Of course, we're capable of making an about face if Lewis Memorial winner Candy Boy does what’s expected of him in the Santa Anita Derby. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.
Since this marks the 2014 debut of the HRI Kentucky Derby Power 10, the sixth annual, staffer Tom Jicha spoke for all of us when he wrote recently that accomplishment and demonstrated ability in top company should count for something.
Hence the presence in the Power 10 of undefeated juvenile champion Shared Belief; Remsen winner and Champagne runner-up Honor Code, and Champagne winner and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up Havana.
The Power 10, therefore, is meant to be an amalgam of accomplishment and promise and, at this early stage, not a Derby predictor. So let's take a ride, bumpy road and all.
The Kentucky Derby three year olds of 2014 are ranked in 1 through 10 (dead heat for 9th this week) with power points in parentheses:
1. CAIRO PRINCE (27) As everyone knows, this colt would be undefeated if not for overconfident handling when second in the Remsen, losing a head-bobber to Honor Code, spotting him six pounds. Kiaran McLaughlin’s colt won the Holy Bull impressively, showing an electric turn of foot soon after entering the straight to blow the Grade 2 wide open and won by nearly 6. McLaughlin made the right call skipping the Fountain of Youth in favor of the Florida Derby.
2. TAPITURE (25) His effort in the Southwest Stakes was so impressive that observers might be hard pressed to decide if he or Cairo Prince made the best impression this season. Their runs were virtual carbon copies; settling close to the early pace, moving into contention on the far turn, before drawing away with authority in the lane. Trainer Steve Asmussen thought his colt moved forward but needs a little more education. He'll get plenty of that in the Rebel and Arkansas Derby. After that, back to Churchill where he won the G2 Jockey Club Stakes at 2.
3. HONOR CODE (21) missed almost a month of training with a minor ankle issue but has worked twice since Shug McGaughey got him off the deeper Payson Park surface. He started breezing again a fortnight ago, twice seven days apart, but has yet to have a serious drill. That time will come soon since Oaklawn’s Rebel Stakes, his scheduled season’s debut, comes on March 15. From there, it’s the Arkansas Derby or the Wood Memorial, site of his Remsen win last year.
4. SHARED BELIEF (19) Racing analyst Laffit Pincay said on Saturday’s Hank Goldberg radio show that Shared Belief missed another work which means the San Felipe is out and might force Jerry Hollandorfer to enter the Derby off one prep; a tall order for a champion yet to race on a dirt surface. That prep reportedly will come in the East somewhere. Does that mean the Blue Grass on Polytrack for the gelding with the tender feet? Shared Belief deserves this ranking out of respect; next time it could be different.
5. CANDY BOY (15) Loved the fact this guy has plenty of experience in top company and his Lewis win was accomplished with deceptive ease, just getting warmed up as he reached the finish line in full stride with energy in reserve. It was a great learning experience for a horse than made a wild middle move in his prior run but waited, and waited some more, until Gary Stevens gave him his cue. John Sadler, who’s not had much luck outside of California, is awaiting the Santa Anita Derby. Good plan.
6. TOP BILLING (13) Following a tough-trip second in his season’s debut, he won a first level allowances very impressively before finishing third in the Fountain of Youth. The only thing he lost yesterday was a horse race, overcoming an extremely wide draw but not a biased surface that carried speed all day long. At least his show finish earned him 10 Derby points which puts him on the service road to the Derby. He figures to earn enough credit in the Florida Derby to get him all the way to Louisville.
7. WILDCAT RED (11) Don’t look now but this colt is starting to get some respect and it’s about time. He just missed from the rail going a flat mile in the Gulfstream Park Derby, dominated the Hutcheson, then took advantage of Saturday’s speed trap. But he deserves much credit for staring down Golden a Rod, the GP Derby winner that took him by the throatlatch right from the jump. Fast, honest and hickory game. Who could ask for anything more from a race horse?
8. STRONG MANDATE (9) D. Wayne Lukas colt is like the proverbial box of chocolates; you just never know. In the G1 Hopeful he delivered a near 10-length tour de force performance. After his Champagne no-show he was an excellent, wide-running third in the Juvenile. His Southwest placing to Tapiture was good once overlook his snake-like stretch run. “He got bumped leaving the gate and was wide the whole trip,” Lukas said. “[Tapiture] ran exceptional. We’ll just go back to the barn and look at the Rebel Stakes.” Exactly.
9-tie INTENSE HOLIDAY (8) Flattered Cairo Prince when the Holy Bull show finisher returned, laid his body down in the final furlong, and got up in the last stride to win the Risen Star. It was his third straight good two-turn effort; the Remsen, Holy Bull and Saturday’s score. Credit Todd Pletcher for getting him off the Gulfstream strip and put him on the road to Louisville that courses through New Orleans.
9-tie HAVANA (8) Another getting a late start in his three year old season, he, too, was nearly undefeated at 2, winning the G1 Champagne Stakes over Honor Code before finishing a very good second from post 12 in the Juvenile on Santa Anita’s inside-speed surface last fall. He is scheduled to debut in the 7-furlong Swale March 20, which doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for a second prep The Arkansas Derby or Blue Grass would be the most viable options 23 days later