Carpe Diem Seizes Top of Pugh's Derby List

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TwinSpires Staff

February 19th, 2015

by Laura Pugh

This is the first in a four-part series ranking Kentucky Derby hopefuls following the road to the Kentucky Derby. The Prep Season (commonly known as “the 10-point races” for the amount of points awarded to the winner) was to have concluded on Monday, February 16, with the Southwest Stakes, but weather forced the rescheduling of that race to Sunday, February 22.

But since the Champion Series begins Saturday with the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park and the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds (click race name for FREE Ultimate Past Performances), we’ll go ahead with our first top 20 and return at the conclusion of the “50-point” races.

The third and fourth parts of the series will be after the Championship Series concludes on April 11 and when the Derby itself draws on April 29.

These rankings are as much about starting in the Derby as they are about having the talent to win it, which is why Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Texas Red is tenth.

  1. Carpe Diem 5/1: He impressed as a juvenile, but has the pedigree to progress as he ages and as the distances increase. He has shown the ability to come off the pace, sit just off the pace, or wire the field, while also demonstrating the ability to take his game on the road. His last two works have been impressive and the two prep strategy, starting with the Tampa Bay Derby should set him up well. It did for Derby winners Street Sense and Super Saver.
  2. Upstart 5/1: His odds to make the Derby are the same as Carpe Diem’s though I feel he may not have the same natural ability as his rival. However, he too has the pedigree to go farther, and based off his last start, he has made the jump from juvenile to three year old exceedingly well. He’ll get a stiff test this weekend against some new talent, in the Fountain of Youth.
  3. Dortmund 7/1: He’s won by blowing his competitors away and while also showing the ability to win in a heated stretch duel. His foundation is light, but he is top heavy on talent. The only question that really needs to be answered is will his pedigree catch up to him?
  4. American Pharoah 10/1: He has so much natural talent that he may in fact be the most talented of his generation. However, his injury set him back quite a bit and it is hard to tell how he may run in the Rebel off such a long layoff.  Also, while he gets a dose of stamina through his sire, his dam’s side isn’t the most stamina laden.
  5. Firing Line 10/1: Talented but very light on foundation, and that might have shown in the Robert B. Lewis, when he allowed a seemingly beaten Dortmund to come back at him and beat him, in the stretch.  He has proven very game, but distance could become an issue if he should take more after his sire’s line.
  6. Far From Over 12/1: Can anyone say wow? It’s hard to know just how talented he really is. He nearly put his face in the dirt at the start of the Withers Stakes, and then zigzagged his way through the field down the stretch, to blow past favored El Kabier, and win decisively. He’s by Blame out of an AP Indy mare, so distance will not be an issue for him. Foundation and experience will be the questions he has surrounding him.
  7. Ocho Ocho Ocho 13/1: With his breeding, it’s rather a surprise to see him so successful at two. Street Sense’s foals have been slow to mature and not overly impressive, which doesn’t fit this one’s profile at all. He’s fast and has the ability to carry that amazing speed a long way. His debut is very much anticipated.
  8. Mr. Z 15/1: There is so much talent and natural speed there, but he just can’t seem to get the win for one reason or another. “The Coach” D. Wayne Lukas has been fiddling around with different bridles since the Smarty Jones debacle and thinks he has found what makes his charge tick. His latest work, he was said he was running straight as a string. We should get a good glimpse at his progress in the Southwest.
  9. Far Right 15/1: He has a very interesting blend of speed and stamina in his pedigree. His win in the Smarty Jones was impressive, but was it because the light bulb went off, or because he got a break in top flight competition?
  10. Texas Red 17/1: He had a good shot and a good prep in the San Vicente, but since its inception, you can’t ignore the fact that half the winners of the Breeders Cup Juvenile have failed to make it to the Kentucky Derby. After this hoof abscess and his trainer’s comments, one has to wonder at his chances to make it. He could, but he will be pressed for points and could lack the needed foundation.
  11. El Kabier 18/1: He has talent, no doubt, and since they seem to have found a running style that he agrees with he has run exceedingly well. He won two in a row and was second when running a winning effort. His major question is the distance. At distances over a mile he has never finished worse than second, however his pedigree suggests that his best distance would be between eight and nine furlongs.
  12. International Star 18/1: His record is a bit spotty, but when this boy puts his running shoes on he can really motor home. His Lecomte performance was brilliant, albeit green, but brilliant. The turn of foot he showed in deep stretch was something special. The question is, can he duplicate that form on a more consistent basis.
  13.  Frosted 20/1: He has good blood, but does his talent measure of to that of his main rivials? He seems to have a severe case of seconditis that he will need to lose quickly, if he hopes to keep his spot in the top twenty.
  14. Bold Conquest 20/1: Like Frosted he has the bloodlines and it would seem he also has a fair bit of talent. However, being by Curlin his slower maturity isn’t a concern.  Another Curlin colt, Palace Malice took his sweet time before hitting his best stride. We’ll get a better feel for how this son of Curlin has progressed in this Sunday’s Southwest.
  15.  Daredevil 25/1: He is fast, well-bred and handsomely built. All good qualities that you look for in a Derby contender. Problem is his no show at Santa Anita raises questions about two things. Ones his ability to run two turns, and secondly his ability to run his top race when shipping. He’s currently pointing to the Swale, which may show that the connections are not interested in the Derby, and more focused on keeping around one turn.
  16.  Metaboss 30/1: He has been impressive in his last two starts, but unfortunately the Kentucky is run over conventional dirt…not synthetic or turf. This one’s last dirt start saw him finishing well behind Ocho Ocho Ocho.
  17.  Lucky Player 30/1: He is bred on a very versatile cross, but not one that always excels when going long distances. His best may be around nine furlongs or shorter. Up to this point he has also proven very inconsistent, which will need to change, if he hopes to keep his position.
  18. Rock Shandy 35/1: He seems like and honest horse who always comes with a good effort, but he just seems like he is a cut below the best when he runs up against the top flight horses. In his two dirt starts he has made admirable runs, but was well behind Calculator in the Sham and even farther behind Dortmund and Firing Line, in the Robert B. Lewis.
  19.  Bayerd 40/1: He is sired by a sprinter, out of a mare who is sired by a sprinter. He ran well in his second place finish behind Far Right in the Smarty Jones, but he will need to show that he can win at distances longer than that if he is to become a prime Derby contender.
  20.  Conquest Typhoon 50/1: His races suggest that he is primarily a synthetic or turf horse. A Plus is Churchill plays kindly to synthetic and turf horses. Bad news is only one horse in the history of the Kentucky Derby has won the race without a dirt prep.