likely will face the brilliant Jackie’s Warrior and a number of other proven stakes horses, including possibly another Brad Cox horse, Mandaloun, and another Godolphin horse, Proxy. But it must be noted that taking this path will pretty much assure he will have only two Derby preps and a six-week layoff from the Louisiana Derby to the Kentucky Derby. No horse has ever accomplished that. In the past 25 years, the only three Kentucky Derby winners to have run in the Louisiana Derby – Grindstone, Funny Cide, and Country House – all had a race in between.


3. Senor Buscador (Todd Fincher, Mineshaft – Rose’s Desert, by Desert God)

What we mentioned about the Risen Star and Louisiana Derby pertaining to Essential Quality applies to Senor Buscador as well. But Fincher is convinced that won’t be a problem considering the way this colt trains. As of now he’s had only a couple of three-furlong blowouts so it is time for him to start picking up the tempo. I’m keeping him up this high one more week and then we’ll see what the picture looks like after next week’s Derby preps. I’m still ranking him with my heart at this point. The horse he defeated in the Springboard Mile, Cowan, came back to finish second to Caddo River in the Smarty Jones Stakes, but was beaten more than 10 lengths. However, before you link that performance to Senor Buscador you have to take into account that Cowan had to check sharply to avoid clipping heels with a horse who had cut in front of him, and despite the distance being shorter than he wants and trying to catch a runaway train he still managed to finish 7 1/2 lengths ahead of the third horse. So I think you can still say the Senor beat a quality horse at Remington. If you want to know where the name comes from it is actually pretty simple. They were struggling to come up with a name based on the colt’s pedigree until owner Joe Peacock’s son’s then girlfriend and now wife noticed the name Mr. Prospector in the sire and dam’s pedigree and pointed out that Mr. Prospector in Spanish is Senor Buscador. It had a ring to it; end of search.


4. Keepmeinmind (Robertino Diodoro, Laoban – Inclination, by Victory Gallop)

After his quick five-furlong work last week he slowed down to a 1:02, galloping out a very strong six furlongs in 1:14 4/5 and pulling up seven furlongs in 1:27 2/5. Diodoro is putting a lot of bottom in him with these long strong gallop-outs, and the track was slower this time than for his last work when he had a target to run at. His works, especially this one, have been more about the gallop-out than the final time. The Southwest Stakes might be a bit short for him, especially if he runs into Caddo River, but he is fit and ready after a brief vacation and light training at WinStar Farm. We probably won’t see the real Keepmeinmind until they go a mile and an eighth, but he is one horse who only needs to be closing strong in the stretch to keep moving forward toward a peak performance at Churchill Downs, where he captured the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. His Thoro-Graph figures did regress ever so slightly in that race, but we’ll get a better gauge of its quality when runner-up Smiley Sobotka runs next Saturday in the Sam F. Davis Stakes.


5. Caddo River (Brad Cox, Hard Spun – Pangburn, by Congrats)

Cox could be holding a pat hand at both Fair Grounds and Oaklawn Park, and with this guy I’m not sure who can beat him if he keeps displaying the kind of high cruising speed that we saw in his last two races. If he takes after his sire in any way then there is no telling how far he can carry that speed. And his female family certainly isn’t going to hold him back. The fact that he was able run half-mile fractions in :44 and change and :45 in sprint races and then throttle back and go :47 and change stretching out to two turns demonstrates how difficult it is going to be to beat this horse. He has an interesting Thoro-Graph pattern, pairing up a 9 1/2 in his first two races and then pairing up a 4 1/4 in his last two races. When a horse jumps five points you like to see him pair up that number to validate it and not get too fast too early. If he moves up several points next time and then pairs that up it would set him up for a peak performance in the Derby. This could mark the return to prominence after three decades of owner John Ed Anthony, who raced Eclipse Award winners Temperence Hill, Vanlandingham, and Prairie Bayou, and Preakness winner Pine Bluff under the name Loblolly Stable.


6. Life is Good (Bob Baffert, Into Mischief – Beach Walk, by Distorted Humor)

If you were concerned that he hadn’t worked in 16 days since his sharp half-mile in :47 flat, he did have a slight setback but returned to the work tab January 27 with an easy half in :49 3/5, so assuming his next start will be the San Felipe on March 6, his missed work was pretty insignificant and he looks to be back on track. Although his time wasn’t fast, he looked sensational from a physical standpoint. He is a beautiful mover with a smooth efficient stride and is very light on his feet. Of more concern is whether Baffert can harness his speed and hopefully get him to settle off the pace. He sure didn’t look speed crazy in this work and had his ears pricked right from the start. He looks to have enough stamina in his female family to counteract Into Mischief, and if you want to bring up Authentic, let me say again I doubt he would have won the Derby on the first Saturday in May. This colt, like Authentic, is a big rangy sort and doesn’t look like a sprinter, but the question is, will he be ready to go a mile and a quarter off only four career starts? He certainly has the talent and all the mechanics, and I don’t believe we have seen anything even close to his best.


7. Roman Centurian (Simon Callaghan, Empire Maker – Spare Change, by Bernardini)

He is another I took a shot with in Week 1 by ranking a maiden winner with only two starts in the Top 12, but he lived up to that maiden score with an excellent effort against proven stakes horses in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes, finishing second in a three-horse photo and outdueling the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up while having the widest trip of the three. Mechanically, he did everything right, but just couldn’t get his head in front of a game Medina Spirit. The reason he is ranked higher is that, according to Trakus, he ran 30 feet farther than the winner, which is equivalent to far more than the head margin and the few hundredths of a second he was beaten. For example, turning for home he was 15.7 feet off the rail compared to 5.9 feet for Medina Spirit. As I stated in Week 1 for those who did not see it, if you’re looking for a pedigree loaded with class, the Phippses bred his first four dams, his second and third dams were Grade 1 winners, his fourth dam was a Grade 2 winner and the dam of three Grade 1 winners, and his fifth dam, Lady Pitt, won the CCA Oaks, Mother Goose, and Delaware Handicap. In his first five generations are 10 classic winners who won a total of 17 classic races, as well as eight Hall of Famers. There is no doubt the future is very bright for this colt.


8. Medina Spirit (Bob Baffert, Protonico – Mongolian Changa, by Brilliant Speed)

Well, we know he’s a fighter. When a Bob Baffert horse has the rail in a two-turn race, you can be sure he’s going for the lead if no one wants it. The feeling here is that this is not where he wants to be. Into the backstretch he was flicking his ears back and forth. When Wipe the Slate moved up to his flank he pinned his ears and once again eased clear. Around the turn he was back to flicking his ears and you could tell he hadn’t been asked to run. If his stride looked a bit sloppy for a brief instant turning for home it most likely was because he switched to his right lead too early. In any event, he still had plenty left in the stretch and refused to let Roman Centurian and Hot Rod Charlie get past him. The most impressive aspect of his race was that, over a dead track, he set testing fractions of :22 4/5 and :46 3/5. By comparison, in the San Pasqual for older horses earlier on the same card they went in :23 4/5 and :48 3/5. He then went the three quarters in 1:12 1/5 compared to 1:13 3/5 in the San Pasqual. So it was understandable why they didn’t come home fast. The first three all look like top-class horses and they galloped out in a different area code from the others. We’ll see what kind of strategy they use next time on this colt. He showed in the Sham Stakes what he can do coming from off the pace.


9. Known Agenda (Todd Pletcher, Curlin – Byrama, by Byron)

He certainly was flattered by Greatest Honour’s performance in the Holy Bull. When the two hooked up in a furious stretch drive going a mile and an eighth in November he made the first move and held on doggedly to win by a head. I believe his well-beaten third in the Remsen Stakes was due to his dislike for the sloppy track, as he never looked comfortable. He has been working well, going five furlongs in a sharp :59 4/5 then an easy half-mile in :49, which should set him up nicely for Saturday’s Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay. By Curlin, out of one of the great European sire lines, he will run all day. If he can get a fast track next week we’ll find out once and for all if the Remsen was a throwout race. A big effort and he puts himself right up there with the leading Derby contenders.


10. Smiley Sobotka (Dale Romans, Brody’s Cause – Dance Thewayyouare, by Mineshaft)

I know the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes didn’t get good speed rating and he has a lot of improving to do off his 8 1/4 Thoro-Graph figure, but the horse who beat him, Keepmeinmind, had already proven himself with his big efforts in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Breeders’ Futurity. So we really won’t know how good this horse is until he makes his 3-year-old debut, which will also come next Saturday in the Sam F. Davis Stakes. After several five-furlong breezes Romans sharpened him up with a brisk half-mile work in :46 4/5, so he looks ready to come out running. He has improved with every start, has excellent tactical speed, and he should only get better as the distances stretch. He will get a good test from Known Agenda, which should make the Sam Davis an excellent prep.


11. Hot Rod Charlie (Doug O’Neill, Oxbow – Indian Miss, by Indian Charlie)

I’m not sure yet how effective he is going to be at a mile and a quarter, but he showed his excellent second-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at 94-1 was no fluke when he was third in a three-horse photo in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes, while taking all the worst of it between horses the entire stretch run, getting bounced around from both sides and being in very tight quarters in the final yards. But he battled on gamely against two promising Derby horses. We’ll see how the speed figures come out on this race, but so far you couldn’t ask for a better progression, going from a 16 1/2 to an 8 1/2 to a 3 3/4 on Thoro-Graph. This is a horse who sold for a mere $17,000 as a yearling, then pinhooked later in the year for $110,000, where he was picked out by Dennis O’Neill.


12. The Great One (Doug O’Neill, Nyquist – Little Ms. Protocol, by El Corredor)

Last week I said I was not sure if his 14-length maiden romp was quite as good as it looked, but after further scrutiny I am now convinced this is a serious horse based on his mechanics and his maturity from a gangly green colt to a polished professional. What put me over the edge was his Thoro-Graph figures and the most dramatic leap I can remember, going from a 17, 17, 16 and 10 to a 1. So, from wondering if he was too slow, you suddenly go to wondering if he went too fast too soon. With two preps left and six weeks to the San Felipe all you want is for him to maintain that form and not have any dramatic leaps forward or backward. He wasn’t flattered by the poor effort of Spielberg in the Robert Lewis, but he seems to have made great strides since that race. He was named by his co-owner, hockey star Erik Johnson, after his boyhood idol Wayne Gretzky. He had RNA’d at the sale for $195,000. But Dennis O’Neill had fallen in love with him and sent Johnson photos and a video of the colt. Others tried to buy him privately for $150,000 to $160,000, but Johnson told him to get over there and get the horse bought. He offered $185,000 and got the colt, and Johnson went in for 40%. Despite nearly pulling off a huge upset in the Los Alamitos Futurity as a maiden, in which he got beat the slightest head bob by Spielberg, track clockers told O’Neill he was running for second when he faced Baffert’s 3-5 favorite Fenway in last Saturday’s maiden race. But he sat right off Fenway’s flank, ran him into the ground through rapid early fractions over a dead track, and drew with every stride before galloping out some 25 lengths ahead of the runner-up.


13. Mandaloun (Brad Cox, Into Mischief – Brooch, by Empire Maker)

It will be interesting to see what Cox does with him. He likely will have Essential Quality making his 3-year-old debut in the Risen Star Stakes February 13, and if he ships him to Oaklawn for the Southwest Stakes he could run into another Cox-trained horse, Caddo River, who looks to have a stranglehold right now on the Oaklawn 3-year-old picture. He does have the Rebel Stakes if he wants to wait that long. It is extremely tough separating the first three finishers of the LeComte, but he ran the best speed figures and just makes a classy appearance with a good deal of upside. He remains sharp, working a half in :48 1/5, second fastest of 99 works at the distance. He has never been flashy, but he is tough and consistent and can sustain his run a long way.


14. Midnight Bourbon (Steve Asmussen, Tiznow – Catch the Moon, by Malibu Moon)

I think in the long run he may turn out to be a better Derby prospect than Mandaloun, but I just want to see what he can do coming from off the pace and not controlling a race with an easy lead, as he did in the LeComte. He is built like a stayer, but I want to see him erase two of stakes defeats in which he sat off the pace. He gave up a clear lead in the stretch in the Iroquois Stakes and had Sittin’ on Go run right by him, and Sittin’ on Go has run poorly in his last three starts. He then tired badly in the Champagne Stakes, beaten over 14 lengths. I do believe he is a better horse this year, but he needs to show a little more versatility and the ability to come home fast and draw away from horses. For him, the real test will come when he faces some heavy hitters based at Fair Grounds in the Risen Star Stakes.


15. Proxy (Michael Stidham, Tapit – Panty Raid, by Include)

There isn’t much more to say about him until we can see one race where he’s ridden properly and doesn’t get hit continuously left-handed. If this horse can keep a straight course who knows how good he can be. To show how close he is to Mandaloun in the afternoon and the morning, he turned in the exact same work of :48 1/5, right down to the same one-hundredths, second fastest of 99 works at the distance. And no they did not work in company. To demonstrate how quickly he is improving he went from a pair 13 1/4 Thoro-Graph figures to a 5 in the LeComte and his pedigree suggests he should keep on improving. If Prevalence continues his meteoric rise, Godolphin could have a potent three-headed monster. This definitely is a horse who is still a work in progress and who knows what we’ll see in a few months.


16. Tarantino (Rodolphe Brisset, Pioneerof the Nile – without Delay, by Seeking the Gold)

He was no match for Greatest Honour in the Holy Bull, but it was an excellent effort for his first start ever on dirt. He has had an unusual journey so far. He was purchased as a yearling at Keeneland for $610,000 and turned over to Bob Baffert. He obviously was not turning heads in his works on dirt, so Baffert started him twice on grass, something you rarely if ever see him do with a young horse. After he finished second, beaten a nose, in the Zuma Beach Stakes it was decided to put him back in the sale, but no one was interested, so they bought him back for only $240,000 and sent him back east to Brisset. In his first start for his new trainer he was impressive winning a one-mile allowance race on grass, and when he started working well on dirt, Brisset decided to try him in the Holy Bull and he ran a bang-up second at 26-1, pressing the pace the whole way, finally putting the leader away, and then outrunning the favorite Prime Factor for second. Although he couldn’t handle the closing punch of Greatest Honour he never quit and was striding out well at the wire, while finishing almost four lengths ahead of Prime Factor.



It was tempting to try to squeeze CONCERT TOUR into the Rankings considering he is reported to be one of Baffert’s best 3-year-olds. But he still has a ways to go before he stretches out to two turns, so we’ll wait a little longer before ranking him with the more accomplished horses. But from what I’ve seen so far in his one race and in his works he looks like the real deal. Baffert is moving him gradually up the ladder and we’ll what happens when he gets to the major preps.

For those, myself included, who have an urge to rank impressive first-out maiden sprint winners, all you have to do is look at the performances Saturday of PRIME FACTOR and AMOUNT. The former was way overbet at even-money in the Holy Bull stretching out from six furlongs to 1 1/16 miles, and while he managed to finish a well-beaten third, he was rubber-legged turning for home and had nothing left. We’ll see if he can step way up next time with this race under his belt. Amount was up there early in the Holy Bull, but faded quickly and was eased at the head of the stretch.

One horse looking to get back in the Rankings is CAPO KANE, who will stretch out to 1 1/8 miles in Saturday’s Withers Stakes. Trainer Harold Wyner has been giving him strong two-minute licks to put some air in his lungs and he is just beginning wake up and get more aggressive. He’s been thriving at Parx and if he repeats his performance in the Jerome he is going to be very tough to beat. Although the Withers is not expected to draw a strong field, there will be some potentially good horses in there, and another impressive victory by Capo Kane would make him a serious Derby horse.

One horse who could show up and bears watching is LEBLON, who has been training super at The Thoroughbred Center in Lexington. Trained by Paulo Lobo, the son of Broken Vow has improved with every start and broke his maiden with a game performance going 1 1/8 miles at Churchill Downs. He has plenty of bottom under him with three two-turn races and three six-furlong works. He is bred to run all day and would be a welcome addition to the field. Todd Pletcher could have two in there with last-out winners OVERTOOK, who won coming from far back, and DONEGAL BAY, who won on the front end.

But keep an eye on two possible Maryland invaders SHACKQUEENKING, who shortened up to run a solid third in the seven-furlong Spectacular Bid Stakes last out, and ROYAL NUMBER, who I find very intriguing. After a second and a third in allowance races at Laurel he was given Lasix for the first time and looked sensational, slipping through on the inside and quickly drawing off to win by 7 3/4 lengths with the jockey way up in the saddle the last quarter mile as if in a workout. His trainer Mike Trombetta is not sure how much of a role Lasix played and we won’t know until he runs again without it. But it just could be he is improving at the right time and is loving the two turns, being bred for stamina top and bottom. At this moment Trombetta is not sure what the plans are, but he is looking at all options, including the Withers.

On the training front, Nyquist Stakes winner HIGHLY MOTIVATED continues to work steadily at Payson Park for Chad Brown, his last being a half-mile breeze in :49 1/5. Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner FIRE AT WILL moved a step closer to his 3-year-old debut with a five-furlong work in 1:01 3/5 at Gulfstream Park. JACKIE’S WARRIOR, pointing for his debut in the Risen Star Stakes, worked five furlongs in 1:01 4/5. I like the way they’ve been giving him nice easy works, as he needs to harness some of that speed and learn how to win from off the pace.

Three impressive maiden winners DEFEATER, CARILLO, and PRATE all worked at Fair Grounds as they look to stretch out to two turns. Prate in particular was very impressive working five furlongs in a bullet 1:00 flat, fastest of 55 works at the distance. Carillo has an advantage over the other two having won first out going a flat mile at Aqueduct. All three look to have a bright future.

DRAIN THE CLOCK, impressive winner of the seven-furlong Swale Stakes, looks to be the dominant sprinter in Florida, but his connections still haven’t ruled out the possibility of stretching him out in the Fountain of Youth Stakes.

I don’t know how dead the Aqueduct track is or what to make of the 1:56 1/5 time for 1 1/8 miles, but THE REDS looked very impressive visually winning a maiden race with a strong move from last after splitting horses to win going away by almost four lengths. John Kimmel trains the son of Belmont winner Tonalist.

Another exciting prospect to watch stretching out in the Sam F. Davis Stakes is the Bill Mott-trained CANDY MAN ROCKET, who, following a dismal career debut in the slop, romped by 9 1/2 lengths at Gulfstream. The son of Candy Ride broke on top but took back and settled three lengths off the lead. When John Velazquez asked him at the head of the stretch he drew off under a hand ride. He does have a slight paddle to his stride but he is a classy looking individual and we’ll see how he does going two turns against some seasoned stakes horses.


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