Kentucky Derby

Derby Trail Tracker: “Under the Radar” Top 10

Irish War Cry (inside) just outduels O Dionysus in the Marylander (Photo courtesy Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club)
O Dionysus (on outside) nosed out by top Derby prospect Irish War Cry is still "under the radar" on the Derby trail (Photo: Maryland Jockey Club)

Not to take anything away from all of the Top 10 or Top 20 Kentucky Derby lists floating around the internet and Twitter (including the great weekly list put together by the RacingDudes here), but I thought it would be much more interesting to start putting “conditions” on Derby lists.

Just like every horse race that has conditions from maiden claimers to Grade-1 Stakes, the Derby list in this article will rank the top “under the radar” Derby contenders by using conditions, as follows:

For 3 years olds who:

  • Have not won a graded stakes in the United States,
  • Have not run in a Kentucky Derby points race in 2017,
  • Were not listed in Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pools 1 or 2, and
  • Are not trained by Bob Baffert or Todd Pletcher

I’ve written a lot about the Pletchers and Bafferts this year (see articles links), so I didn’t want to have their 54 Triple Crown nominated horses bog down this list. Honestly, most people have already heard of the Pletchers and Bafferts already, so defining them as “under the radar” would be a misnomer.

Instead, it’s time to focus on horses coming out of maiden breakers, allowance races and non-Graded stakes to fill out this list. We’ll sprinkle in some international flavor from Dubai and Peru to spice things up, too.

So here is it, your top “under the radar” Derby contenders ranked in order of likelihood to make the Kentucky Derby gate on the first Saturday in May:

1. So Conflated

This Doug O’Neill trainee’s form line reads like a “who’s who” of top Derby prospects on the West Coast including a third place finish behind Baffert’s American Anthem and second place finish behind Baffert’s Dabster, where he was placed first by disqualification. He also beat Law Abidin Citizen in that maiden breaker, who recently came back to finish second in the Grade-2 San Vicente.

So Conflated returned off that maiden win to split horses on the turn to win the California Derby at Golden Gates over the synthetics on January 21. Instead of the natural progression at Golden Gates to the Grade-3 El Camino Real Derby, O’Neill has said So Conflated is working “phenomenal” and is instead sending him cross-country to New York to contest the Grade-3 Gotham at Aqueduct on March 4. O’Neill was looking to fry bigger fish in the Grade-2 Risen Star, but will scratch So Conflated out of the race after drawing the far outside 14 post.

Sired by Eskendreya, he has good stamina influence on the top side of his pedigree and has the same connections in O’Neill / Reddam Racing and Mario Gutierrez who won the Derby last year with Nyquist.

2. Thunder Snow

If we’re ranking these “under the radar” horses on their chances to make the Derby gate, then a top horse with top connections from Dubai that may win the UAE Derby has to be rated highly.

Even though Thunder Snow is not currently Triple Crown nominated, if he continues to dominate like he did winning the 2000 Guineas in early February at Meydan, his Godolphin owners will likely supplement him to the Derby.

Trainer Saeed bin Suroor said after the race, “He has a couple of options now – the UAE Derby on Dubai World Cup Night (March 25) or the Al Bastakiya on Super Saturday (March 4) beforehand.”

The Irish-bred had finished his juvenile season with a Group-1 win over turf and is sired by Australian-bred Helmet.

3. Beasley

In his last race, Beasley gave everything he had to challenge top Derby prospect Battalion Runner fighting back in the stretch in a salty allowance optional claimer (AOC) at Gulfstream on February 3, but had to settle for a game second place finish. If you like the highly touted Battalion Runner for Pletcher, then you have to like this colt for trainer Mark Hennig.

Sired by Shackleford, the 1 & 1/16 mile distance of that AOC may be his limit, but Hennig said he’ll likely get a chance to run at that same distance at the same track in the Grade-2 Fountain of Youth to start March to try to snatch some Derby points.

4. Local Hero

Local Hero is trying to live up to that name entered in the Risen Star this weekend training locally at Fair Grounds for Hall-of-Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. He’s drawn the 3 post with top jock Florent Geroux retaining the mount and will be on or near the lead early leaving from that inside post.

He impressed in a front running win to break his maiden on January 26 at Fair Ground at 1 mile and 70 yards. That race came back an 89 on the Beyer speed figure scale, so he’ll look to advance in his first stakes try in the Risen Star stretching out slightly.

Local Hero has a strong pedigree by Hard Spun out of Graded Stakes winner Liam’s Dream.

5. Balandeen

A forgotten horse for trainer Chris Hartman since his last race way back in November running fifth in the Grade-3 Delta Jackpot. The form of that race has come back nicely as he finished behind eventual Holy Bull runner-up Gunnevera and Withers third-place finisher J Boys Echo.

What’s even more impressive in his running lines, though, is his second place finish in the non-graded Street Sense back in October at Churchill Downs. Top-rated Derby favorite McCraken won that race and Balandeen beat out eventual Grade-3 Lecomte winner Guest Suite.

A lot has changed since October and horses sometimes don’t transition the same from their juvenile to three-year old season, but Ballandeen’s three straight bullet workouts at Oaklawn Park may signify that he’s ready to make noise.

Sired by Bernardini out of a Discreet Cat mare, he may be distance limited on his dam side. He’ll most likely start his season in the Gazebo Stakes at six-furlongs on March 4 at Oaklawn, so time may run out for him to make the Derby trail, but he’s still one to watch.

6. Cloud Computing

Eclipse award winning trainer Chad Brown will look to make an impact on the Derby trail and this one may get a shot at the gate if he progresses quickly.

After a horrendous break to start his debut on February 11 at Aqueduct, Cloud Computing still got up to win at six furlongs getting an 84 Beyer for top connections in Klaravich Stables.

Brown was excited after his debut and thinks he can go longer, even though he is sired by a relative unknown in first crop sire McLean’s Music. His dam Quick Temper placed in multiple stakes, though, and is sired by A.P Indy out of Grade-1 winner Halo America.

7. You’re To Blame

Another for Mr. Chad Brown, was fifth in the Grade-2 Remsen to end 2016 and returned a winner in an allowance at Parx at seven furlongs on February 11.

He’s sired by Distorted Humor out of a Malibu Moon mare named Bon Jovi Girl, who earned over a half million in her career and is a half-sister to champ Gio Ponti.

Both Brown trainees may be able to take a relatively easy path through New York to get into the Derby picture with stablemate Practical Joke leading the Derby charge.

8. En Hanse

On the topic of easier ways to get into the Derby, the Turfway Park route using the Grade-3 Spiral Stakes on polytrack may be the path of least resistance for En Hanse.

Trainer Mike Maker has been high on this son of Hansen since he started racing and he’s a perfect 2-for-2 at Turfway including a small non-graded stakes win on February 11, but both wins were only at six furlongs. Hansen was a polytrack lover and his son may follow in his father’s foot steps.

Questions on how far he wants to go may be answered soon in the John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway on March 4, where he’ll need to stretch out to 1 & 1/16 miles.

Fun Fact: He’s co-owned by Olympic champion skier Bode Miller.

9. O Dionysus

The fact that O Dionysus has come the closest of any horse to beating top Derby contender Irish War Cry gets him on the list, even though his connections may not be pointing to the Derby path.

His loss to Irish War Cry by half a nostril in the Marylander to end 2016 was followed up by a disappointing second in the Frank Whiteley at Laurel Park, but he had excuses there with a troubled trip.

O Dionysus bounced back with an impressive rally to take the Miracle Wood at Laurel on February 18 and trainer Gary Capuano is looking to stretch him out around two-turns next in the Private Terms on March 18 at Laurel. He’d have to impress again to get a last ditch entry into a 100-point Derby prep to make the Derby gate or maybe he’s one you see pop up in the Preakness.

10. Huracan Americo

Group 1 winner and champion in Peru is looking to make his United States debut in the Grade-2 Fountain of Youth (FOY) on March 4.

As a Florida-bred son of Belmont Stakes winner Drosselmeyer, he wants distance and his trainer Arturo Bruno Morales Cavieres has said that he’s worried that the 1 & 1/16 mile distance of the FOY will be too short for him.

He’s a total unknown and makes the Top 10 “under the radar” list based on sheer speculation and upside.

Honorable Mentions:

Classic Rock – would have easily made the Top 10 list, but a minor illness after shipping to California for the Grade-2 San Vicente caused him to miss the race for trainer Kathy Ritvo. He’s back now at Gulfstream recovering. His back class includes a win over Beasley and a fourth-place finish in a key maiden race at Keeneland in October behind eventual Smarty Jones winner Uncontested and second-place Grade-3 Lecomte finisher Untrapped.

Souper Tapit – impressive maiden winner on debut for trainer Mark Casse at Fair Grounds on February 18. His win at 1 mile and 70 yards gives his Live Oak connections something to build on, but may be a little late to be a serious threat to make Derby.

Aristocratic – Broke his maiden at 5 & 1/2 furlongs at Santa Anita on February 11 for O’Neill, so will be tough to get on the Derby trail. Still, he has two second place finishes behind Stakes runners Aquamarine and Blabimir, so he does have some foundation to build on for owner Kaleem Shah, who had moved him from Baffert to end 2016.

Lookin for Eight – After running second behind the aforementioned Battalion Runner to end 2016, came back to throttle a maiden field on January 28 at Gulfstream Park. Has put in two big workouts at Palm Meadows since, so the Lookin at Lucky colt out of a Mineshaft mare may be one to watch stretching out for trainer Michael Tomlinson.

Snap Decision & Profiteer – Two impressive winners both for trainer Shug McGaughey, but does not have immediate plans to get them on the Derby trail.

Excitations – Broke maiden on February 2 at Fair Grounds for trainer Al Stall. Owned by the Fair Grounds Racing Club, he’s likely to stretch out to two turns in a first-level allowance race early in March.

For updates along the Derby trail, please follow me on Twitter @SaratogaSlim

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