Derby Trail: Three Rising, Three Trending Down


Danza burst onto the Triple Crown trail with a powerful 4 3/4-length romp in the Grade 1, $1-million Arkansas Derby on April 12 at Oaklawn Park (Coady Photography).

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. This will be the second-to-last edition of Three Heating Up and Three Trending Down for 2014. Look for the final edition the Monday of Kentucky Derby week after all of the contenders completed their final workouts.

Road to the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard

Heating Up

1. Danza 

Eclipse Sportswire

Danza was the easiest decision this year for the top spot on this list. He was completely off the Triple Crown trail radar before his 41.30-to-1 victory in the Arkansas Derby punched his ticket to the Kentucky Derby and spawned an unbearable sequence of “Who’s The Boss” sitcom references in headlines. Yes, we editors and writers frequently pluck the low-hanging fruit. There is a lot to like about Danza approaching the Kentcuky Derby but also several reasons to look elsewhere for your Derby horse. First, the good: he finished really powerfully in the Arkansas Derby, he’s got some stamina in the bottom half of his pedigree, he has a top trainer in Todd Pletcher and he looks like he just starting to get good at the perfect time. But that said, I have doubts that he can improve upon a career-best performance (103 Equibase Speed Figure) coming back in only three weeks for the most important race of his life. He’s also not very likely to get the perfect trip, as he did in the Arkansas Derby, in the 20-horse Kentucky Derby field.

2. Medal Count

Eclipse Sportswire

I really wrestled between Toyota Blue Grass Stakes winner Dance With Fate and runner-up Medal Count for this spot. Medal Count got the nod simply because it doesn’t seem like the connections of Dance With Fate are enamored with racing in the Kentucky Derby. They think Dance With Fate is a better turf/synthetic horse so the Kentucky Derby is only a consideration at this point. Medal Count, on the other hand, is a go for the Kentucky Derby after winning the Transylvania Stakes and finishing second in the Blue Grass in back-to-back weeks for trainer Dale Romans. A big, powerful colt by top stamina influence Dynaformer, Medal Count also seems to have figured this thing out at the right time. He registered a then career-best 103 Equibase Speed Figure for the Transylvania and then came right back with a 106 in the Blue Grass. So far, he’s been much better on synthetic surfaces than dirt but the main track at Churchill Downs has not been unkind to turf/synthetic horses.

3. Cairo Prince

Coglianese/Gulfstream Park

Cairo Prince was atop the Kentucky Derby list of almost every racing writer/analyst/editor/handicapper before a fourth-place finish in the Florida Derby sent his stock plummeting. The clunker five weeks from the first jewel of the Triple Crown was a major cause for concern but another reason for his drop in the rankings of many observers was the threat of him not having the points to qualify. That threat no longer exists. Cairo Prince is back in the 20-horse field for the Kentucky Derby, and it’s hard to ignore a classy colt who ran a huge race on Jan. 25 in winning the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes by 5 ¾ lengths. It seems reasonable that he might have just needed a race to get back in top form, although I think even his staunchest supporters would acknowledge a big effort in the Florida Derby would inspire more confidence.

Cooling Off

1. Constitution  

Coglianese/Gulfstream Park

The second-ranked 3-year-old on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 just a week ago, Constitution dropped out of consideration for the Triple Crown with an injury that is expected to keep him sideline for 60 days. Unbeaten in three starts, Constitution showed tremendous heart in outfinishing Wildcat Red to win the Florida Derby on March 29. The good news is he should be able to return to the races later this year; the bad news is that the 2014 Triple Crown lost a serious contender.

2. Bobby's Kitten

NYRA Photo

Bobby's Kitten might be one of the most talented 3-year-olds in this group, but he still has some maturing to do in order to reach his potential and the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes confirmed that his future almost certainly is racing on grass. Headstrong early in the race as usual, Bobby’s Kitten pulled his way up to second early in the Blue Grass before fading to finish 12th of 14. If Bobby’s Kitten can ever learn to relax early - and he has gotten better - he could be a devastating turf horse. Otherwise, his connections might just need to let him go right to the front early and dare the opposition to come and get him. Bobby’s Kitten will be a fun horse to watch moving forward, but a Kentucky Derby horse he is not.

3. Bayern

Benoit Photo 

This was another tough decision as I teetered between Bayern, who I thought was one of the most talented 3-year-olds on the planet before his third in the Arkansas Derby; Tapiture, who I wasn’t that high on but who many others were before his Arkansas Derby fourth; and Conquest Titan, who drops completely off my Kentucky Derby Top 10 after I had overvalued him prior to his fifth-place finish in the Arkansas Derby. I figured Tapiture still has a guaranteed place in the Kentucky Derby field and Conquest Titan was a result my own stubbornness, so Bayern grabbed the final spot here. This Offlee Wild colt looked incredible when winning his second career start by 15 lengths on Feb. 13. He earned a 105 Equibase Speed Figure for that race and, with a very nice pedigree as well, appeared to be a potential star. His third-place finish took away a little bit of luster and put his chances to make the Kentucky Derby field in jeopardy with only 20 points, one of six horses tied for 21st on the Road to the Kentucky Derby scoring system. Bayern missed some time training and a planned start in the San Felipe Stakes, so let’s bet that he was not at his peak in the Arkansas Derby. I think this is a serious, serious racehorse, unfortunately he might have had some bad luck at a tough time in his 3-year-old campaign that cost him a spot in the Kentucky Derby.

Curry's Derby Top 10

1. California Chrome 

Dominant Santa Anita Derby winner is clear number one. It's not close.

2. Hoppertunity

Second to California Chrome in Santa Anita Derby, Rebel winner for real.

3. Samraat   

Even with loss in Wood Memorial, he has consistently been very good.

4. Wicked Strong

Finding myself liking him more this week than last. Maybe!

5. Wildcat Red

Very fast and game, he'll be vying for the lead at top of Derby stretch.

6. Candy Boy

Had him on top a few weeks back, inching back up.

7. Cairo Prince

He's talented despite Florida Derby dud, and now he's in the field of 20.

8. Intense Holiday

Didn't love his Louisiana Derby, but I think he'll be running late on May 3.

9. General a Rod

Tough to read this 3YO crop but this one has a shot to be top 3 in Derby.  

10. Social Inclusion   

Needs several defections to get in, tied with 5 others at 21st with 20 points.

Four on the bubble: DanzaMedal Count, Vicar's in Trouble, Tapiture

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!