Sidelines with John Clay

Three months out, which horses are the top Kentucky Derby contenders?

Good Magic, with jockey Jose Ortiz aboard, wins the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Del Mar on Nov. 4, 2017. Trained by Chad Brown, Good Magic is expected to make his 2018 debut in the Fountain of Youth on March 3.
Good Magic, with jockey Jose Ortiz aboard, wins the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Del Mar on Nov. 4, 2017. Trained by Chad Brown, Good Magic is expected to make his 2018 debut in the Fountain of Youth on March 3. Associated Press

If the road to the Kentucky Derby was an actual racetrack then perhaps the field would be galloping down the backstretch toward the turn for home. After all, we are less than three months away from the 144th running at Churchill Downs on May 5.

So far, 22 Derby preps have been run that produce points on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard, including three last Saturday. Lombo won the Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita in California. Avery Island took the Withers at Aqueduct in New York. And Audible won the Holy Bull at Gulfstream in Florida.

The Sam F. Davis, a prep for the Tampa Bay Derby, takes place Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs. The following weekend features the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields, the Risen Star at Fair Grounds and the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn, which actually runs on Monday the 19th.

So we’re still well over a month away from the marquee Derby preps, the ones that earn 100 points for the winner — the Louisiana Derby on March 24 at Fair Grounds; the UAE Derby in Dubai on March 31; the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park on March 31; the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 7, the Blue Grass at Keeneland on April 7; the Santa Anita Derby at Santa Anita on April 7 and the Arkansas Derby on the April 14 at Oaklawn.

So is there an early favorite? Not an overwhelming one, necessarily, but here are five that have stuck out in the early going:

Good Magic: The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner isn’t expected to make his 2018 debut until the Grade 1 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park. Trained by Chad Brown, who won last year’s Preakness with Cloud Computing, the son of Curlin finished second in his maiden debut, then second to Firenze Fire in the Grade 1 Champagne at Belmont Park on Oct. 7. He was the first maiden to win a Breeders’ Cup race when he captured the Juvenile, so he’s still a bit of a mystery having raced just three times.

Instilled Regard: Trained by Jerry Hollendorfer for XOX Stables, the son of Arch was an impressive 3 3/4-length winner of the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes on Jan. 13 at Fair Grounds. It was his first race since running second to McKinzie in the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Futurity on Dec. 9. He’s the probable favorite for the Risen Star on Feb. 17.

McKinzie: A disqualification of Solomini actually moved McKinzie to first place in the Los Alamitos Futurity, but then the son of Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense rolled to a 3 1/2-length win in the Sham Stakes on Jan. 6. Trainer Bob Baffert, who knows a thing or two about winning the Kentucky Derby, is expected to choose the March 10 San Felipe for McKinzie’s next start on the path to the Santa Anita Derby.

Catholic Boy: The Remsen winner is the expected favorite in Saturday’s Sam F. Davis. Trained by former Todd Pletcher assistant Jonathan Thomas for Robert LaPenta, the son of More Than Ready began his career as a turf horse, winning his first two races, including the Grade 3 With Anticipation at Saratoga. After a fourth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Dirt, however, Thomas moved Catholic Boy to the dirt where he ran off with a 4 3/4-length win.

Bolt d’Oro: After winning both the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity at Del Mar and the Grade 1 FrontRunner Stakes at Santa Anita, a wide trip cost the son of Medaglia d’Oro in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, where he finished third. A pulled muscle forced him to skip this Saturday’s San Vicente, but trainer/owner Mick Ruis reports Bolt should be ready for the San Felipe on March 10.

Best of the rest

Audible: Owned by WinStar, the China Horse Club and SF Racing, the Todd Pletcher trainee all but romped in the Holy Bull, winning by 5 1/4 lengths.

Avery Island: Won the Grade 3 Withers after finishing second to Catholic Boy in the Remsen. The son of Street Sense is trained by Kiaran McLaughlin for Goldophin.

Firenze Fire: Is on a good race/bad race form after a disappointing second in the Remsen followed his win in the Jerome on Jan. 13. Ran seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile after winning the Grade 1 Champagne for trainer Jason Servis, brother of Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks-winning trainer John Servis.

Free Drop Billy: Trained by Dale Romans, the son of Union Rags ran second to Audible in the Holy Bull in his 2018 debut. The Breeders’ Futurity winner at Keeneland finished 2017 with a dud, running ninth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

Hollywood Star: Scratched from the Holy Bull, trainer Dale Romans will send the son of Malibu Moon in the Sam F. Davis on Saturday. Hollywood Star ran sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

Lombo: Trained by Michael Pender for Michael Lombardi, the lightly raced son of Graydar made an impression by winning the Robert B. Lewis by 2 lengths.

Mourinho: The son of Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense won the Smarty Jones on Jan. 15. The Southwest Stakes is expected to be next in trainer Bob Baffert’s plans.

Solomini: Trained by Baffert for Zayat Stables — think American Pharoah — the son of Curlin ran second in the FrontRunner, second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and third in the Los Alamitos Futurity. Expected to make his 2018 debut in the San Felipe.

Title Ready: Trained by Steve Asmussen for Charles Fipke, the son of More Than Ready turned some heads with an impressive allowance race win on Feb. 1 at Oaklawn. He’s being pointed toward the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes on March 17.

Vino Rosso: Pletcher is following a typically slow path with the son of Curlin who has yet to race in stakes company. In his only two starts, Vino Rosso won a maiden on Nov. 11 and an allowance on Dec. 22. His first real test comes Saturday in the Sam F. Davis.

Kentucky Derby 2018 prep races

Date

Race

Track

Winner

9/16/17

Iroquois

Churchill Downs

The Tabulator

9/24/17

Beresford

Naas

Saxon Warrior

9/30/17

FrontRunner

Santa Anita

Bolt d’Oro

9/30/17

Royal Lodge

Newmarket

Roaring Lion

10/1/17

Lagardere

Chantilly

Happily

10/7/17

Champagne

Belmont Park

Firenze Fire

10/7/17

Breeders Futurity

Keeneland

Free Drop Billy

10/28/17

Racing Post Trophy

Doncaster

Saxon Warrior

11/4/17

Breeders’ Cup Juvenile

Del Mar

Good Magic

11/25/17

Kentucky Jockey Club

Churchill Downs

Enticed

11/25/17

Cattleya Sho

Tokyo Racecourse

Ruggero

12/2/17

Remsen

Aqueduct

Catholic Boy

12/9/17

Los Alamitos Futurity

Los Alamitos

McKinzie

12/13/17

Zen-Nippon

Kawasaki

La Vent Se Leve

12/17/17

Springboard

Remington Park

Greyvitos

1/6/18

Sham

Santa Anita

McKinzie

1/13/18

Jerome

Aqueduct

Firenze Fire

1/13/18

Lecomte

Fair Grounds

Instilled Regard

1/15/18

Smarty Jones

Oaklawn

Mourinho

2/3/18

Robert Lewis

Santa Anita

Lombo

2/3/18

Withers

Aqueduct

Avery Island

2/3/18

Holy Bull

Gulfstream Park

Audible

2/10/18

Sam F. Davis

Tampa Bay Downs

2/17/18

El Camino Real

Golden Gate Fields

2/17/18

Risen Star

Fair Grounds

2/18/18

Hyacinth

Tokyo Racecourse

2/19/18

Southwest

Oaklawn

3/1/18

Condition Stakes

Kempton Park

3/2/18

Patton

Dundalk

3/3/18

Fountain of Youth

Gulfstream Park

3/10/18

Gotham

Aqueduct

3/10/18

San Felipe

Santa Anita

3/10/18

Tampa Bay Derby

Tampa Bay Downs

3/17/18

Rebel

Oaklawn

3/17/18

Jeff Ruby Steaks

Turfway Park

3/24/18

Louisiana Derby

Fair Grounds

3/25/18

Sunland Derby

Sunland Park

3/30/18

Burradon

Newcastle

3/31/18

UAE Derby

Meydan Racecourse

3/31/18

Florida Derby

Gulfstream Park

4/7/18

Wood Memorial

Aqueduct

4/7/18

Blue Grass

Keeneland

4/7/18

Santa Anita Derby

Santa Anita

4/14/18

Arkansas Derby

Oaklawn

4/14/18

Lexington

Keeneland

5/5/18

Kentucky Derby

Churchill Downs

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