Kentucky Derby

The Derby Dozen: 2011 edition

And they were off at the start of the Derby last year. For most of the contenders each May, it is the first time they've run 11/4 miles, and no one knows how they'll handle it.
And they were off at the start of the Derby last year. For most of the contenders each May, it is the first time they've run 11/4 miles, and no one knows how they'll handle it.

The 12 horses we believe have the best chance of wearing the winner's circle roses on May 7 at Churchill Downs.

Boys At Tosconova

If one is going to have any sort of setback on the Kentucky Derby trail, it's best to get it out of the way as early as possible.

Such might be the case for Grade I winner Boys At Tosconova. The hard-trying son of Officer was slated to make his season debut in the Grade III Holy Bull Stakes, but trainer Rick Dutrow chose not to run the colt when he wasn't happy with his energy level in the days leading up.

Because many top contenders are only now getting into serious training, Dutrow isn't concerned about playing catch-up with the dark bay colt. It also helps that Boys At Tosconova has enough back class and earnings to make one small misstep into a moot point.

In his second career outing and first start for Dutrow after previously being trained by Bob Hess Jr., Boys At Tosconova smashed his rivals by 12 lengths in a 5-furlong maiden test at Belmont last July. Only three rivals turned up to face him next time out in the Grade I Hopeful Stakes as Ramon Dominguez guided him to a 13/4-length win under a hand ride.

Several of this year's potential Derby horses show an affinity toward early speed, which could play into Boys At Tosconova's off-the-pace style. He was a determined second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile behind Uncle Mo and will need that grit to make up for some stamina shortcomings in his bloodlines.

Owners: Jay Em Ess Stables, Hot Racing Stable LLC

Trainer: Richard Dutrow Jr.

Breeder: Hertrich/McCarthy Livestock

Bloodline: By Officer-Little Bonnet, by Coronado's Quest

Color and gender: Dark bay colt

Career record: Four starts, 2-2-0, $562,060

Last start: Second in Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs on Nov. 6

Next start: TBA

Potential trouble: Hasn't won beyond 7 furlongs

Brethren

Virtually everything in Brethren's life screams Kentucky Derby success — which is why it's a good thing the bay colt is oblivious to the task ahead. Of all the obstacles the son of Distorted Humor will have to overcome, history might be the main problem.

The WinStar Farm homebred is a half brother to his owner's 2010 Kentucky Derby winner, Super Saver, and while eight mares in the history of American racing have produced two classic winners, none has yielded two Derby victors.

But Brethren already has some thinking his talents could be comparable to — if not better than — his famous sibling's. In two career starts, he has displayed gameness and versatility in winning.

When he broke his maiden going 6 furlongs at Belmont last October, Brethren got out fast and rated off some honest fractions before holding off the well-regarded Black N Beauty by half a length. At Churchill Downs on Nov. 27, he recovered from a slow break, relaxed midpack and made a four-wide turn to draw off for a 13/4-length win going 1 mile.

"He showed us quite a bit of ability, and he's doing nothing wrong," said Elliott Walden, president of WinStar Farm. "I know (trainer) Todd (Pletcher) feels like he's his second-best colt, and that's pretty good. Uncle Mo is the horse to knock off, but I think this horse has a chance."

Owner: WinStar Farm

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Breeder: WinStar Farm

Bloodline: By Distorted Humor-Supercharger, by A.P. Indy

Color and gender: Bay colt

Career record: Two starts, 2-0-0, $67,368

Last start: Won 1-mile allowance at Churchill Downs on Nov. 27

Next start: Grade III, $225,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 12

Potential trouble: Lack of experience and has no graded stakes earnings

Comma to the Top

In early October, trainer Peter Miller was just looking for a way to get some confidence into Comma to the Top. Two months later, the bay gelding had become one of the leading West Coast contenders on the Kentucky Derby trail.

After beginning his career in the claiming ranks, Comma to the Top went on a tear at the end of 2010, winning three stakes races in six weeks, including the Grade I, $750,000 CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park on Dec. 18. Purchased for just $22,000 at the Ocala April 2-year-olds-in-training sale, the gelded son of Bwana Charlie won once in his first five starts, a $50,000 claiming race.

Since running sixth in the Grade I Del Mar Futurity, Comma to the Top has a five-race win steak that began with a 4-length triumph in a starter allowance race at Golden Gate Fields on Oct. 1.

"That was really the start of his turnaround, where his confidence really shot up," Miller said.

Though he won the Grade III Generous Stakes on turf in front-running fashion, Comma to the Top was able to sit off the early leader in the 11⁄16-mile CashCall before running out to a 3-length advantage at the top of the lane. That he was able to relax in the early going was remarkable considering the youngster got himself worked up when he lost a rear shoe in the paddock and had to be reshod.

Owners: Gary Barber, Roger Birnbaum, Kevin Tsujihara

Trainer: Peter Miller

Breeders: Richard and Linda Thompson

Bloodline: By Bwana Charlie-Maggies Storm, by Stormy Atlantic

Color and gender: Bay gelding

Career record: Ten starts, 6-1-0, $551,600

Last start: Won Grade I CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park on Dec. 18

Next start: Probable for Grade III, $200,000 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields on Feb. 12

Potential trouble: Pedigree leans heavily toward the miler/sprinter side. Has not yet started on dirt

Dialed In

Nick Zito will remember the 2010 season for the plethora of big-race near-misses his stable was involved in. Just two starts into his career, Dialed In is doing his part to make sure 2011 stands out for his trainer for all the right reasons. The buzz Dialed In generated with his trouble-filled, how-did-he-pull-that-off maiden win last November was validated on Jan. 30. The son of Mineshaft rallied from last to win the Grade III Holy Bull Stakes going away by 11/2 lengths.

Just as Dialed In's inexperience was on full display during his career debut at Churchill Downs in November, so was his raw talent. Robert LaPenta's dark bay colt missed the break in the 6-furlong test, blew the turn, and still managed to come running on the far outside to get up for the win. Zito initially wanted to run the colt back in a 11⁄8-mile allowance race at Gulfstream on Jan. 21. But when the track came up sloppy, he scratched him and went with a wildly successfully plan B.

"When I asked him, he really ran on well. This is obviously a very nice horse," jockey Julien Leparoux said after the Holy Bull.

Zito, who has won the Derby with Strike the Gold (1991) and Go for Gin (1994), finished second in the race last year with Ice Box.

"I'm not sure what will be next (for Dialed In)," Zito said. "The idea is just to get him (to the Kentucky Derby)."

Owner: Robert LaPenta

Trainer: Nick Zito

Breeder: William S. Farish, Madeleine Pickens and Skara Glen Stables

Bloodline: By Mineshaft-Miss Doolittle, by Storm Cat

Color and gender: Dark bay colt

Career record: Two starts, 2-0-0, $268,800

Last start: Won Grade III, $400,000 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 30

Next start: Possible for Grade II, $400,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes on Feb. 26

Potential trouble: Lack of experience and has yet to go two turns

Jaycito

As if Bob Baffert needed any help getting Derby contenders, he inherited one of his more promising prospects for this season toward the end of 2010. Baffert, who also conditions lightning-fast maiden winner The Factor, had Grade I winner Jaycito join his barn after the son of Victory Gallop had a disastrous outing in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs.

The bay colt, who was previously trained by Mike Mitchell, swerved badly on the first turn of the Juvenile and wound up seventh, beaten 16 lengths. Before that odd outing marred the end of his year, Jaycito had established himself as a leading West Coast prospect when he defeated fellow Grade I winner J P's Gusto in the 11⁄16-mile Grade I Norfolk Stakes after going four-wide around both turns.

How Jaycito's form holds up on dirt is still to be determined because one can't really draw much from his Breeders' Cup run. But he had enough turn of foot to get second in the Grade I, 7-furlong Del Mar Futurity after being 11th in the early going and was tactical enough to rate off the leaders in the Norfolk before grinding J P's Gusto down in deep stretch.

From a pedigree standpoint, distance should be no concern because he's a son of the 1998 Belmont Stakes winner.

Owner: Zayat Stables

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Breeder: Runnymede Farm and Catesby Clay

Bloodline: By Victory Gallop-Night Edition, by Ascot Knight

Color and gender: Bay colt

Career record: Four starts, 1-2-0, $210,000

Last start: Seventh in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs on Nov. 6

Next start: Possible for Grade II, $250,000 Robert B. Lewis on Feb. 12

Potential trouble: Will be key how he responds first time back after bolting in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile

Rogue Romance

Even as Rogue Romance made his first three career starts on turf, trainer Ken McPeek wasn't convinced grass was the best showcase for the colt's talents.

"The reason we ran him on grass was mostly because I wanted to get him into two-turn races, and that was really what was available," McPeek said. "But he is really bred for the dirt."

Rogue Romance's dirt debut helped solidify McPeek's belief. In the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs, the son of 2004 Derby winner Smarty Jones finished third behind the two horses widely regarded as the best in the division.

Being able to handle the dirt is paramount for any classic hopeful. Having the turn of foot Rogue Romance displayed in the Grade III Bourbon Stakes at Keeneland is equally desirable. After trailing the 12-horse field through most of the 11⁄16 miles, he made a powerful six-wide move in the lane and was still gaining steam when he hit the wire 21/2 lengths in front. Making that effort more impressive was the fact that it was the first time the colt had been that far back. In his maiden win at Saratoga, he pressed the pace in second before drawing off.

"There is no question I think he deserves to be in the top 10 of contenders now," McPeek said. "He needs to improve from 2 to 3, which I think he's got a chance to do."

Owner: Catesby Clay

Trainer: Ken McPeek

Breeders: Runnymede Farm and Catesby Clay

Bloodline: By Smarty Jones-Lovington, by Afleet

Color and gender: Chestnut colt

Career record: Four starts, 2-0-1, $291,150

Last start: Third in Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs Nov. 6

Next start: Grade II, $300,000 Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds on Feb. 19

Potential trouble: Had a tendency to act a bit green last season and still needs to prove he can beat the top company

Santiva

There is only one win on Santiva's résumé to date. But in four starts, the son of Giant's Causeway has gained invaluable experience that could carry him far on this season's Derby trail. Safe to say, little fazes Santiva. The bay colt has already made starts over all three surfaces and been in the barns of three trainers, having been previously conditioned by Todd Pletcher and Ken McPeek.

In the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes last November — the same race that launched 2010 Derby winner Super Saver — Santiva fought between horses in the stretch to edge clear for his first victory. Though Santiva sat close to the pace in the 11⁄16-mile Kentucky Jockey Club, he rallied from next to last in the 11-horse field to run second in the Grade I Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland last October.

Santiva's speed figures do not rival the top members of his class. But the Derby is as much a test of mettle as anything.

"He's a very versatile horse and a horse with a bright future," said Eddie Kenneally, who took over Santiva's training prior to the Kentucky Jockey Club. "He's won a two-turn stakes at Churchill Downs so we have that edge, as well."

Owner: Tom Walters

Trainer: Eddie Kenneally

Breeder: Paget Bloodstock

Bloodline: By Giant's Causeway-Slide, by Smarten

Color and gender: Bay colt

Career record: Four starts, 1-2-1, $195,454

Last start: Won Grade II, $165,000 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs on Nov. 27

Next start: Possible for Grade II, $400,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 26 or Grade II, $300,000 Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds on Feb. 19

Potential trouble: Final time of 1:45.31 in the Kentucky Jockey Club was slower than the 1:44.48 posted by the filly Kathmanblu when she won the Golden Rod over the same distance on the same card.

Stay Thirsty

Every time he receives an interview request, owner Mike Repole pretty well knows what the topic will be about. As much as he loves talking about his champion and leading Derby contender, Uncle Mo, Repole would like to remind people he has two colts pointing for May.

Stay Thirsty could end up being the quiet kid who shocks everyone with his moves when the big dance rolls around. A $500,000 purchase at the 2010 Fasig-Tipton select 2-year-olds in training sale, Stay Thirsty has classic ability all through his bloodlines. He is by champion Bernardini and out of the Storm Bird mare Marozia.

Though Stay Thirsty was a well-beaten fifth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile behind Uncle Mo, the dark bay colt showed good early speed in breaking his maiden by 51/2 lengths going 6 furlongs at Saratoga and was beaten just 13/4 lengths by Boys At Toscanova in the Grade I Hopeful Stakes.

The conventional thinking is that Stay Thirsty will get better the further he is asked to go. The main question is whether he's fast enough to hang with the precocious members of his class.

"Stay Thirsty was not bred to be a top 2-year-old," Repole said. "What he did last year he was not bred to do. He's built to go 2 miles. Everyone wants to talk about Uncle Mo, but ... (Stay Thirsty) is probably one of the top-10 3-year-olds right now."

Owner: Repole Stable

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Breeders: John D. Gunther and John Darren Gunther

Bloodline: By Bernardini-Marozia, by Storm Bird

Color and gender: Dark bay colt

Career record: Four starts, 1-2-0, $150,000

Last start: Fifth in Breeders' Cup Juvenile on Nov. 6

Next start: Pointing for Grade III, $250,000 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct on March 5

Potential trouble: Will he have enough speed to go along with all that stamina?

Tapizar

After two straight years of not having a Kentucky Derby horse, trainer Steve Asmussen appears poised to end that skid should Tapizar continue the upswing he's been on the past few months.

The son of Tapit lost his first three starts, but the bay colt has been relentless since getting a handle on the game, winning his last two outings by a combined 143/4 lengths.

Winchell Thoroughbreds' homebred broke his maiden by 101/2 lengths at Churchill Downs on Nov. 27 after sitting just off the pace going 11⁄16 miles.

When he was sent to California to test stakes company in the Grade III Sham on Jan. 15, Tapizar confirmed his previous outing was no aberration. Though he zipped through an opening quarter in :22.62, Tapizar remained relaxed up front and easily turned back Clubhouse Ride around the final turn en route to a 41/4-length score.

"I think now, keeping him healthy, and if he can go far enough and keep improving with the distances are the questions we have," Asmussen said after the Sham. "The horse gives us a lot of confidence in that he can do more. He's talented, but there's a lot of kid to him, a lot of playfulness in him."

Owner: Winchell Thoroughbreds

Trainer: Steve Asmussen

Breeder: Winchell Thoroughbreds

Bloodline: By Tapit-Winning Call, by Deputy Minister

Color and gender: Bay colt

Career record: Five starts, 2-0-1, $105,632

Last start: Won Grade III Sham Stakes at Santa Anita Park on Jan. 15

Next start: Targeting Grade II, $250,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita on Feb. 12

Potential trouble: Quality of the field he beat in Sham Stakes is suspect

To Honor and Serve

Things have come so easily for To Honor and Serve that his connections can't get a read on just what the son of Bernardini is capable of. A Derby triumph is among the few things missing from trainer Bill Mott's résumé, and To Honor and Serve might represent the Hall of Famer's best shot yet. Beautifully bred with physical looks to match, To Honor and Serve won three of four starts during his juvenile season, including a 2-length triumph in the 11⁄8-mile Grade II Remsen Stakes in which he led every point of call.

"He's mentally an extremely good horse to be around," said Bruce Hill, general manager of owner Charlotte Weber's Live Oak Plantation. "At the same time, we're anxious for him to get into a title match and let someone punch him in the nose to make sure he's got enough heart to keep on running."

To Honor and Serve's early speed is reminiscent of his sire's. He has the ability to either lay just off the leader — as he did during his 83/4-length maiden win — or run foes off their feet as he did in the Grade II Nashua. His bloodlines say 11/4 miles should be no problem. Reigning in the enthusiasm over what he might become is another.

"We have to keep a lip chain on that around here because you don't want to get too anxious," Hill said with a laugh. "Ms. Weber knows there are a lot of things still to accomplish. But this horse is pure class."

Owner: Live Oak Plantation

Trainer: Bill Mott

Breeders: Twin Creeks Farm, Larry Byer, and Rancho San Miguel

Bloodline: By Bernardini-Pilfer, by Deputy Minister

Color and gender: Bay colt

Career record: Four starts, 3-1-0, $264,640

Last start: Won Grade II Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct on Nov. 27

Next start: Possible for Grade II, $400,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream on Feb. 26

Potential trouble: Hasn't been seriously challenged and has not faced Grade I company

Uncle Mo

Uncle Mo's standing among 3-year-olds very much mirrors his efforts on the racetrack — he's out front with a commanding lead.

There are ample questions Uncle Mo must answer in the coming months. But the main one for the undefeated 2-year-old champion is whether he's going to be seriously tested any time soon.

Forget the fact he has won his three career starts by a combined 231/4 lengths. What has some comparing Uncle Mo's talents to the likes of 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew is his blazing speed and rare ability to finish a race faster than he began it.

"He's already proven to be one of the great 2-year-olds," owner Mike Repole said. "You could put his 2-year-old season against some of the best out there."

The ease at which Uncle Mo goes about his business has earned him the "freak" label, and there is no doubt about his affinity for the Churchill Downs surface — as evidenced by his 41/4-length stroll in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

The only hole in Uncle Mo's arsenal thus far is his relative inexperience and what some perceive as a lack of stamina in his bloodlines. How the son of Indian Charlie makes that key transition to his sophomore season will be realized in the next few weeks — although finding foes to run against him might be the biggest challenge right now.

Owner: Repole Stable

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Breeder: D. Michael Cavey DVM

Bloodline: By Indian Charlie-Playa Maya, by Arch

Color and gender: Bay colt

Career record: Three starts, 3-0-0, $1,296,000

Last start: Won Breeders' Cup Juvenile on Nov. 6 at Churchill Downs

Next start: Pointing toward the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby on March 12

Potential trouble: Stamina questions in his pedigree

Wilkinson

Trainer Neil Howard never likes to get too far ahead of himself where his horses are concerned. In the wake of Wilkinson's victory in the Grade III Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds on Jan. 22, however, Howard has resigned himself to having to answer a lot of questions in the coming weeks regarding his possible plans in May.

Wilkinson's win in the Lecomte put him firmly on the Kentucky Derby radar as he went from beaten to race winner in a handful of gritty strides. The son of Lemon Drop Kid appeared ready to settle for runner-up honors in mid-stretch only to fight back on the rail under Garrett Gomez to overtake pacesetter Pants On Fire late.

Since beginning his career with a second-place finish at Keene land, Wilkinson has put together a string of consistent efforts that could make him the top contender to come out of the Midwest this season. His maiden win was another grinding effort when he collared Voodat late. His pedigree also suggests little in the way of distance limitations.

"This colt is really starting to mature," Howard said. "It took us a little time to get him going after minor problems like allergies and sore shins, but (owner) Mr. Ed Gaylord let me take some time with him and fire his shins, and now it looks like the colt is coming along."

Owner: Gaillardia Racing

Trainer: Neil Howard

Breeder: Gaillardia Racing

Bloodline: By Lemon Drop Kid-Tasha's Delight, by Afternoon Deelites

Color and gender: Dark bay colt

Career record: Five starts, 2-2-1, $ $105,490

Last start: Won Grade III, $96,000 Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds on Jan. 22

Next start: Possible for Grade II, $1,000,000 Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds on March 26

Potential trouble: Hasn't been tested against top company

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