Keeler Johnson's Kentucky Derby Top 10 - 12/27/17

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December 27th, 2017

Much has been made through the years about trainer Todd Pletcher’s perceived lack of success in the Triple Crown races, primarily the Kentucky Derby.

An oft-quoted statistic from years ago spoke of Pletcher’s early disappointments in the Derby, in which his starters went 0-for-24 before Pletcher scored a victory with Super Saver in 2010. But much like the Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who lost with his first twelve Derby starters before going on to win four editions of the “Run for the Roses,” Pletcher’s record has taken on a new light in recent years, and now it’s impossible to deny that Pletcher has been highly successful in the Triple Crown races.

Consider the following: Pletcher has sent out 19 horses to finish in the top three in a Triple Crown race, including three wins in the Belmont Stakes (with Rags to Riches, Palace Malice, and Tapwrit) and two wins in the Kentucky Derby (with Super Saver and Always Dreaming). Furthermore, Pletcher won two of the three Triple Crown races in 2017 with two different horses, and he’s had a horse hit the board in the Derby in four of the last eight years.

In other words, it could pay to keep an eye on Pletcher’s up-and-coming three-year-olds this winter, as it would be a surprise if Pletcher doesn’t come up with a horse or two that can factor in the Triple Crown. At this early juncture, the impressive Belmont Park maiden winner Montauk might be his best, though according to a report from the Daily Racing Form, Montauk is currently behind schedule and it is unclear when he’ll return to training.

But Pletcher has plenty of other candidates for Triple Crown glory, including Noble Indy, a WinStar Farm runner that won his debut at Gulfstream by 8 ¾ lengths on December 3rd. That race was held at seven furlongs, but Pletcher has also sent out some eye-catching winners going a mile or longer, including Smooth Air Stakes winner Bal Harbour and the promising Marconi, who won a nine-furlong maiden race at Aqueduct by 5 ½ lengths on December 15th. The half-brother to Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Mucho Macho Man is bred to run all day and could certainly be a candidate for the Belmont Stakes.

Adding further depth to Pletcher’s stable are the recent main track maiden winners Navistar, Impact Player, and Blewitt, plus Gidu, who won impressively sprinting five furlongs on the Gulfstream turf last Saturday, and Vino Rosso, an exciting son of Curlin that is 2-for-2 following an effortless win in an allowance optional claiming race at Tampa Bay Downs on December 22nd.

At the moment, I don’t have any Pletcher horses ranked in my Kentucky Derby Top 10, but it’s likely just a matter of time before one or more join my list. But for the time being, here’s how I rank the top contenders….
  1. Good Magic
Until the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champion returns to the races, it’s going to be difficult for anyone to topple him from the top of the Derby rankings.
  1. Bolt d’Oro
He’s in light training at the moment but should be back on the work tab before long to start gearing up for the February 10th San Vicente Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita.
  1. McKinzie
It didn’t take McKinzie long to get back on the work tab following the Los Alamitos Futurity (gr. I)—he worked four furlongs in a bullet :47 3/5 on December 21st and five furlongs in :59.20 on December 27th.
  1. Le Vent Se Leve
All is quiet with the Japanese sensation, and there’s unlikely to be much news until he’s closer to running again.
  1. Principe Guilherme
Although his dam, Aubby K, was a sprinter (winning the Grade 1 Humana Distaff Stakes in 2013), Principe Guilherme’s pedigree is otherwise filled with stamina influences such as Tapit (the sire of three Belmont Stakes winners) and Street Sense (winner of the 2007 Kentucky Derby), suggesting that distance won’t be an issue as Principe Guilherme embarks on the Triple Crown trail.
  1. Solomini
Unlike McKinzie, Solomini is taking a little longer to get back on the work tab following the Los Alamitos Futurity, which isn’t surprising since Solomini had the busier season and has already run in three Grade 1 races.
  1. Catholic Boy
With a pedigree that can be viewed as both turf-oriented and dirt-oriented depending on how you look at it, it’s not surprising that Catholic Boy has already won graded stakes races on both surfaces. Now we just have to see which surface will ultimately prove to be his best.
  1. Shivermetimbers
He continued his training with six furlongs in 1:13 3/5 on December 26th at Santa Anita. The January 6th Sham Stakes (gr. III) is expected to mark his next start.
  1. Enticed
He returned to the work tab on December 24th, breezing an easy three furlongs in :37.45 at Palm Meadows Training Center.
  1. Nero
I decided to keep Nero ranked for another week even though he’s still a maiden and his return race is still unknown. Judging from his work tab, he shouldn’t be too far away from a race.