With the Kentucky Derby seven weeks away, it’s a good time to review my top 10 horses. The prep races that reward 100 points to the winner will start March 26, meaning a horse can go from zero to 100 with one strong win.
Mohaymen remains my top colt. The Fountain of Youth winner has a date with my second horse, Nyquist, in the Florida Derby on April 2 at Gulfstream Park. Seldom do we see such a clash of titans before the Derby at Churchill Downs. Both horses are undefeated, so unless there’s a dead heat, one of them will suffer his first loss.
Zooming up to third is Danzing Candy, who could not have looked more impressive in his victory in the San Felipe at Santa Anita. The Cliff Sise-trained colt now will be favored in the Santa Anita Derby.
Mor Spirit, who ran second to Danzing Candy in the San Felipe, is keeping trainer Bob Baffert on the Derby trail. Baffert won the Triple Crown with American Pharoah last spring.
Exaggerator ran third in the San Felipe, so you can see how I value the West Coast form. If Nyquist had stayed home for the Santa Anita Derby, you could imagine how strong that field would look on paper.
Shagaf is my sixth choice. The Gotham winner has a date in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct with Flexibility, who was given a brief freshening by trainer Chad Brown.
Destin is next fresh off a gritty win over stablemate Outwork in the Tampa Bay Derby. Both colts are trained by Todd Pletcher, who has a third Derby hopeful in Zulu, my 10th-rated 3-year-old.
Greenpointcrusader is set to run in the Louisiana Derby on March 26 at the Fair Grounds. He has run well behind Mohaymen.
Gun Runner is ninth off his upset win in the Risen Star. He will face Greenpointcrusader, among others, in the Louisiana Derby.
The Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park is the only Derby prep on Saturday. The favorites are Suddenbreakingnews (3-1), Cupid (7-2) and Whitmore (7-2).
I’ll go with an upsetter in Creator (6-1), who only broke his maiden last time out. This is an aggressive move by owner WinStar Farm and trainer Steve Asmussen, who are jumping right into a stakes race off a maiden win.
■ END OF AN ERA — Track announcer Mike Battaglia retired Saturday after being the voice of Turfway Park for 43 years. That’s the longest period I can remember for a horse racing announcer.
I first met Battaglia in the fall of 1986, after I had been named the publicity director at the Northern Kentucky track formerly known as Latonia. He is one of the classiest people I have met in the sport.
His resume includes a 20-year run as the announcer at Churchill Downs. He did another 20-year stint as an analyst for NBC Sports on its Breeders’ Cup coverage.
When I first started at Turfway, I was told this tale about Battaglia that probably has grown legs over the years. The accounting department at the track would have trouble closing out each month because Battaglia wasn’t cashing his paychecks.
He would toss them into the trunk of his car and forget about them. That tells you how good a handicapper and horseplayer he is.
Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. You can get his Santa Anita picks by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @richeng4propick