Kentucky Derby Trail: 10 to Watch

It's hard to believe that betting in the first Kentucky Derby (gr. I) Future Wager pool is here already. We all are aware this is pretty much a riskier bet in January, considering most of the horses in the starting field will be grossly under-priced and many will not even make it to the race. With that said, here are 10 new faces to the Derby trail that bear watching.

Because of the number of maiden and allowance races being run now at so many distances, the list has been restricted to horses who have been seven furlongs or farther. That eliminates a number of promising, but inexperienced, horses who have not yet proven themselves over 6 1/2 furlongs. Several of those will be mentioned farther down.

Here in alphabetical order are 10 horses who still have some catching up to do, but have shown enough promise to suggest they can make great strides in the next month or so and become a major force on the Derby trail.

Barbican -- Trained by Eoin Harty, this full-brother to 2-year-old filly champ Tempera is one of the very few 3-year-olds to have turned in one of those monster Monarchos-type moves on the far turn. The son of A.P. Indy circled his field from ninth and blew everyone away in the final furlong, winning by 4 1/2 lengths. No question at all about his distance capabilities.

Hesanoldsalt -- This Nick Zito-trained son of Broad Brush takes after his sire and broodmare sire, Cox's Ridge, in that he's tough, relentless, and keeps coming at you. You had to love the way he went after a talented colt like Sunriver, wore him down, and then charged past him in the final sixteenth with a quick burst of speed. He's already won at 1 1/8 miles and seems to be improving with every race.

Latent Heat -- Bobby Frankel has been high on this son of Maria's Mon for a while. After a strong second-place finish in his career debut, finishing ahead of Point Determined, he came back with an impressive victory going seven furlongs, winning under a hand ride. He has a beautiful way of moving and just does everything like a good horse. Inbred top and bottom to major class influence Buckpasser.

My Golden Song -- Following victories in his first two starts, the Todd Pletcher-trained son of Unbridled's Song ran a bang-up third in the Aventura that may have gone unnoticed. Breaking from the rail going a mile, this big, long-striding colt broke last and had to be rushed up to third, right behind the leaders. Full of run, he was trapped with nowhere to go from the five-eighths pole to the three-sixteenths pole. By the time he got clear, Doctor Decherd and Itsallboutthechase were gone. This was a much better race than it looked on paper. He has a very strong female family loaded with class and stamina. Watch him at a price in the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III).

Point Determined -- Look for the money to come pouring in on this big, powerful son of Point Given who dominated his talented stablemate Royal Legacy in a 1 1/16-mile maiden race. Trained by Bob Baffert, he is very much like his sire in the way he takes control of a race. He went right by his stablemate with ease and just cruised to the wire. With his running style and pedigree, there's no telling how good he can become. Royal Legacy displaced his palate after getting rank early from the outside post, and will be extremely live next time out.

Sacred Light -- While everyone was watching Bob and John storm home in a recent allowance score, there was a gray streak charging down the stretch to get third. Trained by Dave Hofmans, this son of Holy Bull not only came from last, he was way out in the middle of the track turning for home and still leveled off and came flying late, just missing second. He was right up on the pace in his maiden score (by disqualification after getting shoved into the rail), so he's far from a plodder. Hofmans has been working him long, with two six-furlong works, one seven-furlong drill in 1:25 4/5 and a mile work, so he should have plenty of bottom. Interesting colt to keep an eye on.

Sunriver -- It was mentioned earlier that this full-brother to Ashado finished second to Hesanoldsalt in a 1 1/8-mile allowance race. What was impressive about his race was that he broke from the far outside, was caught wide on the first turn, made a long, sustained move three-wide to take over the lead and battled gamely to the wire. In his previous start, he stretched out from 6 1/2 furlongs to 1 1/8 miles and defeated Achilles of Troy, who went on to romp by 14 lengths in the Count Fleet Stakes. Also trained by Pletcher, he could be a real bargain in Vegas, but get him now while you can.

Tatsuji -- From the good folks who brought you Giacomo comes this son of Fusaichi Pegasus , who made an auspicious debut, coming from far back going 1 1/16 miles to mow down his opposition in the stretch and draw off to win by two lengths. The time wasn't particularly fast, but he's still green and you have to give him points for style. It will be very interesting to see what he does for an encore.

Throng -- Still another from the powerful Pletcher arsenal, this son of Silver Deputy out of an Easy Goer mare pretty much toyed with his opposition in a one-mile maiden race, saving ground the whole way and winning comfortably by 6 1/4 lengths. His female descendents haven't accomplished much on the racetrack, but provide him with plenty of stamina to go along with his other potent influences.

Well Armed -- This colt needs to be discussed in greater detail, as he adds an intriguing international flavor to the Derby trail. From the first crop of leading juvenile sire Tiznow , this is a huge colt who was sent to Clive Brittain in England to take advantage of the Polytrack surface at Lingfield and at Brittain's yard. His owner and breeder, WinStar Farm, felt that Polytrack and the grass, as well as going up and down hill and on straightaways, would help keep him sounder longer and let him develop better than he would have had he stayed in America.

Although they were a bit discouraged when he ran poorly in his first three starts, Brittain assured them that this was a very good horse who was working well over the Polytrack and also working with some of his better horses and "kicking (butt)."

He did manage to finish fourth in a group III race at Salisbury, but finally broke his maiden after seven tries when Brittain put him on the all-weather (Polytrack) surface at Lingfield going 1 1/4 miles and he won by 1 1/4 lengths. Having already trained him to win over the Derby distance, Brittain convinced WinStar to send him to Dubai and drop him back to seven furlongs on the dirt, assuring them he had more than enough cruising speed to win going short. Well Armed proved Brittain correct by winning the Shadwell Farm Trophy by 3 1/2 lengths in 1:24 2/5.

Brittain, who finished second in the 1986 Kentucky Derby with Bold Arrangement and won the 1985 Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) with Pebbles, knows how to pick his spots in America, and when he says Well Armed will win the UAE Guineas, UAE Derby, and Kentucky Derby, you know this is one confident trainer. OK, no one is really taking an audacious comment like that too seriously, but it sure does make things interesting. And remember, they laughed at Canonero II's trainer when he showed that same kind of outrageous optimism.

Looking farther down the road

Here are a few others, most of whom haven't been over 6 1/2 furlongs, but still bear watching just in case they make super strides in the next month.

Pletcher, despite his big horses, Bluegrass Cat and High Cotton, and the three mentioned earlier, isn't finished by any means. Half Ours, winner of the Three Chimneys Juvenile, is undefeated, has the pedigree to go on, and is on the comeback trail following an injury, as is Stonesider, who scored a gutsy maiden win in his only start last year. Pletcher also has Keyed Entry, who looked brilliant winning a six-furlong allowance race by 5 1/2 lengths in 1:09 2/5 to remain undefeated, and Exclusive Quality, who also was impressive breaking his maiden well within himself in 1:10 3/5.

Doc Cheney has won both his sprints impressively for Nick Zito and has been working fast for his 3-year-old debut in Saturday's seven-furlong Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay. Zito also has a promising colt in Hemingway's Key, who is unbeaten in two starts, having won at seven furlongs and a mile. We'll find out more about his ability next time out against better horses.

The much-heralded A.P. Indy colt, Music School, is up to six furlongs in his works at Oaklawn for Neil Howard. The John Ward-trainedStrong Contender, easy winner of his only start last year in 1:10 3/5 at Arlington, also is on the comeback trail; his pedigree says there is no limit to how far he'll run. He gives Ward an interesting one-two punch with the stakes-placed Dr. Pleasure, who could be a sleeper.

Doug O'Neill will send out Plagiarist in Saturday's Sunshine Millions Dash following the son of Souvenir Copy's 8 1/4-length romp in 1:08 4/5 in his career debut. Although On Board Again is listed as being trained by Brian Lynch, he is actually trained by Bobby Frankel, who has horses stabled at Gulfstream and Palm Meadows, and is not allowed to run the Palm Meadows horses in his name. The son of Awesome Again  blew away a field of maidens as if he could have a bright future.