by Scott Shapiro

With the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile now in the books it is time to start thinking about early prospects for the 2018 Kentucky Derby.

In terms of the contenders from the West Coast, it is clear that despite his third-place finish in last week’s World Championships that Bolt d’Oro is still at the head of the class. The son of Medaglia d’Oro was caught extremely wide on both turns and had too much ground to make up in the lane, but he still gave a good accounting of himself in his second try around two turns.

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Zayat Stables colt Solomini continued to move forward for Hall of Famer Bob Baffert with a strong runner-up performance to Good Magic in the Juvenile. The lightly raced son of Curlin has yet to beat winners, but has shown the ability to get a route of ground and should be a major player early in 2018 if all goes as planned.

A few others who could potentially race in next year’s “Run for the Roses” face off on Saturday at Del Mar in the 36th running of the Bob Hope Stakes. The Grade 3 event is a one-turn affair, so whether the top contenders have the ability to race around two turns will be answered at a later date, but a few appear to have serious talent.

Mourinho (#2) is my top choice. The $625,000 son of Super Saver crushed a full field of maidens in his first start at Santa Anita back in September and then was bet off the board in his initial try versus winners in the Speakeasy Stakes two weeks later.

The Bob Baffert trainee may not have hit the wire first in the Speakeasy, but he probably ran the best race. The Kentucky-bred colt was part of a scorching early pace going :21.32 and :44.55 while three-wide, put away the other two speed horses, but could not hold off the late run of Bob Hope rival Beautiful Shot in the lane.

Saturday’s feature at Del Mar should set up better for Mourinho since the pace should be a bit more controlled. I expect the stretch-out from six to seven panels also to work to his advantage. Despite the removal of blinkers, he should make the front end once again and this time have enough late to hold off the run of Beautiful Shot.

The aforementioned Beautiful Shot (#5) enters the Bob Hope Stakes a perfect two-for-two for trainer Keith Desormeaux. The Calumet Farm ridgling has been a thorn in the side of Bob Baffert thus far in his career. First he ran down highly regarded Nero on August 27 and followed it up by getting the best of Mourinho last month.

The son of Trappe Shot took advantage of the hot pace last out and should be rolling again late, but I am slightly concerned whether his late run will have the same punch going an additional furlong. Furthermore, even with a victory on Saturday it remains to be seen whether Beautiful Shot is a horse who will improve at a route of ground. In the end, he may be best served as a late-running sprinter.

Run Away (#3) is listed as the 8-5-morning-line favorite, but I think he is worth taking a shot against in this spot. The Kaleem Shah-owned colt is four-for-five, but has failed to move forward in his last couple of starts for trainer Simon Callaghan.

I have concerns regarding Run Away’s ability to compete at distances farther than three-quarters of a mile, and think his competition has caught up to him after the sparkling start to his career. I would be extremely surprised if he was a factor on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby.”

Mourinho will likely be bet down below his 9-5 morning-line, making him hard to back on the win end, but he makes for a strong single in the Players’ Pick 5 that concludes with the Bob Hope Stakes. If Run Away takes significant money in the exotics, a cold 2-5 exacta might be something I get involved with as well.

With the Los Alamitos CashCall Futurity around two turns on December 9, it is very possible that the top couple from Saturday’s Bob Hope make that their next try, much like Mastery did last year.

Despite the Breeders’ Cup being in the rearview mirror there are plenty of things to be excited about as we begin to prepare for the first Saturday in May.

Good luck at the windows this weekend!