Steve Haskin's Road to the Kentucky Derby: Off the Beaten Path (Pt. II)

The Rushaway and Rebel Stakes should have little or no impact on the Derby. The Rushaway simply was too slow, and the Rebel winner, 36-1 Crowned King, has run some atrocious races, including a 37-length drubbing in the Risen Star Stakes at 140-1, and up-the-track finishes in the Lecomte (at 22-1) and last year's Kentucky Cup Juvenile (at 47-1). He has run well in a few minor stakes, but still has a long way to go before he can compete with the top horses.

Which brings us back to what we mentioned earlier about the lack of deep, quality fields we've seen so far. In last week's Florida Derby, Empire Maker looked awesome, but basically had to beat one horse, the front-running Trust N Luck, who failed to come close to duplicating his Fountain of Youth victory. Behind Trust N Luck in the Florida Derby came Indy Dancer, who would have had to be shot out of a Tomahawk missile launcher to win where he came from. Supah Blitz reportedly returned with mucus in his lungs. Senor Swinger made a very brief bid before going into reverse. And Midway Cat broke down and had to be euthanized.

The San Felipe looked to be a competitive race on paper, but wound up causing more confusion than there had been before the race. That was due mainly to the disappointing efforts by Domestic Dispute and Man Among Men, with the latter having bled from the lungs. That left a 9-1 shot, a 48-1 shot, and an 86-1 shot to battle for the four top spots, finishing within two lengths of each other. Only Atswhatimtalknbout brought a sense of normalcy to the finish, and even he didn't win.

The Tampa Bay Derby was supposed to be dominated by two horses who had never run in a stakes, and, although they finished one-two, they certainly didn't dominate their opponents the way everyone expected, and in fact were all out to beat a 34-1 shot who had lost six straight races and had never been been around two turns. The Gotham was run over the inner track and produced an inner track type of victory, as the leader never came back and the closers never got close.

The only field this year that really looked to be deep and competitive was the Louisiana Derby, but the big favorite, Badge of Silver, didn't run his race and was said to have displaced his soft palate; Kafwain in all probability "bounced" off his brilliant victory in the 7-furlong San Vicente, and Funny Cide was making his first start in two months after being sick and missing training.

We're not trying to paint a dreary picture of this year's Derby trail. We still have the Santa Anita Derby, Wood Memorial, Blue Grass, Arkansas Derby, and Illinois Derby to sort things out. At this time last year, Derby winner War Emblem was an unknown Fair Grounds flop, and runner-up Proud Citizen hadn't even run yet. Even Buddha, who would have been one of the Derby favorites after his Wood Memorial win, was still a lightly raced allowance horse. So it's still way too early to say this is not going to be a good Derby. When you have your three top stars – Vindication, Toccet, and Sky Mesa – plucked right out from under you, it does take a little more time to regroup.

With that said, trying to come up with a Top 10 or Top 20 list right now is nothing more than guesswork and speculation. After all, most everyone's No. 2-ranked horse, Atswhatimtalknbout, hasn't won a stakes yet. Everyone is speculating that, with his steady improvement, running style, looks, and pedigree, everything is in place to come together on Derby Day. But he still has to go out and show in the Santa Anita Derby that he's worthy of his lofty position.

And remember, Atswhatimtalknbout and other Derby contenders Ocean Terrace, Peace Rules, Trust N Luck, Senor Swinger, Inamorato will all be trying to buck history in one way or another. Atswhatimtalknbout did not run as a 2-year-old, and no Derby winner has not run at 2 since Apollo in 1882. Ocean Terrace and Senor Swinger will be attempting to become the first horse since Exterminator in 1918 to win the Derby off only four career starts. Inamorato will try to become the first horse since Regret in 1915 to win off only three starts. Peace Rules will have only two starts at 3, and the last horse to win with so few starts was Sunny's Halo in 1983, and he ran in 10 stakes as a 2-year-old. Finally, Trust N Luck will attempt to become the first horse since Needles in 1956 to win the Derby without having raced in April.