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2011 Kentucky Derby Top Contenders

Updated on April 26, 2011

This year, 2011, marks the 137th running of the Kentucky Derby, the most exciting 2 minutes in sports. On the first Saturday in May, the top three year old racehorses in the country (and some from overseas) will gather at Churchill Downs to try to win this great race. Though the Kentucky Derby is famous in and of itself, it also marks the first leg of the elusive Triple Crown, which has not been won since 1978. Every year, dreams are continued or shattered on the win or loss of a Derby as all but the winner know they have no shot at winning the Triple Crown.

This year, as in years past, there are some top quality horses to look at, some long shots that could pay out big if they foil the favorites, and some sleepers who may just pull off the big win and move on to racing immortality. With only a handful of prep races left before the big day, the favorite is clear, but those who may run with him are not such a sure bet. Here are the top eleven contenders, for me, right now based on past racing performances, pedigree and a couple of other factors.

Uncle Mo

Uncle Mo wins the BC Juvenile in November, 2010.
Uncle Mo wins the BC Juvenile in November, 2010. | Source

Sire:  Indian Charlie

Dam: Playa Maya, by Arch

Uncle Mo has been a favorite for the Kentucky Derby since winning the Breeder's Cup Juvenile last year.  The problem with that scenario is that Two Year Old and Breeder's Cup Champions typically don't win the Derby.  As the prep races progressed and horses like Premier Pegasus won big, Uncle Mo's fan base diminished, but with Premier Pegasus out with a leg fracture, Uncle Mo is looking pretty good again.

The bay colt has won four of his five starts, including the Breeder's Cup Juvenile, Champagne Stakes and the Timely Writer Stakes.  Unfortunately for Uncle Mo, he only placed third in his biggest prep to date, the Wood Memorial, where he was beat by Toby's Corner who wasn't on anyone's radar as a Derby potential.  What bettors and handicappers learned from the Wood - Uncle Mo can be beaten and beaten by a horse that seemed completely out-classed by him.

Derbys, however, are won by horses who stalk the pace and Uncle Mo does that well.  He's bred for this distance on both sides of his pedigree and his connections are in the business of winning top races - Todd Pletcher as his trainer and John Velazquez as his rider.  He is definitely a horse to consider Saturday morning.

Uncle Mo Wins the Timely Writer Stakes

Dialed In


Sire: Mineshaft

Dam:  Miss Doolittle, by Storm Cat

Dialed In has stayed at the fringe of most handicappers' radars, despite 3 wins in 4 starts, including the Florida Derby and Holy Bull Stakes.  His top speed rating was a 104 in the Holy Bull, nothing to sneeze at but still slow compared to Uncle Mo's two 110 Beyer speed ratings.  Dialed In's win in the Florida Derby has been criticized for having a slow pace and his performance because he barely held off longshot, Shackleford.  

On the other hand, Dialed In is royally bred.  His sire was Horse of the Year Champion and is himself sired by a champion (A.P. Indy) who was sired by a Triple Crown winner (Seattle Slew).  His dam was a sprinter and has mostly produced winning sprinters but her sire, Storm Cat, is one of the best in past 20 years.  Add to those bloodlines a winning trainer in Nick Zito and the enthusiasm of youth in jockey Julian Leparoux and Dialed In may just dial in to a Derby win.

Dialed In Wins the Florida Derby



Sire:  Mineshaft

Dam:  The Administrator, by Afleet

The lightly-raced Nehro put in a good late bid in the Arkansas Derby to be beaten by only a nose.  Had the race been the Kentucky Derby distance, Nehro may have come out the winner.  He has raced five times with one win and two seconds, including the Arkansas Derby and the Louisiana Derby.  In both of those races he closed well, going four wide in the Arkansas Derby, a running style particularly well-suited for the Kentucky Derby.

Trained by Steve Asmussen and ridden by Corey Nakatani, Nehro has speed and stamina in his bloodlines.  His dam is turning out to be a producer of stakes winners while Mineshaft has sired a multitude of winners at different distances.  Mineshaft is regally bred, by AP Indy who is by Seattle Slew, and on Nehro's broodmare sire, Afleet, was Canadian Horse of the Year.

Nehro Closes Well for 2nd in Arkansas Derby



Sire: Arch

Dam: Woodman's Dancer, by Woodman

Archarcharch won the Arkansas Derby by a nose, his third victory in six starts. He had previously won the grade 3 Southwest Stakes. What is impressive about this colt is that in all three wins he has had to run wide to get to the lead - 4 wide in the Arkansas Derby, 4 to 5 wide in the Southwest Stakes, and 3 wide in his first win, the Sugar Bowl Stakes.  On the other hand, the fields in each of those races was not strong enough to give him any real competition, with the exception of the Arkansas Derby.

Archarcharch is trained by William H. Fires and ridden by Fires' son-in-law, Jon Court.  Archarcharch's sire, Arch, has sired champions in the United States and Canada.  His dam was a graded sprint winner, though her sire, Woodman, has sired grade 1 winners around the world.  

Archarcharch Wins the Arkansas Derby

Toby's Corner


Sire:  Bellamy Road

Dam:  Brandon's Ride, by Mister Frisky

In a matter of just under 2 minutes, Toby's Corner was thrust into the limelight and the questions began.  In the Wood Memorial he did what no other horse had done to date, defeat Uncle Mo.  Yet he has won 4 races in 6 starts.  He was third in the grade 3 Gotham Stakes after racing four wide, and five wide in the Whirlaway Stakes for the win.  

Toby's Corner is trained by H. Graham Motion and ridden by Eddie Castro.  He is very well bred on his sire's side, the son of the 2005 Wood Memorial winner Bellamy Road.  His dam is a sprint winner but her sire was a 16-for-16 race winner in Puerto Rico.  Both Bellamy Road and Mister Frisky ran in the Kentucky Derby, one placing 7th and one 8th.

Toby's Corner Winning the Wood Memorial

Midnight Interlude


Sire:  War Chant

Dam:  Midnight Kiss, by Groom Dancer

One of the lightly raced horses in the field, Midnight Interlude is shaping up to be a horse with a chance.  He did not race as a two year old.  As a three year old he has run four times and won two of those races.  Despite only racing in maiden races prior to the Santa Anita Derby, bettors liked him and sent him off at decent odds.  He proved them right by running four wide and digging in for the win.

Midnight Interlude is trained by legend Bob Baffert and will be ridden by Victor Espinoza.  The bay colt is regally bred to run on the turf, though the distance of the Derby should offer him no trouble at all.  His sire and dam both were winners on the turf, with his sire being known as a notable turf sire, and his broodmare sire also a winner over longer distances on the turf.  Midnight Interlude deserves a good look as a potential Derby winner.

Midnight Interlude Wins the Santa Anita Derby

The Factor


Sire: War Front

Dam: Greyciousness, by Miswaki

After two nice wins earlier in the year in the Rebel Stakes and San Vicente Stakes, The Factor failed to make a bid for the win in the Arkansas Derby, fading to a dismal 7th place.  With five races and 3 wins, prior to the Arkansas many people thought he would a factor in the Kentucky Derby.  Perhaps he will be.  He has three impressive speed ratings of 106, 104, and 106.

The Factor is another Bob Baffert-trained colt who is ridden by Martin Garcia, Lookin' At Lucky's jockey in 2010.  The Factor is another horse who is built for speed more than stamina.  The question with him is will he outrun his pedigree or is he destined to be a sprinter like his sire and dam.

The Factor Wins Rebel Stakes



Sire:  War Front

Dam:  La Relals, by Coronado's Quest

Before the Florida Derby, Soldat had never placed worse than second.  He had 7 starts with 3 wins and 4 seconds.  His two best speed ratings came in the Fountain of Youth (104) and in an allowance race prior (108).  He looked like a solid choice for the Florida Derby and then the Kentucky Derby.  Maybe he still is.  

Soldat's breeding is a bit speedier than many would like to see in a Derby contender.  His sire, War Front, is a sprint winner, and the broodmare sire, Coronado's Quest, was versatile enough to win top races over a variety of distances, from 7 furlongs to 1-1/8 miles.  Soldat is trained by Kiarin McLaughlin and ridden by Alan Garcia.

Soldat Wins the Fountain of Youth Stakes

Brilliant Speed


Sire: Dynaformer

Dam: Speed Succeeds, by Gone West

Brilliant Speed's first stakes win came in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes where he edged out Twin Spired and King Congie by a nose. With slow early fractions, it was relatively easy for Brilliant Speed to catch the front runners after running in last place for much of the race. He has raced eight times with two wins.

Despite his name, Brilliant Speed is well-bred for the classic distance of the Derby. The question is whether he inherited the ability to stay over that distance. His races thus far have not been impressive enough to take him seriously against the high caliber horses found in the Derby. On the other hand, he may just be coming into his own and could prove to be a bet that pays well.  He is trained by Tom Albertrani, and ridden by Joel Rosario.

Brilliant Speed Winning Blue Grass Stakes

Mucho Macho Man


Sire:  Macho Uno

Dam:  Ponche de Leona, by Ponche

Mucho Macho Man is a horse that started as a favorite early on, but has not warranted the amount of backing he has received.  He has won twice in eight starts, last time in the grade 2 Risen Star.  He placed third in the Louisiana Derby in his last start, behind Pants On Fire and Nehro.  

Like many of the horses in the 2011 Derby field, Mucho Macho Man's pedigree is oriented more to speed than to stamina.  He is trained by Kathy Ritvo and is ridden by Rajiv Maragh.

Mucho Macho Man Wins Risen Star

Master of Hounds

Sire:  Kingmambo

Dam:  Silk and Scarlet, by Sadler's Wells

Master of Hounds is the only horse in the field who has raced the Derby distance. He placed second in the UAE Derby at 1-5/16 miles, 1/16 longer than the Derby. In the UAE, Master of Hounds nearly eeked out the win but was beaten at the wire by a bob of the nose. He ran a strong race, showing that he is both capable of running on dirt and running the distance.

Master of Hounds is bred from European race horse royalty. He is by European champion miler, Kingmambo, who is a son of Mr. Prospector and the Breeder's Cup Mile legend, Miesque. Master of Hounds is his dam's second foal. She is by the legendary racer and sire, Sadler's Wells. Master of Hounds is very well-bred for stamina and should prove to be a horse to contend with in the Kentucky Derby, possibly even the winner.

Master of Hounds in the UAE Derby

The Professional Picks

The Expert Picks from are as follows.  These may change so stay tuned. 

  1. John Asher - Dialed In, Mucho Macho Man, Nehro and Toby's Corner
  2. Jill Byrne - Dialed In, Uncle Mo, Toby's Corner and Midnight Interlude
  3. Vance Hanson - Soldat, Nehro, Uncle Mo and Mucho Macho Man
  4. James Scully - Uncle Mo, Soldat, Dialed In and Archarcharch

From the, this is where the horses are currently ranked:

  1. Uncle Mo
  2. The Factor
  3. Nehro
  4. Dialed In
  5. Mucho Macho Man
  6. Archarcharch
  7. Pants On Fire
  8. Toby's Corner
  9. Animal Kingdom
  10. Soldat

My Picks

With little less than two weeks to go to the big race, these are my picks.

  1. Midnight Interlude
  2. Master of Hounds
  3. Dialed In
  4. Uncle Mo
  5. Nehro

Who Are Your Picks?

Who do you think will win the 137th running of the Kentucky Derby?

See results


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    • Emma Peale profile image

      Emma Peale 6 years ago from New Hampshire

      Great subject to write about for May. Timely, interesting and wildly popular!

    • cvanthul profile image

      Cristina Vanthul 6 years ago from Florida

      Thank you, Winsome. I'd love to see Nehro win as well. Such a neat name and he's had a couple of really good races that looked like he'd win them if he hadn't run out of room. It should be a good race this year.

    • Winsome profile image

      Winsome 6 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      I picked Midnight Interlude and Nehro. Even though I voted MI to win, I secretly want Nehro to be the one. In researching my Secretariat review, I got a little taste of the fever this race creates. Well written and fun. Voted up. =:)

    • cvanthul profile image

      Cristina Vanthul 6 years ago from Florida

      @Simone, those are some great names, aren't they? Breeders have to be pretty creative in naming racehorses sometimes as there are extensive rules in how and what they can be named.

      @lonespeed, thanks for reading! I included the top ten from horseracingnation, but that was at the time I wrote this. It changes from day to day sometimes, and will even more as post positions are drawn.

    • profile image

      lonespeed 6 years ago

      Great post. For another good list of 2011 Kentucky Derby contenders, check out:

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 6 years ago from San Francisco

      I don't know which one will win the race, but they're ALL winners in the name department!!

    • cvanthul profile image

      Cristina Vanthul 6 years ago from Florida

      Did you vote??? Thanks for reading.

    • profile image

      Mariele 6 years ago

      Fun to be able to vote.