Keeler Johnson's Kentucky Derby Top 10: Game Winner Remains On Top

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

March 18th, 2019

Although he suffered the first defeat of his career last Saturday, the performance of Game Winner in the Rebel Stakes was sufficient for the champion colt to retain the top spot in my .

Not surprisingly, Omaha Beach—the colt who gallantly conquered Game Winner—has secured a high ranking as well in his first week on my list.
  1. Game Winner (#1 last week)

He came up short by the slimmest of noses in the second division of the Rebel Stakes, but for all practical purposes he was as good as the winner and ran huge off a 4 ½-month layoff. You can argue that a wide trip cost him victory, though wide trips are always going to be a possibility for Game Winner since he doesn’t have as much tactical speed as some of his rivals on the Derby trail and prefers to rally from a few lengths off the pace. Still, with the Rebel under his belt, we should see Game Winner take a step forward next time out.
  1. Omaha Beach (Unranked)

If you beat the champion, you have to be respected. Maybe Omaha Beach was fortunate to work out a better trip than Game Winner in the Rebel Stakes, but he secured that superior trip in large part because he has more tactical speed than Game Winner and is, as a result, more versatile. Plus, he showed terrific determination down the homestretch to withstand Game Winner’s late surge, and his Beyer speed figure (96) is tied for the highest figure earned in a Road to the Kentucky Derby prep race this year.
  1. Roadster (#3)

He returned to the work tab with an easy five furlongs in 1:02.60 on March 14 at Santa Anita. With Game Winner heading to the Santa Anita Derby and Improbable scheduled for the Arkansas Derby, Roadster will have to hit the road or else face one of his stablemates in his final prep, a tough scenario since Roadster doesn’t have any Kentucky Derby qualification points and will need a top-two finish to secure a spot in the Derby starting gate.
  1. Improbable (#2)

He did everything but win in the first division of the Rebel Stakes, overcoming a wide trip to seize the lead in the stretch before getting nailed in the final strides by Long Range Toddy. Actually, I think you can make a case that Improbable lost focus a little when he struck the front; in any case, his wide trip was surely enough to mean the difference between victory and defeat. It’s hard to be too disappointed in his performance, even if he did suffer his first defeat.
  1. War of Will (#4)

He’s drawn perfectly in post position six for the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) and is the 6-5 favorite on the morning line, a very short price for a horse facing ten rivals. That’s a perfect indication of how dominant War of Will has been at Fair Grounds so far this winter.
  1. Long Range Toddy (Unranked)

He stepped up his game significantly in the first division of the Rebel Stakes, saving ground on both turns before shifting out in the homestretch and producing a surprising burst of acceleration to run down Improbable and win by a neck. This was a genuinely impressive performance, even if you can argue that Improbable was the best horse on the day. The question is, where did it come from? Long Range Toddy’s previous form was decidedly less impressive, leaving us to wonder whether his Rebel effort was a fluke or a sign that he’s improving with experience and maturity. I’m tempted to believe it’s the latter.
  1. Code of Honor (#5)

He breezed five furlongs in 1:01 flat on March 16 at the Payson Park Training Center, which was actually the fastest time of the morning by a hefty 0.60 seconds.
  1. Tacitus (#6)

He stepped up his game significantly in the Tampa Bay Derby, but that’s not really surprising since he was making his three-year-old debut and racing on Lasix for the first time. Actually, this stoutly-bred colt could still have a lot of room for improvement, considering that he’s bred to get better with maturity.
  1. Anothertwistafate (#7)

He landed post position two in the Sunland Derby, which will be a pretty stiff test of his ability to handle dirt. The field came up surprisingly deep, with Mucho Gusto (see below) and the eight-time winner Hustle Up among the entrants. We’ll have a good idea after Sunday if Anothertwistafate is a legitimate Kentucky Derby contender or not.
  1. Mucho Gusto (#8)

He drew the rail in the Sunland Derby, a potentially tricky position for a colt who employed stalking tactics in his most recent run. Will jockey Joe Talamo have to send Mucho Gusto from the starting gate to secure a good position, in the process risking a speed duel with Anothertwistafate? Or will he take Mucho Gusto back and hope he can work his way to the outside?
  1. Hidden Scroll (#10)

I’m actually placing Hidden Scroll and Mucho Gusto in a tie for tenth place. With seemingly every prep race producing Beyer speed figures in the mid-90s, Hidden Scroll’s 89 from the Fountain of Youth—which he earned after dueling very hard for the early lead—is starting to look pretty good. He’s aiming for the Florida Derby and will be ridden for the first time there by jockey Javier Castellano, which hints that a shift in racing tactics could be in order for this speedy colt.