For the fifth consecutive year, 20 horses will qualify to run in the Kentucky Derby based on a sliding scale of points surrounding 35 select graded stakes races.  This system is known as the Road to the Kentucky Derby.  (Starting in 2017, one of the starting positions is reserved for the winner of the separate Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby.)

As of the date of this blog posting, 10 races have already been run and some of the early contenders are starting to reveal themselves.

Below I take a closer look at the current top 10 horses on the list.  I will post more updates as the season moves on.  Derby Day is Saturday, May 6, 2017.

1 – Classic Empire

  • Considered by many to be the best Derby horse in the mix; currently leads in the points having won 2 races through 10;
  • His half-brother is American Pharoah; Both sired by the champion Pioneer of the Nile.
  • Trainer Mark Casse is excited about this colt – After his win in October at the Breeder’s Futurity, Casse said the horse is “very, very talented” and has much “ability”.
  • This horse beat out Not This Time in early Nov at the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile. Not This Time was the top Derby contender before he was forced to retire from racing due to leg injury.
  • Posted a Beyer Speed Figure of 102 at Breeder’s Cup Juvenile.
  • The only glitch so far from this horse was when he threw his rider at the Hopeful Stakes in Sept.  But blinkers seemed to have fixed the problem at the next race which he won.

Interesting story developing here about Mark Casse who has a lengthy work history in the business. It appears to be leading up to success at the Derby with the right horse.  He trained the highly successful mare Tepin who won at Royal Ascot & the Breeders Cup.  Casse has said that he feels more prepared to handle a possible Derby horse through that experience with Tepin.

 Also, Casse lost his father “Norman” recently who taught him everything he knows about horses.  Since his passing, Casse says he feels a void in his life.  But, he has partnered in business with his son (also named “Norman” after his father). The two men are getting closer because of the working relationship and both have an unbridled passion for horse racing. But Norman has expressed interest in going out on his own soon. I like the chemistry starting to churn up with this “circle of life” story happening with this family and all of their hard work/passion along with a possible Derby horse.

2 – Practical Joke

  • Undefeated through his first 3 races, but came in 3rd at the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile to Classic Empire & Not This Time. Still, he fought back from behind in the crowd.  Looked solid overall.
  • There’s not enough information yet on this horse, but he is the most proven colt outside of Classic Empire.
  • So far, the horse has shown to have good “tactical speed” which is the ability to stalk the leaders just off the pace and stay within the speed needed to pounce. This is a great asset for a Derby horse to have.
  • East Coast (NY) horse – Chad Brown is the Trainer.

3 – Gunnevera

  • This colt is reminiscent of Exaggerator – He finished 5th at the Breeder’s Futurity in October, but came from back of the pack to do so. In Nov, he came from the second to last in the pack to win the Delta Downs Jackpot by 5.5 lengths.  Showed amazing speed to blow by the other contenders. Exaggerator won this race in 2015.
  • His breeding is solid. His sire Dialed In won the 2011 Holy Bull Stakes, the 2011 Florida Derby and then competed well in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.
  • Trainer Antonio Sano said the horse is “relaxed” and “very quiet all the time.” He is “very hopeful”.
  • Next up for this colt is the Holy Bull Stakes (G2) on Feb 4 at Gulfstream Park in Florida.
  • Another East Coast horse (Florida).

4 – Lookin at Lee

  • Has not won any Derby prep races, but has been “consistent” and contended well.
  • Came in 2nd to Not This Time at the Iroquois in Sept.
  • Came in 2nd to Classic Empire at the Breeder’s Futurity in Oct.
  • Came in 4th to Not This Time & Classic Empire at the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile in Nov.
  • His pedigree suggests better things, but perhaps this colt may improve as the season goes on. Currently, he appears to be a step below the top contenders.
  • KY based colt; HOF trainer Steve Asmussen.

5 – Mastery

  • A Bob Baffert trained horse. The buzz is excitement around the horse racing world for this colt.
  • It feels a little early to tell for me, as this horse has had all his success in California so far and the competition has not been fierce.
  • Still, his 3 wins have been impressive: Santa Anita in Oct; Bob Hope in Del Mar Ca in Nov; and Los Alamitos in Dec.
  • And, at the Los Alamitos Futurity, jockey Mike Smith didn’t ask the colt to really go until mid stretch. But when he did, the horse flew.
  • The horse also has nice Beyer Speed Figures now (a 93 in his first start).
  • Known for his “beautiful stride — big, long and powerful.”

6 – Gormley

  • Dominated his 2nd race, the Grade I FrontRunner Stakes in Oct, by a large margin and beat the favorite (Klimt) while earning a 93 Beyer Speed Figure;
  • Trained by John Shirreffs of Zenyatta fame; Said the horse has a “big gear”.
  • Finished 7th at the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, but it was only this horse’s 3rd race.
  • The general consensus is that this horse will improve and learn; has much potential & speed.
  • Next up is the Sham Stakes (Grade III) at Santa Anita on Jan 7. All eyes will be on this colt.

7 – Mo Town

  • The son of Uncle Mo and Nyquist’s half-brother;
  • Won the Grade II Remsen Stakes in Nov at Aqueduct in NY;
  • During that race, he earned a new career-best 105 Equibase Speed Figure, a great stat among 2-year-olds in stakes races in 2016.
  • Shows promise, but Uncle Mo colts have a rep for blooming too early. The hope is that this colt doesn’t fizzle out as the season goes on.  Nyquist went against that grain & Mo Town has already shown the ability to win a graded stakes at 1 1/8 miles, so the feeling is good that this horse will continue to improve.
  • Trainer Tony Dutrow recently said he “feels strongly that we have not seen what this horse is capable of yet.”
  • Dutrow’s only Kentucky Derby starter to date was Giant Finish, who was 10th in 2013.

8 – McCraken

  • The colt is 3 for 3 so far in races all at Churchill downs including the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes in late November over 9 other contenders. He came from behind (next to last) with a burst of speed to rally for the win.
  • Co-owner Clay Whitman is excited about this horse’s prospects and said recently “I believe we are getting Derby fever”.
  • Trained by Ian Wilkes he said the horse has plenty of “talent” and is “as good as I thought he was”.
  • The son of 2004 Horse of the Year and leading sire Ghostzapper.
  • Word is that the colt may run again in February, possibly at Gulfstream.

9 – Wild Shot

  • This Tapit colt is not on many experts’ short lists as Derby favorites, but he has done enough to earn respect as a contender in the mix.
  • He came in 3rd at the Breeder’s Futurity as a 42-1 shot; and 2nd at the Kentucky Jockey Club behind McCraken.
  • Trainer is George R. Arnold, II, a third-generation horseman out of KY.
  • The horse has an E Speed Figure of 97.

10 – No Dozing

  • He won his first 2 races and then came in 4th at the Breeder’s Futurity and 2nd at the Remsen Stakes.
  • Still, there is buzz surrounding this horse as his pedigree (Union Rags) is very respectable and suggests “maturity”. For instance, a poor start and wide turn cost this horse a 4th place finish at the Breeder’s Futurity.  Many think this horse will improve as the season goes on.
  • Trainer Arnaud Delacour has said, “I really think he could be a special individual… I hope I’m right.”
  • His racing stable is that of Roy & Gretchen Jackson, who raced and bred 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro.
  • The horse is likely slated for the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes on Feb. 11.


Source : Road to the Kentucky Derby

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