In just over an hour, during three races from coast to coast, the field for the Kentucky Derby mostly came into focus.
Outwork is in. So are Brody's Cause and Exaggerator.
"Anytime you've won one of these major preps, it puts you in the top area," trainer Todd Pletcher said Sunday, a day after Outwork edged out Trojan Nation in the $1 million Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, clinching a spot in the Derby.
Over at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky, about a half-hour later Saturday, Brody's Cause pulled off a come-from-behind victory in the Blue Grass and earned his place in the Derby lineup.
And out West a little later, Exaggerator capped the biggest day of Derby preps when he blew away the field in the backstretch to win the Santa Anita Derby.
The results added 100 Derby qualifying points to each colt's total, guaranteeing them spots in what likely will be a full field of 20 3-year-olds running for the roses May 7.
Despite the results, unbeaten Nyquist remains the likely favorite for the Derby after his showdown win against Mohaymen in the Florida Derby on April 2. Nyquist — sired, like Outwork, by Uncle Mo — has 130 points. Gun Runner is leading with 151 points.
After Nyquist, though, it's anyone's guess who the next contender might be.
"We haven't been able to beat [Nyquist], what, five times?" Exaggerator trainer Keith Desormeaux said — an exaggeration, since in reality, it's been three times. "I don't know if we can or not."
Pletcher, who also plans to send Tampa Bay Derby winner Destin to Churchill Downs, said Nyquist "certainly deserves that top seed right now."
"It seems to be a fairly consistent group. The horses in California are consistently doing well and Nyquist as well. It wasn't a big surprise that Brody's Cause came back and ran well, and then you have the Arkansas Derby to go," Pletcher said.
Nyquist will face no shortage of challengers, including a few who stormed into contention Saturday.
The biggest surprise came during the Wood, where 81-1 long shot Trojan Nation finished second by a head to Outwork. Winless in six starts, Trojan Nation earned 40 points to qualify for the Derby. The last maiden to win the Derby was Brokers Tip in 1933; the last to run was Nationalore in 1998, who finished ninth. Trojan Nation trainer Paddy Gallagher said the Derby is a go.
Adventist ran third in the Wood for 20 points, now 32 altogether — good for 20th and probably enough to make the Derby. Wood favorite Shagaf finished fifth in his first loss but already had 50 points and is Derby-bound.
Brody's Cause won the Blue Grass by 1 3/4 lengths over My Man Sam. Cherry Wine was third and Laoban fourth. Dale Romans, who trains Brody's Cause (114 points) and Cherry Wine (25 points), is hoping his third-place finisher has enough points to make the Derby. My Man Sam could give Shagaf's trainer, Chad Brown, a second Derby starter. Laoban, like Trojan Nation, a maiden, has 32 points and ranked 21st.
"This is home, this is the second-biggest race in Kentucky in my opinion, and it's great to win," Romans said. "On to the Kentucky Derby with a real chance."
At Santa Anita, Exaggerator (126 points) comes into the Derby with four wins in nine starts after his 6 1/4-length victory. Ridden by Desormeaux's brother, Hall of Famer Kent Desormeaux, the colt would attempt to become the third Santa Anita Derby winner in five years to win the Kentucky Derby. I'll Have Another did it in 2012, and California Chrome came through in 2014.
Don't feel too bad for Santa Anita Derby runner-up Mor Spirit. With an additional 40 points, the colt from Triple Crown-winning trainer Bob Baffert's barn moved up to 84 points. Baffert also trains Rebel winner Cupid (50 points), who is set to run next weekend in the Arkansas Derby.
Uncle Lino's third-place finish pushed his points total to 29, but trainer Gary Sherlock said the horse is off the Derby trail. Danzing Candy was fourth for 10 points and now has 60 points. Trainer Cliff Sise Jr. said Sunday his colt's Derby status is uncertain.
With two preps left, it looks as though at least 30 points will be needed to make the Derby field. In previous years, the number was about 20.
The Arkansas Derby offers 100-40-20-10 points, the Lexington Stakes 50-20-10-5 points.
For 3-year-old star filly Songbird, the answer is still no to the Derby. She ran her record to 7 for 7 with another cruise-control victory in the Santa Anita Oaks. Owner Rick Porter said once again his filly will run next in the Kentucky Oaks on the day before the Derby.