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Homeracing

The Triple Crown Hopefuls Most Likely to Make the Kentucky Derby Starting Gate

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TwinSpires Staff

February 16th, 2016

by LAURA PUGH

Presidents Day ended the first leg of the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” with style.

Champion Nyquist won his first outing (albeit in the no-points San Vicente), and Suddenbreakingnews suddenly surged to the front of everyone’s mind with his victory in the Southwest Stakes.

But what does the picture look like now, and what may it look like by the first Saturday in May? The 20 horses below are ranked in order of who I most expect to see make the Kentucky Derby starting gate on May 7 among those who have already earned points (e.g. horses like Danzing Candy and Zulu aren’t ranked because neither has points).

1.) Mohaymen- He is unbeaten and he by the hottest sire in the country. Oh, and he ran away with the 2016 Holy Bull Stakes to begin his season. Currently he is being aimed to the Fountain of Youth, a race that he doesn’t need to win, but likely will. He’s got the speed, he’s got the mind, he’s got the turn of foot, and he’s got the versatility to win the Derby. The only thing now is to keep him sound (knock on wood). If that happens, he’s the likely Derby favorite.

2.) Mor Spirit- Can he finish the work left for him by his unfortunate sire Eskendereya? This horse is bred and built to go long. He can sit close or midpack, whatever the race setup calls for, and he still fires his best shot. He also has a crack team, with Bob Baffert as a trainer and Gary Stevens as rider. If he can keep it together, Baffert could end up the Kentucky Derby in two consecutive years (the last trainer to accomplish that feat was Baffert with Silver Charm and Real Quiet in 1997 and 1998, respectively)

3.) Greenpointcrusader- This horse ran an unbelievable race only to finish second to an as-of-yet unbeatable force of nature named Mohaymen. He ran contrary to his typical style, when he forced the pace in the Fountain of Youth, then took over and tried to hold off Mohaymen. His internal splits were nothing to sneeze at either. He’ll likely improve off of that race, the question is whether he’ll stay in town for the Fountain of Youth, or ship elsewhere to pad his resume with more points.

4.) Exaggerator- This poor colt just keeps on running into buzz saw after buzz saw. Loses to Champion Nyquist, sprinting, in his maiden, only to come back and dominate at Saratoga. Then gets nipped by Brody’s Cause, only to get beaten again by Nyquist. Once away from that foe, he wins the Delta Jackpot, but unfortunately he began 2016 the same as 2015, by losing a sprint to Nyquist. He still ran a bang up race, finishing the San Vicente in a shade under 1.21 for seven furlongs. Being by Curlin, there is plenty of reason to think he’ll be capable of stretching out later down the line.

5.) Suddenbreakingnews- This son of Mineshaft went from zero to hero in about 5.3 seconds. Yes, I said 5.3 seconds, which happens to be the amount of time it took him to complete his final 1/16th of a mile. He is bred up, down, and sideways for distance, and as we saw he has a monster turn of foot. He’ll likely return for the Rebel Stakes, where he’ll get a chance to show if his freakish run in the Southwest was a fluke or for real.

6.) Nyquist- The Juvenile Champion came back with a bang in his 2016 bow, but it was a sprint. He has shown the ability to get 8.5 furlongs effectively, but the Kentucky Derby distance of 10 furlongs is a very different ball game. He’s got a good mind, talent, and speed, but will he have the foundation? With only one two turn prep, I’m going to say no, but he already has 30 points, so he’ll be in the gate regardless.

7.) Mo Tom- This horse has a lot of back class going for him. He finished third in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stake to Airoforce and Mor Spirit, before coming to the Fair Grounds to take the Le Comte. He’s by Uncle Mo, whose biggest win came a 8.5f, but he has plenty of stamina from his dam’s side.

8.) Airoforce- He has been flattered by Mo Tom and Mor Spirit, since winning what appears to be a key race in the Kentucky Jockey Club. The reason he is currently ranked below these two is his slow start to the races, and the fact that his major dirt win was over an off track. I’d like to see him get a big win over a dry, dirt surface. Luckily, he will likely get a chance in the upcoming Risen Star, against Mo Tom.

9.) Brody’s Cause- This little one just keeps on running, running, running (que in Dori from Finding Nemo). That mentality won him the Breeders Futurity and got him third place in the Breeders Cup Juvenile. He’s ranked lower due to the fact he only stated working at the very end of January. This one displayed a load of potential in 2015, but we need to see if it transferred over to this season before placing him any higher.

10.) Sunny Ridge- This one had a habit of running second, but turned that around when winning the Withers Stakes. In that race he displayed a bevy of courage and heart, what he didn’t was speed. It was a horrendously slow running of the race, and the number reflected that. He’s a nice colt, with a nice pedigree, but he’ll need to step things up if he wants to make the gates for the Kentucky Derby.

11.) Swipe- His record stands at seven starts, one win, five seconds, and one third. Four of those second place finishes came at the hooves of Nyquist. There are a lot who believed that this would be Swipe’s year to outshine his nemesis, as the distances grew longer, but there is a slight problem. Swipe hasn’t been seen on the work tab all year. If his connections expect to make the Derby then they better start getting some races into him, and fast.

12.) Flexibility- He was as consistent as they come, then threw a clunker in the Withers. Before that he won the Jerome Stakes and ran second to Mohaymen. He obviously has talent, but he’ll need to revert back to his old ways if he’s to stay in the to 20.

13.) Riker- He was unbeaten at Woodbine, before tiring to fifth in the Breeders Cup Juvenile. He’s been working at Gulfstream Park, so he could return in the Fountain of Youth. The plus is that Gulfstream favors his style, the bad news is he will be facing off against Mohaymen. Thankfully, a win isn’t required to get him a chunk of points, just a good second or third.

14.) Collected- His pedigree screams miler and his final quarter in the Sham Stakes was snail like. I don’t give him much chance at staying in the top 20. He did run a decent race in the Southwest Stakes, considering he didn’t get his ideal set up, but he’ll need to do much better to keep gaining points.

15.) Discreetness- See the review on Collected. The only difference is his Smarty Jones was nearly as unimpressive. I just don’t see this one relishing the extra distance in the upcoming preps.

16.) Vorticity- This one seems to like the second place spot, first against Flexibility, then against Sunny Ridge. Two nice colts, but in upcoming races he’ll be facing better. In order to keep gaining points he will need to severely up his game.

17.) Cocked and Loaded- Much like Swipe, he has been MIA for 2016. He showed flashes of potential last year that many hoped he would build upon this season. If he doesn’t start showing up sometime soon then his connections can kiss their Derby dreams good bye.

18.) Frank Conversation- He broke his maiden on turf and both of his stakes wins have come over a track made of plastic. Unfortunately for him, Derby point are hard to come by on synthetic tracks and are non existent over turf races, in America. If his connections are aiming for the Kentucky Derby they might want to target some dirt preps.

19.) Rated R Superstar- This one won’t be on the list for much longer. “Superstar” only has a maiden win to his credit and has performed quite poorly in his most recent graded stakes outings. It’s only a matter of time before another takes this spot.

20.) Kasseopia- This one is Frank Conversation 2.0. No wins over dirt. I do not see this one gaining any traction on the Road to the Roses.

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