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Home » Derby Culture » LATT’s Top Early Kentucky Derby Contenders – 2/5/17

LATT’s Top Early Kentucky Derby Contenders – 2/5/17

By Casey Laughter

The 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby (GI) is only three months away and more potential stars are starting to show just how promising they are while others are about to make their highly anticipated 3-year-old debuts. This year seems to be strong among the colts and geldings aiming for the Kentucky Derby, and the ride is just beginning. Is your Derby horse on the list?

Classic Empire Wins the Breeders' Futurity at Keelenand 10/16. Photo: Casey Laughter

Classic Empire Winning the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland 10/16/16. Photo: Casey Laughter

Classic Empire (Pioneerof the Nile – Sambuca Classic, by Cat Thief) – Even after a third-place finish in the Holy Bull Stakes (GIII) he is still better thus far than most on this list. He did have some issues getting into the gate and was very washed out in the 75 degree weather at Gulfstream Park on Saturday. Whether he was just too hot or needed the race, this colt is still a clear leader for the Derby. Also, both trainer Mark Casse and owner John Oxley are very high on this colt and believe he is just a picture of a top class racehorse. His pedigree is nothing to shake a head at either.

McCraken (Ghostzapper – Ivory Empress, by Seeking the Gold) – If track plays a part in horses winning the Kentucky Derby, look no further than this Ian Wilkes trainee as McCraken is three-for-three over the Churchill Downs main track. For his next target, Wilkes has confirmed the colt will make his debut in the Sam F. Davis Stakes (GIII) at Tampa Bay Downs next week. He has been training very well at Palm Meadows and recently worked a bullet five furlongs in 1:00 2/5. The colt has a nice pedigree to improve with added distance, but also has the speed to do what he needs to do and put himself in a position he needs to be in to win.

Mastery winning the 2017 Bob Hope Stakes (GIII) at Del Mar. Photo: LATT

Mastery winning the 2016 Bob Hope Stakes (GIII) at Del Mar. Photo: LATT

Mastery (Candy Ride – Steady Course, by Old Trieste) – Mastery is trainer Bob Baffert’s mainstay charge for the Derby and is undefeated in three starts. While he hasn’t faced the quality of horses the East Cost has thus far, he is a promising young horse. His pedigree, which could be determined as stamina-oriented, is not promised and as strong as the top two. The colt was visually impressive striding out in the Los Alamitos CashCall Futurity (GI), but his inaction on the track has been a bit of a concern, and where he will surface next is unsure as well although after a work on February Baffert indicated it will be his home base of Santa Anita or the Rebel Stakes (GIII) at Oaklawn Park.

American Anthem (Bodemeister – Indy’s Windy, by A.P. Indy) – In his debut, he only won by a neck going six furlongs, so the advance to two turns in the Sham Stakes (GIII) had some wondering if it was, “too much too soon.” However, while the colt finished second to Gormley, he fought every step of the way and likely gained more education in that race than anyone expected and his fight and pedigree are the largest reasons he ranks above Gormley. Both of their sires, Empire Maker and A.P. Indy, are Belmont Stakes (GI) winners and his female family has plenty of stamina through Quack, T.V. Lark, and Cloudy Dawn, tracing to Aunt Tilt, a half-sister to Damascus, by English Derby, St. Leger and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth winner Tulyar.


Gormley. Photo: Jim Safford

Gormley (Malibu Moon – Race to Urga, by Bernstein) – I have never been as high on a son of Malibu Moon as I am on Gormley, with the exception of Orb in 2013. Gormley strikes me as being physically more mature than his counterparts; he is very well-muscled and has a beautiful stride. His battle in the Sham Stakes gave me confidence that he could continue to stretch out, but again, how much more? His pedigree has several stamina influences, including A.P. Indy, Affirmed and Strawberry Road, but there is also a massive amount of turf influence. Could Shirreffs have a future turf horse on his hands?

El Areeb (Exchange Rate – Feathered Diamonds, by A.P. Indy) – While I am not completely sold on him, I did look into his pedigree and he does have the “goods” to be a top Kentucky Derby prospect. While Exchange Rate sired horses who never wanted any part of 10 furlongs, some were effective up to nine furlongs. The colt has been working at Laurel Park well and should surface somewhere soon, likely following the New York Circuit to Louisville, if he can stay consistent as the distances get longer. His Jerome win indicated he is legitimate, but only time will tell.

Gunnevera (Dialed In – Unbridled Rage, by Unbridled) – The Antonio Sano trainee is a major reason his sire Dialed In was champion first-crop sire, having won the Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes (GIII). The colt has won from 5 ½ furlongs to 1 1/16 miles and has displayed a strong late charge. In his Saratoga Special victory he crushed Sonic Mule by almost 19 lengths and Sonic Mule has come back to win three in a row, including the recent Mucho Macho Man Stakes. Gunnevara, while loaded with stamina on top and bottom, is going to be at a disadvantage as he is at the mercy of the pace being a late runner.

Irish War Cry. Photo: Herringswell Stables

Irish War Cry. Photo: Herringswell Stables

Irish War Cry (Curlin – Irish Sovereign, Polish Numbers) — Irish War Cry got an easy, uncontested lead in the Holy Bull and won drawing away to earn a spot here. Horses who can usually get an easy lead can carry their speed, especially at Gulfstream Park. Irish War Cry shipped in from Laurel after two straight wins and his pedigree suggests the colt will only get better with distance. Can he compete against the best of this crop? His speed looks to be legitimate and the New Jersey-bred looks strong moving into the Kentucky Derby picture.

Uncontested (Tiz Wonderful – Galileo’s Star, by Lil E. Tee) – The pedigree on this one caught me a bit off guard, not expecting the colt to be as impressive as I had first through. Tiz Wonderful was a nice racehorse and has sired horses such as My Happy Face, In Trouble and Big Trouble. Uncontested has speed, but likely will rate if asked. His huge, sounding stride says the colt will easily cover more distance, which he will get in his next start, anticipated to be the Southwest Stakes (GIII). A possibility in the Southwest is that jockey Channing Hill may try to rate him, even just a bit, and if it is effective this colt will move up on anyone’s list quite quickly.

Guest Suite (Quality Road – Guest House, by Ghostzapper) – The Neil Howard trainee proved a lot of people, including me, wrong in the LeComte Stakes (GIII), kicking it into gear in the stretch and winning impressively as the favorite. The female family on this gelding is endless, including his second dam, Welcome Surprise, being a half-sister to Hall of Famer A.P. Indy and Summer Squall, who Howard saddled to win the 1990 Preakness. Guest Suite has now won at three different tracks and finished third behind McCraken in the Street Sense Stakes in his first stakes race.

Mo Town (Uncle Mo – Grazi Mille, by Bernardini) – His win in the nine-furlong Remsen Stakes (GIII) was impressive, holding off a strong charge from No Dozing. His maiden also came at one mile at Belmont. Mo Town is bred to run two turns, but also has excellent tactical speed and the ability to carry that speed a long way. I would like to see more quality horses in his next start, but horses can only run against those in the starting gate.

Keep an eye on…

Battalion Runner (Unbridled’s Song – Tamboz, by Tapit) — Todd Pletcher has another colt on the Kentucky Derby trail. Whether the conditioner keeps him in Florida remains to be seen, but a possible stakes debut could be the Fountain of Youth (GII) next month.

Mr. and Mrs. J. S. Moss' Royal Mo and jockey Victor Espinoza win the Grade III, $150,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes, Saturday, February 4, 2017 at Santa Anita Park, Arcadia CA.© BENOIT PHOTO

Mr. and Mrs. J. S. Moss’ Royal Mo and jockey Victor Espinoza win the Grade III, $150,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes, Saturday, February 4, 2017 at Santa Anita Park, Arcadia CA.© BENOIT PHOTO

Royal Mo (Uncle Mo – Royal Irish Lass, by Saint Ballado) — Royal Mo made his stakes debut in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (GII) at Santa Anita and made the most of it, breaking a half-step slow and still managing to hit the front and keep his position all the way. The colt absolutely is huge and looks like he will have no issue going farther. In the future, I actually could see this colt being a nice turf horse.

For up-to-date Future Book odds on your favorite Derby horse, go to (click):

 US Racing Derby Odds 2017