With the running of Kentucky Derby 144 right around the corner, the field is far from set.
All of the prep races where horses earn qualifying points for the big race are over. The field is limited to 20 starters who earn their way into the starting gate on the first Saturday of May with the points races.
That said, there are no less than 25 horses that could show up in the big event, depending on the whims of owners and trainers of the horses who have qualified for the top 20 in points earned and those on the bubble.
This not only looks like a field with plenty of quantity, but it also looks like it is one of the most talented fields in recent history.
A lot can happen in the next couple of days leading up to the big race – injuries, illnesses, etc. This year’s race is one that can take a few defections but still have plenty of talented horses. In fact, Quip, the runner-up in the Arkansas Derby and winner of the Tampa Bay Derby, and European hopeful Gronkowski have been declared and it’s like nobody misses them.
Todd Pletcher once again enters the race with a full hand.
He has four horses that are probably sure starters, with another one or two that could surprisingly get into the race.
Pletcher trained last year’s Derby winner Keep Dreaming.
Bob Baffert once again has one of the top horses and the venerable D. Wayne Lukas is back to attempt to win his fifth Kentucky Derby and his 15th Triple Crown race overall.
One thing for certain, no media representative has an excuse to go without a story during Derby week.
Lukas loves to have the media gathered 10 and 15 deep in front of his stable. He will spend the whole day regaling the media members. He loves the spotlight.
This year’s potential field is loaded with royally bred runners who commanded big figures at auction.
Mendelsson, whose sister is the champion Beholder, fetched $3 million as a yearling, Good Magic brought a measly 1 million and Bolt d’Oro sold for $830,000.
Audible, Vino Rosso, Justify, Flameaway and Sporting Chance all sold in the $400,000-$575,000 range.
Fourteen of the hopefuls sold for at least $200,000.
This is one of the highest-priced fields in quite awhile.
On the other end of the spectrum, Keith Desormeaux, a trainer who has a reputation of getting bargains at the sales, put only $20,000 into the purchase of My Boy Jack.
My Boy Jack has earned more than $600,000 in his career.
West Point Thoroughbreds, which has numerous shareholders living in The Villages, recently purchased shares in My Boy Jack.
Last year, West Point purchased partial ownership in Keep Dreaming before the big race.
Most handicappers consider Magnum Moon, Good Magic, Audible, Vino Rosso, Justify, Bolt d’Oro, Enticed, Mendelssohn and My Boy Jack as the heavy hitters moving toward the Derby.
Although I am going to keep an open mind on my Derby picks, I have a few horses that are on my short list.
I don’t make up my mind until a couple of days prior to the Derby, because it is well known that some horses acclimate to Churchill Downs better than others.
My short list includes Good Magic, Audible, Justify, Mendelssohn and Hofburg.
I loved Good Magic as a 2-year-old. He furthered my confidence when he won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the Blue Grass Stakes.
I really like the lightly-raced Justify. He looks as if he could be one of Baffert’s all-time best horses.
I fell in love with Mendelssohn as a 2-year-old because of his connections.
He then traveled to the United States from his European base to take the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf in classic form.
Last month, he ran on dirt for the first time and took the UAE Derby by 18 lengths and it looked as if he could have won by many more.
A horse who may be the sleeper of all them all is Hofburg.
Trainer extraordinaire Billy Mott is very conservative when it comes to his younger horses.
Hofburg ran fourth when he made his first start in September.
He didn’t race again until March when he won a Gulfstream Park maiden race. In a move very unlike Mott, he ran Hofburg next in the Florida Derby, in which he was the runner-up to Audible.
This lightly raced colt could upset the whole apple cart.
The only reason I have Audible on my short list is I want to see if he is just a Todd Pletcher speed horse or the real thing. His preparations should tell me.
All-in-all, this is one of the most intriguing Derbys I have seen. I am really excited as it approaches.