The road to the Derby is long and grueling, with many well-regarded colts failing to reach the starting gate, let alone win. But despite the incredible odds against a colt even qualifying for the Run for the Roses, horseplayers love to try and pick their Derby winner months in advance of the first Saturday in May.
The following is a list of 20 horses, in alphabetical order, to watch over the next couple of months as preparation for this year's Kentucky Derby begins to intensify. We'll track the progress of each colt (or lack thereof) over the next several weeks and then unveil a weekly Derby Top 10 ranking beginning in late February. But first, let's take a look at the 20 horses to watch, along with a nugget or two as to why these colts deserve extra attention.
Archwarrior: This colt was the buzz (or the over-hype) of the Saratoga meet this summer and he won his debut in impressive fashion on Aug. 30. Archwarrior is now down in Florida with trainer Todd Pletcher and posted his first morning work in two months on Christmas Eve. Time will tell if he's able to back up the hype.
Avie's Quality: Won an ungraded stakes race at Woodbine in early December and is currently based in Florida, where he'll target the stakes calendar for three-year-old colts. This colt has improved in each of his four lifetime starts but he's yet to run over a dirt surface.
Capo Bastone: He's run four times in his career and only has a maiden victory to his credit but he was a good third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile when he was running against the bias. His running style should help him maximize his stamina.
Dewey Square: This colt hasn't run a bad race in his three lifetime starts and was a good third to Uncaptured and Frac Daddy in the G2-Kentucky Jockey Club this fall. He's a versatile colt. and versatility and tactical speed are always big assets in a Derby horse
Frac Daddy: One of the winter book favorites for the Derby, Frac Daddy lost by a neck to Uncaptured in the G2-Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs in late November.
General Election: He finished almost 11 lengths behind Mylute in an allowance race at the Fair Grounds on Dec. 26 but he'll get an opportunity to redeem himself this spring in New Orleans. He's by a Kingmambo mare (Menekineko), so he should have no problem running all day long.
Goldencents: Trained by 2011 Derby winning trainer Doug O'Neill, Goldencents is currently in Southern California preparing for his three-year-old season. While this colt has run well in all three of his lifetime starts, I question how far he really wants to run; a mile and an eighth might be right at his limit. He'll make his 2013 debut in the G3-Sham Stakes at Santa Anita on Jan. 5.
Hard to Name: Trainer John Servis put this son of Hard Spun on the grass in his last race where he really didn't run a lick while finishing ninth of 10. That performance might encourage Servis to go back to running on dirt in one of the early races for three-year-old colts at Gulfstream Park.
Itsmyluckyday: He steamrolled the field of the Gulfstream Park Derby on New Year's Day by almost seven lengths and was geared down at the wire by jockey Paco Lopez. His victory produced some pretty good speed figures (95 Beyer, 111 Bris), indicating that this colt could develop into a legit Derby contender this spring.
Normandy Invasion: Truth be told, I simply love Normandy Invasion; he ran decently when breaking his maiden Aqueduct back on Nov. 2, but he really impressed when finishing a nose behind Overanalyze in the G2-Remsen on Nov. 24 in his first try at nine furlongs. And while there isn't a ton of stamina in his pedigree, his off-the-pace running style is a huge asset.
Overanalyze: I'm a little concerned with his so-so performance in the G3-Iroquois at Churchill Downs (I don't like to see horses run poorly over the Derby surface at any time prior to the first Saturday in May), but he's clearly one of the more talented colts in this crop at this point.
Palace Malice: Just a maiden win on his resume, but he's a well-bred son of former two-time Horse of the Year Curlin and his owners shelled out $200,000 for him at the 2012 Keeneland April sale. Trainer Todd Pletcher brought him to Florida for the winter.
Power Broker: He flopped in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in November but has proven in the past that he can run a big race when he's right.
Revolutionary: It took him four tries to break his maiden but he did it in style on that final try, winning by 8 ½ lengths at the Big A on Dec. 28. By War Pass out of an A.P. Indy mare, Revolutionary has a the kind of pedigree that should play well in the mile and a quarter Kentucky Derby.
Shanghai Bobby: Undefeated in five lifetime starts and the winter book favorite of many for the 2013 Kentucky Derby following his victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita. Unfortunately for Shanghai Bobby, the Juvenile has only produced one winner to go on to Derby success the following spring: Street Sense in 2007.
Titletown Five: Trained by D. Wayne Lukas and co-owned by Green Bay Packers legend Paul Hornung, Titletown Five broke his maiden at Churchill Downs by nine lengths on Oct. 28. With Lukas as the trainer, you know this colt will be pointed towards the major Derby preps this winter/spring.
To the Stars: This colt hasn't done anything of note at this point in his career (he finished third in his only race), but it's hard not to love his pedigree (by Derby winner Street Sense out of a Giant's Causeway mare). Trainer Ian Wilkes has him in Florida for the winter.
Uncaptured: He just wins races -- six of eight lifetime, including two stakes wins at Churchill Downs.
Violence: Won the G1-CashCall Futurity in his most recent start and is a perfect 3-for-3 in his career. He's got the pedigree to consistently run well at two-turns (by Medaglia d'Oro out of a Gone West mare) and he cost a pretty penny at the 2011 Keeneland September Sale ($600,000).
War Academy: Just a maiden win on the resume but how can you not love a colt with a pedigree like War Academy's? He's by European star Giant's Causeway out of an A.P. Indy mare -- a combination that just screams "stamina". He's based in Southern California with trainer Bob Baffert and will likely target the Santa Anita stakes races for three-year-old colts.