Keeler Johnson's Kentucky Derby Top 10: It's a Rather Perplexing Year

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April 9th, 2019

I must admit, it’s getting harder and harder to compile my Kentucky Derby Top 10 rankings each week.

Unlike last year, when the top contenders seemed pretty clear-cut at this point in the season, the 2019 Kentucky Derby picture remains completely wide-open with less than four weeks until the big race. I feel like I’m excluding some promising horses (the Blue Grass Stakes winner Vekoma being a notable example), and I’m quite uncertain how to rank the ten horses that I have included on my list.

My hope is that the Arkansas Derby (gr. I) and the Lexington Stakes (gr. III) on April 13 will clarify things, but in the meantime, here’s how my rankings are shaping up….
  1. Game Winner (#1 last week)

Although he was beaten a half-length by Roadster in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I), you can argue that Game Winner actually turned in the better performance. Certainly he raced significantly wider than Roadster, and Game Winner also made an early move into the teeth of the pace while Roadster was biding his time near the back of the pack. I still wonder in the back of my mind whether or not Game Winner has progressed like you’d hope this winter, but in this wide-open year, his performance on Saturday was strong enough to keep him at the top of my list for the time being.
  1. Roadster (#2)

In just the fourth start of his career, and only his second start since last September, Roadster ran a bang-up race in the Santa Anita Derby. Dropping off the pace and saving ground turned out to be a perfect strategy, and when the real running began, Roadster produced a sharp burst of acceleration coming off the final turn (gaining about five lengths in the blink of an eye) to reach contention and then wear down Game Winner to prevail. This son of Quality Road clearly has a lot of talent and is heading in the right direction.
  1. Omaha Beach (#3)

He wrapped up his preparations for Saturday’s Arkansas Derby (gr. I) by throwing down five furlongs in a bullet 1:00.60 on April 6 at Santa Anita. Fitness certainly shouldn’t be an issue with three races under his belt already this year, plus two fast workouts since March 29.
  1. Improbable (#4)

Like Omaha Beach, Improbable has come back firing with two bullet workouts at Santa Anita since the Rebel Stakes, most recently going six furlongs in 1:14 flat on April 5. With the addition of blinkers and a rider switch to jockey Jose Ortiz, perhaps Improbable will show a little more focus and early speed, two areas that seemed underdeveloped when he finished second in the first division of the Rebel Stakes.
  1. Maximum Security (#5)

Trainer Jason Servis rarely does much in the mornings with his best horses, at least in terms of fast workouts, so don’t expect to see Maximum Security fire off bullets in his pre-Derby training. We’re more likely to see longer, slower moves from this speedy son of New Year’s Day, keeping him fresh and fit for the big race.
  1. Anothertwistafate (#7)

Since he’ll likely need additional qualification points to ensure himself a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate, Anothertwistafate has shipped to Keeneland to contest Saturday’s Lexington Stakes (gr. III), where a top-two finish will either put him in the field or place him right on the bubble. In this increasingly wide-open year, I’m not sure I’ve seen a more impressive sight than Anothertwistafate charging with determination down the homestretch of the Sunland Derby (gr. III) to finish second despite a troubled trip.
  1. Long Range Toddy (#6)

His form lines are looking better all the time, but he could still be the forgotten horse in the Arkansas Derby, since Omaha Beach and Improbable figure to attract most of the attention. He wrapped up his preparations with an easy half-mile in :52.60 on April 8 at Oaklawn, slightly quicker than the :53 flat he posted six days before winning the first division of the Rebel.
  1. Tacitus (Unranked)

He showed grit and determination to prevail in a roughly-run renewal of the Wood Memorial (gr. II), giving him two graded stakes wins from two starts this year. The Kentucky Derby will thus mark his third start of the season, an angle that has worked for eight of the last twelve Derby winners, and he’ll enter the Derby unbeaten as a three-year-old, just like every Derby winner since 2012.
  1. By My Standards (#9)

He’s already shipped to Churchill Downs and breezed a half-mile there in :48.40 on April 4, his first workout since winning the Louisiana Derby. We should get a better feel for how good he is when the Louisiana Derby third- and fourth-place finishers Sueno and Country House compete in the Lexington Stakes and Arkansas Derby this Saturday.
  1. Win Win Win (Unranked)

Vekoma was an easy enough winner of the Blue Grass Stakes, but I was just as impressed by runner-up Win Win Win. Reserved far off the pace over a speed-favoring track, Win Win Win encountered traffic while rallying on the far turn and had to steady, but once he got clear he finished up well to grab second place in the final strides. Granted, the pace was slowing down noticeably in front of him, but Win Win Win has shown significant talent throughout his career and could be the type who threads his way through the Derby field to finish in the superfecta at a big price.