By Richard Rosenblatt
We’re off and running on the road the 148th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 7, which means the first installment of the usracing.com Derby Top 10 Rankings.
This year’s Derby rankings will be as confusing as ever due to the Bob Baffert Effect. Churchill Downs suspended the embattled Hall of Fame trainer for two years following Medina Spirit’s post-Derby positive for a medication banned on race-day. Baffert’s record seventh Derby winner could be disqualified. For now, horses in his stable’s care are prohibited from earning Derby qualifying points.
However, this space will include Baffert’s Derby contenders based on their performances in Derby preps even though they show no qualifying points (This could change pending any changes in Baffert’s status as we await a final ruling by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission).
That said, the 69-year-old Baffert leads the way with three of our Top 10 Derby contenders – Corniche, Messier, and Newgrange. (As for wagering, Baffert’s horses are grouped in “all other 3-year-olds’’ on the Derby future wager, but BUSR.com odds are listed below).
Another Baffert note: If owners decide to transfer a horse they consider a Derby contender from Baffert to another trainer, that horse would then be eligible to earn qualifying points.
Before our roll call, one other item: As usual, Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher led all trainers with 42 3-year-olds nominated for the Triple Crown races (Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes). A total of 312 were nominated, and if you take the noms from Pletcher (42), Brad Cox (26), Chad Brown (23), Steve Asmussen (20) and Baffert (18), it adds up to 38.14% of all the nominees.
With 17 Derby preps in the books, the qualifying points increase by a large margin beginning with the $400,000 Risen Star Stakes (G2) at the Fair Grounds on Saturday. The top four finishers receive 50-20-10-5 points, up from the 10-4-2-1 from most of the previous preps.
There should be little doubt that the top 3-year-old this early in 2022 is Corniche, a two-time Grade 1 winner in three career starts for Baffert, including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) that clinched an Eclipse Award as the 2-year-old male champion.
So, instead of accumulating 30 points for wins in the American Pharoah (10) and BC Juvenile (20) to virtually clinch a berth in the Derby, the horse has no points. The $1.5 million colt owned by a Peter and Ann Fluor and K.C. Weiner (Speedway Stables) won his three races going gate-to-wire, has most recently been training at WinStar Farm, and does not have a posted workout in 2022. Baffert indicated he was unsure of what’s next for Corniche.
Here’s our opening Top 10, with many changes sure to come (trainers, jockeys listed are from most recent race):
1 Corniche (Bob Baffert, Mike Smith)
Without a posted workout since his BC Juvenile win, it’s hard to tell if the Derby is in the plans. Until we know more, the unbeaten son of Quality Road is our top choice … Owned by Speedway Stables (Peter and Ann Fluor and K.C. Weiner) … Purchased for $1.5 million at the 2-year-old Ocala Breeders’ spring sale … Derby qualifying points: 0 … Next start: Undetermined … Derby future wager odds: (5-2, mutuel field) … BUSR odds: 14-1.
Four workouts at Gulfstream since winning Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland back on Oct. 9, most recently 4 furlongs in 50.25 (62nd of 113 at the distance) on Feb. 12 … Owned by Lucky Seven Stables (Mike Mackin) … Breeding: Connect-Jazz Tune, by Johannesburg … Derby qualifying points: 10 … Next start … Fountain of Youth, Gulfstream Park, March 5 … Derby future wager odds: 30-1 … BUSR odds: 25-1.
Trainer a bunch of contenders as he seeks first Derby win … An impressive 3 ¼-length winner of Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) over no less than three other current Derby contenders … Owned by Lucky Seven Stables … Purchased for $185,000 at Fasig-Tipton Keeneland selected yearlings showcase … Breeding: Runhappy-Pleasant Smile, by Pleasant Tap … Derby qualifying points: 10 … Next start: Risen Star, Saturday, Fair Grounds … Derby future wager odds: 8-1 … BUSR odds: 9-1
4 Messier (Bob Baffert, John Velazquez)
Rocked the Robert B. Lewis (G3) by 13 lengths to up his record to three wins and two seconds in five career starts … Worked 5 furlongs in 59.40 at Santa Anita on Jan. 30 (1st of 72 at the distance) … Owned by SF Racing, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, Robert Masterson, Jay Schoenfarber, Waves Edge Capital, Catherine Donovan, Golconda Stable, and Siena Farm … Purchased for $470,000 at the Fasig-Tipton selected yearlings showcase … Breeding: Empire Make-Checkered Past, by Smart Strike … Derby qualifying points: 0 … Next start … Undetermined … Derby future wager odds: 5-2 (mutuel field) … BUSR odds: 12-1
5 Mo Donegal (Todd Pletcher, Irad Ortiz, Jr.)
A fast-closing third in the Holy Bull (G3) in his 3-year-old debut after winning the Remsen (G2) in December, this colt will be well rested on the road to the Derby with only one more prep planned … Worked 4 furlongs at Palm Beach Downs in 49.69 on Jan. 29 (3rd of 22 at the distance) … Owned by Donegal Racing (Jerry Crawford) … Breeding: Uncle Mo-Callingmissbrown, by Pulpit … Derby qualifying points: 12 … Next start: Wood Memorial, Aqueduct, April 9 … Derby future wager odds: 30-1 … BUSR odds: 25-1
Easily won Sam F. Davis (G3) by 3 ¾ lengths in 3-year-old debut to improve his record to 4-2-1-1 … Ran third in Breeders’ Futurity and second in Kentucky Jockey Club … Owned by Patrick O’Keefe’s Kentucky West Racing and Clarke Cooper … Breeding: Giant’s Causeway-Private World, by Thunder Gulch … Derby qualifying points: 16 … Next start: Tampa Bay Derby, Tampa Bay Downs, March 12 … Derby future wager odds: 16-1 … BUSR odds: 18-1
7 Newgrange (Bob Baffert, John Velazquez)
Two-time Grade 3 winner (Sham and Southwest) and is 3-for-3 so it’s hard to leave this guy off the list … Worked 3 furlongs in 37.60 at Santa Anita on Feb. 12 (12th of 17 at the distance) … Difficult to say what’s next under Baffert’s care … Owned by SF Racing, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, Robert Masterson, Stonestreet Stables, Jay Schoenfarber, Waves Edge Capital, Catherine Donovan, Golconda Stable, and Siena Farm … Breeding: Violence-Bella Chianti, by Empire Maker … Derby qualifying points: 0 … Next start: Rebel (G2), Oaklawn Park, Feb. 26 … Derby future wager odds: 5-2 (mutuel field) … BUSR odds: 16-1
Winner of the San Vicente (G3) – a non-Derby points qualifier – this colt shows promise for the Hall of Fame trainer, and could be a strong contender in upcoming West Coast preps (4-2-1-1 career record) … Worked 4 furlongs in 46.80 at Santa Anita on Feb. 10 (1st of 21 at the distance) … Owned by MyRacehorse and Spendthrift Farm … Breeding: American Pharoah-Just Louise, by Five Star Day … Derby qualifying points: 0 … Next start … Santa Anita Derby, Santa Anita, April 9 … Derby future wager odds: 18-1 … BUSR odds: 25-1
Surprise winner of the Holy Bull at 6-1 is likely to skip Fountain of Youth for just one more prep before Derby … Owned by C2 Racing Stable and La Milagrosa Stable … Breeding: Race Day-Catching Diamonds, by Into Mischief … Derby qualifying points: 12 … Next start … Florida Derby, Gulfstream, April 2 … Derby future wager odds: 18-1 … BUSR odds: 20-1
10 Epicenter (Steve Asmussen, Joel Rosario)
Winner of the Gun Runner by 6 ½ lengths in December and second in the Lecomte (G3) to 28-1 longshot Call Me Midnight in his 3-year-old debut, the Fair Grounds road to the Derby continues … Owned by Winchell Thoroughbreds … Breeding: Not This Time-Solid Candy, by Candy Ride … Derby qualifying points: 14 … Next start: Risen Star, Fair Grounds, Saturday … Derby future wager odds: 24-1 … BUSR odds: 33-1
Over the years while working at The Associated Press, Rich Rosenblatt became a familiar name to legions of the horse racing fans and industry insiders with his award-winning articles on horse racing and his stories from the backstretch.
In addition to being an astute observer of sports, Rosenblatt is the co-author of The All-American Chili Cookbook. His work has been seen in just about every publication in the world, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Time Magazine.