Anyone can watch the best two-year-old races and pick out Grade 1 and Grade 2 winners and devise a top ten list for the derby trail. However the truth is that few of the horses that make these lists will be entered into the starting gate for the Derby, or they will have been exposed by better horses who snuck into the mix later on in the spring. This is an unknown factor, that every week starting from the end of January to the end of April there will be new names coming into the mix. Some of these horses may have come up into the ranks from a small track or some of them have run at all the major tracks and even in some of the bigger stakes races, however they either needed to grow into their frames, or just needed time to figure out how to run. Whatever the case may be this is what makes following the Derby trail so interesting, it’s the ability to look for and find those rare diamonds in the rough that will yield benefits down the road.
Shagaf – (Bernardini/ Muhaawara – Unbridled’s song) – Could be on a whole different list in two days. That is because the talented son of Bernardini is scheduled to run this Friday at Gulfstream Park. First race was as professional as can be, Shagaf broke nicely, rated just off the pace, and made his winning move just as he was sent down for the drive on the turn for home. Can be scary good down the line if first race is any indication.
Sail Ahoy – (Bernardini/ Matlacha Pass -, Seeking the Gold) – Another one coming out of the New York tracks. Sail Ahoy closed big in the Nassua Stakes after overcoming a troubled trip. Was third in company with the big boys: Flexibility and Mohaymen. The blinkers on experiment in the Remsen did not go as well as expected, however he has all the look of horse who can do damage once he figures it out. Does not hurt his chances that he is under that watchful eye of Shug McGaughey, who has been known to bring a couple of talented colts along.
Secret Passage – (Curlin/ Sweet Eloise – Sky Classic) – Secret Passage is if anything a very exciting horse, Secret Passage has been very impressive in two races at the secluded yet deep talent pool at Remington Park. The son of Curlin has a tenacious closing kick. In his maiden race he had to use all of, in order to come from the clouds and beat 12 others. His next race out he went off as the favorite against a smaller field of 6. However the smaller fields are generally tougher to close into yet Secret Passage had no problem getting his second win. There are reports that he may have suffered an injury which will greatly hurt his chances to prep for the Derby, but this is a very good horse to look out for.
Cherry Wine – (Paddy O’Prado/ C.S. Royce – Unbridled’s Song) – Winner of an allowance race at Gulfstream Park earlier in the month, Cherry Wine defied all notions that Gulfstream Park is not for horses coming off the pace. In an allowance race earlier in the month, Cherry Wine sat dead last before effortlessly cutting through a field of nine like a hot knife through butter. The big question going forward with this one is how high his breeding can take him on dirt. Both of Cherry Wine’s parents clearly did their best running on turf. A fact that has not been lost on the connections who have started him of turf in two of his four races.
Gettysburg – (Pioneerof the Nile/ L.A. Devine – Pulpit) – Owned by the powerful WinStar Farm, Gettysburg has two things going for him, his sire and broodmare sire. This colt is from Pioneer of the Nile or as he’s better known today as the sire of American Pharoah. On the dam side L.A. Devine is out of Pulpit; sire of Tapit, who is currently the highest priced stallion in the breeding world. As for his actual running he has built a good foundation running against top quality horses. He has also run in races at 1Mile, 1M 1/16th, and winning his maiden at 1M and 1/8th. What was also impressive about his maiden win was how his stride was opening up during the final eighth of the race.
Rafting – ( Tapit/ Paiota Falls – Kris S.) – Trained by Graham Motion. Rafting made a wild middle move in his last race at Keenland. In his first race at Saratoga he was very impressive in gutting out a maiden victory. Not only is a son of Tapit, but the dam Paiota Falls is out of the successful dirt sire Kris S.. Another strong point is that the colt is yet to run with Lasix. The horse has shown ability, but also has looked very green, plenty of room for improvement.
Discreetness – (Discreet Cat/ Fondness Elusive Quality) – Winner of the Smarty Jones stakes at Oaklawn Park. The big son of the great Discreet Cat has shown he has the ability to grind a field down. The long legged colt may find some trouble figuring it out as do most closers who need to stretch their legs out before they get going. However the added distance should only help as well as the seasoning. In the Smarty Jones he was kept busy buy jockey Jon Court as they hit the turn and straightened out nicely to get up for the win.
Awesome Banner – (Awesome of Course/Miranda Stands – Zamindar) – Intriguing winner of the Hutchenson Stakes looks to be a fast one. The question is whether trainer Stanley Gold stretches him out. That may all depend on how he does in this weekend’s Swale Stakes, which is also a sprint. Even if they stick with shorter distances, this one may turn out to be a very talented sprinter.
.Suddenbreakingnews – (Mineshaft/ Uchitel – Afleet Alex) – big hard closer has had some bad luck getting nipped at the wire in a couple of stakes races at Remington Park. Lost another tough one to local rival Discreetness in the Springboard Mile. Perhaps a jockey shift of a change of tactics could help time his closing kick. The son of Mineshaft can really make a statement if he makes a nice showing in his next race which is scheduled to be in the Southwest Stakes.
Gun Runner – (Candy Ride/ Quiet Giant – Giant’s Causeway ) – 3 yr old debut is scheduled for the Risen Star. In three races as a two-year-old Gun Runner showed much ability and heart. Headstrong effort in the Kentucky Jockey Club may have cost him in the slop at Churchill.
As January rolls into February and more stakes races come up this list as well as the top ten list will be subject to changes.