In the early stages of the run-up to the Kentucky Derby, it's all about taking baby steps if you want to hit full stride come May.
For three of the more promising contenders on the trail thus far, Saturday represents a prime chance to see where they rank on the developmental chart.
WinStar Farm's regally bred colt Brethren will make his season debut in Saturday's Grade III, $225,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, while Grade I winner Comma to the Top makes his debut in the Grade III, $200,000 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields.
Rounding out the day is the Grade II, $250,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita Park, where Winchell Thoroughbreds' Tapizar aims to continue his recent ascent.
Despite having just two career starts, both of them victories, the Todd Pletcher-trained Brethren is a 5-to-2 morning-line favorite for the 11⁄16-mile Sam F. Davis in what will be his first try beyond a mile and first against stakes company.
The son of Distorted Humor is a half-brother to 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver and looked every bit the rising star when he captured a 1-mile allowance race at Churchill Downs in late November.
Though not as advanced as his famed sibling was at this point, Brethren has impressed his connections with his natural ability — something that will be tested when he breaks from the outside post Saturday.
"We've liked him from the start and he's shown us quite a bit of ability," said Elliott Walden, president of WinStar Farm, which also owned and bred Super Saver. "Since he's never been around two turns, we wanted to give ourselves the option to run two or three times (before the Derby) depending on how much experience we think he needs and everything else."
Seasoning is no issue for Comma to the Top, however. The gelded son of Bwana Charlie is the veteran of his class, having racked up six wins in 10 starts last year, including a 13/4-length score in the Grade I CashCall Futurity on Dec. 18.
Comma to the Top was cross-entered in the Robert B. Lewis as a backup, but the 11⁄8-mile El Camino Real appears to be an ideal starting point. The bay gelding won over the Golden Gate track last October, is unbeaten around two turns, and only has five rivals expected to challenge him Saturday with Anthony's Cross scratching out of the race.
"We sent him up to Golden Gate five races ago for a starter allowance and he won it really easily and that was really the start of his turnaround where his confidence really shot up," trainer Peter Miller said. "It's very exciting, extremely exciting (having a horse on the Derby trail)."
With Comma to the Top headed to the El Camino Real instead of the 11⁄8-mile Robert B. Lewis, there appears to be little standing in the way of Tapizar earning his second straight graded stakes win.
The son of Tapit controlled the pace in the Grade III Sham Stakes on Jan. 15 and still had enough to open up for a 41/4-length score. Tapizar is the only graded stakes winner in the field and could have things his way again as the 4-5 morning line favorite.
"He's doing good and we're excited about running him," trainer Steve Asmussen said. "We're thrilled with the way he won the Sham. We've been very fortunate. The weather's stayed good and we like the rhythm we've established with the horse."