Kentucky Derby Top 10 Contenders as of March 23rd, 2009

2009 Kentucky Derby Contenders Top 10 Updated March 23, 2009

by Kenneth Strong of

The Kentucky Derby is only six weeks away and were now into the major prep races. Hold Me Back is a new arrival in our top 10 Kentucky Derby contenders this week courtesy of his excellent 3-year-old debut win in last Saturdays Lanes End at Turfway Park off a 15-week layoff. Dunkirk, Quality Road and Theregoesjojo will battle in this Saturdays Florida Derby and some decisions might have to be made after that race. Below follow our top Kentucky Derby contenders as of March 23, 2009, but were STILL looking for a horse to really grab our attention. If were missing a horse you like, please let us know and well check it out. We will update our contender list every Monday until the Kentucky Derby on May 2, 2009 at Churchill Downs.

1.Pioneer of the Nile Some say hes too slow but were not jumping on that bandwagon just yet. Stalked a slow pace widest on the backstretch in the San Felipe at Santa Anita on March 14 before challenging on the final turn. Opened up in early stretch and then had to be ridden to hold safe by 1 -lengths. Were not sure whether he bounced or whether hes just lazy. Rumors are that he was waiting on horses. He wont have that luxury when he meets The Pamplemousse in the Santa Anita Derby on April 4. His race in the Robert B. Lewis on February 7 at Santa Anita was a much better effort visually, and he only received a Beyer Speed Figure of 90 for his San Felipe win. Based on his Robert B. Lewis win however, and the fact that whenever hes asked to get the job done he does what he has to do, well leave him at the top of our contenders list.

2.Dunkirk – Working well for his class test against Quality Road in the Florida Derby on March 28. Was 10-wide on the first turn and remained wide while stalking a slow pace set by the second choice in a 1 1/8 mile allowance race at Gulfstream Park on February 19. Put the second choice away and also turned back a couple of other outside rivals in late turn and drew away when asked in the stretch. Should benefit from that race, looks like hell handle the distance and is another who has the right running style to take advantage of a hot pace in the Kentucky Derby. Note he didnt race as a 2-year-old, and the last time a horse won the Derby without racing as a juvenile was in 1882. Ahh but the times they may be changing. Should improve again but will it be enough.

3.Friesan Fire Was much the best over a sloppy track in the Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds on March 14, winning by 7 -lengths and leaving former fellow Derby Top 10ers Papa Clem and Giant Oak in his wake. Did the track condition play a part in his easy win? Difficult tell, but hes now won three stakes in a row, albeit over suspect company. He received a 104 Beyer for his Louisiana Derby win; he appears to handle nicely from just off the pace, and he has enough pedigree to get the distance. Might run in the Blue Grass at Keeneland on April 11, might not. Has enough graded stakes money to get into the Kentucky Derby already, so he has the luxury of being able to skip the Bluegrass if he so desires.

4.Old Fashioned Headed for the Arkansas Derby on April 11 at Oaklawn Park. Had his four-race undefeated streak snapped by bewildering longshot Win Willy ($115.60) when heavily favored to win the Rebel at Oaklawn on March 14 after chasing a fast pace and opening up in the stretch. That was only his second start off an extended layoff and he may have bounced as a result of numerous reasons including his trip. He was only beaten 2 -lengths after tiring late, and he easily held second. Expecting a smarter ride and a better race in his next.

5.The Pamplemousse Set a good pace winning his third in a row in the Sham at Santa Anita on February 28. Still hasnt been tested on the lead and his ability to come from off the pace remains a question mark. That being said, he has a stride that eats up ground even when on the lead and if youre going to beat him its clear youll have to run him into the ground. Not sure weve seen anyone who can do that yet. And hes been running on synthetic. He might just be better on dirt. Next start Santa Anita Derby on April 4.

6.Quality Road Still heading for the Florida Derby on March 28, where he should vie for favorite status with Dunkirk. Could be a great battle between these two! Something to look forward too! Made a number of former Derby contenders look bad in the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park on February 28, stalking a quick pace set by second choice This Ones for Phil and drawing away in the stretch. That was his first start on Lasix for sharp trainer Jimmy Jerkens off a six-week layoff and he looks like he can improve again.

7.Win Willy Are you kidding me? Who is this guy? Rallied from last to first to win the Rebel Stakes at 56-1 on March 14 and was eager to do so. Sure he was well back off a fast pace, but he was moving way up in class out of an allowance race and stretching out from six furlongs to a mile and a sixteenth for only his second start off an extended layoff. And he still looked green late! By 2001 Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos out of a Carson City mare, he might just have the pedigree to get the Derby distance. Expecting him to bounce in his next after improving from an 86 to a 102 Beyer Speed Figure, but definitely has to be kept in the mix. Wild card!

8.Take the Points Gave it a good try on the class raise moving up off a win in a mile allowance at Gulfstream Park to finish second to The Pamplemousse in the Sham on February 28 at Santa Anita. He had to travel cross-country to try Polytrack for the first time and still finished second from a poor wide post with a good effort. Has the pedigree and connections to improve. Might make his next start in the Blue Grass Stakes on April 11 at Keeneland instead of the previously planned Santa Anita Derby on April 4, where he would have to face tough guys The Pamplemousse and Pioneer of the Nile.

9.Theregoesjojo Prepping decently for his rematch with Quality Road in the Florida Derby on March 28, where he will also meet Dunkirk. Had the tables turned on him in the Fountain of Youth by Quality Road, who he had previously beaten in an allowance race, but it wasnt for lack of trying. Made a nice move on the turn and rallied for second off a six-week layoff. Has the stamina to be a force in the Kentucky Derby with a hot pace up front. Like Quality Road, could bounce in his next, but watch out after that.

10. Hold Me Back Pushed Musket Man out of the top 10 with his smashing 3-year-old debut in The Lanes End at Turfway, which he won in fresh fashion off a 15-week layoff. Conditioned by star trainer Bill Mott, Hold Me Back received a Beyer Speed Figure of 97 for winning the 1 1/8-mile Lanes End, but looks like he could improve. He was climbing in mild trouble at the back of the pack in the early stages of The Lanes End, but finally organized himself and advanced outside, finishing well late to catch fit Lukas trainee Flying Private and drawing off for a by 1 -length victory over that one. Has a top trainer, but could still bounce in his next, likely the April 11 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland. Or he MIGHT, just go straight to the Kentucky Derby.

Kentucky Derby Contenders Still Worth Watching

Musket Man Rebounded off his 6 -length loss to General Quarters and Sumo in the Sam F. Davis to make his third start off a layoff a winning one in the Tampa Bay Derby, scoring by a neck with a good wide rally after getting into trouble early and on the second turn. Also left disinterested wide favorite Hello Broadway in his wake. If hes going to win the Kentucky Derby hell need a more experienced rider and a higher Beyer Speed Figure than the 90 he earned, but hes certainly heading in the right direction and he does have some stamina in his pedigree. Next start – Illinois Derby or Wood Memorial.

I Want Revenge Continues to work well for his next start in the Wood Memorial on April 4 at Aqueduct. Ran away from a suspect field in the Gotham at Aqueduct, winning by 8 -lengths after forcing the pace from the outside throughout. He was given a Beyer Speed Figure of 113 for that 1 1/16-mile race, his second start off a layoff, and that figure might be a little on the high side considering his previous best figure was 92. He was however, making his first start on real dirt, and he might have just loved it. Still wondering if hell get the class test he really needs, win or lose, in the Wood Memorial. Difficult to gauge.

Giant Oak Floundered around last and wide in the Louisiana Derby slop before rallying awkwardly to finish fourth. That was only his second start off a layoff and he really didnt appear to be all that interested for a variety of reasons. Either that or he couldnt handle the surface. We could see him rallying into a Superfecta spot in the Kentucky Derby if he improves in his next start, his third off the layoff. Could be sitting on a sneaky big effort in his next race at a nice price if he can get his act together behind a good pace. Well give him one more chance in the Blue Grass on April 4 at Keeneland.

Papa Clem Was no match for Friesan Fire in the sloppy Louisiana Derby despite getting a relatively easy lead. He did fight to hold on to second place by a head however, finishing 7 -lengths behind the winner. We cant throw him out just yet, mainly because of the sloppy track and the fact that he has beaten Gotham winner I Want Revenge, but were wondering if his pedigree is catching up with him. Next start Illinois Derby or Arkansas Derby.

Beethoven Plodded home third in the Fountain of Youth in his second start off the layoff and could be just rounding into form. Might very well improve in his next start, likely the Florida Derby, but hell have to. Hell be meeting Dunkirk, Quality Road and Theregoesjojo in that race. His trainer, John Ward, is pointing for the Kentucky Derby, but a good effort is still required in the Florida Derby, otherwise whats the point? Another who would benefit from a fast pressured pace in the Kentucky Derby but who must show more in his next start.

Desert Party Won the UAE 2000 Guineas on February 12 and will make his next start in the UAE Derby at 1 1/8 miles this Saturday, March 28, but would have to improve on the records of previous highly thought of contenders who have trained in Dubai before arriving on Kentucky Derby day only to get trounced.