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Blog - RACING

California Chrome is Mike Curry's No. 1 pick for his "heating up" category after winning the Santa Anita Derby last Saturday (Photo by Eclipse Sportswire).

Below is a capsule look at three horses who are heating up on the Triple Crown trail and three horses whose Derby chances are not quite as strong as they once were.

Road to the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard

Heating Up

1. California Chrome

Cali Chrome 3Up

Eclipse Sportswire

California Chrome’s Santa Anita Derby victory was a “Wow!” race for a number of reasons. First, he thoroughly dominated my top-rated 3-year-old, Candy Boy, and Rebel Stakes winner Hoppertunity in his 5 ¼-length romp. Years of following the Triple Crown have told me to trust my eyes. When you see a visually stunning performance, trust your ability to judge talent. California Chrome has an abundance of talent. Next, California Chrome showed the ability to run fast early and still finish powerfully, which I believe is the key for a Kentucky Derby candidate who races near the pace. California Chrome was a half-length behind an opening quarter-mile in :22.89 and still covered his final eighth of a mile in :12.49, and if you watched the race you know jockey Victor Espinoza eased off the throttle in the final sixteenth of a mile. I think there is still some gas left in the tank. He earned a 106 Equibase Speed Figure - down slightly from the 109 he posted in winning the San Felipe Stakes - so essentially he paired solid figures, which tells me he can take another step forward in the Kentucky Derby.

2. Wicked Strong

3Up Wicked Strong NYRA

NYRA Photo

I’m always cautious about a 3-year-old who runs a career-best race in his final Kentucky Derby prep race, like Wicked Strong did in winning the Wood Memorial Stakes on April 5. I would certainly rather see a spectacular performance than a dud, but sometimes when a huge effort comes from an unexpected source I want to see it again before I believe. Wicked Strong’s 107 Equibase Speed Figure was a 14-point jump from his previous career-best, which puts him right there with the best of this group of 3-year-olds but also requires him to duplicate or even better that race on May 3. I think he has a chance to do it because he comes from the barn of a trainer I respect tremendously, Jimmy Jerkens. I like his running style for the race and think he is improving at the right time. I also am a fan of his sire, Hard Spun, and I think there is enough stamina and class in his female family to make him a factor at 1 ¼ miles.

3. Hoppertunity

Hoppertunity 3Up

Coady Photography

There was no clear choice for the third spot this week with two great performances in last weekend’s Kentucky Derby prep races but not much else. I liked, not loved, both Samraat’s Wood Memorial Stakes runner-up finish and Hoppertunity’s Santa Anita Derby second so really this was a toss-up. I landed on Hoppertunity because I think I was a little more skeptical of his Kentucky Derby chances entering the weekend than I was of Samraat’s. Although soundly defeated by California Chrome in the Santa Anita Derby, I thought Hoppertunity ran well enough to give him a shot to finish in the top five in the Kentucky Derby. He’s got a lot of ground to make up on California Chrome at this point, but so do the rest of the 3-year-olds in my view. Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert will have him ready to run a big one on Derby day and we’ll know then if the Rebel Stakes winner is good enough.

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Cooling Off

1. Candy Boy  

New Candy Boy 3up Benoit

Benoit Photo

Candy Boy takes the top spot here because he was first on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 a week ago and obviously dropped after he was beaten by 8 ¾ lengths by California Chrome in the Santa Anita Derby. I’m not giving up on him by any stretch. Candy Boy is a nice 3-year-old with the potential to run a big one in the Kentucky Derby. I really liked his win in the Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis Stakes, but what concerns me is that he has never posted a triple-digit Equibase Speed Figure and he has a ton of catching up to do to beat California Chrome. I kept Candy Boy in my top 10, but you definitely don’t like to see a Kentucky Derby hopeful turn in a clunker in his final prep race. It’s not a recipe for Derby success.

2.Social Inclusion

3down Inclusion GP

Gulfstream Park Photo 

Given his lack of experience/seasoning, I actually thought Social Inclusion ran a very nice race in finishing third in the Wood Memorial Stakes. I like his chances in the Kentucky Derby if he gets in, but he might not and that’s largely why he’s with this group. The Wood Memorial was a critical race for Social Inclusion to get the points necessary to qualify in the Road to the Kentucky Derby scoring system and with on 20 points, he might very well be on the outside looking in for the first jewel of the Triple Crown, which is restricted to 20 starters. Back to the Wood Memorial, Social Inclusion opened a clear led in the stretch and then was battling gamely with Samraat before Wicked Strong swept past both of them. I don’t think Social Inclusion saw him coming, but Samraat ended up getting the better of him for second anyway. What I liked was that I think the Wood provided some much-needed foundation and seasoning for a potentially special colt. Plus, his 102 Equibase Speed Figure essentially paired his 103 earned in an allowance win in March. Many people were expecting Social Inclusion to prove a superstar in the Wood. He did not do that but he can and, I believe, will build off that third-place finish.

3. A Handful with Fading Derby Hopes

Ring Weekend Thumb

SV Photography

There were quite a few notable defections and disappointing efforts from a week ago, so rather than focus on one let’s quickly zip through them. With enough points to qualify for the Kentucky Derby, Ring Weekend (pictured at left) prepped for the classic in the Calder Derby and finished second, beaten by 9 ¾ lengths. He had an unusual trip but that wasn’t the type of race that breeds optimism leading up to the Kentucky Derby. Uncle Sigh finished up the track in the Wood Memorial after a couple of game runner-up finishes to Samraat. He might have the points to qualify for the big dance but he won’t be getting my betting bucks on Derby day. Risen Star and Lecomte Stakes runner-up Albano has the points to qualify for the Derby but his connections decided to bypass the race after his Louisiana Derby fourth. United Arab Emirates Derby winner Toast of New York also will be pointed in a different direction despite having the points to qualify.

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Curry's Derby Top 10

1. California Chrome 

So dominant in the Santa Anita Derby that I thought about leaving #2 blank

2. Constitution

Impressive Florida Derby but rise to #2 mostly due to others underperforming

3. Hoppertunity   

Second to California Chrome in Santa Anita Derby, Rebel winner for real.

4. Samraat

Even with loss in Wood Memorial, he has consistently been very good.

5. Conquest Titan

My pick to win Arkansas Derby ... I've been on the bandwagon this long.

6. Wildcat Red

Very game, little horse but don't know that he wants 1 1/4 miles.

7. Wicked Strong

One great performance is enough to crack top 10, not top five.

8. Candy Boy   

Not giving up on him; Candy Boy was my #1 last week for a reason.

9. Cairo Prince

Think it's more likely now than a week ago that he gets into the Derby.

10. Social Inclusion   

If he gets into Derby, I'd be tempted to bet he rebounds from Wood defeat.

Six on the bubble: BayernChituVicar's in TroubleTapitureGeneral a RodIntense Holiday

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Racing Terms

Allowance race – A race for which the racing secretary drafts certain conditions to determine weights to be carried based on the horse’s age, sex and/or past performance.

Also-eligible – A horse officially entered for a race, but not permitted to start unless the field is reduced by scratches below a specified number.

Apprentice – A rider who has not ridden a certain number of winners within a specified period of time. Also known as a “bug,” from the asterisk used to denote the weight allowance such riders receive.

Blinkers – A cup-shaped device that limits a horse’s vision. Blinkers, often used to try to improve a horse’s focus, come in a variety of sizes and shapes to allow as little or as much vision as the trainer feels is necessary.

Bullet – The fastest workout of the day at a track at a particular distance.

Claiming race – A race in which each horse entered is eligible to be purchased at a set price.

Closer – A horse that runs best in the latter part of the race, coming from off the pace.

Connections – Persons identified with a horse, such as owner, trainer, jockey and stable employees.

Disqualification – Change in order of finish by stewards for an infraction of the rules.

Dam – The mother of a horse.

Entry – Two or more horses with common ownership that are paired as a single betting unit in one race.

Front-runner – A horse whose running style is to attempt to get on or near the lead at the start of the race and to continue there as long as possible.

Furlong – An eighth of a mile.

Graded race – A non-restricted race with added money or guaranteed purse value of $100,000 or more which has been run at least twice under similar conditions and on the same surface and has been assigned graded status for the year contested by the American Graded Stakes Committee.

Handicap – This race type refers to a race where the weights are assigned by the track’s racing secretary or handicapper based upon past performances.

Length – A measurement approximating the length of a horse, used to denote distance between horses in a race.

Off track – A track that has a wet surface and isn’t labeled as “fast”.

Pacesetter – The horse that is running in front (on the lead).

Past performances – A horse’s racing record, earnings, bloodlines and other data, presented in composite form.

Prep – A workout (or race) used to prepare a horse for a future engagement.

Post Parade – Horses going from paddock to starting gate past the stands. The post parade provides spectators with a chance to get a final look at the horse before the race.

Post Position – Position of stall in starting gate from which a horse begins a race.

Rabbit – A speed horse running as an entry with another, usually a come-from-behind horse. The rabbit is expected to set a fast pace to help the chances of its stablemate.

Rank – A horse that refuses to settle under a jockey’s handling in a race, running in a headstrong manner without respect to pace.

Scratch – To be taken out of a race before it starts.

Silks – Jacket and cap worn by jockeys.

Sire – Father of a foal.

Stakes – A race for which the owner usually must pay a fee to run a horse. The fees can be for nominating, maintaining eligibility, entering and starting, to which the track adds more money to make up the total purse. Some stakes races are by invitation and require no payment or fee.

Image Description

Mike Curry

A native of Philadelphia who grew up in nearby Wilmington, Del., Curry was editor of Thoroughbred Times TODAY before joining the America's Best Racing team in May 2012. He credits his grandfather for the inspiration to repeatedly sneak off to Delaware Park as a 16-year-old and the 1989 rivalry between Sunday Silence and Easy Goer for his passion for horse racing. Curry graduated from the University of Delaware in 1997 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and a concentration in Journalism. He worked for the Wilmington News Journal and was Sports Editor of the Cecil Whig before moving to Lexington in 2005.

Image Description

Mike Curry

A native of Philadelphia who grew up in nearby Wilmington, Del., Curry was editor of Thoroughbred Times TODAY before joining the America's Best Racing team in May 2012. He credits his grandfather for the inspiration to repeatedly sneak off to Delaware Park as a 16-year-old and the 1989 rivalry between Sunday Silence and Easy Goer for his passion for horse racing. Curry graduated from the University of Delaware in 1997 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and a concentration in Journalism. He worked for the Wilmington News Journal and was Sports Editor of the Cecil Whig before moving to Lexington in 2005.

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