By Richard Rosenblatt
It’s been a while, but we’re back with our latest Kentucky Derby Top 10 — and believe it or not, the Run for the Roses is just six weeks away on Sept. 5.
Since we last checked in, after Tiz the Law solidified his hold as the top 3-year-old in the land with his Belmont Stakes (G1) victory on June 20, there’s been quite a bit of shuffling and reshuffling of the Derby deck.
Honor A.P. remains a more-than-worthy No. 2 in this edition of the usracing.com Derby Top 10, while Authentic is No. 3 after his photo-finish win in the $1 million TVG.com Haskell Stakes (G1) at Monmouth Park on July 18.
After that, it’s a crapshoot with a dozen or so horses seemingly on a similar plane a notch – or two, or three — below these three standouts.
Art Collector came through with a huge victory in the Toyota Blue Grass (G2) at Keeneland on July 11 and joins the Top 10 for the first time, at No. 4. Trainer Tommy Drury, who operates out of the Skylight Training Center in Goshen, Kentucky, says Art Collector will run in the Ellis Park Derby (G3) on Aug. 9 as a final prep before the Kentucky Derby
“I felt we needed to go somewhere, and that was our only option,’’ Drury said recently in an Ellis Park news release. “Now that we’re back on the track and seeing him train, gosh, if anything it seems like he’s better. The timing of it is going to be good leading up to the Derby. That’s the ultimate goal, and we’re going to try to take our best shot.”
Ny Traffic, runner-up in the Louisiana Derby (G2), the Matt Winn Stakes (G3) and the Haskell, moves up to No. 5, mostly because he’s been so consistent for trainer Saffie Joseph, Jr.
“I thought we already had enough Derby points going in (to the Haskell), so the important thing was to just get a good race into him,” Joseph told the Monmouth Park press office. “Now it’s about who is moving forward, not who has peaked or is going backward. Going forward is the most important thing right now and that’s why that tough beat can’t really hurt me.
“I was just really happy to see him take that major step forward. That’s the most important thing. Most definitely, there is a lot to be excited about with him. I just want him to stay sound and healthy and then we’re on to the Derby.”
In other post-Belmont and pre-Blue Grass qualifiers for the Derby, Dean Martini, Uncle Chuck, and Shared Sense each earned 20 points with victories in the Ohio Derby (G3), Los Alamitos Derby (G3) and Indiana Derby (G3), respectively, but only Uncle Chuck – trained by five-time Derby winner Bob Baffert – moves into the Top 10 at No. 9.
Country Grammer, trained by trainer Chad Brown, won the Peter Pan (G3) at Saratoga on July 16, and gives the nation’s top conditioner a Derby contender after the colt earned 50 qualifying points with the victory.
In recent weeks, a bunch of top contenders dropped off the Derby trail, including Baffert unbeatens Nadal and Charlatan, along with Maxfield, Wells Bayou and Basin. The Derby, the second leg of the 2020 Triple Crown, with the final leg, the Preakness, set for Oct. 5 in the reshuffled Covid-19 racing schedule.
A pair of fillies – Swiss Skydiver and Gamine (a Baffert trainee), might be Derby bound, but are likely to show up as the leading contenders for the Kentucky Oaks (G1) on Sept. 4.
With the Haskell in the rear-view mirror – Authentic by a nose over Ny Traffic, by a nose over Dr Post — four Derby qualifying races remain on the re-jiggered road to the Derby: the Shared Belief (G1) at Del Mar on Aug. 1; the Travers (G1) at Saratoga on Aug. 8; the Ellis Park Derby (G3) on Aug. 9; and the Pegasus at Monmouth Park on Aug. 15.
The Top 10:
Working like a champ at the Spa, covered 5 furlongs in 59.63 seconds on July 18 … Two more works scheduled before the Travers, then onto the Derby as the likely favorite … With Belmont win, son of Constitution remains No. 1 on the Derby points leaderboard (272) … Next start: Travers, Saratoga, Aug. 8 … Derby Future Wager Odds: 5-2.
Worked 5 furlongs in 1:02.60 at Del Mar on July 19 … Santa Anita Derby winner working well for one more prep before Derby rolls around … Had just two races this year, the other being a runner-up finish to Authentic in the San Felipe … No. 3 on Derby points leaderboard (120) … Next start: Shared Belief, Del Mar, Aug. 1 … Derby Future Wager Odds: 6-1.
Won Haskell by a nose after losing interest in deep stretch and nearly blowing it under Mike Smith (subbing for regular rider Van Dyke) … Win extended Baffert’s record Haskell win total to nine … Once-beaten in five career starts … No. 2 on points leaderboard (200) … Next start: Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs, Sept. 5 … Derby Future Wager Odds: 9-1.
That first stakes win was a biggie as this colt suddenly appears on our list. Blue Grass win was third in a row for the son of Bernardini and puts trainer in a spotlight he’s earned during a hard-knocking, quarter-century plus in the business … 3-for-3 in 2020, with overall record of 4-1-0 from eight career starts … No. 5 on Derby points leaderboard (100) … Next start: Ellis Park Derby, Aug. 9 … Derby Future Wager Odds: 8-1.
A deserving spot for this gray colt who is getting oh-so-close to that breakthrough victory, and it could come in the Derby … Runner-up finishes in three Derby-point qualifiers puts him in the Run for the Roses … A career record of 2-3-2 from nine starts and earnings of over $550,000 says he has to be given a Derby chance, especially after tough beat in Haskell … No. 4 on points leaderboard (110) … Next start: Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs, Sept. 5 … Derby Future Wager Odds: 19-1.
He’s getting close, finishing third in the Haskell, a nose behind Ny Traffic, and another nose behind winner Authentic … Ran second in the Belmont Stakes to dominating Tiz the Law … Joe Bravo subbed for Ortiz in Haskell … No. 7 on points leaderboard (80) … Next start: TBD … Derby Future Wager Odds: 24-1.
Worked 5 furlongs in 1:00.22 at Gulfstream Park on July 19, fastest of 20 at the same distance … Runner-up to Nadal in a division of the Arkansas Derby on May 2 … Would be a four-month layoff heading to Derby if no other starts occur … No. 6 on points leaderboard (90) … Next start: Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs, Sept. 5 … Derby Future Wager Odds: 25-1.
This could be the late-bloomer that heads to the Derby at the right time … 2-for-2 with no Derby qualifying points and likely needs to win his next start to qualify … Next start: Shared Belief, Del Mar, Aug. 1 … Derby Future Wager Odds: 18-1.
Another of Baffert’s late-developers, this son of Uncle Mo is 2-for-2 after winning Los Alamitos Derby and picking up Derby qualifying points and lots of supporters … Heading to the Spa to see if he can give Baffert another Travers win … No. 23 on Derby points leaderboard (20) … Next start: Travers, Saratoga, Aug. 8 … Derby Future Wager Odds: 6-1.
Could this be Chad’s Derby year? Maybe, but first there’s a Travers to be run and a strong effort needed for the Brown to take a shot at the Run for the Roses … Peter Pan win was a nice step up for the son of Tonalist, who was fifth in the Fountain of Youth on Feb. 29, and third in an allowance at Belmont on June 4 … No. 11 on Derby points leaderboard (50) … Next start: Travers, Saratoga, Aug. 8 … Derby Future Wager Odds: 14-1 (mutuel field).
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.