Yes, it’s only mid-January, but I already feel like I’m behind in considering legitimate Kentucky Derby contenders—that is, beyond Uncle Mo. Is it just my imagination, or was last year’s juvenile crop weak? When I sat down to consider who I would nominate for the Eclipse, beyond the BC Juvenile champ, the best I could come up with is the now-retired-to-stud Kantharos and a turf horse, Pluck. However, To Honor and Serve and Boys at Tosconova made it to the top three, the former based solely on two G2 wins and the latter after being solidly beaten by Uncle Mo. Admittedly, To Honor and Serve could very well be a late bloomer, and he appears to have the proper distance pedigree so I’ll consider him carefully moving forward—but I’m not yet a fan, despite my sincere respect for trainer Bill Mott.
So, I’m on the prowl for a Derby horse. Gulfstream race 7 on Friday looks as good a place as any for potential contenders, being a 9-furlong dirt contest for 3-year-old maidens. On breeding, there are a few interesting entries. In his first effort, Pleasant Run showed nothing, but he threw down a bullet 5-furlong work immediately following that race, gains the services of Julien Leparoux here, and goes with blinkers on. The winner of that maiden effort, Private Prize, went on to finish second in Tropical Park Derby, while runner-up Wilkinson won next out at Fair Grounds and is entered in this Saturday’s G3 LeComte. In breeding, he’s closely related to G2-placed Lager who finished second behind Lemon Drop Kid in the 2000 Brooklyn Handicap, and third by the same and Behrens in that year’s Suburban going 10-furlongs. I also love Gallant Man as his third damsire.
Todd Pletcher sends out Dance City who just doesn’t strike me as a strong Derby candidate, although his dam’s full-siblings include G1 winner No Review (who won at 10-furlongs) and G1 Gazelle runner-up Dance Colony. As a son of City Zip, he’s closely related to Carson City mare Promenade Girl (daughter of another full-sister), who finished third behind Unbridled Belle in the 2007 G2 Delaware Handicap, as well as third in both the G1 Spinster and Odgen Phipps.
Perhaps the most impressive pedigree is that of first-time starter Niederzel, by Rock Hard Ten out of the Seattle Slew mare Quiet Dream; his second dam is the Secretariat mare Partygoer whose progeny included multi-G1 winner Dare and Go (conqueror of the great Cigar, ending his 16-race win streak) and G1 Sword Dancer (at 12-furlongs) victor Go Deputy.
Two races later, there’s a 3-year-old allowance going the same distance, and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf runner-up Soldat is entered for Kiaran McLaughlin, intent on testing him one more time on dirt. Todd Pletcher sends out $1.725 million in horseflesh, with the Empire Maker colt Financial Empire (whose dam Bank Audit was strictly a sprinter) and the Unbridled’s Song colt Lauburu (who’s a half-brother to champion Ashado, as well as G1 Belmont third-place finisher Sunriver). Another blueblood entered here is the Mineshaft colt Dialed In, whose second dam is BC Juvenile Fillies champion and G1 Kentucky Oaks runner-up Eliza. I like his works.
Another interesting entry here in race 9 is Cold Blue Red Hot, a Harlan’s Holiday colt who’s half-sister sister Decelerator was G2-placed last year in the Raven Run. Theoretically, he should get the classic distances, so we’ll have to see how he’s developed since his last start. Carl Nafzger and Jim Tafel team up with Beamer, a Vindication colt whose dam is a full-sister to champion Banshee Breeze, victress in the G1 Coaching Club American Oaks at 12-furlongs.