The 2011 Kentucky Derby (G1) chase is a month old and the early favorite, unbeaten Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) winner UNCLE MO (Indian Charlie), recorded his first workout last Sunday at Palm Meadows, breezing three furlongs in :39 4/5. He's being pointed to the 1 1/16-mile Tampa Bay Derby (G2) on March 12.
We have races to recap from January, but let's begin with a look back at some top horses from last year.
The Derby is 13 weeks from Saturday.
After winning his first two starts wire to wire with stunning ease, UNCLE MO displayed the willingness to rate in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, waiting in second until the far turn, and he rolled through the stretch to a 4 3/4-length decision at Churchill Downs. He was a man among boys as a two-year-old, recording BRIS Speed ratings as high as 110 (twice), and is conditioned by leading trainer Todd Pletcher, who will be looking for his second consecutive Derby win.
Uncle Mo has the makings of a superstar, but he must continue to move forward at three. And the latter is entirely possible. Uncle Mo is still lightly raced, with a solid pedigree for the Derby distance, and the colt's high-cruising speed is an advantage. It promises to be an exciting journey.
Readying for 2011
TO HONOR AND SERVE (Bernardini) strolled to an 8 3/4-length victory in an off-the-turf maiden race last October before posting easy victories in the Nashua S. (G2) and Remsen S. (G2). Both stakes tallies came against small fields that were difficult to measure, but the bay colt accomplished the task in superb fashion each time, posting century-topping BRIS Speed numbers while winning in hand. He's the star performer from the first crop of Bernardini, who earned a visit from Zenyatta based upon his successful freshman season.
With a mouth-watering pedigree for 10 furlongs, To Honor and Serve is trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, who earned his first Triple Crown race win with Belmont (G1) scorer Drosselmeyer (Distorted Humor) last year and is hungry for a Derby trophy. Mott's never been in this position like this, with a Derby prospect as talented as To Honor and Serve, and his speedy charge is versatile enough to win from off the pace. A name has nothing to do with the equation, but To Honor and Serve would be such a heart-warming tribute for a Derby winner. He'll launch his three-year-old campaign in the February 26 Fountain of Youth (G2).
STAY THIRSTY (Bernardini) is presently overshadowed by stablemate Uncle Mo, but the well-bred colt will look to make a splash in 2011. After posting a sharp 5 1/2-length maiden score going six furlongs at Saratoga, the dark bay stepped up in class with an excellent second in the seven-furlong Hopeful S. (G1), dueling the well-regarded Wine Police (Speightstown) into submission before giving way late to the big favorite. He figured to move forward in his final prep for the Breeders' Cup, but Stay Thirsty remained in the barn for the next two months and had every reason to be short when stretching out to 1 1/16 miles off the unexplained absence, checking in fifth in the Juvenile. I expect him to show much more this year if he remains healthy.
SANTIVA (Giant's Causeway) rallied for runner-up honors in the Breeders' Futurity (G1) over Keeneland's Polytrack last October while still a maiden and notched his first career win in the Kentucky Jockey Club S. (G2), driving to a half-length decision under the Twin Spires. The Eddie Kenneally colt will look to follow in the hoofsteps of Super Saver, who became the first Kentucky Jockey Club contestant since Real Quiet to win the Derby, and Santiva has the breeding to succeed with plenty of stamina on both sides of his pedigree. His BRIS Speed ratings last year (92 and 90 in the aforementioned races) are a little low, but those numbers probably aren't a true gauge of his ability given the lack of early pace in both races. Santiva is eligible to make a significant impact in 2011, and the Fountain of Youth is a likely starting point.
BRETHREN (Distorted Humor) is unbeaten in two career starts, breaking his maiden at Belmont Park prior to a good-looking, one-mile allowance victory at Churchill Downs in late November, and Super Saver's half-brother merits respect going forward for Pletcher. Unlike stablemates Uncle Mo and Stay Thirsty, the bay colt has been training steadily in South Florida since early January and is expected to receive three preps this year for the Derby. He will make his anticipated stakes bow in the February 12 Sam F. Davis (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs.
JAYCITO (Victory Gallop) is easily forgotten following his seventh-place clunker in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, but he reportedly broke his bit, which cost him a couple of teeth and left him unmanageable for the rider. A commendable winner of the Norfolk S. (G1) two back, the late-running colt received a positive trainer switch to Bob Baffert over the winter and shouldn't be dismissed even he drops his first start back in the February 12 Robert B. Lewis (G2). He's bred to relish classic distances and might need a couple of races before finding his best stride this year.
COMMA TO THE TOP (Bwana Charlie) ended 2010 as the top-rated juvenile in California, recording convincing victories in the CashCall Futurity (G1) and Real Quiet S. on Hollywood Park's Cushion Track and the grassy Generous S. (G3), but the gelding will need to effectively carry his speed over longer distances on dirt this year. His breeding doesn't offer much encouragement for the 1 1/4-mile trip, but the former claimer could continue to shine in upcoming prep races. He'll probably stretch out to 1 1/8 miles in the February 12 El Camino Real Derby (G3).
BOYS AT TOSCONOVA (Officer) excelled in one-turn sprints last year, breaking his maiden by 12 lengths at five furlongs before winning the Hopeful by 1 3/4 lengths, and the Richard Dutrow pupil gave a fine account of himself when securing runner-up honors in his two-turn debut, the 1 1/16-mile Breeders' Cup Juvenile, finishing six lengths clear of the third-place finisher. The speedy colt doesn't have a favorable pedigree for the Kentucky Derby, so longer distances are a major question mark entering his sophomore season, and Boys at Tosconova missed his first scheduled start in the one-mile Holy Bull S. (G3) on January 30. He's a very shaky prospect for the Kentucky Derby at this point.
DIALED IN (Mineshaft) vaulted up Kentucky Derby Top 10 lists with a sensational come-from-behind victory in last Sunday's Holy Bull. After being outrun early over the speed-friendly Gulfstream Park track, the well-built colt began to move forward on the far turn and was guided off the rail by Julien Leparoux for the stretch run. Dialed In closed powerfully down the middle of the track to win going away by 1 1/4 lengths, registering an excellent 104 BRIS Speed rating as well as a 113 Late Pace number.
Dialed In provides excitable trainer Nick Zito with reason to wax poetic. He overcame a slow start to win his career debut in eye-catching fashion at Churchill Downs in November, launching his rally from the clouds as he departed the far turn, and Leparoux's only responsibility that afternoon was to keep his mount from running over rivals as he showed signs of greenness through the final furlongs. Dialed In was still a little rank in the stretch of the Holy Bull, wanting to lug in as Leparoux kept him clear on the far outside, and gained valuable experience while knocking off more seasoned opponents. The dark bay could be any kind with further improvement.
He hasn't been two turns yet, but it's difficult to imagine 1 1/4 miles being a problem with his regal pedigree -- Dialed In is by the distance-loving sire Mineshaft and his second dam is champion Eliza. He likes Churchill Downs and the $240,000 paycheck from the Holy Bull ensures him enough graded earnings. Zito, a two-time Derby winner, hasn't committed him to the 1 1/8-mile Fountain of Youth yet, but the February 26 race is a logical spot to stretch out in distance.
TAPIZAR (Tapit) turned heads with a 10 1/2-length maiden win at Churchill Downs in late November and stepped up to stakes company with aplomb, winning the January 15 Sham S. (G3) by 4 1/4 lengths. The speedy colt went wire to wire over a Santa Anita track that favors early speed, but his 103 BRIS Speed rating was very flattering.
Tapizar, who has never been a distance less than a mile and 70 yards in his career, needed four starts to break his maiden, but he appears to be blossoming for Steve Asmussen at the right time of the year. The bay will step up to face stiffer competition in the Robert B. Lewis, but it should be no surprise to see him continue to move forward.
INDIAN WINTER (Indian Charlie) was a hot commodity at Del Mar last summer, winning his career debut at even-money over eventual Grade 1 winner Jaycito, and offered a solid run to dead-heat for third in the Del Mar Futurity (G1) next time out. After being sidelined the rest of the year, the dark bay colt was a little underappreciated in his return to the races, being sent off the longest shot among seven rivals in the January 17 San Pedro S. going 6 1/2 furlongs at Santa Anita. He closed strongly to wear down well-regarded pacesetter City Cool (City Zip) by a neck and is a candidate to keep improving off the tightener.
With a favorable pedigree for longer distances, Indian Winter rates as an intriguing contender in Southern California for Jerry Hollendorfer. We'll learn more following his class check in the Robert B. Lewis.
WILKINSON (Lemon Drop Kid) was all out to wear down pacesetter PANTS ON FIRE (Jump Start) in the January 22 Lecomte S. (G3) at Fair Grounds, getting up by a head in the final strides, and didn't earn much of a Speed rating (92). Wilkinson's never run fast in any of his five career starts, and Pants on Fire was exiting a well-beaten third in the January 1 Count Fleet S. at Aqueduct. It's difficult to envision any of the Lecomte runners having any impact upon this year's Kentucky Derby.
MACHEN (Distorted Humor), who is a stablemate of Wilkinson's in the Neil Howard barn, turned in the most impressive performance of any three-year-old so far at Fair Grounds, winning a January 30 allowance at a mile and 70 yards by a resounding five lengths, and the chestnut colt is unbeaten in two career starts. He registered an encouraging 98 Speed rating in his first attempt, rallying to a convincing 5 1/2-length maiden at six furlongs, and we won't count his most recent Speed figure (89) against him due to the glacial early pace (:25 2/5, :50 3/5 and 1:15 3/5). Machen broke slowly and had to wait behind a wall of horses before offering his winning move last time, and the hot prospect is scheduled to make his stakes debut in the February 19 Risen Star S. (G3).
SOLDAT (War Front) switched successfully to turf last season, breaking his maiden in the With Anticipation (G3) before recording a pair of seconds in the Pilgrim S. (G3) and Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G2), but his connections decided to try him back on dirt this year, opting for a January 21 entry-level allowance over a sloppy track at Gulfstream. Questions still remain concerning a fast track, but there was plenty to like about Soldat's 10 3/4-length thumping. After setting a moderate early pace under pressure, Soldat ran away from the competition in the stretch, posting a terrific 108 BRIS Speed rating in the 1 1/8-mile event. We know he relishes an off track, and the Fountain of Youth will tell us more if contested on a fast surface.
CROSSBOW (Bernardini) has won two straight for McLaughlin, capturing a January 29 allowance at Gulfstream last time out, but both starts have come in sprints and it would premature to list him as a legitimate Derby contender. He is by Travers (G1) and Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) winner Bernardini, but there is a lot of speed in his female family and Crossbow may not be built for extended distances this spring. His Speed numbers are also a little soft.
This is a slow weekend for Derby hopefuls. The action will heat up the following weekend, with the Risen Star, Sam F. Davis and El Camino Real Derby on February 12 and the San Vicente S. (G2) the next day.