In less than 4 weeks, 27 days to be exact, the healthiest crop of 2 year olds will take to the stage at Churchill Downs in attempt to be crowned the 2011 2-year-old champion. In certain circles the Kentucky Derby trail won’t begin until 2012 but for many others, the trail begins at the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. For some Kentucky Derby champs of years past, the Juvenile later became a stepping stone to a successful 3 yr old campaign. So while it is only the beginning of a long and tiring trip towards the first Saturday in May, it’s never too early, the road has to start somewhere.
If you didn’t catch on to what I was hinting, this should sum it up: The journey to the 2012 Kentucky Derby is underway. It’s about as early as it can get and much can change before we even turn our calendars to 2012. The truth is simple though. There isn’t ever a year where horses in the Juvenile field don’t qualify for the Kentucky Derby the following spring. Which means there’s no doubt about it at The Derby Post; we will be watching this field very carefully over the course of the entire derby prep season.
On the first weekend in September is when the Breeders’ Cup Challenge, Win and You’re In series began for the 2 yr olds. With the conclusion of automatic qualifiers for the Juvenile this past weekend here is a list of those that secured their spot.
Horse, Trainer, Owner, Automatic Qualifying Win
- Currency Swap (FL), T. Pompay, Klaravich Stables – G1 Hopeful Stakes: Sar, 9/5
- Drill (KY), Bob Baffert, Michael Pegram – G1 Del Mar Futurity: Dmr, 9/7
- Creative Cause (KY), Mike Harrington, Heinz Steinmann – G1 Norfolk: SA, 10/1
- Union Rags (KY), Michael Matz, Phyllis Wyeth – G1 Champagne: Bel, 10/8
- Dullahan (KY), Dale Romans, Donegal Racing – G1 Dixiana Futurity: Kee, 10/8
Between these viable contenders, there are some interesting dynamics to note. First, our two from the West Coast have already established a grudge. Drill made an improbable move from way off the pace in a 7F sprint to catch Creative Cause in the Del Mar Futurity (Replay). Just two weeks ago however, it was Creative Cause that wouldn’t be fooled again. At the top of the lane he made his charge for home and made he made it count (Replay). Pulling away from a charging Drill, who finished 2nd, ended a very convincing win that could surely make him a contender for the Morning Line favorite spot in the BC Juvenile. These two look to have an interesting road ahead of them and should be listed as “Derby Hopefuls”.
Without getting too far ahead ourselves, we’re not going to be too quick to judge where Dullahan is headed next. In yesterday’s Dixiana, he broke his maiden in fashion at Keeneland. (Replay) After 4 races over dirt, it wasn’t until he switched to the Polytrack at Keeneland before he performed up to his expectations. After the race Trainer Dale Romans hinted that the Juvenile would be the next step but he also left the door open for an alternate Breeders’ Cup race.
Union Rags will come into the Juvenile undefeated. After breaking his maiden at Delaware in June, he stayed on the East Coast to score two Graded Stakes victories (G2 Saratoga Special, G1 Champagne – Replay). This colt has a lot of potential and showed powerful stretch runs, so we’ll have to keep an eye on him in the coming months. Currency Swap waited until August to begin his racing career, a MSW win at Saratoga. That was enough to send him straight to a Grade 1 where he didn’t disappoint. His G1 Hopeful Stakes stretch duel win over the slop was impressive (Replay); we’ll see how he does in the jump to 1 1/8 mile from 7F.
Just because you didn’t secure a win in the Breeders’ Cup Challenge doesn’t mean you’re waiting to make your splash in the Juvenile. Other worthy contenders and likely Juvenile starters:
Horse, Trainer, Owner, Notable Race Results
- Hansen (KY), Michael Maker, Kendall Hansen – 1st Kentucky Cup, TP 9/24
- Majestic City (KY), P. Miller, Bloom Racing – 2nd Dixiana Futurity, Kee 10/8
- Alpha (KY), Kiaran McLaughlin, Godolphin Racing – 2nd Champagne, Bel 10/8
- Ruler of Dubai (CA), G. Papaprodromou, H. Keshishian – 3rd, Norfolk Stakes, SA 10/01
A few interesting details about this group of contenders. Hansen fits the profile of a horse that is gradually developing at age 2 with the possibility of turning it up a notch at age 3 during the true derby prep racing season. To date he has only two lifetime races under his belt, both wins at Turfway Park. Similar to Hansen is Alpha, who also has only raced twice. For those that pay close attention to pedigrees, Alpha, sired by Bernadini, should spark your interest. Both of these horses, accompanied by veteran trainers, look to be on a slow and steady pace for Kentucky Derby qualification.
Ruler of Dubai on the other hand got off to early start at age 2. The only Gelding of this group, Ruler of Dubai kicked off his racing career on the CA circuit in May. Since then, he earned two non graded stakes wins at Del Mar. He handled dirt pretty well in the Norfolk at Santa Anita so I don’t expect Churchill’s surface to be an issue.
Rounding out this group is Majestic City. After beginning his career by winning his first 3 races this colt was getting a lot of early derby buzz. Since then he’s cooled off, finishing 3rd and 2nd in his last 2 races. He’s proved he can win against graded competition so he’s definitely a contender in the Juvenile.
The field in this Breeders’ Cup Juvenile preview can certainly change over the next couple of weeks. Some connections may opt to enter the Juvenile Sprint or Turf instead while others may throw their hat into the ring. Sound familiar? If not then just wait and see how many times we talk about who will run in the derby over the next 6 months. The never-ending rotation of changes and rewrites for the Kentucky Derby field is just beginning. We’ll never know 100% what to expect next so for the meantime the horses included in this year’s preview are 2012 Kentucky Derby hopefuls and contenders. To take a more in-depth look at potential 2012 Derby Contenders put together by Horse Racing Nation click: Here.
Finally, since we are already talking about the Kentucky Derby we should spotlight a moment in Churchill Downs and Kentucky Derby history. In 2006-07 a very special horse unraveled a long-awaited event that had never been achieved. His name was Street Sense. After stealing the show in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, he returned to win the 2007 Kentucky Derby. The feat etched him into the record books as the first and only horse to have ever won the Juvenile and Kentucky Derby. What was even more miraculous about the double was that both races were at Churchill Downs. I’m not declaring or even suggesting that an achievement so grand will happen once again in the 2011-12 double but it’s certainly fun to think about.
The road to the Kentucky Derby is here at The Derby Post. We look forward to bringing you updated news and analysis as we review the countless amount of potential 2012 winners. Cheers.
Written by: Little Brink