The 2014 Kentucky Derby isn’t too far away and it’s time to start ranking Kentucky Derby contenders. This post is the first of two tracking the top 10 Kentucky Derby contenders for 2014. Check back tomorrow afternoon for the rest of the story.
#1 Shared Belief (Candy Ride x Common Hope by Storm Cat): Jim Rome’s gelding has not been tested in three trips to the track, looking more impressive with each race. As of now, the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity winner is head and shoulders the best three-year-old in the country. He reminds me of 2004 Kentucky Derby winner Smarty Jones because both are “push button” horses. That means jockey Corey Nakatani can place him wherever he likes and this horse will wait patiently until C-Nak gives him his cue. Combine that with Shared Belief’s brilliance and this is one of the most interesting Kentucky Derby contenders in several years. Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer is pointing him to the Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis Stakes on February 8. It will be his first time racing over a conventional dirt surface. His pedigree indicates the surface switch won’t be a problem.
#2 Strong Mandate (Tiznow x Clear Mandate by Deputy Minister): This guy has a lot going for him. First and foremost, he has a pedigree that says he will get stronger as the races get longer. I love horses out of Deputy Minister mares as that stallion is one of the best stamina influences around. His sire, Tiznow, was a two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic winner and passes on not only tremendous ability to his offspring, but a will to win. This horse is going to respond when he gets in a dog fight. I don’t know about you, but I want a horse that isn’t going to back down from a fight. Tactical speed will serve Strong Mandate well. He can make the lead if he has to do it, but he can rate as well; he’s versatile. Trainer D Wayne Lukas has won the Run for the Roses four times and showed in 2013 that he isn’t going anywhere. If horse racing were boxing, Strong Mandate would be the top heavyweight challenger to Shared Belief. Look for him in the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park on February 17.
#3 Havana (Dunkirk x Missy Turtle by Kyle’s Our Man): Todd Pletcher pupil has done very little wrong in three starts. His second start, a win in the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes, was highly impressive when you consider he did it exiting a five and one half furlong maiden race. After that, he got a little tired in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile before finishing second. Undoubtedly, Havana possesses all of the talent in the world. Pedigree doesn’t appear to be a problem on the top side, nor the bottom. Keeping Havana healthy will be at the forefront of Pletcher’s mind. He has had terrible luck with his Derby contenders in the past, losing top stars like Eskendereya and Uncle Mo to injury in the past.
#4 Tapiture (Tapit x Free Spin by Olympio): I have been following this colt since his debut when he finished a well beaten second to Strong Mandate at Saratoga. It took until his fourth start to get the maiden broken, but he did it in style by drawing clear to a 4 1/4 length win in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club. He looked good going around two turns at Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. He has shown a fair bit of versatility thus far and it appears he can strike from up close as well as from mid pack. Again, I will stress the importance of having options in terms of running style. It’s much better to have a horse with tactical foot than one that will be at the mercy of the his opponents. He is working at Fair Grounds, which indicates trainer Steve Asmussen could be targeting the January 18 Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes.
#5 Honor Code (AP Indy x Serena’s Cat by Storm Cat): Most people have this guy higher than I do, and that’s fine. He’s got skills to pay the bills and proved it by winning the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes when last seen. He has stamina for days and should only get better as the days pass. Trainer Shug McGaughey won the Kentucky Derby last year with Orb, so we know he can get the job done. After that, it’s on the horse. He likes to come from the back, which is part of the reason I don’t have him placed higher. The fact is that horses that race closer to the pace win more races overall. That hasn’t always been the case in the Kentucky Derby, but it is hard for me to forget that.
Who is your favorite 2014 Kentucky Derby contender? Disagree with my choices? Leave a comment and share your thoughts!