Updated: January 7th, 2016
With 2015 in the books, it is time to look ahead to the 2016 Kentucky Derby and the key contenders. Overall, I say this was a much weaker than average 2 year-old crop as we didn’t have one colt or filly eclipse a 100 Beyer Speed Figure. The filly Songbird has the highest Beyer Speed Figure thus far at 99 and she is still #1 in my rankings. Matt King Coal had the highest Beyer Speed Figure of any 2 year-old colt with a speed figure of 96.
But there is plenty of good raw talent and this may be a late-bloomer class. Horses will improve by leaps and bounds going forward at this stage. If you remember a couple of years ago, California Chrome was a mediocre 2 year-old (7 starts, 3 wins) before reeling off five straight wins as a 3 year-old. We won’t have a good idea how good the 2016 class is until the early April. But if I am trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, I am reaching into the other cookie jar and entering Songbird against the boys in a Derby prep race somewhere down the line.
Here is my my updated 2016 Kentucky Derby Contender list:
1) Songbird – Although she will likely be pegged for the Kentucky Oaks, she is the top 2 year-old regardless of gender and she would be my Kentucky Derby favorite. Undefeated Nyquist is the top 2 year-old colt and my early Kentucky Derby favorite and all Songbird did is run a full second faster than him at the same distance, same track and on the same day at the Breeders Cup World Championships. That would be equivalent to 6 1/2 lengths. She will win the 2015 Eclipse Top 2 Year Old Female Horse award. Her next start will be the 1 Mile Las Virgenes Stakes at Santa Anita Park February 6th.
2) Nyquist – Winner of three Grade 1 Stakes races: The Del Mar Futurity, the FrontRunner Stakes and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. My way too early Kentucky Derby favorite proved that his declining Beyer Speed Figures wasn’t a concern with impressive win in the Juvenile. The Doug O’Neill-trained colt is still undefeated in five starts. His stalking racing style reminds me of a young American Pharoah. He will win the 2015 Eclipse Top 2 Year Old Male Horse award. He is being pointed for the San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita Park on February 15th and then the Florida Derby on April 2nd.
3) Mohaymen – The Kiaran McLaughlin-trained colt posted an impressive 94 Beyer Speed Figure in the Remsen Stakes and a 89 Beyer Speed Figure in the Nashua Stakes on November 4th. For those who loved the horse Frosted on the Kentucky Derby trail last year, he is his half brother and is a striking resemblance. However, he is better than Frosted at this stage of his career. His time of 1:50.69 was faster than Honor Code’s in 2013 and Frosted and Keen Ice’s time last year in the Remsen. He is undefeated in 3 starts and the new dark horse to win the 2016 Kentucky Derby. His sire was Tapit so that makes him a half-brother to Tonalist too. His next start appears to be the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park January 30th.
4) Swipe – This Desormeaux brothers colt has finished 2nd to Nyquist four times in his last four starts. However, he keeps narrowing the gap each time. I like his future in races 1 1/8th mile or greater. His sire was Birdstone who won the Belmont Stakes and Travers Stakes in 2004. Swipe had surgery to remove a bone spur from his ankle in November and is expected to resume training in early February.
5) Brody’s Cause – Dale Roman’s winner of the Breeders’ Futurity Stakes. His sire was Giant’s Causeway who had a great career on the other side of the pond and finished 2nd in the 2000 Breeders’ Cup Classic. This colt has excellent closing speed that he demonstrated in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile with his 3rd place finish. He looks to be a First Saturday in May horse.
Career: 4 Starts 2-0-1-0
Best 1 Mile Time: 1:37.64 – Churchill Down MSW – Race #5
Best 1 1/16th Mile Time: 1:43.27 – Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity
Best Beyer Speed Figure: 88 – Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity
6) Exaggerator – Another Desormeaux brothers colt, he finished 4th in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and then followed this effort with a win in the Delta Downs Jackpot with a 92 Beyer Speed Figure. Exaggerator’s sire was Curlin (2007 Preakness Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner). I am expecting him to improve and his Delta Downs Jackpot win was a step in the right direction. His next start is expected to be the San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita Park February 15th.
7) Flexibility – Winner of the Jerome Stakes on January 2nd, the Chad Brown-trained colt just needed a race without Mohaymen in the field. He had finished 2nd to Mohaymen in his previous two starts. His time in the Jerome Stakes was 1:42.98 which was faster than El Kabeir’s 1:44.69 in last years race. His sire Bluegrass Cat finished 2nd in the 2006 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes, then won the Haskell Invitational that year.
Career: 4 Starts 2-2-0-0
Best 1 Mile Time: 1:36.29 (calculated) – Nashua Stakes
Best 1 1/16th Mile Time: N/A
Best 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:50.93 (calculated) – Remsen Stakes
Best Beyer Speed Figure: 93- Remsen Stakes
8) Gift Box – In just his 2nd start, this Chad Brown-trained colt produced a time of 1:43:00 on a sloppy track at Belmont–good for a 93 Beyer Speed Figure. That was faster than American Pharoah’s time of 1:45.78 in the sloppy Rebel Stakes at the same 1 1/16th mile distance. And American Pharoah was a 3 year-old in the Rebel. He finished a respectable 3rd in the Remsen Stakes. So it is still up in the air if this colt is just a good slop-track runner or if he will excel on dry, fast tracks.
Career: 3 Starts 1-0-2-0
Best 1 Mile Time: N/A
Best 1 1/16th Mile Time: 1:43.00 – Belmont MSW- Race #11
Best 1 1/8th Mile Time: 1:51.17 (calculated) – Remsen Stakes
Best Beyer Speed Figure: 93 – Belmont MSW- Race #11
9) Matt King Coal – The Linda Rice-trained colt has put up back-to-back 90+ Beyer Speed Figures in his last two starts, breaking his maiden in his last start while posting a 96 Beyer Speed Figure–the best for a 2 year-old colt this year. I thought enough of this colt to place $10 on him in the 1st Kentucky Derby Future Wagers Pool that will pay back $889 if he wins. His pedigree (sire: Cool Coal Man) suggests that he might be better suited for a 1 mile to 1 1/8th mile distances. His next start was supposed to be the Jerome Stakes January 2nd but he developed an illness and won’t be entered.
Career: 3 Starts 1-1-1-0
Best 1 Mile Time: 1:36.68 – Belmont Park MSW – Race #5
Best 1 1/16th Mile Time: 1:43.02 (calculated) – Belmont Park MSW – Race #11
Best Beyer Speed Figure: 96 – Belmont Park MSW – Race #5
10) Greenpointcrusader – Although he finished 7th in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, I generally liked his movement up through the field. He should do well in longer distance races. The winner of Champagne Stakes where he received a 94 Beyer Speed Figure. His time was 0.37 seconds faster than last year’s Champagne Stakes winner Daredevil (who received a 107 Beyer) on a similar sloppy sealed track. Excellent pedigree: sire Bernardini (Rachel’s Valentina’s sire), grand sire A.P. Indy, great-grand sire Seattle Slew. His sire Bernardini won the 2006 Preakness Stakes, Travers Stakes, the Jockey Club Gold Cup and finished 2nd in the 2006 Breeders’ Cup Classic.
11) Mor Spirit – Bob Baffert’s best 2 year-old colt. His win in the Los Alamitos Futurity was a solid effort and I liked how he rallied off the pace for the win. But his time of 1:43:54 was 2.68 seconds off Dortmund’s time last year. I generally haven’t been that impressed with what the two best trainers in the business–Bob Baffert and Todd Pletcher–have in their stables this year as far as 2 year-old colts.
Career: 4 Starts 2-2-0-0
Best 1 Mile Time: 1:37.48 – Santa Anita Park MSW – Race #5
Best 1 1/16th Mile Time: 1:43.54 – Los Alamitos Futurity
Best Beyer Speed Figure: 92 – Santa Anita Park MSW – Race #5
12) Airoforce – This Mark Casse-trained colt made the transition from turf to dirt with ease by winning the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes race on a wet track at Churchill Downs. An impressive effort but I will need to see how he performs on a dry fast track.
Career: 3 Starts 2-1-0-0
Best 1 Mile Time: N/A (on dirt)
Best 1 1/16th Mile Time: 1:45.48 – Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes
Best Beyer Speed Figure: N/A
Here are some other horses to keep an eye on are:
Smokey Image who is undefeated in five starts. However, he has yet to race further than 7 furlongs. He might prove to be a better Dirt-Miler than a Derby horse.
Sunny Ridge a gelding (sire: Holy Bull) who is trained by John Servis. Sunny Ridge has finished 2nd in his last two starts that were both wet track races. In his last start he received a 92 Beyer Speed Figure finishing 2nd to Exaggerator in the Delta Downs Jackpot. He could excel on dry fast tracks which he hasn’t run on since his win in the Sapling Stakes at Monmouth Park on September 6th.
Todd Pletcher’s Zulu and Sudden Surprise are intriguing prospects. Zulu (sire: Bernardini) broke his maiden in his first start at Gulfstream Park on December 5th. He is pegged to start in the 1 Mile Mucho Macho Man Stakes January 2nd. Sudden Surprise had won 5 of 6 starts but has yet to race further than a mile. And his only loss was at the 1 mile distance (a 4th place finish). So he could be more of sprinter than a Derby candidate.
Here are rankings by time for the most common denominator distance of 1 1/16th mile:
- Songbird – 1:42.73
- Gift B0x – 1:43.00
- Matt King Coal – 1:43.02 (calculated)
- Brody’s Cause – 1:43.27
- Exaggerator – 1:43.43 (calculated)
- Mor Spirit – 1:43.54
- Nyquist – 1:43.79
- Swipe – 1:43.87
- Greenpointcrusader – 1:44.48 (calculated)
- Airoforce – 1:45.48 (wet race)
Here are the key Derby prep races coming in the month of January:
- January 2nd -The Jerome Stakes (1 Mile 70 Yards) at Aqueduct
- January 9th – The Sham Stakes ( 1 Mile) at Santa Anita Park
- January 16th – The Lecomte Stakes (1 Mile 70 Yards) at The Fairgrounds
- January 18th – The Smarty Jones Stakes (1 Mile) at Oaklawn Park
- January 30th – The Holy Bull Stakes ( 1 1/16th Mile) at Gulfstream Park
- January 30th – The Withers Stakes (1 1/16th Mile) at Aqueduct