Mourinho (right) leads Combatant (white and black silks) into the homestretch of the Smarty Jones Stakes - Coady Photography

Mourinho (right) leads Combatant (white and black silks) into the homestretch of the Smarty Jones Stakes – Coady Photography

Last Saturday, two horses listed in my weekly Kentucky Derby Top 10 competed in graded stakes races.

One—Catholic Boy—was beaten a half-length in the Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III), an official prep race on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. The other—Nero—was beaten 3 ¼ lengths in the seven-furlong San Vicente Stakes (gr. II).

While it would be logical to assume that Catholic Boy’s effort was superior, I’ve decided to take a slightly contrary approach and drop Catholic Boy for the time being while moving Nero up a couple of spots. Though the Sam F. Davis was run in a stakes-record time, from a visual perspective the race didn’t look quite as strong, and as you’ll read below I was impressed with Nero’s effort in the San Vicente.

Here’s how I rank the top contenders this week….

  1. Good Magic

Continued his preparations for the Fountain of Youth (gr. II) by breezing five furlongs in an easy 1:01.40 on Saturday at Palm Meadows, working in company with his stakes-winning stablemate Economic Model.

  1. McKinzie

Worked in company with Downtowner on Saturday and went five furlongs in 1:00.20, the third-fastest of 55 morning works at that distance.

  1. Bolt d’Oro

Posted his third workout of the year on February 8th, picking up the pace with a half-mile in :47.80 at Santa Anita. Although it was a solo workout, he actually caught up with two other horses coming off the turn, but responded nicely to his rider’s commands and didn’t overexert himself to pass the horses in front of him.

  1. Audible

The big question with this colt is whether he has the pedigree to be a factor at the ten-furlong distance of the Kentucky Derby. Essentially, his pedigree is geared toward shorter distances; his sire, Into Mischief, is best known for siring sprinters and milers, while his dam—Blue Devil Bel—was a tried-and-true sprinter whose seven victories all came at six furlongs or less. Then again, Audible’s half-brother Indygo Devil did win going a mile on turf, and Into Mischief is a half-brother to the two-time Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Beholder, so there’s a chance that Audible has inherited enough stamina to see out the Derby distance.

  1. Instilled Regard

He’s drawn post position five in Saturday’s $400,000 Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) at Fair Grounds and is the 8-5 morning line favorite. He’ll be facing a slightly tougher field than the one he beat in the Lecomte Stakes (gr. III) last month, though his decisive victory that day suggests he’ll be tough to deny in the Risen Star.

  1. Solomini

Breezed another half-mile on February 10th, this time working on the inside of stablemate Samdar and getting the distance in :48.40. His lead change turning for home was smoother than last week and he did “win” the work while under a bit of urging to finish.

  1. Magnum Moon

Worked a half-mile in a bullet :48.73 on February 8th at Palm Beach Downs, his second breeze following his impressive debut win. He’s nominated to the Southwest Stakes (gr. III) at Oaklawn Park, though that would be a big step up in class and distance off his maiden win.

  1. Nero

To put it simply, I loved his runner-up effort in the San Vicente at Santa Anita. In a performance that was a huge step up off his maiden win, Nero tracked very fast fractions of :22.00 and :44.25 while racing wide, and under the circumstances he had every excuse to throw in the towel—fellow pacesetters Ax Man and Mr. Jagermeister retreated to be beaten 16 lengths and 22 ½ lengths, respectively. But despite being part of the fast pace, and despite being passed by the late-running Kanthaka turning for home, Nero found another gear and gamely chased after Kanthaka through the homestretch, finishing just 3 ¼ lengths behind at the wire while pulling 12 lengths clear of the rest of the field. It almost appeared as though Nero was reluctant to go by the pacesetters until passed by Kanthaka, at which point he exploded and left the rest of the field in his wake. This was a big step in the right direction for Nero, and I’m excited to see where he runs next.

  1. Free Drop Billy

His pedigree is an interesting one to analyze. There are plenty of stamina influences on hand—his sire, Union Rags, won the Belmont Stakes, while his dam, Trensa, was runner-up in a graded stakes races going 11 furlongs on turf. But “turf” is the other key part of the equation, as Free Drop Billy’s pedigree actually suggests that he could be a force to reckon with on grass—after all, his half-brother Hawkbill is a Group 1 winner in England, and Free Drop Billy’s broodmare sire, Giant’s Causeway, was a top-notch turf horse in Europe and has sired his fair share of talented turf runners.

  1. Combatant

He’s flying under the radar following a pair of second-place finishes in the Remington Springboard Mile Stakes and the Smarty Jones Stakes, but he’s improved with every start thus far and actually ran a huge race in the Smarty Jones, gamely chasing after the victorious Mourinho through the length of the stretch despite being disadvantaged by a slow pace. I think we could see another step forward from Combatant in the Southwest Stakes.