By Tony Palmisano

BOSTON, April 25, 2012--The 2012 Derby Chase has, since January, given us one of the deepest and most talented fields of three-year-old colts in decades. As of Friday, 30 of the graded stakes races leading up to the Kentucky Derby listed on Daily Racing Form's 2012 Road to the Kentucky Derby had been run.

Those 32 races, beginning on Jan. 8 with the Sham Stakes at Santa Anita and bracketed by the Lexington and Jerome Stakes of April 21, were won by 28 different 3-year-olds.

Look no further than last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile race for more proof that this is a deep and talented crop of special colts. No less than nine colts that ran in last year’s Juvenile race won by Hansen have come back this year to win a graded stakes race.

Have you heard the term key race? In the 25 year running of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, no edition has ever produced so many graded winners.

“We are on the verge of something very special,” said Union Rags trainer Michael Matz earlier this week when asked about the colts his charge will face in the Derby in two weeks.

“This is a very competitive group. It’s a very exciting time for all the owners and trainers with a Derby contender,” Matz said.

In a normal Derby year, you can narrow the field of 20 runners down to about 6 but this year is truly exceptional so below please see a brief profile of my Derby Dozen in alphabetical order.

1. Apha, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin was a game second to Gemologist in the Wood after a long layoff, should move forward off his last performance. Recent physical issue doesn’t help him here.

2. Bodemeister, trained by Bob Baffert is coming off a monster performance in the Arkansas Derby. The front runner will need to use his tactical speed against the other speed horses like Hansen and Trinniberg if he wants to wear the roses.

3. Creative Cause, trained by Mike Harrington is a California based runner. He has a solid foundation for the 12 furlongs and one of the elite contenders.

4. Daddy Nose Best, trained by Steve Asmussen has improved dramatically this year, picks up rider Garrett Gomez and is training brilliantly at Churchill.

5. Dullahan, trained by Dale Romans, is the late running winner of the Toyota Blue Grass. In a year like this why not a deep closer, who’s peaking at the right time? Looks like he’ll stay the distance which is always a huge concern in the Derby.

6. El Padrino, one of trainer Todd Pletcher’s runners, has the pedigree to handle the grueling mile and a quarter Derby distance. He is very fast and if the track comes up sloppy, watch out.

7. Gemologist, Pletcher’s other runner, won the Wood Memorial in impressive fashion over Alpha and is coming into the Derby peaking at the right time; a major contender.

8. Hansen, trained by Mike Maker, is a terrific colt who ran a game second in the Blue Grass while controlling the pace. He’ll need to move forward and prove he can stay the 12 furlongs if he’s to win against this bunch.

9. I’ll Have Another, trained by Doug O’Neil, won the Santa Anita Derby. He’s a lightly raced horse who and may regress in the Derby due to his lack of foundation and stamina but is very fast on performance figures. Can’t be dismissed.

10. Take Charge Indy, trained by Pat Bryne, is another speed type who will certainly make his presence felt at some point during the race. It’s just a question if he’s good enough against some of the elite contenders. In a normal Derby year, he’d be one of the favorites. Like several other runners this year, they’re just in too deep.

11. Union Rags, trained by Michael Matz, is probably the most unlucky colt in the group, having lost the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile to Hansen by a nose and the Florida Derby by a length. Otherwise, this guy would be undefeated. I voted him two-year-old champion, thinking he was the best then and I still think he’s the best now. I believe Matz left gallons of fuel in the tank going into the Florida Derby and the colt was not even close to being race fit. He will be fit and ready on Derby day; my top choice.

12. Went the Day Well, trained by Graham Motion, has taken the same exact route to the Derby as his stable mate, Derby winning Animal Kingdom, having posted an impressive win in Turfway’s Spiral Stakes. The six week layoff is a concern and he’ll need to make the massive progress at Churchill that ‘Kingdom” did to be a factor against these.

I wouldn’t be surprised if someone other than the horses named above cross the finish line first on Saturday, May 5th. There are just too many good horses this season. It’s shaping up to be, as Matz said, something very special.