While there is still time for a Derby horse to exit a maiden special weight or allowance/conditions race, most eyes are on the point or prep races. There are two preps this weekend and both have Derby hopefuls. A few have caught my eye that are still under the radar at this point. I think they can win on Saturday or at least run well enough to out themselves on the Derby trail.
I’ll start out west, at Santa Anita. The Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis has two well regarded runner from Bob Baffert in Spielberg and Medina Spirit. They will both take their fair share of support and rightly so. Bob is top of the class getting these good three-year olds to the big dance. I don’t think these are his best two, and I think they can be beat for the money on Saturday by a horse who steps up and goes forward as three-year olds do this time of year.
Roman Centurian didn’t do much running back in his debut at Del Mar in November. That was a fast race, a key race, and was also won by Life is Good, a top Baffert Derby contender. Roman Centurian ran evenly at a distance probably shorter than he prefers but he came out of the race on the improve. He stretched out and went two turns next and won easily by three after going wide. He was drawing off late and looked sharp and like a horse who wants distance. Simon Callaghan running him back here is a vote of confidence and while he will have to improve again to contend, and even more so to win, I think it is very possible. He is by Empire Maker, an underrated sire in my book out of a Bernardini mare. He’ll likely be in the 10-1 or 8-1 range and I think I’ll land here.
If Roman Centurian doesn’t win but improves he still can make my Derby radar. He has the looks I like to see, and I think he can be a nice colt.
Rombauer exits the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He comes from pretty far off of it and that hasn’t helped him. I think he will take more money than he probably should on Saturday.
Both Doug O’ Neil’s horses are interesting. Hot Rod Charlie ran a big second in the Juvenile. He gets Joel Rosario and sits a good trip in here. Wipe the Slate looks like quality speed to me and that is always dangerous.
I’ll still take my chances with Roman Centurian knowing if he doesn’t win Saturday, he just might pay me back a bit further down the line.
The Holy Bull at Gulfstream has a few horses who look like they can emerge as Derby hopefuls. Prime Factor brings speed, hype, Pletcher and Irad Ortiz to the party off a nice maiden win. He will stretch out around two turns and looks like he can get the lead at speed friendly Gulfstream. That gives him the advantage in my book on Saturday, especially if the track is playing that way. He lacks experience, but they can’t beat what they can’t catch, and he may not know or care who is behind him. If he doesn’t clear, go, or he gets pressured things can get interesting.
Amount, another one start horse from Todd Pletcher is also stretching out. I like him as a prospect as much as Prime Factor. He didn’t run as fast as Prime Factor, and he loses Irad Ortiz who stays with the stablemate. He does get Luis Saez, who seems to have had options. He is a Curlin colt out of a Pulpit mare so he should like stretching out.
I’d like to get more creative in the Holy Bull, but to me it is what it is.
While the Eclipse Awards did not produce any surprises with the winners, there is something that jumps out at me. It is no secret I think the voting is flawed and needs serious revision. How can 28 voters abstain from voting for apprentice jockey? I’d take their votes away along with the votes of the two, whomever they are that voted for Tiz the Law as three-year old. There is a lot that is subjective in the Sport of Kings. Tiz the Law being champion three-year old over Authentic is not one of them. I’ll leave that there.