Commentary

Countdown to the Crown

Updated: February 4, 2011, 5:46 PM ET
By Jeremy Plonk | Special to ESPN.com

Countdown to the Crown
Editor's Note: Countdown to the Crown returns for a sixth season online as one of the most comprehensive handicapper's analyses of the 3-year-old scene. Posted each Friday from Jan. 7 through the Belmont Stakes, Countdown keeps you apprised of the rising stars of the 3-year-old class from the maiden ranks through the Grade 1 stakes. You can access daily updates and interactive features at the all-new www.Countdowntothecrown.com as well.

3 things you won't read anywhere else

Opinions are like a good bowl of soup. They need to be hot, but nobody wants to get burnt.

1. For the second time in recent weeks, ESPN's Pardon The Interruption co-host Mike Wilbon jokingly talked about "Zenyatta burgers" in a flippant manner on Wednesday's show. As someone who loves horse racing, much less anyone who has two ounces of compassion for any animal, it amazes me how these guys idolize Michael Vick and make third-grade jokes about million-dollar racehorses. Grow up and get a clue.

2. Nick Zito had more hard-luck losses in 2010 than any trainer should have to endure in big-time races. But he started out 2011 with the racing gods smiling brightly upon him. Instead of running in an allowance race the previous week in the slop against SOLDAT, where he likely would have been no better than second, Zito's come-backing contender DIALED IN was re-routed to the G3 $400,000 Holy Bull Stakes this past Sunday. All he did was announce legitimate Triple Crown candidacy and pick up $240,000 in graded earnings to ice his place in the Derby starting gate. Plus, he's in line for a potential $5.5 million Preakness bonus if he's up to winning the Florida Derby and middle jewel. Good fortune may be the friend of NPZ in 2011.

3. Neil Howard is the kind of trainer who would only show up in Louisville if he thought he had a chance to win. That sounds a lot like old schoolers Charlie Whittingham and Mack Miller, who disappeared from the Derby for long stretches before returning as winners with Ferdinand and Sea Hero. Maybe MACHEN, PRIME CUT or WILKINSON will welcome back Howard, who has been away since 1998.

This week's fearless forecast

This section previews the coming attractions in 3-year-old stakes and undercard races. None of the stakes this weekend appear to be doing any heavy lifting toward the Triple Crown, but one never knows. The biggest-named 3-year-old on the upcoming docket is the filly TURBULENT DESCENT (Mike Puype), who headlines Saturday's G1 Las Virgenes at Santa Anita. But the bulk of the sophomore weekend scene takes place in Florida.

Saturday's Gulfstream program includes a trio of undercard races worth watching. The Race 3 allowance at 1-1/8 miles features CASPER'S TOUCH (Ken McPeek), a horse who has his trainer buzzing and will be making his two-turn debut. He's listed stakes-placed at Royal Ascot, something you don't get to say often in Countdown. The supremely bred AP Indy-Victory ride colt SHADOW WARRIOR (Rusty Arnold) and meet winner FORT LARNED (Ian Wilkes) also move around 2 turns the first time.

Race 6 Saturday at Gulfstream also is for allowance routers, but this one is on turf. COZY KITTEN (Wesley Ward) was a good second last fall in the G3 Bourbon on turf at Keeneland to ROGUE ROMANCE (Ken McPeek) and rates the horse to beat if he's ready to go off the layoff. COZY KITTEN may also go Sunday as he's cross-entered in the Hallandale Beach stakes. He's one of two Kitten's Joy offspring to watch in the Saturday allowance, the other QUEEN'SPLATEKITTEN (Todd Pletcher), a blowout winner at Woodine on Polytrack and since relocated to the sport's power barn.

Saturday's Race 8 at Gulfstream boasts the debut of CAL NATION (Todd Pletcher), a half-brother to 2006 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes runner-up Bluegrass Cat. The son of Distorted Humor faces a field that includes KANAGARO (Tom Albertrani), who was narrowly beaten by two strong Pletcher juveniles last fall, LAUBURU and BRETHREN. Pletcher's riches overflow in this race with fellow rookie CALIFORNIA, merely a son of A.P. Indy out of G1 winner Madcap Escapade, making him a full brother to G1 Del Mar Debutante winner Mi Sueno. CALIFORNIA may be pointed at Sunday's Race 1, where he's cross-entered in that 7-furlong sprint against the likes of NINJA BLADE (Eddie Kenneally), who has been second to DIALED IN (Nick Zito) and TRAVELIN MAN (Todd Pletcher) in 2 starts. Well-meant ARCH TRAVELER (Jimmy Jerkens) exits what could be a key race and adds intrigue to a tough opener.

Also on Sunday at Gulfstream, Race 7 is a turf maiden route that features the debut of MESSNER (Kiaran McLaughlin), a half-brother to outstanding sire Malibu Moon. The field also includes the return of debut second HOTHERSAL (Seth Benzel), loaded with turf route influences in the pedigree. The Gulfstream turf is featured in Race 9 Sunday, the $100,000 Hallandale Beach Stakes. The field includes the 1-2-4 finishers of the G3 Tropical Park Derby, led by winner KING CONGIE (Tom Albertrani), as well as the 2-3 finishers of the Dania Beach Stakes this meeting, and an import from John Gosden's yard in England, LIBERTY CAP (Kiaran McLaughlin). Ironically, the import might have the most future as a potential dirt horse, by Street Cry out of a Vicar mare.

Oaklawn offers a pair of maiden races, short and long, in Races 6 and 7 Saturday. KING ARAGORN (Tony Dutrow) invades from New York and surprisingly takes the shorter race in Race 6 after a trio of route attempts. The competition includes rookie TURBO CAT (Tim Ritchey) and ROMAN FLAME (Frank Kirby), third in his local debut. On paper, Race 7 looks the stronger of the 2 events, paced by ZOEBEAR (Scott Becker), who was third and second in 2 starts lifetime behind eventual stakes winners CITY COOL and TAPIZAR, both trained by Steve Asmussen. The race also includes late-running debut second ADMIRAL ROCKET (W.T. Howard), who closed 20 lengths in the unveiling to miss by a single length.

Around the horn in other undercard races this weekend, LIL BIT O'FUN (Tom Proctor) will try to rebound from a mystifying fade at Gulfstream when he headlines a mile turf overnight stakes Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs in Race 10; the Saturday Tampa card also features an intriguing maiden route on dirt in Race 8, where half-brothers to millionaires Leah's Secret, UNCLE CARM (John Terranova), and Shake You Down, FIFTH DISTRICT (Joan Scott), dot the marquee; and be on the lookout Sunday for a rising player in Philadelphia when HARBOR KID (Scott Lake) returns in a 7-furlong allowance for Pennsylvania-breds.

Whirlaway Stakes (Saturday/Aqueduct)

With Count Fleet Stakes winner MONZON already out of town, training in Florida toward next week's G3 Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, the $100,000 Whirlaway will take on a new look. Around 2 turns at 1-1/16 miles, the race did attract the second and fourth-place runners from the Count Fleet, JJ'S LUCKY TRAIN (William Anderson) and ARTHUR'S TALE (Tom Albertrani). But the new shooters appear to have more interest.

RESCIND THE TRADE (Rick Violette) is unbeaten in two tries and his win Dec. 19 over PANTS ON FIRE (Kelly Breen) looked better when that rival came back to run a good second in the G3 Lecomte at Fair Grounds on Jan. 22. The travel to and from Florida, and inability to deal with the heat down south, doesn't seem a great recipe for this current weekend even if 'TRADE has found cooler climes. I'm never a big fan of changing plans. RESCIND THE TRADE will have to knock off another runner on a 2-race win streak Saturday when TOBY'S CORNER (Graham Motion) invades from Maryland. The son of Bellamy Road twice looked good going a mile at Laurel around 1 turn.

New York-breds PREACHINTOTHEDEVIL (Gary Contessa) and SKY MUSIC (Todd Pletcher) exit a 1-3 finish in the Jan. 1 Champagneforashley Stakes for state-breds. 'PREACHIN was dominant that day and visually strong around 2 turns, a performance that sets the Pulpit colt up as the horse to beat from this eye. SKY MUSIC had some traffic issues as the 6-5 favorite last time and should offer more value after the loss and move to open company.

Whirlaway Stakes selections: W) PREACHINTOTHEDEVIL; P) JJ'S LUCKY TRAIN; S) TOBY'S CORNER.

WEBN Stakes (Saturday/Turfway Park)

A capacity field of 12, with 2 also-eligibles, has entered this 1-mile affair, and you can be sure that trip will be a key factor in the second leg of the G3 Spiral Stakes series. This $50,000 event lured the top 4 finishers of a very fast allowance race Jan. 23, including 39-1 upset winner PAIGE ME (Marshall Godfrey). The field also includes the 2-3 finishers of the 6-1/2 furlong Turfway Prevue Stakes as those runners will stretch out around 2 turns.

I don't see a tremendous amount of pace pressure in the WEBN, which is surprising when you consider 10 of the 12 entrants exit sprint preps. Given that fact, and the huge field size causing bumper cars in behind, I predict this race will be won on the front end, or by a horse sitting right off the early leader.

BANJAMMER (Eric Reed) came from the clouds to be second by a nose at 16-1 in the Prevue Stakes. The son of Candy Ride should handle more distance and be the horse to beat if he gets the trip. But that's a BIG "if." He has a bullet workout at Keeneland in tow for this and appears to be coming to hand. Prevue third BLUEGRASS DREAMER (Richard Budge) was very one-paced in the sprint ranks and should appreciate the return to a 2-turn route.

TWINSPIRED (Mike Maker) is a very curious entrant, beaten only 2 lengths in the Dania Beach Stakes on Gulfstream's turf. He could have stayed home in South Florida to run in the $100,000 Hallandale Beach Stakes on Sunday for twice this purse. He's been a big disappointment in his last 2 starts to me, having fallen in love with his first 2 starts. Post 12 does him no favors at all, however.

Another wide-drawn horse with talent is TAPTOWNE (Wayne Mogge), who could be the principal speed of this race if asked to clear the field by jockey Rodney Prescott. He's quick enough after winning a razor-sharp dash maiden race that has been flattered by its competition in recent weeks. The son of Tapit should route, and I'd absolutely bet him with both hands if he had a better post position. As it is, I'll bet him with 1 hand and be content.

WEBN selections: W) TAPTOWNE; P) BANJAMMER; S) BLUEGRASS DREAMER.

Black Gold Stakes (Saturday/Fair Grounds)

Turfway Prevue winner INHISGLORY (now with trainer Mike Stidham) makes a barn move and a curious surface change from Polytrack to dirt in the $60,000 Black Gold at 6 furlongs. With the WEBN Stakes in his backyard at Turfway on the same day, the move to Fair Grounds and Stidham comes at an odd time. So far, INHISGLORY has shown a propensity for the dirt with a pair of very solid workouts in New Orleans.

I typically love the synthetic-to-dirt move as horses are very fit and sound coming off the synthetics in many cases. The one place I get a bit worried is with a deep closer making his or her first dirt start. There's a lot of kickback to worry about when you're trailing the field, something you don't have to deal with as much on synthetics. However, a field of just 5 rivals for INHISGLORY may make the kickback pointless.

There's no shortage of early speed in the Black Gold, including THEWAYITUSEDTOBE from the outside and the 1-2-3 early brigade from a key Jan. 15 local allowance in CHANGING THE RULES (Steve Asmussen), DIVINE MUSIC (Malcolm Pierce) and HYDRO POWER (Spanky Broussard). The race should set up for horses like INHISGLORY and perhaps the route-to-sprint turn-back of TRUBS (Al Stall, Jr.). Without a doubt, TRUBS' most impressive visual performance came in his 1-turn maiden win at Louisiana Downs in Septemeber. He's dangerous shortening back in distance.

Black Gold Stakes selections: W) TRUBS; P) DIVINE MUSIC; S) CHANGINGTHERULES.

Last week's selections: 2: 0-0-1. Top pick GOURMET DINNER finished third in the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park, while top pick LASTCALLFORDISCO finished out of the money in Laurel's Dancing Count Stakes. We need to do better than that.

Season selections: 9: 3-2-2. (9 races, top pick won 3 times, ran second 2 times and third 2 times).

Everyone's a critic

This section reviews the week that was in the 3-year-old division. We saw a pair of eye-catching performances Sunday that overshadowed the week, delivered by DIALED IN (Nick Zito) at Gulfstream and MACHEN (Neil Howard) at Fair Grounds. Let's start with G3 Holy Bull Stakes win by DIALED IN.

Here's what we know about DIALED IN: he's got a tremendous turn of foot and is not the late-running, take-all-day type of closer of, say, stablemate Ice Box from last year's Derby trail. You don't win maiden sprints and one-turn mile stakes from last-to-first without an ability to accelerate and boogie. Through two starts, he's tremendously exciting and beat what I consider a good field in the Holy Bull. In his wake were horses who won or placed in the G2 Kentucky Jockey Club, G2 Remsen, G3 Delta Jackpot and G3 Iroquois, and a two-time route stakes winner. In fact, this field had 7 previous stakes victories under its collective belt among the field of 9.

Fractional splits are almost useless in 1-turn mile races at Gulfstream, as the second quarter-mile is totally out of whack every time the race is conducted because of the weird run-up distances to the first timing pole. But what is safe to evaluate is the final quarter-mile split of :24.86, which was very solid, especially when you consider DIALED IN made up more than 4 lengths during that time, coming home in about :24 flat. Winslow Homer needed about :26 to complete last year's Holy Bull win over future Preakness third-place finisher Jackson Bend. Big-time miler Nobiz Like Shobiz came home about 3 lengths slower in his '06 win in this race.

The knocks on DIALED IN are realistic, too. Best case scenario, he'll arrive on Derby Day with only 4 career starts, a light foundation even by today's standards, but becoming less of an issue. He must next replicate his turn of foot displayed in his pair of 1-turn races in a 2-turn affair, and that's not a given for any horse. And, he's been terribly sluggish away from the gate in both career starts. You don't need me to tell you that's a recipe for disaster in a 20-horse field. He's got lots of upside, and some time to work at the gate. I would expect him to run in the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby to get those lessons, with the Florida Derby potentially putting him in line for that new $5.5 million Preakness bonus.

As for the others in the Holy Bull, runner-up SWEET DUCKY (Kelly Breen) continually reminds me of a very good middle-distance horse. He got a perfect stalking trip behind the speed, moved 3-wide in what often is a winning move, and didn't lay the hammer down. He's a solid horse, just not for 1-1/4 miles. GOURMET DINNER (Steve Standridge) was raring to move into the far turn, but had nowhere to go with pace-setting BLACK N BEAUTY (Dale Romans) reducing speed in front of him. 'GOURMET didn't accelerate like a turf miler once a hole did open in the stretch, but ran on well and galloped out much better than SWEET DUCKY. There's another good win left in GOURMET DINNER, he's not just a 2-year-old success story. Nobody else in behind was doing any running at all, so pace players MUCHO MACHO MAN (Kathy Ritvo) and BLACK N BEAUTY held on for fourth and fifth. MUCH MACHO MAN may have been a bit too sharp after a series of bullet workouts; he's not without some rebound hope moving forward. We know he can get a 2-turn distance already.

Now let's shift gears to MACHEN, a rising star at Fair Grounds who has been high on our radar all month (ranked No. 14 nationally last week off of just his debut sprint win). Start No. 2 on Sunday for MACHEN was a wonderful education, facing some adversity into the first turn, having to settle off slow fractions after being head-strong early, and then he took his cues to perfection when asked to run in upper stretch. As we said many times already this season, you don't learn a lot from 5-horse fields at middle-range distances, but in this case, MACHEN got as much out of the situation as you could possibly dream. A well-bred colt by Distorted Humor out of versatile, graded stakes-winning route mare Ready's Gal, he visually oozes class. He beat a nice horse in DON DULCE (Malcolm Pierce). The form of MACHEN looked even better a day later when Jan. 2 pursuer SOUR (Al Stall, Jr.) came back to easily win a maiden route race on Monday at Fair Grounds. All in all, despite lugging out a bit when on the lead, it was a very good week for MACHEN. On the downside, you've got a horse with no 2-year-old foundation and likely only 4 career starts before the first Saturday in May for a trainer who won't over-do it for Derby Fever. With stablemates WILKINSON and PRIME CUT already in the stakes mix, I find it very interesting Howard is talking G2 Risen Star on Feb. 19 for MACHEN, signaling he's moving up the charts.

We had sensational performances last week across all 3 levels of racing we follow on Countdown, not only in the stakes and allowance ranks, but also the maiden win Saturday by RUNFLATOUT (John Sadler) at Santa Anita. The much-anticipated debut for a horse who had been backstretch buzz since last summer was a smashing hit. RUNFLATOUT ran eyeball to eyeball with sharp maiden TOKUBETSU (Bob Baffert) and put that runner away with a furlong to go, pouring it on by 2-1/2 lengths with 11 lengths separating first from third. Splits of :22.19, :22:34, :11.27 and :11.90 were just fantastic en route to 1:07.70 for 6 furlongs. While the track has been ludicrously fast all meeting at Santa Anita, this weekend it was not quite as rapid, so this time impresses more than many. Sire Flatter has been about 50/50 in producing top sprinters or routers, and damsire Grand Slam has been more of a miler influence. I don't think RUNFLATOUT has enough time or pedigree stamina to become a serious Triple Crown threat by spring, but he's got skills, folks.

A pair of Gulfstream winners over the weekend are worth noting as New York raider CROSSBOW (Kiaran McLaughlin) slugged out an allowance win Saturday over 7 furlongs, and first-time starter NACHO BUSINESS (Kelly Breen) ran to his pedigree and works in winning a mile maiden race on Sunday. CROSSBOW, by Bernardini out of Grade 1-winning sprinter Forest Heiress, locked up in a speed duel early and came home only mediocre while beating good debut winner SOVEREIGN DEFAULT (Rick Violette). This performance might take some starch out of both, though the 7-furlong G2 Hutcheson Stakes on Feb. 26 likely is next. Certainly CROSSBOW was flattered earlier Saturday when his recent Aqueduct rival, sprint-bred THE FED EASED (Rick Violette), destroyed maiden dashers by 7 lengths despite a stumbling break and crazy shift in the stretch. THE FED EASE could be G3 Gotham bound on March 5.

As for Sunday's win by NACHO BUSINESS, the half-brother to distance specialists Pompeii and Omi didn't fly home on the back end of this 1-mile maiden. He was professional behind a perfect trip, but didn't appear special at this point. A terribly dull fourth by SINORICE (Nick Zito) did not flatter the Jan. 8 maiden win by FORT LARNED at all.

The ever-consistent WICKED THUNDER (Gary Capuano) could have the barn that brought you Captain Bodgit back in 1997 back on the Preakness trail. WICKED THUNDER advanced to 9-for-9 lifetime in the exacta by winning a hard-fought score in Saturday's 6-furlong Dancing Count Stakes at Laurel. The one-time maiden claimer is by Derby/Belmont winner Thunder Gulch and has plenty of pedigree to stretch out when asked, but this race slowed down to :25.42 the final furlong.

A 1-1/16 miles allowance Saturday at Oaklawn just fell apart late as JW BLUE (Tony Dutrow) benefitted with a last-to-first victory. A fourth-quarter split of :27.59 was abysmal as eventual runner-up BLUEGRASS JAM (Jinks Fires) also passed tired horses for a placing. JW BLUE was a last-to-first maiden winner at Delaware in October and is devoid of any speed. The big disappointment was COMMANDER (Larry Jones), wheeling back on 2 weeks' rest and running a tired sixth. His performance dampens some realistic enthusiasm for his Jan. 15 rivals ALTERNATION (Donnie Von Hemel) and ELITE ALEX (Tim Ritchey), but perhaps the short rest was more at play than any condemnation on his previous rivals? Time will tell.

SPECIAL KID (Doug O'Neill) graduated in his fifth start in Thursday's route maiden at Santa Anita, a race weakened big-time by the scratches of likely favorites HOUSTON HARBOR (Steve Asmussen) and COOK INLET (John Sadler). Interestingly both big names to watch were veterinary scratches, so keep tabs on those two moving down the road. RED SHARP HUMOR (Jerry Hollendorfer), a distant fourth sprinting behind THE FACTOR (Bob Baffert) last time out, set all the pace behind slow fractions and was nailed in the final jump by SPECIAL KID for the money.

Also on undercards last week, LEFT (Al Stall, Jr.) wore down his turf maiden route rivals to debut a winner Saturday at Fair Grounds against a pretty decent bunch; Speedy JIM'S NO PREACHER (Steve Sherman) continued unbeaten at Golden Gate Fields Saturday by winning his third straight sprint; and well-bred Distorted Humor-Jealous Forum colt DISTORTED APPEAL (Mark Shuman) scored a 2-turn maiden route win Wednesday at Laurel.

Quick Hitters

UNCLE MO (Todd Pletcher) shook off the rust with his first workout of the year last Saturday, a slow 3 furlongs in :39.80 at Florida's Palm Meadows. He's looking at a likely G2 Tampa Bay Derby (March 12)-G1 Wood Memorial (April 9) prep path … TO HONOR AND SERVE (Bill Mott) had his third work of the year Monday at Payson Park, breezing a slow 5 furlongs in 1:04.20 over the deep surface … ROGUE ROMANCE (Ken McPeek) will make his 2011 debut in the Feb. 19 G2 Risen Star at Fair Grounds, his trainer announced this week … ELITE ALEX (Tim Ritchey) worked a bullet 5 furlongs Sunday at Oaklawn in 1:00.80 as he prepares for the Feb. 21 G3 Southwest Stakes … Smarty Jones Stakes winner CALEB'S POSSE (Donnie K. Von Hemel) worked 5 furlongs Sunday at Oaklawn in 1:01 flat with an eye toward the Southwest as well … West coast player TAPIZAR (Steve Asmussen) drilled 5 furlongs Monday at Santa Anita in 1:00.20 as he prepares for the G2 Lewis Memorial on Feb. 12 … MACHEN dropped from 100-1 to 45-1 following Sunday's allowance win in the Wynn Las Vegas Derby futures … ROCKING OUT (Rick Dutrow), a horse we're very high on after his maiden win at Aqueduct last fall, had his best work of the winter Saturday at Gulfstream, 5 furlongs in a sharp :59.90 handily … SANTIVA (Eddie Kenneally) continued his preparations toward the G2 Fountain of Youth on Feb. 26 with a 5-furlong breeze in 1:01 flat at Palm Meadows last Friday, his third work of the winter & G1 winner COMMA TO THE TOP (Peter Miller), aimed at the G3 El Camino Real Derby on Feb. 12 over the Tapeta track at Golden Gate Fields, worked 7 furlongs Monday in 1:24.60 over the Cushion Track at Hollywood Park, where he has remained based all winter … As of Thursday, THE FACTOR (Bob Baffert) still has not worked out since January 9 as the G2 San Vicente awaits Feb. 20 … Finally, sometimes we all get bad information, and I apologize for our clocker report last week that indicated PREMIER PEGASUS (Myung Kwon Cho) was not in training at Santa Anita. In fact, PREMIER PEGASUS finally logged his first workout since the fall, going a half-mile last Friday in :47.20. He's back in our Top 5 as a horse I really respect, and hopefully that's the last correction we'll have to run this season. It also goes to show how a low-profile barn can really fly under the radar, even in this day and age.

High Fives

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

Maiden Race
1. THE FACTOR (Santa Anita, 12/26)
2. MACHEN (Fair Grounds, 1/2)
3. RUNFLATOUT (Santa Anita, 1/29) * new *
4. HERON LAKE (Gulfstream, 1/15)
5. DA RULER (Santa Anita, 1/16)

Allowance Race
1. SOLDAT (Gulfstream, 1/21)
2. MACHEN (Fair Grounds, 1/30) * new *
3. ALTERNATION (Oaklawn, 1/15)
4. JAKESAM (Golden Gate, 12/30 * starter allowance *)
5. AWESOME PATRIOT (Santa Anita, 12/29)

Stakes Race
1. DIALED IN (Holy Bull, Gulfstream, 1/30) * new *
2. TAPIZAR (Sham, Santa Anita, 1/15)
3. INDIAN WINTER (San Pedro, Santa Anita, 1/17)
4. CALEB'S POSSE (Smarty Jones, Oaklawn, 1/17)
5. DECISIVE MOMENT (Jean Lafitte, Delta Downs, 1/15)

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, fifth week of the 2011 season

1. UNCLE MO

11. STAY THIRSTY

2. TO HONOR AND SERVE

12. BRETHREN

3. SOLDAT

13. PLUCK

4. PREMIER PEGASUS (returns)

14. SINAI

5. TAPIZAR

15. COOL BLUE RED HOT

6. MACHEN

16. SANTIVA

7. DIALED IN (new)

17. THE FACTOR

8. ROGUE ROMANCE

18. ALTERNATION

9. JAYCITO

19. CLUBHOUSE RIDE

10. ROCKING OUT

20. ELITE ALEX

Reader-submitted top 20, fifth week of the 2011 season: Jeremy Brock in Shepherdstown, WV

1. UNCLE MO

11. SINAI

2. DIALED IN

12. SOLDAT

3. TO HONOR AND SERVE

13. ROGUE ROMANCE

4. TAPIZAR

14. ROCKING OUT

5. COMMA TO THE TOP

15. THE FACTOR

6. BOYS AT TOSCONOVA

16. PREMIER PEGASUS

7. CLUBHOUSE RIDE

17. MACHEN

8. STAY THIRSTY

18. BRETHREN

9. PLUCK

19. COOL BLUE RED HOT

10. JAYCITO

20. RUNFLATOUT

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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