Kentucky Derby Hopefuls to Watch on April 8

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D.S. Williamson

April 2nd, 2017

April 8 should be the most important day yet for Kentucky Derby hopefuls. After the Louisiana Derby and Florida Derby, both this past Saturday on April 1, not much has changed. Sure, Always Dreaming looked great when winning the Florida Derby. But, his Beyer Figure, which is still a decent barometer of how fast a horse has run, came out at 97. Girvin, the Louisiana Derby winner, garnered a 90 Beyer Figure.

Neither figure should get horseplayers excited. I'm looking for a star to emerge from this Saturday's Wood Memorial, Bluegrass Stakes, or Santa Anita Derby. Who knows?  We might get lucky with a few stars emerging. From everything I've read, these are the probables for April 8's huge day of Kentucky Derby prep races.

Wood Memorial at Aqueduct Racetrack

Battalion Runner Irish War Cry Cloud Computing Mo Town

I've attached Battalion Runner's brilliant allowance win on Feb. 3. Trainer Todd Pletcher will be trying to to get a horse into the Kentucky Derby starting gate by winning a graded stakes race for the third time this year. He's already done it with Malagacy and Always Dreaming. Sired by Unbridled's Song and from a Tapit mare, Battalion Runner should have no distance limitations.

Irish Wary Cry must bounce back from his terrible showing in the Fountain of Youth Stakes. If he does in the Wood Memorial, he could be a favorite going into the First Saturday in May. My guess, is that his run in the Fountain of Youth was an aberration. I'm leaning this way due to the expected odds. Plus, he should get a nice trip behind Battalion Runner. Irish War Cry must learn how to rate effectively to have any shot in any of the Triple Crown races, not just the Kentucky Derby.

Cloud Computing was close to a fast pace in the Gotham. He had no answer for J Boys Echo. But, he did manage to hold off the other horses in that race. With any improvement, he could get trainer Chad Brown into the Kentucky Derby starting gate with a huge win.

Mo Town, like Irish War Cry, must prove that he belongs in the Derby. His uninspired run in the Risen Star Stakes leaves much to be desired. This is a tough field. If Mo Town comes out the winner, he could very well be a Kentucky Derby contender.

Bluegrass Stakes at Keeneland

McCraken Tapwrit J Boys Echo

The Bluegrass might be the most important Kentucky Derby prep this year. Whomever wins among McCraken, Tapwrit, and J Boys Echo should be the favorite on the First Saturday in May.

This is particularly true if McCraken takes home the Bluegrass and stays undefeated. McCraken strikes me as the type of horse that can run as fast as he needs to win. He doesn't appear to have any flaws. But, he goes into the Bluegrass after recovering from a slight injury. There's no way to tell how he'll do in the Bluegrass on April 8.

Santa Anita Derby at Santa Anita Park

Reach the World Battle of Midway Gormley Iliad

Gormley must dig deep to beat these. He ran up against a monster in Mastery in his last. Iliad could improve enough to win this. But, let's be honest, all eyes are going to be on the Bob Bafffert trained Reach the World. That's why I've attached Battle of Midway's allowance race win over Reach the World from March 9. That was one heck of a battle down the stretch. If Reach the World had gotten a better trip, I think he would have reached Battle of Midway.

We'll see what happens on April 8. I'm going to say that McCraken proves his quality by winning the Bluegrass Stakes. J Boys Echo is my pick to finish third in that race. I like Reach the World over both Battle of Midway, and Iliad with Gormley finishing off the board.

The Wood Memorial is wide-open. I think Irish War Cry could do something special in that race if he's learned how to rate. I'd love to see Irish War Cry go 4 to 5 lengths off the pace before making a run to the wire first.

Good luck this week!