Kentucky Derby Top 10: Californians are cream of the crop

March 17th, 2020

California-based 3-year-olds have won five of the last eight editions of the Kentucky Derby (G1), and in 2020 it seems likely they’ll extend that streak.

With a powerful contingent trained by Bob Baffert leading the charge, the Golden State is loaded with high-class sophomores this year. Four of the top five horses in my latest Kentucky Derby Top 10 are based in California, including three colts conditioned by Baffert.

1. Nadal

Nadal had no business winning the Rebel (G2) on Saturday at Oaklawn Park. He broke a step slowly, rushed up to duel for the lead through fast fractions of :22.89, :46.00, and 1:11.38, and never caught a breather. Despite racing under pressure from start to finish, Nadal somehow dug deep in the homestretch to win by three-quarters of a length over late-running longshot Excession.

The two horses racing closest to Nadal in the early going — the previously undefeated No Parole and the Grade 1-placed American Theorem — faded badly to finish last and next to last. This was a huge effort from Nadal.

2. Charlatan

Is Charlatan the real deal? He certainly looked like it when he cruised to victory in a 1-mile allowance race Saturday at Santa Anita. After he secured a clear lead through steady fractions, Charlatan powered clear with complete authority in the homestretch. He scored by 10 1/4 lengths, in the fast time of 1:36.24.

A half an hour later, older fillies and mares ran 1:37.33 in the Beholder Mile (G1), a testament to the strength of Charlatan’s performance. This unchallenged, untested chestnut could be a monster in the making.

3. Tiz the Law

He posted another sharp workout Sunday at Palm Meadows, where he clocked 6 furlongs in 1:13.80. Missing a couple of breezes in February doesn’t appear to have seriously affected Tiz the Law, who remains the most likely candidate to crash the California party.

4. Honor A. P.

Honor A. P.’s pedigree is packed with class from top to bottom. Sire Honor Code was voted champion older dirt male of 2015, based off victories in the Metropolitan H. (G1) and Whitney (G1), while dam Hollywood Story nabbed the 2006 Vanity Invitational (G1).

Honor A. P.’s grandsires were also top-class runners. A.P. Indy (sire of Honor Code) won the 1992 Belmont Stakes (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) en route to Horse of the Year honors, while Wild Rush (sire of Hollywood Story) most notably claimed the 1998 Met Mile and Carter H. (G1).

5. Authentic

Just one week after he won the San Felipe (G2) in frontrunning fashion, Authentic has been overshadowed by his stablemates Nadal and Charlatan. Baffert is loaded on the Derby trail this year, but since his three top contenders all prefer to race on the lead, it will be important to see at least one of them learn to rate during the coming weeks.

6. Sole Volante

He wasted no time getting back on the work tab, with an easy half-mile in :50.15 over the dirt track at Palm Meadows. The April 4 Wood Memorial (G2) at Aqueduct is next on the agenda.

7. King Guillermo

King Guillermo has been made a supplemental nominee to the Triple Crown, and he currently sits sixth on the qualification leaderboard with 50 points.

8. Ete Indien

With three triple-digit Brisnet Speed ratings to his credit, Ete Indien is one of the most consistently fast horses on the Derby trail.

9. Cafe Pharoah

Cafe Pharoah was breathtaking in his debut at Nakayama in December, when he won by 10 lengths against a dozen rivals, and it’s not like he beat an easy field. Runner-up Barnard Loop returned to win a nearly identical race by seven lengths, which flattered Cafe Pharoah’s debut.

10. Gouverneur Morris

Gouverneur Morris breezed 5 furlongs on Sunday at Palm Beach Downs, where he clocked the distance in 1:00.51. But as is typical for horses trained by Todd Pletcher, Gouverneur Morris galloped out in strong fashion. Clocker Dave Norton recorded the colt going out 7 furlongs in 1:28.64.

That’s a stiff, stamina-building workout that will help prepare Gouverneur Morris for his next major test on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.