Did we see the Kentucky Derby winner last Saturday? I suspect we did.

Of course, this time of year such opinions have a one-week shelf life. But here’s what I saw Saturday: In the San Felipe and the Tampa Bay Derby, four 3-year-olds put themselves within reach of the kind of effort that will be necessary to win on May 7 at Churchill Downs. They’re not there yet, but they’re just one significant step away in terms of their development from reaching a level of performance that in many recent years would have won, or threatened to win, the Kentucky Derby.

Can they take another step forward in the next seven weeks? Does that much improvement, or any improvement at all, remain within them? If so, is it ready to pop or will it have to wait for the fall to emerge? And even if it is there and even if it’s ready to burst out, will the hightened competition or the unique and turbulent atmosphere squelch it? Will longer distances make improvement more difficult, this next developmental step a little unsteady, wobbly perhaps or even tremulous, or will the distances bring all this potential to the surface? This is where it gets interesting.

In the San Felipe, Danzing Candy delivered the best two-turn performance of the year by a 3-year-old. He shot to the lead immediately, and in a field laden with proven speedsters, he opened up a two-length advantage after running the opening half-mile in 46.11 seconds. The pace was uncommonly quick, but Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith knew what he was about and what was underneath him. And at the wire, where Danzing Candy stopped the teletimer at 1:43.04, the margin was still two lengths, with Mor Spirit rallying to be second and Exaggerator third.

In the Santa Anita Derby, on April 9, Danzing Candy probably won’t have to run a 46-second half-mile to grab the advantage; the horses that pushed him in the early stages of Saturday’s race are unlikely to ask for a rematch. And, to look even further down the road, the Kentucky Derby point system, which virtually excludes pure sprinters, is much more favorable to front-running types than the old graded-earnings criterion ever was for determining starters.

Just think back a few years. If the point system had been in effect in 2012, would Bodemeister have won the Kentucky Derby? Maybe. This much is clear: If the point system had been in effect, he wouldn’t have had to run the opening half-mile in 45.39 seconds and three-quarters of a mile in 1:09.80 to get the lead because Trinniberg, who would become the season’s champion sprinter, probably wouldn’t have been there to push him. Yes, I’ll Have Another defeated Bodemeister again in the Preakness, sans Trinniberg. But how much was left in Bodemeister’s tank after that Derby?

And so who’s going to push Danzing Candy in the Santa Anita Derby? Is there a Trinniberg doppelganger out there this year that can get the points necessary for a reserved spot in the Derby starting gate? And so who’s going to push Danzing Candy at Churchill? If the answers are “nobody,” “no” and “nobody,” Danzing Candy becomes a likely candidate to take that next step forward

But so is Mor Spirit, who ran second in the San Felipe despite losing some ground, having to check coming out of the first turn and then altering course in the lane. If he wins the Kentucky Derby, his Hall of Fame connections, Bob Baffert and Gary Stevens, might look back on the San Felipe and say that was the classroom where More Spirit learned some valuable lessons about winning.

And the Tampa Bay duo from Todd Pletcher’s barn are there, too, Destin and Outwork. Since adding blinkers, Destin has improved about 17 lengths from where he was at the end of 2015. And with his victory Saturday at Tampa Bay, where he ran the fourth quarter-mile in a solid 24.54 seconds to get by Outwork, Destin delivered his most professional performance yet. Having already come so far, could he continue moving forward? As for the Tampa Bay runner-up, Outwork didn’t capitulate. Stretching out for the first time, in only his third start, he finished a length behind Destin’s track-record performance.

Over the next seven weeks, other horses will no doubt arrive at the threshold, a level of performance where the roseate level looms tantalizingly within reach. Maybe somebody will get there Saturday at Oaklawn Park in the $900,000 Rebel.

A field of 13 or 14 is expected. The best of the locals — Suddenbreakingnews, Whitmore, Siding Spring, American Dubai and Discreetness — will face a challenge from some talented invaders. Last month, in the Southwest Stakes, on a cool overcast day, Siding Spring, who was fresh, rushed headlong to the early lead over a very dull surface that had been “sealed” much earlier in anticipation of rain. When the race basically crumbled under the heat of the pace, Suddenbreakingnews and Whitmore rallied from far back. American Dubai held on well to be second, and Siding Spring to be fifth.

They could improve significantly Saturday. But so could many others. Once again the pace should be lively and the late-runners, such as Suddenbreakingnews and Whitmore, effective. A favorable trip will be essential in such a large field. Who’s ready to step forward? Who gets the trip? How good are Cherry Wine and Cupid, two of the most intriguing invaders? And when all these questions are answered, which horses will have moved closer to Kentucky?

The top 20 on the road to the Triple Crown

  1. Danzing Candy

Trainer: Clifford Sise

Sire: Twirling Candy

Starts—wins-2nds-3rds: 4—3-0-0

Kentucky Derby points: 50

Danzing Candy leaps to the top of the list with his splendid performance in the San Felipe at Santa Anita. Quite simply, he set a lively pace and just kept running. Based on my pace figures, the San Felipe was the fastest-paced two-turn race in this year’s run-up to the Triple Crown. Usually in such races, the early leader fades into the nether ranks of the ruck, but Danzing Candy put away the speedsters — Uncle Lino, Smokey Image and I Will Score, who finished 4th, 5th and 6th in the six-horse field — and then he held off the closers, Mor Spirit and Exaggerator. In other words, in the San Felipe, with Hall of Famer Mike Smith riding, Danzing Candy gave the best performance so far this season by a 3-year-old. Will he continue to move forward? A few classic winners are perched on the branches of his family tree, such as Unbridled, Seattle Slew and Northern Dancer, if you go back far enough, but will he be as effective at nine and 10 furlongs? Can he take his show on the road? Those are the questions. It’ll be great fun watching him supply answers.

  1. Mor Spirit

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Sire: Eskendereya

Starts—wins-2nds-3rds: 6—3-3-0

Kentucky Derby points: 44

Comment: He finished second in the San Felipe, but his effort was encouraging and might set him up perfectly for what lies ahead. He was eager early, raced in traffic, had to check coming out of the first turn and altered course down the lane. He finished two lengths back, but he ran about two lengths farther than the winner. As it turned out, the San Felipe might have been the perfect race for him. He and Danzing Candy will meet again on April 9, in the Santa Anita Derby.

  1. Nyquist

Trainer: Doug O’Neill

Sire: Uncle Mo

Starts—wins-2nds-3rds: 6—6-0-0

Kentucky Derby points: 30

Comment: The champion juvenile of 2015 returned to competition with an impressive victory in the San Vicente. He’s aimed at the Florida Derby on April 2, where he’ll run for a million-dollar bonus. His record’s spotless and his talent unimpeachable; but his ability to excel at the classic distance remains a huge question, even larger for him than for most since his dam’s only victories were sprinting. Nyquist, by the way, has a 7.00 dosage index.

He worked five-eighths of a mile last Thursday at Santa Anita in 1:01.40. Mario Guiterrez is the colt’s regular rider, and so this is the same team that won the 2012 Kentucky Derby with I’ll Have Another.

  1. Mohaymen

Trainer: Kiaran McLaughlin

Sire: Tapit

Starts—wins-2nds-3rds: 5—5-0-0

Kentucky Derby points: 70

Comment: Preparing for his confrontation with Nyquist in the Florida Derby, Mohaymen worked an easy half-mile last Friday in 49.40 seconds at Palm Meadows. A beautiful colt with conspicuous talent, Mohaymen is a $2.2 million yearling purchase, and he looks like he’s worth the Himalayan high price. Mohaymen, of course, won the Fountain of Youth with a professional performance, beating Zulu by more than two lengths. Still, Mohaymen has yet to turn in a truly fast effort or run in a large field, and the quality of the horses finishing behind him is uncertain. But Mohaymen is a relatively late foal, born on May 2, and should continue to improve. Junior Alvarado has ridden Mohaymen in all five of his races.

  1. Destin

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Sire: Giant’s Causeway

Starts—wins-2nds-3rds: 5—3-1-0

Kentucky Derby points: 51

Comment: Destin proclaimed himself to be a serious Triple Crown candidate with his performance in the Tampa Bay Derby. Yes, with Javier Castellano riding, Destin had a perfect stalking trip, but the colt set a track record, running the fourth quarter-mile in a very solid 24.54 seconds and completing the 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.82. He has steadily moved forward this year on his way to Kentucky. His trainer, Todd Pletcher, mentioned three possibilities for the colt’s final preparatory race — the Arkansas Derby, Wood or Blue Grass.

  1. Exaggerator

Trainer: Keith Desormeaux

Sire: Curlin

Starts—wins-2nds-3rds: 8—3-2-1

Kentucky Derby points: 26

Comment: Last after a half-mile, Exaggerator ran the next quarter-mile in 23.54 seconds to reach contention in the San Felipe. Of course he couldn’t sustain that move and finished third, but less than a length behind Mor Spirit and only 2 3/4 lengths behind Danzing Candy. Third in the San Felipe, second in the San Vicente, fourth in the Breeders’ Cup, he’s a very talented colt, but he might be the sort who’s always close but seldom in the winner’s circle. On the other hand, his sire, Curlin, continued to improve throughout his 3-year-old campaign until he became Horse of the Year with a Breeders’ Cup Classic victory. Will Exaggerator continue to improve, too, for the Desormeaux brothers?

  1. Outwork

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Sire: Uncle Mo

Starts—wins-2nds-3rds: 3—2-1-0

Kentucky Derby points: 20

Comment: Stretching out from three-quarters of a mile to 1 1/16 miles, in only his third start, Outwork delivered an outstanding performance in the Tampa Bay Derby. With John Velazquez riding, the son of Uncle Mo dug in gamely after setting the pace but couldn’t stay with Destin late and finished a length back. And the winner set a track record. It was another seven lengths back to third. Yes, Outwork was able to steal away in relatively quiet fractions, with an opening half-mile in 47.88 seconds, but plenty of improvement is possible. He won his debut last April at Keeneland, and so the Blue Grass would seem a logical place for his next start, but New York and Arkansas are also options.

  1. Greenpointcrusader

Trainer: Dominick Schettino

Sire: Bernardini

Starts—wins-2nds-3rds: 5—2-2-0

Kentucky Derby points: 14

Comment: He worked an easy half-mile in 49.75 seconds at Palm Meadows last Friday in preparation for his return, which he’s expected to make March 26 in the Louisiana Derby. Most notable on his resume, of course, is his come-from-behind victory last year in the Champagne. He hasn’t raced since finishing second in the Holy Bull, where he found himself in an unfamiliar position, on the early lead. But he ran well there for jockey John Velazquez to finish second. A full brother to Algorithms, Greenpointcrusader has the potential to put himself among the division’s leaders. A very late foal (May 14), he could improve dramatically in the next two months.

  1. Suddenbreakingnews

Trainer: Donnie Von Hemel

Sire: Mineshaft

Starts—wins-2nds-3rds: 6—3-3-0

Kentucky Derby points: 10

Comment: In preparation for Saturday’s Rebel Stakes, Suddenbreakingnews worked five-eighths of a mile through the mud in 1:02 on Monday at Oaklawn Park, running the final quarter-mile in 23.60 seconds, according to official clocker Jim Hamilton. When Suddenbreakingnews won the Southwest Stakes over an officially “good” but very dull surface, he enjoyed an ideal setup. And so the Rebel will be a major test. Horses are traveling to Oaklawn from California and Florida for Saturday’s race. There should again be a lively pace, but can Suddenbreakingnews successfully meet the challenge of facing these better horses? Maybe. He has lost two races by a neck after troubled trips and another by disqualification; so he’s very close to having a perfect record. He has a solid punch down the lane and is admirably consistent. Luis Quinonez has ridden the gelding in all his races.

  1. Gun Runner

Trainer: Steve Asmussen

Sire: Candy Ride

Starts—wins-2nds-3rds: 4—3-0-0

Kentucky Derby points: 51

Comment: On Monday in New Orleans, in preparation for the Louisiana Derby on March 26, Gun Runner worked a bullet five-eighths of a mile in 1:00.60. He, of course, made an auspicious seasonal debut when he won the Fair Grounds’ Risen Star Stakes. Yes, he enjoyed a perfect trip and ride from Florent Geroux, who kept Gun Runner on the best part of the surface. But that was only his first race of the season, his first start since November; so the colt can reasonably be expected to progress over the next two months, and his pedigree insists he’s going to improve with more distance.

  1. Mo Tom

Trainer: Tom Amoss

Sire: Uncle Mo

Starts—wins-2nds-3rds: 6—3-0-3

Kentucky Derby points: 22

Comment: Mo Tom worked a half-mile in 48.60 on Sunday at Fair Grounds in preparation for his rematch with Gun Runner. Although Mo Tom finished third in the Risen Star, he endured a rough trip, having to alter course in the stretch, and then he galloped out beyond the winner. His style will always leave him vulnerable, of course, because he’s so dependent on the pace and the trip, but if the circumstances align in his favor he will be hard to beat in the Louisiana Derby. Corey Lanerie, who could have a few options for the Triple Crown, has ridden Mo Tom in five of his six races.

  1. Zulu

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Sire: Bernardini

Starts—wins-2nds-3rds: 3—2-1-0

Kentucky Derby points: 20

Comment: He hasn’t had a published workout since finishing second in the Fountain of Youth. That was only his third start and his first around two turns; so a brief respite is probably in order, especially since he seems unlikely to return for the grand finale at Gulfstream Park. His trainer, Todd Pletcher, indicated he wouldn’t want to enter Zulu in the Florida Derby if both Mohaymen and Nyzuist are in the field. And so Zulu is more likely to travel to Arkansas, Kentucky or New York for his final preparatory outing before the Kentucky Derby. Velazquez has ridden the colt in all his races and, like Lanerie, could have a few Triple Crown options.

  1. Cherry Wine

Trainer: Dale Romans

Sire: Paddy O’Prado

Starts—wins-2nds-3rds: 6—2-1-1

Kentucky Derby points: 0

Comment: On Thursday, he’s scheduled to travel to Hot Springs, Ark., and Oaklawn Park, where he’ll soon return to the Triple Crown trail. Although he had to skip the Fountain of Youth because of a fever and a cough, he should still be able to get in two preparatory races before the Derby, starting with a Saturday’s Rebel. Cherry Wine has raced three times on turf, with modest success. But on the main track, he has won two of his three outings, including his two most recent races by a total of more than 15 lengths with Lanerie riding. In January at Gulfstream Park, he announced his Triple Crown potential with a last-to-first score. He’s one of the more intriguing candidates. Last Saturday at Gulfstream, he worked five-eighths in 1:00.36.

  1. Flexibility

Trainer: Chad Brown

Sire: Bluegrass Cat

Starts—wins-2nds-3rds: 5—2-2-0

Kentucky Derby points: 15

Comment: He signaled his readiness to get back to some serious work with what appeared to be a strong move Sunday at Belmont Park, a half-mile in 48.48 seconds. The runner-up in both the Nashua and the Remsen, Flexibility won the Jerome with a powerful effort, but then, four weeks later, he disappointed as the odds-on favorite in the Withers, where a slow pace could have compromised his chances. After running hard in four major stakes in three months, he was due a respite; his trainer, Chad Brown, indicated that indeed had always been the plan for the colt. So a rested and ready Flexibility is aimed at the Wood Memorial on April 9, with the Blue Grass as another option. Irad Ortiz, Jr., has ridden the colt in his last three races.

  1. Matt King Coal

Trainer: Linda Rice

Sire: Cool Coal Man

Starts—wins-2nds-3rds: 4—2-1-1

Kentucky Derby points: 0

Comment: He returned to competition on the Sunday following the Gotham with an impressive win. Making his first start in more than four months, he got a little weary in the final furlong, but he held on well and actually galloped out strongly. A big strong colt who’s naturally fast and seems to possess a high cruising rhythm, he’s a player. J. L. Ortiz has ridden Matt King Coal in all his races.

  1. Shagaf

Trainer: Chad Brown

Sire: Bernardini

Starts—wins-2nds-3rds: 3—3-0-0

Kentucky Derby points: 50

Comment: Yes, a win is a win is a win, but his Gotham was oh-so slow. And the track was biased. And, well, what should you make of his performance that day? Shagaf could be the most overrated horse on the Triple Crown trail, or he could be a genuine contender. I suspect the reality lies about midway between those two poles, maybe in The Harau Valley on the island of Sumatra. Clearly he’s talented and tractable, but from this observer’s perspective he still has much to prove. Irad Ortiz, Jr., has ridden Shagaf in all of the colt’s races, which means he, too, could soon have to make a tough choice.

  1. Cupid

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Sire: Tapit

Starts—wins-2nds-3rds: 3—1-1-0

Kentucky Derby Points: 0

A very late foal (May 19), Cupid is one of the more intriguing horses in the Top 20 simply because the ceiling of his potential seems so high. In his maiden victory last month, where he made his two-turn debut, he hinted that he possesses considerable talent and promise. He got out a little on the first turn, going three-to-four wide, raced four-to-five wide in the second turn, and then with an explosive move ran down the early leader, who had been loose on the lead in soft fractions. Cupid showed some inexperience down the lane, where he drifted in, but still he ran the fourth quarter-mile in 24.07 seconds. He won by more than five lengths, and Martin Garcia had a firm hold on the handsome gray colt at the wire. Then at Santa Anita last Friday, Cupid worked a bullet three-quarters of a mile in 1:11.60. And now, as the old radio man used to say, the rest of the story: Cupid worked that day in company with Whiskey Ticket (1:12), the winner of the last year’s Illinois Derby. Cupid arrived Tuesday at Oaklawn Park, where he’s a threat to pull off an upset in his stakes debut.

  1. Adventist

Trainer: Leah Gyarmati

Sire: Any Given Saturday

Starts—wins-2nds-3rds: 3—1-0-2

Kentucky Derby points: 12

Comment: He gave another solid effort in the Gotham while not enjoying the perfect trip of the winner, but he’s no scholar. He hasn’t yet learned his lessons well enough to get into the winner’s circle, and he continues to show his inexperience. In the Gotham he again ducked in slightly from a right-handed whip. Significant improvement remains possible, even probable, for the colt. But will he take the next step forward in time to threaten in the Wood? Kendrick Carmouche has been riding him.

  1. Forevamo

Trainer: Al Stall, Jr.

Sire: Uncle Mo

Starts—wins-2nds-3rds: 6—1-3-0

Kentucky Derby points: 9

Comment: Forevamo worked a half-mile Sunday in 49.40 seconds in preparation for the Louisiana Derby. A long-striding colt who looks like he can handle more distance despite a pedigree that emphasizes speed, Forevamo didn’t have the best of trips when he closed well to be second, a half-length back, in the Risen Star Stakes. But he galloped out beyond the winner, and the effort represented a significant step forward. The light has come, and he could be dangerous in the Fair Grounds’ upcoming showcase event. Colby Hernandez has ridden the colt in his last four outings.

  1. Brody’s Cause

Trainer: Dale Romans

Sire: Giant’s Causeway

Starts—wins-2nds-3rds: 5—2-0-1

Kentucky Derby points: 14

Comment: He didn’t do much running in the Tampa Bay Derby, finishing seventh of nine. Yes, he was bumped at the start, but hardly enough to make any difference. Worse than a bad start to the season, his effort at Tampa Bay represented a regression. At a time when it’s all about moving forward, he went backwards. Still, this is a horse that finished less than three lengths back in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, a horse that twice has beaten Exaggerator. In other words, because Brody’s Cause has proven himself, he might deserve a dispensation from the usual expectations and another chance to put himself on the road to the Triple Crown.