It's one of the most turbulent and unforgiving journeys in all of sports, this annual trek to the Triple Crown. Saturday, an undefeated colt named Violence was one of the early favorites for the Kentucky Derby and the odds-on favorite for the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Sunday, after a tough loss and a devastating injury, Violence was probably done as a racehorse.
That's how suddenly everything can change. Saturday, among a strong group of Triple Crown possibilities in the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds, Ive Struck A Nerve was a 135-1 long shot, chum in the shark tank. By Saturday night, after a perfect trip and a stunning upset, he was the points leader on the road to the Kentucky Derby.
And so Orb, the winner of the Fountain of Youth, charges to the top of the ESPN.com Top 10 Derby Contenders poll, just as he charged to the lead Saturday at Gulfstream Park. Violence chased the rapid pace (45.45 seconds for the opening half-mile) and pushed the early leader, Majestic Hussar, through a sanity-challenging three-quarters of a mile in 1:08.85 before tiring. And Orb powered down the stretch, as if to suggest he's going to love 1¼ miles in May. And in New Orleans, while Ive Struck A Nerve advanced along the rail in the second turn, Normandy Invasion, who had stumbled early in the race, took the scenic route and finished fifth. No. 5 in last week's poll, Normandy Invasion drops to No. 9 this week. He'll probably get an opportunity to prove his Derby worthiness April 6 in the Wood Memorial in New York.
Saturday's Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct is the only points race on the Derby trail this week. Overanalyze, the Remsen winner who's No. 10 in the poll, will make his seasonal debut in the Gotham, but several upstarts could challenge, and remember: This is one of the most turbulent and unforgiving journeys in all of sports.
After his victory in the Fountain of Youth, he makes his Top 10 debut by jumping atop the poll. Volatile and unpredictable as a 2-year-old, Orb has made remarkable progress this winter, according to his trainer, "Shug" McGaughey. And the best is still in front of the long-striding colt, who should relish more distance.
In preparation for the Tampa Bay Derby on March 9, Verrazano worked five-eighths of a mile Monday at Palm Meadows with stablemate Discreet Dancer. Together they had the bullet, or fastest work at the distance (59.21 seconds). Judge this one by the company he keeps: An older horse, Discreet Dancer has lost but once in his career, finishing third in last year's Fountain of Youth.
Saturday, Itsmyluckyday had his first serious workout -- a half-mile in 48.80 seconds -- since winning the Holy Bull Stakes in late January and putting himself in the vanguard of contenders. He's aimed at the Florida Derby on March 30 at Gulfstream Park, where he has won consecutive stakes.
The talk over the weekend swirled around Orb and the Fountain of Youth and the Risen Star Stakes, but Monday at Santa Anita, Flashback reminded fans why he's so highly regarded, working three-quarters of a mile in 1:11, which was the bullet. He's aimed at the San Felipe on March 9.
His talent overcame his bad habits when he won the recent Withers Stakes. But Revolutionary might not have such a talent advantage in the future. When he takes on tougher company, in either the Florida or Louisiana Derby, he'll probably need to put his childishly bad habits behind him.
6. Super Ninety Nine
Super Ninety Nine returned to California after his romp in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn. He has won consecutive two-turn races by a total of 14½ lengths. Where he makes his next start could depend on how Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert spreads out his many candidates, but another Arkansas sojourn is possible.
7. Shanghai Bobby
Shanghai Bobby worked another easy half-mile Monday (49.61), his second since his loss in the Holy Bull. The champion juvenile of 2012 always has flashed talent and shown determination, but on the road to the Triple Crown, success is all about development; and he'll need to step forward March 30 in the Florida Derby.
Goldencents continues to train sensationally. He has strung together six bullet workouts at Santa Anita, all at three-quarters of a mile, the latest on Friday, when his 1:10.40 was seven lengths faster than the second-fastest move of the morning. He appears to be aimed at a huge effort on March 9, when he'll take on Flashback in the San Felipe.
9. Normandy Invasion
Everything that could have gone wrong for him in the Risen Star went wrong. Sluggish away from the gate, he then stumbled, raced wide around both turns and drifted in the stretch. Still, he ran fifth, beaten by 1 1/2 lengths. Normandy Invasion was the most talented horse in the field, but talent alone won't defeat quality competition. The lightly raced colt has much to learn and little time.
The Remsen winner worked a half-mile Monday at Palm Meadows (48.75) in preparation for a trip to New York and his seasonal debut in Saturday's Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct. Talented and experienced, he has had seven workouts this year to prepare for his return, but he could find a tough welcoming party that includes Vyjack, Honorable Dillon, Ore Pass and Sky Captain.
Also receiving votes: Uncaptured (15), Code West (12), Mac The Man (9), Tiz the Truth (8), Ive Struck a Nerve (6), Oxbow (6), Vyjack (4), Dynamic Sky (4), Delhomme (4), Power Broker (3), Shakin It Up (3), Treasury Bill (2), Capo Bastone (2), Titletown Five (2), Palace Malice (1), Forty Tales (1).