Final Kentucky Derby Prep Races Fields Taking Shape

FINAL KENTUCKY DERBY PREP RACE FIELDS TAKING SHAPE

The 142nd running of the Kentucky Derby is only about a month away on Saturday, May 7, 2016, and that can only mean one thing at this time of year – Derby prep season is finally ready to reach its peak, and the action is only going to get faster and more furious from here on out pretty much each and every Saturday from now until the first Saturday in May.

The Kentucky Derby prep season is already underway as 3-year-olds from around the country continue to compete for right to occupy one of the 20 available stalls in the Churchill Downs starting gate for the Run for the Roses.  The starters in the Derby will be decided by a points system that is in its third year, and puts pressure on hopefuls to win or earn at least a high finish in a race Derby prep race(s) in order to qualify.

This time of year also coincides with the official Kentucky Derby Future Wagers, and the final KDFW is scheduled for the weekend of April 1-3.

The volatility of these prep races was never more apparent than it was on...

Injuries and defections are always a fact of life on the road to the Kentucky Derby every year, and they wreak havoc on the Future Wagers, because you might be betting the best horse, but if he doesn't make it to Louisville in one piece then your Future bets are completely worthless.

On the flip side, however, we not only lose 3-year-old contenders at this time of year, we also gain them. New horses appear on the Derby scene every weekend at this time of year, and old names also re-appear, as happened in the...

In the road to the Derby "Championship Series" of preps, wins and places in these races will be crucial for horses to be able to work their way into the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby. This will force horses to enter more preps, and should result in each one of the remaining prep races being even more highly competitive than ever before, especially for hopefuls who end-up short on points heading into mid-April.

There are essentially six major prep races remaining. Those "Big 6" preps are the Louisiana Derby, Florida Derby, Wood Memorial, Blue Grass, Santa Anita Derby, and the Arkansas Derby.  There is also the Spiral Stakes at Turfway on Saturday, March 26 on Polytrack.  Kentucky Derby points qualifying ends with a very small amount of points to be available for the Lexington Stakes on April 16, the same day as the much more important Arkansas Derby.

Once again, the Illinois Derby on has been snubbed as a Derby prep race, and will not be worth any points. That essentially makes the Illinois Derby unofficially, a Preakness prep.

Here is a list of the top Kentucky Derby points horses, current as of late-March:

Road to the Derby Points Leaders (current as of 3/25)

RankHorsePoints
1Mohaymen70
2Destin51
3Gun Runner51
4Cupid50
5Danzing Candy50
6Shagaf50
7Mor Spirit44
8Nyquist30
9Exaggerator26
10Whitmore24
11Sunny Ridge23
12Mo Tom22
13Laoban21
14Forevamo20
15Zulu20
16Outwork20
17Flexibility15
18Brody's Cause14
19Greenpointcrusader14
203 horses tied with12

Here is a rundown of the major Kentucky Derby prep races that will determine the field and the main contenders for the Kentucky Derby:

LOUISIANA DERBY, Fair Grounds, March 26
Kentucky Derby points: 100-40-20-10
Key Probables: Gun Runner, Greenpointcrusader, Battery, Conquest Windycity, Candy My Boy, Mo Tom, Forevamo
This race really has not attracted the top rung Kentucky Derby contenders in recent years, but it will feature a deep and competitive group of horses in 2016, including all of the top five finishers from the local prep race for the Louisiana Derby, the Risen Star Stakes – Gun Runner, Forevamo, Mo Tom, Candy My Boy, and Zapperini (in that order). Throw in some Risen Star also-rans, plus Todd Pletcher up-and-coming prospect Battery, and last year's Champagne Stakes winner Greenpointcrusader, and you have a loaded race this year in the Louisiana Derby. Another thing that makes the Louisiana Derby interesting is that it could be a horse's final prep race for the Kentucky Derby, but not necessarily because the race is six weeks out from the Derby, making it possible for a horse or horses to squeeze-in one last prep if they need it.

 

SPIRAL STAKES, Turfway, April 2
Kentucky Derby points: 50-20-10-5
Key Probables: Airoforce, Azar, Gimlet, Diplodocus, Don't Be So Salty, Kasseopia, Oscar Nominated, Scolar Athlete, Surgical Strike, Taste for Talent
The Spiral Stakes at Turfway is the last remaining key Kentucky Derby prep race still run on an artificial surface, and therefore the importance of the race in terms of picking the Derby winner is greatly diminished, except in terms of the amount of points the race awards and how important those points are for getting the winner and perhaps the runner-up a spot in the starting gate in the Run for the Roses. This race was part of Animal Kingdom's road to the roses, so it's improbable, but not impossible, that the next Kentucky Derby winner could be found in this race. Really, however, the Spiral attracts a bunch of horses that seem more well meant for turf and/or synthetic tracks. The best possibilities here for handicappers include Airoforce, a Mark Casse trainee that has shown big talent on a variety of surfaces, and the Todd Pletcher duo of Azar and Gimlet.

 

FLORIDA DERBY, Gulfstream Park, April 2
Kentucky Derby points: 100-40-20-10
Key Probables: Mohaymen, Nyquist
The 2016 Florida Derby sets-up as an epic battle royale between many people's consensus two top horses on the Kentucky Derby trail – Mohaymen and Nyquist.  The fact that both of those monsters are pointing for the Florida Derby has been enough to scare away just about every other horse, making this year's Florida Derby a short field, and thereby swelling the fields for the other prep races like the Louisiana Derby. Nyquist is the unbeaten 2-year-old champion and winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile as well as four other Graded stakes races including his 3-year-old debut in the San Vicente. Mohaymen is the beast of the east, a perfect undefeated 5-for-5 including back-to-back wins this winter in the Holy Bull and Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park. Perhaps only three other challengers are expected, including Majesto and Fellowship.

 

WOOD MEMORIAL, Aqueduct, April 9
Kentucky Derby points: 100-40-20-10
Key Probables: Shagaf, Matt King Coal, Cherry Wine, Malibu Sunset, Caderyn, Adventist. Possibles: Zulu, Destin, Outwork, Flexibility, and Laoban
Many horses are still undecided between the Blue Grass Stakes and Wood Memorial, perhaps waiting to see what some of the other key contenders decide to do before they pull the trigger on a decision. This group of undecided possibles includes Zulu, Destin, Outwork, Flexibility, and Laoban.  Any of those, particularly Fountain of Youth runner-up Zulu or Tampa Bay Derby first- and second-place finishers Destin and Outwork, certainly could do a lot of damage in a race like the Wood Memorial if they decided to take the Aqueduct route. The top probables for the race include Chad Brown's Gotham Stakes winner Shagaf, who looks like the real deal, and Matt King Coal is an up-and-coming horse trained by Linda Rice coming out of a fast allowance win.

 

SANTA ANITA DERBY, Santa Anita, April 9
Kentucky Derby points: 100-40-20-10
Key Probables: Mor Spirit, Exaggerator, Danzing Candy, Smokey Image, Uncle Lino
The San Felipe was a heckuva race, and with Nyquist choosing the Florida Derby, the Santa Anita Derby is essentially setting up as a re-do of the San Felipe, with the winner, Danzing Candy taking on pretty much the same cast of characters in what should be another great race. Any of the horses in the Santa Anita Derby could step up with a big effort, and any such horse that does would therefore have to be considered one of the top contenders in the Kentucky Derby.

 

BLUE GRASS STAKES, Keeneland, April 9
Kentucky Derby points: 100-40-20-10
Key Probables: Brody's Cause, Hoppenheim. Possible: Zulu, Destin, Outwork, Flexibility, Laoban
This field will take shape once the group of undecided possibles like Zulu, Destin, Outwork, Flexibility, and Laoban figure out whether they will run in this race or in the Wood Memorial on the same day. My feeling is that most of that list of possible horses will end up running here in the Blue Grass, because the list of probables, including the iffy Broady's Cause and Hoppenheim, looks very unimposing. Zulu was no match for Mohaymen down in Florida, but he's trained by Todd Pletcher and still has lots of room for positive development. The Todd Pletcher duo of Destin and Outwork battled it out gamely to a 1-2 finish in the Tampa Bay Derby, and either of them would be dangerous in this spot.  Pletcher will end up needing to separate all of his multiple contenders into different races, so perhaps one of that trio of Zulu, Destin, and Outwork will run in this race, another will go to the Wood Memorial, and maybe another to the Arkansas Derby.

 

ARKANSAS DERBY, Oaklawn, April 16
Kentucky Derby points: 100-40-20-10
Key Probables: Cupid, Whitmore, Suddenbreakingnews
This race probably will have a full starting gate, but really all eyes will be on the top contenders, including Southwest Stakes winner Suddenbreakingnews, Rebel winner Cupid, and the runner-up in both of those races, Whitmore. The Arkansas Derby will probably also get one of the Todd Pletcher trio of Zulu or Destin, or Outwork. Plus, because the Arkansas Derby is only three weeks out from the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, April 16, the race probably will get some horses exiting the Louisiana Derby who still need points to get into the Kentucky Derby starting gate. Plus, there are also tons of also-rans from the Rebel who will try again in the Ark. Derby, making a full field of 10-14 starters almost a certainty. Of the principal contenders, all have yet to really unleash huge speed figures, but all of them seem legitimate Derby contenders. Suddenbreakingnews is a deep closer who got stopped in traffic in the Rebel and could turn it around in the Arkansas Derby, but will always be at the mercy of traffic and trips. Whitmore is underrated and belongs in the discussion of top 3-year-olds despite the fact he's still looking for his first major win. Cupid is talented, winning the Rebel in his first race since breaking his maiden at Santa Anita the race before. He's now 2-for-2 since stretching out. The biggest and best reason to back Cupid, however is because he's trained by Bob Baffert, who not only won last year's Arkansas Derby with Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, but also has won countless prep races at Oaklawn the last several years with more horses than you can remember. Baffert owns the Arkansas route to the Kentucky Derby, and his vehicle this year is Cupid.

It figures to be a great prep race season on the road to the 142nd running of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, May 7. Watch close throughout these final prep races as the contenders begin to sort themselves out from the pretenders.  Good luck, and I hope you enjoy a profitable Kentucky Derby prep season!

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