Countdown: Derby edition
Updated: April 29, 2010, 10:52 PM ETBy Jeremy Plonk | Special to ESPN.com
After 17 weeks on the Countdown to the Crown trail, it's time for the real countdown to begin. Who will lead the 20-horse Kentucky Derby parade when they cross under the wire Saturday at Churchill Downs? Let's count them down from last to (hopefully) first. 20th: LINE OF DAVID (Post 5, 30-1) Countdown skinny: Arkansas Derby winner has not trained well at Churchill and figures to be a chase-the-pace casualty who should be retreating. Bottom line: Not on my tickets. 19th: HOMEBOYKRIS (Post 19, 50-1) Countdown skinny: No foundation for this race in terms of experience or distance ability on the record. Looks good in the flesh, but he's neither America's next top model nor the Kentucky Derby winner this year. Bottom line: Not on my tickets. 18th: BACKTALK (Post 18, 50-1) Countdown skinny: Bad effort in the Illinois Derby should have sent the connections elsewhere, but Derby fever is contagious. Respect for trainer Tom Amoss and sire Smarty Jones, but can't imagine a positive outcome. Bottom line: Not on my tickets. 17th: MAKE MUSIC FOR ME (Post 9, 50-1) Countdown skinny: Blue Grass Stakes effort likely exposed him as more of a miler type, as the pedigree and running lines suggest. In good hands with trainer Alexis Barba and jockey Joel Rosario, but so are many Derby players. Bottom line: Not on my tickets. 16th: AMERICAN LION (Post 7, 30-1) Countdown skinny: A personal favorite of mine, the "Lion" has trained very well this week and looks the part, but his running style is not fast enough to contend with the jets, and he hasn't shown an ability to push by horses late, either. Bottom line: Not on my tickets. 15th: DEAN'S KITTEN (Post 8, 50-1) Countdown skinny: On raw talent, he might be further down the list, but he appears to have a style that will pass some tired horses. He's fit and will run all day, just not lightning-fast. Bottom line: Not on my tickets. 14th: DISCREETLY MINE (Post 15, 30-1) Countdown skinny: Distance questions persist, but he has looked good galloping in recent days and is a proven, quality racehorse. It's just a matter of that pesky 1 1/4-miles thing. Bottom line: Not on my tickets. 13th: AWESOME ACT (Post 16, 10-1) Countdown skinny: I've never considered him a firm route runner at distances beyond 1 1/16 miles, and nothing in his training this week did anything to dissuade me from that doubt. Actually it reinforced my thoughts. He has a tiny window to accelerate, and might look good at some point and then fizzle. Bottom line: Not on my tickets. 12th: DUBLIN (Post 17, 12-1) Countdown skinny: Built like a brick house, he looks the part in the still shot. But moving on the track, he has his detractors as to how well he's doing. Appeared a bit lethargic in Thursday gallop as I'm writing on deadline. Will use him very sparingly as I've always questioned the distance. Bottom line: Usable on some exotic wagers underneath. 11th: NOBLE'S PROMISE (Post 3, 12-1) Countdown skinny: Overcoming a lung infection in three weeks is not the way to come into a Derby, but this horse really has been blossoming in the past week for trainer Ken McPeek. He has run not far off of Lookin at Lucky in the past, so there's some value if he can outrun his short-changed pedigree. Bottom line: Usable on some exotic wagers underneath. 10th: MISSION IMPAZIBLE (Post 14, 20-1) Countdown skinny: Dependable runner has trained well and figures to give a representative effort. Whether that's good enough will be the big question. You could move him up a few slots and not get an argument from this camp. He'll be on my superfecta tickets. Bottom line: Usable on some exotic wagers underneath. Ninth: DEVIL MAY CARE (Post 11, 10-1) Countdown skinny: We mentioned last week that her rising stock was as much a product of the fall of the Pletcher spring empire as it was her own doing. And that's proving to be true. Stablemates Eskendereya, Rule and Interactif all went sour enough to be taken out of Derby consideration, while this gal has flourished. On paper, she still looks terribly short on seasoning, but I've loved what I've seen of her gallops in person. She's usable in the exotic wagers, but I still don't think she's a high-end player with that preparation schedule. Bottom line: Usable on some exotic wagers underneath. Eighth: SUPER SAVER (Post 4, 15-1) Countdown skinny: Along with Devil May Care, he has looked the best of the Todd Pletcher trainees in the morning, and how can you argue with jockey Calvin Borel winning two of the past three Kentucky Derby renewals? He likes this track, as proved this past fall. Although he might not be a true 1 1/4-miles horse, that can be said of most of these. He should run a solid race. Bottom line: Usable on some exotic wagers underneath. Seventh: JACKSON BEND (Post 13, 15-1) Countdown skinny: Tough little horse never misfires, and he will move way up if the predicted thunderstorms soak the racetrack. Smaller horses skip over the goo best, a la Mine That Bird, and he's in great hands as Nick Zito and Mike Smith compose the only tandem in this year's Derby to have both won the Kentucky Derby previously. Bottom line: Usable on some exotic wagers underneath. Sixth: PADDY O'PRADO (Post 10, 20-1) Countdown skinny: No horse has trained any better than he has; he's been on the level of Lookin At Lucky in terms of morning strength leading up to the Derby. His Blue Grass looks better every day, and three-time Derby winner Kent Desormeaux knows how to pull this off. Has a ways to go to turn the tables on Stately Victor, but he's moving the right way. Bottom line: Usable on some exotic wagers underneath. Fifth: STATELY VICTOR (Post 6, 30-1) Countdown skinny: There's burgeoning respect for this guy who was maligned after his Blue Grass win as a Polytrack fluke. Some of the most renowned handicappers in the sport are picking him to win, including ESPN's Randy Moss. He looked spectacular Thursday morning on his first day locally after training across town previously. He's the best closer in a race loaded with speed -- if he can replicate his Blue Grass final quarter-mile. Bottom line: Usable in exotic wagers, including the exacta. Fourth: SIDNEY'S CANDY (Post 20, 5-1) Countdown skinny: His Derby chances are literally in the hands of young rider Joe Talamo, who will have to figure out the trip from Post 20. Although the draw could hurt him in terms of ground loss, it could help him if he stumbles at the start again as he has a few times in the past. Stumble from Post 7 and you're sandwiched in the rodeo. Stumble from Post 20 and you have space to recover somewhat. I have way too much respect for his previous races to bury him Saturday from any post position. Curious that trainer John Sadler has been pushing him out at 5:45 a.m. in the darkness most days this week, however. Bottom line: Usable in exotic wagers, including the exacta. Third: ICE BOX (Post 2, 10-1) Countdown skinny: Solid-finishing closer has never been eye-popping brilliant in the afternoon, but he appears to be coming to hand in the a.m. for Zito and his late-running style fits what could be a meltdown pace under some scenarios. Opinion here is that he's sitting on a career-best race and could wear the roses if things break his way. Trained very well at Churchill and was under restraint Thursday while looking to save something for the big day. Bottom line: Main win contender if the pace melts down up front. Second: LOOKIN AT LUCKY (Post 1, 3-1) Countdown skinny: By breaking from the rail, the challenge for the morning-line favorite comes in the first four or five jumps. Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey told Countdown on Thursday that you'll know in the first five seconds whether Lookin At Lucky has a chance. If he fails to break cleanly, the field could collapse over on him and swallow up his hopes. Let's not be too negative, though, because Lookin At Lucky has trained phenomenally for this and Bob Baffert has him primed for a major league effort. Garrett Gomez rode as well for a three-week period at Keeneland as I've ever observed a rider do, so he's on a mission to vindicate himself. It might take a Hall of Fame ride to get Lookin At Lucky home on Saturday, but I wouldn't want any other pilot in the world at the controls. Bottom line: Main win contender if he can work out the trip. First: CONVEYANCE (Post 12, 12-1) Countdown skinny: The "other" Baffert trainee is the surprise pick to win Derby 136 for several reasons. First, I like that his style is defined and we know what he is -- pure speed. Second, with all the talk of how much speed is in this year's Derby, I can see a very plausible scenario in which all other riders try to avoid an inferno pace. Several think Conveyance is a rabbit for Lookin At Lucky, which means they won't respect him enough to go after him neck-and-neck and sacrifice their own chances. If they do that, this guy will get very bold on the front end, and young rider Martin Garcia oozes confidence. He has trained outstanding each morning, and how many times do we see the under-the-radar horse for a power barn wear the roses while a ballyhooed stablemate is left in his wake? Images of Real Quiet over Indian Charlie, Thunder Gulch over Timber Country, Charismatic over Cat Thief. There's a lot of talk that Conveyance can't get the distance, and that very well may be true. But sire Holy Bull won the Travers over this trip and already sired a Kentucky Derby winner in Giacomo. Give me a horse working bullets, the skill of Bob Baffert and one who almost assuredly will avoid any traffic trouble, and I'll take my chances at what figures to be about a $30 mutuel. If none of the closers is any good at the distance -- and I suspect most of them are not -- we could see a carousel in the stretch drive where few passes are made. He could run first or last if he can't get the distance. But in a year of so many question marks on the Kentucky Derby trail, I kind of like knowing that my Derby pick really has only one question to answer. Bottom line: Main win contender if the pace is not as fast as some expect. 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.
MORE HORSE RACING HEADLINES
- Flashback heads likely G1 Malibu probables
- Trainer Brown takes two shots at Dania Beach
- Derby plan set for undefeated CashCall winner
- 'Diamante' wins Clasico del Caribe for Mexico