GQ’s Derby Hopefuls: So Far So Good

February 19, 2009 | Gary Quill

A week after revealing my 2nd annual GQ’s Derby Double Dozen, four of the twenty-four runners hit the track in three separate races, with three making it to the Winners Circle… all rather easily, and the fourth finishing a strong second in the biggest race of the week. All four of these runners were featured in my Top Ten of the “Derby Double Dozen”. Their performances this past week simply indicates that my initial speculation about them may be right on.   


On Saturday (Feb. 14th) at Gulfstream Park, Imperial Council (my #3) made his 2009 debut at 6½ furlongs in a $42,000 allowance race. The brown Empire Maker colt was sent off as the 3-2 favorite and looked the part. Jockey Edgar Prado rated him off the pace early then eased into  contention at the quarter pole and put away the front-runner (Z Day) down the lane to score by 2 lengths. Trainer Shug McGaughey might have to exit Florida for his next prep, as the Fountain of Youth (Feb. 28th) is too close and the Florida Derby (Mar. 28th) might be too long between starts.


On President’s Day (Feb. 16th) at Oaklawn Park, Old Fashioned (my #6) scored a convincing 3 length victory as the 1-2 choice in the $250,000 Southwest Stakes. Completing the 1 mile journey in 1:37.41, Ramon Dominguez guided the gray son of Unbridled’s Song in stalking style behind front runner and eventual runner-up Silver City (my #7). Trainer Larry Jones will keep Old Fashioned in Arkansas to train for his next test, the Rebel Stakes on March 14th.


On Thursday (Feb. 19th) at Gulfstream Park, Dunkirk (my #8) fresh off a debut maiden win in January, stretched out to 1 1/8 mile in allowance company to romp by 4 ¾ lengths for trainer Todd Pletcher. You want to know how high his connections are about this colts Derby chances? They flew jockey Garrett Gomez in from California to ride him. That’s unheard of for an allowance race! Despite being forced six wide on the first turn, the 6-5 favorite looked as professional as he did in his maiden win, undaunted by a less than perfect trip, weaved his way passed his nine rivals. Another gray son of Unbridled’s Song, it seems likely that Dunkirk will take a giant leap forward for his next start, the Florida Derby on Mar. 28th.


The most satisfying part about these results is this time last week, none of the so-called horse racing experts had Imperial Council or Dunkirk on their radar. None. Not even in their Top Twenty,  yet I, a guy who follows this sport because I love it, not because it’s my job, had these two as my #3 and #8 Derby prospects.


So if/when Imperial Council or Dunkirk is first to cross the finish line after running 1¼ mile on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs, just remember, you heard it here first!