We finally made it. After all the preps, it comes down to the 136th Run for the Roses. This year’s Kentucky Derby once again drew an oversubscribed field that was filed down to 20 3-year-olds Wednesday morning. They’ll head to the post at or around 6:24 PM Saturday evening, and some 2 minutes later, one runner will join racing’s immortals. Let’s take a look, and best of luck!
Churchill Downs: The Grade I, $2 Million Kentucky Derby at 1 ¼ miles
1. Lookin At Lucky: So you work your tail off all year, hardly miss a beat, get your two preps in and work beautifully over the local strip, and then the little ball pops up with “1” painted on it and all of a sudden you’re in deep water. Seriously, could he have drawn any worse? The favorite needs to break alertly and secure position, or run the risk of a 19-horse stampede dropping over on him as they enter the wild and crazy entity that is the Derby’s first turn. Aside from all that, this guy is as consistent as they come and his 6-for-8 lifetime record says he loves to win races. He even went to OP to show that he can handle dirt just fine, and considering all the trouble he had that day, his win in the Rebel was top stuff. His prep in the SA Derby certainly didn’t go as planned; he tried to come through a hole that wasn’t there on the rail, dropped far back and then re-rallied for a non-threatening third. While the positives are many, the negatives add up, too: he drew terribly; he’s no faster than anyone else in the field; his jockey continually gets him into trouble in much smaller fields than he’ll see Saturday; and his price will be a huge underlay. Clearly there’s better value out there and it just doesn’t make a lot of sense to take him in the 3-1 range; willing to make him beat me.
2. Ice Box: Huge run to get the money in the Florida Derby and you know this guy wants every bit of the 10 furlongs he’ll see Saturday. Zito has won this race twice, so he knows how to get a 3yo cranked on the big day, but this colt comes in off a relatively obscure six weeks off. The good news is that he’s got 27 furlongs under his belt this year, so fitness shouldn’t be an issue, and judging by his local breezes, he’s taken to the track as well. They should be flying up front early, which means this guy will be picking them off in the lane, so if he can negotiate a trip through potentially the entire field he can factor; logical player underneath in the exotics and maybe more.
3. Noble’s Promise: McPeek rode the teeter-totter this week but finally committed to running after a solid local breeze. Impressed with his game second to Lookin At Lucky in the Rebel, but then he regressed a ton in a troubled Arkansas Derby. If he runs back to the Rebel then he can factor, but that race was just 1 1/16 miles and he got run down, so how’s a son of Cuvee going to hold them all off at 1 ¼ miles? Figures to be part of the early proceedings with this inside draw, but it’s hard to see him lasting when the cavalry charge shows up; taking a strong stand against.
4. Super Saver: He started off the year on top of many people’s Derby lists and though a bit of the bloom has come off the rose, he did impress in his game second in the Arkansas Derby. On paper it looks like he’s moving forward, and if you remember back to his KY Jockey Club win over the track last fall, you know for darn sure he loves the local strip. But the pace looks to be really hot and he’s yet to show he can pass horses at two turns; he had every chance to do so at OP and couldn’t. If you’re still a believer, you’ll get by far the best price he’s ever been, but just not sure that’s enough to get enthused about; siding against.
5. Line Of David: Speaking of the Arkansas Derby, this unheralded runner left the fake stuff of California and ran a hole in the wind on the front end, throwing down a sub: 47 half and holding off Super Saver and Dublin, two highly regarded foes. Well, he’s got to do it again tomorrow with another furlong added and more pace thrown in the mix, and he won’t be three lengths clear early like he was that day at OP. It’s tough to knock the OP win, but he looks really up against in here; pace casualty.
6. Stately Victor: The poster child for Polytrack racing: he upset the famed GI Blue Grass at 40-1 while looking like a 2-5 shot in deep stretch. So is he a horse peaking at the right time, or one that caught the right group at the right time over a surface he loved? It’s probably the latter, but these 3yo’s do improve open lengths overnight and you know he’ll be running on at the end, so just maybe you can get interested at another big number. His two dirt starts leave a lot to be desired and make him a candidate to be ringing the bell on the caboose, but if he’s peaking then he’s a stretch threat of some sort; can crack the tri at a big number.
7. American Lion: Yet another runner who forgot to stop in the Illinois Derby, and unless you’re named War Emblem, that’s not scaring anyone here. He’s not a need the lead type, so don’t expect him to be on the engine because he’s probably looking at a trip six to eight lengths off the leaders. And that’s a great spot to be in, if you’re good enough to make it work. So far he’s only lost ground when not on the point in his two-turn races, so it’s more hope than anything else that he can stalk and pounce. Harty, a former Baffert assistant, knows what he’s doing on Derby Day, so thinking this colt will run his race, just not sure it will matter on the win end; potential player underneath in the exotics.
8. Dean’s Kitten: Looked good winning the GII Lane’s End over TP’s Polytrack but his lone dirt run, over a good Belmont strip, resulted in a sound drubbing by Eskendereya last fall in the Pilgrim. Sure, he’s a much better horse now, but you need a lot of mint juleps to forget about that performance; passing.
9. Make Music for Me: The last cowboy to make the rodeo actually has a lot of talent; not many maidens are good enough to run third to Lookin At Lucky in the GI CashCall while getting beat only 1 ¼ lengths. Nor are they good enough to break their maiden in their seasonal and turf debut in a stakes race. He got beat up pretty good in a tough trip sixth in the Blue Grass, but we’ve seen it time and again where these Californians hit conventional dirt and take off. If that’s the case with this colt, then he could be really interesting at a huge number; not the worst flyer in the world.
10. Paddy O’Prado: Stakes winner on turf comes in off a solid second in the Blue Grass, so you know he’s got talent. Quickly turning into the wiseguy horse based on the 58 2/5 bullet he threw down on the track earlier in the week over a sloppy surface, and with rain in the forecast, he could move up even more. The thing is, his lone dirt try–over a sloppy Churchill strip–was an abysmal seventh in his career debut. So yes, he’s much better now, but that debut is pretty sketchy; and don’t forget, fast horses work fast on any surface, but that doesn’t mean they’ll run well over it. The other issue is his price; don’t think he’ll be the 20-1 ML that you’re hoping for, so you might have to take false odds on a horse that is much better on turf/poly; playing against.
11. Devil May Care: First off, if the name “Pletcher” wasn’t attached to HER bio she’d be about 30-1 in the ML, but instead she’s sitting there at a ridiculous 10-1. Maybe she won’t go off that low, but the point is that she’ll be a tremendous underlay for sure. If you’re a Beyer disciple, she is (almost pathetically) the only horse in the race that brings a triple-digit Beyer Speed Figure going two turns on conventional dirt this year. They say they’re running here because she wants the 10 furlongs, and that has merit because a lot in here will be drunken soldiers when that last eighth of a mile begins to unfold. But even so, this is a monumental task and you don’t exactly think Winning Colors when you view this gal. They also add blinkers, which is odd after she just ran huge in the Bonnie Miss, because the Derby isn’t really the race you want to go tinkering around with things; just don’t see her factoring at all.
12. Conveyance: Potentially the speed of the speed and regardless, you know he’ll be out there winging early. Wiring the Derby can happen, but for every War Emblem where the others jockeys elect to take back, there’s a Balto Star and Songandaprayer where they chase a fire into the first turn. With Line Of David and the other speed to his inside that has to go early, there should be nothing free and easy up front, which basically kills off any chance of theft this guy has; know him early, but not late.
13. Jackson Bend: The little horse that could will be relieved that he won’t have to chase Eskendereya home this time around, and I guess that, in and of itself, means he’s in with a chance. He was a decent second to that ill-fated runner in both the Fountain of Youth and Wood Memorial, but at no point in time did you ever think he was a danger. You’ve got to respect his tenacity and consistency, but he was beaten a combined 18 ¼ lengths by Eskendereya in his last two, and you can be sure there are more than a few in here that would have sidled up in the middle of that gap; not liking his chances.
14. Mission Impazible: For all the Pletcher hoopla, this colt has been essentially ignored all week, which is odd considering that he enters off a solid closing win in the pricey GII Louisiana Derby. And from the looks of it, he’s getting better and better as the furlongs add up, so there’s a good chance that that 10th furlong won’t make him blink. There’s also a good chance that he gets completely ignored in the wagering because his stablemates will be getting the bulk of the publicity. Not sure of the quality of the La. Derby, but he did do it the right way, and sometimes you just need to let the price be your guide in this crapshoot of a race; thinking he’s got a big, big chance to upset the apple cart.
15. Discreetly Mine: Another of the Pletcher brigade, this half-brother to Discreet Cat got exposed a bit in the La. Derby after walking on the lead in his GII Risen Star win. The real worry comes from the fact that they weren’t even sure about running until a few days ago, which is never a good sign leading up to the most important race of a horse’s career. Talented, but not sure this is the stage to showcase it; in deep.
16. Awesome Act: Talk about night and day. His GIII Gotham win at Aqueduct was a sight to behold; he sat behind the speed, dragged Leparoux up the leaders and then exploded in the lane. But his Wood, which unfolded in the same manner early, left him completely wanting late. However, he threw a shoe early that day, trainer Noseda was openly concerned about a bounce and you know that this was the real fish they wanted to fry all along. If you go back and watch the replay, you’ll see that Leparoux’s got him under a stranglehold while tracking Eskendereya, and then he comes up completely empty while never really asked for his best; so there’s no doubt that he had more in the tank if he wanted to use it. Well, it’s time to call on it and then some today, and he should sit a dream trip behind all the speed before unleashing a powerful kick late; love his chances to wear roses.
17. Dublin: Consistent sort just has not delivered the stretch wallop that you might have expected, especially after that solid seasonal debut in the Southwest. Still, there’s a lot to be said about a GI winner who runs his race every time, and anyone who saw that 5F move 4/19 knows that he’s peaking. The aforementioned Arkansas Derby saw the top three finishers run around the track together, but this colt did make up five and a half lengths on Line Of David, so it was a very solid effort and arguably better than Super Saver’s as well. There’s a chance that he gets run off his feet early, which would be a good thing because it might allow him to settle and make more of a dramatic move on the turn instead of having to grind away at them the entire trip. It’s never a good idea to discount D. Wayne come Derby time, either; major player.
18. Backtalk: One of the final two to get in the field has only run twice this year and was beaten 14 lengths by American Lion in the Illinois Derby. Perfect in two sprint starts over the track, but that was way back in last summer, when he was a hotshot in the 2yo ranks. Well, his peers have caught up and then some, and don’t figure to take any mercy on him here; longshot.
19. Homeboykris: If only they ran the Derby at a one-turn mile at Belmont because this guy would be in with a huge chance. But alas, they don’t and he isn’t. Still trying to run back to his GI win in the Champagne last fall and based on his two mile runs this year, where he was soundly beaten in the Holy Bull and a conditioned allowance, he’s not there yet; obvious longshot.
20. Sidney’s Candy: If you’re a fan, don’t fret too much about this draw; there’s a quarter-mile run into the first turn and he’s clearly got enough speed to secure position just off the leaders. The worry lies in the fact that he’s never had to sit behind horses this year, so you have no idea how he’ll react when he doesn’t make the point. And make no mistake about it: unless the gates don’t open for the inside runners, this SA Derby winner will not be on the lead. His combination of speed and stamina is imposing, and if he can stalk the pace and then take over on the far turn, he’ll be in an enviable position turning for home. But he’ll be in the 5-1 range and there are a lot of questions that he needs to answer at a very unappetizing mutuel; trying to beat him.
16. Awesome Act
14. Mission Impazible
2. Ice Box