Timing is everything in life does not qualify as stop-the-presses advice. But it is the reason why we’re altering the format of HRI’s Triple Crown rankings. After all, it’s only seven weeks out from the Kentucky Derby.* Prior commenting issues should now be resolved
However, since there remains an overwhelming amount of development time before anyone visits their favorite betting hub, it’s appropriate to zero in on the personal observations of our staff and at once raise questions in the process. To wit:
Is this finally the year Todd Pletcher wins Derby #2, the same year that Bob Baffert lacks a major May player? Because, right now, it doesn’t appear that the 2017 Derby winner will be shipping in from the Golden State.
Unless, of course, it’s a filly but it doesn’t look like Jerry Hollendorfer is going to leap off the Oaks bandwagon. But you would think that his next target could be, say, the Santa Anita Derby. What colt is out there to fear at present?
And nothing says that you must race in the Kentucky Derby thereafter. And a Santa Anita Derby victory could make her a Horse of the Year finalist at season’s end should she maintain her present dominatrix status.
So, at least Mr Hollendorfer, you would be keeping your options open for the owners who bothered to make her Triple Crown eligible in the first place.
But, please, don’t offer up the doing-the-right-thing-by-the-horse cliché. To paraphrase a slogan from members of an out-of-touch political party, I’m no horseman. However, it seems to me that ‘Bella’ is uniquely qualified to test males: Physically, she has the tools.
On the Churchill Downs’ list of potential Derby starters after Saturday’s Rebel Stakes—51 horses--one stall already reserved for Japan’s top three-year-old, and perhaps another for the UAE Derby winner—have earned at least one qualifying point.
Of those 51, Pletcher has six, two already qualifying--Tampa Bay Derby winner Tapwrit (54 qualifying points), scheduled to have one more prep, and the impressive Rebel winner, Malagacy (50).
And that half-dozen does not include the extremely gifted Battalion Runner who could announce himself in a big way with a win or worthy placing in the April 1 Florida Derby.
As for Bullet Bob, even if American Anthem, who doesn’t scare anyone, rebounds from his disappointing, surface-hating Rebel run, he’s currently on the outside looking in, unless the Hall of Famer has a Sunland Derby surprise in the barn.
That New Mexico 50-pointer goes this weekend, as does Turfway Park’s Spiral Stakes and the 100-pointer from the economically-correct UAE Derby.
Circling back to the top, it’s time to narrow the focus and enter the realm of handicapping opinion and consider the top five Derby contenders, as of this posting.
Each staffer, including the executive editor, list his five top Derby runners and why. The fifth—call it staff sourcing—will be the HRI staff consensus, points ranked from first to fifth on a 6-4-2-1-1 scale. Feel free to disagree (as if the HRI Faithful needs coaxing):
1. McCraken--All it took to get back on top was for him to get back in training. Beat Tapwrit, and look what he did coming back.
2. Tapwrit--His Tampa Bay Derby strongly suggests he might be a much better colt than the one which finished second in the Sam F. Davis.
3. Gunnevera--Good in Holy Bull and even better in the Fountain of Youth. Has the right style.
4. Classic Empire--He was beaten before the start of the Holy Bull but he did too much great work previously to dismiss. At his best he might be the best.
5. Malagacy--Breeding raises questions about distance limitations, but he looked like he could have gone around again in Rebel.
1. Tapwrit -- Overcame a rough trip in impressive win at Tampa Bay, and did it in racehorse time.
2. Gunnevera -- Impressed with last-to-first move to win the Fountain of Youth.
3. One Liner -- Has a lot of talent but short prep schedule and pedigree could be his undoing.
4. Girvin -- Another colt with ability and disputable breeding; find out more in Louisiana Derby, April 1.
5. Unique Bella -- Has completely dominated the filly ranks and deserves a chance to face the colts.
1. Gunnevera – The most impressive sophomore prep winner to date.
2. Tapwrit -- Forward moving, has enormous potential.
3. J Boys Echo -- Took gigantic step forward winning the Gotham.
4. McCraken -- Undefeated conqueror of #2 Tapwrit.
5. Classic Empire -- BC Juvenile winner and 2YO champion merits respect.
1. Gunnevera – Energizer racehorse just keeps coming and coming and owns Derby style.
2. Tapwrit – Tampa Bay Derby was a tour de force and having a third prep is a wise choice.
3. McCraken – Can vault to #1 depending on what happens in Lexington—and that doesn’t necessarily mean remaining undefeated.
4. Girvin – Untrapped’s Rebel vindicated the Risen Star winner’s talent and he still owns sizable upside.
5. Practical Joke – Pedigree dubious but Chad horses don’t hang and many a Derby won at the eighth pole; forced into premature 2017-debut move and should advance.
HRI STAFF CONSENSUS:
1. Gunnevera (18)
2. Tapwrit (12)
3. McCracken (9)
4. Classic Empire, Girvin, J Boys Echo, One Liner (2)
5. Malagacy, Practical Joke, Unique Bella (1)