With a little over two weeks before the 135th Kentucky Derby, I thought I would take a quick look at some of the top contenders are expected to run Churchill Downs.
And, of course, just when you think you've got the field of 20 horses for the Derby all figured out, something comes out of nowhere to change it.
Joining the Derby fray on Thursday was Flat Out who was 6th in the Arkansas Derby but currently is 28th on the Graded Stakes Earnings list. Bailing on the Derby was Mafaaz, the European based horse that flopped in the Toyota Blue Grass on Saturday. The owners also moved the horse to the barn of NY-based trainer Kiaran McLaughlin so perhaps a run in the Belmont Stakes?
Now, here's a look in earnings order (as well as their record on "conventional" dirt) at the leading contenders for the "Run for the Roses":
(record - starts-wins-second-third)
Regal Ransom (Overall Record 5-2-2-0, "Real Dirt" record 1-1-0-0) -
One of two Godolphin owned horses in the Derby. The tough part for them is they run against suspect competition in Dubai and they've never come close to winning the Derby. Don't think this one will be the one to change that.
Pioneerof the Nile (Overall Record 8-5-0-1, "Real Dirt" record 0-0-0-0) -
The best from California and the horses from the West Coast have been doing great when they've come East (see I Want Revenge and Papa Clem.) Won four straight since moving to trainer Bob Baffert in the winter. Never run on "conventional" dirt but his parents both ran well at Churchill Downs. A major contender and trained by a guy who has won three Derbys. Not bad.
Square Eddie (Overall Record 7-2-3-1, "Real Dirt" record 0-0-0-0) -
Former European took the world by storm when he won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in October but was injured in January and presumed out of the Derby. Low and behold, he's back and running this weekend at Keeneland. Could be a lot to ask him to win the Derby with just one race in the last 3 1/2 months.
I Want Revenge (Overall Record 8-3-1-4, "Real Dirt" record 2-2-0-0) -
The "hot" horse on the Derby trail. His two East Coast races have been super impressive and has taken a liking to life away from the artificial dirt. If his star crossed trainer, Jeff Mullins, can stay out of trouble (which has been difficult since winning the Gotham), he is the horse to beat.
Papa Clem (Overall Record 6-2-2-0, "Real Dirt" record 2-1-1-0) -
Yet another West Coast who become a major contender. He won the Arkansas Derby last weekend and was narrowly beaten by Pioneerof the Nile in February. Big problem though is not sure he wants to go the Derby distance of 1 1/4 miles.
Desert Party (Overall Record 6-4-1-0, "Real Dirt" record 2-1-0-0) -
The best of the Middle East horses was beaten by stablemate Regal Ransom last time. The $2.1 million auction purchase has loads of talent and is their owners' best chance to win the Derby in years but the Middle East to US experiment has been a failure to date. Don't think he wins but maybe somewhere in the Top 5.
Quality Road (Overall Record 4-3-1-0, "Real Dirt" Record 4-3-1-0) -
RED FLAG WARNING - Was a major contender after winning the Florida Derby last month but a quarter crack was found in his foot last week. The crack usually is painful but had a nice workout this week in New York. Watch this very carefully.
General Quarters (Overall Record 11-3-3-1, "Real Dirt" Record 7-2-2-1)
By far the best story of the Kentucky Derby. Owned and trained by a 75-year-old former high school principal with just one horse in his stable, the gray colt (right) has won two of his last three including the Blue Grass Stakes. Can he overcome the curse of winning the Blue Grass? Only two horses in the last 36 years have won both (Strike the Gold, 1991 & Spectacular Bid. 1979).
Friesan Fire (Overall Record 7-4-1-1, "Real Dirt" Record 7-4-1-1)
On paper, he looks like one of the best horses in the race but when you a look a little closer, there are a couple of concerns. Chief among them is that he has not run since March 14 and that gives him seven weeks between starts. No horse has won the Derby with that much time between races since Needles in 1956. The other concern is that his best race came on a wet track. Watch how he trains the next two weeks. (This is trainer Larry Jones only horse left after Old Fashioned retired this week.)
Musket Man (Overall Record 6-5-0-1, "Real Dirt" Record 6-5-0-1)
He might be the most underrated horse in the field considering his lofty record. He beat a poor field in the Illinois Derby but he defeated General Quarters in the Tampa Bay Derby last month. The big concern is his bloodlines as there doesn't appear to be stamina in his family.
Hold Me Back (Overall Record 5-3-0-1, "Real Dirt" Record 1-0-0-0)
Another horse with a very nice record but appears to be an "artificial" dirt specialist. His only real dirt race was a distance fifth place finish last November. He has the benefit of trainer Bill Mott, one of the all-time best, but he needs to prove he can duplicate his artificial dirt form on the Churchill Downs surface.
West Side Bernie (Overall Record 7-2-2-1, "Real Dirt" Record 4-1-2-1)
A hard trying horse that does not have a marquee win but always seems to give an honest effort each time. Another big plus for him is that he has never run a race shorter than 1 mile and 70 yards which could prove to be beneficial when running 1 1/4 miles in the Derby. Could be a nice longshot to run second or third.
Chocolate Candy (Overall Record 9-4-2-1, "Real Dirt" Record 0-0-0-0)
WISE GUY ALERT - After knocking off the best 3-year-olds in Northern California, the horse, owned by Sid & Jenny Craig, ran a close second to Pioneerof the Nile in early April. He is definitely one to watch but will probably be a "wise guy" horse because of good runner-up finish last time. As a result, he might over bet.
Dunkirk (Overall Record 3-2-1-0, "Real Dirt" Record 3-2-1-0)
WISE GUY ALERT - The most expensive and perhaps most talented horse in the field. His regal breeding (his mom, Secret Status, won the Kentucky Oaks) fetched $3.7 million at public auction and could be the next big star in racing. But, he only has three lifetime starts and only one horse in Derby history has won the "Run for the Roses" with just three outings (Regret, 1915). Curlin tried it a couple of years ago and ran third. Be careful if you bet him.
All photos courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire