The field for the 139th Kentucky Derby came into focus with a number of declarations Monday and Tuesday, including a last-minute addition to reach a 20-horse capacity.
Trainer Bob Baffert ruled out both Louisiana Derby runner-up Code West and Sunland Derby hero Governor Charlie for the race and conditioner Todd Pletcher nixed the chances of wheeling back Lexington Stakes victor Winning Cause on two weeks rest.
Tiz a Minister, the third-place finisher from last Saturday's Snow Chief Stakes at Hollywood Park, was also removed from consideration by trainer Paul Aguirre.
Those defections guaranteed Golden Soul, who had been short on the points Leaderboard with only 14, a spot in the $2 million feature under the Twin Spires.
It appeared possible that only 19 might pass through the entry box this Wednesday, but Giant Finish, owned by Sunrise Stable and partners, became the final entrant. Fear the Kitten, which was rumored to be ticketed for the race, could join as an also-eligible.
I will take a look at the expected field, rating them into a trio of groups:
Unbeaten Verrazano stayed perfect with an easier-than-it-looked triumph in the Wood Memorial Stakes in his latest outing, and the powerhouse son of More Than Ready was said to have put in a very nice workout most recently leading up to this. The Kentucky-bred is one of five starters for conditioner Todd Pletcher, who will be looking for his second Kentucky Derby triumph (Super Saver in 2010).
Revolutionary is a late-running son of the late War Pass who has overcome trouble in his last pair of races, and the $235,000 juvenile purchase seems to be coming into this race in fine fashion. Also from the same barn is Overanalayze, a three-time graded stakes winner who ran his best race to date when dominating his foes in the Arkansas Derby. This son of Dixie Union showed a big leap last time after a dull 2013 debut, and his trainer said this following his five-furlong breeze at Churchill on Saturday, "Overanalyze's work this morning was very good. It was his best work ever."
Orb has reeled off four straight in fine fashion for trainer Claude `Shug' McGaughey, concluding that run with a powerhouse victory in the Florida Derby over another top threat, the Eddie Plesa-trained It'smyluckyday, an aptly named contender. Orb is bred to handle this 10-furlong trip and has thrived on the main surface at Churchill Downs, with a fine :47 and change drill on Monday morning.
The latter has run a pair of the top races put in by a three-year-old this campaign and could have a big tactical edge on many of his foes due to his natural gate speed. He's been sent on various elongated morning drills that should have the Florida-bred fit for this endeavor.
Trainer Doug O'Neill, who bagged the 2012 edition of this race with dual-classic winner I'll Have Another, looms large once again with impressive Santa Anita Derby victor Goldencents. The sharp son of Into Mischief has a lot of speed in a race with an abundance of pace, and he bears watching with a good post draw and clean break under Derby newcomer Kevin Krigger.
Bluegrass Stakes last-to-first winner Java's War proved his late-charging second in the Tampa Bay Derby no fluke with his fine acceleration in the stretch at Keeneland, and the Kenny McPeek trainee could move up even more in just his third start of 2013, especially if the track comes up wet. The son of War Pass would be aided by a fast, contested pace.
The D. Wayne Lukas-trained Oxbow ran his best race top date earlier in the year with an 11-length romp in the Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds, and though winless since, the son of Awesome Again has run well since and had a solid fitness prep in the Arkansas Derby last time. Also from the barn of the Hall of Fame trainer is Rebel Stakes upsetter Will Take Charge. The long-striding colt has been off for a while but showed in his latest that he can run with the good ones, and another forward move could vault him into contention in the final furlong at Churchill.
Normandy Invasion is a major player in many handicappers' minds, and rightfully so coming off a big second to Verrazano last time when rallying into a slow pace, but the fact remains that the son of Tapit is still just a maiden winner and his style could compromise his chances with an expected moderate early tempo. The talented Chad Brown pupil does get a boost with jockey Javier Castellano opting to ride here instead of atop potential third betting favorite Revolutionary, and he's trained great at Churchill.
Gotham Stakes winner Vyjack was a good third to Verrazano in the Wood Memorial last time out in what is his lone blemish from five career outings for conditioner Rudy Rodriguez. The consistently good son of young sire Into Mischief is a bit of a question mark at this distance, but if he's put into the race from the start, the New York-based colt could be in the hunt for a long time. He also gets a nice rider change to Garrett Gomez.
Palace Malice exits a second-place showing on the Polytrack in the Bluegrass Stakes at Keeneland, and the son of Curlin has long been high on the list of prospects by Pletcher. This colt is a bit of a hard read as he looked to have a huge chance before running into all kinds of trouble in the Louisiana Derby two prior, but he should be plenty fit for this run. A major knock here is that the Kentucky-bred is another who dons just a maiden score.
UAE Derby hero Lines of Battle is from a superb family and should run all day being out of a dam who is a half-sister to stamina influence Dynaformer. The Aidan O' Brien pupil could have beaten his foes last time by more than he did, and his pedigree suggests he may handle the dirt quite well. With that said, with just a single prep race under his belt in early March, the sophomore will have a lot of obstacles to overcome even if he is good enough. Being forwardly placed will surely aid the colt and he could get brave if he leads them early.
Mylute is still in search of his first stakes win, but the son of Midnight Lute missed by just a jump last time in a fine running in the Louisiana Derby. The interesting Tom Amoss pupil appears to have a lot of distance limitations his pedigree suggests, though the gray has improved his BRIS Speed figure in six consecutive starts and wasn't slowing down late at nine furlongs last time. He could pay boxcars if he pulls this one off.
Frac Daddy has not been ultra-consistent, but on the flip side, the son of Scat Daddy has proven capable against good horses, and he also put in a pair of huge runs on this main oval as a juvenile. The Kenny McPeek-trained colt showed big improvement when a solid second in the Arkansas Derby last time, and if he moves forward on his best surface, he could be running on in the lane.
Falling Sky looks up against from a class standpoint, but since he looks like the pacesetter in the field, we wouldn't suggest completely tossing him in the exotics if he crawls along while all alone in the race for trainer John Terranova.
Charming Kitten is the fifth Pletcher candidate in the field and comes off a fast-closing third in the Bluegrass in advance of this race. The son of Kitten's Joy is owned by Ken Ramsey, who comes off a bonanza Keeneland meeting, and is one of the top barns in the country. But, many others with his same running style appear better, and he hasn't shown that he is fast enough to face this bunch as of yet to upset the field.
Maiden winner Golden Soul rallied from well back to be fourth in the Louisiana Derby and earned a lifetime best BRIS Speed number in the process for trainer Dallas Stewart. The son of Perfect Soul has been outrun by a few in this field, and the one-run closer doesn't look fast enough to pass the entire field in the stretch, but he is moving in the right direction.
Black Onyx hasn't been seen since bagging the Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park last time out for Kelly Breen, but this son of Smart Strike would be a big surprise as his lone try on the dirt resulted in a 19-length loss behind average allowance company. His recent bullet work could give some reason for optimism for a sharp outfit, and he is bred to relish the trip.
Giant Finish finished third in his most recent start, the Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park on March 23. He earned 10 points toward Kentucky Derby eligibility in that race.
Fear the Kitten will attempt to close late if entered, but he could find himself overmatched at this level.