Unlike most polls, the Paulick Derby Index had no change in the top two from last week as we already had Eskendereya in the one position. Of course, the gap widened after Lookin at Lucky's troubled trip in the Santa Anita Derby. And despite the dominating victory by Sidney's Candy over Lucky, he was only moved up to the third position perhaps indicating that most of our voters acknowledged the lack of a frontrunner to challenge the Candy Ride colt.
Caracortado and Awesome Act had the steepest falls while still on our list with fourth and third place finishes in the Wood and Santa Anita Derby respectively. Schoolyard Dreams, Discreetly Mine and Pleasant Prince all fell off the top 20 and while the first two came up short in their Derby prep races Pleasant Prince seems to have just been forgotten since his final prep is actually this weekend in the Blue Grass Stakes.
Brand new to the list is Setsuko who made a late charge to finish second in Santa Anita. Premiering in the 15 hole, voters chose quality over likelihood since his $180,000 in graded stakes cash has him currently on the outside looking in. Former PDI colts Jackson Bend and American Lion are also back on the list after impressive performances in the Wood and Illinois Derby.
The Wood Memorial, Santa Anita Derby and Illinois Derby helped give us a better understanding of some of the contenders for this year's Kentucky Derby.
First, we have a clear favorite for the May 1 Run for the Roses in the Giant's Causeway colt Eskendereya, who came from just off the pace at Aqueduct to win the Wood in a manner every bit as convincing as his wire-to-wire romp at Gulfstream Park in the Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes. The Todd Pletcher trained colt does not have to carry his racetrack around with him. It was a flawless performance and gives Pletcher his strongest Kentucky Derby starter ever.
We also learned that Lookin At Lucky hasn't been very lucky in his last two starts, getting into tight situations that nearly caused him to go down, and take with him trainer Bob Baffert's best chance to win a fourth Kentucky Derby. But in defeat, Lookin At Lucky gained additional admirers for his tenacity and gameness after getting stopped suddenly on the final turn.
We already knew from the San Felipe Stakes the John Sadler-trained Sidney's Candy could win around two turns going soft fractions, but we learned the Candy Ride colt had no trouble with the extra sixteenth of a mile in the nine-furlong Santa Anita Derby.
At Hawthorne in Chicago, we learned not to give up just yet on American Lion, who showed he may like conventional dirt tracks more than synthetics by winning the Illinois Derby for trainer Eoin Harty.
There's more to learn this weekend, but no matter the results of the Arkansas Derby and Blue Grass Stakes, no one is going to displace Eskendereya from the favorite's role at Churchill Downs May 1.
1. Eskendereya. If I had to look for a reason to not like his winning run in the Wood, it might be that the competition wasn't that strong. Awesome Act beat a weak field in the Gotham Stakes and Schoolyard Dreams was nosed out in a Tampa Bay Derby field questionable in quality. Still, that was a memorable triumph in what I think traditionally is the most important final prep before the Kentucky Derby.
2. Lookin At Lucky. Got off to a poor start in the Santa Anita Derby, then was put in a spot on the inside by Garrett Gomez that could lead to trouble—and it did. But I wasn't expecting him to win the Santa Anita Derby, even without the trouble. Two of Bob Baffert's previous Kentucky Derby winners (Silver Charm and Real Quiet) came off good non-winning performances at Santa Anita, and I would qualify the Smart Strike colt's in that same category.
3. Sidney's Candy. Can't ignore this colt as a legitimate threat, even though he's gotten away with very soft fractions in both of his two-turn stakes victories at Santa Anita. I can't imagine he'll the same type of pace on Derby day.
4. Noble's Promise. Saturday's Arkansas Derby would be a good time for the Cuvee colt to step up with a breakout win that shows he can do more than compete at the top level. Ken McPeek has had some bad luck at Oaklawn and is overdue to come out on the winning side of a photo there.
5.Dublin. Should advance off his third-place Rebel finish to Lookin At Lucky and Noble's Promise in Saturday's Arkansas Derby for D. Wayne Lukas. Doesn't need to win but has to keep moving in a forward direction.
6. American Lion. Illinois Derby was Tiznow colt's last chance to make the Kentucky Derby field, and he really seemed to relish the change in surface to dirt. Bodes well for a decent showing at Churchill Downs, though victory would be a longshot.
7. Ice Box. Certainly not taking a convention route to the Kentucky Derby off a long layoff following his upset of the Florida Derby. As Nick Zito has said, this is when 3-year-olds improve, so I can't rule him out completely.
8. Rule. Third-place finisher in the Florida Derby is one of the reasons Sidney's Candy won't have an easy time of it on the lead at Churchill Downs. Todd Pletcher may want to see the colt rate from off the lead, but Rule might have the final say.
9. Mission Impazible. Part of the Magnificent Seven or whatever the Pletcher starters will be called for the Kentucky Derby. Deserves to be there off his win in the Louisiana Derby, but seems unlikely to win.
10 Awesome Act. Looked like he was ready to pounce on the lead in the Wood Memorial on the turn for home, but looked helpless against Eskendereya. Awesome Again colt threw a shoe at the start, but there's no way of knowing how much of an impact that had on the result. My opinion: not enough to think he'll reserve the order of finish next time out.
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