At this writing, there are 148 days, three hours and 18 minutes until the running of the 131st Kentucky Derby, but it's not too early to get excited. I can't tell you who is going to win, but I can tell you, even this early, that it's likely to be an outstanding horse. With the Hollywood Futurity now in the books, the season is over for the 2-year-old class, by all indications an outstanding and competitive group.
Taking a very early shot at ranking the top 10 contenders for the first Saturday in May:
1. Declan's Moon
No 2-year-old champion has won the Kentucky Derby since Spectacular Bid (1979) and Real Quiet (1998) is the last Kentucky Derby winner who won a graded stakes race as a 2-year-old. Since 1998, Derby winners have all been late bloomers who didn't come around until they turned three. Finally, that may be about to change.
Declan's Moon, a shoo-in to be named 2-year-old champion after winning the Hollywood Futurity, has everything you want to see in a Kentucky Derby contender. He is a tremendously talented horse who has won all four career starts with something left in the tank and earned an ungodly 107 Beyer figure when winning the Del Mar Futurity. He's won around two turns and, being a grandson of A.P. Indy, has the breeding to handle a mile and a quarter. Ron Ellis has never won a Kentucky Derby, but he's a more than capable trainer who figures to make all the right moves.
2. Rockport Harbor
A year after they electrified the sport with Smarty Jones, the team of trainer John Servis and jockey Stewart Elliott might get back to the Kentucky Derby with Rockport Harbor. The latest phenomenon out of Philly Park, he dominated the competition in his first three starts before outgaming a good horse in Galloping Grocer to win a rapidly run Remsen Stakes. Here's another with the breeding, the talent and the connections to get it done next spring.
3. Fusaichi Samurai
Though he's only a maiden winner, it's impossible not to be excited about this one. A son of 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus, he was dazzling when winning his debut at Hollywood Park. Not that that was any surprise–he cost $4.5 million at a 2-year-old sale. The comparisons between father and son are inevitable. They share the same trainer (Neil Drysdale) and owner (Fusao Sekiguchi). They debuted on the same date (Dec. 11) and were ridden by the same jockey (Victor Espinoza) in their first career starts.
"This horse is unbelievable," Espinoza told the Daily Racing Form after the 2-year-old's first race. "His stride, the way he acts. Just unbelievable. He feels stronger than his father, and he is just so professional. I really believe he could be the best horse ever."
4. Sweet Catomine
Trainer Julio Canani says he's seriously considering the Kentucky Derby for his Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies winner, as well he should. She ran faster than the boys did in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and gives every indication she's something special. She's a robust filly who looks like she's big enough and strong enough to tackle any kind of challenge.
5. Roman Ruler
Forget about his fifth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He's a better horse than that. He was impressive when winning the Norfolk and Best Pal and gave Declan's Moon all he could handle in the Del Mar Futurity. With Bob Baffert as his trainer, he's in the right hands.
Though he didn't win the Hollywood Futurity, his creditable third-place finish proved his Breeders' Cup Juvenile win was not a complete fluke. Plus, he was battling a quarter crack that couldn't have helped his cause.
7. Afleet Alex
He's a good horse, but he might be one of those colts who peak too soon and are overmatched by later developing horses come Kentucky Derby time. He won the Hopeful, which has, lately, a worse track record for producing Derby winners than the Breeders' Cup Juvenile does. The last Hopeful winner to win the Kentucky Derby was Affirmed (1978).
8. Galloping Grocer
If you like Rockport Harbor, you can't not like this horse. He dominated New York breds before getting tested in the Remsen. I don't think he was ever going to get by Rockport Harbor in the stretch, but he did give him quite a fight, losing by just a neck. He's trained by a relative unknown in Dominick Schettino, who has never before had a top horse in his barn. That can't help.
Another who has a lot to prove, he makes this list based on his potential. Trained by Ted West and based in Southern California, he was an easy winner of a Dec. 5 six-furlong allowance at Hollywood, earning a 95 Beyer figure. By Menifee, he shouldn't have any problems stretching out.
He has yet to post a big speed figure or beat a top horse, but Defer is definitely one to watch. An impeccably bred son of Danzig, he's a top prospect out of the Shug McGaughey barn. McGaughey is not one to rush a horse and this one only figures to get better. Showed some promise when winning the Laurel Futurity.