01/29/2014 12:12PM

Dick Jerardi: Three fast 3-year-olds look like Kentucky Derby contenders

Alexander Barkoff/Hodges Photography
Vicar's in Trouble (center) earned a 97 Beyer Speed Figure for his win in the Lecomte at Fair Grounds.

Shared Belief remains the clear Kentucky Derby favorite until one of the contenders starts running triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures or Shared Belief makes his 2014 debut and does not run back to his 2013 form.

Still, I am watching all the horses trying to catch up and have been quite impressed by what I am seeing. From Jan. 18 to Jan. 25, I watched three performances that suggest this class of 3-year-olds may have quality and quantity.

[ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Prep races, point standings, replays]

Obviously, more horses will emerge, but I really liked Vicar’s in Trouble in the Lecomte, Indianapolis in the San Pedro, and Cairo Prince in the Holy Bull.

Let’s put a line through Vicar’s in Trouble’s Polytrack debut at Keeneland, where he could do no better than third. In his two starts on the dirt at Fair Grounds, the Louisiana-bred Vicar’s in Trouble won his maiden by 13 lengths, getting a 98 Beyer on the lead, and won the Lecomte from just off the lead by 6 3/4 lengths, getting a 97 Beyer.

It was more than how fast the horse ran. It was how he ran fast. It was not perfect, but it was plenty good for a horse making just his first and second dirt starts. I know he has beaten nothing, but when you beat nothing, you should win by a pole. He has won by a pole and then half a pole.

Do I care that Vicar’s in Trouble is a Louisiana-bred? Not any more than I cared that Funny Cide was bred in New York and Smarty Jones in Pennsylvania. If the horse is fast enough, he’s fast enough. And this horse looks like he has a chance.

And who doesn’t want to hang with Ken Ramsey Kentucky Derby week if he has a serious contender? He may never stop talking.

Trainer Mike Maker has won big races. No reason he can’t win the Derby.

Indianapolis made his debut Nov. 24 at Hollywood Park. Indianapolis, a son of Medaglia d’Oro, came from seventh, went very wide, and won like a good thing, getting an 81 Beyer.

Indianapolis came back Jan. 20 at Santa Anita, again at six furlongs. Racing against just three others, he prompted a quick pace and ran away, winning by 4 1/4 lengths, getting a 97 Beyer.

How will Indianapolis run if he is sent longer? Don’t know, but I have not seen anything that suggests he can’t keep going.

You know Bob Baffert is thinking Derby. Does he think of anything else in January?

And there is this to consider. Indianapolis is a straight shot up Interstate 65 from a certain Kentucky city with a famous track and even more famous race. That must mean something.

Bottom line, Indianapolis can run fast. And that is the first prerequisite.

I was kind of prepared not to like Cairo Prince. I am not sure exactly why I thought that, but I did.

Well, I liked him plenty while watching the Holy Bull. The Nashua winner and Remsen runner-up always looked like a winner, even when sitting fifth early. When Luis Saez said go, Cairo Prince went and went hard, winning by nearly six lengths and getting a 95 Beyer.

I love Cairo Prince’s 2-year-old experience, with the sprint and a pair of longer races. Even his loss to the talented Honor Code was a very strong effort.

Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin certainly has a Derby out there with his name on it. This could be the horse. And I am a huge Luis Saez fan, the bigger the moment, the better he rides.

So we have three horses in a week earn Beyers of 97, 97, and 95. That strongly suggests they are contenders because 3-year-olds have those giant forward moves that could come in February, March, April or, preferably, the first Saturday in May.

Shared Belief made two major forward moves as a 2-year-old, getting an 84 in his debut, a 99 in the Hollywood Prevue, and that dazzling 106 in the CashCall Futurity.

I have gone back and watched each of those races multiple times. There were some imperfections, but very little overall concern for me. I really liked what I saw. This colt could be a major star.

Shared Belief still has to do it. And he will have to do it against some fast horses that have already shown Derby-level talent and may have far more to show.