12/08/2011 6:04PM

Six Kentucky Derby prospects to watch in 2012

Hoofprints Inc.
Mr. Bowling is expected to hit the Kentucky Derby trail in Louisiana for trainer Larry Jones.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - If the Kentucky Derby were run Saturday and not in May, Union Rags would be the likely favorite, with Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Hansen and West Coast standout Creative Cause seemingly next in line.

But as most horseplayers are fully aware, a lot can and will happen to horses in one month, much less five. Physical setbacks can derail top prospects, no matter their talent level, as we saw last year with To Honor and Serve and Uncle Mo, who both missed the race. Others will fall off the Derby trail because of stamina issues or simply a shortage of talent.

On the flip side, horses will also rise from relative obscurity to become major players on the first Saturday in May, as Derby winner Animal Kingdom did this year after a synthetic and turf campaign that had most thinking he was more of a Polytrack performer than a dirt horse.

To get a feel for which horses might be flying under the radar this year, I sifted through past performances and race replays and came up with six horses who have the potential to make some noise on the Derby trail and perhaps in the big race itself. I shied away from pointing out the obvious ones, such as Delta Jackpot winner Sabercat, knowing that while he is not one of the early Derby favorites, he is already firmly in the Derby picture. Here is a look at the six, broken down by where they are expected to race next:


Mr. Bowling: Although bred to sprint, his ontrack performance has demonstrated he is superior at a mile or more.

In two routes, he won the Dover Stakes around two turns at a mile and 70 yards at Delaware in Oct. 8 before disappointing somewhat with a third-place finish in the Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes at Churchill on Oct. 30.

More so than his form, it is the history of trainer Larry Jones that makes this a colt to follow. Jones-trained runners historically improve with experience, particularly from age 2 to 3.

Seven Lively Sins: The Iroquois runner-up, he ran fourth in the Grade 3 Jackpot, a race that never set up for him. Usually a front-runner, he sat seventh early because of a hot pace and early trouble, leaving him without a realistic shot at victory.

He rallied and probably gained three races' worth of racing experience in one start. He lacks a 1 1/4-mile pedigree but is one to watch on the Derby trail in races at 1 1/16 miles or shorter.

Sir Bond: A son of 2007 Derby winner Street Sense, this colt rallied powerfully to be second behind the talented Hierro when debuting at Churchill Downs Nov. 9. Away awkwardly, he raced greenly and wide and still managed to run a 74 Beyer Speed Figure at seven furlongs.

He has since worked a couple times at Fair Grounds and looks like a colt who should graduate from the maiden ranks in his next start, probably going two turns.


Indian Ambush: Although not eye-catching in stature, his two ontrack performances have been. He rallied to be fifth in his debut going six furlongs, galloping out in front of the field past the wire, and then won over a good maiden field going two turns at Churchill on Nov. 26.

After being a little keen for a quarter-mile, he relaxed kindly for jockey Javier Castellano, and when sent down in the stretch, he accelerated away from the opposition like a horse with a bright future.

Trained by Bill Mott, he appears most likely to return next in a two-turn entry-level allowance at Gulfstream.

Battle Hardened: Like most offspring of Giant's Causeway, this colt has a pedigree for success in distance races.

He ran second to Indiana Ambush Nov. 26, beaten two lengths, but had the wider trip, losing a couple of lengths of ground around the turn.

He's speedy, long striding, and game − and unlikely to be a maiden after his next race.


Daddy Nose Best: Having raced in five consecutive turf routes, capped by an allowance triumph on the Churchill turf Nov. 26, he is easy to view as strictly a grass horse. But that would ignore the fact that he was second over the Churchill Downs main track in his debut at Churchill Downs in June, when he was beaten by eventual Bashford Manor winner Exfactor.

He is reminiscent of Silver Medallion, whom Steve Asmussen trained to win the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate last year before the colt ran fourth in the Santa Anita Derby on dirt.