Derby Trail: Three Rising, Three Trending Down


California Chrome delievered a knockout performance in the San Felipe Stakes to punch his ticket to the Kentucky Derby. (Benoit Photo)

Below is a capsule look at three horses who are heating up on the Triple Crown trail and three horses whose Derby chances are not quite as strong as they once were.

Road to the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard

Heating Up

1. California Chrome

Benoit Photo

California Chrome’s San Felipe Stakes tour de force was the breakout performance by a 3-year-old so far in 2014, for me at least. He posted a new career-best 109 Equibase Speed Figure and looked like a locomotive out there devouring the ground through the stretch. He has such a high cruising speed and has now strung together three straight dominant performances in races around two turns. Even if he doesn’t make another start before the Kentucky Derby, California Chrome will be dangerous in the first jewel of the Triple Crown for respected trainer Art Sherman.

2. Social Inclusion 

Coglianese/Gulfstream Park

Social Inclusion’s 10-length romp on Wednesday at Gulfstream Park established him as a potentially special 3-year-old and also forced me to essentially reconstruct this entire post. The Pioneerof the Nile colt set a new track record for 1 1/16 miles at Gulfstream Park and also dominated the 3-year-old who I had ranked first in my Derby top 10 list, Honor Code. What was most striking about the win was how effortlessly he ran in the stretch and he really finished fast. Social Inclusion is now unbeaten in two starts and he was given a very competitive 103 Equibase Speed Figure for Wednesday’s win. This talented colt out of the Grade 2-placed Saint Ballado mare Saint Bernadette needs points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard and quickly. He didn’t race as a 2-year-old, so Social Inclusion has a lot of catching up to do and not a whole lot of time to do it. But two wins by a combined margin of 17 1/2 lengths means he's talented enough to get to the Derby on May 3.

3. Ring Weekend

SV Photography 

With two straight wins and a new career-best 100 Equibase Speed Figure for his Tampa Bay Derby win, Ring Weekend clearly is headed in the right direction. By top sire Tapit, Ring Weekend secured a starting spot in the Kentucky Derby and has the benefit of one of the best trainers in the business on his side. Graham Motion won the Kentucky Derby in 2011 with Animal Kingdom, and one of the things he told me that he picked up from his tenure working for Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard was how to prepare a horse for a long-range target. Over the past decade or so, we’ve watched the one-time pupil become a master.

Cooling Off

1. Top Billing 

Coglianese/Gulfstream Park 

I thought Top Billing looked like a serious Kentucky Derby contender, so the news last week that he was off the Triple Crown trail with a non-career-threatening injury was disappointing. The silver lining is that we’ll get to see him race again, but with three straight triple-digit Equibase Speed Figures and an amazing pedigree we will be left to wonder what might have been with Top Billing in this year’s classics.

2. Conquest Titan 

Reed palmer/Churchill Downs

Every year a horse comes along that you like a little bit more than just about everyone else for the Kentucky Derby. For me, that 3-year-old this year is Conquest Titan. I loved his win at Churchill Downs in November and thought his Holy Bull Stakes runner-up finish to Cairo Prince was very strong, especially when third-place finisher Intense Holiday won the Risen Star Stakes. But a dud from Conquest Titan in the Tampa Bay Derby forces me to drop him in my rankings. BUT, I’m still on the bandwagon and hopefully this just boosts my odds on Kentucky Derby day.

3. Honor Code 

Eclipse Sportswire

This week is tough in that my two favorite 3-year-olds for the 2014 Derby – Honor Code and the aforementioned Conquest Titan – wound up on my cooling off list. I’m not going to drop Honor Code too far off his second to Social Inclusion in the 1 1/16-mile allowance race on Wednesday at Gulfstream. It was his first start off a long layoff, and I think Honor Code will improve in his second start of the year. He has an outstanding pedigree and he’s in great hands with Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey, but Honor Code has been replaced as my number one horse so he had to appear here.

Curry's Derby Top 10

1. Cairo Prince 

Takes first with Honor Code's loss; not confident with him on top.

2. Candy Boy

Showdown with California Chrome in Santa Anita Derby would be nice.

3. California Chrome   

Huge San Felipe win, a little concerned about pedigree moving forward.

4. Tapiture

Southwest was impressive, can he pair big Oaklawn efforts in Rebel?

5. Social Inclusion

Dominant in two wins, ranking might be optimistic given no Derby points.

6. Honor Code

He will improve off 2014 debut loss, but is he fast enough?

7. Samraat 

Undefeated fighter looks like major classics player.

8. Intense Holiday

He needs a race to set up for him, but when it does ...

9. General a Rod

He's very good, but looks like no shortage of speed in Florida Derby.

10. Conquest Titan 

Disappointing Tampa Bay Derby, but talented closer who likes Churchill.

Five on the bubble: Ring Weekend, Bayern, Constitution, Rise Up, Kid Cruz

Racing Terms

Allowance race – A race for which the racing secretary drafts certain conditions to determine weights to be carried based on the horse’s age, sex and/or past performance.

Also-eligible – A horse officially entered for a race, but not permitted to start unless the field is reduced by scratches below a specified number.

Apprentice – A rider who has not ridden a certain number of winners within a specified period of time. Also known as a “bug,” from the asterisk used to denote the weight allowance such riders receive.

Blinkers – A cup-shaped device that limits a horse’s vision. Blinkers, often used to try to improve a horse’s focus, come in a variety of sizes and shapes to allow as little or as much vision as the trainer feels is necessary.

Bullet – The fastest workout of the day at a track at a particular distance.

Claiming race – A race in which each horse entered is eligible to be purchased at a set price.

Closer – A horse that runs best in the latter part of the race, coming from off the pace.

Connections – Persons identified with a horse, such as owner, trainer, jockey and stable employees.

Disqualification – Change in order of finish by stewards for an infraction of the rules.

Dam – The mother of a horse.

Entry – Two or more horses with common ownership that are paired as a single betting unit in one race.

Front-runner – A horse whose running style is to attempt to get on or near the lead at the start of the race and to continue there as long as possible.

Furlong – An eighth of a mile.

Graded race – A non-restricted race with added money or guaranteed purse value of $100,000 or more which has been run at least twice under similar conditions and on the same surface and has been assigned graded status for the year contested by the American Graded Stakes Committee.

Handicap – This race type refers to a race where the weights are assigned by the track’s racing secretary or handicapper based upon past performances.

Length – A measurement approximating the length of a horse, used to denote distance between horses in a race.

Off track – A track that has a wet surface and isn’t labeled as “fast”.

Pacesetter – The horse that is running in front (on the lead).

Past performances – A horse’s racing record, earnings, bloodlines and other data, presented in composite form.

Prep – A workout (or race) used to prepare a horse for a future engagement.

Post Parade – Horses going from paddock to starting gate past the stands. The post parade provides spectators with a chance to get a final look at the horse before the race.

Post Position – Position of stall in starting gate from which a horse begins a race.

Rabbit – A speed horse running as an entry with another, usually a come-from-behind horse. The rabbit is expected to set a fast pace to help the chances of its stablemate.

Rank – A horse that refuses to settle under a jockey’s handling in a race, running in a headstrong manner without respect to pace.

Scratch – To be taken out of a race before it starts.

Silks – Jacket and cap worn by jockeys.

Sire – Father of a foal.

Stakes – A race for which the owner usually must pay a fee to run a horse. The fees can be for nominating, maintaining eligibility, entering and starting, to which the track adds more money to make up the total purse. Some stakes races are by invitation and require no payment or fee.

newsletter sign-up

Stay up-to-date with the best from America's Best Racing!