It’s time to hitch a ride on the road to the Kentucky Derby, and the trainers who show up just about every year are back again. Todd Pletcher, Bob Baffert, Nick Zito and even four-time Derby winner D. Wayne Lukas have a whole bunch of promising 3-year-olds with a chance to run for the roses at Churchill Downs on May 4.
Pletcher leads all trainers with 29 nominations for the Triple Crown races – the Derby, Preakness and Belmont –with Baffert next at 23 and Zito with 13. As far as Derby wins, Lukas has four, Baffert three, Zito two and Pletcher one.
By the time the Derby rolls around, the 369 early nominations will be thinned to a full field of 20 based on a new ranking system. For the first time, the field will be determined by points allotted for designated races rather than money earned from graded stakes.
Pletcher’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Shanghai Bobby and trainer Doug O’Neill’s Goldencents are the leaders with 24 points apiece. Ten of the top 18 leaders are trained by Baffert, Lukas or Pletcher, with point values to increase dramatically later this month.
Pletcher dominates The Associated Press’ first edition of Run to the Roses, a weekly Top 10 list of Derby contenders, with four horses, including top-ranked Shanghai Bobby. The trainer won the 2010 Derby with Super Saver.
There are two more Derby preps remaining with a point breakdown of 10-4-2-1: the El Camino Real Derby on Saturday and the Southwest Stakes next Monday. Then the points increase to 50-20-10-5, with the first of those races being the Fountain of Youth and the Risen Star, both on Feb. 23.
Here’s our Top 10:
1. Shanghai Bobby (Todd Pletcher, Rosie Napravnik): After unbeaten 2-year-old championship season, first loss came in Holy Bull (Jan. 26) – by 2 lengths to Itsmyluckyday. ... Winner of Hopeful, Champagne, BC Juvenile. ... Next start: Florida Derby, Gulfstream Park, March 30. ... Future Derby Wager odds: 14-1.
2. Itsmyluckyday (Eddie Plesa Jr., Elvis Trujillo): Overtook Shanghai Bobby in Holy Bull in track record time to improve to 2-for-2 this year. ... Next start: Florida Derby. ... Odds: 13-1.
3. Goldencents (Doug O’Neill, Kevin Krigger): Tough not to like colt who is 3-for-4, including 1 1/2-length win in Sham (Jan. 6) in 3-year-old debut. ... Next start: San Felipe, Santa Anita, March 9. ... Odds: 20-1.
4. Violence (Pletcher, Javier Castellano): A perfect 3-of-3 at 2, awaiting 3-year-old debut while training in Florida. ... Next start: Fountain of Youth, Gulfstream, Feb. 23. ... Odds: 13-1.
5. Verrazano (Pletcher, John Velazquez): Status rising following 16 1/4-length romp in allowance race at Gulfstream on Feb. 2. ... Next start will tell a lot more. ... Next start: Undecided. ... Odds: 11-1.
6. Flashback (Bob Baffert, Julien Leparoux): Won Robert B. Lewis (Feb. 2) in second career start. ... One of seven Triple Crown nominees owned by Gary and Mary West. ... Next start: San Felipe. ... Odds: 12-1.
7. Den’s Legacy (Baffert, Garrett Gomez): Well-seasoned colt has won 2 of 10, with five runner-up finishes. ... Ran second in Robert B. Lewis and Sham. ... Next start: Risen Star, Fair Grounds, Feb. 23 or Rebel, Oaklawn Park, March 16 ... Odds: 77-1.
8. Overanalyze (Pletcher, John Velazquez): Winner of Remsen (Nov. 24) in last start for owner Mike Repole. ... Next start: Gotham, Aqueduct, March 2. ... Odds: 33-1.
9. Oxbow (D. Wayne Lukas, Jon Court): Lukas just might have a shot at Derby win No. 5. ... In addition to this LeComte (Jan. 19) winner (by 11 1/2 lengths no less), trainer also has Smarty Jones winner Will Take Charge. ... Next start: Risen Star, Fair Grounds, Feb. 23. ... Odds: 26-1.
10. Dynamic Sky (Mark Casse, Luis Contreras): Ran second by a neck in Sam F. Davis, but was gaining on winner Falling Sky. ... Ran sixth in BC Juvenile, and has two wins from six career starts. ... Next start: Undecided. ... Odds: 54-1.