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Easter Weekend Races Won by Favorites As Derby Top 20 Takes Shape

Keeneland Racetrack

By Steve Davidowitz | At Aqueduct in New York on Saturday, undefeated GEMOLIGIST turned in a very game performance to narrowly defeat a hard charging ALPHA in the $1 million Wood Memorial Stakes. Meanwhile, at Santa Anita Park in Southern California I’LL HAVE ANOTHER proved that his upset victory in the San Felipe Stakes two months ago was no fluke, as he outgamed a strong late bid from the betting favorite CREATIVE CAUSE to take the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby.

Surely the hard fought, final win and place positions mattered to dozens of thousands of horseplayers who bet on these prestigious races, but the key significance of the two outcomes goes to the heart of who actually will make the starting field in the 138th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 5.
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The four horses who dominated the exactas in the rich Wood Memorial and Santa Anita Derby respectively on Saturday earned more than enough Graded stakes money to secure placement on the Top 20 Graded stakes earnings list that will determine starting post positions in the $2 million, 1-1/4 mile Kentucky Derby.
The same might prove true for DONE TALKING, the upset winner of the $500,000 Illinois Derby on Saturday. That  performance gave Done Talking $311,000 in Graded stakes earnings -- good for 18th place on the Graded earnings list. But that sum is no guarantee of anything, given that there are four more Graded stakes for 3-year-olds leading up to the Derby: the $1 million Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park, the $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland next weekend, the $200,000 Lexington Stakes the week after that (also at Keeneland), followed by the $200,000 Derby Trial Stakes on opening day at Churchill Downs on Apr. 28.

After the dust has settled, Done Talking still could wind up "on the bubble" in terms of making the Derby field.
And yet there's still so much more in Graded stakes money to be won...

Right now, after his $300,000 is counted from his winning share of the Illinois Derby, Done Talking has $311,000 in Graded stakes earnings, which puts him in 18th place. But the top 20 list could and probably will go through many changes as we go through the final four Derby preps cited above.

Of course, there are at least two, probably three horses already on the list who will not likely run in the Kentucky Derby -- even with sufficient Graded stakes earnings. Specifically:

HERO OF ORDER (#7 on the list): the 109-1 winner of the Louisiana Derby whose connections would have to spend $200,000 to make him a supplementary to the Derby. Right now his people say they may pay $100,000 to make him eligible for the Preakness, but even if they do put up the sizeable supplementary fees for either race, Hero of Honor would be placed behind any regularly nominated horse whose connections officially enter the race.

DRILL (#16), who must show sharp improvement in a two turn race is trainer Bob Baffert goes ahead with his tentative plan to put Drill in the 1-1/16 mile Lexington Stakes.  

ON FIRE BABY, (#17): a talented filly who is 90 percent likely to go in the Kentucky Oaks, the day before the Kentucky Derby.

Even with those probable defections from the top 20, so much Graded Stakes money is still up for grabs that considerable movement from behind the top 20 seems more than likely to push horses such as Done Taking out of America's most famous race, with one final caveat that could let them back in.

This year, for the first time in history, after Churchill Downs takes official Derby entries on Wednesday, May 4 as usual, the rules have been changed to allow for as many as 23 horses. This means there will be a Derby ‘also eligible list’ consisting of as many as three extra horses who will remain eligible to get into the race should any in the top 20 suddenly scratch out for any reason before Friday morning.

So, at the bottom line, we might know that GEMOLIGIST, ALPHA, I’LL HAVE ANOTHER and CREATIVE CAUSE who ran so strongly on Saturday will be serious contenders at Churchill Downs next month. And we might believe that HANSEN and UNION RAGS also will be formidable Derby contenders, but we might not know who exactly will be in final Derby field until two days after entries are drawn -- the day before the race is scheduled to be run.
The Kentucky Derby is only a few weeks away. Triple Crown betting at Bovada Racebook is here.