Forte after his Breeders’ Cup Juvenile victory (Courtney Snow/Past The Wire)
By Laura Pugh
With all but one Kentucky Derby prep left valued at 18 points, it’s time to take a look at the current Kentucky Derby leaderboard.
The horses currently among the top 20 contain a few big names, but is mostly comprised of early bloomers and horses that managed to earn some points through trifecta and superfecta finishes in preps as juveniles and the early, January preps. Sometimes, horses like that mature enough to stick around… But more often than not, they fall off the list as bigger names and late bloomers return to the scene through late February to April.
With 40 Points to his name, barring any injury or illness, the chances of Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner, Forte, remaining in the Kentucky Derby field are high. It normally takes 20-25 points to make the Kentucky Derby field in a normal year and this son Violence has 40. He steadily improved as a juvenile and gave the impression that he would relish distance. If he stays healthy, I think he heads into the Derby as one of the top contenders.
Loggins is the second name in the current top 20 that I would expect to stick around. He had very good performances in defeat to Forte at the end of last year, and given his pedigree, he should improve with age and distance. Look for him to make a lot of noise in the second and third round of Kentucky Derby preps.
A relatively new name to the list is Victory Formation, and I’m expecting him to stay. He got started late last year and just took the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn. Now, I’m not normally one to take the early preps too seriously, but this colt is an unbeaten 3 for 3 and trained by Brad Cox, who seems to have the magic touch right now.
Artic Arrogance is his father’s son in more ways than one. Not only does he sport his sire’s frosty gray coloring, but his ability to run second over and over at this stage in his career. He ran super races in the Remsen and Jerome Stakes, but just couldn’t seal the deal. Maybe he’s just unlucky, or he just might not lack that killer instinct to push him to the winner’s circle. Horses like him typically make it to the Derby gates through high finishes in high point race.
Instant Coffee has some strong performances, one coming in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, where he rallied into an extremely slow pace. The talent is there, but closers like him almost always find trouble, and are at the mercy of the horses in front of them. His trip in the Breeders’ Futurity is an excellent example. The Kentucky Jockey Club has not been doing well when it comes to attracting the top horses recently, and I feel like his win there was more a reflection on that than his overall talent. He could still make the field with some thirds and fourths in high point races.
Verifying started his juvenile season with so much promise but tapered off some late in the year. In his first start as a sophomore he romped at Oaklawn Park by over five lengths. The worry here is that the competition may have been subpar, which made the win look better than it actually was. Time will tell.
He might be near the top of this list now, but I just can’t see Curly Jack staying there. His biggest claim to fame is his win in the Iroquois Stakes. Given how the rest of the year unfolded, that race turned up incredibly weak. Since then, he’s been very ho-hum. I just don’t see him improving enough to be a threat when the prep scene starts to heat up.
Tuskegee Airmen looked very promising in his first couple of starts, but he failed to deliver in the Remsen Stakes. He had a perfect, ground saving trip, but couldn’t hold a candle to Dubyuhnell and Artic Arrogance when the real running started. The feeling is that he’s just to slow to make an impact against the top horses of this crop.
This might surprise some, but I’m putting the after mentioned Dubyuhnell on this list. Yes, I know the son of Good Magic won the Remsen, beating Articlc Arrogance, whom I have in the “Maybe’s”. There are a couple reasons. Firstly, the winner of the Remsen hasn’t had a real impact on the Kentucky Derby in a long time. The two that had the most impact were Mo Donegal and To Honor and Serve. Outside of that, it’s been underwhelming.
Secondly, he had the better trip. It was a game of cat and mouse, and he played the cat, stalking and pouncing from the outside. I’m not so sure that he wins if the situation is reversed.
At this stage, it’s still to early to have a clear picture of who will have the biggest impact. The Baffert horses have yet to switch barns, and know that will shake the rankings, and Forte has yet to make his 3-year-old bow.
Still, of the horses that have started in 2023, I still think the ones with the best shot to stay in the top 20 are Victory Formation and Loggins.