An Early Derby Top 10


It's the first week of February, with a large portion of the country buried in snow. Now that the Eclipse Awards are in the rear view mirror, many racing fans are turning their attention to the first Saturday in May and this year's Run for the Roses. Kentucky Derby lists are sprouting up all over the place.

Before I reveal by first Kentucky Derby Top 10 list for 2011, this is a look back at my initial Top 10 for the 2010 Derby:

1. Lookin At Lucky
2. Buddy's Saint
3. Winslow Homer
4. Jackson Bend
5. Blind Luck
6. Super Saver
7. Noble's Promise
8. Eightyfiveinafifty
9. Tiz Chrome
10. Eskendereya

Super Saver, of course, went on to win the roses on a sloppy track at 8-1.

Lookin At Lucky did not win the Derby. The poor guy pretty much had no chance once he drew the inside post. But he did go on to win the Preakness, Haskell Invitational and Indiana Derby en route to being voted an Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old male of 2010. Lookin At Lucky became the first horse to win Eclipse Awards as 2-year-old male champion and 3-year-old male champion since the great Spectacular Bid snagged those awards in 1979 and 1980.

Blind Luck, No. 5 on my first Kentucky Derby list for 2010, went on to win the Kentucky Oaks. She was voted an Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old female of 2010.

Eskendereya was on my Top 10 list prior to his 8 1/2-length triumph in the Grade I Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 20. He moved to the top of my Derby list following his 9 3/4-length romp in the Grade I Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 3. I considered Eskendereya's Wood to be the finest performance by a 3-year-old in the U.S. last year.

After the Wood, there was no doubt Eskendereya was going to be the favorite in the May 1 Kentucky Derby. However, on April 26, trainer Todd Pletcher revealed that the colt would not be entered due to swelling in his left front leg. And then, on May 9, it was announced that Eskendereya had been retired from racing due to a soft-tissue injury in that leg.

Here now is my first Kentucky Derby Top 10 for 2011:

1. Uncle Mo
2. Tiz Blessed
3. Dialed In
4. Tapizar
5. To Honor and Serve
6. Comma to the Top
7. Brethren
8. J P's Gusto
9. Sweet Ducky
10. Casper's Touch

After winning all three of his starts at 2 in impressive fashion, Uncle Mo tops the vast majority of Kentucky Derby lists. Putting an exclamation point to a 2-year-old campaign similar to Seattle Slew's in 1976, Uncle Mo won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile with authority at Churchill Downs last Nov. 6. He completed his journey in 1:42 3/5. When Arazi won the 1992 BC Juvenile on that same track, his final time was 1:44 3/5.

The last time the Breeders' Cup was held at Churchill, the Juvenile winner, Street Sense, went on to take the Kentucky Derby. Street Sense posted a 1:42 2/5 clocking when he took the 2006 Juvenile by 10 lengths.

Uncle Mo won his first race by 14 1/4 lengths, the Grade I Champagne by almost five in 1:34 2/5 and the BC Juvenile by 4 1/4 lengths.

Seattle Slew likewise was three for three as a 2-year-old. He won his first race by five lengths, his second race by 3 1/2 lengths and the Champagne by nearly 10 lengths in 1:34 2/5.

Uncle Mo is a Kentucky-bred son of Indian Charlie and the Arch mare Playa Maya. Indian Charlie finished third as the 5-2 favorite behind Real Quiet and Victory Gallop in the 1998 Kentucky Derby. It was the only time Indian Charlie lost in five lifetime starts.

Arch is the sire of Blame, who last Nov. 6 won the Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill while handing the great Zenyatta her only defeat in her 20-race career.

Uncle Mo worked three furlongs in :39 4/5 last Sunday in Florida at Palm Meadows. It was the Pletcher trainee's first recorded workout since his Breeders' Cup victory.

You won't find Tiz Blessed on many Kentucky Derby lists. Nevertheless, he is No. 2 on mine.

Tiz Blessed is by Tiznow, who won not one but two Breeders' Cup Classics, a feat that has not been duplicated.

As you might surmise by where I rank Tiz Blessed, I am very intrigued by him as a Kentucky Derby candidate. Uncle Mo obviously is extremely talented. But Uncle Mo has never encountered any adversity in his three races. Even though Tiz Blessed likewise has made three starts, he certainly is battle-tested.

Tiz Blessed was unveiled in a 6 1/2-furlong race at Saratoga last Aug. 7. The colt was boxed in on the far turn while close up. As the field turned into the stretch, track announcer Tom Durkin said: “Tiz Blessed is right there at the rail. He's ready to fire, but he's got nowhere to go at this point.”

At the three-sixteenths pole, Tiz Blessed was moving up along the rail to challenge the leader, Punkster, when Punkster drifted in. No problem. Jockey Javier Castellano angled Tiz Blessed to the outside of Punsker. Tiz Blessed then responded gamely to just get up in the last jump to prevail by a nose.

I loved the way Tiz Blessed was undaunted by getting dirt in his face on the far turn when he was boxed in. I loved the athleticism he displayed in niftily angling to the outside after passing the three-sixteenths pole. And I loved the determination he showed in keeping to his task in the final furlong to win in a field of 11 on the dirt at Saratoga. I am surmising that he gets that determination from Tiznow, showed so much heart in his narrow Breeders' Cup Classic victories over Europe's Giant's Causeway in 2000 and Sakhee in 2001.

After Tiz Blessed's debut win, he ran in Monmouth Park's Garden State Stakes at one mile on the dirt Sept. 25. He got pinched back and stumbled badly shortly following the start. After that, Tiz Blessed was far back heading to the clubhouse turn while trailing in the field of seven.

Tiz Blessed then made a very good move on the backstretch to get within 2 1/2 lengths or so of the lead. However, he found himself behind a wall of horses from the half-mile pole to the three-eighths pole. Once Tiz Blessed again had a clear path on the far turn, he made a mild move turning for home, but lacked the needed additional kick in the stretch. I loved the way he rallied on the backstretch after he got wiped out early.

Who won that race? Sweet Ducky, who last Sunday ran so well to finish second to Dialed In in the Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park. I think Tiz Blessed quite possibly is as good or better than Sweet Ducky, which would put Tiz Blessed in the same league as Dialed In.

Astrology finished third in the Garden State. He would go on to win the Grade III Iroquois at Churchill before finishing second to Santiva in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club at the track of the twin spires. Despite Tiz Blessed's early adversity in the Garden State, Astrology was only 1 1/4 lengths in front of him at the finish.

Tiz Blessed made his final 2010 start in Woodbine's Display Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on Polytrack. He sure looked good to me in this one. Last along the inside rail entering the clubhouse turn, Tiz Blessed again made a good move on the backstretch to engage for the lead approaching the far turn. He drew clear turning for home, then powered away to prevail by 5 1/2 lengths.

Chad Brown trains Tiz Blessed for Gary and Mary West Stables.

Here is a short comment on the other horses on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 list:

DIALED IN. This Kentucky-bred son of 2003 Horse of the Year Mineshaft obviously is a serious contender for the roses following his eye-catching come-from-behind win in last Sunday's Holy Bull for three-time Kentucky Derby winning trainer Nick Zito. The Zito-trained Ice Box finished second to Super Saver in the 2010 Derby.

TAPIZAR. Proving that his huge maiden win at Churchill Downs was not a fluke, this Kentucky-bred Tapit colt subsequently took Santa Anita's Grade III Sham by 4 1/4 lengths for trainer Steve Asmussen.

TO HONOR AND SERVE. In his career debut, To Honor and Serve finished second to the aforementioned Astrology. Since then, To Honor and Serve has been unstoppable. This Kentucky-bred Bernardini colt won a maiden race at Belmont Park by 8 3/4 lengths, cruised to a four-length triumph in Aqueduct's Nashua Stakes, then took the Grade II Remsen at the Big A by two lengths for Hall of Famer Bill Mott.

COMMA TO THE TOP. This Florida-bred Bwana Charlie colt, conditioned by Peter Miller, already has had considerable experience, especially by today's standards. He started 10 times at 2, winning six. In his final 2010 start, Comma to the Top won Hollywood Park's Grade I CashCall Futurity. It was his fifth straight victory.

BRETHREN. Pletcher trains this Kentucky-bred Distorted Humor colt in addition to Uncle Mo. Brethren is a half-brother to Super Saver (who is by Maria's Mon). Victorious when unveiled at Belmont on Oct. 16, Brethren then won a one-mile allowance affair at Churchill on Nov. 27.

J P'S GUSTO. This is a Kentucky-bred son of Successful Appeal and the Caller I.D. mare Call Her Magic. I don't particularly like this pedigree for a 1 1/4-mile race, but J P's Gusto ran a marvelous race in defeat in the CashCall Futurity. He got shuffled back badly midway through the race, but came back on to finish second for trainer David Hofmans.

SWEET DUCKY. While most of the attention following last Sunday's Holy Bull understandably was focused on the victorious Dialed In, I thought Sweet Ducky ran very well even though he didn't win. This Kentucky-bred Storm's Darling colt had the lead with a furlong to go before losing by 1 1/2 lengths. In addition to his win in the Garden State last Sept. 25, Sweet Ducky took Monmouth's Seaton Hall University Stakes by four emphatic lengths on Oct. 23.

CASPER'S TOUCH. This Kentucky-bred son of Belmont Stakes winner Touch Gold resides in the Kenny McPeek barn. After the colt finished fourth when unveiled on Polytrack at Keeneland, he was sent to England and ran third in the seven-furlong Chesham Stakes on turf at Royal Ascot. In his final 2010 start, Casper's Touch won a one-mile allowance contest by 2 1/4 lengths at Churchill on Nov. 19. He drilled five furlongs in :59 flat last Saturday at Gulfstream.

Is this year's Kentucky Derby winner on my first Top 10 list as was the case last year? We'll all find out on the afternoon of May 7.

by Jon White


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