On the heels of similar formful results in the Santa Anita Derby, Florida Derby, and Wood Memorial, the top contenders have shown consistency in their body of work in hopes of peaking at the right time on the first Saturday in May.
With his resounding 9 ½-length score that earned a 108 Beyer as the 2-to-1 favorite in the Arkansas Derby, Bodemeister made his case to go off as the favorite at Churchill Downs. However, with just four career starts for the Virginia-bred and plenty of other attractive options, the Bob Baffert-trained son of Empire Maker could be 5-to-1 or more as the chalk.
At least eight others can stake claim to being the Derby favorite, which means this year more than ever the price will be right no matter who you like.
Last year's 2-year-old champion, Hansen, was 1/16 of a mile away from wiring the field in the Blue Grass Stakes and strengthening his case to go off favored in the Kentucky Derby, before Dullahan unleashed a furious rally down the center of Keeneland's Polytrack for the 2nd time in a Grade I event.
However, Dullahan is winless in three tries over the main track at Churchill Downs, meaning his price will likely float higher than Hansen's, who won last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile under the Twin Spires.
The pair exiting the Santa Anita Derby, I'll Have Another and Creative Cause, have done little wrong, not only in 2012, but over the course of their careers. After Creative Cause defeated I'll Have Another in the Best Pal Stakes at Del Mar last summer, he went on to become a Grade I winner and finished third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
I'll Have Another turned the tables on Creative Cause in the Santa Anita Derby after winning his two-turn debut in the Robert B. Lewis to begin his 3-year-old campaign. Draw a line through his Hopeful Stakes try in the slop at Saratoga that ended his 2-year-old season and I'll Have Another's resume looks as good as any.
Maybe now would be a good time to introduce the next top contender, considering he is a multiple graded stakes winner and sports an unblemished 5-for-5 record. That would be Wood Memorial winner Gemologist, a son of Tiznow trained by Todd Pletcher, who will make his third start of 2012 in the Kentucky Derby. It would be tough to argue with those landing here for their favorite.
With just a neck separating Alpha from Gemologist in the Wood, he too is right in the mix with five top two finishes from six career starts. A disappointing 11th in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile will temper the enthusiasm for some, but the regally bred son of Bernardini is certainly one of the ones.
The popular choice entering the final preps now finds himself at the end of the discussion, with Union Rags' third-place finish in the Florida Derby leaving many to wonder if he can sustain his late kick over 1 ¼-mile. His supporters point to his troubled trip in the Florida Derby with good reason and will be thrilled to potentially get upwards of 7-to-1 instead of the 3-to-1 that would have come with a win at Gulfstream.
Take Charge Indy wiring the Florida Derby at 7-to-1 in front of Union Rags was the least formful result of the bunch, but with Mr. Kentucky Derby Calvin Borel in the irons, he will no doubt take his fair share of action. After all, if the presence of Borel aboard Twice the Appeal last year resulted in 11-to-1 instead of his deserved 50-to-1, what will his effect be on the price of a son of A.P Indy that just won the Florida Derby?
Let the three-week hype train begin as the contenders converge on Louisville, Ky. with the hope that the debate over which runner deserves the nod as the top pick is not overshadowed by late defections.
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