Six horses to watch on the Kentucky Derby trail

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

February 6th, 2018

A year ago at this time the eventual Kentucky Derby (G1) winner, Always Dreaming, was generally off most people's radars. While the colt hailed from the powerhouse Todd Pletcher stable and had belatedly broken his maiden in late January by more than 11 lengths in his third start, he had earned that diploma at Tampa Bay Downs, hardly a traditional cradle of Derby winners.

Though clever enough to see his potential for inclusion in an online contest, I spent much of the spring focusing on Derby contenders with established stakes form. Keep in mind, also, that at this point 12 months ago Always Dreaming was still seven weeks or so away from his stakes debut, which turned out to be a winning one in the Florida Derby (G1).

Derby winners like Always Dreaming do occasionally pop up relatively late. Big Brown (2008) and Animal Kingdom (2011) are other examples of winners in the past 10 years that didn't make their first post-maiden appearance until the early days of March.

There's no guarantee the Derby will be won again by a late bloomer this year, but it doesn't hurt to look beyond the 23 individual betting interests in this week's Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool 2 to see what else might be out there. The best way to go about it is to look through the past performances of all Triple Crown nominees, a list of which was released last week.

Having done so, here's my personal list of some three-year-olds I'll be on the lookout for in the weeks and months ahead.

CURLIN'S HONOR -- A $1.5 million son of Curlin, he prevailed narrowly in his debut as an odds-on favorite at Keeneland on October 7. That was at six furlongs, and he's obviously bred to appreciate longer. Trained by Mark Casse.

HIGHER POWER -- Half-brother to multiple stakes winner Alternation is two-for-two over a mile, including a last-out allowance win at Oaklawn where he earned a good education taking dirt while in tight quarters. Pin Oak homebred missed some recent training with a temperature, but could be one to watch for in next month's Rebel (G2).

PERSONAL TIME -- Admittedly behind the eight-ball as a three-race maiden, this full brother to 2013 Kentucky Derby winner Orb came rolling late to grab second in a one-mile Gulfstream maiden special weight on January 27, showing considerable improvement in his first start with Lasix. Chances are he won't be rushed into a stakes even in the event of a next-out graduation, but if he were impressive enough...

SUPREME AURA -- Candy Ride colt has convincingly won twice over six furlongs and looks primed to stretch out soon, perhaps for the Risen Star (G2). Presently based at Fair Grounds with Mike Stidham.

VINO ROSSO -- Son of Curlin perhaps in the mold of Always Dreaming as John Velazquez followed the colt to Tampa for an allowance win in late December at odds of 1-20. Todd Pletcher trainee is out of a half-sister to Commissioner, who narrowly missed in the 2014 Belmont S. (G1). He's likely for Saturday's Sam F. Davis (G3) at Tampa.

ZULFIKHAR -- Unraced since a five-furlong maiden win at Los Alamitos last July, he's a $750,000 son of Bodemeister (the sire of Always Dreaming) and out of a stakes-placed Mineshaft mare. Has been in steady training for Bob Baffert since late November and is reportedly heading to the Southwest (G3).