With the CashCall Futurity now in the books, every important race for 2-year-olds in 2007 has been run. Seems like a good time to come up with one man's list of the Top 10 contenders for the 2008 Kentucky Derby. In order, here they are:
1. Pyro: Though he has lost three straight to War Pass, he has the potential to be a better 3-year-old than his rival. By Pulpit out of a Wild Again mare, he should continue to get better as the races stretch out. He didn't have the best of trips when second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and had no chance to catch the front-running War Pass in the slop. Trained by Steve Asmussen, he's in good hands.
2. Cowboy Cal: Right now, he looks like a grass horse. A son of Giant's Causeway, he showed little in his dirt debut when sprinting and then went on to rocket to victory in successive grass races. He was very impressive when winning the Laurel Futurity, a race won two years earlier by Barbaro. It remains to be seen if he can run on the dirt, but he's trained by Todd Pletcher, so you know he's going to be given another chance to prove he's more than a turf horse.
3. War Pass: Easily the best 2-year-old of 2007, he will be a deserving 2-year-old champion. The only knock on him is that he is by Cherokee Run out of a Mr. Prospector mare. He is not bred to go a mile and a quarter, and he's still got to prove to me that he can win beyond a mile and a sixteenth. He's trained by Nick Zito, which is a plus.
4. Into Mischief: Dick Mandella is not someone you think of when you think Kentucky Derby, but he's got a good one in Into Mischief. He blossomed in the Cash Call Futurity when making his first start around two turns, winning by 1 ¼ lengths. He also overcame the 10 hole, a very difficult post position in mile-and-a-sixteenth races at Hollywood Park. Mandella is an excellent trainer and it stands to figure that some day he will win a Derby.
5. Etched: Kiaran McLaughlin is a gifted trainer and he figures to win a Derby or two before he retires. It might happen as soon as 2008. He's got a couple of good prospects for next year, none better than Etched. By Forestry, he is 2-for-2 and won both of his starts for fun. He didn't debut until September 29 and was lightly raced in 2007. That's the type of horse who usually hasn't reached a peak.
6. Court Vision: Bill Mott is another good trainer that always seems to be invisible when it comes to candidates for the Triple Crown races, but he's had a bunch of good 2-year-olds in 2007 and could play a major role in the 2008 Derby. His best prospect may be Court Vision. He's won three straight, including the Iroquois and the Remsen. The Remsen, run around two turns at a mile and an eighth, has always been an excellent gauge of future talent. The big knock on him is that he was not impressive in the Remsen. As the 4-5 favorite, he won by a mere neck and his Beyer figure was a 76. That's a terrible number for a stakes winning 2-year-old.
7. Maimonides: Hasn't been heard from since he tanked in the Hopeful, running third as the big chalk for Bob Baffert. Nonetheless, you'd be crazy to give up on him. He broke his maiden by 11 ½ lengths in an impressive romp at Saratoga. I doubt he ran his race in the Hopeful. He's expected to make it back for the Jan. 12 San Rafael at Santa Anita. The Baffert camp has to hope he didn't peak too soon.
8. Colonel John: Trained by Eoin Harty, he didn't embarrass himself when second as the favorite in a deep Cash Call Futurity. He's yet to run all that fast or display any brilliance, so he will need to get better.
9. Majestic Warrior: Throw out his dismal performance in the Champagne and he was as good as any 2-year-old to race in 2007. He looked terrific winning the Hopeful before finishing sixth in the Champagne. The Bill Mott camp never offered any excuses for that race, but something must have gone wrong. Look for him to resurface early in 2008 in Florida.
10. Check It Twice: Usually the horses who win the stakes at Calder for 2-year-olds late in the year have a rude awakening when taking on classier horses down the road at Gulfstream. But Check It Twice could be an exception. He's won two straight, including the What A Pleasure and has won three times around two turns. He ran a 96 Beyer when beating a decent field in the What A Pleasure and that's a number that compares favorably with the best of the division.
Bill Finley is an award-winning racing writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated. Contact Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.