The Road to Kentucky is a muddy road. It certainly isn’t paved with rose petals. We can all admit it now, we all knew American Pharoah was unstoppable during the Triple Crown races, yet we all tried to beat him, but that’s what horseplayers do. We also knew that California Chrome was going to win the Kentucky Derby, but after that he became a beaten favorite. The previous two Derby champions were basically locked in and the real challenge was finding the big payday exacta.
But the road to the first Saturday in May this year seems less clear. It’s been an interested path so far, to say the least. After the Risen Star, I was left dumbfounded, exclaiming “what is happening?!” That giant “thud” you heard after the Risen Star was Airoforce dropping off everyone’s Derby list. The distance was too much, his take to the surface was uncertain. Too much for Airoforce to deal with, and he basically decided before he even got to the stretch in that race that he just didn’t want to do this anymore. A typical 3-year old.
I was very impressed with Mo Tom who finished third and got a few more points. The LeComte winner had a rough trip and couldn’t really get rolling, but still managed to finish third. It’s a learning experience and one which was needed for this son of Uncle Mo. He ran in the LeComte on January 16 and the Risen Sun on February 20. I hope this gutsy horse gets some rest before his next race. He’s definitely on my radar.
Equally impressive was the second-place finisher in the Risen Star, another Uncle Mo colt, Forevamo. If you bet that angle, you scored big. The Risen Star is important because it’s the first Derby prep race when the point totals begin to increase. Each Derby prep race from the Risen Star to the Sunland Derby on March 20 increases to 50 points for first, 20 for second, 10 for third and 5 for fourth. The 100 point races begin with the UAE Derby on March 26 and continue until the Kentucky Derby (with a few exceptions in between).
The eventual winner of the Risen Star, Gun Runner, bumped into Airoforce early in the race and maybe that is one more factor contributing to Airoforce’s poor performance. Regardless of Airoforce’s plummet, Gun Runner catapulted to first place in the early Derby standings with his 50 point victory in the Risen Star.
Top sires Tapit and Pioneerof the Nile have always produced top-quality racehorses. This year, it’s the offspring of Eclipse Award winner and multiple graded stakes winner, Uncle Mo. He has two for sure, possibly three, in Mo Tom, Forevamo and the undefeated Nyquist. Mohaymen is sired by Tapit. He’s a big grey colt, tough, confident and remains at the top of my Derby list.
The current Top 10 (based on points earned) are:
But this is such an early list and the road to Kentucky is long and misleading at this point. So much can happen before these talented 3-year-olds enter the gates at the Kentucky Derby. For example, Twitter was chirping that Mor Spirit was pulled up during his Tuesday morning work. Of course, trainer Bob Baffert glossed over the incident by saying the horse was fine and there didn’t appear to be any injury to the horse. The Baffert camp is never going to let on if there was an injury to the horse, even a minor one. (Let the games begin.)
Let’s not forget the winner of the Southwest at Oaklawn Park, Suddenbreakingnews, who is ridden by jockey Luis Quinonez. Suddenbreakingnews only received 10 points for his win in the Southwest, but if he can come back and win the Arkansas Derby, he’ll gobble up 100 points and make his chances of being in the gates on the first Saturday in May a reality.
And then there’s Smokey Image, an extremely talented runner in California who should be seeking out Derby races and hopefully will be entered in the Santa Anita Derby. Smokey Image is undefeated in six starts and most-recently won the California Cup Derby at Santa Anita. He broke his maiden first time out and has won five stakes races in a row. Someone get this horse in Derby prep race.
And, don’t get me started on the Kentucky Oaks contenders. Venus Valentine broke my heart.