Keeler Johnson's Kentucky Derby Top 10 -- 1/17/18

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January 17th, 2018

Following a busy week that featured three Kentucky Derby prep races and a full slate of competitive maiden and allowance events, there’s plenty to digest on the road to the Derby!

Needless to say, my Kentucky Derby Top 10 underwent some significant changes over the weekend. Newcomers to the list include Instilled Regard, a decisive winner of the Lecomte Stakes (gr. III) at Fair Grounds (click here to read a recap), and Noble Indy, who scored a hard-fought victory in a quality allowance race at Gulfstream Park.

To make way for these newcomers, a couple of horses had to be dropped from my list. First up was Principe Guilherme, who ran second behind Instilled Regard in the Lecomte. I was a little disappointed that he was unable to give Instilled Regard a challenge, but to his credit he ran well despite enduring a wide trip while completely changing his running style. He remains a candidate to rejoin my list in the future.

Also dropping out of my Top 10 this week is Le Vent Se Leve, impressive winner of the Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun in Japan. Unfortunately, Le Vent Se Leve has been dealing with a leg issue and his status is currently up in the air, so for the time being I have removed him from consideration.

The battle for the #10 slot was contentious this week with the Jerome Stakes winner Firenze Fire, the gate-to-wire Smarty Jones Stakes (gr. III) winner Mourinho, and the eye-catching Oaklawn allowance winner Bravazo all in the mix, but I chose to keep Nero in the final spot following his solid maiden victory at Santa Anita. Running for the first time since losing focus and giving up a certain win in his debut last August, Nero tracked a quick pace while racing very wide and just got up to edge stablemate Curly’s Rocket while given a very patient and conservative ride from Victor Espinoza.

Here are my complete rankings….
  1. Good Magic
No one has faced tougher competition so far than Good Magic, who has already beaten Bolt d’Oro, Solomini, Firenze Fire, Free Drop Billy, and Enticed, to name just a few. He’ll likely retain the status of Kentucky Derby favorite until someone beats him, which might not happen.
  1. McKinzie
The strength of the Los Alamitos Futurity (gr. I) was further demonstrated when Instilled Regard came back to score a convincing win in the Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) at Fair Grounds. The California-based three-year-olds appear to be a deep and talented group, and McKinzie is certainly among the best at this point.
  1. Bolt d’Oro
He still hasn’t posted a timed workout this year, but is reportedly on track for the March 3rd San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita.
  1. Instilled Regard
I loved his powerful finish in the Lecomte, which was a nice step forward off his game effort in the Los Alamitos Futurity.
  1. Solomini
He came down with a fever just before the weekend and will reportedly skip the February 3rd Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. II) as a result. Any setback on the Derby trail is less than ideal, but since the race is nearly four months away, Solomini still has time to run in a couple of prep races and this shouldn’t seriously affect his chances of making the Derby.
  1. Mask
He could be poised for a big class test if he meets up with Instilled Regard in the February 17th Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) at Fair Grounds, where he would likely face a larger field with more pace than the field he defeated so easily in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes.
  1. Catholic Boy
Finally returned to the work tab by breezing four furlongs in :49.20 on January 12th at Bridlewood Farm.
  1. Noble Indy
Noble Indy joins my list after bringing his record to a perfect 2-for-2 with a gutsy allowance optional claiming win on January 11th at Gulfstream. The son of Take Charge Indy tracked the well-regarded Mississippi through fractions of :23.82 and :47.33 before taking the lead turning for home and prevailing in a long homestretch battle to win by three-quarters of a length, with the rest of the field more than six lengths behind. The final time was a quick 1:42.52, and Noble Indy looks like a bright prospect for the two-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Todd Pletcher.
  1. Enticed
Breezed a half-mile in :49.20 on January 12th at Palm Meadows. He and stablemate Avery Island are scheduled to make their seasonal debuts on February 3rd, with one scheduled to run in the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III) at Gulfstream and the other expected to ship north to Aqueduct for the Withers Stakes (gr. III).
  1. Nero
As Victor Espinoza mentioned in an interview on TVG, Nero is a tricky horse to ride because he has a tendency to slow down in the homestretch, which cost him the win in his debut and made it difficult to guide him to victory on Saturday. But the son of Pioneerof the Nile is clearly talented, and if he can put it all together mentally, there’s a chance he could turn out to be something special.