Horse Racing: First look at six of the top 2019 Kentucky Derby contenders

Christmas is just around the corner, and you know what that means. Santa Claus and his little elves have been putting together a traditional gift for all our readers.

It’s our annual present to you racegoers who thirst for Kentucky Derby news year-round. Not just when we flip the calendar to spring, but from the time 2-year-olds make their debuts each year to the first Saturday in May when the field loads into the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby.

Today we present our first look at six top Derby contenders for 2019, a group we’ll call our Super Six. As usual, the list is loaded with West Coast horses. The Road to the Derby runs right through Southern California as four of the past five Derby winners – California Chrome, American Pharoah, Nyquist, and Justify – were based in the Southland.

So, before we’re blindsided by Santa, let’s get to it:

1. INSTAGRAND

Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer has never won the Kentucky Derby, but we might not be saying that come the evening of May 4.

A lot of folks are on one of Bob Baffert’s multitude of Derby contenders, but I’m not getting off Instagrand until given reason or if owner Larry Best decides not to run his valuable colt in the Derby. It would not be a shock if he stayed in the barn that day.

Instagrand is 2 for 2, winning both starts by a combined 20-1/4 lengths. After recently retired Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens finished 10-1/4 lengths behind the Into Mischief colt in the Grade II Best Pal Stakes at Del Mar, Stevens cracked, “Don’t even ask me if I could see the winner.”

2. GAME WINNER

He’s 4 for 4 in his career with three Grade I victories – Del Mar Futurity, American Pharoah Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile – already to his credit. It’s scary to think he hasn’t even scratched the surface yet in terms of talent.

Game Winner has been limited to jogging since his Breeders’ Cup score, but Baffert said recently they’ll begin tightening the screws soon toward a 3-year-old campaign that could be something special.

3. IMPROBABLE

Baffert’s Christmas stocking is overstuffed with Derby hopefuls, but Improbable, a son of City Zip, might be better than any of them.

After he made it 2 for 2 in his career by winning the Street Sense Stakes for fun at Churchill Downs, Baffert’s assistant, Jimmy Barnes, told the media: “I think he’s a pretty exciting horse.”

4. COLISEUM

Like Hollendorfer, Godolphin is also looking for its first Derby victory, and this Tapit colt could be the one to end the drought.

Coliseum won at first asking in a maiden special weight at Del Mar on Nov. 17 and he did it while looking like a good thing.

5. MAXIMUS MISCHIEF

The Into Mischief colt is 4 for 4 after winning the Grade II Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct on Dec. 1. Ridden by jockey Frankie Pennington, Maximus Mischief won the Remsen by 2-1/4 lengths in a gate-to-wire effort.

Pennington is thrilled to have the mount on such a talented horse, saying after the Remsen, “I worked so many years and so hard to get a horse like this, and to finally have one it means everything to me.”

6. MIND CONTROL

Broke his maiden by winning the Grade I Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga on Sept. 3. The big question mark about this guy is why he ran so poorly in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, finishing seventh at Churchill Downs.

His next start will be very important.

Follow Art Wilson on Twitter at @Sham73

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