Commentary

Top 10 early Derby prospects

Updated: December 26, 2008, 9:52 PM ET
By Bill Finley | Special to ESPN.com

Who will win the Kentucky Derby? That's always a hard question to answer on the first Saturday in May, let alone in late December. More often than not, the Derby winner is on no one's radar screen at this point in the game. But here goes: my very premature list of the top 10 contenders for the 2009 Kentucky Derby.

Old Fashioned
AP file photo/NYRAOld Fashioned won the Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct in November.
1. Old Fashioned: He won't win an Eclipse Award, but Old Fashioned is unquestionably the best, the fastest and most talented 2-year-old in the country. In his first two races, his Thoro-Graph speed figures were 1's, making him one of the fastest 2-year-olds ever. He then won the Remsen in a romp, eased up under the wire. Larry Jones has yet to win a Kentucky Derby, but he's finished second in each of the last two years, proving he knows how to get a horse there and get them there with a shot.

2. Square Eddie: This horse is even better than you might think. He demolished the competition in the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland in his North American debut and then came back and ran second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Though beaten by 1 lengths in the Juvenile, he ran a remarkable race. The rail was deadly at Santa Anita that day and he never left the fence. He dropped back to third but came on again to reclaim the place position, showing that he's got guts and talent. The one knock is that he's never run on a traditional dirt surface and, since he's based in California with Doug O'Neill, may stick with the synthetics as he preps for the Derby. Is he just some sort of synthetic freak? We'll find out.

3. Haynesfield: Funny Cide II? You're probably not expecting the Kentucky Derby winner to come out of a New York-bred stakes race run in December at Aqueduct. That means Haynesfield will likely sneak up on a lot of people. He's coming off a win in the Damon Runyon, where he earned a 101 Beyer figure. That's the best Beyer recorded by any 2-year-old this year in a route race. Well-bred and trained by Steve Asmussen, this is not your run-of-the-mill New York-bred.

4. Vineyard Haven: It's hard to knock a horse who won the Hopeful and the Champagne. Obviously, this is a quality colt and he's better than his new stablemate, Midshipman. The problem is that he's now under the management of Sheikh Mohamed and training in Dubai, which means no U.S. Derby preps. It's a formula that has never worked in the past and doesn't figure to work in 2009.

5. Big Drama: The Delta Downs Jackpot is usually a stop on the road to nowhere, but this year's winner, Big Drama, might be going places. He got a 96 Beyer winning the race. Based in Florida, he's won five in a row, two of them distance races.

6. Midshipman: To put the Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner and presumptive 2-year-old champion this low on the list may be a mistake, but there's a lot not to like about this horse. He's training in Dubai (see Vineyard Haven) and he's just not that fast. He got a 91 Beyer in the Juvenile, which is, according to the Daily Racing Form's Mike Watchmaker, the second-slowest winning Juvenile Beyer ever.

7. Stardom Bound: Her connections are talking about running her in the Derby, and why not? She was brilliant during her 2-year-old campaign.

8. Pioneerof the Nile: His claim to fame is a win in the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park. There, he beat a poor field and won by a nose, which makes his credentials questionable. The plusses are that he is trained by Bob Baffert and the Futurity is among the best races in the country for determining future Derby prospects.

9. Cribnote: In defeat, he may have turned in the best race by any 2-year-old this year when he finished second in the Hopeful. He bore out badly and wound up near the outside fence. Appearing hopelessly beaten, he regrouped and came on for second. He didn't show much when third in the Champagne, but it's hard to forget how good he was in the Hopeful.

10. Silver City: A $700,000 yearling purchase by Clarence Scharbauer Jr., who owned Alysheba, he looks like he's worth all that money. He's coming off an allowance win at Churchill, where he earned a 101 Beyer. In three starts, he's yet to run beyond 6 furlongs, so he's got to prove himself at a distance. By Unbridled's Song, he should not have any problem stretching out.

Bill Finley is an award-winning racing writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated. Contact Bill at wnfinley@aol.com.

• Bill Finley is an award-winning horse racing writer whose work has also appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated.
• To contact Bill, email him at wnfinley@aol.com