We've reached the final installment of the Derby Watch, and to say this has been an intriguing bunch of 3-year-olds would be an understatement.
Eskendereya has lived up to the hype, winning his three preps by a combined 191/2 lengths — each one more impressive than the last.
Though the only obvious trouble surrounding Eskendereya to this point has been owner Ahmed Zayat's financial entanglements, there are still some concerns heading into the Derby.
In his three victories this year, Eskendereya has largely had his way of things. He has been able to either lope along at his leisure on the front end, as he did in his allowance win, or sit just off a comfortable pace like he did in his Wood Memorial romp.
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If the Derby pace scenario shapes up as expected with Conveyance, Line of David and Sidney's Candy battling up front, Eskendereya could find himself shuffled back in traffic — and the last time that happened was in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile when he lost all chance around the first turn and finished ninth.
Of course, he may simply be good enough to render it all a moot point. Still, it gives us something to ponder over the next couple weeks.
While Eskendereya and Lookin At Lucky have been the clear standouts, there are six to eight others who could jump in and win without anyone being too surprised.
That depth is a big reason why it will take more than $200,000 in graded stakes earnings to make the Derby field this year. Last year saw Quality Road, Friesan Fire, I Want Revenge and Pioneerof the Nile dominate the prep races in Florida, Louisiana, New York, and California, respectively. That meant those four horses claimed a big chunk of the graded earnings for themselves.
The only horses who have multiple graded stakes wins this year are Eskendereya (Fountain of Youth and Wood Memorial), Conveyance (San Rafael and Southwest Stakes), and Sidney's Candy (San Vicente, San Felipe, Santa Anita Derby).
At every turn this year, it seemed like a new star was trying to emerge. Soon enough, we'll see which talent officially becomes racing's leading man.
1. Eskendereya: Had his final Palm Meadows workout Saturday, breezing 5 furlongs in 1:02 for trainer Todd Pletcher. He's still scheduled to ship to Churchill on Tuesday.
2. Lookin At Lucky: Breezed an easy 5 furlongs in 1:01.20 in his first trip over the Churchill Downs surface this past Thursday. Trainer Bob Baffert said he would make an equipment change in the Derby, removing the blinkers the colt has worn in his last two starts. "You learn more from your losses than your wins, so I'm taking the blinkers off him," Baffert said. "The thought was he needed a target, because he'd make the lead. But he's going to have plenty of targets in the Derby with all those horses in there."
3. Sidney's Candy: Had an impressive effort in his first outing at Churchill Downs, working 5 furlongs in company in :59.80, second fastest of 18 moves at the distance. "It gave me some goose bumps this morning," said Larry Benavidez, assistant to trainer John Sadler.
4. Ice Box: Tuned up for his Derby run with a 4-furlong work in company at Churchill on Friday, covering the distance in :48.40. "Next week we'll maybe do something a little sharper, and that's all," trainer Nick Zito said.
5. Endorsement: Has the potential to be the "wise guy" horse this year off his impressive win in the Sunland Derby. He worked 5 furlongs in 1:01.60 at Keeneland on Saturday before shipping to Churchill on Sunday. He's scheduled for a final pre-Derby move on Sunday, April 25.
6. Super Saver: Galloped at Churchill Downs early Sunday morning under exercise rider Kevin Willey. He's among the few contenders already proven over the Louisville strip, having won the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes last November.
7. Rule: Worked 5 furlongs in 1:02.65 at Palm Meadows on Saturday and is scheduled to arrive at Churchill on Tuesday.
8. Jackson Bend: No one is keeping a closer eye on possible Derby defections than this colt's connections. He is 21st on the graded earnings list, but he's certainly being trained for the Derby, sizzling 4 furlongs in :47.40 at Churchill on Thursday. "If he could actually do that next week, maybe Thursday or Friday, I'd be happy," trainer Nick Zito said.
9. Awesome Act: Arrived at Churchill on Thursday after working 5 furlongs in 1:01.53 at Belmont Park on Tuesday. "He breezed the other day and we couldn't be happier with him," Wayne Tanner, assistant to trainer Jeremy Noseda said. The Gotham Stakes winner is slated to work 6 furlongs in company on Tuesday.
10. Dublin: He's slated to work at Churchill on Monday.
11. American Lion: In his first work since winning the Illinois Derby on April 3, he drilled 4 furlongs in :46.80 at Keeneland on Wednesday. "He'll work five-eighths here next week. We'll see how he's doing, but probably (the work will come on) Tuesday or Wednesday and then he'll go on over to Churchill Downs," trainer Eoin Harty said.
12. Noble's Promise: His Derby status is still up in the air as he recovers from as slight lung infection in addition to the cuts he sustained in the Arkansas Derby. "I plan on working him on the 20th or the 21st," trainer Ken McPeek said. "It's going to depend on how he scopes out of that and how he's acting. We've got some blood work to check and things like that."
The next dozen: Line of David, Mission Impazible, Conveyance, Stately Victor, Discreetly Mine, Dean's Kitten, Schoolyard Dreams, Setsuko, Paddy O'Prado, Interactif, Aikenite, Homeboykris.