The end of 2012 means one thing to American racing fans: Triple Crown season is officially underway. Whether these two-year-olds are resting after testing the waters in the fall of 2012 or gearing up their preparation to carry over into next year, excitement is certainly in the air.
With the Derby trail heating up, let's rank the youngsters vying for a place in the gate come the first Saturday in May.
Shanghai Bobby in blue and gold colors
Race Record: (5) 5-0-0-0
Best Race: Grade I Grey Goose Breeders Cup Juvenile Stakes (1st)
With five wins in five starts over his young career, it's impossible to doubt Shanghai Bobby's place at the top of the two-year-old crop. With three of those races being graded stakes (and two of the grade one variety) it's difficult to criticize the quality of the colt's work, either.
Bobby is, perhaps, trainer Todd Pletcher's best bet for a Derby contender and it won't be a surprise to see him at the top of the tote board on Derby Day.
Race Record: (3) 3-0-0-0
Best Race: Grade I CashCall Futurity (1st)
Violence was way under the radar until Saturday's victory in the Grade I Cashcall Futurity. Another colt in the talented Todd Pletcher two-year-old stable looks to be well on his way down the Derby trail. Violence doesn't have an exceptional earnings total or as many wins as Shanghai Bobby, but he does have two graded stakes wins in three starts.
While doubters claimed he couldn't handle two-turn distance, Violence proved 'em wrong. Look forward to seeing this beauty of a two-year-old in May.
Race Record: (3) 2-1-0-0
Best Race: Grade III Delta Downs Jackpot (1st)
This youngster being trained by Doug O'Neill is not undefeated, but he does have three quality starts so far.
Goldencents broke his maiden in dominant fashion, winning a MSW at Del Mar by over seven lengths. Next, he finished second to Shanghai Bobby in the Grade I Champagne. His most recent win was at the one million-dollar Delta Downs Jackpot against a quality field.
If he scores a win or two at the Santa Anita meet leading up to the Derby, he could emerge as a serious contender.
Race Record: (6) 3-2-1-0
Best Race: Grade II Sanford Stakes (1st)
With a good win earlier this year in the Grade II Sanford Stakes at Saratoga, Bern Identity has been a two-year-old on many people's radar. While he doesn't have the pristine, blemish-less record of some other top horses in his crop, he does have experience and success against top competition. He's a gritty competitor who could challenge some top horses along the Derby trail.
Race Record: (7) 6-0-0-0
Best Race: Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (1st)
This Ontario-bred hasn't gotten a ton of attention as of late due to his absence in the Breeders Cup Juvenile.
He had a poor showing in his first route race, the Grade III Grey Stakes at Woodbine. Because he failed that two-turn test, owner John Oxley held him out of the BC Juvie. After a great showing in the Grade III Iroquois Stakes, Oxley tested his colt again at two-turns in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. His training paid off in spades and the Canadian shipper beat out a quality field to become a two-year-old force once again.
Race Record: (5) 3-0-1-1
Best Race: Grade II Remsen Stakes (1st)
This successful colt is trained by well, you guessed it, Todd Pletcher. His lone finish outside the money came in the Grade II Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga. That field included Shanghai Bobby, Fortify and Bern Identity, perhaps one of the toughest two-year-old fields this year.
The knock on Overanalyze was his inexperience over seven furlongs, but he proved his haters wrong by winning the Grade II Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct a month ago.
Todd Pletcher knows how to get his young colts ready for the Derby and Overanalyze seems to fit the mold.
Race Record: (5) 1-1-0-0
Best Race: Grade I Grey Goose Breeders Cup Juvenile Stakes (2nd)
He's Had Enough might be Doug O'Neill's sequel horse to last year's hero, I'll Have Another. Well, the colt is hopefully the sequel.
The pedigree on this horse is a royal one with Tapit and Dixieland Band being his sire and grandsire, respectively. O'Neill and owner Paul Reddam have high hopes for this colt, and have seen promise. He ran a game second in the Breeders Cup Juvenile and a respectable fifth in Saturday's CashCall Futurity.
I would imagine He's Had Enough will be rested and primed for 2013 and should improve on his record by then.
Race Record: (8) 3-2-1-0
Best Race: Grade I Dixiana Breeders Futurity (1st)
Joha is a Derby contender with a heck of a lot to prove. He looks like he's got the will for distance, with a win and a second-place finish at 8.5 furlongs.
The issues with Joha are very apparent as he failed his two big tests against stiff competition in the Grade I BC Juvenile Turf (finishing eighth) and the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (finishing ninth). Joha needs training to compete with top competition on the dirt, but if he prepares well he could be a force come May.
Race Record: (4) 2-1-1-0
Best Race: Grade II With Anticipation Stakes (1st)
Balance the Books is a promising colt who, like Joha, has yet to pass a test on the dirt. Unlike Joha, Books has yet to be tested on the dirt.
That said, he's been a force on the grass. After breaking his maiden, Balance the Books has won a Grade II and III stakes and placed a solid third in the Grade I Juvenile Turf Stakes. He's probably going to run his route to the Derby through Florida, and a few good showings there could legitimize his status as a Derby contender.
Race Record: (4) 1-0-2-1
Best Race: Grade I Grey Goose Breeders Cup Juvenile Stakes (3rd)
Capo Bastone ran a solid third in the Breeders Cup Juvenile, and ran third in his previous start in the Grade I FrontRunner Stakes. He doesn't seem to have a nose for winning just yet, but he's a tough runner against stiff competition. The promising thing about Capo is that he's familiar with this year's Derby-ready field.
Race Record: (5) 1-1-1-1
Earnings: $ 242,600
Best Race: Grade I FrontRunner Stakes (1st)
Can you believe it's taken 11 spots to bring up a Bob Baffert-trained two-year-old? It's been a lackluster 2012 (by Baffert standards) for the trainer's youngsters, but Power Broker provided much of the hype.
A dominating performance in the Grade I FrontRunner Stakes set Power Broker up as a favorite in the Breeders Cup Juvenile. Granted, he disappointed in the latter race, finishing fifth. Still, Power Broker seems to be a serious Derby contender and should prove that in months to come.
Race Record: (6) 6-0-0-0
Dawn Approach is, perhaps, the best two-year-old most American race fans have never heard of.
Recently, Godolphin racing has purchased full ownership in this undefeated colt. He has absolutely lit up the European circuit and has grabbed some hardware, being named the European Champion Two-Year-Old Colt at the Cartier Racing Awards.
I would imagine Godolphin could ship him over in 2013 to prep for the Derby and might make him their all-in colt to try and score a Derby win.
Note: Because of his European fame, Dawn Approach is a more likely candidate for the 2013 2,000 Guineas. Still, Godolphin could enter him in the Derby instead.
Race Record: (4) 1-1-1-1
Best Race: Grade 1 Foxwoods Champagne Stakes (3rd)
Fortify is a unique horse in this year's two-year-old crop, because he has never raced on Lasix. That being said, Fortify has also faded in the order of finish as his distances increased. He broke his maiden at 6.5 furlongs, placed second at 7 furlongs in the Grade II Hopeful Stakes, placed third at a 8 furlongs in the Grade I Champagne and fourth at 8.5 furlongs in the BC Juvie.
Fortify is still a formidable contender on the Derby trail, and has a ton of room to grow under trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.
Race Record: (7) 3-3-0-1
Best Race: Super Mario Stakes (1st)
This Todd Pletcher trainee is not as famous as some of his fellow Pletcher-trained youngsters, but he may be the most efficient. He's raced seven times in 2012 and hasn't finished below fourth in any race he's run.
Granted, with only two graded stakes starts, Notacatbutallama needs to prove his mettle against top competition. He'll sure be able to do that in 2013, and could be a surprise contender come May.
Race Record: (6) 3-2-1-0
Best Race: Group II Juddmonte Royal Lodge Stakes (1st)
Steeler is an Irish-bred owned by Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Al Maktoum. He has raced in Europe exclusively this year, and has not raced since late October. The colt has an impressive record and could be the surprise foreign-shipper to contend on the Derby trail.
Race Record: (4) 1-2-1-0
Best Race: Grade III Grey Stakes (1st)
River Seven has been a consistent top-three runner this year at Woodbine. He's run four times and never finished out of the money.
His training has been consistent too, improving as he gains distance, culminating in a victory at the Grade III Grey Stakes in October. In his most recent race (Grey Stakes) he showed speed and stamina in a dominant performance.
If he can prep well in early 2013 after his extended break, River Seven could be a sexy choice come Derby Day.
Race Record: (5) 1-2-0-0
Best Race: Grade II Best Pal Stakes (1st)
Know More was the pick for a while to be Doug O'Neill's Derby-contending prize. He broke his maiden in a Grade II Stakes (Best Pal) at Del Mar and went on to second-place finishes in two consecutive Grade I stakes twenty-four days apart.
November, however did not treat this colt well. He was entered in the BC Juvenile Turf rather than the Grey Goose Breeders Cup Juvenile Stakes and ran thirteenth on the unfamiliar turf surface. He was then quickly turned around to run in the million-dollar Grade III Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes on two week's rest, finishing eighth in that race.
Know More might benefit from an extended layoff prior to his Derby prep, and time will tell if he returns to his earlier prominence.
Race Record: (3) 1-2-0-0
Best Race: Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (2nd)
Frac Daddy seems to be gearing up to hit the Derby trail hard. He failed to break his maiden in his first race in October at Belmont, but has since shown some talent in November.
His first win came at 8.5 furlongs on the dirt of Churchill Downs. He followed that with a race to the wire against the formidable Uncaptured in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, finishing second by a neck.
If he can piggyback on the momentum he's building, Frac Daddy could be a force in early 2013.
Race Record: (10) 1-1-2-2
Best Race: Breeders Cup Juvenile Sprint Stakes (1st)
Hightail is a horse-in-progress at this point. His pedigree could point to being a late-bloomer and he's obviously showing a tendency toward being an out-and-out sprinter. He's been tested only three times outside of 6.5 furlongs, and has finished no better than fourth in those races.
It seems as though D Wayne Lukas has tried everything from switching distance, to intervals between races, to surface and has seen nothing short of mixed results.
Hightail could be too inconsistent come Derby time, but if Lukas can get him into shape he could make an appearance in the Race for the Roses.
Race Record: (3) 1-1-0-1
Best Race: Grade III Grey Stakes (2nd)
Tesseron has shown to be a great competitor, if not a great winner. His only win was in his maiden outing, winning at a mile-and-seventy-yards at Woodbine (against fellow top-twenty horse River Seven, mind you) but he has shown well against quality fields in his next two races.
River Seven got the better of him in the Grey Stakes in October as Tesseron finished second by three-quarters of a length. Next, Tesseron took on top competition in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, finishing a game fourth after such horses as Uncaptured (first) and Frac Daddy (second). He'll be in the mix against top fields along the Derby trail, and if he surprises more than once, his stock will go up.
21. Rolling Fog
23. Title Contender
25. Brown Almighty