Churchill Downs: The Grade I, $2 million Kentucky Derby at 1 ¼ miles
#1 Archarcharch (10-1 ML): Derby post positions are more overrated than Derek Jeter’s glove at shortstop, with one glaring exception and that’s the rail, where this GI winner landed. The good news is he’s taking back and making one run anyway, so it’s not disastrous, but now he’ll probably have to do it from about 6-8 lengths farther back than they wanted. Arkansas Derby winner necked out Nehro last time, is as talented as anyone in here and has some feel-good stories to root for as well, but you have to wonder if he’s got another forward move in him, especially after this unfortunate draw; willing to make him beat me and be the first to golf clap if he does.
#2 Brilliant Speed (30-1): Passed the whole gang in a last-to-first win in the GI Blue Grass at KEE over the Polytrack, and while that’s pretty cool, this isn’t on Polytrack and won’t be run like a turf race with a bunch of turf horses in it. His two dirt runs to start his career were abysmal, and that’s being kind, and while he’s no doubt a much better horse now, it’s still hard to see him making a dent here; longshot.
#3 Twice The Appeal (20-1): Feel sorry for those that liked this GIII Sunland Derby winner a few weeks ago, because when Borel was named, he went from 50-1 to about 12-1 and that makes him a gigantic underlay. Got set up when they went crazy up front at Sunland, and while he can close, others in here can as well, and just how far is a son of Successful Appeal going to run anyway? Respect his three-time Derby winning jock, but this time it just doesn’t seem possible, and as of this writing he’s 7-1 in the advanced wagering and arguably the biggest underlay in Derby history; not sold on his chances.
#4 Stay Thirsty (20-1): Looms as the lone runner from the Pletcher-Repole stable after the Uncle Mo debacle, and this half to Belmont runner-up Andromeda’s Hero takes blinkers off after a no-show in the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park. Liked his GIII Gotham win to kick off 2011 (and his chances at GP), and he did beat Toby’s Corner that day, and we know that guy came right back to beat Uncle Mo in the GI Wood Memorial, but that seems like years ago based on his recent form. Dominguez can work wonders and Pletcher hits at a lofty 36% with blinkers off, but this is one tall order for a horse that was never really good enough anyway; needs an easier spot.
#5 Decisive Moment (30-1): Tactical sort is still searching for his first career graded stakes win after running well behind a few of these in the GII Risen Star and GIII Spiral, but this is one tough spot to get it. Should be up close early with this inside draw, but he’s not fast enough to make the lead, so expect him to track the early pace and then begin to back up when the real running begins; easy toss.
#6 Comma To The Top (30-1): Ran too good to lose in the GI Santa Anita Derby after leading through modest splits and getting nailed on the line by Midnight Interlude, and after initially saying he wasn’t running in the Derby, his connections changed their minds and here he is. Gets P Val today so you know he’s either going to be on or right off the lead, and that makes this game and determined gelding a little interesting. Son of pure sprinter Bwana Charlie likes a fight and likes to win races, as his 6-for-13 record indicates, and while he’s not at the top of the list, the gut says he’ll outrun his odds today; could spice up your exotics.
#7 Pants On Fire (20-1): Upset winner of the GII Louisiana Derby took advantage of a speed-favoring course to pull off the upset over a few of these and now makes his first start since that 3/26 win. Not really sure where that win came from, but if he improves and doesn’t bounce, he can factor in this event, especially with his tactical speed aiding the cause. The real issue is the six weeks of inactivity, as it’s tough to envision that he can run the race of his life off that type of absence in such a tough and demanding race; siding against.
#8 Dialed In (4-1): Got up late to nail Shackleford in the GI Florida Derby to confirm his status as the favorite in today’s race, but he kind of had to win that day with the way the race shaped up with the runner-up dueling through hot splits. Should get another solid pace to rally into, but the real question is whether or not you want to take an underlaid price on a horse who is a) no faster than about 15 rivals and b) will likely have to pass the entire field to get the win. Not to mention that his two route wins have been nowhere near as brilliant as his one-turn wins, so you have to wonder if he’s more a mirage than the real, strong-running closer everyone leads you to believe. And that’s all before mentioning he’s had only two published works leading up to this race since winning in Florida back on 4/3. Respect his talent and his connections, but the gut says he’s going to flatten out in the lane; taking a strong stand against.
#9 Derby Kitten (30-1): Turf/synthetic specialist won the GIII Lexington at KEE, should have no problem with the distance and has a nice closing style, but he’s another one of those runners who has done his best work away from the main track. Beaten 27 ½ lengths in his lone foray over the dirt, and though he’s a better horse now, this is way too much; midpack finish seems to be his ceiling.
#10 Twinspired (30-1): With a name like this, you’re liable to see this Blue Grass runner-up be a huge underlay, as there will be eons of patrons throwing a few bucks on him because of the name. As for his real chances, he’s another turf/synthetic specialist that has run terrible over the dirt (quite a list of them we’ve got building, eh?) and seems way out of his element here; longshot.
#11 Master Of Hounds (30-1): European invader hails from the powerful O’Brien barn and gets the services of Gomez, so at least this turf/synthetic runner has that going for him. Lost to a classy miss in Khawlah when he got nosed out in the GII UAE Derby over the Tapeta at Meydan in Dubai, and that was at 1 3/16 miles, a trip longer than anyone here has ever gone. No doubting his talent, but he’s probably a fourth or fifth stringer in O’Brien’s barn, so winning this off such a long journey with just one 2011 race is one tall task; his class alone in this weak field means he could hit the board.
#12 Santiva (30-1): Local GII winner last year as a juvenile had a nice start to his 3yo campaign with a fine second in the GII Risen Star behind Mucho Macho Man, but then got an awful trip and didn’t run a lick in the Blue Grass. Trying to bounce back off such a poor run is no small task, and while he’s got some talent, he’s got four layoff lines showing in his brief career and isn’t exactly coming into the biggest race in the world under ideal circumstances; not expecting a turnaround.
#13 Mucho Macho Man (12-1): Burst on the scene with a gutty win in the Risen Star and then had all sorts of problems in the Louisiana Derby when he tossed a shoe yet still ran a courageous third. Off since, which we’ve mentioned is a concern, but he does have a nice stalking style and should sit a dream trip just off the pace and be in a perfect spot turning for home. Has trained forwardly since arriving and gives the appearance of a runner that is ready to run a biggie; won’t fault anyone if he’s your guy.
#14 Shackleford (12-1): Speedster isn’t getting much publicity, but he ran the 3yo race of the year in the Florida Derby when dueling through insane splits, putting away his pace rival and just getting nailed by deep closer Dialed In nearing the line. Has the speed to either clear these or get a dream trip just off ‘Comma, depending on what Castanon decides, and with 18 or 19 slow 3yos doing the chasing, that’s a pretty envious place to be. Owns a win over the track and has worked tremendously over the past few weeks to give every indication he’s ready to run the race of his life; gets the call to wear a blanket of roses.
#15 Midnight Interlude (15-1): Went from MSW winner to GI Santa Anita Derby winner when he was up nearing the line against ‘Comma, and that was an impressive run as he was wide every step of the way. The waters obviously get a lot deeper today, but he’s lightly raced, improving and in the expert hands of Baffert, so no doubt he should be respected. Trying to become the first horse since Apollo in 1882 to win the Derby without running as a 2yo and that’s one tall order, but we’ve seen these Derby no-no’s get broken over the past decade, so maybe he can end that “jinx,” too. Should sit the trip off the speed but can he go from a maiden on the morning of March 3 to a Derby winner on the evening of May 7? Tough, tough call.
#16 Animal Kingdom (30-1): GIII Spiral winner over the Poly at TP has a nice closing style and worked well over the surface last week to get a bit of buzz from the locals on his chances. Son of crack turf miler Leroidesanimaux isn’t really bred for this trip, but in a bad race with slow horses, you’re allowed to think outside the box on a runner that might be rolling through the stretch and passing a ton of tired, leg-weary sophomores that want nothing to do with the 10th furlong; intriguing at a big number.
#17 Soldat (12-1): The bloom came off the rose in the Florida Derby when he couldn’t make the front and then retreated steadily thereafter. Sure looked good wiring a pair of 9F Gulfstream races prior to the Fla. Derby, including a tour de force in the GII Fountain of Youth, but you get the clear impression that he’s a need-the-lead type, and from this outside draw, he sure isn’t making the point. Respect the connections and his talent, but just don’t see him factoring when the real running begins; confidently tossing.
#19 Nehro (6-1): His ascension up the ladder has been impressive as he’s gone from a MSW win in February to being necked out in a pair of 9F runs where you could argue that he was the best each time. Son of Horse of the Year Mineshaft should relish today’s distance and has a nice blend of tactical speed and stretch starch; this draw gives Nakantani plenty of options to see how things are unfolding up front. He’s improved open lengths in each of his last three starts and another forward move means he’s throwing down a race the others in here simply would not be able to handle; seems strictly the one to beat.
#20 Watch Me Go (50-1): Stunned the GIII Tampa Bay Derby at boxcar odds and will attempt to do the same from a wide draw today. That Florida race wasn’t very strong and he followed it up with a no-show in the GIII Illinois Derby, and that sure isn’t the way to come into a race called the Kentucky Derby; here’s hoping he gets home safely.
#16 Animal Kingdom