The prep race schedule to determine the 20-horse field for this year’s Kentucky Derby is well underway and a few three-year old thoroughbreds have already made some early noise as one of the legitimate contenders to win the ‘Run for the Roses’ at Churchill Downs on Saturday, May 3.
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Early Kentucky Derby Contenders
The horse at the top of most handicapper’s list through the early part of the prep race schedule has to be Cairo Prince, who is currently listed as one of two +1000 favorites to win the Kentucky Derby on BetOnline’s current futures odds board for this race.
This colt started to make a name for himself with a first-place finish in the Grade II Nashua Stakes followed by a second-place finish in the Grade II Ramsen Stakes as a juvenile. He quickly established himself as an early front runner for the Derby as a three-year old with a victory in last month’s Grade II Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Trained by Kiaran McLaughlin and ridden by Luis Saez, he bested the field by an impressive 5 ¾ lengths. McLaughlin is now eyeing the Grade I Florida Derby on March 29 as Cairo Prince’s next test on the Kentucky Derby Trail.
Another horse making his way up the ranks is undefeated Samraat. This colt followed up a perfect 3-0 run as a two-year old including a win in the DamonRunyn 100 at Aqueduct with a victory in the Grade III Withers Stakes on Feb. 1, which was also run at Aqueduct.
BetOnline has listed Samraat at +4500 to win the Derby, making him a horse to watch as the prep season progresses. He is trained out of My Meadowview Farm by Richard Viollete and ridden by Jose Ortiz.
The other +1000 early favorite to win this year’s Kentucky Derby is Honor Code. This horse has yet to run as a three-year old, but with a very strong pedigree that can be traced all the way back to Seattle Slew the expectations are running high that he will emerge as one of the top contenders in the field over the next two months.
In two races as a juvenile, this Shug McGaughey trained colt won the Remsen Stakes this past November after finishing second in the Grade I Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park in October.
Upcoming Prep Races
On the slate for this Saturday, Feb. 22 is the Grade II $400,000 Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds which is a lead-in race for the Grade I Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds on March 29. The 1 1/16 mile race is expected to have a full field of 14 entries barring any scratches, including Mike Maker’s Vicar’s In Trouble, who won the Grade III Lecomte Stakes, Tom Amoss’s Rise Up, who is coming off a stellar season as a Juvenile and Todd Pletcher’s Intense Holiday, who finished a distant third in the Holy Bull.
Another key prep race on Saturday’s schedule is the Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park. This 1 1/16 mile run is a lead-in to the Florida Derby and it also has a total prize purse of $400,000. The two horses to watch in this field are Commissioner and Top Billing, who fought each other all the way to the finish in a key allowance race at Gulfstream in early January. This race will also boast a full field of 13 three-year old thoroughbreds, including We Miss Artic, who won last season’s Breeders’ Cup Futurity at Keeneland.