Keeler Johnson's Kentucky Derby Top 10 - 12/13/17

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December 13th, 2017

As a general rule, I try not to get too excited about horses that prep for the Kentucky Derby outside of North America.

We’ve seen some very good horses come to the Derby by way of Dubai—Desert Party, Mubtaahij, and Lani all come to mind from recent years—but all have inevitably faltered at Churchill Downs, and you have to go back to 1971 to find a horse that won the Derby after prepping on foreign soil.

Yet at the same time I can’t help but wonder if Le Vent Se Leve might be different. The son of Symboli Kris S has been nothing short of breathtaking while sweeping unbeaten through his first three starts in Japan, and his victory in the December 13th Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun at Kawasaki (the second of Japan’s three Kentucky Derby prep races) was arguably his best run yet. Racing over a six-furlong bullring track, Le Vent Se Leve had every excuse to lose after breaking slowly and racing wide around the tight turns. But instead, he swept past the field with a huge run around the far turn and cruised home effortlessly to win with something in reserve.
Stamina shouldn’t be a question for this colt, whose pedigree reads like a “who’s who” of champions and horses that excelled going ten furlongs or longer, including Symboli Kris S, Neo Universe, Kris S, Roberto, and Sunday Silence. Furthermore, he doesn’t seem to mind racing behind horses and having dirt kicked back in his face (check out the clouds of kickback being produced during the Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun!), and his ability to accelerate around tight turns is another plus in his favor.

It’s fair to question the caliber of competition Le Vent Se Leve has beaten, and it would be nice to see him learn to break more alertly. But in terms of raw talent, this colt might be something very special indeed, and I’m inclined to think that if any foreign-based horse can win the Derby, Le Vent Se Leve might be the one.

Here’s how I rank my current Kentucky Derby Top 10….
  1. Good Magic
The results of the Los Alamitos Futurity (gr. I) certainly flattered Good Magic, as Solomini—who finished 4 ¼ lengths behind Good Magic in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile—came back with a big run to cross the wire first.
  1. Bolt d’Oro
Just how costly was Bolt d’Oro’s wide trip in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile? According to Trakus, he ran 78 feet (9 ¾ lengths) farther than Good Magic, a distance significantly larger than the 5 1/4 lengths by which he was beaten. Reverse the trips, and Bolt d’Oro likely wins with ease to become an overwhelming early favorite for the Kentucky Derby.
  1. McKinzie
Although he finished behind Solomini in the Los Alamitos Futurity, he was placed first via disqualification and I actually liked his performance best, as I outlined in my recap of the race. Some lightly-raced Baffert-trainees improve a lot off their first stakes attempt (think West Coast, Bayern, and Bodemeister) and I’m expecting a big move forward from McKinzie next time out.
  1. Le Vent Se Leve
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Le Vent Se Leve target the Kentucky Derby given that his trainer, Kiyoshi Hagiwara, brought Epicharis to compete in last year’s Belmont Stakes before an injury derailed those plans. The February 18th Hyacinth at Tokyo Racecourse, the last of Japan’s prep races for the Kentucky Derby, will presumably be on the agenda for Le Vent Se Leve. (For replays of Le Vent Se Leve's first two starts, click here.)
  1. Solomini
He was probably the best horse in the Los Alamitos Futurity even though he was disqualified and placed third. He’s had some issues with lead changes and isn’t the most impressive horse during morning training, but you can’t knock the results he’s produced so far.
  1. Catholic Boy
He’s getting a short break before gearing up for the winter prep season, where he’ll get a chance to prove that his eye-catching dirt debut in the Remsen wasn’t a fluke.
  1. Montauk
Although he has only a sprint win to his credit thus far, his sire and dam were graded stakes winners around two turns and his broodmare sire is the noted stamina influence A.P. Indy, suggesting that Montauk could be even better when stretched out in distance.
  1. Shivermetimbers
Was under consideration for a run in the Remington Springboard Mile but is staying home instead. The January 6th Sham Stakes (gr. III) at Santa Anita could potentially mark his stakes debut.
  1. Enticed
Like many of the best two-year-olds, he’s getting a little break before gearing up for the prep season. The February 2nd Holy Bull Stakes (gr. II) is the probable target for his three-year-old debut.
  1. Nero
McKinzie, Solomini, Nero, Heck Yeah, Mourinho, Regulate, St. Patrick’s Day, Vision—trainer Bob Baffert has a ton of promising juveniles on the Derby trail this year. Nero hasn’t breezed since December 2nd, but assuming he returns to the work tab soon, we should see him back to the races before long.