An early look at Derby 138

| December 8, 2011
photo by REED PALMER | Churchill Downs Unbeaten Hansen (inside) and Union Rags ran 1-2 in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and either could be named champion 2-year-old and a Kentucky Derby 138 contender on May 5 next year. See John Asher’s column on Page A-13.

photo by REED PALMER | Churchill Downs
Unbeaten Hansen (inside) and Union Rags ran 1-2 in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and either could be named champion 2-year-old and a Kentucky Derby 138 contender on May 5 next year. See John Asher’s column on Page A-13.

With the end of the Churchill Downs Fall Meet and the winter moves of many Kentucky and New York-based stables to warmer zip codes in Florida, Louisiana and Arkansas, it’s a fairly quiet time for stables with a horse or two in the barn that could develop into serious prospects for the 138th running of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands on May 5, 2012.

The down time won’t last long as pre-Derby activity picks up for everyone around New Year’s Day, the universal birthday for Thoroughbreds, with regard to competition.

The sense of purpose and pursuit of the goal intensifies at that point.

Last week’s column focused on Churchill Downs Fall Meet highlights included a list of five 2-year-olds that raced at the track during the 21-day meet, exclusive of Breeders’ Cup World Championships, that appeared to be the best local prospects to make it back to Louisville for next year’s big race on the First Saturday in May.

Let’s take another step this week and expand the list to include all of the 2-year-olds that raced at Churchill Downs this year – including the Breeders’ Cup.

So here’s one man’s very early Derby 138 Top 10, followed by some names to watch.

Timely Tally

Sure, his speed figure numbers are a bit below those assigned to Hanson and Union Rags, the 1-2 finishes in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, but trainer Ian Wilkes’ third-place finisher in the Kentucky Jockey Club launched a late move in the 1 1/16-mile Kentucky Jockey Club on Nov. 26 that made me think of the Derby more than any other performance of the year.

Jockey Calvin Borel waited for the rail to open for Timely Tally, but that opening never materialized and he was forced to swing wide for a rally that was late, but impressive.

He’s a son of middle-distance runner Mr. Greeley, but there’s stamina on the bottom of the pedigree in broodmare sire A.P. Indy.

Union Rags

The runner-up in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile just failed to catch unbeaten frontrunner Hansen at the finish on Nov. 5, but there was plenty in his performance to suggest good things down the road.

He overcame traffic trouble in each of four career starts and won the first three.

Pedigree is a question as it leans to middle distances on both its top-and-bottom. But Union Rags is in the very capable hands of trainer Michael Matz, who sent Barbaro to the Kentucky Derby winner’s circle in 2006.

Ever So Lucky

Augustin Stable’s son of Indian Charlie dazzled in his Churchill Downs debut and came back on short rest to run a very strong second to Gemologist as the favorite in the Kentucky Jockey Club.

Trained by steeplechase legend Jonathan Sheppard, he will get every chance to prove himself worthy of a Derby 138 run, but won’t be pushed in that direction. If he does get to Louisville on May 5, it’s a sure bet he’ll be fit enough to run its 1 1/4 miles. We’ll have to see how fast he’ll run that last quarter.


WinStar Farm’s son of two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Tiznow is perfect in three races and already has a pair of wins at two-turn distances at Churchill Downs.

Trainer Todd Pletcher will likely give this colt two preps prior to the Derby, but he’s a clear player with valuable Churchill Downs experience, an advantage that must be appreciated.


The unbeaten Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner could win the Eclipse Award that goes to the champion of his age group after his brave win over Union Rags in their Churchill Downs showdown.

This son of the outstanding sire Tapit has yet to trail a horse in three races for trainer Mike Maker, and will need to learn to ration his sharp speed over the next five months.

Indian Ambush

A horrible start cost this son of Indian Charlie in his Churchill Downs debut, but he was a solid winner next time out.

Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott has nearly 660 career wins at Churchill Downs, but no success in the Kentucky Derby.

Continued development by Indian Ambush could change that and he’s my Derby 138 sleeper horse, so far.


Trainer Steve Asmussen’s Bluegrass Cat colt started the year with a couple of decent efforts in Spring Meet maiden races at Churchill Downs and ended the season on a three-race winning streak capped by a stretch-running win in the $1 million Delta Jackpot.

Dullahan/O’Prado Again

It’s tough to separate this Donegal Racing duo trained by Dale Romans.

Both scored upset wins in major races, with the former winning Keeneland’s Breeders’ Futurity and the latter scoring a late November surprise in Aqueduct’s Remsen.

Know this: when Romans gets them to the Derby starting gate, they are ready to run big races, as Paddy O’Prado (3rd in 2010) and Preakness winner Shackleford (4th to Animal Kingdom) proved in the last two Derbies.


The light bulb flicked “on” in the third start for this Asmussen-trained son of Hard Spun in a 5¼-length romp at Churchill Downs. He’ll prepare for the Derby in Southern California.

Casual Trick

The Nick Zito-trained son of Bernardini didn’t break any stopwatches in a Nov. 18 maiden win, but it was a race that could be sneaky good. He’s out of a Casual Look, who won the Epsom Oaks at 1 ½ miles for breeder Will Farish, so distance will be no problem. He’s one to watch.

Other Churchill Downs-raced 2-year-olds to follow on the road to Derby 138 include: Take Charge Indy, Creative Cause, Motor City, Optimizer, Exfactor, Secret Circle, Holdin Bullets, Monastic, Animal Spirits, Cozzetti, A Boy Named Em, Unbridled’s Note, Najjar, and Space Race.

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