“And away they go …”

The first steps on the Road to Kentucky began on Saturday with the Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct for the much-anticipated 3-year old colts with 10 points being awarded to the winner. Points will accumulate towards the total needed to get into the gate at the Kentucky Derby on May 2, 2015. As expected, most rankings throughout the thoroughbred industry have Carpe Diem and Texas Red in the top two spots, and that might have been a fair debate until Dortmund exploded on the scene.

The stable to watch in 2015 is Zayat Stables. No rookie to racing thoroughbreds, Zayat has three potential Derby contenders in the top 10 rankings: Mr. Z, El Kabeir and American Pharaoh. The speedy El Kabeir picked up the first points on the Road to Kentucky by winning the Jerome Stakes in impressive fashion. However, dare I say the competition was not that challenging for El Kabeir, and it’s very early to electrify any kind of meaningful buzz. I am more anxious to see the return of American Pharaoh.

This is simply the beginning of a crucial and calculated campaign for all the newly-turned 3-year old equine athletics. We await the emergence of another California Chrome to pin our Triple Crown dreams on. At this point last year, I was already posting the “#Chromie.” I feel a bit more uncertain going into 2015. However, I am hoping the connections of Ocho Ocho Ocho make wise decisions in this California runner’s campaign. I also want to see a few more races from Dortmund before I go placing hash tags on him. The 3-year old milers are up next in the Sham at Santa Anita on January 10.

The placement of the horse in each race is very calculated and cautious. The health of the horse is the most important as this is truly an unpredictable animal. Even the strongest and impressive specimen can be so fragile at the same time. The campaign begins. Which races to enter the horse? What other contenders are in the race? Do you hold off and continue aggressive training, waiting to gobble up the higher points coming mid-season in the Gotham or the Wood? These 10 points earned by El Kebeir are nothing but a pebble in the road to Kentucky.

The 3-year old fillies also got a chance to introduce themselves in the Santa Ynez Stakes at Santa Anita on Saturday. I am without a strong opinion about the fillies this year, and am waiting for an Oaks champion to emerge further down the road. Gone is the Untapable fervor. In fact, another daughter of Tapit failed to fire in the Santa Ynez. All eyes (and wagers) were on Rattataptap, and she finished last in a field were Conquest Harlanate was pulled up early in the race. The obvious “it” horse going into the discussion of the Oaks is of course Take Charge Brandi who is at the top of nearly (if not all) the rankings. But who comes next? Who can compete with her? Angela Renee’s campaign should be a well-designed one in order to keep this filly in consideration. Seduire took the field gate-to-wire on Saturday in the Santa Ynez going 6 and half furlongs. Seduire had a good race with Rafael Bejarano aboard. Good, and that’s about it, but it’s so early. We shall see if this daughter of Holy Bull can go the distance of the campaign. The Oaks is a wide-open field. Angela Renee sits behind Take Charge Brandi in the rankings and with the uncertain injury Conquest Harlanete, the gate is certainly wide open for another contender to enter. I am almost hoping for an unknown to have a breakout performance in the Gazelle or the Davona Dale. Up next for the 3-year old fillies is the Silverbulletday on January 17 at Fair Grounds.

Regardless of the length of the campaign (it’s five months until May), I need to see at least two or more graded stakes wins against quality competition and need to see runners winning races with real points attached – the 100 and 50 point races. The complexion of the rankings change dramatically if a top horse misfires in a 100 point race, so keep an eye on those horses finishing in second and third in Grade 1 races. Those horses that improve during their campaign and have the momentum and confidence going into the prep races in April could be our next California Chrome, but there is much more to prove in the months to ahead.

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