Great Hunter gathering momentum for the Derby

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After a great day at the racetrack, trainers Doug O'Neill and Todd Pletcher find themselves with the leading contenders for the Kentucky Derby just two months away.

Jockey Corey Nakatani rode Kentucky Derby hopeful Great Hunter to victory in Saturday's Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita Park.  Associated Press
Associated Press
Jockey Corey Nakatani rode Kentucky Derby hopeful Great Hunter to victory in Saturday's Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita Park.

On the West Coast, O'Neill sent out Great Hunter to an impressive 1-length victory in Saturday's Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita. The colt's winning 3-year-old debut moved him atop this week's Associated Press' Run to the Roses Top 10 list.

Pletcher, meanwhile, had winners galore at Gulfstream Park in Florida. Scat Daddy's nose victory over Stormello in the Fountain of Youth Stakes moved the colt to No. 2 on the weekly list of contenders.

Nobiz Like Shobiz, the No. 1 prospect entering the weekend, was third in the Fountain of Youth and dropped to No. 5 this week. Trainer Barclay Tagg said the colt showed he still has some growing up to do.

"He made the race tough on himself," Tagg said Sunday. "He blew the first turn and then tried to duck in and slipped back on the other turn. He lost about a length each time and he gets beat only half a length. We have to try to get him to come out of his shenanigans soon."

Next stop for Nobiz Like Shobiz is the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 7, a final prep before the Derby on May 5.

So far, Pletcher and O'Neill have owned the road to the Derby - Pletcher trains five of this week's Top 10 and O'Neill trains two - with two more bucking to get in.

Pletcher won five races at Gulfstream Saturday, also taking Hutcheson Stakes with King of the Roxy, who moves onto the Derby trail at No. 9.

Looking for his first Derby win, Pletcher's other Top-10 horses are Ravel (No. 6) Circular Quay (No. 8) and Any Given Saturday (No. 10). O'Neill, looking for his first Derby starter, also trains Notional (No. 7), and two rising stars in Liquidity and Cobalt Blue. He capped his day by saddling Lava Man to a second consecutive victory in the Santa Anita Handicap.

Merv Griffin owns Cobalt Blue, and J. Paul Reddam owns O'Neill's three other Derby prospects.

"We don't really know which one is the best one yet, which is kind of exciting," Reddam said.

Two important Derby preps are set for Saturday - the Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds and the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct. Circular Quay and Liquidity are set for the 11/16-mile Louisiana Derby.

New in this week's Top 10 are Stormello and King of the Roxy. Stormello, who was sent cross-country to take on the top East Coast prospects, was gallant in defeat and moves in at No. 4.

Out this week are Drums of Thunder (sixth in the Fountain of Youth) and Hard Spun.

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