Keeler Johnson's Kentucky Derby Top 10: Major Changes to Kick Off 2019

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

January 7th, 2019

For the first time in more than a month, there’s been a major shake-up in my .

Following disappointing efforts in Saturday Derby preps from Code of Honor (previously ranked #6) and Coliseum (ranked #8), I have elected to remove both colts from my list for the time being. I have also dropped Roadster (ranked #5), who hasn’t turned in a timed workout since December 19th.

These defections have cleared the way for three newcomers, including Gunmetal Gray, who was part of my original way-too-early Kentucky Derby Top 10 before slipping through the cracks and falling off my list. Suffice to say, it was a tricky week for compiling rankings (and my current list is still very much in flux), but with four months until the Kentucky Derby here’s how I see the top contenders stacking up….
  1. Game Winner

His form was flattered once again when Gunmetal Gray—who chased Game Winner when second in the American Pharoah Stakes (gr. I) and fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I)—came back to win the Sham Stakes (gr. III) at Santa Anita. Expect to see Game Winner himself back on the work tab within the next couple of weeks.
  1. Improbable

Remember when Improbable smashed Trophy Chaser by 7 ¼ lengths in the Street Sense Stakes going a one-turn mile at Churchill Downs? Well, Trophy Chaser came back to be beaten just a neck in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes going a similar one-turn mile at Gulfstream Park, giving a subtle boost to Improbable in the process.
  1. Instagrand

He picked up the pace just a bit in his second workout off the layoff, going three furlongs in :37.20 on January 5th. It was still a pretty easy move, but there’s no great rush to have him working bullets at this time of year.
  1. Signalman

Following his victory in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, trainer Kenny McPeek mentioned the March 2nd Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park as a possible target for Signalman’s first start of the season, so it’s not surprising that Signalman hasn’t posted a timed workout so far this year. However, he’s currently in training at Payson Park and should be back on the work tab soon.
  1. Maximus Mischief

According to the Daily Racing Form, Maximus Mischief is scheduled to return to the work tab this weekend with an eye toward a start in the February 2nd Holy Bull Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park.
  1. Network Effect

For the second weekend in a row, Network Effect worked a half-mile in :49 flat at Palm Meadows, which was actually a quicker time than you might think at first glance considering that the fastest half-mile breeze of the morning (out of 53) was just :48.45. At this point, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Network Effect return in the Holy Bull Stakes, where he could face off again with his Remsen conqueror Maximus Mischief.
  1. Gunmetal Gray

While he did receive a perfect setup, closing into a fast pace that absolutely fell apart late, Gunmetal Gray’s victory in the Sham Stakes (gr. III) marked another solid effort from a colt who wasn't disgraced by any means in two runs against Grade 1 company last season. Gunmetal Gray’s consistency and clear affinity for racing around two turns could earn him a lot of purse money and Derby points this winter, though from a speed figure perspective he still needs to step up his game a bit.
  1. Vekoma

With no races or workouts since his victory in the November 4th Nashua Stakes (gr. III), Vekoma appears to be getting a significant winter break before gearing up for his three-year-old campaign. That’s a little surprising since he shipped to Palm Beach Downs immediately after the Nashua and was even briefly considered for a start in the December 1st Remsen Stakes, but as long as Vekoma gets back on the work tab soon he should be ready to run sometime in February or early March.
  1. Mihos

Like Gunmetal Gray, Mihos received an excellent pace setup while winning the one-mile Mucho Macho Man Stakes at Gulfstream Park—the first half-mile went in :45.42 and the second half-mile in :52.14, making it easier for Mihos to swallow the leaders in the final furlong. But to his credit, this lightly-raced son of Cairo Prince raced wide every step of the way and was just 1 ¼ lengths off the lead after the opening half-mile, so he might have just been the best horse on the day. In any case, he’s got plenty of room for improvement and is bred for success around two turns, so I’m curious to see how he fares in longer, classier races down the road.
  1. Cave Run

I’m going outside the box a bit here with Cave Run, a Godolphin homebred who won his debut at Tampa Bay Downs last month. A stoutly-bred son of Street Sense out of a Bernardini mare, Cave Run showed surprising speed to track the pace and then pull away to a dominant 6 ¼-length victory over the Todd Pletcher-trained Ranger Up, stopping the clock in 1:11.30 for six furlongs while earning an 86 Beyer. Cave Run is bred to excel racing around two turns, and I’m excited to see what he can do when stretched out in distance.