Early look at the top Kentucky Derby contenders in 2024 – Orange County Register

Let’s get a jump on all these other “experts” who think they know the top Kentucky Derby contenders for 2024. But don’t tell ’em our secret. Don’t let ’em know that we’re right on top of the 150th running of the Run for the Roses on May 4.

Who cares if we don’t know who will load into the starting gate 225 days from now? Yeah, today’s top contender can be tomorrow’s casualty when looking at young horses and trying to keep them 100% sound, but we know all that.

What we’re about to do is separate the pretenders from the contenders. Next spring’s Derby winner might not debut until early 2024, but who cares? We’re trying to outsmart these other guys and get a juicy futures bet on the connections who will be visiting the Churchill Downs winner’s circle.

Ready? Here goes.

Our very early 2024 Kentucky Derby Leaderboard:

1. Locked

It took the Gun Runner colt two tries to break his maiden, but he’s trained by a guy, Todd Pletcher, who knows a thing or two about winning Derbies. After a third-place finish in his debut Aug. 5 at Saratoga, Locked romped home by 7 1/4 lengths at the Spa in his next effort while earning a 96 Beyer Speed Figure.

Locked’s connections have either the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland or the Champagne Stakes at Aqueduct targeted as his next start. Both races are Oct. 7. The Futurity’s distance is 1 1/16 miles and the Champagne, which has produced more Derby winners (23) than any other 2-year-old stakes race since its inception in 1867, is a mile long.

2. Heartland

The son of Justify, trained by Bob Baffert, missed some workouts recently and may not resurface again until early next year. When Baffert has a talented horse, he won’t push it. There’s plenty of time to get ready for the Derby.

What has onlookers excited about this colt is that he rallied from fifth in his debut at Del Mar on July 29 after bobbling out of the gate and beat the John Sadler-trained Slider by two lengths. Slider came back in his next start and won by three lengths.

3. Prince of Monaco

Many were not impressed by his victory in the Del Mar Futurity on Sept. 10, holding off the disappointing-to-date Mirahmadi by three-quarters of a length to earn his third victory in three tries.

The Speightstown colt, conditioned by Baffert, won his debut at Los Alamitos on July 9 and then was an impressive 4 1/4-length winner of the Best Pal Stakes at Del Mar on Aug. 13 while turning in an ultra-impressive 103 Beyer. But his Beyer dropped to 87 in the Futurity.

4. Seize the Grey

It’s no surprise this Arrogate colt has already run four times this year. His trainer, D. Wayne Lukas, likes to run ’em. He was eighth in his debut at Ellis Park on July 1, broke his maiden at Saratoga on July 29 and then was third in the Skidmore Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 18.

Seize the Grey has yet to stretch out to two turns, which figures to be his forte considering his father was a beast at a mile and a quarter. He was fourth in his most recent outing, the Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs on Sept. 16, but let’s see how he handles a distance of ground.

5. Nutella Fella

Conventional wisdom says this horse won the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga because of a lightning-quick pace. But maybe he’s the real deal. We’ll know more if he runs in the Champagne.

A son of Runhappy, Nutella Fella won his debut at Delaware Park on July 26 and followed up with his shocking 54-1 upset in the Hopeful for trainer Gary Contessa.

Follow Art Wilson on Twitter @Sham73

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