Principe Guilherme winning an allowance race at Fair Grounds (Hodges Photography)

Principe Guilherme winning an allowance race at Fair Grounds (Hodges Photography)

Well, 2018 has arrived, the juvenile stars of last year are officially three years old, and it’s time for things to get serious on the road to the 2018 Kentucky Derby.

Actually, the road would already be underway if cold weather hadn’t led to the cancellation of the Jerome Stakes (gr. III) on New Year’s Day at Aqueduct. The race is expected to be rescheduled and held at a later date, but with more cold weather expected in New York, the new date of the race has not been announced.

Instead, the first Kentucky Derby prep race of 2018 will be the Sham Stakes (gr. III) on January 6th at Santa Anita. According to the Santa Anita Stable Notes by Ed Golden, a small but promising field is expected for the one-mile race, including my #8-ranked Derby contender Shivermetimbers. The graded stakes-placed sprinter Mourinho, Zuma Beach Stakes winner My Boy Jack, Gold Rush Stakes winner City Plan, and the stakes-placed Ohio-bred Here Is Happy are the other expected starters as of January 1st.

The January 13th Lecomte Stakes (gr. III) at Fair Grounds is also shaping up to be an interesting and competitive race. In fact, it could potentially have implications for both the Kentucky Derby and the Kentucky Oaks, for the Daily Racing Form recently reported that the Mark Casse-trained Demoiselle Stakes (gr. II) winner Wonder Gadot might start in the race. The unbeaten Principe Guilherme, ranked #5 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10, is also expected to run.

Although my rankings didn’t change over the quiet weekend of racing, here’s how I rank the top Derby contenders at the start of 2018….

  1. Good Magic

Everything about Good Magic’s pedigree hints that he’s the type of horse that will get better as he gets older, which is why it’s so exciting that he accomplished as much as he did as a juvenile. Palace Malice and Exaggerator, two other sons of Curlin, parlayed decent two-year-old form into classic victories, and if Good Magic progresses the same way, he could be something special.

  1. Bolt d’Oro

Bolt d’Oro’s pedigree certainly isn’t lacking in stamina. His sire, Medaglia d’Oro, won the Travers Stakes (gr. I) going ten furlongs and was second in the twelve-furlong Belmont Stakes (gr. I). His dam, Globe Trot, was a three-time winner going a mile. His broodmare sire, A.P. Indy, won the 1992 Belmont Stakes and is renowned as a source of stamina in modern pedigrees. Classic distances shouldn’t be any issue for Bolt d’Oro.

  1. McKinzie

The February 3rd Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. III) at Santa Anita seems like a logical target for McKinzie’s seasonal debut, though the February 19th Southwest Stakes (gr. III) at Oaklawn Park is another possibility given Baffert’s success with three-year-olds at Oaklawn through the years.

  1. Le Vent Se Leve

At this point, it’s almost impossible to guess how he might stack up against the best three-year-olds in North America, and we probably won’t get much of an idea unless he takes on international competition in the UAE Derby (UAE-II) at Meydan in Dubai. But he’s certainly made a great impression during his first three starts.

  1. Principe Guilherme

On December 31st, he returned to the work tab for the first time since his Fair Grounds allowance win, breezing five furlongs in a quick 1:00 3/5.

  1. Solomini

Solomini is also back on the work tab, going four furlongs in an easy :49 flat on December 28th at Santa Anita.

  1. Catholic Boy

Given how slow Aqueduct has been playing this winter, it’s eye-catching that Catholic Boy was able to run the final furlong of the nine-furlong Remsen Stakes (gr. II) in :12.85, a respectable fraction for a two-year-old running such a lengthy distance over any track, let alone a slow one.

  1. Shivermetimbers

His sharp maiden win at Del Mar was flattered when the runner-up, Peace, came back to win a similar event on December 30th at Santa Anita. Shivermetimbers wrapped up his serious preparations for the Sham Stakes (gr. III) by breezing four furlongs in :48.80 on January 1st.

  1. Enticed

Homebred horses have enjoyed remarkable recent success in the Kentucky Derby, winning nine of the last fourteen editions of the race. Enticed, bred and owned by Godolphin, is among the prominent homebred contenders for the 2018 Derby.

  1. Nero

He turned in yet another workout from the starting gate on December 30th, going five furlongs in 1:00 4/5 at Santa Anita. The son of Pioneerof the Nile should turn up in the entries soon.

It could also pay to keep an eye on Ax Man, a Bob Baffert-trained colt that won his debut on January 1st at Santa Anita by 9 ½ lengths. The son of Misremembered clocked six furlongs in a quick 1:09.43 and could have a very bright future.