2016 Kentucky Derby Contenders You Should Know

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With just one month remaining until the Kentucky Derby, excitement is building among fans of Thoroughbred horse racing. Only time will tell if the 142nd renewal of the “Run for the Roses” will yield a winner as talented as American Pharoah, who won the 2015 Kentucky Derby on his way to a sweep of racing’s elusive Triple Crown, but racing fans will get a chance this Saturday to see some of racing’s newest stars in action.

On April 9th, three prep races for the Kentucky Derby will be held at racetracks across the United States. At the iconic Keeneland Race Course in Kentucky, fourteen horses will contest the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes, which has been used as a springboard to Kentucky Derby success by such famous horses as Spectacular Bid, Riva Ridge, and Northern Dancer. This year’s Blue Grass Stakes will mark the second race of the year for Brody’s Cause, who won the Breeders’ Futurity and finished third in the prestigious Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Keeneland last year. Brody’s Cause is trained by Dale Romans, who is perhaps best known for training Keen Ice to upset American Pharoah in the 2015 Travers Stakes. Romans has enjoyed previous success in the Blue Grass, winning in 2012 with Dullahan, but is still searching for his first Kentucky Derby victory. Could Brody’s Cause be the horse he’s been waiting for?

In New York, Aqueduct racetrack will host the Wood Memorial, in which the unbeaten colt Shagaf—winner of the Gotham Stakes—will seek to stamp his credentials as a major Kentucky Derby contender. But to do so, he will have to defeat the up-and-coming Matt King Coal, a very fast colt that will be making his debut on the big stage. But when it comes to the Kentucky Derby, all the horses in the Wood Memorial will be looking to end the “Wood Memorial drought,” as no Wood Memorial contestant has gone on to win the Kentucky Derby since 2003 when the popular gelding Funny Cide took the honors. The Wood Memorial will be streamed live on the New York Racing Association website.

The Wood Memorial and Toyota Blue Grass Stakes are scheduled to air on NBC Sports Network beginning at 5 p.m. ET.

Across the country at Santa Anita racetrack in California, the best young horses on the West Coast will face off in the Santa Anita Derby, a race that has been won in recent years by future Kentucky Derby winners I’ll Have Another and California Chrome. One of the most exciting horses in the race is Mor Spirit, winner of the Los Alamitos Futurity and Robert B. Lewis Stakes. Mor Spirit will enter the Santa Anita Derby off a runner-up effort in the San Felipe Stakes, but trainer Bob Baffert of American Pharoah fame knows how to have his horses ready for the Kentucky Derby, and Mor Spirit has been training impressively and is expected to run an improved race this Saturday. This will be necessary if Mor Spirit is to turn the tables on Danzing Candy, who ran his rivals off their feet with a display of pure speed in the San Felipe Stakes. This promising colt will be ridden by Mike Smith, the Hall of Fame jockey best known for guiding Zenyatta in the last seventeen races of her legendary career.

But as exciting as the Santa Anita Derby promises to be, the best race of the day might be the Santa Anita Oaks for fillies. That race will feature the unbeaten, unchallenged, and unbelievable champion Songbird, who has won all six of her previous races—including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies—in the easiest way possible. Trained by Jerry Hollendorfer and ridden by Mike Smith, Songbird has drawn comparisons to the great 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra (the two even have similar face markings!), and some racing fans believe Songbird might be even better. A victory in the Santa Anita Oaks—expected to be a mere formality—will propel Songbird toward a run in the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs, and from there, the sky is the limit for what Songbird might accomplish this year and in 2017.

Both the Santa Anita Derby and the Santa Anita Oaks will be streamed live on the Cal Racing website. Be sure to tune in and watch—at the very least, you’ll get to see a champion filly in action, and you might even see a future Kentucky Derby winner!

J. Keeler Johnson is a writer, blogger, videographer, and racing enthusiast who considers Zenyatta to be his all-time favorite racehorse. He is the founder of the horse racing website TheTurfBoard.com and writes for the Bloodhorse.com blog Unlocking Winners.

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