TDN Top Triple Crown Contenders

WinStar TDN Derby Top 20 for Apr. 18

by T.D. Thornton

All of the prep races for the GI Kentucky Derby have been run, and now the contenders will enter the phase of microscopic analysis that accompanies the Run For the Roses waiting game. Please note the rankings below are independent from the “Road to the Derby” points leaderboard that Churchill Downs will use to determine starting berths; that list can be accessed here.

1. (Last Week: 1) ALWAYS DREAMING (c, BodemeisterAbove Perfection, by In Excess {Ire})

O-Brooklyn Boyz Stables, Teresa Viola Racing Stables et al. B-Santa Rosa Partners (KY). T-Todd A. Pletcher. Sales History: $350,000 Ylg '15 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: GISW, 5-3-1-1, $648,900.

Last Start: 1st, GI Xpressbet Florida Derby, GP, Apr. 1

Next Start: GI Kentucky Derby, CD, May 6 Thoro-Graph sheet,

Thoro-Graph sheet, Equineline PPs

KY Derby Points: 100

You can now make a strong case for any of the top five in the TDN Top 20 to win the Derby. The next 10 or 12 horses fall within the “plausible” category, and the bottom tier is comprised of “a win could be envisioned under chaotic circumstances” types of long shots. But realistically, only the No. 1 and No. 2 colts right now–Always Dreaming and Irish War Cry (Curlin)–carry themselves with the panache that suggests either one could be on the cusp of a brilliant, crop-defining performance. It's not that the next level of sophomores don't have it in them to take legitimate aim at a Triple Crown sweep. It's just that Always Dreaming and “Irish” both won their nine-furlong Derby preps so emphatically, and in such a commanding manner, that it suggests they haven't yet topped out and are still capable of further progression. Always Dreaming, the only horse on this list with the advantage of back-to-back wins at 1 1/8 miles (despite having started only three times in 2017), breezed a half mile in :49.55 (5/14) at Palm Beach Downs on Friday under regular rider John Velazquez, working outside recent GIII Appleton S. winner All Included (Include). Always Dreaming “is one of the exceptions in terms of horses who consistently win breezes whether he's on the inside or outside of horses,” Pletcher said. “It was, I thought, a very good breeze. I liked the way he finished the last quarter in 23-and-change and seemed to cool out quickly and recover quickly.”

2. (2) IRISH WAR CRY (c, CurlinIrish Sovereign, by Polish Numbers)

'TDN Rising Star' O/B-Isabelle de Tomaso (NJ). T-H. Graham Motion. Lifetime Record: MGSW, 5-4-0-0, $699,460.

Last Start: 1st, GII Wood Memorial S., AQU, Apr. 8

Accomplishments: 1st, GII Lambholm South Holy Bull S., GP, Feb. 4, 1st, Marylander S., LRL, Jan. 23

Next Start: GI Kentucky Derby, CD, May 6

Thoro-Graph sheet, Equineline PPs, Caulfield on Irish War Cry

KY Derby Points: 110

Just like in the heyday of prize fighting, when it was customary to keep boxers isolated at training camps away from pre-match distractions, it has become de rigueur for top trainers to try to avoid the pre-Derby circus of the Churchill backstretch by remaining stabled elsewhere right up until the last minute. Always Dreaming, for example, is slated to remain at Palm Beach Downs in Florida for the time being, and trainer Motion joked last week on “At the Races With Steve Byk” that “we're going to stay at Fair Hill and wrap [Irish War Cry] up in bubble wrap” to keep him safe and focused. One still wonders whether this 'TDN Rising Star' (who is a relatively late May 2 foal) has truly learned to settle in the early stages of his races (he was keen to move early in the Wood Memorial despite an intended game plan to teach him to wait). Might it be best to just fully unleash him in the Derby and let him establish an unrestrained tempo that puts him on the lead and away from potential traffic? Based on his pedigree and ample reserve of natural speed, Irish War Cry just might be talented enough to wire the field at 10 furlongs–and not in some eke-it-out fashion, but stylishly and with presence.

3. (3) MCCRAKEN (c, GhostzapperIvory Empress, by Seeking the Gold)

'TDN Rising Star' O/B-Whitham Thoroughbreds, LLC (KY). T-Ian R. Wilkes. Lifetime Record: MGSW, 5-4-0-1, $410,848.

Last Start: 3rd, GII Toyota Blue Grass S., KEE, Apr. 8

Accomplishments Include: 1st, GIII Sam F. Davis S., TAM, Feb. 11, 1st, GII Kentucky Jockey Club S., CD, Nov. 26, 1st, Street Sense S., CD, Oct. 30

Next Start: GI Kentucky Derby, May 6, CD

Thoro-Graph sheet, Equineline PPs, Caulfield on McCraken

KY Derby Points: 40

While the top two colts on this list earned their lofty rankings because I'm hedging we still haven't seen the all-out best that either is capable of, 'TDN Rising Star' McCraken rates a solid No. 3 because of how reliably and professionally he ran the table through his first four career races, which included three wins at Churchill Downs and two graded stakes victories around two turns. Yes, you have to be forgiving of his subpar beaten-fave third in the Blue Grass S. in order to have confidence in him rebounding for the Derby. But McCraken does have a been-there-done-that sense about him, and it's logical to accept the explanation from trainer Wilkes that missing a March prep because of an ankle strain is what caused McCraken to be too keen early and a little flat late in the Blue Grass, his first race in nearly two months. In fact, several trainers of other Blue Grass also-rans have noted how horses that run so-so races in that Keeneland prep historically come back to fire better races in the Derby. Street Sense (Street Cry {IRE})'s 2007 parlay of a Blue Grass second into a Derby victory is an example of such a reversal that will get mentioned a lot (mainly because Wilkes was Street Sense's assistant trainer). But a more apt comparison might be the 1995 Blue Grass, when 30-1 Wild Syn (Wild Again) wired the field, only to have fourth-place beaten favorite Thunder Gulch (Gulch) come roaring back to win the Derby at vastly inflated mutuel (while Wild Syn didn't beat a horse). McCraken can undoubtedly be counted on to improve in the Derby. The only question is will it be enough to outgun other surging, peaking rivals?

4. (4) GIRVIN (c, Tale of EkatiCatch the Moon, by Malibu Moon)

O-Brad Grady. B-Bob Austin & John Witte (KY). T-Joe Sharp. Sales History: $140,000 RNA Ylg '15 KEESEP; $130,000 Ylg '15 FTKOCT. Lifetime Record: MGSW, 4-3-1-0, $874,400.

Last Start: 1st, GII Louisiana Derby, FG, Apr. 1

Accomplishments Include: 1st, GII Risen Star S., FG, Feb. 25

Next start: GI Kentucky Derby, CD, May 6

Thoro-Graph sheet, Equineline PPs

KY Derby Points: 150

If you're the No. 4-ranked horse approaching the two-week mark to the Derby and your regular rider opts off to partner with the No. 3 horse instead, that might not normally be an encouraging sign. But when the pick-up jockey ends up being Mike Smith, one of the sport's most accomplished and unflappable big-money riders, the switch could end up being a huge plus, especially considering that Girvin is still a little light in the seasoning department. There's lots of upside for this colt, who will be the first Derby starter for both trainer Sharp and owner Grady: He's versatile in terms of his running style, he can employ tactical speed if necessary, he's handled every challenge thrown at him so far, and seems to have a knack for channeling his energy in a positive fashion. I'm still skeptical that Girvin's New Orleans campaign provided him with the proper sparring partners to handle the rigors of being knocked around in a 20-horse Derby (his company lines contain only one other horse ranked on the TDN Top 20). But that lack of solid competition is hardly the fault of Girvin or his connections, and they are cruising toward the first Saturday in May with a fresh, fit, mid-range-odds contender who has more plusses than minuses to his credit based on what we've seen through his first four races.

5. (14) CLASSIC EMPIRE (c, Pioneerof the NileSambuca Classica, by Cat Thief)

O-John C. Oxley. B-Steven & Brandi Nicholson (KY). T-Mark E. Casse. Sales History: $475,000 Ylg '15 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: Ch. 2yo Colt, MGISW, 7-5-0-1, $2,120,220.

Last Start: 1st, GI Arkansas Derby, OP, Apr. 15

Accomplishments Include: 1st, GI Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile, SA, Nov. 5, 1st, GI Claiborne Breeders' Futurity, KEE, Oct. 8, 1st, GIII Bashford Manor S., CD, July 2.

Next start: GI Kentucky Derby, CD, May 6

Thoro-Graph sheet, Equineline PPs, Caulfield on Classic Empire

KY Derby Points: 132

The complexion of the Kentucky Derby changed with the Classic Empire's stretch-storming victory in the Arkansas Derby. After attitude issues, a foot abscess, and back problems seemingly knocked the juvenile champ off the Derby trail earlier in the season, Classic Empire laid many of the qualms and quirks about his temperament and talent to rest on Saturday at Oaklawn–at least for the short term. He bobbled slightly at the break, was taken under a snug rating hold entering the first turn, did not appear to be at all bothered when covered by traffic on the backstretch run, and perhaps benefited from having to wait “on hold” until the quarter pole to launch into his best stride, because by that time a handful of other challengers had already moved too early and were spent. There was a whole lot of shifting and drifting (read: tired horses) going on to Classic Empire's inside during the stretch run, but watching his powerful, six wide move off the turn and the long, ground-gobbling strides of his determined drive, it was easy to project ahead several weeks and envision how a similar move might equate to a top three finish at Churchill Downs. “He just has so much ability. I knew if we could get him here that he'd be tough,” said trainer Casse. “I think the toughest deal is over, getting to this point. Now he won't have to do too much going into the Derby.”

6. (5) GORMLEY (c, Malibu MoonRace to Urga, by Bernstein)

O-Mr. & Mrs. Jerome Moss. B-Castleton Lyons & Kilboy Estate (KY). T-John A. Shirreffs. Sales History: $150,000 RNA Ylg '15 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: MGISW, 6-4-0-0, $920,000.

Last Start: 1st, GI Santa Anita Derby, SA, Apr. 8

Accomplishments Include: 1st, GI FrontRunner S., SA, Oct. 6, 1st, GIII Sham S., SA, Jan. 7.

Next Start: GI Kentucky Derby, CD, May 6

Thoro-Graph sheet, Equineline PPs, Caulfield on Gormley

KY Derby Points: 125

Gormley is a small-of-stature overachiever with a lot of fight in him, and while these types of horses are easy to root for, they don't quite match up with the profiles of 3-year-olds who get draped in blankets of roses on Derby Day. You have to admire that he's been capably competing in nothing but two-turn graded stakes races since Oct. 1, and his only two defeats were losses to Classic Empire and Mastery (Candy Ride {ARG}), both of whom were divisional powerhouses at the time of their victories. But one of Gormley's best attributes–a quick turn of foot straight from the gate–also works against him, because jockey Victor Espinoza is constantly having to throttle him back after the colt gets too anxious too early in his races. After his Santa Anita Derby win, Espinoza commented that he had to “jerk him one time, a bit harder than I wanted” to get Gormley to settle. While that tactic was effective in a race that set up perfectly (a three-way speed duel paving the way for a slowly run stretch drive), good luck trying to execute a similar maneuver heading into the always-dicey first turn at Churchill in a 20-horse cavalry charge. Gormley tries hard and has two Grade I route wins to show for it. But neither of those victories stamped him as an intimidating, elite-level foe.

7. (6) BATTLE OF MIDWAY (c, 3, Smart Strike–Rigoletta, by Concerto)

'TDN Rising Star' O-Fox Hill Farms, Inc. B-Thor-Bred Stables, LLC (KY). T-Jerry Hollendorfer. Sales History: $410,000 Ylg '15 FTSAUG. Lifetime Record: GISP, 4-2-1-1, $290,000.

Last Start: 2nd, GI Santa Anita Derby, SA, Apr. 8

Next Start: GI Kentucky Derby, CD, May 6

Thoro-Graph sheet, Equineline PPs

KY Derby Points: 40

To win the Kentucky Derby, Battle of Midway would have to buck a both historical trend (not starting at age two) and a recent numbers knock (he was one of the pacemakers in the low-speed-figure Santa Anita Derby). Yet a potentially juicy starting mutuel makes this 'TDN Rising Star' an attractive long-shot play if you're willing to view him as a raw, still-developing talent owned and trained by patient connections known for entering horses where they have realistic chances at success. Leaving the Santa Anita Derby internal fractions and final-time enigma out of the equation for the moment, Battle of Midway should get credit for running a better-than-it-looks race at nine furlongs: He broke well, secured the rail while pressured in a three-way duel, outlasted two rivals on the lead, and retained enough kick to gamely try and match strides with eventual winner Gormley. Depending on how the Derby draw shakes out and how coy rival riders want to be with other speed-oriented mounts, it doesn't require a flight of fancy to envision Battle of Midway breaking on or near the lead in the Derby, fending off some pesky mid-race challengers, and still being in the hunt turning for home.

8. (7) ROYAL MO (c, Uncle MoRoyal Irish Lass, by Saint Ballado)

O-Mr. & Mrs. Jerome S. Moss. B-Brandywine Farm (KY). T-John A. Shirreffs. Sales History: $300,000 Ylg '15 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: GSW & GISP, 6-2-2-1, $267,200.

Last Start: 3rd, GI Santa Anita Derby, SA, Apr. 8

Accomplishments Include: 1st, GIII Robert B. Lewis S., SA, Feb. 4

Next start: Possible for GI Kentucky Derby, CD, May 6

Thoro-Graph sheet, Equineline PPs

KY Derby Points: 30

Royal Mo remains on the outside looking in points-wise, leaving his Derby status up in the air. The combination of ground that he lost when parked widest from post 13 in the Santa Anita Derby coupled with jockey Gary Stevens having the whip knocked out of his hands in deep stretch contributed to Royal Mo getting beat by a length for all the money–and in earning those precious extra qualifying points that would have come with a better placing. “He's got an unbelievable high cruising speed,” said Stevens. “Royal Mo reminded me a lot of [1997 Derby winner] Silver Charm. He's got fight … I really like what I felt, a lot like I did with Silver Charm. I lost a battle but I might have won the war, because he put in a hell of an effort, got a lot of fitness, and a lot of schooling out of it.”

9. (8) PRACTICAL JOKE (c, Into MischiefHalo Humor, by Distorted Humor)

O-Klaravich Stables, Inc. & William H. Lawrence. B-Whispering Oaks (KY). T-Chad C. Brown. Sales History: $135,000 Ylg '15 KEEJAN; $240,000 Ylg '15 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: MGISW, 6-3-2-0, $1,015,800.

Last Start: 2nd, GII Toyota Blue Grass S., KEE, Apr. 8

Accomplishments Include: 1st, GI Hopeful S., SAR, Sept. 5; 1st, GI Champagne S., BEL, Oct. 8.

Next Start: GI Kentucky Derby, CD, May 6

Thoro-Graph sheet, Equineline PPs

KY Derby Points: 74

Practical Joke is one of only three horses ranked on the current TDN Top 20 who participated in the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile (Classic Empire and Gormley are the other two). Thanks to patient handling and a generous winter break, his campaign has stretched from winning two Grade I races as a 2-year-old to finishing second in a pair of Grade IIs so far this spring. But it's been since Oct. 8 that Practical Joke last actually visited the winner's circle, a winless streak that is longest among the top 20 points-qualified Derby horses. And Practical Joke has never won a two-turn race anywhere, at any level, and that hole in his résumé looms as an extremely difficult obstacle to overcome in the 10-furlong Derby. As the first Saturday in May draws near, perhaps it says something about the lack of assertiveness within the division as a whole that Practical Joke has consistently been ranked in the middle tier of TDN Derby horses for the better part of three months. He hasn't really made a big, eye-opening jump forward, nor has he regressed. Yet not very many contending horses have leapfrogged him either.

10. (9) J BOYS ECHO (c, MineshaftLetgomyecho, by Menifee)

'TDN Rising Star' O-Albaugh Family Stable. B-Betz/Blackburn/J. Betz/Ramsby/CNHHHNK (KY). T-Dale L. Romans. Sales History: $485,000 Ylg '15 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: GSW, 6-2-1-1, $349,600.

Last Start: 4th, GII Toyota Blue Grass S., KEE, Apr. 8

Accomplishments Include: 1st, GIII Gotham S., AQU, Mar. 4

Next Start: GI Kentucky Derby, CD, May 6

Thoro-Graph sheet, Equineline PPs, Caulfield on J Boys Echo

KY Derby Points: 63

On the plus side, 'TDN Rising Star' J Boys Echo has already proven he can post a triple-digit Beyer Speed Figure (102 in his Gotham S. win), and he has overcome adversity on several occasions, including a better-than-it-looks debut over the Churchill strip on Oct 2. On the negative side, he's 2-for-6 lifetime and showed no signs of forward progression in his final Derby prep race, a fourth-place Blue Grass S. try. Nevertheless, I'm inclined to tout him as an under-the-radar Derby dark horse based on a gut feeling that he will one day (soon?) put everything together in smashing fashion, building off his five straight route races and capitalizing on the fact that trainer Romans will be operating out of his Barn 4 home base at Churchill, where he has a knack for getting horses to run well at this time of year. Despite my subdued enthusiasm for his chances, I am starting to wonder if J Boys Echo is just one of those horses who is a magnet for finding trouble on the track (in the Blue Grass he got bounced in mild traffic then got fanned five wide), which is not what you want in a 20-horse Derby. As it stands now, he's just another wild card in a race that is flush with them already–but at least he'll be a nice price in the betting.

11. (10) TAPWRIT (c, TapitAppealing Zophie, by Successful Appeal)

O-Bridlewood Farm, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners & Robert V. LaPenta. B-My Meadowview, LLC (KY). T-Todd A. Pletcher. Sales History: $1,200,000 Ylg '15 FTSAUG. Lifetime Record: GSW, 6-3-1-0, $343,902.

Last Start: 5th, GII Toyota Blue Grass S., KEE, Apr. 8

Accomplishments Include: 1st, GII Tampa Bay Derby, TAM, Mar. 11, 1st, Pulpit S., GP, Dec. 10

Next Start: Possible for GI Kentucky Derby, CD, May 6

Thoro-Graph sheet, Equineline PPs

KY Derby Points: 54

Like McCraken, Practical Joke, and J Boys Echo ranked above him, Tapwrit needs to shrug off an inexplicably blah Blue Grass S. effort and rebound when it counts. “I was disappointed in his effort in the Blue Grass,” said trainer Pletcher. “He didn't get away from the gate well, kind of put himself in a difficult position going into the first turn. He was hung out a little bit wide on both turns at Keeneland, which generally is not an effective way to run over the surface there. Also, he came away basically last, going into the first turn and behind some pretty moderate fractions. So, you know, I think it was an off race for him, an off day, a dull performance. Maybe he didn't like the track at Keeneland. We've also seen over the years, sometimes having a poor race in your final prep doesn't always mean that you're not going to run well on the big day … The good news is physically, he came out of it well and we'll try to work on a few things and hope he likes the surface at Churchill. But we're still confident that he has more ability than what we saw the other day and, hopefully, we can get him back in the right direction.”

12. (12) BATTALION RUNNER (c, 3, Unbridled's Song–Tamboz, by Tapit)

'TDN Rising Star' O-St. Elias Stable. B-Dell Ridge Farm, LLC (KY). T-Todd A. Pletcher. Sales History: $700,000 Ylg '15 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: GSP, 4-2-2-0, $200,600.

Last Start: 2nd, GII Wood Memorial S., AQU, Apr. 8

Next Start: Possible for GI Kentucky Derby, May 6

Thoro-Graph sheet, Equineline PPs

'TDN Rising Star' Battalion Runner might be lightly raced (only four starts, and just two of them in 2017), but it's to his credit that in his first try at nine furlongs (and coming off a 64-day layoff), he was capable of sparring with the more dominant Irish War Cry in the Wood Memorial before being overpowered inside the final furlong. “I think he ran a credible race,” said trainer Pletcher. “He had no excuse. Irish War Cry was better on the day. But we're thinking if he comes back and trains well and takes to the Churchill surface, you can make a reasonable argument that he could improve.” Look for a tighter, slightly sharper colt who is likely to offer good value in the Derby; upset potential here for sure.

13. (13) GUNNEVERA (c, Dialed InUnbridled Rage, by Unbridled)

O-Peacock Racing Stables, LLC. B-Brandywine Farm & Stephen Upchurch (KY). T-Antonio Sano. Sales History: $16,000 Ylg '15 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: MGSW, 8-4-2-0, $1,075,200.

Last Start: 3rd, GI Xpressbet Florida Derby, GP, Apr. 1

Accomplishments Include: 1st, GII Xpressbet Fountain of Youth S., GP, Mar. 4; 1st, GIII Delta Downs Jackpot S., DED, Nov. 19; 1st, GII Saratoga Special S., SAR, Aug. 14

Next Start: GI Kentucky Derby, CD, May 6

Thoro-Graph sheet, Equineline PPs, Caulfield on Gunnevera

KY Derby Points: 84

Last past the Twin Spires the first time but motoring home in front the second time down the Churchill homestretch? That will be the Derby game plan for this deep closer. He's got the attitude, the stamina, and the pedigree to excel at ten furlongs. And he's already finished in front of several higher-ranked horses on this list. So why the mid-list placement within the Top 20? It's simply because Gunnevera is so much at the mercy of the pace that will be established in front of him. Not only does Gunnevera need the fractions to be as swift as possible, but his style dictates that he will very likely have to loop the entire group on the far turn to get into contending position, meaning there are too many important in-race variables out his control to count on him reliably as a win threat. Use Gunnevera underneath in vertical wagers? Absolutely. Single him in horizontals or bet him flat to win? You're taking your chances.

14. (N/A) CONQUEST MO MONEY (c, Uncle MoStirring, by Seeking the Gold)

O-Judge Lanier Racing. B-Twin Creeks Farm (NY). T-Miguel L. Hernandez. Sales History: $150,000 Ylg '15 FTNAUG; $8,500 2yo '16 KEENOV. Lifetime Record: SW & GISP, 5-3-2-0, $508,900.

Last Start: 2nd, GI Arkansas Derby, OP, Apr. 15

Accomplishments Include: 1st, Mine That Bird Derby, SUN, Feb. 26, 1st, Riley Allison S., SUN, Jan. 29

Next Start: Possible for GI Kentucky Derby, CD, May 6

Thoro-Graph sheet, Equineline PPs

KY Derby Points: 60

To be truly appealing, every Derby needs a likeable outsider who was a low-budget auction buy or hails from an off-the-beaten-path racing circuit, and with Conquest Mo Money you get both underdog storylines rolled into one. This $8,500 dispersal purchase (a New York-bred competing in New Mexico), outran his odds with a gutsy Arkansas Derby second that now has his owners considering supplementing the $200,000 Triple Crown late nomination fee to get him into the Derby. At Oaklawn, he established good position four wide and in hand, backed off a beat midway down the backstretch, lost and re-took the lead, fought and brushed with Malagacy (Shackleford) off the turn and through the lane, drifted out despite right-handed encouragement, and was a jump from winning when Classic Empire steamed by him in the shadow of the wire. Although he did not race at age two, Conquest Mo Money has five route races under his belt since Jan. 6, beating up on lesser Sunland Park foes before back-to-back seconds in graded stakes. He's aggressive on the lead but not all-out crazy to attain the front; the toughness he showed in the Arkansas Derby will stand him in good stead in the 20-horse mash-up in Louisville should his connections pay big bucks for the privilege of starting.

15. (11) MALAGACY (c, ShacklefordClassiest Gem, by Dehere)

'TDN Rising Star' O-Sumaya U.S. Stable. B-John Trumbulovic (KY). T-Todd A. Pletcher. Sales History: $45,000 Wlg '14 KEENOV; $130,000 Ylg '15 OBSAUG; $190,000 2yo '16 EASMAY. Lifetime Record: GSW, 4-3-0-0, $616,800.

Last Start: 5th, GI Arkansas Derby, OP, Apr. 15

Accomplishments Include: 1st, GII Rebel S., OP, Mar. 18

Next Start: Possible for GI Kentucky Derby, CD, May 6

Thoro-Graph sheet, Equineline PPs

KY Derby Points: 50

Malagacy's fifth in the Arkansas Derby does not look all that promising until you factor in that he was five wide from the 12 hole, always in the hunt while attending a decent pace three wide down the back straight, and led between calls at three separate points in the race. He did shift and drift late in the lane when hitting an invisible stamina wall, which does not portend well for trying the Derby at 10 furlongs, but this 'TDN Rising Star' was not disgraced in defeat. “I felt a little disappointed about the post; they didn't give me a chance to load the horse,” said jockey Javier Castellano. “As soon as he loaded they broke out of the gate. I think he lost a little of momentum there. I had to use a little bit to get him into position. He gave me a good run. He is a fighter, he fought all the way to the end. I mean I am not disappointed at all, he gave me great effort and I am so proud of the horse.” Trainer Pletcher indicated Malagacy would ship back to Keeneland and wait to see how the colt recovers before deciding on whether the Derby is a go.

16. (16) HENCE (c, Street BossFloating Island, by A.P. Indy) O/B-Calumet Farm (KY). T-Steven M. Asmussen. Lifetime Record: GSW, 6-2-1-1, $542,601.

Last Start: 1st, GIII Sunland Derby, SUN, Mar. 26

Next Start: GI Kentucky Derby, CD, May 6

Thoro-Graph sheet, Equineline PPs

KY Derby Points: 50

Hence and Gunnevera will likely get acquainted in the Derby–they'll likely be bringing up the rear of the brigade early while their jockeys plot a course for the cleanest trip around (or through) traffic. Hence will be fresh for the Derby coming off a six-week break, and he gets a slight boost in the rankings this week because his Sunland Derby win, which last week was flattered by fourth-place finisher Irap's Blue Grass tally, has been further brightened by runner-up Conquest Mo Money's subsequent long-shot second in the Arkansas Derby. As far back as age two, this colt has caught some decent company, debuting in a deep Saratoga maiden race and also running into a sharp field at Keeneland. Although he's seemingly settled in as an off-the-pace type, it's worth noting that in Hence's only career try at Churchill Downs, he did flash speed, and was on the lead going a one-turn mile, only beaten a neck.

17. (15) IRAP (c, TiznowSilken Cat, by Storm Cat)

O-Reddam Racing LLC. B-Aaron & Marie Jones (KY). T-Doug F. O'Neill. Sales History: $140,000 RNA Ylg '15 KEESEP; $300,000 2yo '16 OBSMAR. Lifetime Record: GISW, 8-1-3-1, $772,600.

Last Start: 1st, GII Toyota Blue Grass S., KEE, Apr. 8

Next Start: GI Kentucky Derby, CD, May 6

Thoro-Graph sheet, Equineline PPs

KY Derby Points: 113

Irap required an incredible alignment of circumstances to win the Blue Grass S. He needed to run the race of his life, and he also needed four horses ranked much higher than him on the Derby trail to all run flat, non-threatening races. That unlikely scenario materialized, and if you could sniff it out, you were rewarded with a 31-1 return for your handicapping prowess. There are some things to like about Irap, though, besides his newly acquired forward momentum at the right time of year: His winning 93 Beyer Figure matches up with several higher ranked contenders (including Girvin, whose last two wins were 93 and 91). Irap also sports a solid foundation of seven consecutive route races going back to last fall, including two tries at nine furlongs. And, of course, there are his winning connections, as the owner/trainer combo of Reddam/O'Neill scored in last year's Derby with Nyquist (Uncle Mo). This year they won't be heading to Louisville with an undefeated favorite, but with an unheralded long shot.

18. (17) PATCH (Union RagsWindyindy, by A.P. Indy)

'TDN Rising Star' O/B-Calumet Farm (KY). T-Todd A. Pletcher. Lifetime Record: GSP, 3-1-2-0.

Last Start: 2nd, GII Louisiana Derby, FG, Apr. 1

Next Start: GI Kentucky Derby, CD, May 6

Thoro-Graph sheet, Equineline PPs

KY Derby Points: 40

It's on to Churchill Downs for 'TDN Rising Star' Patch, who has three lifetime starts and no wins beyond the maiden ranks, but ran a solid second behind Girvin in the Louisiana Derby. Trainer Pletcher has saddled two of the last three horses who tried to win the Kentucky Derby off of just three starts: Materiality (Afleet Alex) ran sixth in 2015 and Dunkirk (Unbridled's Song) was eleventh in 2009. For a longer historical perspective, consider that from 1900 to the present, only 15 horses total have entered the Derby off just three starts. The only winners were Big Brown (Boundary) in 2008, and the filly Regret in 1915.

19. (18) STATE OF HONOR (c, To Honor and ServeState Cup, by Elusive Quality)

O-Conrad Farms. B-Manfred & Penny Conrad (ON). T-Mark E. Casse. Lifetime Record: GISP, 10-1-4-2, $382,548.

Last Start: 2nd, GI Xpressbet Florida Derby, GP, Apr. 1

Next Start: GI Kentucky Derby, CD, May 6

Thoro-Graph sheet, Equineline PPs

KY Derby Points: 62

State of Honor owns a combined six seconds and thirds from 10 lifetime starts and recently finished second to the likes of higher-ranked Always Dreaming and Tapwrit, and he was third behind McCraken three starts back. He never settled when wrangled back off the pace in the Florida Derby, and he's going to have to learn to chill out to run an effective, winning race. Assistant trainer Norm Casse said that because State of Honor trained and raced primarily over Woodbine's synthetic Tapeta surface as a 2-year-old, it's taking him awhile to come around on dirt. “Horses that are primarily based on the synthetic track need time to acclimate to the dirt surface,” Casse said. “We really thought State of Honor was a true dirt horse after his first breeze at Palm Meadows. We have been treating every race in his 3-year-old campaign as a stepping stone to the first Saturday in May, and he has improved in each start.”

20. (20) THUNDER SNOW (IRE) (c, Helmet (Aus)Eastern Joy {GB}, by Dubai Destination)

O-Godolphin Racing LLC. B-Darley (IRE). T-Saeed bin Suroor. Lifetime Record: G1SW, 8-4-2-0, $1,627,692.

Last Start: 1st, G2 UAE Derby, MEY, Mar. 25.

Accomplishments Include: 1st, G1 Criterium International, STC, Oct. 30, 1st, UAE 2000 Guineas, MEY, Feb. 11.

Next Start: Possible for GI Kentucky Derby, CD, May 6

Thoro-Graph sheet, Equineline PPs

KY Derby Points: 100

It's difficult to gauge where Thunder Snow, who has raced in Britain, France and Dubai, fits with the United States-based runners should his connections opt to use the 100 qualifying points he's garnered overseas to enter the Derby. He was the only Group 1 winner in the field when he scored in the UAE Derby, and in that race he got spooked by the large infield video board during pre-race warmups, had difficulty handling the turns, and shied when confronted with starting gate marks on the muddy track. “I was trying to get him concentrated but at the 200-meter mark he saw the marks on the ground from the gates and he got scared about it, changed legs and he hung,” jockey Christophe Soumillon said after the win. “I think he showed he was just a bit immature. It's always difficult to say if he can handle the Kentucky Derby. You never know how good the competitors will be overseas, but he is a great horse and I also love him on the turf. He is so versatile.” Unfortunately for Thunder Snow, the Kentucky Derby is not run on the turf, it's a 20-horse stampede with turns that are tighter than Meydan's, the infield is chock full of potential distractions, and the competition will definitely be far tougher than what he encountered in the UAE Derby.