Two days before his final Triple Crown prep, during a routine jog, Hear The Ghost appeared to be "off" in his right foreleg. He was scratched from the Santa Anita Derby and assigned 90 days of rest. A day after he finished second at Santa Anita, Flashback was found to have a small, fresh chip in his right knee. He'll soon travel to Kentucky, but for surgery, not the Derby. It was a rough week on the road to the Triple Crown.
But it was also a telling week, as Verrazano reaffirmed his talent with a victory in the Wood Memorial and Goldencents emerged as the leading Triple Crown candidate in the West with his victory in the Santa Anita Derby. Flashback and Hear The Ghost have dropped from ESPN.com's Top 10 Derby Contenders Poll as a result of their injuries; replacing them are Goldencents, of course, and Mylute, the Louisiana Derby runner-up who already has taken up residence at Churchill Downs.
The Wood Memorial was a deceptively good race. Pointing to the final time (1:50.27 for the 1 1/8 miles) or perhaps to Verrazano's narrow margin of victory (three-quarters of a length), some critics might suggest otherwise. But given the early fractions, the 49.62 for the opening half-mile and the 1:13.74 for three-quarters of a mile, a fast final time was impossible. The important running happened over the final three furlongs. That's where Verrazano tossed off the challenge of Vyjack and Normandy Invasion rallied determinedly to put himself in the vanguard on the way to Kentucky. After patiently stalking the modest pace, Verrazano ran the final three-eighths in 36.53 seconds. Normandy Invasion finished even faster, with an explosion of energy, in 35.87, and then galloped out beyond the winner.
And Goldencents gave an outstanding performance at Santa Anita. It was, however, very unlike Verrazano's. Before taking the lead at the top of the Santa Anita stretch and then repulsing Flashback's challenge, Goldencents stalked the speedy Super Ninety Nine, who set a lively pace -- 46.48 seconds for the opening half-mile and 1:10.95 for three-quarters. Goldencents ran the final three furlongs in 38.09 seconds, a very solid finish given the fast pace, and completed the 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.76. And so he returns to the Top 10 for the first time since his fourth in the San Felipe, where he spent his energy on a contentious and fast pace.
The major preps continue with Saturday's Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland and Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park. The Blue Grass could attract an overflow field that's expected to include Uncaptured, Noble Tune, Dynamic Sky, Java's War and Palace Malice. Aimed at the Arkansas Derby are Oxbow, War Academy, Overanalyze and Falling Sky.
With a late-running style, he won the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby over a surface at Gulfstream Park that tends to be kind to speedsters. No wonder his Hall of Fame trainer, Shug McGaughey, said he expects Orb to improve with more distance, such as the 1¼ miles of the Derby. But will John Velazquez ride him in Kentucky? He's also the regular rider for Verrazano.
His Wood Memorial effort might prove to be perfect preparation for the Triple Crown: He got the money, gained some conditioning and added to his education, all without expending so much energy that he came out of the race empty. He continues to suggest that even better performances are easily within his reach. And perhaps he'll deliver one in Kentucky, where he's likely to be the favorite for the Derby, especially if he's Velazquez's favorite.
Here's another colt whose running style suggests he's going to love the classic distance of the Derby and the long stretch of Churchill Downs. He, of course, used the Fair Grounds' long stretch to win in New Orleans. But who will ride him in Kentucky? Javier Castellano, who won the Withers and Louisiana Derby on Revolutionary, also rides Normandy Invasion.
4. Normandy Invasion
He's eligible for a non-winners-of-two allowance race, but he could be rolling into Kentucky ready to run the race of his life. His Wood effort was outstanding: After running the final three furlongs in 35.87 seconds, he galloped out well beyond the winner. He should love Churchill and the classic distance, no matter who rides him.
In winning the Santa Anita Derby, Goldencents delivered one of the very best performances seen on the road to the Triple Crown. Known for his speed and talent, he proved he has the stamina club in his bag, too. Under the right circumstances he might even succeed at the classic 1¼ miles. For him, the right circumstances involve a calm and relaxed approach. Of course, relaxation and calm can be hard to come by on Derby Day at Churchill Downs.
Did he peak too early? That question will follow the winner of the Holy Bull Stakes to Kentucky. His performance in the Florida Derby, where he raced close to a slow pace and then gained the lead only to lose it in deep stretch, suggests he could have both a pace and distance problem in the Derby.
Vyjack challenged in the stretch at Aqueduct and didn't surrender so much as got outrun. He came out of the race, according to his trainer, Rudy Rodriguez, with "some mucus," presumably in his airways. This is an outstanding horse and a determined competitor. Still, the Wood questions his ability to succeed at 1¼ miles.
The Rebel Stakes runner-up worked three-quarters of a mile Friday in the mud (1:14.60) at Oaklawn Park in preparation for the upcoming Arkansas Derby. He has been consistent and reliable all season, and in recent years Oaklawn Park has proven to be among the best places to prepare for the Kentucky Derby. A horse from Oaklawn has finished in the Derby superfecta each of the last nine years.
9. Will Take Charge
The improving winner of the Rebel Stakes worked a bullet five furlongs Friday (1:01) in the mud at Oaklawn Park. He could show up in the Blue Grass or train up until the Kentucky Derby, according to his Hall of Fame trainer, D. Wayne Lukas.
Like the winner, he rallied from far back and raced wide in the Louisiana Derby, finishing second, a neck behind Revolutionary. He worked an easy half-mile Sunday at Churchill Downs (50.20). His trainer, Tom Amoss, said Mylute will have a significant workout this week.
Also receiving votes: Uncaptured (14), Lines Of Battle (13), War Academy (13), Rydilluc (6), Java's War (5), Govenor Charlie (4), Dreaming of Julia (3), Black Onyx (2), Emolliant (2), Power Broker (1), Den's Legacy (1).
How they voted: To see how our experts voted, please click here.