For the fourth straight year, there will be a ChicagoNow Derby Dozen here at Picks & Ponderings. In a new development this year, the Picks & Ponderings representation will be with two persons and not one. While Paul is doing the ballot for the fourth straight year, teammmate Nicolle Neulist will be making her ballot for the first time.
But while it's a two-for-one special on Derby Dozen ballots, that doesn't mean the format will change. You'll still get your Derby Dozen fix. You'll still get the straight talk and unfiltered barbs you've come to know and love when the folks at Wireplayers want their ballots every three weeks. Or when the NTRA media poll wants a ballot too. (See below.) Even though it's now Paul and Nicolle instead of Paul, there are still times when we show no mercy. (Looking at you, FROSTED.)
With the two-pronged Derby Dozen approach, the two ballots are side by side. You can see where both panelists agree or disagree.
So welcome back to Derby Dozen. Get your popcorn ready.
Both authors, Paul Mazur and Nicolle Neulist are pleased to be members of the "Derby Dozen" panel for WirePlayers. Each member of the panel chooses and then ranks twelve of the best Kentucky Derby Contenders. In addition, there are comments from members of the panel. The list is taken fairly seriously; the comments however are more snarky than serious.
This year, in addition, horses 1-10 will represent Paul's ballot in the NTRA Media poll, when said poll is conducted. NTRA poll results will be available from that site and tweeted by Paul on Mondays/Tuesdays.
As this list is published before the final list is published including all the panelists, a link to the final ballot will be provided once it is available, usually the Wednesday or Thursday after this poll is submitted.
Updated February 25 to include full ballot from Wireplayers.
Okay, enough disclaimers and jibber jabber. Without further ado, here's the Derby Dozen. (Week ending February 22.)
Paul's Derby Dozen
1.FAR FROM OVER Did his best impression of 2013 Withers winner Revolutionary in the 2015 Withers. Now if he can not imitate the history of Todd Pletcher’s runners this time of year...
2.INTERNATIONAL STAR For the last time: winning the Grey Stakes and two NOLA preps does not make you an international star.
3.UPSTART He was the goods in the Holy Bull, but he looked like damaged goods in the Fountain of Youth.
4.TEXAS RED Remember kids, I’ll Have Another skipped the March preps and look how that turned out.
5.OCEAN KNIGHT S. F. Davis winner could get the ten furlong distance down the road, but is he a Haskell horse in disguise?
6.MY JOHNNY BE GOOD Ran bad enough in the Davis to throw off detractors, but not bad enough to be #2 behind Frosted on my Iowa Derby Derby Dozen panel.
7.KEEN ICE Don’t think he has the gears to win, but watch him lay low and have this one scramble the superfecta in the Derby like Golden Soul or Commanding Curve.
8.DORTMUND Still think his career is a ticking time bomb, but maybe there’s still some fuse left after his match race.
9.AMERICAN PHAROAH “Ladies and gentlemen, your 2014 Rebel Stakes winner….”
10.IT’SAKNOCKOUT Your token Todd horse that excels in Gulfstream’s Derby preps but needs a respirator beyond that.
11.FAR RIGHT Leader of the Arkansas pack until the out-of-town runners start plucking off wins.
12.METABOSS Will Tony Danza come back to the Kentucky Derby to pose for selfies again this year with this son of Street Boss?
1. KEEN ICE: Keen Ice has been my Derby Horse since his impossible-looking maiden win at Churchill Downs last September. He remains at the top of my heap. The way he maneuvered through horses in the Breeders’ Futurity was impressive for such a lightly raced horse, as well. He is a dead closer, and so far has shown himself to be one who consistently fires. He runs like a horse who wants the distance of the Derby (if not the Belmont…), but he will need to amass enough points in these too-short Derby preps in order to get a spot on the first Saturday in May. Though preps as long as the Derby itself would be optimal for Keen Ice, he has twelve points already -- another on-board finish or two in preps, and good luck to everyone else for second come Derby day.
5. OCEAN KNIGHT: Kiaran McLaughlin came into the year with what looked like a stacked deck of Derby contenders. Between Imperia’s flat performance in the Risen Star and Frosted’s downright disastrous flattening in the Fountain of Youth, he is left with only one top-tier Derby contender come the end of February: lightly-raced Ocean Knight. He broke his maiden easily at Aqueduct in December, ducking under the wire of Apollo’s curse, and returned in the Sam F. Davis. Despite his wide gate and his inexperience, he fought past one very game Divining Rod to win. He still needs to prove himself against tougher, and a mile and a quarter from a son of a Stormy Atlantic mare remains a question, but he is going the right way.
6. UPSTART: After his hair-raising Holy Bull, I had expected to be wowed by Upstart again in the Fountain of Youth. By those standards, the Fountain of Youth was a disappointment. Those standards were hardly realistic. No one put on a “wow” performance in the Fountain of Youth, and there have been precious few on the Derby trail so far. Though Upstart did not respond immediately and explosively when asked, he did respond well enough to take advantage of Frosted stalling out, despite being bumped. He finished three lengths ahead of Itsaknockout; the only thing between him and fifty Derby points that day was a questionable decision by some inconsistent stewards. Upstart still has an enviable resume: he has never been off the board in six starts, which include a solid third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last year as well as that dominating win in the Holy Bull.
7. FIRING LINE: There is only one horse out west who can keep Dortmund honest, and that horse is Firing Line. In the Los Alamitos Futurity, he finished just a head-bob behind Dortmund after a race-long duel with Mr. Z. Next out, he looked like he had Dortmund put away, but Dortmund came back at him. Firing Line fell a head short, but never gave up. I don’t love the fact that Firing Line could not seal the deal, but making a horse as strong and as game as Dortmund work for his last two wins should count for something. The biggest drawback to Firing Line is exactly that: it is difficult to describe what he has done on its own merits, only in relation to how good he has been against Dortmund. That isn’t a terrible place to be, given how many other horses Dortmund has steamrolled. That may not be enough for Derby glory, though. I hope he travels to Sunland next out and shows what he can do when he steps outside that shadow.
8. FAR RIGHT: Far Right is no world-beater, but he has ridden the Oaklawn rail into the Derby picture. He has garnered most of his points by prevailing over questionable fields in the Smarty Jones and the Southwest. The classiest horse with whom he has dispatched is Mr. Z, the consummate undersides-of-exotics horse. He will have to step it up against the ones who make the trip for the Rebel or the Arkansas Derby, some of whom may actually want to win horse races. Still, with 22 points already, one more money finish in an Oaklawn prep should get him into the starting gate. Assuming that happens, he returns to a track on which he has shown form. Far Right has three starts at Churchill. He hit the board in all three of them, and they include both a maiden win and a late-charging third in the Street Sense Stakes.
9. INTERNATIONAL STAR: Last year, it was Vicar’s In Trouble. This year, it’s International Star. What’s “it”, you ask? Why, a non-Kitten Ramsey horse on the Derby trail at Fair Grounds! This one looks like an upgrade over last year’s model, both in that his breeding doesn’t have “miler” stamped quite so emphatically over it, and that he looks like a reasonably versatile stalk-to-midpack type. He has won both of the Fair Grounds preps so far, as well as the Grey Stakes at Woodbine last year. In addition to making his name an apt one, this record also assures him a start in the Derby if he stays healthy. With wins at Belmont, Woodbine, and Fair Grounds, he has also shown he isn’t just a one-track pony. International Star is hardly the most exciting horse on the Derby trail, but has been pleasantly solid in his three prep race wins. Sometimes, that’s all you need.
10. PROSPECT PARK: In 2013, the Wygods had a pretty good two-year-old. He beat the mighty Time Jumper in a maiden special weight at Golden Gate. They sold him to Jim Rome, Jerry Hollendorfer, and company, and the rest was history. This time around, they knew better than to let their best Prospect slip away. His allowance win exhibited particular strength: though he was boxed in along the rail, he was able to angle out and make a joke of the field once he got a few inches of racing room. His class test will come in the San Felipe, but he has shown enough so far to suggest he should be taken seriously. His pedigree also shows some class: his dam Quiet Romance has produced two graded stakes winners going two turns over dirt. Prospect Park has a good shot to become number three.
11. METABOSS: Metaboss’s dirt form remains a question, with his only dirt start being a stakes try at a sprint distance. However, his distance aptitude makes him an intriguing contender, and he is on a fairly short list of Derby contenders this year who may actually relish a mile and a quarter. Stretching out has been the key to unlocking Metaboss’s potential: he graduated going nine panels on the grass, and then scored a decisive victory in the El Camino Real over the Golden Gate Tapeta. Both times, he looked full of run late. If he handles the Polytrack at Turfway as well as he handles the Tapeta and the turf, Street Boss could be sending a dark horse to the Derby for the second straight year.
12. TEXAS RED: I struggled over whether to include Texas Red on this list at all. He would have been an easy inclusion, and very highly ranked at that, as recently as two weeks ago. His second in the San Vicente did nothing to sour me on him. It was the very definition of a prep race: just a seven-furlong warmup against good company to get him cranked for the longer races he loves going forward. If all went well, he would have been pointed to the Risen Star. With this abscess, he will not race again until April. His body of work combined with his likely aptitude for longer distances suggest he still has a shot -- if the trainer-speak is on target. That is a big “if”, and he falls way down the list until he actually sees the starter again.
Got any good contenders? Don't see your favorite? State your case, drop a comment, and let us know.
You can take "Picks & Ponderings" with you anytime, anywhere. You can get Twitter updates @picksponderings for on-scene reports from Hawthorne Race Course. And you can get "Picks and Ponderings" in your e-mail by typing your email address in the box and clicking "Create Subscription." It's a FREE service, and you'll never get any unwanted spam.