Trying to pick the Kentucky Derby winner on the first Saturday in May is difficult enough. But how about doing it before the calendar even turns to 2016? For the second straight year let's attempt the impossible, picking who will win the Kentucky Derby six months before the horses go into the starting gate.
(By the way, while not getting it right this past May, the pick wasn't that bad. I went with Frosted, who, at this juncture had won only a maiden race. He ran fourth in the Derby and went on to win the Wood Memorial and the Pennsylvania Derby).
Remsen winner Mohaymen has yet to put in that type of brilliant performance that gets them jumping on the bandwagon, but, with him, you can check every box when it comes to what makes a horse a serious Kentucky Derby contender.
Breeding: He's by Tapit, arguably the best sire in the country and a sire whose offspring have class and stamina. He should only get better and the mile-and-a-quarter will not be an issue. That he cost $2.2 million at the yearling sales tells you all you need to know about his breeding.
Trainer: Though Kiaran McLaughlin has yet to win a Kentucky Derby, there's one out there with his name on it. He's a terrific trainer who starts every year with a barn full of well-bred, talented 2-year-old prospects. He finished second in the 2005 Derby with Closing Argument and won the 2006 Belmont with Jazil.
Ability: He's 3-for-3 and his record includes wins in the Nashua and the Remsen. Though the last Remsen winner to win the Kentucky Derby was Go for Gin (93 Remsen, 94 Derby), running well in this race is an important indicator of future success as it is the rare 2-year-old stakes run both around two turns and at nine furlongs. Remsen winners are typically good mile-and-a-quarter horses.
His Remsen win was more of the same -- solid. He won by 1 ½ lengths against Flexibility, the same horse he beat in the Nashua. Though he didn't blow anyone away, it was a decisive win. The time was 1:50.69. The Demoiselle, run earlier on the card and the fully equivalent of the Remsen, went in 1:53.41. Mohaymen may not be the Second Coming of American Pharoah but he doesn't need to be.
If this sounds like a familiar story, it is. Frosted, the 2015 pick, is also trained by McLaughlin and is by Tapit.
Best of the rest
I'm not ready to give up on Greenpointcrusader after one poor effort, a non-threatening seventh-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. His win in the Champagne, in which he overcame a brutal trip, was simply the best race turned in by any 2-year-old male this year.
Despite being undefeated and winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, Nyquist doesn't seem to get anyone excited. A lot of that has to do with the fact he has yet to post any superior speed figures. But he is undefeated, he won the Breeders' Cup and overcame a very wide trip to do so. This horse is better than people give him credit for.
He is by super-hot freshman sire Uncle Mo, which may or may not be a good thing. Uncle Mo was brilliant, fast and precocious, but he never won beyond a mile-and-a-sixteenth and his 3-year-old year didn't live up to expectations after a sensational juvenile campaign. Can his offspring prosper at a mile-and-a-quarter and will they show normal improvement at three? Many will be asking those questions.
While it would make sense that the Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner would be the favorite for the next year's Kentucky Derby, the Juvenile just doesn't produce many Derby winners. It's well-known that Street Sense is the only Juvenile winner to go on and win the Derby. Worse yet, during the past 20 runnings of the Derby, only two winners even ran in the Juvenile -- Street Sense and, of all horses, Mine That Bird.
Flexibility and Gift Box are two more out of the Remsen that bear watching. (Yes, I have a Remsen obsession.) Flexibility, who was second, and Gift Box, who was third, are both trained by the talented Chad Brown and are lightly raced, well-bred horses that should only get better with time.
Exaggerator won the Delta Jackpot more on heart than anything else and will have to step it up once the competition gets tougher, but trainer Keith Desormeaux made a big statement after the race when emphatically declaring that Exaggerator is better than his Juvenile runner-up Swipe.
You might have noticed that no horse trained by Bob Baffert or Todd Pletcher made this list as neither has had a standout 2-year-old so far this year. Baffert's best juvenile is Toews On Ice, but that fact that he keeps running him in sprints suggest Baffert thinks the colt has distance limitations. Come Derby Day, though, there's no doubt both power stables will have come up with a Derby threat or two.