Commentary

Countdown to the Crown

Updated: January 22, 2010, 6:09 PM ET
By Jeremy Plonk | Special to ESPN.com

Countdown to the Crown
Editor's Note: Countdown to the Crown returns for a fifth season online as one of the most comprehensive handicapping analyses of the 3-year-old scene. Posted each Friday from Jan. 8 through the Belmont Stakes, Countdown keeps you apprised of the rising stars in the 3-year-old class from the maiden ranks through the Grade 1 stakes.

3 things you won't read anywhere else

Opinions are like a full bottle of beer. Leave a good one sitting around long enough, and someone is sure to twist it for their own gain.

1. Disappointment and hope run in tandem on the trail. Just minutes after word broke that Azeri's baby TAKE CONTROL was injured and off the Triple Crown trail, along came Barbaro's little brother LENTENOR to pull off a "wow" performance unmatched in the maiden ranks this season. Call me crazy, but LENTENOR is No. 6 this week nationally among prospects, just below the proven commodities up top. He was THAT impressive. Welcome to the Countdown, baby!

2. Say goodbye to TAHITIAN WARRIOR, once Countdown's top-rated maiden winner of the season. The gelding is headed to Dubai after Godolphin made him its latest collectible. We had 'WARRIOR at No. 10 overall on potential, but now have to drop that considerably, regardless of the respect I have for Godolphin and the horse. It's just not been the proper path to the Triple Crown, even with more seasoned horses than this.

3. Forty yards might not sound like much, but it's a world of difference as Saturday's G3 Lecomte is now at 1 mile and 40 yards this year. That means Fair Grounds won't use the sixteenth-pole finish line as it does for flat-mile races, and that the full test of the grueling New Orleans lane will offer a decidedly different challenge than past years.

This week's fearless forecast

This section previews the coming attractions in 3-year-old stakes and undercard races.

Later today (Friday, 1/22), Gulfstream offers a 1-1/8 miles maiden route. COLIZEO (Todd Pletcher) returns after running second to stakes-placed WORLDLY at Churchill last fall, matching up against DREAMING BLUE (Tom Albertrani), a $290K Street Cry colt who debuted third at Aqueduct in late November.

Also today, GIANT'S TOMB (Mark Frostad) comes back for the first time since running second in Woodbine's Display Stakes when he meets a full field of turf route allowance runners at Fair Grounds. That field also includes the Steve Asmussen-trained duo of NOCKNONHEAVENSGATE and PEGASUS PRANCER, as well as recent maiden breaker COFFEE BREAK (Neil Howard). WALKING THE BEACH (Bret Calhoun) is entered main-track only in search of a rebound from his Jan. 3 return flop.

The undercard horse to watch Saturday is MOOJAB (Danny Peitz) in an allowance sprint at Oaklawn. The son of Smarty Jones impressed at Aqueduct on Halloween and fired a bullet drill last Saturday to ready for the '10 return. The race appears fairly light on proven commodities, though SOUNDMAN (D. Wayne Lukas) was a distant fourth of eight in the G2 Futurity at Belmont. Larry Jones' wife, Cindy, now calls the stable shots and saddles BACKWATER BLUES, a debut winner who was outrun by eventual stakes winner DRYFLY at Churchill last fall.

Saturday's Gulfstream undercard features lightly raced maidens sprinting in Races 2 and 7. In the second race, the supremely win-early bred ROMAN RACECAR (Ian Wilkes) makes his fourth start as a son of Roman Ruler-Jeanne Jones. Smarty Jones' $600K baby ROYAL STRAIGHT (Jimmy Jerkens) also debuts in Race 2, and he's a half-brother to multiple graded stakes-winning mare Megan's Bluff, indicating he might like turf, too. The question mark is JAMBONIED (Patrick Byrne), who cost just $32,000 as a yearling despite being by Distorted Humor out of Shuvee Handicap record-setting winner Catinca.

In Saturday's Race 7 maiden sprint at Gulfstream, SIX CLICKS (Tom Albertrani) returns after a debut third at Aqueduct; he's a half-brother to Queen's Plate winner Wild Desert. Meanwhile, Nick Zito unveils fast-working Mineshaft colt MINER'S RESERVE and Ian Wilkes returns Churchill debut runner-up WARRANT OFC. COOK, who was no match last fall for subsequent Tampa allowance winner SILVER CRAFT (read more on SILVER CRAFT below in the Pasco Stakes recap).

On Saturday's Lecomte Stakes undercard at Fair Grounds, sprint maidens clash in Race 3, most with very focused sprint pedigrees. Wide-drawn GUARDED ENTRACE (Paul McGee) debuts, and he's by Lido Palace out of Argentine champion 2-year-old filly Serenita, who came to the US and was runner-up in the G1 Santa Monica sprinting.

Maiden routers battle in the Sunday opener at Santa Anita, where IVORY FUDGE (John Sadler) returns after finishing second to TAKE CONTROL. The opposition includes NEXTDOORNEIGHBOR (Mike Machowsky) and VICTORY WITH HONOR (Eoin Harty), who both chased Bob Baffert's sharp sprint winner CONCORD POINT on opening day of the meeting.

The $125,000 Pepsi Cola Stakes at Sunland Park for New Mexico-breds likely won't get much attention, but do note D E HAPPY HOUR owns a pair of dominant sprint wins for Double Eagle Ranch and trainer Chip Woolley, the connections of Mine That Bird.

Holy Bull Stakes (Saturday/Gulfstream Park)

Yet another distance and calendar change to Saturday's G3 Holy Bull at Gulfstream makes it a tough "impact" read. The event returns to a one-turn mile like it was in 2007, when it served as a start-off point for the accomplished Nobiz Like Shobiz. Recently, the race also has been 1-3/16 miles late in the meet, and both 1 mile and 1-1/8 miles early in the meet. Its most success came with Closing Argument and Barbaro, who won in '05 and '06 at 1-1/8 miles, and this will be fourth straight year the "Bull" is held at a different trip than the previous year.

For Triple Crown trail sakes, it's clearly just a starting off point for JACKSON BEND (Nick Zito), who has logged only 4 workouts since October, and only 3 of those beyond 3 furlongs. And while WILLIAM'S KITTEN (Mike Maker) has been blistering the work tab and appears much further along on this date than 'JACKSON, the one-turn mile distance figures to be an immediate detriment to this extremely talented animal. Plus, WILLIAM'S KITTEN has run his best races with a legitimate pace, something that may not be present Saturday.

For a one-turn mile, there's not much speed and not really a pure sprinter's presence in the field of nine. The pace could come from LITIGATION RISK (Rick Violette), a son of the aforementioned 2005 Holy Bull winner Closing Argument. WINSLOW HOMER (Tony Dutrow) has tactical speed after taking a bit to rev up, but has never been engine material. HOMEBOYKRIS (Rick Dutrow) also has never seen the front early but can sit close, and he was rank and wanted to do much more early in the Remsen than allowed to by Edgar Prado. Cutting back to a one-turn race, I think Prado will let him roll more Saturday. PISCITELLI (Richard Sacco) led the BC Juvenile for the opening mile at a dawdling pace, but in a one-turn mile would have be scrubbed on to really be a front-end candidate.

That said, deep closers could be in trouble, and Gulfstream's track never has been a haven for late movers. AIKENITE (Todd Pletcher) did his best running from far back at age 2. Though a perfect worktab in space and times makes you think he's coming into the race extremely well, he likely won't get a favorable set-up and has bigger fish to fry this spring as an already "made" prospect. I could see horses like AIKENITE and JACKSON BEND running mid-pack Saturday and getting exactly what they need to move forward without any urgency.

The "now" horse very well could be THANK U PHILIPPE, who only appears "cheap" in class if you look at his past races' names and not his opponents' names. He's matched up with HOMEBOYKRIS, JACKSON BEND, BUDDY'S SAINT, ESKENDEREYA and FLY BY PHIL, who are legitimate names on the trail. Every rider who has been on 'PHILIPPE has had to work like a mad man to get him to run, pumping and grinding for furlongs on end, yet he still keeps coming and runs his race. Now Marty Wolfson adds blinkers, and it could make the difference at a price. Note THANK U PHILIPPE worked about two full seconds faster for a half-mile in blinkers than he had been without them.

One note upon extra-close inspection of WINSLOW HOMER: He has a high leg action and really climbs early in his races, almost as if he's not fond of the dirt. He walks out of the gate every start for several jumps, something not reflected in the running lines, but trust me or watch any videos you can. Coincidentally or not, he was entered on turf at Saratoga this summer when he broke his maiden, but the race was washed off to the main track. If he turns out to be a better grass or all-weather surface horse than dirt, you heard it here first.

Please note that stakes picks are for how they're projected to run this weekend, while the Top 20 rankings later in Countdown project how they fit on the Triple Crown scene based on distance and potential development by May.

Holy Bull Stakes selections: W) THANK U PHILIPPE; P) HOMEBOYKRIS; S) WILLIAM'S KITTEN.

Lecomte Stakes (Saturday/Fair Grounds)

Call it a proving ground as 11 sophomores who own a combined 5: 0-0-2 record in graded stakes races try to announce their candidacy. CITRUS KID (John Terranova), third in the G2 Remsen, has been working bullets at Palm Meadows for the road trip, which offers a monumentally easier spot than the Holy Bull in the 'KID's backyard at Gulfstream.

TURF MELODY's winning performance in the Springboard Mile at Remington Park gained some definite legitimacy when horses he outfinished came back to run 2-3 in Monday's Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn. TURF MELODY is one of only three stakes winners in the field, along with Sugar Bowl winner COOL BULLET (Steve Margolis) and CITRUS KID, who won Delaware Park's two-turn Dover Stakes last fall.

Though not a stakes winner yet, the horse with the most upside in the Lecomte clearly is WORLDLY (Paul McGee), third in the G2 Kentucky Jockey Club last fall and with pedigree to be any kind. By A.P. Indy out of 10-furlong Delaware Handicap winner Urbane, he will run all day with his gene pool and tenacious style. At just 116 pounds, the 6-pound allowance seems almost unfair on Saturday.

Steve Asmussen has yet to get on track with any serious trail players in 2010, but takes two chances with DEPAUL and LETSGETITONMON, the latter rallied for third behind WORLDLY in a tough allowance route at FG on Jan. 3. MAXIMUS RULER (Clark Hanna) is well-drawn on the rail for his two-turn debut after beating allowance runners at Churchill while still a maiden on Nov. 29. His worktab indicates he might be a race away from his best, however.

Lecomte Stakes selections: W) WORLDLY; P) CITRUS KID; S) TURF MELODY.

Last week's selections: 2-1-1-0; Conveyance won the San Rafael and Connemara finished second in the California Derby.

Season selections: 3-1-1-0.

For more on this weekend's races, including handicapping strategies and a chance to interact live with Jeremy, visit the all-new Countdown to the Crown LIVE CHAT every Friday from 2-3 p.m. ET at HorseplayerNOW.com.

Everyone's a critic

This section recaps the week that was for the sophomore set.

Normally stakes races get the "lead" in the critic's corner, but Wednesday's maiden win on turf by LENTENOR (Michael Matz) slammed the trump card down on the table. The Dynaformer colt, full brother to 2006 Derby champ Barbaro, was phenomenal in his turf return at 1-1/16 miles. From the inside post, he accelerated fantastically going into the first turn to secure position in the huge field. Then, forced to chase a rapid pace by a hopeless longshot, he professionally took the lead, fended off a swooping challenge by firster ROCK AMERICA (Bill Mott) and rocketed away in the lane to win by 3-1/2 widening lengths while galloping out like a beast. While LENTENOR might be better on grass, lest we forget, so was Barbaro! He won the '06 Derby as an unbeaten champ while running on his second-favorite surface.

I'm giddy about LENTENOR off this race, and I wasn't part of the heart-felt hype heading into it. To come home in :23.59 and :06.03 splits after chasing a :46.94 opening half-mile is flat-out sensational. And physically he looks like a dominating world-beater in the hands of a master horseman in Michael Matz, who says LENTENOR also works very well on the dirt.

Now onto some stakes action: Sent off as the 1-5 favorite in the G2 San Rafael Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita, CONVEYANCE did not have the walk in the park many expected. Nonetheless, the Bob Baffert-trained son of Indian Charlie pulled away late for a 1-3/4 length score over the gritty ex-claimer CARDIFF GIANT (Jorge Periban). An explosive move by both turning for home led to an :11.54 furlong between the three-quarters and seven-eighths splits. The top two came home strongly in :23.76 (:12.22 final furlong). The plus was a visible ability to accelerate when called.

There was not much competition for CONVEYANCE in the one-mile San Rafael and the pace and flat-mile distance did not do a ton to tell us where this February foal fits on the Triple Crown trail just yet. Still, it's as good as anything seen this early in the year on a light stakes menu. You had to like the way he relaxed on the front end and didn't pull on Garrett Gomez. Baffert indicated a trip out of town likely will be next for CONVEYANCE, whom the trainer projects will be better on dirt than the Pro Ride. The Southwest or Risen Star in mid-February would make a lot of sense, or the Gotham in early March if they need more time.

DRYFLY (Lynn Whiting) wired Monday's $100,000 Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn under Calvin Borel, running the other speed into the ground as deep-closing PLEASANT STORM and KITTY'S TURN rallied for the minor awards. DRYFLY made the lead from the inside on extremely relaxed and professional terms, not pushed along to secure the inside in a big field. He took his cues perfectly from Borel, cornered nicely and had just enough left to hold off PLEASANT STORM, who was clearly second-best in the running and galloped out better than the winner. Trained by former Jack Van Berg right-hand man Joe Petalino, Oklahoma-bred PLEASANT STORM looks like a very legitimate son of Pleasant Tap who was making his two-turn debut.

As for DRYFLY, he'll have to do better routing to get more distance, coming home in woeful splits of :14 flat for each of the final two eighths over a drying-out track labeled good. But don't put much stock into the times over the Oaklawn quicksand opening weekend. Visually, though, DRYFLY's up-and-down late leg action is more of a concern than the clock. Expect many of these back in the G3 Southwest, where the competition stiffens.

Odds-on CONNEMARA (Todd Pletcher) disappointed Saturday at Golden Gate when put into an all-out drive for three furlongs in an unsuccessful bid to collar front-running California Derby winner RANGER HEARTLEY (John Sadler). On one hand, the pace was slow (1:14.37 for six furlongs), on the other, they came home in :24.67 the fourth quarter and :6.39 the final sixteenth, so it's not like it became a fantastic stretch dash. The runner-up, a half-brother to Lion Heart, did stay closer to the pace than in his two come-from-behind wins, which is a good sign at least.

RANGER HEARTLEY, an ex-claimer, will be highly suspect on the front end against legitimate pace. Owned by Herb Alpert, 'RANGER puts the old A&M Records duo of Alpert and Jerry Moss front and center this spring. CONNEMARA needs to improve off of this blasé effort, stating the obvious, as jockey Russell Baze reportedly said afterward the colt was more into the bit galloping out than during the race.

At Tampa on Saturday, UPTOWNCHARLYBROWN (Alan Seewald) romped in the 7-furlong Pasco Stakes, his second blowout in as many starts. The son of Limehouse did not fully extend with his head down in the lane and was a tad green while being advantaged by a speed duel that fell apart (:25.27 and :13.39 over final three-eighths). The final time of 1:24.28 was strong, about 4 lengths faster than 3YO fillies ran in the previous race, the Gasparilla Stakes. Meanwhile, SILVER CRAFT, who figured to be 'CHARLY's principal challenger, leaped in the air at the break and made a very strong move on the turn before leveling out to finish fourth. Expect that Tony Reinstedler trainee to do better next time. Another reason to give SILVER CRAFT a second chance: earlier Saturday, RICKYONTHERUN and GOOD LORD ran 1-2 in a Tampa allowance sprint after unsuccessfully chasing SILVER CRAFT on Dec. 26.

Also in stakes action, DEPUTY DANEY (Cathal Lynch) improved to 3-for-3 with a front-running score in the Jimmy Winkfield at Aqueduct. The Philly Park-based Officer gelding looks strictly to be a sprinter, losing his action late with his head high in a :13.12 final furlong. Next up should be the Capossela Stakes sprinting at the Big A. The Winkfield was upstaged a race prior on Monday's card by Calder ex-patriot OUT OF RESPECT (Bruce Levine), who won a 6-furlong New York-bred allowance about 4 lengths faster than the Winkfield and now is 2-for-3 lifetime as a son of Read the Footnotes.

Nick Zito got on the 2010 board in a Gulfstream route allowance Monday when ICE BOX delivered his second straight victory. The time of 1:50.36 for 1-1/8 miles was extremely sharp, pounding out :24s throughout, and only a length slower than very good older stakes horse Timber Reserve ran earlier in the card in allowance company. ICE BOX has not shown a quick burst yet, and will have to play the grinder's role to succeed. The son of Pulpit should run all day since he is out of Spice Island, an endurance mare who won the Long Island Handicap as well as the 12-furlong Dowager Stakes. Love that speed on top, route on the bottom in a classic pedigree. POSITIVE SPLIT (Ken McPeek), second to AMERICAN LION (Eoin Harty) at Keeneland last fall, returned to run a solid third on the lead, but the Two Punch on the damside of his pedigree might catch up to him routing. But POSITIVE SPLIT did gallop out well and should have gotten a lot out of this race. LAUNCH N RELAUNCH (Rick Dutrow) tired badly after some minor traffic woes early on.

Once again, the blowout of the week occurred at Aqueduct when TEMPTED TO TAPIT (Steve Klesaris) absolutely steamrolled a one-mile maiden route on Monday by 11-1/2 widening lengths. With fantastic early splits of :22.95 and :46.78, TEMPTED TO TAPIT ran everything off its feet, and certainly validated his classy running lines after finishing second previously to LAUS DEO and SCHOOLYARD DREAMS. Out of an Editor's Note mare, this is an interesting $18,000 gelding moving in the right direction after one of the better maiden performances seen early this year. Runner-up COMICAL (Tony Dutrow) debuted far-and-away second-best and has a great pedigree by Ghostzapper out of stakes-winning sprinter Abby Girl. Meanwhile, this particular race decimated the opinion of BRAKE LIGHT's romping maiden win here Jan. 2 as three horses who chased BRAKE LIGHTS were beaten more than 21 lengths apiece on Monday.

The track was unbelievably slow on Saturday at Oaklawn, so it's difficult to put the feel-meter on a wire-to-wire win by ACTIVITY REPORT (D. Wayne Lukas) in a one-mile allowance in 1:44.58. The Bernstein colt is bred top and bottom for turf and exited a fourth in the G2 Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill. The race appeared soft on paper, so 'REPORT will have to prove his stripes to me next time rising back into stakes company.

Also at Oaklawn Saturday, Tim Ritchey's SONAR blitzed a solid cast of maiden sprinters in 1:14.57 over the quicksand, defeating Lukas' WARRIOR PET by nearly 4 lengths. This performance outshone the allowance win by ACTIVITY REPORT, and further validates the form of Spectacular Bid winner A LITTLE WARM, who crushed SONAR at Philly Park in November by almost 11 lengths.

On Monday in Hot Springs, Danny Peitz woke up HATTAASH with the addition of blinkers to break his maiden after being drubbed at Aqueduct. Notable here is that HATTAASH, by Strong Hope, is from the same female family as reigning Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra.

Undercard races out west last week included a sharp Saturday maiden sprint where TIMBAVATI (Robert Troeger) was an unsuspectingly good winner in 1:10.02. A massive, gorgeous horse, he's clunky away from the gate and built to route. But the son of Tale of the Cat (out of a Slew o' Gold mare) had been working like a sprinter and was naturally gifted enough to sprint every jump. He'll be even better longer. Runner-up IMPERIAL PRIDE (Bob Hess) had a ton of pre-race buzz and ran very well, while ROYCE (Paco Gonzalez) returned from a three-month break to be beaten less than a length. This race should produce a few next-out winners.

Sunday's Santa Anita program featured a downhill turf sprint allowance, won by CashCall Hollywood Futurity sixth-place finisher BRADY BLUE EYES (Mark Glatt). A two-turn maiden breaker at Hollywood, he's by Sky Mesa and should be back on the prep scene on the main track next out. Sunday's win boosted the form of LOOKIN AT LUCKY and CONVEYANCE, Baffert trainees who beat 'BRADY in previous tries, while also taking a strike against Baffert's TIZ CHROME. That's because CAMP VICTORY, who tired behind TIZ CHROME in the Stuka Stakes, ran a poor fifth as the favorite Sunday in this return try.

Doug O'Neill struck his first chord on the '10 trail when HIGH SUCCESS won a Cal-bred allowance sprint Sunday at Santa Anita, beating the much-respected A PLUS TOPPER (Mike Machowsky). HIGH SUCCESS is by the little-known Danzig stallion High Demand, who won 5 of 6 starts in his short career including a 1-1/16 miles turf allowance at Del Mar.

Away since two dirt failures over the summer, SAINT ELIGIUS (Kiaran McLauglin) returned to beat a deep turf maiden cast at Gulfstream last Friday. He's by Saint Liam and owned by Bill Warren, who has the Derby fever, and likely will get a chance back on dirt to see where he fits. SAINT ELIGIUS raced just off the pace and quickened with a sweet :23.62 fourth quarter and :5.94 final sixteenth. This was a sharp win if he can translate it back to dirt (or synthetic for a race like the Blue Grass down the road).

Illinois-bred ROYAL EXPRESS (Spanky Broussard) wired a sloppy track allowance sprint Saturday at Fair Grounds, avenging a seventh-place finish in the Sugar Bowl last time out and flattering the form of that race's winner COOL BULLET, who goes in the Lecomte this Saturday. The real news here was that BRAVO WHISKEY (Neil Howard) finished well back in last, reversing his brilliant maiden win in the slop in a 180-degree turnaround.

Rick Dutrow's New York-bred DON'T BLAME THE CAT shipped to Laurel to easily win an entry level allowance sprint Saturday at 1-9 odds in a mediocre time. A tired fourth in the two-turn Damon Runyon Stakes previously, he's a son of Catienus.

Quick Hitters

Shin issues have sidelined TAKE CONTROL after a Sunday workout at Santa Anita, forcing Bob Baffert to back off 60 days and all but certainly end any Triple Crown aspirations for the son of Azeri ... Todd Pletcher's plans for upcoming stable contenders, as reported by Daily Racing Form: MISSION IMPAZIBLE (Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn); THREE DAY RUSH (Whirlaway at Aqueduct); DISCREETLY MINE (Sam Davis at Tampa, Risen Star at Fair Grounds or Hutcheson at Gulfstream); TOBOGGAN SLIDE (Hutcheson at Gulfstream) ... Still no works from Florida for SUPER SAVER, Pletcher's divisional leader from '09 ... Champion 2YO LOOKIN AT LUCKY zipped 5 furlongs in :59 flat Saturday at Santa Anita, his second straight quick work since adding blinkers ... Remsen champ BUDDY'S SAINT (Bruce Levine) drilled 5 furlongs Sunday in :59.65 at Gulfstream ... Dominant Big A maiden winner EIGHTYFIVEINAFIFTY (Gary Contessa), prepping for the Feb. 6 Whirlaway, was back on the work tab Wednesday, sizzling 5 panels in :59.41 ... Tom Albertrani reportedly will aim MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT to the Sam F. Davis at Tampa, while pointing impressive recent maiden winner ODYSSEUS to an allowance at Gulfstream ... Next week's final weekend of January offers a light menu of 3-year-old stakes, the one-mile WEBN at Turfway and the six-furlong Dancing Count at Laurel.

High Fives

Jeremy Plonk's Top-5 rated performances by class so far this year (Dec. 26-present).

Maiden Race
1. LENTENOR (Gulfstream, 1/20 -- turf) * new *
2. TAHITIAN WARRIOR (Gulfstream, 1/3)
3. EIGHTYFIVEINAFIFTY (Aqueduct, 1/9)
4. ODYSSEUS (Gulfstream, 1/14)
5. TEMPTED TO TAPIT (Aqueduct, 1/18) * new *
Eliminated: TAKE CONTROL (Santa Anita, 12/30) due to injury.

Allowance Race
1. STAY PUT (Fair Grounds, 1/3)
2. THREE DAY RUSH (Gulfstream, 1/9)
3. ESKENDEREYA (Gulfstream, 1/7)
4. ICE BOX (Gulfstream 1/20) * new *
5. TINY WOODS (Santa Anita, 12/30)

Stakes Race
1. CONVEYANCE (San Rafael, Santa Anita, 1/16) * new *
2. CARACORTADO (Cal Breeders Champion, Santa Anita, 12/26)
3. MACIAS (Eddie Logan, Santa Anita, 12/28 - turf)
4. A LITTLE WARM (Spectacular Bid, Gulfstream, 1/9)
5. LAUS DEO (Count Fleet, Aqueduct, 1/2)

Put 'em in the gate!

Can't wait for the first Saturday in May? Me either. Each week I'll give my top 20 contenders based on potential for the 1-1/4 miles distance for the Kentucky Derby. This will be a fluid list throughout the season. Note: fillies are only included when their connections make a clear indication they are pointing for Triple Crown races.

Send your list to me at Jeremy@HorseplayerNOW.com and I'll pick one fan's top 20 each week to appear with mine in Countdown to the Crown here at ESPN.com. Please put "TOP 20" in the subject line and include your first name and city/state in which you reside.

Jeremy Plonk's top 20: Week 3 of the 2010 season

1. LOOKIN AT LUCKY

11. NOBLE'S PROMISE

2. SUPER SAVER

12. VALE OF YORK

3. AMERICAN LION

13. CARACORTADO

4. WILLIAM'S KITTEN

14. WINSLOW HOMER

5. BUDDY'S SAINT

15. MOOJAB

6. LENTENOR (new)

16. DROSSELMEYER

7. JACKSON BEND

17. RULE

8. STAY PUT

18. TAHITIAN WARRIOR

9. WORLDLY

19. CONNEMARA

10. CONVEYANCE (new)

20. MISSION IMPAZIBLE

Dropped out: TAKE CONTROL (injured), TIZ CHROME (writer's decision).

Countdown reader Alex M. of San Diego, Calif.

1. LOOKIN AT LUCKY

11. CARACORTADO

2. TIZ CHROME

12. A LITTLE WARM

3. NOBLE'S PROMISE

13. MOOJAB

4. BUDDY'S SAINT

14. POUNCED

5. JACKSON BEND

15. ESKENDEREYA

6. SUPER SAVER

16. CONVEYANCE

7. TAKE CONTROL

17. UPTOWNCHARLYBROWN

8. AMERICAN LION

18. EIGHTYFIVEINAFIFTY

9. RULE

19. UH OH BANGO

10. VALE OF YORK

20. BLIND LUCK

Jeremy Plonk has been an ESPN.com contributor since 2000 and is the owner of the handicapping-based Web site HorseplayerNOW.com. You can E-mail Jeremy your Top 20 contenders list, or any questions about the 3-year-old or national racing scene, at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com.

In addition to being a longtime contributing writer to ESPN.com's Horse Racing section, Jeremy Plonk is the editor of The HorsePlayer Magazine.

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