With fewer than 60 days remaining as we travel on the road to Kentucky Derby 142, it appears fairly clear that unbeaten stars Mohaymen and 2-year-old champion Nyquist are currently atop the members of the 3-year-old crop bidding to win the Kentucky Derbyâ€™s roses on the first Saturday in May.
Mor Spirit, a talented runner but poor speller, is four-time Derby winner Bob Baffertâ€™s hope to win a fifth Derby, and his second in-a-row following his Triple Crown-winning Horse of a Lifetime American Pharoah in last yearâ€™s Run for the Roses.
Behind that trio is a flood of promising young horses whose owners and trainers hope to earn a spot in one of the 20 available spots in the Churchill Downs starting gate on Kentucky Derby Day.
The connections of all of those horses hope to be part of the big show. The only problem is that, in 2016, the big show could be on the first FRIDAY in May.
Thatâ€™s Friday, May 6, the date of this yearsâ€™ 142nd running of the Longines Kentucky Oaks, the so-called Derby for fillies.
The Oaks is always a wonderful race. In 2009, it produced racingâ€™s Horse of the Year in Rachel Alexander, who romped in the Oaks and went on to earn the solid gold Eclipse Award presented to Americaâ€™s Horse of the Year. Thatâ€™s rarified air for a 3-year-old filly that wins the 1 1/8-mile Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs.
This yearâ€™s group of Derby hopes appears to be solid and talented, with strength at the top and several rising stars. But when the first weekend in May has come and gone, the lingering conversation could surround the fillies that competed in the big race on the day before the Derby in the 142nd Kentucky Oaks.
The first horse that might lead one to that speculation is Fox Hill Farmâ€™s Songbird, an unbeaten daughter of Medaglia dâ€™Oro who, last week, made her rivals in the Grade III Santa Ysabel at Santa Anita her latest victims in a career in which she has won six races in as many attempts.
Guided by the Hall of Fame duo of trainer Jerry Hollendorfer and jockey Mike Smith, Songbird dominated last yearâ€™s 14 Hands Breedersâ€™ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Keeneland to complete a perfect 2-year-old season and earn the Eclipse Award for champion 2-year-old filly. She is two-for-two in 2016 and won last Saturdayâ€™s Santa Ysabel with such ease that announcer Michael Wrona told that Songbird won the race by â€œwhatever she felt like.â€
Songbird won by 3 3/4-lengths and looked like she could have easily added 10 lengths the final margin.
The filly can run.
But it appears that some fillies that share lanes on the â€œRoad to the Kentucky Oaksâ€ also have considerable talent and, come the first Friday in May, could be ready to challenge the current leader of the 2016 crop of 3-year-old fillies.
Drawing the most attention in the early weeks of 2016 is Cash is King LLCâ€™s Cathryn Sophia, an unbeaten daughter of Street Boss who has won her four career races by a combined margin of more than 41 lengths.
She started her career last fall in Maryland but has romped in a pair of major stakes races at Floridaâ€™s Gulfstream Park in 2016. Trainer John Servis, Cathryn Sophia is expected to run next in the Gulfstream Park Oaks (GII) on April 2 and then head to Kentucky for a run against Songbird in the Kentucky Oaks.
Yet to be seen in 2016 is Carina Mia, who left a strong impression last November at Churchill Downs when she skipped through the slop in a 4 1/4-length victory in the Grade II Golden Rod Stakes at Churchill Downs. Trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, the all-time win leader at the Louisville track, Three Chimneys Farmâ€™s daughter of Malibu Moon appeared to have everything it takes to be a very good filly in her three races in 2015.
Carina Mia looks special, but she will have to be if she is to compete with Songbird in this springâ€™s Kentucky Oaks.
Not far behind that trio are Rachelâ€™s Valentina, a daughter of the great Rachel Alexandra who was a major stakes winner at 2 but finished far back of Songbird in their Breedersâ€™ Cup run at Keeneland; Stageplay, runner-up to Carina Mia in the Golden Rod but a disappointing fifth in the recent Rachel Alexandra at the Fair Grounds in which she raced on the outside over a track that favored inside runners; and Midnight On Oconee, trained by three-time Oaks-winning trainer Larry Jones and ran into the same track bias in the Rachel Alexandra that hindered Stageplayâ€™s chances.
Racing fans will have opportunities to wager on contenders for both races this weekend when both Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool 3 and the lone Kentucky Oaks Future Wager open their respective runs at noon on Friday, March 11. Betting on the Derby wager runs until 6 p.m. on Sunday, and the Oaks betting will continue 30 minutes beyond that.
Future betting on both is available at Churchill Downsâ€™ Trackside and online at TwinSpires.com.
One thing you will not be able to bet on this weekend is whether the boys or the girls of the Thoroughbred Class of 2016 is more talented. Time will tell, but important lessons on both are not far down the road in the 142 Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby on the first weekend in May. VT