Kentucky Derby Contenders Shake-Up New Blood Emerges

With just over six weeks to go before the fabled Kentucky Derby, talented thoroughbreds are posturing for recognition, and more importantly, valuable Kentucky Derby Championship Series points (50 for a win, 20 to place, 10 to show and 5 for fourth). In the weekly ESPN power rankings for the Kentucky Derby, one chrome-plated colt emerged out of nowhere after winning his past three races easily to show up in the #5 spot. The top four ranked horses from last week's poll remain the same, with the number two and three spots flip-flopping. And the speedy Gulfstream Park has produced a horse that has run there exclusively, with that speedster debuting on the top contenders list in the ninth spot this week. Let's take a look at the top 10 horses most likely to win the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 3 this year.

Winning his last three races by a total of 19 lengths, California Chrome enters this week's power ranking in the #5 spot. The powerful Kentucky Derby contender took down the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita by seven lengths, one of the 16 Kentucky Derby Championship Series events. He won the race walking away, and has compiled a 5 - 1 - 0 record over nine starts. He gave the best performance of the season by a three-year-old, and should be watched closely as the Vegas odds on this possible Triple Crown threat could prove attractive if you move before everyone catches on to his pedigree and speed. And Wildcat Red (4 - 2 - 0 in six starts) was unranked in last week's top contenders list, but shows up in the ninth spot this week.

Winner of the Fountain of Youth, the first Kentucky Derby Championship Series race of the season over 11/16 miles at Gulfstream Park, Wildcat Red captured 50 Derby points. The top four contenders this week are Cairo Prince, Candy Boy, Honor Code and Tapiture, in that order. But none of those horses has even half as many Derby points as California Chrome or Wildcat Red. Intense Holiday is holding in the #6 spot, with Samraat and Strong Mandate running seventh and eighth, trading their positions from last week's poll. Shared Belief rounds out the top 10, having posted a 3 - 0 - 0 record in three starts. However, that unbeaten champion juvenile of last year has not worked out since January 3 because of a troubled foot.

Also receiving votes were Bayern, Uncle Sigh, Noble Moon and Ring Weekend. After the impressive San Felipe win (running the opening half mile in just 45.55 seconds), Chrome's well-known trainer pointed out that the 50 qualifying points that the race victory delivered takes the pressure off of California Chrome as far as Derby qualification goes. Art Sherman also pointed out that with his place in the Derby starting gates pretty much guaranteed, he doesn't feel forced to run the horse on April 5 in the Santa Anita Derby. California Chrome may still go in that race, or the horse's owner and trainer could decide just to train him up for the Kentucky Derby.

California Chrome is definitely fast, both out of the gate and down the home stretch. But the chestnut has only run two races around two turns. A fact for you savvy thoroughbred gamblers out there - it has been a long 54 years since the horse has won the Kentucky Derby after never having run beyond 1 1/16 miles. California Chrome has run that distance once, and 1 mile only one time as well. Lucky Pulpit sired this talented and blazing-fast horse, but he never won beyond 5 1/2 furlongs either. California Chrome's dam, Love That Chase, never won beyond 6 furlongs, and though that pedigree is notable, genealogy may dictate that the rising thoroughbred doesn't have a serious chance of winning the Kentucky Derby, much less the Triple Crown. Bob Baffert's Hoppertunity has also recently showed up on the Kentucky Derby radar, outperforming Southwest Stakes winner Tapiture down the stretch to win the $600,000 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park.

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