Keeler Johnson's Kentucky Derby Top 10: Another Twist in the Trail

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February 19th, 2019

There might be a new name atop the 2019 Kentucky Derby qualification leaderboard, but the top six names in my remain unchanged.

That’s not to say that there aren’t some changes further down on my list. War of Will moved to the top of the qualification leaderboard by virtue of his victory in the Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) and also moved up a slot on my list, while the impressive El Camino Real Derby Anothertwistafate is joining the fray for the first time.

With 74 days until the Run for the Roses, here’s how I rank the top contenders ….
  1. Game Winner

Turned in another reasonably easy five-furlong workout on February 13, going the distance in 1:01.60, which was the median time of the morning. He’s still tentatively targeting the March 2 San Felipe Stakes, but… more on that in a moment.
  1. Improbable

Just based off the length, frequency, and raw times of their workouts, you would think that Improbable is the reigning two-year-old champ rather than Game Winner. Improbable has been training up a storm, most recently going six furlongs in 1:12.80 on February 13, and truthfully I wonder if he won’t be ready to run before his stablemate. Could we see Improbable tackle the San Felipe while Game Winner waits another week for the Rebel Stakes?
  1. Instagrand

The third of the “Big Three” in California, Instagrand has likewise been training steadily and impressively; his latest move was six furlongs in 1:13.40 on February 17. Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer has never won the Kentucky Derby, but four of his seven starters in the race have earned a check, including the longshots Battle of Midway (third in 2017) and Instilled Regard (fourth in 2018).
  1. Signalman

He remains on track for the March 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) after breezing five furlongs in 1:00.11 on February 16. The form of his Kentucky Jockey Club (gr. II) victory hasn’t been flattered by the subsequent efforts of runner-up Plus Que Parfait, but a couple of the also-rans have come back to run well in Derby preps, including Roiland (third in the Risen Star) and Everfast (second in the Holy Bull).
  1. Win Win Win

Alwaysmining, the only horse to have defeated Win Win Win to date, recorded a fourth straight victory over the weekend when he scored by 4 ¼ lengths in the Miracle Wood Stakes at Laurel Park. When you consider that Win Win Win had the tougher trip and might have been the best horse when they met in the December 29 Heft Stakes, that’s saying a lot—Alwaysmining is no slouch these days and, apparently, neither is Win Win Win.
  1. Hidden Scroll

In preparation for his much-anticipated clash with Signalman in the Fountain of Youth, Hidden Scroll turned in another easy half-mile move at Payson Park, clocking the distance in :50 flat. If he continues to impress, jockey Joel Rosario could have a tough decision to make; he’s the rider of both Hidden Scroll and Game Winner.
  1. War of Will

War of Will brought his record on dirt to a perfect 3-for-3 with a decisive pace-tracking victory in the Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) at Fair Grounds. Maybe you can knock some aspects of his performance—runner-up Country House compromised his own chance at victory by racing greenly, and the winning Beyer speed figure was just 92—but War of Will deserves a lot of credit for being the only pacesetter to secure a major piece of the purse. The other front-runners (admittedly longshots) tired badly while deep closers ran 2-3-4-5.
  1. Anothertwistafate

After Anothertwistafate finished ninth in his debut sprinting at Santa Anita, it would have been hard to envision him becoming a serious Kentucky Derby contender. But since stretching out around two turns, Anothertwistafate has turned into a completely different horse, winning three straight races by a combined 16 lengths over the Tapeta track at Golden Gate Fields. His best run yet came on Saturday in the nine-furlong El Camino Real Derby, where he carved out a modest pace and then exploded away from the field to win by seven lengths with a final furlong in :12.08. If this son of Scat Daddy can translate his terrific Tapeta form back to dirt, we could be looking at a new star runner on the Derby trail.
  1. Mucho Gusto

Where will Mucho Gusto turn up next? Since Baffert’s big guns are tentatively targeting the San Felipe and Rebel, we could see Mucho Gusto hit the road, with the March 9 Gotham Stakes (gr. III) one possibility that works well from a timing perspective. Or, I suppose, he could wait another two weeks for the Louisiana Derby (gr. II)—he is among the early nominees for that race.
  1. Roadster

I keep changing out the horses at the bottom of my list because there are so many worth considering and I need to see them run some more. I’m putting Roadster back on this week because he was a member of my original Top 10 and recently resumed serious training after missing some time with hoof issues. Remarkably, in just his third work of the year, he breezed six furlongs from the Santa Anita starting gate in a bullet 1:10.60 on February 17. The second-fastest time of the morning was 1:12.20, so Roadster was really motoring out there.