Countdown to the Crown: March 6, 2009

Updated: March 5, 2009, 11:49 PM ET
By Jeremy Plonk | Special to ESPN.com

Countdown to the Crown

Editor's Note: Countdown to the Crown returns for its fourth season as one of the most comprehensive handicapper's analyses of the 3-year-old scene. Posted each Friday from Jan. 1 through the Belmont Stakes, Countdown keeps you apprised of the rising stars in the sophomore class from the maiden ranks to the Grade 1 stakes. Click on the links below for videos and past performances, courtesy of Equibase.

3 things you won't read anywhere else

Opinions are like a good March snowstorm. Wait a minute, there's no such a thing ...

1. Shame on THE PAMPLEMOUSSE trainer Julio Canani for his arrest on suspicion of DUI on Sunday. According to published reports, Canani admitted to Daily Racing Form writer Brad Free that he had consumed alcohol at the track Sunday, but denied being impaired. You may call me the righteous police for complaining about this, but does anyone else have a problem with a trainer drinking at the track on the day he was running DREAM NOW in the G3 Baldwin Stakes, the next-to-last race on the card? That's the big issue if I'm an owner, regardless of what happens in terms of the police. The horses are in Canani's welfare and count on him for their safety. So, too, do other drivers on the road, but we'll let the courts decide that one. What Canani does on his own time is his business; but on a work day when he has horses running, the least he can do is "just say no" until his equine competitors have cooled down and are back in the barn safely.

2. Now that MIDSHIPMAN is injured and out of the Triple Crown talk, it's starting to look like the luck-crossed Sheikh Mohammed could not win the roses if he tried to buy the Kentucky Derby leader at the sixteenth pole. Of course, I'd like to have a smidge of Sheikh Mo's bad luck.

3. For everyone who bemoaned the one-turn nature of last week's Fountain of Youth, who would you rather have head-to-head on Derby Day -- '09 champ QUALITY ROAD or one of the last four FoY winners at a route, namely COOL COAL MAN, SCAT DADDY, FIRST SAMURAI or HIGH FLY? The defense rests.

This week's fearless forecast

This section includes a preview of the coming week's 3-year-old races to watch. With the G3 Gotham on the agenda, as well as STARDOM BOUND appearing in the G1 Santa Anita Oaks, we've got another big week of action. As is custom, let's first peek into the undercards. Later today, key Friday races are on the docket at Gulfstream, Santa Anita and Aqueduct.

Friday's Race 8 route allowance at Gulfstream features the U.S. debut of Todd Pletcher's promising Peruvian import AL KHALI (Equibase past performances). He meets a stellar cast that includes the enigmatic WELL POSITIONED, G2 Remsen two-four finishers ATOMIC RAIN and IDOL MAKER, as well as dominant debut winner CHEF, the top prospect to appear from Smarty Jones' first crop.

At Santa Anita Friday afternoon, wickedly fast sprinter STREET CAR tries to pop a route maiden field from the opening bell for Bob Baffert. He'll be hard-pressed to fend off MILLENNIUM LAKES, who could still be a Triple Crown player if he breaks through Friday for Mark Casse. 'LAKES rates as my top California classics hopeful still in the maiden ranks.

And at Aqueduct on Friday, long-striding Belmont Stakes sleeper MAJHOOD takes on winners for the first time in a Race 8 route allowance against uprising HAITIAN SENSATION and Whirlaway Stakes runner-up CELLAR DWELLAR, who will give us an early weekend barometer on Gotham contender HAYNESFIELD. For a further read on HAYNESFIELD, we'll get to see Whirlaway third-place finisher MIKE FROM QUEENS compete on Saturday's Gotham undercard in a Race 6 allowance. In that one, you might want to consider IN SPEIGHT OF IT, a horse I've been high on since Saratoga last summer and who could wake up with a big trainer change to Allen Iwinski and a bullet workout.

Saturday's massive Santa Anita Handicap Day undercard includes the G1 Santa Anita Oaks, where STARDOM BOUND drew the rail in a field of 10 and looks to build on her Las Virgenes Stakes comeback win. A big Oaks effort likely sends her to the Santa Anita Derby. Saturday's program also includes a Race 4 maiden sprint where slickly bred UNIONIZE (Dixie Union-Silent Sighs) returns for the first time since finishing second to everyone's impressive debut winner POINT ENCOUNTER, who has since been sidelined. Keep an eye on bet-back special TEMERITY in that contest for Ron Ellis, who will enjoy the extra furlong and second start off the layoff.

Also on Saturday, Gulfstream offers split divisions of a seven-furlong maiden heat in Races 8 and 11, as well as a turf route maiden in Race 6. Barbaro's little brother NICANOR tries to improve off his troubled debut in Race 8, where DUBINSKY should be awfully tough turning back in distance after chasing some absolute bears to open his career. Bet-back special GALLIGAN ROAD tops the Race 11 division, having had his heels clipped by a loose horse last time out and still running third (not sure how the chart caller missed that one?). Another troubled soul, HENNIGAN, returns after traffic issues in the ultra-tough DUNKIRK-SANTANA SIX maiden melee from Jan. 24. Ken McPeek firster INQUISITION has a win-early look about him given his $215K pricetag last May from a $10K stallion. His dam is a half-sister to millionaire sprint star Gold Mover, so watch out.

The key Sunday race comes in the third at Gulfstream, where a seven-furlong allowance matches sensational turf sprint debut winner ECHO IN ETERNITY against Nick Zito's G2 Hutcheson pace menace ROCKETING RETURNS. Transferred from trainer Ken McPeek to Todd Pletcher, ECHO IN ETERNITY showed a blistering turn of foot in his unveiling and it will be highly interesting to see if he can reproduce that burst on dirt. The solid field also includes a trio of Florida-based stakes-placed runners and the unbeaten Canadian raider PASO DOBLE.

G3 Gotham (Saturday/Aqueduct):

I WANT REVENGE should be a slam-dunk in Saturday's G3 Gotham; the operative word being "should." Consider he's G1/G2-placed in a field that features seven horses making their graded-stakes debuts among nine entrants. Also consider he should get a dynamite pace set-up while racing a few lengths behind what could be a front-end incinerator. And, he's got California speed and past performances that boast he can make his own pace if things turn out softer up front than expected.

It bothers me not the least bit that the Gotham will be I WANT REVENGE's debut on natural dirt. Time and again we've seen horses go from the all-weather to the dirt and be sterling; it's the other way around that has been the tripping-up factor. Consider in the last year horses like Zenyatta, Gayego, Sierra Sunset, Tiago, Heatseeker and Black Seventeen have left California's all-weather confines to run superbly on the dirt. SCOREWITHCATER (Borderland Derby) and MAYOR MARV (Turf Paradise Derby) already have made the winning move this year on the Triple Crown trail.

The caution comes in that I WANT REVENGE failed to finish the deal in the Lewis Memorial over this trip. I'm not sold on his Derby prospects at 1 1/4 miles, but at 1 1/16 miles on Saturday, the distance still suits him wonderfully. And, you have to love that jockey Joe Talamo gives up a massive day with three Grade 1 races at Santa Anita (Big Cap, Oaks, Kilroe Mile). All in all, I don't think 'REVENGE will beat himself -- the way through I WANT REVENGE will be to beat him. It may take a freak in the field to knock him off, given his experience edge, and what's cool about the Gotham is that we have the potential for not one, but four possible freaks.

No one knows how good untested horses HAYNESFIELD, RUSSELL ROAD, IMPERIAL COUNCIL and MR. FANTASY can be. Their ceilings are uncertain and their past performances impeccable. Between them, they enter on a 14-race winning streak, with RUSSELL ROAD owning six straight scores. HAYNESFIELD loves the track and dominated the Count Fleet and Whirlaway. In fact, the last time any in this group tasted defeat was the final week of last August. None has the resume of I WANT REVENGE, but I think we can paint the ceiling for I WANT REVENGE somewhere near where he's been competing. He's good; real good. But can one of the unproven quartet be great? I think two have a big chance, IMPERIAL COUNCIL and MR. FANTASY.

IMPERIAL COUNCIL may have the best route pedigree of any horse on the Triple Crown trail, and it's amazing to see his success sprinting for patient trainer Shug McGaughey. You would not think he'd be 3: 2-1-0 in races seven furlongs or shorter and his last race at Gulfstream was so professional. His best is yet to come, and a fantastic workout Sunday gave Shug the incentive to bring 'COUNCIL north now.

MR. FANTASY, ranked No. 3 in my current national poll of sophomore contenders, could be boom or bust. But visually no horse in America has impressed me more this spring. I love the way he moves; he has plenty of pedigree; and he made the lead from post 10 under a hold last time out as if to showcase he was capable of anything. It's a massive class test Saturday, but I'm not about to back down on him one bit, confidence-wise. If he's as good as I think he is ... goodnight, Gotham, hello bandwagon. I'll scoot my large posterior over to make room for the late arrivals.

As we like to do in the two-turn races, here's a look at the projected Gotham pace scenario:

SPEED

PRESS

MIDDLE

CLOSER

MR. FANTASY
HAYNESFIELD

GIANT RYAN
RUSSELL ROAD
IMPERIAL COUNCIL

I WANT REVENGE
MASALA
NAOS

AXEL FOLEY


Everyone's a critic

This section recaps the week that was. While six legitimate stakes on main tracks across America went to post, we even had a few "wow" performances in the undercard ranks at Gulfstream and Oaklawn that demand attention.

I admitted confusion going into last Saturday's G2 Fountain of Youth, and the only thing that I proved to be correct about in hindsight was that original premise. With burner NOTONTHESAMEPAGE breaking fifth and deteriorating his position from there, this one did not have the expected look from a pace standpoint. Sure, THIS ONES FOR PHIL set the table plenty fast, but the lack of 'PAGE early on drastically changed the roadmap for all.

Eventual winner QUALITY ROAD (Equibase past performances) deserves all the credit. He was among those putting heat on 'PHIL from the opening bell and did much of his own dirty work. This was not a victory set up by the trip. A gorgeous physical specimen on video, QUALITY ROAD widened through the lane and was clearly the best of this group in just about any scenario. After six furlongs in 1:09.40, he came home in a decent-enough :25.61 considering his close attendance to the pace. There's plenty of pedigree here to route, by Elusive Quality out of champion Ajina's full-sister. He more than avenged his allowance loss to THEREGOESJOJO, who accounted well for himself with a clear-cut second in the Fountain of Youth. 'JOJO made up less than a length on QUALITY ROAD over the final quarter-mile, so it's not like he was getting to him despite having serious help up front. Around two turns, I lean heavily to QUALITY ROAD in a personal rubber match. But you have to respect THEREGOESJOJO's showing in light of him missing some training time due to a minor illness, and he'll be a big factor next time out wherever he winds up.

BEETHOVEN got the exact Fountain of Youth trip we expected (okay we did get something right) and ran the perfect prep. There are so few throw-away races on the Derby trail anymore, but old school horseman John Ward had to be beaming with the end result. Calvin Borel took the route runner back, let the field get away early, and then came along wide with a safe close for a season-building, third-place finish. It was not pleasing to see BEETHOVEN come unglued pre-race, however, and that's something we definitely want to follow moving forward as the crowds and chaos build to a crescendo.

As for the others, CAPT. CANDYMAN CAN was punchless after chasing the pace and appears to have taken several steps backward here in terms of developing patience. He lost almost nine lengths from the half-mile marker to the wire when trying to match strides with QUALITY ROAD. I'm not sure where you go with this one, but nine furlongs in the Florida Derby won't be his best lick and trainer Ian Wilkes is looking elsewhere. Graded earnings aren't a worry for him, and I'd like to see him lay off until the Lexington at 1 1/16 miles. Other also-rans include NOTONTHESAMEPAGE, who reportedly bled badly and will be out of action; BREAK WATER EDISION, who was pulled up and will undergo evaluation and get a timeout; and the highly disappointing TAQARUB, who chased, spit the bit and a plummeted back to the sprint ranks. THIS ONES FOR PHIL got cold-cocked by the eighth pole in one of the quickest shortening of strides you'll ever see from a horse this respected.

The weekend's other big graded stakes was Saturday's G3 Sham at Santa Anita, where things ran much more to form from start to finish. Odds-on favorite THE PAMPLEMOUSEE dominated every call and was never challenged in a six-length romp. His splits showed that he took the race to his rivals, even though he could have backed things up and walked early since he had no other early pace threat in the lineup (:23.08, :23.43, :23.78, :24.80, :12.77).

THE PAMPLEMOUSSE runs inefficiently, legs flailing almost as if he's on a marionette puppeteer's string. It has not caught up with him yet, having now won three straight starts in near wire-to-wire fashion since stretching out around two turns. And, his pedigree screams middle-distance at best. But he also has forgotten to listen to that criticism to this point. Further concern comes from the fact that he's carried just 116 pounds and 118 pounds in his two stakes wins to date, and will have to tote more groceries in the upcoming big Derbies. So while there's a lot to like right now with this Kafwain colt, and he could not have been more dominant Saturday (it's my top-rated stakes performance of the year to date), I still don't think he's the best Triple Crown prospect in the Sham lot.

That title goes to third-place finisher MR. HOT STUFF, who rallied from last to be third and never really leveled out and began reaching strongly until inside the final furlong. He galloped out like a beast, blowing past THE PAMPLEMOUSSE and runner-up TAKE THE POINTS (who was gassed) before they hit the clubhouse turn, despite finishing 7-3/4 lengths behind the winner. The full-brother to Colonel John is moving the direction you like to see this time of year. I'll keep THE PAMPLEMOUSSE rated higher than MR. HOT STUFF for now, but note the pendulum could swing if 'STUFF continues to progress.

TAKE THE POINTS ran about as good as could be expected, traveling west and trying the Pro-Ride for the first time. The Todd Pletcher trainee overcame a terrible post No. 10, thanks to a dearth of speed inside of him and a good ride from Garrett Gomez. He looks second-tier, but dependable. Topping my Sham disappointments was SMART BID, who chased closer to the solid pace than what is his best trip, most likely because jockey Rafael Bejarano feared THE PAMPLEMOUSSE getting away. He was ridden to win in this spot, not merely to get a piece. Meanwhile, MARK S. THE COOLER needs a return to turf. He's failed to reproduce his sparkling grass maiden win in any of his main-track tries. He's talented -- but a grass horse -- and probably only in the Sham because Reddam/O'Neill stablemate SQUARE EDDIE remains sidelined.

Four other listed stakes took flight last weekend on the dirt. Let's open at Oaklawn.

D. Wayne Lukas' $700,000 FuPeg colt FLYING PRIVATE (Equibase past performances) was much the best in Saturday's six-furlong Mountain Valley, but could not overcome the trip when falling inches short against front-running longshot CITIZEN. The Lukas pupil had exited four straight races at a mile or more, but has not been embarrassed in four starts already at the meeting. He's got a tough foundation about him and could get sneaky-good in a late-season prep that gets him to the dance. DANCE CALLER had a herky-jerky trip under Terry Thompson, who was subbing for Calvin Borel. He's better than this fourth-place effort and might be a nice Derby Trial contender.

Saturday's Battaglia Memorial was so slow, even by this year's sun-dial standard at Turfway, that you can't be enamored with anyone in Saturday's feature from Kentucky. The fourth-quarter of this 1 1/16 miles race crept home in :27.31 and they went the final half-furlong in :7.11. That's only cool if you're into convenience store betting hunches. PROCEED BEE got the win, and has now won on dirt, turf (Grand Canyon Stakes) and Polytrack. That's the good news; the bad news is how poorly he cornered on the far turn and how a turtle can be spotted passing the field if you look close enough at the replay. I'm looking for outsiders to own the G2 Lane's End.

At Sunland Park, the $100,000 Borderland Derby saw winner SCOREWITHCATER continue trainer Doug O'Neill's ship-in prowess of the local sophomore stakes scene. 'CATER had a PT (perfect trip) and still was all-out to nail an overly rambunctious MINE THAT BIRD after a protracted late duel. The 'BIRD received an impatient ride when Casey Lambert decided on the backstretch to go after sprinter HOYA. He likely was the best horse with a smarter trip. Neither SCOREWITHCATER or MINE THAT BIRD matches up favorably with potential Sunland Derby invader MAYOR MARV if that showdown arises.

The once-inconsistent ROCK ON JUSTIN again showed up with his game-face Saturday in the seven-furlong Miracle Wood at Laurel. The Gary Capuano trainee earned a possible date in the Federico Tesio around two turns, but did not overwhelm here. The gelded grandson of A.P. Indy got some help when favorite IN THE JUICE was bumped at the start of his sophomore debut. The final clocking of 1:24.58 was just just .50 quicker than a romping $5,000 claimer went a few races prior.

Now let's talk about a pair of undercard dazzlers, AFFIRMATIF and WISE KID.

AFFIRMATIF (Equibase past performances) was absolutely awesome on the Gulfstream Park lawn Saturday, wrapping up the Fountain of Youth Day program with a buzz. Todd Pletcher's rookie rolled to the front and blitzed these maiden turf milers by nine lengths with splits that defy description. How about :23.39, :24.42, :23.55 and :22.91? The final time of 1:34.27 was a shade quicker than older stablemate Twilight Meteor ran in the same-day G3 Canadian turf.

AFFIRMATIF, yet another sparkling son of Unbridled's Song, showed everything you want, and as important as the amazing closing two quarters were, you have to absolutely love the second-quarter relaxation -- the sign of a horse who takes his cues. The sky could be the limit for this one. But while he is a maternal grandson of Affirmed, his dam, Wichitoz, is a half-sister to sprint king Rubiano. Wichitoz already has produced Chitoz, who set Monmouth's turf course record at the highly used 5-1/2 furlong dash distance last summer in the Anderson Fowler Stakes. Chitoz ran pretty well on the Polytrack at Turfway as well, so it would not be a shock to see Pletcher bring this one back on another surface, though he says he's in no hurry to make the Derby. From this race, beware the turf reappearances of SEEKING THE SLUICE and INDIAN FOG, who chased the pace and both appeared more comfortable on turf than dirt.

A pair of graded stakes-caliber contenders battled last Friday at OAKLAWN when route allowance winner WISE KID (Equibase past performances) punched his ticket to the G3 Rebel and runner-up BUZZIN AND DREAMIN did enough to advance to the G2 Lane's End at Turfway. The Tim Ritchey-trained WISE KID was much more into the race with the addition of blinkers than he had been in his previous two deep-closing starts. I respect the way he was able to work between horses on the far turn and he was infinitely more professional Friday than at any point to date. He really leveled off the way you want to see in the final furlong over the sloppy going. The 1 1/16 miles time of 1:45.52 was awfully good when you compare how slow the sprints on the card went. This is a SERIOUS threat in the Rebel-Arkansas Derby ranks, folks, with a pedigree to run all day by Lemon Drop Kid.

The form of WISE KID got another positive lift Thursday when GOOD SERMON rebounded from his second-place finish to the 'KID and blitzed an Oaklawn maiden route in wire-to-wire fashion for Jinks Fires. GOOD SERMON is not nominated to the Triple Crown, but his company lines include a Who's Who -- NOTONTHESAMEPAGE, FLYING PEGASUS, JACK SPRATT, DANGER TO SOCIETY, BUZZIN AND DREAMIN and WISE KID et al.

Back at Gulfstream, if you liked AFFIRMATIF on Saturday, you had to tip your cap Sunday to turf mile allowance winner FLORENTINO, who was visually beautiful in 1:34.52. This Kiaran McLaughlin trainee has a wonderful cruising speed and stride, and he really reaches out nicely. FLORENTINO can make his own trip and accelerates when asked. He appears much better on turf, and is not Triple Crown nominated to this point. He could be a factor at Keeneland in a few weeks on either surface. Bet back on grass TWO BRASH, who was keen early, surrendered the lead to the winner down the backstretch and never quit trying in his turf and two-turn debut. He'll win a grass mile for John Kimmel.

Saturday's Fountain of Youth undercard kicked off in fast style when California all-weather track performer SNAPSHOT simply ran everyone off their feet in a maiden sprint win for new trainer Bill Mott. While the son of Awesome Again has plenty of pedigree to get a mile (from the female family of Forestry and Sewickley), this was a sprint masterpiece. Bet-back special ALL THE BASES was highly disappointing when not being able to hold on to second, thus taking the opinion of BZ WARRIOR's maiden win Feb. 11 down a peg.

Nick Zito has been awfully quiet on the Triple Crown trail this spring and his stable has begun to perk up to some degree. Sixth-time starter TOBY THE COAL MAN punched home a nose victory Thursday at Gulfstream, getting nine panels in a decent-enough 1:50.72, coming home in a nice :12.91 but defeating only six rivals in the weakest maiden special weight of the season in terms of quality depth. He's got some genes, by Mineshaft and out of a half-sister to champion Declan's Moon.

At Fair Grounds last Friday afternoon, David Carroll's FINAL JUDGMENT gave a boost to the already solid reputation of CAPTAIN CHEROKEE and FIERCE THUNDER. He returned from a fourth-place finish to that duo to handily capture a two-turn maiden race while absolutely under confident wraps from Robby Albarado. Though not a Triple Crown nominee, this one looks capable on the allowance rise and was a good second to DANGER IN SOCIETY last fall at Churchill.

MR. HOT STUFF helped his own cause with a good third in the G3 Sham, but his reputation also got a second-hand boost when Bob Baffert's TURK sprinted to a clear maiden win earlier on the Sham program. TURK was exiting a well-beaten third to 'STUFF around two turns.

Finally, Thursday's listed $250,000 Al Bastakiya Stakes at Nad al Sheba had only one Triple Crown hopeful, last year's DQ'd Arlington-Washington Futurity winner JOSE ADAN. Pinch-hitting for injured Godolphin stablemate MIDSHIPMAN, the son of Crypto Star finished second over an extremely slow running surface. Star rider Frankie Dettori, even without a mount in the UAE Derby prep, did not ride; that's a bad sign. As for getting a line of Godolphin's UAE 2000 Guineas winner DESERT PARTY, sixth-place pursuer I AM THE BEST returned in the Al Bastikya to finish third. SOY LIBRIANO, beaten by I AM THE BEST in December at Nad al Sheba, became the fourth straight Southern Hemisphere-bred 4-year-old to win this event over Northern Hemisphere 3-year-olds. Nothing here seemed to add luster the Big Blue brigade, nor detract much from what we currently know.

Rubber-necking

Each week we provide a race video worth a second look. It's Gotham week, and there's one Gotham everyone should have in their mental Rolodex -- Easy Goer's destruction of Secretariat's track record. Check out his absolute-ease performance from 1989 as we dial the way-back machine and get some vintage Chris Lincoln commentary to boot. Video here.

Quick hitters

Next week will be just plain nuts on the Triple Crown trail. Round 'em up for the G2 Louisiana Derby from Fair Grounds, G3 Rebel from Oaklawn, G2 San Felipe at Santa Anita and G3 Tampa Bay Derby ... Among the interesting footnotes next week will be the returns of PATENA and TERRAIN in the Louisiana Derby, where FRIESAN FIRE awaits ... SILVER CITY is possible for either the Louisiana Derby or Rebel, where a rematch would loom with OLD FASHIONED in the latter. 'CITY bounced out of his tough loss in the Southwest with a big drill last Saturday in :47.60 breezing at Fair Grounds ... HELLO BROADWAY is training like a monster for the Tampa Bay Derby, where GENERAL QUARTERS looks to defend his turf ... PIONEEROF THE NILE continues his sharp conditioning for the San Felipe, where he could have hotshot stablemate ZENSATIONAL matching strides ... Between this weekend and next, 13 of my current Top 20-rated contenders potentially could be in action, including the entire Top 7 ... Florida Derby contender WEST SIDE BERNIE, held out of last week's Fountain of Youth to train up to the big one, drilled five panels Thursday in 1:00.40 at Palm Meadows for Kelly Breen ... California's ever-consistent CHOCOLATE CANDY remained on edge with a :59.80 drill Sunday at Golden Gate Fields for Jerry Hollendorfer.

High fives

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

Maiden Race
1. AFFIRMATIF -- Gulfstream 2/28 * new * (turf)
2. ZENSATIONAL -- Santa Anita 2/21
3. ECHO IN ETERNITY -- Gulfstream 1/31 (turf sprint)
4. SOUL WARRIOR -- Fair Grounds 12/29
5. MR. HOT STUFF -- Santa Anita 2/1

Allowance Race
1. MR. FANTASY -- Aqueduct 2/1
2. DUNKIRK -- Gulfstream 2/19
3. THEREGOESJOJO -- Gulfstream 1/10 (moved up)
4. IMPERIAL COUNCIL -- Gulfstream 2/14
5. CAPTAIN CHEROKEE -- Fair Grounds 2/14

Stakes Race
1. THE PAMPLEMOUSSE -- Sham 2/28 * new *
2. NOTONTHESAMEPAGE -- Spectacular Bid 1/3
3. PIONEEROF THE NILE -- Lewis Memorial 2/7
4. QUALITY ROAD -- Fountain of Youth 2/28 * new *
5. OLD FASHIONED -- Southwest 2/16

Stakes selections

G3 Gotham Picks:
1- #5 MR FANTASY
2- #8 I WANT REVENGE
3- #7 IMPERIAL COUNCIL

G1 Santa Anita Oaks Picks:
1- #1 STARDOM BOUND
2- #6 NAN
3- #7 WILL O WAY

How did we do last week?
Top choices THE PAMPLEMOUSSE and ROCK ON JUSTIN won the Sham and Miracle Wood, respectively; second choice PROCEED BEE won the Battaglia Memorial; no dice on the Fountain of Youth, Borderland Derby and Mountain Valley affairs, however.

How are we doing on the season?
8-for-25 (32 percent) with top pick; 14-for-25 (56 percent) with top two picks.

Put 'em in the gate

Can't wait for May 2? This section ranks my Top 20 and puts horses in the gate if the race was this weekend. Remember, this isn't about how they'll be on Derby Day, but rather how they rate today with Derby ability at 1-1/4 miles a main factor. This will be a fluid list over the spring.

Think I'm off my rocker? Send your Top 20 list to me, jeremy@horseplayerpro.com, and I'll pick one fan's list each week to appear in Countdown to the Crown right next to mine. Please put "TOP 20" in the subject line and include your state of residence!

Jeremy's top 20: 10th week of the season

1. Old Fashioned

11. Mr. Hot Stuff

2. Patena

12. Silver City

3. Mr. Fantasy

13. Flying Pegasus

4. Pioneerof The Nile

14. Stardom Bound

5. Friesan Fire

15. Beethoven

6. Imperial Council

16. Soul Warrior

7. Hello Broadway

17. Giant Oak

8. Dunkirk

18. General Quarters

9. Quality Road (new)

19. Desert Party (new)

10. The Pamplemousse

20. Theregoesjojo (new)


Dropped out this week: Capt. Candyman Can, Taqarub and Notonthesamepage.

Reader-submitted top 20: Jeff in Fairview, Texas

1. Quality Road

11. Take the Points

2. Theregoesjojo

12. I Want Revenge

3. The Pamplemoose

13. Mr. Fantasy

4. Dunkirk

14. Patena

5. Old Fashioned

15. Big Drama

6. Friesan Fire

16. West Side Bernie

7. Pioneerof The Nile

17. Beethoven

8. Desert Party

18. Hello Broadway

9. Chocolate Candy

19. Imperial Council

10. General Quarters

20. Mr. Hot Stuff


What happens in Vegas

This section highlights the steamers in the Las Vegas future book odds. Odds updated March 2, 2009, here.

Wynn Las Vegas Derby Favorites
OLD FASHIONED ... 8-1
PIONEEROF THE NILE ... 10-1
STARDOM BOUND ... 15-1
FRIESAN FIRE ... 15-1
DUNKIRK ... 15-1
QUALITY ROAD ... 15-1
DESERT PARTY ... 20-1
PATENA ... 20-1
CHOCOLATE CANDY ... 25-1

COUNTDOWN TO THE CROWN is the ONLY major racing column where you can find the line of Johnny Avello, Vegas' premier oddsmaker!

Jeremy Plonk has been an ESPN.com contributor since 2000. You can email Jeremy about Countdown to the Crown or anything racing related at Jeremy@Horseplayerpro.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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