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The Derby Dozen

The Herald-Leader's third annual Derby Dozen offers an early snapshot of the horses we think have the bloodlines, the speed, the stamina and the guile to run away with the roses in the 136th Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May.

SUPER SAVER

Classic pedigree? Check. Graded earnings? Yep. A two-turn win over dirt? Absolutely.

There is a reason Super Saver has his connections energized about his Derby potential. And if they could ever get the son of Maria's Mon to relax, their excitement level would ratchet up even further.

The display Super Saver put on beneath the Twin Spires on Nov. 28 is one WinStar Farm hopes is a preview of what he can do on the first Saturday of May.

This past winter, the bay colt sizzled in his first test beyond a mile, wiring the field by 5 lengths in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club in a stakes-record time of 1:42.83 for the 11⁄16-mile test.

When he's on, Super Saver has been spectacular, notching his two wins by a combined margin of 12 lengths. Considering both of his victories have come on the front end, however, it remains to be seen if his talents can be as effective coming from behind.

"It's a big question," said Elliott Walden, vice president of WinStar Farm. "I personally think you're better off with a horse that can relax and that will be a big question with him. We hope he can. But in his defense, (the Kentucky Jockey Club) was his first time around two turns and a lot of times horses will settle into it once they're used to it."

Just the facts

Owner: WinStar Farm

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Breeder: WinStar Farm

Bloodline: By Maria's Mon-Supercharger, by A.P. Indy

Color and gender: Bay colt

Career record: Four starts, 2-1-0, $171,232

Last start: Won Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs on Nov. 28

Next start: Possible for Grade III Gotham Stakes (March 6 at Aqueduct) or Rebel Stakes (March 13 at Oaklawn)

Potential trouble: Needs to prove he can come off the pace.


LOOKIN AT LUCKY

Shortly after Lookin At Lucky won the Grade I Norfolk Stakes last October, trainer Bob Baffert let it be known what expectations he held for the son of Smart Strike.

"He's the best 2-year-old I've had in the last five years," the Hall of Famer said.

Nothing the bay colt has done in his six career starts can dispute that.

It's hard to find many holes in Lookin At Lucky's form. The reigning 2-year-old champion has already demonstrated ample amounts of versatility and talent.

His ideal stalking style and explosive turn of foot have allowed Lookin At Lucky to rack up three Grade I wins, including a three-quarter length score in the CashCall Futurity last December.

Even in his lone defeat, a runner-up finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, Lookin At Lucky garnered a slew of accolades when he broke from outside post No. 13 and endured a wide trip throughout, only falling a head short of Vale of York at the wire.

"He's not one-dimensional, which is so great because you don't have to worry about track condition or speed," Baffert said.

With a pedigree that lends itself to classic distances, the only question about Lookin At Lucky's ability is how it will translate on dirt — and Baffert recently added blinkers in his works to help with his focus in the lane.

"I'll probably run him about two times before (the Derby). I don't know (where). He might ship out," Baffert said.

Just the facts

Owners: Mike Pegram, Karl Watson, and Paul Weitman

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Breeders: Gulf Coast Farms

Bloodline: By Smart Strike-Private Feeling, by Belong to Me

Color and gender: Bay colt

Career record: Six starts, 5-1-0, $1,243,000

Last start: Won Grade I CashCall Futurity at Hollywood on Dec. 19

Next start: Possible for the Grade II San Felipe at Santa Anita on March 13

Potential trouble: Has yet to run on dirt


BUDDY'S SAINT

Even before his first career victory, Buddy's Saint was telling trainer Bruce Levine he was ready for a more strenuous challenge.

"He was training like a stakes horse leading up to the Nashua Stakes (Nov. 7), and even though there was a maiden race on the same day, I thought we should give it a try," Levine recalled.

In his second career start, Buddy's Saint made the transition to graded stakes company look like a cakewalk as he romped to a front-running, 12-length victory in the Grade II Nashua at Aqueduct.

Were it not for a disqualification for bumping in the stretch in his first career start, Buddy's Saint would be a perfect 3-for-3.

Just 21 days after his Nashua victory, the bay colt — who is from the only crop of the late champion Saint Liam — recorded a 43/4-length win in the Grade II Remsen Stakes over 11⁄8 miles and was geared down in the stretch after rating easily behind the pace setters.

In addition to possessing the ability to take back or control the pace, Buddy's Saint boasts a pedigree designed for two-turn success. His sire won the 2005 Breeders' Cup Classic and his dam, Tuzia, was second in the 1998 Grade I Personal Ensign Stakes over 11/4 miles.

Buddy's Saint is expected to have just two preps before the Derby — the Fountain of Youth on Feb. 20 and a possible start in the Grade I Wood Memorial on April 3.

Just the facts

Owner: Kingfield Stables

Trainer: Bruce Levine

Breeders: Roy Gottlieb and Morton Fink

Bloodline: By Saint Liam-Tuzia, by Blushing John

Color and gender: Bay colt

Career record: Three starts, 2-1-0, $218,600

Last start: Won Grade II Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct on Nov. 28

Next start: Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 20

Potential trouble: Quality of the horses he beat in New York is questionable as few have fared well since


RULE

Like most in this 3-year-old class, there are many questions Rule must answer before the first Saturday in May rolls around.

But his toughness isn't one of them.

The WinStar homebred is not only the richest of the farm's quartet of contenders with nearly $600,000 in earnings, he is arguably its most battle-tested.

After breaking his maiden in his third try at Belmont Park, the son of Roman Ruler ran off with the Jean Lafitte Stakes by 9 lengths at Delta Downs in a track-record time of 1:37.45 for 1 mile. Still, it was his narrow victory by a neck over Uh Oh Bango in the Grade III Delta Jackpot that really told his connections what kind of horse they have.

For virtually the entire 11⁄16 miles, Rule had Uh Oh Bango right off his flank pushing him through fractions of :23.24 and :46.75 over the sloppy track. Despite the constant pressure up front, Rule held on when his rival made one last challenge in the stretch.

"Rule overcame a lot of adversity there," said Bill Casner, co-owner of WinStar Farm. "He showed incredible grit and proved just how tough a horse he is."

Rule is another who will probably take the two-prep route on the Derby trail and one of the main objectives will be to see if he is versatile enough to rate or needs to be up front.

Just the facts

Owner: WinStar Farm

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Breeder: WinStar Farm

Bloodline: By Roman Ruler-Rockcide, by Personal Flag

Color and gender: Dark bay colt

Career record: Five starts, 3-1-1, $596,700

Last start: Won Grade III Delta Jackpot at Delta Downs on Dec. 4

Next start: Possible for either Sam F. Davis (Feb. 13 at Tampa Bay Downs) or Risen Star (Feb. 20 at Fair Grounds)

Potential trouble: Has yet to show he can effectively come off the pace


LOST APTITUDE

In two of the past four years, the Kentucky Derby winner has been a horse that began his career on turf.

Following in the footsteps of Barbaro and Big Brown is a daunting task, but Lost Aptitude has done enough in his six career starts on grass to merit a chance at testing his skills on dirt.

A son of 2000 Kentucky Derby runner-up Aptitude, the bay colt has been a front-running standout for trainer Dale Romans.

Lost Aptitude showed his ability when he won a 11⁄16-mile allowance race over the Churchill Downs turf on Nov. 8. But it was his 51/4-length romp over the same course 20 days later in the 11⁄16-mile Grand Canyon Handicap that proved he was ready for a tougher test.

In his 3-year-old debut — the 11⁄8-mile, Grade III Tropical Park Derby on Jan. 1 — Lost Aptitude was caught at the wire by Fly by Phil to lose by a head over a yielding course, but he still performed well enough to earn a probable start in the Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes.

Though he has been most successful setting the early fractions, Lost Aptitude did show he could reel in a foe in his maiden win. He rated just off the leader and wore him down in the final strides.

Just the facts

Owners: Michael Bruder and Frank Jones

Trainer: Dale Romans

Breeders: Scott Ricker and Richard Kaster

Bloodline: By Aptitude-Mystery Code, by Lost Code

Color and gender: Bay colt

Career record: Six starts, 3-1-1, $106,640

Last start: Second in Grade III Tropical Park Derby on Jan. 1

Next start: Probable for Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 20

Potential trouble: Is untested over dirt


AMERICAN LION

It's one thing to make a great first impression in the racing community. It's another thing entirely to keep backing it up. Thus far, WinStar Farm's homebred American Lion has done just that.

From the time he was a yearling, American Lion couldn't help but overshadow some of his comrades and that trend has continued in his three starts to date.

After breaking his maiden his second time out in a 63/4-length romp at Keeneland last October, the green but talented son of Tiznow stepped up his game when he captured the Grade III Hollywood Prevue Stakes on Nov. 21.

"American Lion is the one that stood out from the very beginning because he was very imposing physically," said Bill Casner, co-owner of WinStar Farm. "Super Saver and Rule were certainly nice horses, but I don't know that anyone would have put them in the same class at the time that we thought American Lion was."

The fact he was looking around in the stretch of the Hollywood Prevue showed how much learning American Lion still has left to do. But the fact he was still able to sit back off an honest pace and deliver his kick when asked told his people the ability they always thought was there was no aberration.

"He's been very immature but he's just so talented, he's gotten it done despite the immaturity," Casner said.

Just the facts

Owner: WinStar Farm

Trainer: Eoin Harty

Breeders: WinStar Farm and Dr. William Lockridge

Bloodline: By Tiznow-Storm Tide, by Storm Cat

Color and gender: Bay colt

Career record: Three starts, 2-1-0, $95,600

Last start: Won Grade III Hollywood Prevue Stakes on Nov. 21

Next start: Grade II Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita on Feb. 13

Potential trouble: Has yet to run beyond 7 furlongs


ESKENDEREYA

He might not have a graded stakes win but in his four career starts Eskendereya has demonstrated he has all the tools necessary to be one of the most formidable presences on the Derby trail.

Blessed with a pedigree that screams classic potential, the versatile Eskendereya has already run at four different tracks over three different surfaces with his lone off-the-board effort being a ninth-place finish after a troubled trip in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

After running second his first time out over the turf at Saratoga last September, Eskendereya broke his maiden in eye-catching fashion when he rolled past the leaders in the stretch and drew off for a 71/4-length win in the Pilgrim Stakes on Belmont's main track on Oct. 4.

As successful as he was rating in the 1-mile Pilgrim, Eskendereya showed he could dictate the action on the front end when he won an entry-level, 1-mile allowance at Gulfstream on Jan. 7.

Though Eskendereya's style suggests he should improve as the distances stretch out, how his talent stacks up against top company is the big question. The answer will probably come Feb. 20 when he's expected to start in the Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream.

"He really wants to go longer than a one-turn mile," trainer Todd Pletcher said.

Just the facts

Owner: Zayat Stables

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Breeder: Sanford Robertson

Bloodline: By Giant's Causeway-Aldebaran Light, by Seattle Slew

Color and gender: Chestnut colt

Career record: Four starts, 2-1-0, $ 125,700

Last start: Won 1-mile allowance race at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 7.

Next start: Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes on Feb. 20.

Potential trouble: Has to prove his talent against top-class horses


TIZ CHROME

He already boasts the most recognizable face on the Derby trail this season. Thankfully for Tiz Chrome, his flashy looks have thus far had talent to match.

The blazed face of Tiz Chrome has been easy to find in his two career starts. It has been the one far in front of the rest of his rivals.

The bay son of Tiznow made a sharp debut at Churchill Downs for previous trainer Alan Crupper on Nov. 1, easing past the pacesetter to draw off for a 31/4-length win in a 6-furlong maiden race.

That outing was enough to prompt the ownership group of Lanni Family Trust (Mercedes Stable) and Bernard Schiappa to purchase Tiz Chrome privately and bring him to the West Coast.

In his first start for his new connections, Tiz Chrome took over the lead at the final turn and was unchallenged the remainder of the way in winning the 61/2-furlong Stuka Stakes at Hollywood Park on Dec. 19.

"That Tiz Chrome, he's a pretty serious horse," new trainer Bob Baffert said after the Stuka Stakes.

While he has yet to run beyond 61/2 furlongs, Tiz Chrome has a pedigree with plenty of stamina. His sire was a two-time Breeders' Cup Classic winner and his broodmare sire, Woodman, had classic winners Hansel and Timber Country.

Just the facts

Owner: Lanni Family Trust (Mercedes Stable) and Bernard Schiappa

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Breeder: Whisper Hill Farm

Bloodline: By Tiznow-Woodland Shadow, by Woodman

Color and gender: Bay colt

Career record: Two starts, 2-0-0, $58,850

Last start: Won Stuka Stakes at Hollywood Park on Dec. 19

Next start: Grade II Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita on Feb. 13

Potential trouble: Is unproven around two turns


CONVEYANCE

Lookin At Lucky might be the star of trainer Bob Baffert's stable. But on Jan. 16, Conveyance showed how deep the well of talent runs within the three-time Kentucky Derby winner's barn.

The flashy gray colt became the latest talent to emerge for Baffert when he turned back a challenge from Cardiff Giant to wire the field in the Grade III San Rafael Stakes at Santa Anita in his first attempt stretching out to a mile.

Though Conveyance is among a handful of early Derby contenders who appears to love life on the front end, he has impressed onlookers with his ability to re-break away from his challengers.

In the San Rafael, Cardiff Giant pulled even with Conveyance around the turn for home and appeared ready to take the lead entering the lane, only to have the son of Indian Charlie kick in again en route to a 13/4-length victory.

That move was similar to one Conveyance put on Joyful Success in a November allowance race when he spurted away in a 7-length romp.

Having only run on synthetic tracks, Conveyance could be shipping out of California in order to get his first test over a dirt surface.

"I think he'll be better on dirt," Baffert said.

Just the facts

Owner: Zabeel Racing International

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Breeder: Gulf Coast Farms

Bloodline: By Indian Charlie-Emptythetill, by Holy Bull

Color and gender: Gray or roan colt

Career record: Three starts, 3-0-0, $104,400

Last start: Won Grade III San Rafael Stakes at Santa Anita Park on Jan. 16.

Next start: Baffert has mentioned the Grade III Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park on Feb. 16, the Grade II Risen Star at Fair Grounds on Feb. 20, and the Sham Stakes at Santa Anita on Feb. 27 as possible starts

Potential trouble: Has yet to run on dirt


RON THE GREEK

Last year, the racing world saw what can happen on Derby Day when a one-run closer gets the trip of a lifetime. The connections of Ron the Greek would just as soon see history repeat itself.

In his fourth career start at his fourth different track, Ron the Greek put himself in the Derby discussion with a last-to-first explosion in the Fair Grounds stretch to win the Grade III Lecomte Stakes on Jan. 23.

The closing kick that has carried him to his three wins successfully debuted at Hoosier Park on Oct. 11 when Ron the Greek circled the field five-wide and broke his maiden at first asking.

While that win came over a muddy track, Ron the Greek showed it wasn't the slop that moved him up when he won by a neck over a fast Delta Downs track in a 1-mile allowance on Nov. 13.

"He does what you tell him to do," jockey James Graham said. "If you want to go he'll wait until you pull the trigger."

Distance shouldn't be an issue to Ron the Greek but, like any closer, he is dependent on getting the right pace in front of him.

Many of this year's top Derby contenders have front-running styles, a factor that could favor the colt should he make it to the Derby.

Just the facts

Owner: Jack Hammer

Trainer: Tom Amoss

Breeder: Jack Hammer

Bloodline: By Full Mandate- Flambe, by Fortunate Prospect

Color and gender: Bay colt

Career record: Four starts, 3-0-0, $104,400.

Last start: Won Grade III Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds on Jan. 23

Next start: Probable for Grade II Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds on Feb. 20

Potential trouble: Is dependent on pace scenario in order to make his best run


NOBLE'S PROMISE

His pedigree is not exactly designed for classic success. But Noble's Promise already has some experience proving skeptics wrong.

Purchased for $10,000 as a weanling, Noble's Promise was supposed to be a pinhook prospect only to be bought back by his Chasing Dreams ownership group for $25,000 at a yearling sale.

The discriminating market has proven to be a blessing in disguise for his connections. Noble's Promise won the Grade I, 11⁄16-mile Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland last October before running third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, beaten only half a length.

While Noble's Promise has successfully stretched out beyond a mile, his pedigree leans heavy on the sprinter side.

However, he has shown he can stalk and pounce effectively, and trainer Ken McPeek says he shouldn't need more than two preps — both of which are likely to come on dirt — to get him ready.

"We're keeping our fingers crossed he's a little bit better as a 3-year-old because he was great last year," McPeek said. "He's got plenty of foundation so we want his third start — the Derby — this year to hopefully be his best start."

Just the facts

Owner: Chasing Dreams Racing

Trainer: Ken McPeek

Breeders: Chuck Kidder, Ben Kidder, Nancy Cole

Bloodline: By Cuvee-The Devil's Trick, by Clever Trick

Color and gender: Bay colt

Career record: Six starts, 3-2-1, $733,500

Last start: Second in Grade I CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park on Dec. 19

Next start: TBA

Potential trouble: Has primarily a sprinter's pedigree and has yet to run on dirt


JACKSON BEND

Whatever challenges the Kentucky Derby trail might present to Jackson Bend, the chestnut colt has already shown he can overcome being brought to his knees.

With seven career starts and four stakes wins, Jackson Bend is a veteran of sorts among his peers — and he has the battle scars to prove it.

During his 23/4-length win in the 11⁄16-miles In Reality Stakes — a victory that made Jackson Bend the seventh horse to sweep the three-race Florida Stallion Stakes series — Jackson Bend fell to his knees leaving the gate but recovered to get himself into fourth, then third, by the time the field reached the backside.

That impressive comeback was enough to prompt Robert LaPenta to purchase a majority share of Jackson Bend from Fred Brei's Jacks or Better Farm.

In his first start for new trainer Nick Zito, Jackson Bend couldn't quite run down Winslow Homer in the Grade III Holy Bull Stakes but was beaten only three-quarters of a length.

There is not a ton of stamina in Jackson Bend's immediate family, but his sire was a durable runner who was able to stretch out to 11⁄8 miles. And though he still needs to win against top company, Jackson Bend did defeat D' Funnybone in the Frank Gomez Memorial Stakes in July months before the latter would go on to win the Grade II Saratoga Special and Futurity Stakes.

Just the facts

Owners: Robert LaPenta and Jacks or Better Farm

Trainer: Nick Zito

Breeder: Jacks or Better Farm

Bloodline: By Hear No Evil-Sexy Stockings, by Tabasco Cat

Color and gender: Chestnut colt

Career record: Seven starts, 5-2-0, $507,820

Last start: Second in the Grade III Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 23.

Next start: Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 20.

Potential trouble: Lack of stamina in bloodlines could catch up to him

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