LATT’S Top Kentucky Derby Contenders – 3/22/17
By Casey Laughter
This year’s Kentucky Derby (GI) picture is as cloudy as it has ever been. On this list, there are four undefeated horses, but there are questions surrounding every single one. Is the eventual winner on this list? Possibly, but who?
Gunnevera (Dialed In – Unbridled Rage, by Unbridled) – This colt from the first crop of Darby Dan stallion Dialed In has never run a truly bad race, even with a fifth in last season’s Breeders’ Futurity (GI) at Keeneland, where he finished behind eventual Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) winner and juvenile champion Classic Empire. In his 3-year-old debut, the colt ran second to a “loose on the lead” Irish War Cry. However, in that second-place finish, he showed he could sit just a bit closer to the early pace than normal, and was able to close to defeat the rest of a nice field, which included Classic Empire. In the Fountain of Youth Stakes (GI) last out, however, Gunnevera sustained a strong, extended run that began up the backstretch and went full swing around the turn. Overall, he is the most consistent horse and moving in the right direction.
McCraken (Ghostzapper – Ivory Empress, by Seeking the Gold) – After filling in his ankle was discovered, the Tampa Bay Derby (GIII) earlier this month was off the table. However, he is back to the work tab, recently going four furlongs in an easy :50 2/5. The colt is undefeated in four starts and will attempt to keep his record intact following a likely start in the Blue Grass Stakes (GII) at Keeneland on April 8. His most recent workout was visually satisfactory and he covered the five furlongs in 1:00, which was the fastest of seven works for the distance on the day. If he wins the Blue Grass, he will likely move back to the top of the list. However, the last runner to complete the Blue Grass-Kentucky Derby double was Strike the Gold in 1991.
Tapwrit (Tapit – Appealing Zophie, by Successful Appeal) – The Todd Pletcher trainee flattered rival McCraken when setting a track record last out in the Tampa Bay Derby, a race McCraken had to miss due to injury. Tapwrit is a late runner who mows horses down with his huge stride and though he has a pedigree that may not immediately say 10 furlongs, he is proving to do better with added distance. Pletcher is debating another start for the colt before the Kentucky Derby, seeing that six weeks is a long stretch between starts. The colt was a $1.2 million yearling purchase for Bridlewood Farm, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Robert LaPenta. While he seems to be improving, his pedigree is leaving many weary.
Malagacy (Shackleford – Classiest Gem, by Dehere) – Following distance-limitation concerns, Malagacy passed his two-turn test with flying colors in last week’s Rebel Stakes (GII) at Oaklawn Park. He was the only runner close to the early pace who kept going down the stretch. Uncontested, Royal Mo and American Anthem all quit by the quarter pole, if not before. The colt by 2011 Preakness Stakes (GI) winner Shackleford will likely target the Arkansas Derby (GI) next after coming out his Rebel win, “great,” according to Adele Bellinger, assistant to Pletcher who is also the colt’s regular exercise rider. If he can continue to improve through the next two months, he has big shot. However, he does have the Curse of Apollo on his shoulders, as no horse has won the Kentucky Derby without at least starting as a 2-year-old.
Girvin (Tale of Ekati – Catch the Moon, by Malibu Moon) – Since his slight upset in the Risen Star Stakes (GII) at Fair Grounds last out, Girvin has turned in two works for trainer Joe Sharp, one four furlongs in :49 and another five furlongs in 1:01. Unfortunately Girvin’s pedigree is quite suspect for ten furlongs; sire Tale of Ekati was able to win at nine furlongs, but was best from seven to eight furlongs. Malibu Moon is a young broodmare sire, but is represented by Stellar Wind, a daughter of Curlin who has been effective at nine furlongs. This colt has shown versatility in his short career, and is targeting the Louisiana Derby (GII) next. He’s been raced exclusively at Fair Grounds, so never having shipped may be a concern if he makes it to Louisville.
J Boys Echo (Mineshaft – Letgomyecho, by Menifee) – Stablemate to last year’s potential superstar in Not This Time, J Boys Echo has been content rounding out the trifecta most of the time, but finally broke through to win the Gotham Stakes (GIII). The son of Mineshaft was a $485,000 yearling purchase for the Albaugh Family Stable and is being aimed at the Kentucky Derby after earning 50 points for the Gotham victory. The Wood Memorial Stakes (GI) may not be next start and last before the Derby as trainer Dale Romans said he has not ruled out the Florida Derby next week. Wherever he goes, he is pretty reliable to get a paycheck, but can he continue to win?
Classic Empire (Pioneerof the Nile – Sambuca Classica, by Cat Thief) – The only reason this horse is still on here is because number one, I have a soft spot for him and the Casse barn in general; and two, his refusing to work is not all that uncommon in good racehorses. Classic Empire has had just two works since the Holy Bull, where he finished third, and there is only 18 days until his next anticipated start the Blue Grass on April 8. When he does have himself together, he is a tough horse who shows a lot of heart. Remember, champions such as Runhappy and Zenyatta commonly pulled themselves up or refused to work entirely.
Iliad (Ghostzapper – Little Swoon, by You and I) – This Doug O’Neill-trained colt is headed to the Santa Anita Derby (GI) following a distant second in the San Felipe Stakes (GII) behind a now injured Mastery. He is still a little green, which he displayed in the San Felipe after playing musical leads (swapping from his right lead to his left, then back to his right) down the lane. While no one was defeating Mastery that day, this colt responded on cue when asked for more, and looks like he is improving. Additionally, a horse he soundly beat in his San Vicente (GIII) score named Battle of Midway came back to win impressively. Iliad will face familiar foes in the Santa Anita Derby, and the only Kentucky Derby hope left for Bob Baffert: American Anthem.
One Liner (Into Mischief – Cayala, by Cherokee Run) – After a solid win in the Southwest Stakes (GIII) last out, One Liner has options for his final Kentucky Derby prep. Pletcher is debating the Wood Memorial, the Santa Anita Derby, the Florida Derby and the Blue Grass for not only One Liner but for all his Kentucky Derby prospects. One Liner is bred to be a Kentucky Derby horse. Sire Into Mischief has had Kentucky Derby starters with Vicar’s In Trouble, Goldencents and Vyjack, with the best finish being 17th (Goldencents). Additionally, Cherokee Run is a proven source of speed, speed and more speed. He will have to outrun his pedigree to stay on this list.
Untrapped (Trappe Shot – Exit Three, by Giant’s Causeway) – This colt is the only graded stakes-placed horse for his dam, but is a half to two winners, and another 2-year-old of 2017. He has a late kick and needs a pace to run at, but has managed to close that gap effectively by finishing no worse than third in his five starts. Overall he simply may not be as fast as others in this crop, or he may just need more ground. Trappe Shot was a quality sprinter/miler while and Giant’s Causeway is proving the be an effective broodmare sire, having 39% winners out of his daughters. Overall, this colt might make the Kentucky Derby, but needs to step it up in every way possible to get a check.
For full Future Book odds on all your Kentucky Derby hopefuls, go to: