It's kinda early but here is my first Top Ten on the Road to the Derby:
10. Cherry Wine--First of 2 Dale Romans-trained runners in my first rankings. The Fountain of Youth, at end of the month, is on tap for this guy as he is set to make his stakes-debut. It will be a stern test as he'll face the likes of Mohaymen.
9. Mo Tom-- Began his year with a bang as he took the Lecomte Stakes and is expected to stay at Fair Grounds for the Risen Star. Very promising at age 2 as he finished 3rd in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, right behind Mor Spirit and winner, Airoforce.
8. Smokey Image--Sort of hard to say how good he is, but so far, he reminds many of California Chrome. Like Chrome, he's a Cal-bred,enjoys winning, and even has the same rider, Victor Espinoza. His first real hurdle comes next month in the San Felipe Stakes.
7. Greenpointcrusader-- Flashed major ability last fall in winning the Champagne Stakes, but then ran 7th in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He had an excuse that day at Keeneland as he suffered an eye injury. He finished second in back of the talented Mohaymen in the recent Holy Bull. Next up, the Louisiana Derby in March. Curious schedule, so we'll see.
6. Airoforce-- At the top of his list of credentials: a victory last fall in Churchill's Ky. Jockey Club Stakes. He beat both Mor Spirit and Mo Tom. Scheduled to make his 2016 debut in next weekend's Risen Star Stakes. Need to see him perform well on a fast dirt track, but at least his recent works suggest he'll be fine over that type surface.
5. Exaggerator-- Last year, he lost both of his 2-turn races, but at least was very competitive. If his son of Curlin can improve a notch or so from 2015 to '16, he'll be a major factor. His 3-year-old campaign kicks off in Monday's San Vicente at Santa Anita.
4. Nyquist-- The undefeated 2-year-old champ is ready to begin his 2016 road to Churchill. He'll square off against Exaggerator in the San Vicente. He won last fall's B.C. Juvenile without an ideal trip and he gained plenty of support after that triumph. So far, trainer Doug O'Neill has pushed all the right buttons with him. O'Neill won the Derby 4 years ago with I'll Have Another.
3. Mor Spirit-- Bob Baffert was wearing a big smile last weekend after his Derby contender came charging to capture the Lewis Stakes. That "Pharoah" run will be tough, if not impossible, to top. But if anyone can pull off back-to-back Kentucky Derby wins, it's Bob. Next up will likely be the San Felipe in March.
2. Brody's Cause-- Dale Romans has been knocking on that Derby door in recent years and this runner could be his ticket to the roses. It looks like a mile and a quarter will suit this guy. Only 2 preps on his slate prior to Derby Day: the Tampa Bay Derby in March followed by April's Blue Grass Stakes.
1. Mohaymen-- Really really good at age 2...looks even better at 3 after his terrific victory in the Holy Bull. He's got the pedigree ( by the proven sire, Tapit) , the experience, and the talent. He's in the very capable hands of trainer, Kiaran McLaughlin, who was beaming after their recent triumph at Gulfstream . Next start is expected to be the Fountain of Youth.