The Road to the 150th Kentucky Derby officially begins with Saturday’s Iroquois (G3) at Churchill Downs, the historic home of the Run for the Roses.
That means it’s time to collect prospects to follow! Promising two-year-olds have already started to emerge over the summer, and many more contenders will burst onto the scene as the trail unfolds.
Here are 10 youngsters to watch in upcoming major races that offer qualifying points toward the 2024 Kentucky Derby, plus two to keep on the radar for down the road.
One of the most impressive maiden winners of the prestigious Saratoga meet, Locked romped by 7 1/4 lengths going a mile on Sept. 1, with another 13-length gap back to third. The Todd Pletcher trainee didn’t just look good as he drew off; he sped in a final time of 1:36 to earn a gaudy 105 Brisnet Speed rating. The Oct. 7 Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland is likely next for the exciting colt.
Locked was moving forward from his debut in a six-furlong sprint, where he was a troubled, but eye-catching, third. By hot sire Gun Runner, Locked is out of a half-sister (by Malibu Moon) to multiple Grade 1 winner Gabby’s Golden Gal. The $425,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase races for Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Walmac Farm.
General Partner
Another to improve second time out at the Spa, Klaravich Stables’ General Partner flashed speed, rebuffed a challenge, and kicked away to a four-length victory Sept. 2 for trainer Chad Brown. The son of Speightstown reeled off seven furlongs in a sharp 1:22.33, good for a 101 Brisnet Speed rating. Runner-up Dive Bomber was himself six lengths clear of first-time starter Jefferson Street, with another notable firster, Enlighten, fourth in the strung-out field.
General Partner, who tired to fourth in his premiere, is expected to try the Oct. 7 Champagne (G1). The $250,000 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky weanling is a half-brother to three stakes performers, all produced by the Distorted Humor mare Fleeting Humor.
Living up to billing as the 1.10-1 favorite in his Aug. 25 unveiling at the Spa, Repole Stable’s Fierceness rolled by 11 1/4 lengths in front-running fashion. His performance evoked memories of a similarly spectacular six-furlong debut by champion Uncle Mo, back in 2010, in the same colors for Pletcher. The caveat is that Fierceness might have been flattered by running on a muddy track, rather than a fast surface, but his time of 1:09.65 merited a 101 Brisnet Speed rating. He’ll get the opportunity to further the Uncle Mo parallel in the Champagne.
Fierceness, a son of the Quality Road stallion City of Light, has special resonance as a homebred. His dam (mother), Nonna Bella, is herself a daughter of past Repole runners Stay Thirsty and Nonna Mia.
Awesome Road 
Ellis Park has also had its share of good-looking maiden winners, and Awesome Road might prove to be the best of the lot. Trained by Brad Cox for Albaugh Family Stables and Donegal Racing, the Quality Road colt vied through fast fractions Aug. 27 and appeared to be in the grasp of rival Stronghold. But Awesome Road found another gear in midstretch to power 2 3/4 lengths clear of Stronghold, who was himself 10 lengths ahead of the rest. Awesome Road finished six furlongs in 1:10.90, garnering a 90 Brisnet Speed rating, in a debut full of promise for the future.
Bred by the iconic Claiborne Farm, the $600,000 Keeneland September yearling should thrive as the distances increase. He is out of an A.P. Indy mare who is a full sister to Pulpit.
Patriot Spirit 
Colonial Downs is becoming a venue to monitor maidens as well, and Patriot Spirit hinted of unusual talent by taking his Aug. 25 debut while under a snug hold. The Michael Campbell pupil appeared to be toying with Godolphin’s odds-on favorite Linzer as he breezed past and opened up by six lengths. Linzer was coming off a second at Delaware Park to Nutella Fella, who went on to upset the Hopeful (G1) (more on him below). Judging by his body language, Patriot Spirit could have run seven furlongs faster than 1:23.03. We’ll find out more when he competes in Saturday’s Iroquois.
A well-named son of Constitution, Patriot Spirit sold to George Mellon of Mellon Patch Farm for $235,000 at OBS in March. His dam, Mistical Plan, captured the 2007 Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) and 2008 Princess Rooney H. (G1).
Risk It 
Iroquois contender Risk It starred first time out Aug. 19 on the big stage at Saratoga. Representing the same connections as his celebrated sire Gun Runner – co-owners Winchell Thoroughbreds and Three Chimneys Farm and Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen – the chestnut blasted a six-furlong maiden wire-to-wire by 4 1/2 lengths. The word was out, as he went off as the 1.65-1 favorite, and recorded a 91 Brisnet Speed figure for clocking 1:10.75.
Purchased for $500,000 as a yearling at Keeneland September, Risk It is out of Wedding Jitters, by the Unbridled stallion Broken Vow.
Seize the Grey 
Yet another Iroquois entrant, Seize the Grey, could be more of a long-term proposition for legendary horseman D. Wayne Lukas. By the late Hall of Famer Arrogate, he was only eighth behind Asmussen’s talented Edified in their mutual debut July 1 at Ellis Park. But befitting his trainer’s pattern, Seize the Grey improved in leaps and bounds next time at Saratoga, where he sprang a 16-1 upset in a 6 1/2-furlong maiden July 29. Shortening up in trip to 5 1/2 furlongs for the off-the-turf Skidmore S. did not work out as well for him, especially once he encountered trouble, but Seize the Grey rallied from last to snatch third.
My Racehorse secured Seize the Grey for $300,000 as a yearling at the boutique Fasig-Tipton Saratoga August Sale. The gray is out of the Smart Strike mare Smart Shopping, a stakes-placed half-sister to Grade 1 hero Power Broker.
The full brother to 2023 Kentucky Derby winner Mage is still a maiden, but he has run a commendable second in both starts for trainer Danny Gargan, despite challenging trips. Debuting in the Saratoga maiden won by Seize the Grey, Dornoch got bumped around at the start, ended up angling over to the rail, chased the front-running winner, and kept on determinedly in the slop. Third-placer Global Perspective came back to break his maiden smartly. 
Dornoch, instead of competing in another maiden race, stepped right up into stakes company in the Sapling S. at Monmouth Park. Sent off as the 3-2 favorite on the stretch-out, Dornoch had a tough task after he got shoved out extremely wide on the first turn. That appeared to light him up, as he rushed up into premature contention entering the backstretch. Although Dornoch swept to the fore on the far turn, he couldn’t hold off Pletcher’s route-proven Noted in deep stretch. He was beaten only a length, though, prompting a what-if.
By champion Good Magic and out of Grade 2-placed stakes heroine Puca, a daughter of 2008 Kentucky Derby star Big Brown, Dornoch sold for $325,000 as a Keeneland September yearling. Mage was still months away from making it to the races at that point, so you might say that Dornoch is ahead of the curve.
The Wine Steward 
Unbeaten from three starts, including two stakes wins, The Wine Steward nevertheless has a slightly under-the-radar vibe. The Mike Maker juvenile has won over different tracks each time, driving from just off the pace in a style that bodes well for his development. A six-length debut romper versus New York-breds at Belmont Park May 28, he defeated open company by daylight in the July 2 Bashford Manor S. at Ellis. The Wine Steward reverted to the state-bred ranks in the Aug. 27 Funny Cide S. at Saratoga, where he overcame stumbles at the start to prevail by a head. His Brisnet Speed ratings are increasing from race to race, with his latest coming in at a 97.
From the first crop of champion Vino Rosso, a son of Curlin who improved with age, The Wine Steward commanded $340,000 at OBS in March. He was produced by Call to Service, a half-sister (by To Honor and Serve) to graded winners Isotherm and Giant Game.
Nutella Fella 
As the winner of Saratoga’s marquee event for two-year-olds, the Sept. 4 Hopeful, Bell Gable Stable’s Nutella Fella warrants inclusion on this list. Yet given that he was a 54-1 longshot who picked up the pieces from a pace collapse, earning just an 89 Brisnet Speed figure, the Hopeful form might not be ironclad. The 2-for-2 Nutella Fella certainly has upside for trainer Gary Contessa, and his pedigree is respectable as a son of champion Runhappy and a Candy Ride mare.
Still, you can make a reasonable case for others who didn’t put their best forward in the Hopeful. The most obvious among them are the respective second and third, 2.15-1 favorite Timberlake and Pirate. The Cox-trained Timberlake, previously a stunning maiden conqueror at Ellis, fared best of those in proximity to the wild pace. Pletcher’s debut winner Pirate had to circumnavigate wide from post 10, and stayed on creditably. 

Rhyme Schemes & City of Troy

As a postscript, I have to mention two ultra-talented prospects who won’t be seen in scoring races for a while. Rhyme Schemes, the brilliant Saratoga Special (G2) winner, is currently sidelined by injury. Otherwise, the son of Hall of Famer Ghostzapper would have been a prime player in the Hopeful. If all goes well, the Norm Casse pupil should be back on the trail over the winter. 
A more speculative name to note is City of Troy, based in Ireland with Aidan O’Brien. Dominant in his two starts so far on turf, the son of Triple Crown champion Justify is eyeing the Oct. 14 Dewhurst (G1) at Newmarket. But O’Brien at one point floated the idea of trying dirt in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). We have a long way to go until the first Friday in November, never mind the first Saturday in May, and the Coolmore “lads” can always stick to the European classic program. The fact that the Ballydoyle maestro has said it out loud, though, could indicate their interest.