ANAK NAKAL (20-1) – From the powerful Nick Zito barn, he has a two-turn, grade II win at Churchill Downs under his belt, he’s working well, and he’s bred to run long. Looks like a solid play.
BLACKBERRY ROAD (20-1) – One of several on here that are unplayable until the Risen Star Stakes Saturday. If he can close ground and be competitive against this bunch, then he’s for real and must be considered a threat in any race from now on, especially when there’s pace.
BOB BLACK JACK (50-1) – If you like a Cal-bred sprinter with oodles of early speed to win the Kentucky Derby, good luck. Why he and several others are on the list over the highly touted Visionaire, who has a big shot in the Risen Star, or Atoned, who was beaten a neck by co-favorite Court Vision in the Remsen, is beyond me, especially when you already have two first-level allowance winners in the starting field. And where is Turf War, dead-heat winner of the Delta Jackpot (with 15-1 Z Humor) and a stakes winner in Canada?
COLONEL JOHN (30-1) – If he handles dirt as well as synthetic then 30-1 is a huge bargain. Lots to like about this colt, especially his style of running and quick turn of foot, but if he goes the Santa Anita Derby route, you’ll have to guess or go by gut feeling on Derby Day.
COURT VISION (12-1) – He’s ranked No. 1 on Derby Dozen, but no one is worth playing at this stage at 12-1. He’s a tenacious, relentless stretch runner who overcomes adversity and still wins, and his pedigree is first-rate. But he needs to run faster to establish himself as a true leader in the division.
COWBOY CAL (20-1) – He will continue to be an enigma because of the schedule Todd Pletcher has mapped out for him. Winning another minor turf stakes and then the Toyota Blue Grass on Polytrack will shed no light on his ability to make the transition to dirt. This is an extremely talented horse, and he’s been training super on dirt, but with this schedule, he’ll be just another guess. If he’s 30-1 or higher he still might be worth the gamble.
CROWN OF THORNS (20-1) – Yet another synthetic surface horse with questions surrounding him. From what he’s shown so far, he looks to have the potential to be something special. He’s classy, professional, and seems to do everything right. Once again, unless he comes East before the Derby, you won’t know for sure, but gut feeling says he’s for real.
DENIS OF CORK (30-1) – Worth a shot at 30-1 or higher, but still must pass class test, which he should get in the Southwest Stakes. His career debut was as impressive a maiden victory as I saw last year. Powerful kick, and showed he can gut it out in his game allowance score in 3-year-old debut over a much more seasoned rival.
EL GATO MALO (15-1) -- He’s brilliant, but comes from off the pace; he’s crushed his foes in all three of his starts; and he has a presence about him. Pedigree is not as strong for 10 furlongs as Colonel John’s or Crown of Thorns,’ but if he, like the other Californians, can handle dirt the same way he handles synthetic surfaces, his brilliance and natural ability will carry him a long way. However, because of the distance and surface questions, 15-1 is too low. Worth considering at double those odds.
ETCHED (15-1) – For a horse who is out of sight, out of mind, doing whatever he’s doing in Dubai, and who would have no more than three or four career starts even if he made the Derby, his odds of 15-1 are way too low. Having trounced Anak Nakal in the Nashua, if he were still here with Kiaran McLaughlin, he might be deserving of those odds.
GEORGIE BOY (20-1) – Yet another synthetic surface horse, but unlike the others, he hasn’t been around two turns. Sneaky strong pedigree, despite the number of obscure stallions. Brilliant 2-year-old, but don’t know what else to say about him that hasn’t been said, except 20-1 is half or a third of what he should be.
GIANT MOON (20-1) – Undefeated New York-bred by Giant’s Causeway is four-for-four and is tough under fire. Needs to step up and show what he’s got against better company. Again, 20-1 is totally unrealistic. Demand a lot more than that.
INTO MISCHIEF (20-1) -- Thank goodness he’s the last of the synthetic track horses, as there isn’t much more to say about them. Like the other big names on the West Coast he should have a bright future regardless of the surface, but you never know until they prove it. Good tactical speed and should have no problem stretching out.
MAJESTIC WARRIOR (15-1) – He’s certainly worth a shot at 30-1, but until he returns from his injury and demonstrates the same powerful closing kick around two turns that he showed in the Hopeful, you can’t even think of betting him at 15-1. Dam was a million-dollar earner sprinting, but there’s enough stamina influences to suggest he should stretch out.
MONBA (30-1) – Have him ranked No. 2, and he’s the one horse I’d consider betting at the morning line odds. His high ranking is based mostly on gut feeling and the way he closed in the CashCall Futurity after dropping far back following a troubled start. Liked his allowance victory at Churchill Downs and fast come-home time, and he’s bred to run all day.
PYRO (12-1) – Running in the Risen Star, so back off until then. A victory over this field, combined with his big efforts in the Champagne and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last year, could make him the Future Wager and future book favorite.
SIGNATURE MOVE (50-1) – He’s looked good winning his last two, and he’ll be the first California synthetic track horse to show what he can do on dirt when he runs in the Risen Star. Perhaps he can shed some light on the others with a big effort against top-class dirt horses.
SMOOTH AIR (20-1) – Hutcheson Stakes winner has yet to run beyond seven furlongs, but he has the right style to stretch out to two turns. How far is the question. Once again, ignore the morning line; they mean little or nothing.
TALE OF EKATI (20-1) – He left a big impression with his victory in the Futurity Stakes at Belmont, and even in his second in the Sanford Stakes. The BC Juvenile was a throwout. Some question him at classic distances, but his star-studded female family should carry him a long way. He’s worth a wager at the right price, and that’s not 20-1.
WAR PASS (12-1) – And now for the biggest question mark of them all. Speed-wise, he’s in a different class than everyone else and he’s never been threatened in any of his four victories. But, he’s not really bred to go 1 1/4 miles and, so far, he’s been one-dimensional. That doesn’t mean he can’t use his superior speed and class to stretch out that far, but it’s kind of early to lay it all down on him, especially since he hasn’t started yet this year. It wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine him going into the Derby undefeated, but for now it seems safer just being a spectator.
YANKEE BRAVO (20-1) – Here you have an undefeated synthetic surface and turf horse, which often is one and the same. He certainly can motor in the stretch, unleashing a powerful move in the California Derby. He’s won at 5 furlongs in England and at a mile and 1 1/16 miles in America. Pedigree seems more suited for eight to nine furlongs, but he runs like he wants to go on. Not to sound repetitious, but demand a lot more than 20-1.
Z FORTUNE (20-1) – Another wait-until-the-Risen Star horse. He’s undefeated in three starts and improving with every race. You had to love the way he drew clear in the LeComte, and seemed as if he were looking for more distance. Female family is not stamina oriented, but sire, Siphon, did excel at 1 1/4 miles.
Z HUMOR (15-1) – One of five top-class horses trained by Bill Mott, he’s versatile, honest, and hung on determinedly after setting a hot pace to dead-heat for win in the Delta Jackpot. Ran huge in Champagne at 35-1, chasing War Pass and holding on to finish third, well clear of the rest of the field. One last time, no way he’s worth 15-1.
MUTUEL FIELD (5-2) – Why would anyone want to bet the “field” at 5-2 when Derby favorites rarely go off that low. There are quite a few exciting prospects in here. As mentioned before, VISIONAIRE could really knock down the price with a win in the Risen Star. And there are the hard-knocking stakes horses ATONED, TURF WAR, BARRIER REEF, GOLDEN YANK, and RACECAR RHAPSODY, as well as promising colts such as COAST GUARD, ELYSIUM FIELDS, COOL COAL MAN, REFLECT TIMES, FACE THE CAT, ALAAZO, BORDEAUX BANDIT, FIERCE WIND, GOLDEN SPIKES, PAINT, RILEY TUCKER, MINT LANE, MINER’S CLAIM, MAIMONIDES, HOODS UP, MACHO AGAIN, BIG GLEN, YOUR ROUND, LIBERTY BULL, and MAKE THE POINT, just to name a few. And who knows how good Peruvian superstar TOMCITO is? He’s already won classics at 1 1/4 miles and 1 1/2 miles as a 2-year-old beating 3-year-olds. And he has an All-American pedigree. Does Canonero II live again?