03/23/2016 10:46AM

Jerardi: Still a crowd at top of Kentucky Derby contenders list

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Tom Keyser
Destin (above), Nyquist and Danzing Candy are the only Kentucky Derby contenders to hit the 100 Beyer mark.

As we hit the final Saturday of March, six weeks before the Kentucky Derby, I am going to use a 95 Beyer Speed Figure as the cutoff for contenders. I count nine horses on that list, from a high of 101 (Nyquist) to a low of 95 (Cupid, Mohaymen). It is interesting, if nowhere near conclusive, that the unbeaten 2-year-old male champion is at the top of the list and the likely Derby favorite (Mohaymen) if the race was this Saturday is at the bottom.

Nyquist (101), San Felipe Stakes winner Danzing Candy (100), and Destin (100) are the contenders who have hit triple digits. Destin also had a 98, giving the Tampa Bay Derby winner the best set of Beyers.

Exaggerator got a 98 when second to Nyquist in the San Vicente Stakes and a 96 when third in the San Felipe. Outwork got a 98 when second in the Tampa Bay Derby.

Mor Spirit got a 97 when second in the San Felipe, and Matt King Coal got a 97 in an Aqueduct allowance win.

Cupid got a 95 in the Rebel Stakes. Mohaymen got a pair of 95s in his Holy Bull and Fountain of Youth wins as well as a 95 in last year’s Remsen Stakes.

By this time two years ago, California Chrome had separated from the crowd in terms of Beyers. Dortmund and American Pharoah had similar separation last year.

So, who do I like? No clue.

I am not even sure how to interpret the data at this stage. I could take the easy way out, say Nyquist and Mohaymen are unbeaten and clearly the ones to beat. That could be true, but the Beyers don’t say that at all.

I am not comfortable saying that any of the nine has no chance. It is just that kind of year, at least so far.

The final major preps over the next few Saturdays could change the game, with one of the contenders dominating and earning the kind of Beyer that usually wins the Derby. Given where we are now, I am not confident that is going to happen.

I like to see my Derby picks give me two big Beyers before the day. If Nyquist gets, say, a 105 in the Florida Derby, that would qualify. If Danzing Candy gets something similar in his final prep, that also would work for me.

I just have this uneasy feeling that nothing like that is going to go down, and I am going to head to Kentucky without a Derby pick. As I am trying to win money here, this is not a feeling I like. I am in favor of certainty or at least some form of confidence.

This is a solid, consistent group of 3-year-olds. There are no ridiculous horses winning or running close up in these prep races. Visually, I liked Nyquist’s San Vicente win and Cupid’s Rebel win best. I love competitive horses. Both took a stretch challenge and got away at the finish line.

These contenders have so many different styles that it is very hard to get any kind of handle on now this Derby might be run. The last two years, it was relatively easy to see where the logical horses would be running during the race and that it would benefit them in both instances.

Get talents like American Pharoah and California Chrome in the top flight, away from the potential Derby mayhem, and you have horses who you can use as keys with complete confidence.

Hopefully, one of these horses will emerge. Regardless, I will do what I do every year, arrive in Louisville on the Tuesday before the Derby, check into my hideaway hotel east of town, unpack my bag, and head for Pat’s Steak House on Brownsboro Road that evening.

There, an eclectic gathering of DRF personnel, clockers, trainers, PR people, and announcers will sit around a large table, eat very large steaks, lima beans, hash browns, and Derby paaaah while consuming some alcohol. I will be eating all of that while drinking Cokes and listening very closely, especially if the Derby Beyers remain inconclusive.

When Bill Mott said last year that he had never seen two Derby horses look better than American Pharoah and Dortmund, I really did not need to hear anything else. They already had the Beyers, and now they had a Hall of Fame blessing. The clockers loved American Pharoah. So did Jay Privman.

I picked Dortmund. Sometimes I just can’t be helped.