2013 Kentucky Derby Contenders

With 2012 coming to a close, it’s time to get serious about the 2013 Kentucky Derby.  The following is a list of well-known and not-so-well-known contenders I will be tracking in the coming months.  As any fan of the Derby knows, a list made in December is anything but set in stone with additions and defections occurring daily.

Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Key Races: 1st Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), 1st Champagne S. (G1)
Comments: The logical 2-year-old Champion will surely get most of the early ink and online bytes from Derby watchers.  You would think an undefeated Champion is hard to knock, but critics are aplenty. Many are skeptical of the field quality in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and the final speed numbers were substantially lower than other 2012 key juvenile stakes.  He fought hard to find a second wind in the stretch, but would he have held on another furlong? Doubtful. 
Next Step: Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 26 to give him the option of running three times if need be, though Pletcher would prefer to run just twice before the Derby- ideally Holy Bull then Florida Derby on March 30 prior to the Kentucky Derby.

Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Key Races: 1st CashCall Futurity (G1), 1st Nashua S. (G2)
Comments: Made a name for himself when shipping from one coast to another and winning the CashCall in his third start. The strength of that cast is questionable for now, but his breeding, running style, and toughness suggests he warrants serious attention moving forward. 
Next Step: Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream or Risen Star at Fair Grounds both Feb 23

Trainer: Mark Casse
Key Races: 1st Kentucky Jockey Club S. (G2), 1st Iroqouis (G3)
Comments: The first favorite in the Derby future book by Wynn Las Vegas, found those odds swell after a no-show effort at Woodbine and then contract again after sweeping the two graded juvenile stakes at Churchill. His last victory wasn’t decisive, but showed grit.
Next Steps: Sam Davis at Tampa Bay Downs Feb 2.  Tampa Bay Derby likely afterwards.

Trainer: Doug O’Neill
Key Races: 1st Delta Jackpot (G3), 2nd Champagne S. (G1)
Comments: The 1 million dollar Delta Jackpot is always a quirky race, with a mix mash of second level juveniles negotiating a track unlike anything they will race on elsewhere.  Nonetheless, this year’s winner Goldencents could be the real deal, having proved himself in a prior race with an educational 2nd place finish in the Champagne at Belmont against Shanghai Bobby.   
Next Step: Sham Stakes at Santa Anita January 5th.

Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Key Races: 1st Remsen (G2), 3rd Iroquois S. (G3), 1st Futurity (G2)
Comments: Redeemed himself in the Remsen at Belmont after a sound beating in the Iroquois at Churchill. Has shown versatility in running style and working through obstacles so can’t be ignored. However, questions exist about his class, ability at 10 furlongs, and fondness for the Churchill strip.
Next Steps: Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct March 2. Wood Memorial after that likely.
Race Video: 11/24/12 Remsen S.

Trainer: Chad Brown
Key Races: 2nd Remsen S. (G2)
Comments: Appeared shot out of a cannon when moving from the back of the pack to the front in the Remsen.  What was most impressive about that move and head-bob defeat was the fact the pace was not particularly soft and he had to alter course from the outside, inside, then outside again.  Adversity, dirt, and two turns appear to be no problem.
Next Step: Unknown, although Wood Memorial April 6th has been mentioned as long-range target.
Race Video: 11/24/12 Remsen S.

Trainer: Doug O’Neill
Key Races: 2nd Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), 5th CashCall Futurity (G1)
Comments: Seemed to wake up in the Juvenile, his first and only start on dirt. Lost out on the top prize by a head and also dealt with some adversity throughout the race.  He took a step back three weeks later in the CashCall, but all of his duds have occurred on synthetic.
Next Step: O’Neill has not indicated what the next move will be, but a return to Santa Anita is likely. No published workouts since the CashCall.

Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Key Races: 1st MSW at Aqueduct
Comments: Finally broke his maiden in his fourth start, but did so in eye-popping fashion going a mile at Aqueduct in 1:08.61.  He earned a Beyer speed figure of 102, the highest of any juvenile in 2012, and considering his connections must be taken seriously moving forward. His dam is a graded stakes winner at 10 furlongs, so further stretching out could help.
Next Step: Unknown

Trainer: Cecil Borel
Key Races: 1st ALW at Fair Grounds
Comments: Three-time Kentucky Derby winner Calvin Borel thought enough of this colt to make a special one race appearance for the recent allowance win.  Despite the hype from the barn, it’s hard to measure how he stacks up against the top tier contenders, but is definitely one to watch on the Fair Grounds (or Oaklawn) route to the Derby. 
Next Steps: Lecomte S. Jan 19 at the Fair Grounds or Smarty Jones Jan 21 at Oaklawn. 

Trainer: Patrick Byrne
Key Races: 7th Kentucky Jockey Club S. (G2), 2nd Iroquois S. (G3),
Comments: It’s never wise to call a juvenile in your barn “my next Derby hopeful” in June, but trainer Patrick Byrne did just that. Positively has only won one race in six tries, but has shown promise by finishing 2nd behind highly regarded Uncaptured in the Iroquois Stakes at Churchill.  Byrne had several excuses for his 7th in the KY Jockey Club, including blaming himself for trying to squeeze in another race for 2012.  Positively is a half-brother to Malibu Moon who has sired several Derby entrants.
Next Step: “I’m going to give him a little break and probably bring him back sometime in February”- Patrick Byrne

Trainer: Jerry Hollendorfer
Key Races: 2nd CashCall Futurity (G1), 2nd Real Quiet Stakes
Comments: Simply didn’t have enough to hold the lead in his last two stakes tries, but showed toughness especially considering the fractions in the CashCall.  Dirt remains a question mark.
Next Step: Undisclosed race most likely at Santa Anita

Trainer: Bob Baffert
Key Race: 3rd CashCall Futurity (G1), 1st Generous Stakes (G3)
Comments: Raised some eyebrows with a nice strong move on the far outside in the final turn of the CashCall. Another to worry about on dirt however.
Next Step: Undisclosed race most likely at Santa Anita

Trainer: Darrin Miller
Key Races: Belmont MSW
Comments: Up until a few days ago, owned the highest Beyer speed figure of any juvenile in 2012.  Even more interesting is that debut win in October was against the new speed leader Revolutionary, further backing up his figure. Although there are some signs of distance in his pedigree, it is not entirely comforting they chose to keep him at six furlongs for his second race Tuesday. Recently purchased by Silverton Farm, which also means he’s no longer under the care of Michael Mareina.
Next Step: Spectacular Bid S. at Gulfstream Park January 1st.

Trainer: Bob Baffert
Key Races: 1st MSW at Hollywood Park
Comments: It’s not Derby season without a hyped debut winner from the Baffert barn. Breaking his maiden by a comfortable 3 1/2 length margin at Hollywood Park, the son of Tapit immediately had some thinking of Roses come May- especially his confident trainer.  His breeding is top notch, coming from a mare who has already produced a multiple graded stakes winner (Zazu), and although Flashback has yet to race on dirt, his numerous workouts at Santa Anita have been brisk. Recently missed a work with stiffness however, and will not run in the Sham.  
Next Step: Unknown given recent setback.

Trainer: Bob Baffert
Key Races: 1st MSW at Hollywood Park
This $450,000 yearling purchase showed promise with a debut win at Hollywood Park in November. The quality of that field remains to be seen and the race was on synthetic.  The fact he’s conditioned by Bob Baffert and likelihood of longer upcoming races will only help. 
Next Step: Unknown. “We knew he could run.  He got a little sick on me after the race, but he’s back in training now.”- Bob Baffert

Trainer: Jerry Hollendorfer
Key Races: 1st MSW at Hollywood Park
Comments: A surprise maiden breaker who went off at 16-1, Hear the Ghost was a convincing winner against 10 other foes. Half-brother to two good fillies, including a multiple graded stakes winner, but none of those siblings won going two turns.  
Next Step: Unknown

Trainer: Kenneth McPeek
Key Races: 2nd Kentucky Jockey Club S. (G2)
Comments: Only lost by a head to Uncaptured, a horse many believe to be the best current Derby prospect.  With that race being at Churchill going two turns, there’s reason for McPeek to be encouraged.
Next Step: "I'd like to get one race into him before the Fountain of Youth (Feb. 23) and then come back for the Florida Derby (March 30),"- Kenny McPeek.

Trainer: Dale Romans
Key Races: 3rd Kentucky Jockey Club (G2)
Comments: The stretch duel between Uncaptured and Frac Daddy got most the attention after the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, but just behind them was Dewey Square who came wide and appeared to be running faster in the final strides.  Having dominated an allowance four weeks prior on the same Churchill track at the same distance, I like his trajectory.  Unlike some other top trainers, Romans will give him every chance to make the Derby.
Next Step: “We’ll probably aim him for the big two, the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby, later in the meet,”- Dale Romans.

Trainer: Dale Romans
Key Races: 1st ALW at Churchill Downs
Comments: Definitely appears to like Churchill as he finally broke his maiden in his fourth start and followed it up with a commanding allowance win. Connections obviously hold high expectations based on his $775,000 price tag.  His dam is a multiple graded stakes winner, but all at sprint distances.  The decision to run in the Jerome at Aqueduct is a little curious, seeing as the race does not offer Derby points like the originally planned Holy Bull.
Next Step: Jerome Stakes Jan 5 at Aqueduct

Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Key Races: 1st MSW at Saratoga
Comments: Training steadily for a return to action since his easy maiden score in August. Might take a race or two to get back on his game from such a long layoff, but shows the right pedigree and connection signs.
Next Step: Allowance in February
Race Video: 8/4/12 Saratoga MSW

Trainer: Bob Baffert
Key Races: 5th Breeders Cup Juvenile (G1), 1st Front Runner S. (G1),
Comments: Makes this list with great trepidation. His dominating victory in the Front Runner made him an immediate Derby prospect but he subsequently laid an egg in the Breeders’ Cup a month later. Baffert says he needs to bulk up and will look for something in March, but that long of a vacation always raises concerns on fitness come May.  
Next Step: “You’ll see him in March”- Bob Baffert

Trainer: Jane Cibelli
Key Races: 1st Inaugural S.
Comments: Undefeated in three starts, but yet to go farther than six furlongs.  Steps up to a mile Tuesday against his most competitive opposition yet. Has shown the ability to rate and trainer Cibelli loves his long stride.
Next Step: Gulfstream Park Derby Jan 1.

Kentucky Derby Related Articles and Rankings:
Kentucky Derby 2013: Top 20 (Bloodhorse Blog)