Editor's Note: Countdown to the Crown returns for its fourth season as one of the most comprehensive handicapper's analyses of the 3-year-old scene. Posted each Friday from Jan. 1 through the Belmont Stakes, Countdown keeps you apprised of the rising stars in the sophomore class from the maiden ranks to the Grade 1 stakes. Click on the links below for videos and past performances, courtesy of Equibase.
3 things you won't read anywhere else
Opinions are like the Oscars. What you think, and what they think, often comes from two different galaxies.
1. I may know a few things about horses and handicapping, but there's no chance of me out-smarting "Countdown" readers. Among last week's e-mails came one from a doctoral candidate from Purdue's department of anthropology. I once tried to sneak by a college elective credit by taking "Music for Elementary School Teachers," only to drop the class. True story.
2. What I admire about Bob Baffert and Mike Pegram is that they don't forget their small-racing roots. Too many of today's horsemen (especially owners) entered the game at the big-circuit level and look down their noses at the nation's smaller tracks. Baffert and Pegram were bagging the $100,000 Turf Paradise Derby last weekend with MAYOR MARV while other horsemen were complaining about their stale baguettes in a Turf Club somewhere else.
3. After watching back-to-back, huge pick-six pools come down to dirty noses in the Wednesday and Thursday finales at Santa Anita, you have to wonder why we horseplayers subject ourselves to such torture. That said; when is post time?
This week's fearless forecast
This section includes a preview of the coming week's 3-year-old races to watch. If six stakes aren't enough to whet your Saturday whistle, we'll warm you up with some undercard beauties.
Saturday's G2 Fountain of Youth Stakes undercard at Gulfstream is loaded with sophomore tests. Bet-back special ALL THE BASES draws widest in the day's opener, a maiden special weight sprint that is full of firsters. 'BASES gets off the fence, a key, and meets the likes of Bill Mott's new recruit SNAPSHOT, a West Coast transplant from Cliff Sise's barn with serious sprint upside. Of the rookies, Ian Wilkes debuts a half-brother to Arkansas Derby winner Sir Cherokee, GUAM TYPHOON; Rick Dutrow sends out fast-working VALID NAME; and Ken McPeek gets Edgar Prado to board CAT GONE WILD, from the female family of star sophomores SIlverbulletday and Forest Secrets.
Nick Zito makes a curious entry in Saturday's Race 7 allowance at GP with BRAVE VICTORY as the recent winner takes on older horses, including stablemate and Belmont Stakes winner Da'Tara. It's hard to recommend him in this spot, but he was awfully impressive in a spirited gallop-out Jan. 30 and appears to want the extra furlong. The Saturday Gulfstream card closes with a turf mile maiden where you're going off all pedigrees. A full-brother to star grass mare Communique debuts, FINAL COUNT, for Phil Oliver. Todd Pletcher sends out a half-brother to Chitoz, AFFIRMATIF, while Alan Goldberg looks for his second big debut score of the meeting when he unveils VIRSITO, a half-brother to $600,000 earner Turkish Prize.
A couple of races later today bear watching, Oaklawn's ninth (route allowance) and Fair Grounds' seventh (route maiden). In Hot Springs, WISE KID and BUZZIN AND DREAMIN rematch from their much talked-about maiden tilt Jan. 19. Both vindicated themselves well since then for Tim Ritchey and D. Wayne Lukas. With just 15 days between now and the G3 Rebel, this is curious placement for both. Stay tuned. Lukas reportedly is gearing 'BUZZIN for a Lane's End run at Turfway in 22 days. Meanwhile in New Orleans later this afternoon, Steve Asmussen's Triple Crown nominee SOUTHERN REGION has been in the money in all four career starts and needs to bust out now. The $250,000 son of Stormy Atlantic meets the three-four finishers behind the Jan. 17 CAPTAIN CHEROKEE-FIERCE THUNDER maiden heat that has proven to be super-stout. Those horses, RED DAGGER (Larry Jones) and FINAL JUDGMENT (now with David Carroll), come from barns that know how to win.
Sunday's Gulfstream card features the possible US debut of Peruvian import AL KHALI, an exciting prospect for Todd Pletcher. The Medaglia d'Oro colt is listed main-track-only in Sunday's fourth race, a mile grass allowance. Solid turfers FLORENTINO (Kiaran McLaughlin), MIKOSHI (Michael Matz) and RESCUE SQUAD (Shug McGaughey) headline the cast.
There's also the Baldwin on Santa Anita's turf on Sunday, where Bobby Frankel tries to right the ship for BROTHER KEITH; but let's look now at the major main-track stakes for a jammed Saturday.
G2 Fountain of Youth (Saturday/Gulfstream):
This one-turn mile is as intriguing and perplexing of a handicapping chore as I can remember in some time. Handicappers must separate what they think of each as a Kentucky Derby prospect and focus on the here and now. There's no way to win this race unless you're completely dialed in for Saturday's test and Saturday's test only. From the rail out, here's my take on the major contenders.
BEE CEE CEE has been a great bomber for us all season and he should relish the one-turn mile. He'll get a great pace set-up with tons of speed in front of him and is a good bottom of the tri/super horse. THEREGOESJOJO was rerouted here after missing the Risen Star due to a bug, producing a two-week gap in his worktab at the beginning of this month. He's been on cue since with three drills, but has not been working nearly as fast as he did before his victory over QUALITY ROAD. Not for me.
NOTONTHESAMEPAGE has turned in five consecutive impressive drills, the last four of which have been perfectly spaced, indicating he's coming into the race every bit as strong as he did when he was monstrous in the Spectacular Bid. Who knows what impact his trips to the hyperbaric oxygen chamber will have on his progression, but it can't hurt. His primary speed challengers all are drawn outside of him, which could make things hotter Saturday. Still, he's the one to catch.
BEETHOVEN has been trained slow and steady since the Holy Bull and he appears only here because of the timing and what John Ward wants to do, big picture-wise. Turning back to one-turn is not the best scenario, but this guy did beat TURFISTE sprinting last year, and that rival has gone on to be a stakes-winning dasher. This just looks like a building block for BEETHOVEN, but he won't get embarrassed.
Blinkers-on for BREAK WATER EDISON might be what the doctor ordered. Without them, I'd have zero confidence in this guy. I bet him heavily in the Hopeful and he refused to go through any congestion on the fence. He needs to be in the clear and the shades may help him forget his phobias. Eibar Coa might be the most aggressive jock in America, so if anyone can shake up a fragile soul, this is another positive sign. Right idea, wrong race -- but he's got a nice win in him somewhere.
CAPT. CANDYMAN CAN should be at his primo distance and he continues to be trained for today, not tomorrow, by Ian Wilkes. He's had three drills since the Hutcheson, while all his other rivals from that race have had just two. This looks like his Derby Day to me, and anything that comes later is gravy. The pace figures to be much more testing to his inconsistent ability to rate than anything he's ever tried to settle behind, but he's got a fighter's shot with the finisher Julien Leparoux aboard.
TAQARUB (Equibase past performances) and QUALITY ROAD draw wide (next to each other) and both want to be out whistling early with NOTONETHESAMEPAGE. They get to ratchet up the heat and are capable on the class rise. I'm enthralled by both and their work tabs are picturesque in how you want to be coming up to such a test. Don't read much into Alan Garcia riding TAQARUB over 'ROAD. His allegiance to Kiaran McLaughlin has paid him over in spades. Landing Johnny V is quite the consolation prize for QUALITY ROAD anyway. Both loom threats from the opening jumps.
Finally, THIS ONES FOR PHIL (Equibase past performances) breaks widest in post 12 and should absolutely adore the one-turn mile. His drill last Saturday was in racehorse time for six panels and -- like many in this field -- he appears to be coming into the race jumping out of his skin. He could sit a PT (perfect trip) fourth behind 'PAGE, TAQARUB and QUALITY ROAD and have every chance to get first pounce. He's the toughest horse in the race to leave off a ticket.
G3 Sham (Saturday/Gulfstream):
Southern California's only major nine-furlong test before April's Santa Anita Derby, the Sham Stakes should, in theory, separate the milers from the routers. But as is the case often in early season "marathons," we find a soft early pace scenario and a real likelihood that many, if not most, in the field will never be true route players. Like many races of this type, it has the chance to be a real carousel ride, actually producing a race set-up opposite of what many would think the distance should elicit.
That said it's going to be near-impossible to stop THE PAMPLEMOUSSE (Equibase past performances) if he shows up with his A or B-plus game. The G3 San Rafael winner has superb early speed in a race horribly devoid of it, gives only two pounds max to his competition and has been training fantastically for a publicly excited Julio Canani. His pedigree does not scream 10 furlongs in May, or even nine in February, but this field will give him every single chance to get the job done as only sprinter VENTANA can cook early. But VENTANA appears horribly overmatched around two turns. Even in victory, I'd be skeptical of THE PAMPLEMOUSSE in the Santa Anita Derby against likely more pace pressure, but he has EVERYTHING his way Saturday in the Sham.
What the Sham lacks in pace sizzle, it makes up for in X-factors. Potential rising star MR. HOT STUFF captivated with his maiden win and has every license to be a good one as Colonel John's full brother. His recent drills show that the lightbulb certainly has remained on and the son of Tiznow is the kind that can improve in massive strides. He will be finishing, no doubt, and it's just a matter if THE PAMPLEMOUSSE can be softened a bit earlier by VENTANA or the wide-drawn TAKE THE POINTS. The latter should not lose as much ground as typical for the draw, given the lack of speed to his inside. The trip won't get him beat; but I was not captivated by his Gulfstream win last out nor his prospects traveling longer.
Others in the Sham worth watching include SMART BID, who will run all day with that Strawbridge Stable blood and master horsemanship of Graham Motion. He should sit a superb trip behind the front-runners and get first run on many of the deeper-closing contenders. Rafael Bejarano's presence is huge here and he's inside-drawn to give him every shot. LIFELINE is better than you think off his maiden win, while MARK S THE COOLER deserves one more decent look as he'll relish the longer distances. He's classy and his turf win was brilliant.
As we like to do in the two-turn races, here's a look at the projected Sham pace scenario:
Battaglia Memorial (Saturday/Turfway):
The final prep for the G2 Lane's End Stakes matches eight fringe players on the trail, led by grassy Grand Canyon Stakes winner PROCEED BEE and local WEBN Stakes victor PARADE CLOWN. The track has played so slowly at Turfway that it's difficult to draw a line on PARADE CLOWN, who earned a 90 Beyer Speed Figure despite a sun-dial slow :27-3/5 final quarter-mile. Daily Racing Form track variants consistently have been in the 30s this winter.
I'll have to swing against PARADE CLOWN here, however. Dominant debut winner STRATOS returns to the scene of his score after running a better-than-you-think fourth in allowance company at Oaklawn. DANCE CALLER was sensational in victory that day and STRATOS has that even sprint running style that should translate very well first-time routing.
PROCEED BEE was fifth in Oaklawn's Smarty Jones Stakes, a race whose winner FLAT OUT came back to run a troubled fourth in the G3 Southwest. His signature win came in the Grand Canyon, where 'BEE defeated the talented JACK SPRATT, an impressive Gulfstream stakes winner this winner on grass who tries the Fountain of Youth Saturday.
Ken McPeek has had plenty of success at Turfway over the years, and his speedy FITZASLEW would be no shock here. He was a good second to BRAVE VICTORY in a tough Gulfstream sprint allowance and should get a dangerously soft early pace scenario.
Miracle Wood (Saturday/Laurel):
The road to the Federico Tesio and Preakness at Pimlico winds through Laurel Park on Saturday when Triple Crown nominees CLASSIC WILDCAT and IN THE JUICE are among a field of eight. The highly respected Larry Murray-Bender family connections will be represented with CLASSIC WILDCAT, who was fantastic in a debut win, but a bit flat two weeks ago and wheels back quickly in his stakes debut. IN THE JUICE has not run since finishing second in the Maryland Juvenile Championship in December for Jerry Robb.
If he runs back to his Dec. 27 allowance win, the horse to beat is ROCK ON JUSTIN, who is training lights-out for Gary Capuano of Captain Bodgit fame. Inconsistent as he is brilliant, 'JUSTIN tends to break a step slow and the find his stride, which means he might be hindered by the rail draw. ST. JOHN'S GOSPEL was reluctant to load before the Dancing Count, but was no match for the top pair in an even effort. He'll relish the seven-furlong distance.
Mountain Valley (Saturday/Oaklawn):
Trainer Steve Asmussen, who has won the Mountain Valley three times, sends out the uncoupled pair of DOC POSSE and LYIN' HEART in what figures to be a competitive renewal of this $50,000 sprint. DOC POSSE showed great speed in his first two starts at Fair Grounds and exits a sharp maien score in 1:10 flat. LYIN' HEART, meanwhile, was second in last year's G3 Bashford Manor and has been away since coming out of the G2 Saratoga Special injured. He showed a decided late-running style in his four juvenile starts and complements his stablemate.
Based on his smashing allowance win Feb. 1, DANCE CALLER should be the horse to beat in the Mountain Valley. He opened the meet a clear-cut second behind superstar SILVER CITY in the Dixieland Stakes. Regular rider Calvin Borel will be out of town riding BEETHOVEN in the Fountain of Youth. Terry Thompson thanks him for the pick-up.
D. Wayne Lukas' FLYING PRIVATE joins LYIN' HEART as the lone Triple Crown nominees in this eight-horse field. FLYING PRIVATE makes his stakes debut while turning back in distance after four consecutive starts at a mile or longer. He did wire Saratoga maidens at six panels last summer, however. The ever-consistent BERTSGOLDENMISSILE also turns back from a mile effort, where he was fourth to FLAT OUT in the Smarty Jones Stakes.
Borderland Derby (Saturday/Sunland Park):
With $100,000 in listed stakes money on the line and no horses entered with any graded earnings at this point on the trail, the Borderland Derby could only serve as a two-step program to the Triple Crown. Steve Asmussen will two-step with the uncoupled pair of DUMAR and recent pick-up HORNUNG. They're joined by Breeders' Cup Juvenile last-place finisher MINE THAT BIRD to comprise the three Triple Crown nominees in the Borderland bunch.
DUMAR raced wide in the G3 Risen Star when beaten over 10 lengths by FRIESAN FIRE and should find the company much more to his liking. But he has yet to deliver a powerful performance that indicates he can just beat a field by showing up. HORNUNG was third last out to eventual G3 El Camino Real Derby third-place finisher RENDEZVOUS in a solid mile at Golden Gate. Asmussen's go-to rider at Sunland, Luis Contreras, winds up on DUMAR, which is noteworthy.
MINE THAT BIRD was Canada's champion 2-year-old in '08, and was privately purchased just prior to last year's Breeders' Cup. The plan all along was to move him to the Bennie Woolley Jr. barn in New Mexico, but MINE THAT BIRD had a three-week break in his workout tab in mid-January and sports only five published drills since arriving in the Land of Enchantment. He may need a race. The other locals are led by four-time stakes winner LEFTY WHO and the dangerous, rail-drawn HOYA, who adds blinkers for his seasonal return and stretch-out. The son of Cat Thief should be a factor every step.
Everyone's a critic
This section recaps the week that was.
In last Saturday's $100,000 listed Turf Paradise Derby, Bob Baffert's odds-on favorite MAYOR MARV (Equibase past performances) was hustled into the first turn to secure the lead and rail, and then jockey David Flores was able to ice the Derby with a relaxed second-quarter in :24.68 en route to a 4 1/2-length score. Clearly the best in company lines and with an early pace advantage, this one was shooting fish in a barrel. How he was a $4 winner and not a $2.40 winner is beyond me. But you'll never hear me say "wow, four bucks!" at the track. 'MARV was able to pound out strong closing splits in :24.34 and :6.33, completing 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.23. The same-day Arizona Oaks' final one-mile time was almost nine lengths faster than the Derby's one-mile split, but that's a bit of a comparative stretch given the different distances, but still indicates this one may not have been too quick. There was nothing of repute behind MAYOR MARV in the Derby, so you have to evaluate his class based on his previous company lines, which include solid tries behind G2 San Rafael winner THE PAMPLEMOUSSE, G2 Lewis Memorial runner-up PAPA CLEM and a win over upstart G3 Sham Stakes contender MR. HOT STUFF. Those lines tell me he fits somewhere on the Triple Crown trail fringes, and he could be tough in the rich Sunland Derby next time out.
ZENSATIONAL (Equibase past performances) crushed a sharp-pedigreed bunch Saturday at Santa Anita in 1:08.64, galloping out as dominating as you could possibly want to see. Bob Baffert's new recruit from Bill Mott (ala the Zayat Stables transfer of PIONEEROF THE NILE) was extremely keen early in this maiden sprint, just as he was in his only prior start at Saratoga last summer. The $700,000 son of Unbridled's Song took a while to accept Garrett Gomez's cues, but once settled he was thoroughly sensational. By Unbridled's song and out of a half-sister to Laity and Trip, he'll handle distance if he settles at all around two turns. This one was super-impressive (one of the season's best maiden wins), finishing up the last quarter in :24.08 despite the wicked early action. Baffert indicated a potential San Felipe double-date with 'PIONEER. Runner-up OFF THE WALL ran a big race on the turn and is from a serious win-early family for Bruce Headley and should cruise in his reappearance. Fourth-place runner PARTY HARD galloped out nicely and may want more distance for Beau Greely after needing his first start since July.
After DUNKIRK's dazzling allowance win last Thursday, you have to wonder how in the world his maiden pursuer SANTANA SIX could return to win Saturday's maiden mile finale at Gulfstream and pay $7.40. The Nick Zito trainee, who was two clear of DUNKIRK with a furlong to go, came back and simply wired this bunch after getting away with easy splits (:24.49 opening quarter-mile). But a :25.53 final quarter-mile was nothing to write home about. Bet back firster EAGLE POISE, the Empire Maker colt out of English Oaks winner Reams of Verse. He broke like he had no clue what was going on and then showed a superb burst to get back into contention up the rail. As expected, he then had nothing left after getting stonewalled for two furlongs behind traffic. Carl Nafzger's runner-up POLISHED lost a boatload of ground on the turn and was clearly best of the rest, showing off a wondrous route pedigree (by Mineshaft, out of Banshee Breeze's full sister).
Keep in mind SANTANA SIX's race went about three lengths faster than its split division in Race 6, where it once again was Nick Zito in nearly wire-to-wire style with JUST A COINCIDENCE. The fractions were eerily similar, but even slower late at :26.08 the final quarter-mile. Visually he looked better than the clock shows, so there are mixed vibes here for a horse who has struggled to finish the deal throughout much of his career. I can't endorse JUST A COINCIDENCE going two turns just yet. Our bet-back special SINGLE MALT ran on well for second and once again galloped out best of all. This steady-comer really needs to go two turns for Phil Serpe. Tom Albertrani's STREET TALK'N MAN made a nice visual move on the turn after a terrible start left him too much to do. He's worth another look at a pretty big number on the board.
It's impossible to know what a five-furlong sprint means to the Derby picture, but you couldn't have asked any more from PRESTO CHANGE O in Saturday's opener at Gulfstream. After clipping heels and losing his rider in his debut, the Grand Slam colt had no such drama in this nine-length win for Jimmy Jerkens. Shot-gunned out of the gate from the far outside post, he cleared the field in a matter of moments and widened through the lane with ease. He's from the same female family as Unbridled's Song, and by Grand Slam you'd think this Triple Crown nominee could certainly get a mile or so. He flat-out out-gunned our bet-back special STORM'N WARRIOR, who was coming out of the key maiden turf sprint vs. ECHO IN ETERNITY. It seems this David Fawkes trainee is a freak magnet and 'WARRIOR remains very live next time.
Either PERFECT SONG has physical issues or major issues with the Turfway Polytrack. That's the only conclusion you can come to after watching the dazzling Philly maiden winner struggle mightily in a narrow defeat Saturday. In an allowance he should have daylighted, Mike Trombetta's son of Pleasantly Perfect broke well and dueled in the 2-path every jump of the way with $50,000 maiden claiming winner HE AIN'T RIGHT. But PERFECT SONG, even on the lead, swished his tail on the backstretch, was rough trying to change leads at the top of the stretch, and threw his head up in the air as if to pretty much stop trying the last furlong. He's hard to recommend back on Polytrack or dirt at this point. This was NOT the same horse who went 1:09 in a visual masterpiece at Philadelphia Park.
The form of Sunshine Millions Dash winner THIS ONE'S FOR PHIL got a resume boost when third-place finisher KELLY LEAK returned Sunday to win a classy turf allowance mile at Santa Anita. Runner-up in the Eddie Logan at this grass trip two starts back, KELLY LEAK showed that the six panels on dirt wasn't his best go-round at Gulfstream. This was a classy bunch, and KELLY LEAK was clearly best with a strong final furlong of :12.03 and having to bide his time in traffic. Mike Machowsky said the Santa Anita Derby should be next.
At Oaklawn Sunday, Mac Robertson got back into the 3-year-old mix when his come-backing WIN WILLY registered a Race 1 allowance upset sprinting six furlongs. Robertson, who's HAMAZING DESTINY was sold and transferred to D. Wayne Lukas the previous week, had to be pleased with the way the Monarchos colt finished, getting the last furlong in :12.16 in a 1:11.37 overall effort. But his pedigree says sprint. One horse who had no trouble routing was Sunday's Oaklawn Race 7 maiden mile winner POINTING HOME. Scooter Dickey's son of Point Given had held fantastic company lines in seven previous starts and stopped nibbling in his Oaklawn debut. After facing the likes of MUNNINGS, TAKE THE POINTS, INDYGO MOUNTAIN and JACK SPRATT, this gelding found the company much more to his liking. Despite a slow pace early, he closed to win, but only put up a :26.53 final quarter (:13.31 last furlong) in doing so.
The Kentucky all-weather surface preps might have found a player Monday on the Fair Grounds lawn when Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf pacesetter ORTHODOX made a wire-to-wire comeback score at a mile. Trained by John Glenney, the Oak Tree maiden breaker controlled a slow pace in New Orleans and should carry his distance a bit farther (he's out of $250,000-earning turf mare Dominique's Joy, a Grade 3 route winner).
Finally, let's hope "Countdown" readers have been using their handicapping hats this season. The key MARK S THE COOLER turf heat from Jan. 10 already produced return winner HERR MOZART and then last Friday lit up the Santa Anita toteboard once again with 12-1 moneymaker REMUS upon his reappearance. Remember, this gig isn't all about the first Saturday in May. A player has to make money along the trail in these tough economic times.
Each week we provide a race video worth a second look. You've probably read the verbal sparring between Andy Beyer and Rick Dutrow about THIS ONES FOR PHIL's meteoric improvement in the Sunshine Millions Dash. But no matter what numbers or theories you subscribe to, there's only one eyeball test that matters as a handicapper -- yours. See for yourself if PHIL has what it takes to bounce right back and win the G2 Fountain of Youth at a quarter-mile farther than the Dash.
Sunday's 5F drill in 1:00-3/5 for PIONEEROF THE NILE caught the eye of highly respected Horseplayerpro.com clocker Toby Turrell, who was trackside. "Off of this work move alone," Turrell said, "PIONEEROF THE NILE could easily be moved up any Kentucky Derby top 10 list! He was visually striking this morning." ... G2 Louisiana Derby hopeful PATENA drilled six furlongs in 1:14 2/5 Sunday at Gulfstream for trainer Rick Dutrow, his second breeze in six days ... G3 Delta Jackpot winner BIG DRAMA returned to the worktab Sunday after more than a month respite. The David Fawkes trainee breezed a half-mile in :50 at Calder and already has more than enough graded earnings in the bank to dance in May if he can be readied ... HELLO BROADWAY, redirected from the G2 Fountain of Youth this week in favor of the Tampa Bay Derby in two more weeks, worked a sharp half-mile Saturday in :47-2/5 handily for Barclay Tagg ... Next week's schedule includes the G3 Gotham around two turns at Aqueduct, featuring MR. FANTASY, HAYNESFIELD and IMPERIAL COUNCIL against west coaster I WANT REVENGE. Next Saturday's G1 Santa Anita Oaks is expected to lure champion filly STARDOM BOUND.
Jeremy Plonk's Top 5-rated performances this year by class (Dec. 26-present):
1. ZENSATIONAL -- Santa Anita 2/21 * new *
2. ECHO IN ETERNITY -- Gulfstream 1/31 (turf sprint)
3. SOUL WARRIOR -- Fair Grounds 12/29
4. MR. HOT STUFF -- Santa Anita 2/1
5. CHECKLIST -- Gulfstream 1/3
1. MR. FANTASY -- Aqueduct 2/1
2. DUNKIRK -- Gulfstream 2/19
3. IMPERIAL COUNCIL -- Gulfstream 2/14
4. CAPTAIN CHEROKEE -- Fair Grounds 2/14
5. THEREGOESJOJO -- Gulfstream 1/10
1. NOTONTHESAMEPAGE -- Spectacular Bid 1/3
2. PIONEEROF THE NILE -- Lewis Memorial 2/7
3. OLD FASHIONED -- Southwest 2/16
4. GENERAL QUARTERS -- Sam F. Davis 2/14
5. TAQARUB -- Jimmy Winkfield 1/19
G2 Fountain of Youth Picks:
1- #3 NOTONTHESAMEPAGE
2- #9 CAPT. CANDYMAN CAN
3- #10 TAQARUB
G3 Sham Picks:
1- #5 THE PAMPLEMOUSSE
2- #7 MR. HOT STUFF
3- #10 MARK S THE COOLER
Battaglia Memorial Picks:
1- #2 STRATOS
2- #7 FITZASLEW
3- #4 PROCEED BEE
Miracle Wood Picks:
1- #2 ROCK ON JUSTIN
2- #3 ST. JOHN'S GOSPEL
3- #7 CLASSIC WILDCAT
Borderland Derby Picks:
1- #1 HOYA
2- #8 DUMAR
3- #3 MINE THAT BIRD
Mountain Valley Picks:
1- #5 DANCE CALLER
2- #8 BERTSGOLDENMISSILE
3- #6 DOC POSSE
How did we do last week?
Top choice MAYOR MARV cruised as the favorite in the Turf Paradise Derby on a short schedule.
How are we doing on the season?
6-for-19 (32 percent) with top pick; 11-for-19 (58 percent) with top two picks.
Put 'em in the gate
Can't wait for May 2? This section ranks my Top 20 and puts horses in the gate if the race was this weekend. Remember, this isn't about how they'll be on Derby Day, but rather how they rate today with Derby ability at 1-1/4 miles a main factor. This will be a fluid list over the spring.
Think I'm off my rocker? Send your Top 20 list to me, firstname.lastname@example.org, and I'll pick one fan's list each week to appear in Countdown to the Crown right next to mine. Please put "TOP 20" in the subject line and include your state of residence!
Jeremy's top 20: Ninth week of the 2009 season
Reader-submitted top 20: April C. from Lexington, Ky.
What happens in Vegas
This section highlights the steamers in the Las Vegas future book odds. Odds updated Feb. 23, 2009, here.
Wynn Las Vegas Derby Favorites
OLD FASHIONED 8-1
PIONEEROF THE NILE 10-1
STARDOM BOUND 15-1
FRIESAN FIRE 15-1
DESERT PARTY 20-1
CAPT. CANDYMAN CAN 20-1
VINEYARD HAVEN 20-1
CHOCOLATE CANDY 25-1
GIANT OAK 25-1
COUNTDOWN TO THE CROWN is the ONLY major racing column where you can find the line of Johnny Avello, Vegas' premier oddsmaker!
Jeremy Plonk has been an ESPN.com contributor since 2000. You can email Jeremy about Countdown to the Crown or anything racing related at Jeremy@Horseplayerpro.com.