2011 Kentucky Derby Top 10: It's 'Mo Than Just a One Horse Race
The 2011 Kentucky Derby is less than eight weeks away and it’s March Madness at this point for anyone to think they know who is going to win on the first Saturday in May.
It’s difficult enough to pick the winner on the day of the race when you know all the participants and can evaluate them against each other.
Two months before the Derby two years ago was anyone talking about Mine That Bird?
At this stage of the game, getting in the starting gate at Churchill Downs is still a major obstacle. Just ask the connections for last year’s Uncle Mo ... Eskendereya.
He suffered a career-ending injury two weeks before the big race, but that didn’t prevent his trainer Todd Pletcher, who also trains ‘Mo, from capturing his first run for the roses with Super Saver.
The only thing that is certain is the uncertainty, as flashes in the pan are impossible to predict. The last two winners I mentioned are winless since their Derby glory.
Maybe the worst wager in all of sports is a Kentucky Derby future, since the actual odds you should be getting are probably five times what you are locking yourself in at.
That being said, everyone has an opinion, so I’ll throw my hat in the ring with how I see things at this point.
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10. The Factor
No doubt the fastest of the Kentucky Derby contenders off a pair of scinitalliting sprint victories, including the San Vicente, the big question that reamins with The Factor is whether or not he can carry his speed over a distance of ground.
The record holder at six furlongs over Santa Anita's main track gets his chance to go long in Saturday's Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park in what shapes up to be a competitive race.
Bob Baffert's tone when speaking of this son of War Front going two turns and recent foot ailments add to the skepticism, but another freakish performance this weekend could vault him to the top of the list.
9. Silver Medallion
He's yet to run on dirt, but Silver Medallion will most likely get that chance in the Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds on March 26.
A stakes winner in his last two races on turf and synthetic, he may be the last Kentucky Derby hope for the nation's leading trainer Steve Asmussen.
Other horses based in Louisiana are coming off strong finishes in the Risen Star and are ranked higher than him by most, but I feel he'll beat those rivals on his way to the starting gate at Churchill Downs.
The son of Arch, who sired last year's Breeders' Cup Classic winner Blame, looks for a repeat of his impressive Southwest Stakes victory at Oaklawn in Saturday's Rebel Stakes.
A runner-up finish while making his three-year-old debut in last week's San Felipe, which also marked his first start under Baffert's care, has to be viewed as a step in the right direction for Jaycito.
Although he finished nearly eight lengths behind Premier Pegasus, the son of Kentucky Derby runner-up and Belmont winner Victory Gallop can only move forward off this race.
Already a Grade I winner, he'll likely make his next start in the Santa Anita Derby on April 3.
6. Gourmet Dinner
After winning the $1 million Delta Jackpot in November, his connections have pushed forward with an aggressive campaign, and this gutty warrior continues to bring the goods.
He redeemed himself for an off-the-board finish at Hollywood Park in the Cash Call Futurity, a race that was mired by bad weather and a long delay, with a third place finish in the Holy Bull followed by a runner-up effort in the Fountain of Youth.
However, he has reportedly been sent to the farm in Ocala, which puts in jeopardy a start in either the Santa Anita or Florida Derby in early April.
5. Sway Away
Off a pair of second place finishes in Grade II's, including the San Vicente at Santa Anita in his last start when he came from far back to chase home The Factor, Sway Away stretches out to two turns in this weekend's Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park.
The son of Preakness and Belmont winner Afleet Alex will have his shot to stamp himself as a serious contender for the Kentucky Derby with a solid performance on Saturday.
He'll likely get his final prep in the Arkansas Derby if everything goes as planned for trainer Jeff Bonde.
4. To Honor and Serve
There's no question he needed his last when he finished third in the Fountain of Youth in his three-year-old debut.
It looks like he'll stay at Gulfstream for the Florida Derby instead of going to the Wood Memorial back in New York, where he won three straight including a pair of Grade II's last year.
Garrett Gomez takes over for John Velazquez, who was almost replaced prior to the Fountain of Youth and is committed to ride Uncle Mo.
3. Uncle Mo
Most have him at No. 1. I could actually put him lower than this No. 3 spot, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt off his impressive campaign as a two-year-old that culminated with a smashing win in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs.
If Pletcher hadn't gotten off the Derby schneid last year, it would be a lot easier to knock the decision to make his three-year-old debut against nothing in last week's Timely Writer. I understand the desire to ease him back to the races, but this was a sign of vulnerability to me, and he wasn't all that impressive winning.
He'll likely face another short field in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, which could leave him unprepared to face 19 rivals in the Kentucky Derby.
2. Premier Pegasus
The son of Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus soared up the charts with his seven-and-three-quarter length victory in last week's San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita. It was the fourth victory in five career starts for trainer Myung Kwon Cho's home bred.
Some are detracting from his romp by saying he took advantage of a fast pace, however he had been on or near the lead in all of his previous starts (all sprints), and this effort showed versatility.
A solid effort in the Santa Anita Derby gives jockey Alonso Quinonez his first mount in the Kentucky Derby.
Click here to watch my coverage of Pre Peg's win in the San Felipe
He's won his last two in resounding fashion at Gulfstream Park, including the Fountain of Youth, and is headed to the Florida Derby next.
Also a son of War Front (see The Factor), he has displayed tremendous versatility, running well from on or off the pace, on turf and over wet going.
A solid effort in the Florida Derby, even if it doesn't result in another victory, makes him one of the favorites come May 7.