Keeler Johnson's Kentucky Derby Top 10: Game Winner the Early Leader

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November 5th, 2018

Well, the 2018 Breeders’ Cup is in the history books, and you know what that means—it’s time to start looking ahead toward the 2019 Kentucky Derby!

A handful of official prep races on the Road to the Kentucky Derby have already been run, including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and less than six months remain until the first Saturday in May. So let’s kick off the start of the winter prep season with the first installment of my annual Kentucky Derby Top 10—feel free to share your own rankings!
  1. Game Winner

After Game Winner won the Del Mar Futurity (gr. I), I ranked him at the top of my way-too-early Kentucky Derby Top 10, and his achievements since then have only cemented his position atop my list. I was particularly impressed with the way he overcame a very wide trip to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) by 2 ¼ lengths. Could trainer Bob Baffert have a sixth Kentucky Derby winner in his barn? He just might.
  1. Instagrand

He’s getting a break from training and has fallen off the radar a bit, but Instagrand’s ten-length debut win at Los Alamitos remains among the most impressive performances we’ve seen from a two-year-old this year, and his follow-up 10 ¼-length romp in the Best Pal Stakes (gr. II) was similarly effortless. He obviously has a ton of talent and I’m looking forward to his return.
  1. Improbable

This Baffert-trained son of City Zip brought his career record to a perfect 2-for-2 with an eye-catching victory in the one-mile Street Sense Stakes at Churchill Downs on Breeders’ Cup Friday. After a slow start from post position two, Improbable was buried inside horses early on and didn’t seem completely comfortable, but like a pro, he threaded his way out of traffic, moved strongly into contention through a fast half-mile in :44.96 and six furlongs in 1:09.83, and then powered clear in the homestretch to win by 7 ¼ lengths with a solid 93 Beyer speed figure. This was a huge effort from a colt who races for the same team as 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify.
  1. Code of Honor

He was forced to miss the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile due to an illness, but he’s expected to bounce back quickly and is under consideration for the December 1st Remsen Stakes (gr. II) at Aqueduct. Based off his strong runner-up effort in the Champagne Stakes (gr. I), Code of Honor will likely be favored in the Remsen, a race trainer Shug McGaughey won in 2013 with the similarly-named Honor Code.
  1. Roadster

Roadster was initially billed as one of Baffert’s top prospects and lived up to the hype with a sharp debut win, but after finishing third in the Del Mar Futurity (gr. I), he had surgery to correct a minor breathing issue and was put away for the year. However, I expect to see Roadster come back strong in 2019 and reemerge as a legitimate Derby contender—after all, he wasn’t beaten much by Game Winner in the Del Mar Futurity despite his breathing issue.
  1. Preamble

Another runner campaigned by the partnership of WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, and SF Racing—three of the principal players behind Team Justify—Preamble showed plenty of promise winning his debut going six furlongs on September 15th at Churchill Downs. He followed up with an even stronger win going seven furlongs at Keeneland, battling tenaciously with the pacesetter to win by a half-length with the rest of the field 14 ¼ lengths behind, an effort that yielded a 92 Beyer. Young trainer Rodolphe Brisset appears to have a very promising colt in his barn!
  1. Knicks Go

After upsetting the Breeders’ Futurity (gr. I) by 5 ½ lengths at odds of 70-1, Knicks Go proved that he’s no fluke by finishing a game second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, gamely battling with Game Winner through the homestretch before settling for second place. It has rapidly become clear that Knicks Go has a lot more talent than people have given him credit for, and it’s possible that he’s not yet finished for the year—the Daily Racing Form has reported that a start in the November 24th Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II) is under consideration.
  1. Signalman

If the performance of Knicks Go in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile wasn’t enough to prove the strength of the Breeders’ Futurity field, then surely the performance of Signalman—who improved from his distant runner-up effort in the Futurity to finish third by just 3 ¼ lengths in the Juvenile—has reiterated the quality of the Futurity. This up-and-coming Kenny McPeek-trained colt has improved with every start this year and there’s no telling how far he might still rise.
  1. Vekoma

George Weaver has only started one horse in the Kentucky Derby, but he could certainly have a second starter if Vekoma lives up to the promise he’s shown so far. This son of Candy Ride parlayed a sharp maiden win at Belmont into a pace-tracking victory in the November 4th Nashua Stakes (gr. II) at Aqueduct, where he clocked a mile in 1:36.62 and received a 99 Beyer, the highest of the year by any two-year-old so far.
  1. Maximus Mischief

Granted, he’s been facing questionable competition at Parx Racing, but Maximus Mischief has won his first two starts sprinting by a combined 14 ¾ lengths, scoring with complete authority on both occasions while posting Beyers of 94 and 98. A son of Into Mischief owned in part by Cash is King of Afleet Alex fame, Maximus Mischief will surely face a class test down the road, but he just might be ready to pass with flying colors.