Snow still covers the racetracks and crab shacks on much of the eastern edge of the Derby trail. Even so, the Kentucky Derby winter prep season is over.

March 1 marks the final Derby prep on Aqueduct’s winter surface, and Gulfstream has run the last of its 8.5-furlong preps. From here on, most horses enter Derby preps after already running a stakes prep this year.

Let’s travel backward from the most recent prep to review tales from the Derby trail. The most significant theme: 2-year-old form from top 2013 graded stakes races dominated early 2014 preps.

Gotham Stakes

My top figure horse (Extrasexyhippzster) failed to fire, and a graded stakes-winning sprinter (In Trouble) failed to handle the final furlong of his stretchout. Fit local runners prevailed. The final half furlong of about 7 seconds for the top two horses (Samraat and Uncle Sigh) spells T-R-O-U-B-L-E for each as they stretch to 9 furlongs next time. Samraat edged a neck clear from slightly off the pace under a confident hand ride in the final yards by Jose Ortiz. Samraat, rating kindly off moderate fractions, should have closed with much more gusto (hand ride or not) vs. pace-setters coming home in 7+ seconds.

Risen Star Stakes

I viewed Intense Holiday as this race’s most-accomplished graded stakes horse at 2. He lived up (barely) to that 2-year-old promise, winning this race by a nose. His slow-starting ways don’t come with an exceptional late kick, so the weak competition was the main factor in his victory. Runner-up Albano faded late in his stretchout attempt despite grabbing an uncontested lead. Not much Derby potential here that I can see.

Fountain of Youth Stakes

We Miss Artie disappointed this lazy bettor, who expected him to return to the level of talent displayed in his Grade 1 win as a 2-year-old. Or maybe he just had the misfortune of facing a few future Grade 1 monsters. Wildcat Red and General A Rod, both trying 2 turns for the first time, waged a ferocious pace battle and finished 1st and 2nd, respectively. Their superb speed signals Derby-winning potential (as I explain in The Lazy Bettor’s Guide to the Kentucky Derby), but one or both need to learn to rate or added distance won’t be their friend. The guidelines in my book led me to downgrade heavy favorite Top Billing, who still runs too slow early to be considered a top Derby prospect.

San Vicente

At 7 furlongs, this race isn’t an official Derby “prep.” I suspect the connections of the winner, Kobe’s Back, think differently. As a 2-year-old, KB ran 2nd in a graded stakes to multiple graded stakes-winner Shared Belief. He benefitted greatly here from an all-out speed duel in front of him, but it was still a fine return and a reaffirmation of his quality.

El Camino Real Stakes

Tamarando, a Grade 1 sprint winner at 2, scored the victory here. He also has a nongraded stakes win around 2 turns and a decent 3rd-place finish to Shared Belief. I see him as a nice Cal-bred who will often win minor stakes but secure only minor awards vs. tougher.

R. B. Lewis Stakes

Another runner-up to Shared Belief prevailed here, with Candy Boy coming off a layoff to run down tiring speedsters. Again, quality is reaffirmed, and Candy Boy deserves serious consideration in upcoming preps. Although I overestimated the quality of MSW winner Cool Samurai, I was correct in stating that Baffert’s Midnight Hawk (who ran a tiring 3rd) didn’t deserve favoritism and likely isn’t a top Derby prospect.

Holy Bull Stakes

Cairo Prince threw down the Derby gauntlet early in the year. His fast-paced, fast-finishing victory here verified the quality of his Grade 2 Nashua win as a 2-year-old. In my Derby Futures Pool 1 preview, he ranked high on my list of potential plays at my minimum acceptable odds of 50-1. The Holy Bull victory makes me wish my Pool 1 standards for minimum-acceptable odds had been a bit lower.