Five Derby prospects to watch

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The mo­ment Game Win­ner crossed the wire first in the Nov. 2 Breed­ers’ Cup Ju­ve­nile at Churchill, the early Ken­tucky Derby fa­vorite was clearly es­tab­lished. Lengths the best, over­com­ing a wide trip and mid­stretch bump­ing, he showed off all the tools that sug­gest that, health per­mit­ting, he will be a force on the first Satur­day in May.

The Derby, how­ever, re­mains al­most six months away – plenty of time for an­other 2-year-old to rise in promi­nence and po­ten­tially chal­lenge him, or for a set­back to de­rail Game Win­ner or an­other prom­i­nent con­tender or two. So who might those lead­ing foes be? Be­low are five 2-year-olds I most like at this early stage for the run for the roses, along with their cur­rent Derby odds, as listed Thurs­day on the Bo­vada race book web­site, which listed Game Win­ner at 8-1.

In­sta­grand, 16-1: It was this colt, and not Game Win­ner, that most West Coast ob­servers ex­pected would win the Del Mar Fu­tu­rity in early Septem­ber. Per­fect in two starts at that point, with each vic­tory com­ing by more than 10 lengths, the race seemed his for the tak­ing. Well, that is, un­til owner Larry Best of OXO Equine un­con­ven­tion­ally de­cided to pull the plug on the colt’s 2-year-old sea­son with the in­ten­tion of hav­ing a fresh horse for 2018.

A $1.2 mil­lion pur­chase in March at Fasig-Tip­ton, he al­ways per­formed as if he was worth ev­ery dol­lar of that rich price. A son of Into Mis­chief, he is by more of a sprinter/miler type of sire, while his fe­male-side pedi­gree has a mix­ture of in­flu­ences. His dam, As­sets of War (by Lawyer Ron), scored her only win sprint­ing but did place at a route.

Im­prob­a­ble, 20-1: He is quite sim­i­lar to In­sta­grand in that he is 2 for 2 and by a sire whose prog­eny are typ­i­cally most suc­cess­ful in short to mid­dle-dis­tance races – in this case, by City Zip. He gets stamina from the fe­male side of his fam­ily, be­ing out of the A.P. Indy mare Rare Event.

In win­ning the Street Sense on the Breed­ers’ Cup Fri­day un­der­card at Churchill Downs, in which he sped a mile in 1:35.61, good for a 93 Beyer Speed Fig­ure, he left lit­tle doubt that he is a colt with a fu­ture. More­over, noth­ing about his strong fin­ish­ing style would sug­gest dis­tance lim­i­ta­tions.

A two-turn test is on deck next, with Baf­fert men­tion­ing the Grade 1 Los Alami­tos Fu­tu­rity on Dec. 8 as a log­i­cal next step.

Vekoma, 25-1: No 2-year-old in the coun­try has run faster on a Beyer Speed Fig­ure scale than this colt, a son of Candy Ride who won the one-mile Nashua on Nov. 4 at Aque­duct with a 99 Beyer. A horse with po­si­tional speed but not a need-the-lead type, he laid just off the pace, surged to take com­mand at the head of the lane, and pulled away for a 1 3/4-length tri­umph.

Left in his wake, 8 3/4 lengths be­hind him in third, was Call Paul, the Saratoga Spe­cial win­ner who had pre­vi­ously been third, beaten six lengths, in the Grade 1 Cham­pagne.

Less en­thu­si­as­ti­cally as it ap­plies to the 1 1/4 miles of the Derby, his dam, Mona de Momma, was a sprinter, scor­ing her great­est vic­tory in the Grade 1, seven-fur­long Hu­mana Distaff over a sloppy track at Churchill Downs in 2010. In light of that his­tory, I’m ea­ger to see if this colt can stretch out suc­cess­fully to two turns, some­thing Mona de Momma failed to do when last of five in the Grade 2 Santa Maria in Fe­bru­ary 2011.

Also of note, he has a pad­dling ac­tion, par­tic­u­larly with his left front leg – though it has not stopped him from rack­ing up a pair of de­ci­sive vic­to­ries. Some­times horses with in­ef­fi­cient ac­tion can strug­gle to stay sound.

Net­work Ef­fect, 33-1: Although no match for Vekoma in the Nashua, stay­ing around two lengths be­hind him from the turn to the fin­ish, his run­ner-up ef­fort was still en­cour­ag­ing. It earned him a 95 Beyer, a num­ber still higher than the ca­reer-best fig­ures of In­sta­grand and Im­prob­a­ble.

A rel­a­tively mod­est buy for $95,000 at OBS in April, he has a mix­ture of dirt and turf blood in his pedi­gree. His sire, Mark Valeski, was a graded win­ner at both 1 1/16 miles and 1 1/8 miles on dirt, while his dam, Sandy Key Gal, did her best rac­ing on turf from five fur­longs to a mile.

Knicks Go, 20-1: I paid him scant at­ten­tion in the Breed­ers’ Fu­tu­rity, a race he won at 70-1, or even in the BC Ju­ve­nile, when he was a gritty sec­ond at 40-1, but my days of doubt­ing him are over. This speedy colt has de­vel­oped rapidly in re­cent months, im­prov­ing dra­mat­i­cally at a route, and he left a fa­vor­able im­pres­sion by de­ter­minedly stick­ing stick with Game Win­ner un­til the eighth pole af­ter press­ing a hot pace in the Breed­ers’ Cup Ju­ve­nile.

Trainer Ben Cole­brook said in the days af­ter the Ju­ve­nile that this horse was pos­si­ble for the Ken­tucky Jockey Club on Nov. 24 at Churchill, a race for which Ju­ve­nile third-place fin­isher Sig­nal­man also is be­ing con­sid­ered. Knicks Go will re­port­edly spend the win­ter at Tampa Bay Downs.

SUSIE RAISHER

The Bob-Baf­fert trained Im­prob­a­ble im­pressed in win­ning the one-mile Street Sense Stakes on the Breed­ers’ Cup Fri­day un­der­card at Churchill Downs.

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