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Geir Stabell presents his Top 10 for the Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown Series.
1 - VERRAZANO He has been on the top of my list since the turn of the year and I see no reason to change that now, after he kept his unbeaten record by beating Normandy Invasion and Vyjack in the Wood Memorial (G1) at Aqueduct. Not just has Verrazano himself kept an unbeaten record and progressed in a perfect way; pay some attention to how the form of his previous races has worked out. So many that have been in his wake have franked the form subsequently. Everything seems to be pointing to one conclusion, that Verrazano is a top class horse. He idled when hitting the front in the Wood, a race where a lack of pace meant that he was travelling almost too easily throughout the contest. The way it panned out may have been very useful and educational for Verrazano. From looking to be overtaken, he quickened and went back up as he realised he had a fight on his hands. Okay, he won by less than a length, but he was was by far the best horse on the day and his rider only hit him once with the whip. Even that was just a little reminder. There is more to come from Verrazano and my only worry, as I am clutching my 50-1 future bet, is the good old question regarding stamina. He is speedy and we do not know that he stays. If he does, he will be tough to beat.
Verrazano is the best allowance winner I have seen for some time, and also best debutant winner I have seen for some time. He made his first start on January 1 and he came through his first proper test with flying colors when winning the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) by 3 lengths on his third start. It was a messy race with an uneven pace and Verrazano learnt a lot from the outing. He was up with the leaders throughout and dominated in the home stretch. Java's War made up a remarkable amount of ground to take second but Verrazano seemed to have plenty in reserve as he passed the winning post and he was value for more than the bare margin. That Java's War went on to win the Blue Grass did not hurt the value of the form did it. Verrazano had previously outclassed subsequent winner Acclaim by 7 3/4 lengths when making his debut , and crushed previous winner Eton Blue by 16 1/4 lengths in a good time over 1 1/16 miles. This half-brother to last year's Risen Star winner El Padrino is easily my top choice for the 2013 Kentucky Derby. He may not have raced at two, but misses that 'jinx' by no more than 24 hours and it matters not.
2 - ORB I liked this horse immediately when I first saw him as a juvenile but must admit I went off him - since he seemed one paced and more of a Belmont type than one for Churchill Downs. He has been steadily improving, and his win over Violence in the Fountain of Youth (G2) proved that he was a proper Kentucky Derby contender - though some doubt was cast over the form when the news broke about his runner-up Violence's injury the next day. How much that affected the result is not so important to Orb's fan club now, as he went on to win the Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream Park. Running very much like a 10-furlong performer, he outstayed Holy Bull winner Itsmyluckyday and became one of the favorites for the Kentucky Derby. Quite rightfully so.
That the time of the race was slow, compared to the brilliant filly Dreaming of Julia earlier on the day, can be seen as a positive or a negative. It is a positive if you believe, as I do, that Orb is mainly a staying type. If that is the case he was not at all suited by such a moderate pace - still won the race well. It will be interesting to see him in a strongly run race where an important factor will be stamina. He appears to have plenty of it.
3 - NORMANDY INVASION Staying on strongly at the finish, he was a bit unlucky to lose by a nose to Overanalyze in the Remsen last fall, and immediately went into many notebooks as a potentilal Derby horse. This Chad Brown runner was always going to be interesting around two turns, but his seasonal debut in the Risen Star was meaningless; after missing the break he never got into the contest at Fair Grounds. Actually, he did well to finish as close as he did. Then came the confirmation of his class; in the Wood Memorial (G1) at Aqueduct, where he finished the race off in great style to beat Vyjack in a battle for second, three parts of a length behind Verrazano. Another furlong, and a strongly run race, will be just what Normandy Invasion wants. He a potentiallly big improver and sits high on the list now.
4 - JAVA'S WAR This late foal (and late developer) by War Pass, produced a remarkable performance in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) - his first start of the year. Virtually tailed off going down the backstretch, Java's War picked up steam around the home turn and was soon in contention. He stayed on strongly down the stretch to be a clear second best, 3 lengths behind odds-on favorite Verrazano, who he was spotting 4lbs. Said trainer Ken McPeek after the race: "we ran into a freak", referring to Verazzano. But, would one not at least hold a hope that Java's War can give him a fight over 1 1/4 miles? Or will his running style 'spell nothing but trouble' at Churchill Downs? I like this contender, and he confirmed his class with an exciting last to first performance in the Blue Grass Stakes (G1) at Keeneland in April. Admittedly it was a win against a field unlikely to throw up multiple G1 winners, but he did it against a moderate pace - and was visually impressive. Ten furlongs will be just perfect and Java's War is in with a serious shot at Churchill. Particularly if they go fast early on.
5 - ITSMYLUCKYDAY arrived on the scene in midwinter, when fitness and stamina helped him beat Shanghai Bobby in the Holy Bull Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream Park. He seemed to 'come out of the blue' at Gulfstream this winter, as he also cruised to an easy win in the Gulfstream Park Derby in January, though closer inspection of his juvenile form makes it all add up. Do not dismiss this guy. Itsmulyckyday ran another solid race when second to Orb in the Florida Derby (G1) in early April. His stamina is a plus, but Orb probably stays even better and should beat him again at Churchill. That said, factors like pace scenario and post positions will also count, and Itsmyluckyday is an honest and uncomplicated runner. His form merits respect. Somehow, he's become a bit of a forgotten horse. Plenty of hype surrounding other contenders may push his odds out to around 20-1 on Derby day, That would be great value.
6 - VYJACK was beaten into third behind Verrazano and Normandy Invasion in the 9-furlong Wood Memorial (G1) at Aqueduct in April, but was a bit under a cloud after the race and he may be better than that showing suggests. Up to the Wood, he had kept on beating everything put in front of him in New York and he had also kept on improving. A winner of four races, he was visually impressive when coming from well off the pace (over a speed favoring track) to capture the Gotham with ease. The lack of pace probably compromised his chances in the Wood, and do not write him off quite yet.
7 - GOLDENCENTS He jumped right back to my top ten with his win in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) in April, when he seemed to produce a very good Globeform rating. Undoubtedly a classy runner, and one with speed, Goldencents may have been a bit flattered by that result though. Flashback, who did not pick up at all in the home straight, came back injured and the pace of the race also made it a bit false. Will Goldencents win more big races? Probably yes. Will he win over 1 1/4 miles at Churchill? Not if the pace is honest, for my money, his stamina is suspect.Give him a slow pace, however, and he becomes dangerous.
8 - OVERANALYZE Just over a week made all the difference to this colt's Derby status. First, his Remsen runner-up Normandy Invasion ran a big race for second to Verrazano in the Wood, then Overanalyze himself stepped up to the plate in the Arkansas Derby (G1) at Oaklawn Park. He was by far the best in that contest, winning it by over four lengths while conceding four pounds to the second, Frac Daddy. Overanalyze clearly needed the run first time out this year, and he is on an upward curve. The Arkansas Derby was, however, a weakish field and lost much of its value when the favorite War Academy was pulled up before the home turn. Still, this Pletcher trainee is hitting top form at the right time and he fully deserves his place in the field.
9 - REVOLUTIONARY , also from Pletcher's team, has overcome bad trips to win two of the lesser prep races. The competition was not top class in any of those contests but the way he came through to win his races suggested that he is up to capturing better contests. The Kentucky Derby distance will probably not be a problem.
10 - GOVERNOR CHARLIE did not beat much when winning at Sunland Park from 27-1 shot Show Some Magic but a five-length winner of a Derby prep should always be respected. Whether to have him, or the Rebel Stakes (G2) winner Will Take Charge, in tenth spot was a tough call but Governor Charlie seems to be open to more improvement so he gets the last slot on my list.
Globeform ratings will be posted in the Kentucky Derby preview.
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Last update: 2013-04-21 10:47:42 (First published: 2013-02-18 06:11:05 )
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