Each spring on the road to the Kentucky Derby, new contenders often emerge with big performances that seem to come out of nowhere. In the latest round of prep races for the 2012 Kentucky Derby, a pair of colts did just that to put themselves squarely in the Derby mix.

At Tampa Bay Downs, the previously winless Battle Hardened upset the field with a victory in the $250,000, Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes Saturday. Battle Hardened, a son of Giant's Causeway trained by Eddie Kenneally, had finished no better than second in three previous starts against Maidens prior to the Sam. F. Davis. However, given the Kentucky Derby field is based on earnings in graded stakes, the winners' share of the Sam F. Davis puts Battle Hardened squarely in the Kentucky Derby mix.

Battle Hardened is likely to make two more starts in graded stakes races prior to the Kentucky Derby. He must still prove his performance in the Sam F. Davis wasn't a fluke, but he certainly seems headed in the right direction and recent Kentucky Derby history has been kind to late developing horses.

At Santa Anita, the upset in the Robert B. Lewis was even more shocking, at least to bettors. I'll Have Another, who was making his first start since the Grade I Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga last September, stunned the Santa Anita crowd by winning the Robert B. Lewis Stakes at odds of 44-to-1.

A Kentucky-bred son of Flower Alley, I'll Have Another displayed a touch of class last summer for trainer Doug O'Neill when a solid second in the Grade 2 Best Pal Stakes at Del Mar. However, he had been out of sight since the Hopeful and was obviously out of mind of bettors on Saturday.

I'll Have Another, who boosted his graded stakes earnings to $151,000 with his win in the Robert B. Lewis, should be in good shape in that regard for the Kentucky Derby. O'Neill told Daily Racing Form the day after the race that I'll Have Another will wait until the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby on April 7 to make his next start.

The only semblance of order in the 3-year-old division in the latest round of Kentucky Derby preps came in the form of Alpha in the $200,000 Withers Stakes at Aqueduct. The son of Bernardini rolled home the easiest of winners in the Withers, which followed a win in the Count Fleet Stakes a month earlier, and is without a doubt New York's top contender for the Kentucky Derby—at least for now.

Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin indicated there are plenty of options for Alpha to continue his journey to the Kentucky Derby. He could come back in the $400,000 Gotham Stakes on March 3 followed by the $1 million Wood Memorial on April 7, or Alpha could skip the Gotham and go directly to the Wood.

McLaughlin also indicated Alpha could leave town for a prep such as the Florida Derby.

The next round of major Kentucky Derby prep races include the Grade 2, seven-furlong Hutcheson Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 11; the Grade 3, 1 1/8-mile El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields Feb. 18; and the Grade 2, seven-furlong San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita Feb. 19.

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