Perhaps the most common items on the wish lists of trainers this time of year are that their Kentucky Derby contenders a) stay sound and b) don't peak too soon.
Given the desire to balance the delicate timing of their delicate animals, it is little wonder some horsemen are in no rush to get races for their young charges.
With the two-prep schedule becoming a trend in recent years, it is not unusual to see Derby contenders waiting until this point of the season to make their 3-year-old debuts.
Beginning with Street Sense in 2007, four of the last five Kentucky Derby winners did not make their sophomore debuts until March with 2009 winner Mine That Bird debuting on Feb. 28 of his year.
Though several of this year's top contenders have already notched a race or two, this weekend will feature a few hopefuls seeking to build on the aforementioned streak as Grade I winner Dullahan makes his 2012 debut in Sunday's Palm Beach Stakes while Motor City and Ever So Lucky clash in the Swale Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Saturday.
Among those also on the patience plan are graded stakes winners Gemologist and Sabercat, both of whom are expected to make their 3-year-old debuts in next Saturday's Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park.
While some like Dullahan enjoy the luxury of already having ample graded earnings — thus allowing for schedule flexibility — some feel the later start puts their horses in position to get the foundation needed without being overly taxed leading up to the Derby's 11/4-mile journey.
"It's a little different type of pressure when you have a horse that's already banked the money, and now you just have to keep him safe and sound and get your races in before the big race," said Dale Romans, trainer of Dullahan. "He's actually turned the corner from 2 to 3 like you want to see a horse do and ... this race isn't the end all. We want to make sure that he's peaking the first Saturday in May."