HRI's Triple Crown Power Rankings

The HRI Triple Crown Power Rankings is a consensus opinion of HorseRaceInsider's editorial staff compiled and written by executive editor John Pricci. It is an amalgam of achievement and opinion relative to the merits of the 2013 Triple Crown. The HRI Triple Crown Power Rankings will be adjusted each week following significant prep race developments.

Mohaymen Tops Undefeated Triad in HRI Kentucky Derby Power 10 Poll, Week I

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., February 28, 2016—By virtue of yet another dominating victory, Mohaymen took the Fountain of Youth lead at headstretch and bounded away to win Gulfstream Park’s penultimate Kentucky Derby prep by 2-1/4 geared-down lengths over stakes debuting Zulu. In doing so, he took a narrow lead over unbeaten Juvenile Eclipse champion Nyquist atop HRI’s inaugural 2016 Derby power rankings.

A third undefeated three-year-old, 2015 Juvenile Filly Champion Songbird, placed third in a dead-heat with clever Robert B Lewis Memorial winner Mor Spirit. The filly’s connections have strongly stated they are targeting the first Friday in May and not the first Saturday.

The HRI panel, consisting of staffers Tom Jicha and Mark Berner, HRI contributor Indulto, and executive editor John Pricci, agreed to acknowledge her considerable talents in Week 1 but heretofore will confine her to the “Also Receiving Votes” category.

The staff capitulated to make her eligible because Derby Fever is a particularly virulent strain and that she technically remains eligible to jump on the Triple Crown trail anytime between now and March 21, the date late nominations close. Late nominations will be announced the following day according to Churchill Downs spokesperson Darren Rogers.

Here, then, for your consideration, the consensus of four veteran observers casting ballots for the very best of the 2016 three-year-old class:

1-MOHAYMEN (41): Didn’t do anything unusual in the Xpressbet Fountain of Youth Stakes except to move a little sooner than he did taking the Holy Bull in his three-year-old debut. Avoiding potential trouble on the first turn, jockey Junior Alvarado did not want the leaders to get away, particularly Zulu, who held extremely well after Mohaymen’s challenge despite showing extreme greenness at the gate minutes before leading. Not so Mohaymen, who takes everything in stride. Indeed, on a brisk evening, Mohaymen didn’t work up a sweat as he returned to the winners’ circle while not drawing very deep breaths. His intelligence and curious awareness is studied, measured and seemingly assuring to this remarkable animal. He quickens the pulse. Pending continued good health, he returns in the Florida Derby. “He’s professional; tractable, adaptable, has push button speed and yet to be asked for his best,” wrote Berner of his top choice.

2-NYQUIST (39): Whether the battle of undefeated titans takes place on the first Saturday in April and not in May is now entirely up to trainer Doug O’Neill. Because of a $1 million Fasig-Tipton breeding-sales bonus tied to a possible subsequent Florida Derby victory, that prize, plus the winner’s share of the Florida Derby, makes South Florida’s Kentucky Derby prep more lucrative than a victory in “America’s Race.” “We’ve made our plans and if [Mohaymen] continues to do well, we’ll be back for the Florida Derby,” said Kiaran McLaughlin post-race. “Maybe they can find something for him in California?” said McLaughlin when asked if he were concerned that such a meeting before the big dance would be too enervating a race. “I get it but we’re here; that’s horse racing.” O’Neill, too, has a plan, one that includes a two-race Derby prep season following last year’s extensive juvenile campaign. Like Mohaymen and McLaughlin, Nyquist and O’Neill have taken no missteps. Barring a dead heat, one will be disappointed come evening on April 2. Now that’s horse racing. “I'm a believer in the champ is the champ until he is beaten,” countered Jicha, who placed Nyquist at the top of the list.

3-SONGBIRD (28): Undefeated three-year-old #3. The chances are extremely likely that owner Rick Porter and trainer Jerry Hollendorfer will stick with their stated into to point for the Kentucky Oaks but they’ve got three more weeks before ultimately deciding whether or not to nominate their filly. Potentially scheduled to run next week in the one-mile Santa Isabel against another set over overmatched fillies, this race should be public workout #2 of the season. She won the Las Virgenes as easily and as impressively as a horse can win, demonstrating the kind of speedy contempt for the opposition that was to some observers reminiscent of the domination exhibited by the immortal Ruffian. Her tremendous talent notwithstanding, the one attribute that separates her from most equine athletes is, like Mohaymen, their intelligence. The only energy they waste is in vanquishing the competition. “She isn't diminished in comparison to any other 3YO,” Indulto wrote of his top three-year-old.

3-MOR SPIRIT (28):
Enjoying equal ranking with the unbeaten Juvenile Filly Champion, Mor Spirit will attempt to win consecutive Derbies for Bob Baffert. Second in Churchill’s G2 Jockey Club Stakes at 2, he also won the G1 Los Alamitos Futurity and launched his Derby season with a measured-off victory in the G3 Robert B. Lewis Memorial. Given that it’s audible calling-prone Baffert, he’s eligible to wind up anywhere. The two most logical spots are, of course, the March 12 Rebel Stakes or the San Felipe at home in the San Felipe a week later. Wherever he lands, he’s probably the one to beat at entry time.

5-GUN RUNNER (18): Fourth in the crowded Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes in his juvenile finale, Steve Asmussen charge trained very well for his season’s debut then proved it by going out and winning the G2 Risen Stakes with some style and beneath some very clever handling from Florent Geroux. His defeat in the Jockey Club Stakes came behind Airoforce--much better than his season’s debut, Mor Spirit and Mo Tom, two members of the Power 10. The Louisiana Derby is the next logical stop and it is highly likely he will be seen again in Bayou Country.

6-EXAGGERATOR (17): This is a colt who clearly loves the game. Precocious enough to take the G2 Saratoga Special, he was good enough to win the G3 Delta Jackpot around two turns before returning to give Nyquist a good scare at 7 furlongs in the G3 San Vicente Stakes, a familiar tack taken by trainer Keith Desormeaux with his Derby-age contenders. What you have to like is his competitive nature and the San Vicente should move him forward to his next assignment, probably the San Felipe a fortnight from now.

7- MO TOM (15): We know he likes Churchill Downs, having won the overnight Street Sense Stakes as a juvenile and came out running in his three-year-old season with a strong-finish score in the G3 LeComte. To say that he had a rough trip when third in the Risen Star would be to understate the case. Always slow to begin, Corey Lanerie decided to save ground throughout which is a brilliant tack when it works. It didn’t but that was no fault of the horse or rider. A rival ducked in just as he was about to get through on the fence. Lanerie had to check, gather his mount, get him to re-rally after securing room outside and finished like a wild horse once again. Taking nothing away from Gun Runner, this colt probably was best on the day. He’ll seek vindication in the Louisiana Derby.

8- ZULU (10): Given his inexperience going long on a dry track after only two winning starts, he questioned his readiness for taking on Mohaymen in the Fountain of Youth. For several strides, and after showing his greenness with overexuberence behind the gate moments before the start on a cool afternoon, he stalked the leader throughout, forced to move perhaps earlier than Johnny Velazquez wanted when Mohaymen came up on his flank entering the stretch turn, he came again at Mohaymen after that colt gained command at headstretch, continuing doggedly to the wire. He had something to prove yesterday and he did just that. He’s a worthy Derby contender and this ranking. With nothing to fear but fear itself, the Florida Derby very likely will be his next stop.

We also said “who’s that?” when he came bounding down the Hot Springs stretch. After all, what did his victory in the ungraded Clever Trevor at Remington Park mean, especially when he returned only to finish second in the Remington Springboard Mile? As it turned out, the lattert was really well named. Making his three-year-old debut in the G3 Southwest Stakes, he rallied from last while wide entering the Oaklawn Park straight and finished as strongly as Turkoman in the Tallahassee Stakes back in the day—and that was a sprint. Not only was the rally strong, so uncommonly sustained it was breathtaking. Who knows what this means, too? But any racehorse that can finish in the manner by which he won the Southwest must be taken seriously until proven otherwise.

A Grade 1 winner of the Champagne at two, nothing went right for the colt in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, a race that was as much a learning experience for the connections as it was for the colt. This is a horse with talent and his effort behind Mohaymen in the Holy Bull, his first start since the Juvenile was a first rate placing, an indication that there was positive transition from two to three and a good effort from which to build. Trainer Dominic Schettino told us before the Holy Bull that his colt would have only one more prep before the Derby, adding that he will keep his options open. Given the promise of Mohaymen vs. Nyquist in the Florida Derby, the Wood Memorial or some other Grade 1 would be a prudent next step.

10. BRODY'S CAUSE (5):
Winning of the G1 Breeders’ Futurity at two and subsequently a troubled third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, trainer Dale Romans et al have apparently decided on a two prep campaign beginning with the Tampa Bay Derby March 12. Considering the competition and speed friendly environs of Gulfstream Park, his next start would likely be the Blue Grass, a proven course favorite for this very talented runner. Besides, if you’re planning on a two prep campaign, the surface in Tampa Bay might be considered the equivalent of a race and a half. We shall see.

Also Receiving Votes: Cherry Wine, Destin, Forevamo, Swipe

Next Week:
New York gets serious with Saturday’s Gotham Stakes, New York’s initial 50-point Kentucky Derby prep. Along with Sunny Ridge, a three-time career winner, including the Withers Stakes over the winter track, the 1-1/16 miles features the undefeated and highly regarded Shagaf, shipping north from Florida where he made a winning season’s debut for Chad Brown. In addition, underachieving Holy Bull disappointment Conquest Big E, Matt King Coal, unseen since his fast maiden breaker at Belmont last fall, and Rally Cry, also shipping north for Todd Pletcher, are among the probable starters.

Written by John Pricci - Comments (16)


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