When the March Madness picks are set each season, it's never surprising to see the Gonzaga Bulldogs on the shortlist of potential NCAA Tournament champions.
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Road To The Kentucky Derby
How The Field Qualified For The Run For The Roses
By Jessica Paquette
While the first Saturday in May is still several weeks away, the major prep races for the Kentucky Derby are in the books and the top contenders have been firmly established. In horse racing, the picture can change dramatically in the course of a few days but, barring unforeseen circumstances, the field has been loosely established.
To qualify for a spot in the starting gate, the contenders earn points by finishing first through fourth in a series of designated Kentucky Derby prep races. This year, the Kentucky Derby will have several promising sophomores poised to break out as legitimate stars.
Here are the top 20 three-year-olds based on point earnings.
- Girvin – Trained by Joe Sharp, this colt has done everything right despite lacking the experience that some of his rivals have. All four races have come at the Fair Grounds and he stamped himself as a Kentucky Derby contender with victories in the two biggest local prep races – the Risen Star Stakes (G2) and the Louisiana Derby (G2).
- Classic Empire – Horse racing’s latest bad boy put his best foot forward and won the Arkansas Derby (G1) in impressive fashion. The reigning Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) champion, there is no doubt this colt can perform on the biggest stage but at this point he has been his own worst enemy as his spring was plagued with bad behavior and setbacks. Will the real Classic Empire show up in Kentucky?
- Gormley – While there is no shortage of talent here, Gormley has not been the model of consistency. After winning the Sham Stakes (G3) in an encouraging sophomore bow, he was lackluster in the San Felipe Stakes (G2). He rebounded in a big way to win the Santa Anita Derby (G1).
- Irap – Irap stunned the world when he burst onto the Kentucky Derby scene with an upset victory in the Blue Grass Stakes (G2) as a maiden. He made his first career victory count, and while his record is not that impressive, his pedigree certainly is. He is by star sire Tiznow from the female family of the powerhouse Speightstown so he does have the back class to be a top level racehorse.
- Irish War Cry – Trained by Graham Motion, this flashy homebred colt won the Holy Bull Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream in a mild upset. After a dismal performance in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2), critics were quick to dismiss his victory as a fluke but he proved the naysayers wrong with a sharp victory in the Wood Memorial (G2), which cemented his status as a Derby threat.
- Thunder Snow – Thunder Snow took the international road to the Kentucky Derby with a victory in the UAE Derby (G2) in Dubai. He has been a winning machine against top international competition and will try to make history and become the first Godolphin color-bearer to win the Run for the Roses.
- Always Dreaming – After winning his first two starts of the year against maiden and allowance competition, he passed the class test emphatically with a sharp win in the Florida Derby (G1), a race which has yielded two of the last five Kentucky Derby winners.
- Gunnevera – Gunnevera has run at four separate racetracks over the course of his career and has won at three of them. Since earning a big payday in the Delta Jackpot Stakes (G3) to close out his juvenile year, he has been a consistent player in the Florida prep races and was last seen finishing third in the Florida Derby (G1) after winning the Fountain of Youth (G2).
- Practical Joke – A Grade 1 winner at two for trainer Chad Brown, he has been a consistent competitor from three starts as a sophomore and has accumulated enough points with two runner up finishes to earn his spot in the big race. He ran well to finish second behind Irap in the Blue Grass (G2).
- J Boys Echo – He started his three-year-old campaign in New York and had a breakthrough win in one of the early prep races, the Withers Stakes (G3). He did not show much in the Blue Grass Stakes (G2) but a fourth-place finish was enough to garner points.
- State of Honor – State of Honor has been hitting the board against good company in the prep races in Florida at both Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs. A pair of second-place finishes, most recently in the Florida Derby (G1) behind Always Dreaming, was enough to land him a slot in the race.
- Tapwrit – Tapwrit, one of the many horses from the loaded barn of trainer Todd Pletcher, garnered buzz early in the year after an impressive victory in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2). He may have bounced off of such a big effort and was a disappointing fifth in the Blue Grass Stakes (G2). Can he rebound in Louisville?
- Malagacy – Malagacy is another horse who, early in the season, looked to be the real deal for Pletcher. The lightly-raced colt won the first two starts of his career and passed the class test easily in the Rebel Stakes (G2) at Oaklawn. His undefeated record came to an end in the Arkansas Derby (G1) with an average effort in which he finished fifth.
- Hence – Though he took four tries to break his maiden, once he broke the ice he has been competitive in the graded stakes ranks. He won a soft edition of the Sunland Park Derby (G3) after a poor seventh-place finish in the Rebel Stakes (G3).
- Fast and Accurate – There are few Kentucky Derby prep races still run over synthetic surfaces and the Spiral Stakes (G3) at Turfway Park is one of them. While this colt currently seems better suited for synthetics and lesser competition, he earned enough points to take a swing for it.
- McCraken – Though he did have a setback earlier in the season and was forced to miss a planned prep race, his win in the Sam F. Davis (G3) and third-place finish in the Blue Grass Stakes (G2) was enough to keep him in contention. Don’t let the third-place finish in the Blue Grass act as a deterrent – he needed a race off a brief layoff and should be sharp for the Kentucky Derby.
- Battle of Midway –With only four career starts and no graded stakes victories, there is no telling how good this colt may or may not be. He showed professionalism beyond his limited experience to finish second in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) and earned enough points to make the big race.
- Patch – Another contender with limited experience, he started his career in January and broke his maiden in his second start. He stepped up to graded stakes competition and was second behind Girvin in the Louisiana Derby (G2).
- Battalion Runner – Yet another lightly raced contender for Todd Pletcher, this colt has two wins and two runner-up finishes from four starts. He was a well-beaten second behind Irish War Cry in the Wood Memorial (G2) which netted him enough points to move forward.
- Cloud Computing – Cloud Computing may be one of the least experienced horses in the potential field but seems to be steadily improving. He broke his maiden at first asking in February and then had a crash course in graded stakes company with two solid efforts in the Gotham Stakes (G3) and the Wood Memorial (G2).
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