It’s January which can only mean one thing…it’s that time of year where every “expert” likes to proclaim the newest crop of horses to be “terrible” or “the weakest group we’ve ever seen.” The bottom line is its simply untrue and naïve to make statements like this at this point in time. Does this crop have a chance to be poor? Yes. Does this crop have a chance to turn the corner and be solid in the coming months? The answer is also yes to that question. Time will tell us soon enough what this crop is made of, and we’ll get a huge addition this weekend when Mohaymen makes his 3 year old debut in the Grade 3 Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park.
While Nyquist piled up all the accolades for his undefeated two year old campaign, it is now Mohaymen that has taken over as the favorite to win the Kentucky Derby in almost any future book you can find. Mohaymen, a $2.2 million dollar yearling purchase, has the pedigree and race record to believe he could be the real deal. After breaking his maiden at six furlongs the strapping gray colt went on to put in two workman like efforts in the Grade 2 Nashua Stakes and the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes to win by just over a length in both races. He wasn’t a “wow factor” on either day, but he simply took care of business. You could tell in both races that he was not a horse that was fully extened, which chould be scary for his competition.
As for his challengers this weekend, the main threat to him in the Holy Bull could come from Conquest Big E. Trained by Mark Casse who has been on fire lately, Conquest Big E finished 9th in the Breeders Cup Juvenile before returning in a Churchill Downs allowance race and dominated the field. His connections say he’s training “as good as a horse could train” leading up to the race this Saturday. The other well known name that will be taking a shot at Mohaymen is Greenpointcrusader who also stuggled in the Breeders Cup Juvenile. However, he did take home the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park the race before, plus he broke his maiden nicely at Saratoga this summer. We’ll find out Saturday if this horse only has an affection for the NYRA tracks, or if he can take his show on the road to sunny South Florida.
Speaking of the NYRA, Mohaymen’s biggest rival is set to make his second start of the year this Saturday at Aqueduct in the Withers Stakes. That horse would be Flexibility who finished second to Mohaymen twice before finally getting away from him last time out and dominating the Grade 3 Jerome Stakes. The easy victory certainly flattered Mohaymen, but perhaps more importantly stamped Flexibility as prime time contender. Trainer Chad Brown has had major success on the grass with horses, but Flexibility would be his first major Kentucky Derby contender.
Flexibility’s main challenger for this weekends Withers Stakes will probably come from Sunny Ridge. Last time out Sunny Ridge nearly won the $1 million dollar Delta Downs Jackpot over Exaggerator, and the race prior to that one was a nice second place effort in the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes where he lost to the before mentioned Greenpointcrusader.
The action certainly starts to heat up this weekend, and will carry on through February when highly thought of horses such at Mor Spirit, Nyquist, and Exaggerator get set to make their three year old debuts. If last year is any indication head to head match ups from these horses two year old years could mean a lot when analyzing this crop. American Pharoah was an easy winner over Texas Red and Calculator, and when those two horses came back to dominate the competition you knew American Pharoah was the class of the bunch. So far Mohaymen somewhat fits that bill, but we will get the advantage of seeing him much sooner in his 3 year old career than we did American Pharoah. While its true the Kentucky Derby trail is not off to the flashiest of starts things could quickly heat up this weekend with potential stars lining up on the east coast. Each crop is different. With this crop is seems we will have to wait a bit longer than last year before we pass judgement.