Bolt d'Oro (left) and McKinzie battle to the wire in the San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) - © Benoit Photo

Bolt d’Oro (left) and McKinzie battle to the wire in the San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) – © Benoit Photo

While it can be difficult to determine the strength of a given crop of three-year-olds until the year is over and the whole racing season can be reviewed, early indications suggest that this year’s Kentucky Derby contenders are a very deep and talented group.

There’s Quip, who recently returned from a layoff to win the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) in determined fashion. There’s Flameaway, a two-time graded stakes winner that overcame a slow start to finish second in the Tampa Bay Derby. There’s My Boy Jack, the late-running winner of the Southwest Stakes (gr. III); Mendelssohn, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (gr. I) and Patton Stakes; Gold Town, an effortless multiple stakes winner in Dubai… and these are just a few of the horses that are not ranked on my list of Top 10 Kentucky Derby contenders!

With less than two months remaining until the Derby, here’s how I rank the contenders….

  1. Justify

Could he simply be a superstar in the making? His victory in a one-mile allowance race on March 11th at Santa Anita was terrific, not just because he won by 6 ½ effortless lengths, but because he ran legitimately fast while doing so. Over a muddy, sealed track that wasn’t playing all that fast, Justify settled a couple of lengths behind fractions of :22.42 and :45.10 before unleashing an eye-catching move to run past the pace-setting Calexman and clock six furlongs in 1:09.64, a terrific fraction for a turn-turn route race. At that point, the race was essentially over, as Justify cruised home while eased up to stop the clock in 1:35.73, earning a 104 BRIS speed figure. With no racing experience as a two-year-old, winning the Derby will require him to break the legendary “Apollo Curse,” but Justify might just have the raw talent to pull it off.

  1. McKinzie

It’s hard to split McKinzie and Bolt d’Oro following their epic battle in the San Felipe Stakes (gr. II), but I’ll give a slight edge to McKinzie since he did battle back to cross the wire first after losing the lead at the top of the stretch.

  1. Bolt d’Oro

Ran a huge race off the layoff in the San Felipe Stakes, tracking McKinzie’s every move before pouncing into contention on the far turn and crossing the wire just a head behind McKinzie despite being interfered with late in the race. He appears to have picked up right where he left off last fall and could be set for another huge year, assuming that running such a hard race off a layoff doesn’t take too much out of him.

  1. Good Magic

Hansen, Shanghai Bobby, Classic Empire, and now Good Magic. Over the last eight years, these champion two-year-olds and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winners all suffered defeats at Gulfstream Park in their three-year-old debuts. Notably, the first three all fell short in their bids for Kentucky Derby glory; can Good Magic rebound and achieve what his predecessors could not?

  1. Audible

Fired off another sharp workout on March 10th, going five furlongs in 1:00.99 at Palm Beach Downs. Audible worked in company with his four-year-old stakes-winning stablemate Outplay, and while he dropped behind Outplay around the final turn, he finished strongly in the homestretch to cross the wire in front before galloping-out nicely.

  1. Magnum Moon

Turned in the bullet time for five furlongs on March 10th at Palm Beach Downs when he worked in company with his graded stakes-placed stablemate Ivy Bell and clocked the distance in 1:00.79. We’ll learn a lot more about Magnum Moon’s talent and potential when he faces a quality field in the $900,000 Rebel Stakes (gr. II) on Saturday at Oaklawn.

  1. Solomini

Wrapped up his preparations for the Rebel Stakes by working five furlongs in a bullet :59 flat on March 10th at Santa Anita, the fastest of 61 morning workouts at that distance. In contrast to many of his previous workouts, Solomini breezed inside of his workmate this time around and changed leads much more smoothly before leaving his workmate behind and galloping out with authority. He looks poised for a big effort on Saturday.

  1. Bravazo

With the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) coming up on March 24th, Bravazo picked up his training with five furlongs in a bullet 1:00 flat on Saturday at Oaklawn Park. With the development that Withers Stakes (gr. III) winner Avery Island is likely to miss the Louisiana Derby, Bravazo’s task appears to have gotten a bit easier.

  1. Nero

The spacing of his recent workouts hasn’t been very consistent—he breezed on February 22nd, March 5th, and March 10th—but he should be ready to run again soon and I’m stubbornly keeping him in my Top 10 based on the belief that we’ve yet to see anywhere near his best run. He’s nominated to the March 25th Sunland Derby (gr. III) and I’m hopeful we’ll see him turn up there.

  1. Enticed

He put his disappointing comeback in the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. II) behind him by scoring an authoritative win in the Gotham Stakes (gr. III) at Aqueduct last week, rallying from a few lengths off the pace to win going away. It seems evident that he doesn’t care for racing inside of horses, which could be something to keep in mind down the road, but with two graded stakes wins under his belt already, Enticed has to be viewed as a major player for the Kentucky Derby.