The great race is still ten weeks away, but most of the early classes are out of the way and the Road to the Kentucky Derby is about to get a whole lot more serious. TRC race analyst James Willoughby marks the work the pupils have done so far.
1. TIZ THE LAW
Constitution ex Tizfiz by Tiznow
Tiz The Law earns top spot because he is already a G1 winner (October's Champagne Stakes at Belmont) plus he has put up the best performance of 2020 so far.
That effort came in the G3 Holy Bull at Gulfstream, in which he beat a very promising colt in Ete Indien by three lengths, with nearly 12 back to the remainder. The time of the Holy Bull was very fast, and the way Tiz The Law finished that 8½-furlong test confirmed the impression of his pedigree: this is a Derby horse through-and-through.
Trainer Barclay Tagg and owners Sackatoga Stable combined with the 2003 Derby winner Funny Cide and have another exceptional prospect for the great race on their hands here.
2. THOUSAND WORDS
Pioneerof The Nile ex Pomeroys Pistol by Pomeroy
The Florida-bred is the highest-ranked of Bob Baffert's runners here, even though he is the longest-priced prospect in future books. This is because he has less brilliance, but has proven more than Authetic or Nadal.
Two features of his profile are particularly important: first, he has more foundation, with three starts under his belt and a racing career that stretches back to last October. That might not seem much, with Justify's example in mind, but it is usually important.
Second, Thousand Words has more proven stamina. He has won the G2 Los Alamitos Futurity and the G3 Robert B. Lewis Stakes, both at 9½ furlongs, finishing strongly from off the pace to win the latter in a close finish.
Into The Mischief ex Flawless by Mr Greeley
This colt has a similar profile to Nadal in that he is trained by Bob Baffert and unbeaten after two 2020 starts. But, he is actually more likeable because he has a better stamina profile.
Authentic parlayed his maiden breaker into a G3 Sham Stakes romp over a mile. The fractions are interesting: 23.87 - 24.07 - 24.24 - 12.12 - 13.27. This represents more consistent energy-use than Nadal. Though by a sire who gets plenty of two-turn runners, there is some reason to pause over ten furlongs as a result of the presence of speed influence Mr Greeley. One thing is for sure: this chap is seriously good.
4. MR MONOMOY
Palace Malice ex Drumette by Henny Hughes
Though he must prove he can run with some of the nascent talent in this year's Derby picture, few colts have more solid form than this tough-looking colt trained by the ever-progressive Brad Cox.
The son of Palace Malice reversed G3 Lecomte Stakes running with Enforceable and Silver State when winning the faster-run division of the G2 Risen Star Stakes. He showed a notably willing response to pressure.
It must be admitted that Mr Monomoy is more exposed than most on this list, having suffered three defeats already, but few have shown the same attitude, and he should continue to progress when stamina is the accent.
Blame ex Ascending Angel by Pulpit
Here comes the next Justify? Tennis defeated basketball - Rafael beat Manu - in the G2 San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita, when Nadal outgamed Ginobili in the seven-furlong February test.
Like the 2018 Derby winner, Nadal was unraced as a juvenile. He made a stunning debut slightly earlier when winning a maiden in January in a fast time and he remains unbeaten.
Just because Justify proved he could stretch his speed to Classic distances, it does not mean we should take that for granted with this fast horse - he pressed a 21.81 - 22.28 pace last time - but he has the pedigree.
Ranked where he is at present, there is something for Nadal to blame when he takes on another trial on the way to the G1 Santa Anita Derby. He is favourite in Run for the Roses ante-post betting lists based on sky-high potential.
Uncle Mo ex Symbolic Gesture by Bernardini
Winner of a division of the G2 Risen Star at Fair Grounds, Modernist could improve a good deal and join the upper echelons of this list. He is doubtless going the right way.
The Bill Mott-trained colt took three starts to get off the mark - not untypical for his trainer at all. That debut win came in a maiden at Aqueduct run on a typically slow surface (the time of 1:54.24 was not bad considering this).
On the face of it, winning by a length and a neck in the Risen Star is not enough to promote this colt as a potential Derby winner, but we probably haven't seen what he can really do yet.
Street Sense ex Velvety by Bernardini
The G1 Breeders’ Futurity winner would be much higher ranked than this had we seen him since his stunning triumph at Keeneland last October. He has had surgery for ankle chips and could be out soon.
Trained by Brendan Walsh - the handler of last year's G2 UAE Derby winner Plus Que Parfait - the Godolphin-owned colt was very impressive, sweeping round the field around the second turn and storming clear.
Race times on the deeper tracks of the East are usually not so impressive as those on the harder surfaces out West, but Maxfield's closing strength means he has nothing to fear from a stronger pace.
When he proves his well-being, this colt will go flying up the rankings.
8. ETE INDIEN
Summer Front ex East India by Mizzen Mast
Ete Indien makes the list on the back of his running-on second to #1 Tiz The Law in the G3 Holy Bull at Gulfstream. He was miles clear of the rest and is a good horse in the making.
The problem for him may be the step up to a mile and a quarter. Prior to the Holy Bull, he ran 1:35 for a one-mile allowance at the same track, bang on a 22:92 - 22.63 pace early.
Trainer Patrick Biancone has cemented his return to the big time with this fellow. He deserves huge respect because of his deep ability, but we need to see him at nine furlongs before he can rank higher.
9. SOLE VOLANTE
Karakontie ex Light Blow by Kingmambo
Visually impressive when winning the G3 Sam F Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs from the highly rated Independence Hall, Sole Volante will need to prove he has the stamina to match his burst of speed.
The final 16th that day was 6.11 and there was no mistaking the authority of his victory by two and a half lengths.
It is interesting that Sole Volante earlier won the black -type Pulpit Stakes at Gulfstream over a mile in a very fast time. It is easy to see him switching back to the lawn after the Triple Crown trail is done.
10. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS
Constitution ex Addison Run by Unbridled's Song
Odds-on for the G1 Breeders’ Futurity when thrashed by Maxfield, Gouverneur Morris nevertheless stuck on well for second and was not disgraced. He has since won a minor event.
Why was the son of Constitution (sire of Tiz The Law and Independence Hall) such a warm order at Keeneland? He had won a 5½-furlong Saratoga maiden on a sloppy track by nine lengths in sensational style and had been touted heavily ever since that September affair. Is he a Derby horse? It remains to be seen. But, he is already G1 placed and has tons of talent.