Ky. Derby Trail: Let the Lists Begin
Photo: Coglianese Photos
The Ken McPeek trained Danger to Society

With the first Derby Dozen list scheduled for early February, this is a good time to make up a Top 10 list of horses who haven’t accomplished enough just yet to make the official list, but who have a good chance of making it in the near future.

 

To be honest, I don’t know how I’m going to narrow the list down to 12 horses on the official Derby Dozen. In most years, everything would be pretty simple at this point. Not so this year. The situation is unlike any we’ve even seen on the Derby trail in that the two leading juveniles of 2008, who normally would be the two top choices for the Run for the Roses, are both in Dubai. And I’m likely going to heed the out of sight, out of mind motto. No use taking up two spots on horses who will remain a mystery until late March at the earliest.

 

There is a firm base of stakes performers to choose from without them, so until we start hearing rumblings from the desert that all is well with them and they run huge in at least two of the three big races – the UAE Guineas, Al Bastakiya, and UAE Derby, they will be put in limbo, which means off the top 12. Even if we do hear favorable reports about them, will we really know who these horses are anymore? Have they made a good transition from 2 to 3? Are they really training well? Does desert life agree with them? Do they have any minor physical problems that you know we’re never going to hear about?

 

Then we come to the California horses. While there are a number of potential stars out there (Pioneerof the Nile  , Square Eddie, I Want Revenge  , and Chocolate Candy just to name a few), I cannot put any horse high up on the list knowing they likely will not run on dirt until the Kentucky Derby. And it means little to me if they worked well over dirt last year. Until they actually race over it and get dirt kicked in their face and show they can handle it they will be mystery horses on the first Saturday in May, and the Derby is too much of a crap shoot as it is, with so many variables to deal with, to have to worry about whether a horse is going to handle a surface he’s never raced over. So, I will take the abuse as far as being a dirt snob and wait for those horses to come east and display their talents on good old natural terra firma.

 

I admit I did see a horse earlier in the month at Santa Anita whose debut was an attention grabber, and that is the Mark Casse-trained Shafted, who came away with high grades in every department and just gave the appearance of an exceptional horse. I’ll get back to him later on in the column.

 

One horse I can all but guarantee will be in the top 5 on the official Derby Dozen is LeComte runner-up Patena. This race answered a great many questions about the son of Seeking the Gold – he can handle dirt, he can come home in fast time, and he reminds me of his second dam’s full-brother Touch Gold  . So, if you’re looking for class and stamina, you have a son of Seeking the Gold, out of an A.P. Indy mare who is related to Belmont (gr. I) and Haskell (gr. I) winner Touch Gold, and is inbred three times to Buckpasser, who is my favorite stallion when it comes to inbreeding for class. To have Buckpasser once in the sire’s family and twice in the dam’s family is an extra boost.

 

Patena was giving the winner, Friesan Fire  , a horse Larry Jones said in September was the best 2-year-old he’s ever had, six pounds, a three-length advantage through three-quarters in 1:13 2/5, and came home his final quarter in a shade under :24 flat, while drawing 2 1/2 lengths clear of third-place finisher Au Moon. He was moving with smoother strides than the winner, who paddles his left leg noticeably, and actually galloped out past him, for whatever that is worth. You also had to like the way he began gaining momentum the farther he went and was running through the wire, as they say.

 

Trained by Josie Carroll, he broke his maiden by 5 1/4 lengths at Woodbine going seven furlongs in a 12-horse field, then stretched out to 1 1/16 miles in the Display Stakes and showed his courage by digging in when challenged to win by a head in an 11-horse field. There isn’t much, if anything, to dislike about this colt.

 

Kenny McPeek had a terrific weekend, sending out three promising allowance winners, and good luck trying to pick out which one was the more impressive. All three make the unofficial Derby Top 10 list.

 

For more from Steve about early Derby Hopefuls watch the latest episode of And They're Off.

 

So, here is this rather odd Top 10 list, made up only of maiden and allowance winners who have not run in stakes.

 

1—Imperial Council – He’s had two breezes at Payson Park. In his debut, he was beaten a neck by Hello Broadway, who went on to finish second in the Nashua Stakes (gr. III). In his maiden victory, he defeated American Chance, who was third in the Remsen Stakes (gr. II), and Professor Z, who won his next two starts impressively. He looks to have it all.

 

2—Checklist – No one has looked more impressive breaking his maiden than this son of Gone West. He had Johnny V looking back over his shoulder four times before he even got to the quarter pole. Velazquez never touched him in the stretch and he still pulled away from favorite More Than Willing, whom Kenny McPeek is extremely high on. Strong female family; he should stretch out with little problem. Only concern is having to play catch-up and no 2-year-old races under him.

 

3—Shafted – I know it was on Pro-Ride, but you’re not likely to see a better turn of foot than what was demonstrated by this son of Mineshaft out of the top-class Twist Afleet, who turned on the afterburners around the far turn and blew by his opponents, while going from the three-quarters to the eighth pole in :23 3/5. He then drew away from the tough, hard-knocking Massone with authority to win by 2 1/2 lengths. The runner-up had finished right behind the likes of I Want Revenge and Chocolate Candy and was coming off a win over Hi Flyin Indy, who broke his maiden over the weekend with blinkers added. He hasn’t worked since that race on Jan. 2.

 

4,5, and 6 – I can’t separate McPeek’s trio of Danger to Society, Free Country, and Theregoesjojo  just yet. They’re all talented, have strong female families and the right style of running. Danger to Society, who was touted here back in November, is two-for-two and is bred to run all day, on top and bottom. You had to love the way Free Country stretched out from one six-furlong maiden win to 1 1/8 miles and out-battled Remsen (gr. II) runner-up Atomic Rain the length of the stretch. Like Danger to Society, he is a good-looking, beautiful-moving colt. Once again, distance will be no problem. Theregoesjojo is by the speed influence Brahms, but there is plenty of stamina in his female family through Le Fabuleux, Stop the Music, Poker and inbreeding to Hail to Reason. He took advantage of a speed duel going seven furlongs and blew right on by the two battling leaders, Quality Road and Obligingly, to win by 2 3/4 lengths in 1:22 1/5 as if he wanted to keep going.

 

7—Professor Z – This son of Grand Slam may even wind up making the official Derby Dozen, based on three terrific performances in a row and his steady improvement. He’s done little wrong and should be a force in the upcoming Oaklawn Park Stakes. Stablemate Soul Warrior was impressive breaking his maiden going a mile and 40 yards at Fair Grounds after finishing second to Free Country in his debut. He doesn’t have the stoutest pedigree, with names like Lion Heart, Meadowlake, and Cutlass in his first three generations, so we’ll just have to see how far his talent will take him.

 

8—Well Positioned – He looked awesome breaking maiden by 14 1/4 lengths in November and is training sharply, but we just don’t know how sound he is. He also has a poor effort in his career debut. He is a rare outcross and has enough stamina to keep stretching out. His next start will be a key race. There were several interested parties after his maiden score, but no deal was ever made.

 

9—Brother Keith – Gets a big test in Saturday’s San Rafael, coming off just one maiden sprint in November, but that was an impressive score and Bobby Frankel is very high on him, as evidenced by his running him against Square Eddie in the San Rafael. Pedigree is a collection of grass horses and milers, but stamina starts picking up in fourth generation. Inbred to the top-class broodmare Tamerett and Calumet’s Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Tim Tam.

 

10—Majormotionpicture – This highly touted son of Action This Day had been working well for his 3-year-old debut, but tied up and was forced to miss the upcoming San Pedro Stakes at 6 1/2 furlongs. He hasn’t run since breaking his maiden in August, so, we’ll have to watch him closely. He needs to start stepping up. Fantastic pedigree on both sides.

 

In the “Don’t Give Up on Him Just Yet” department, many will toss Indygo Mountain | StallionRegister.com">Indygo Mountain   after his poor effort in the LeComte. But nothing has gone right for this son of A.P. Indy since his scintillating maiden victory at Churchill Downs. First, he missed an allowance race when the Fair Grounds card was canceled due to a rare snowstorm. Then, when they rescheduled the race a week later, he was forced to miss it due to a hoof abscess. Thrown into the LeComte, he drew the outside post with a short run to the first turn and wound up slamming hard into the gate at the break and dropping back in last, well off the pace. He made a strong move down the backstretch from between horses, but ran greenly and lost his position. He continued to race greenly turning for home and had nothing left after that. His maiden win was too good to ignore, and he definitely deserves another chance.

 

And don’t give up on Idol Maker just yet, despite another disappointing fourth-place finish, in which he was beaten 4 3/4 lengths by Danger to Society. It doesn’t look as if this quirky colt wants anything to do with the lead, but that’s where he wound up breaking from the rail. The talent is there; he just has to find his comfort zone. And one of these days his riders are going to learn that this horse despises the whip. It is understandable why Coa went to it after failing to get a response, but he kept hitting him, and like in his previous starts, the colt threw his tail straight up in the air each time.

 

Although he’s still a maiden after three starts, and has one clunker already, Tippity Tap is a horse who still has a shot to make his presence felt. He has an awesome pedigree, and in his last start, he made a big sweeping move around the far turn but charged to the lead too soon and was run down by Copper Cascade. The time wasn’t fast, but distance will be this colt’s game, and you can him expect to get his act together once he starts getting up to nine furlongs.

 

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