Keeneland: The Grade I, $750,000 Blue Grass at 1 1/8 miles
Brian Nadeau of Horseplayer Now with his weekly analysis of Derby preps…
#1 Heavy Breathing: Lightly raced Pletcher colt exits a game front-running effort in the GIII Spiral at Turfway Park, when he set a fast pace and held nicely to be third in his Polytrack debut. Drew well and projects as the inside speed, and there’s even the chance that he can get clear early and slow things down, as several of his main pace rivals drew poorly. Son of Giant’s Causeway is improving, in expert hands, experienced at the distance and may own a pace edge as well; gets the call to upset them on the front end.
#2 Gung Ho: Tracked the pace and ran second over the Poly in Turfway’s Rushaway in his seasonal debut, and will try and better his seventh in the GI Breeders’ Futurity over the track last fall. His return did better anything he did last year and he’s worked well in the interim for this, but anything other than a minor award seems like it’s asking too much; longshot.
#3 Prospective: Exits a win in the GII Tampa Bay Derby and he did post a couple of wins over Woodbine’s Polytrack last summer, so at least you know he can handle the surface. The blinks went on at Tampa and added a lot more tactical speed to his package, which should play out well here in a race that doesn’t have a ton of early pace. Casse runner has moved forward with every start this year, and if he does so again, he’s one of many who can win this; capable, but others rank a bit higher.
#4 Hansen: Reigning 2yo champion got back on the beam in Aqueduct’s GIII Gotham after disappointing at odds-on in his 3yo debut in Gulfstream Park’s GIII Holy Bull, and he rates an imposing favorite in his final Derby prep. Showed a new dimension in the Gotham, when he stalked early before making a powerful wide move, and that style should give Dominguez a ton of options here as he tries Keeneland for the first time. Perfect in two Poly starts at TP, so you know he likes the surface, and he rates clearly as the horse to beat, but don’t forget that he’s got the earnings and Maker is only looking for one last tightener for the big run in Kentucky; trying to beat on top at short odds.
#5 Russian Greek: Well-bred son of Giant’s Causeway has seemingly reached a plateau this year as he’s basically run the same race every time, and that just won’t cut it against this tough crew. Takes blinkers off after running eighth in the Spiral and makes his first start for Dorochenko, but up to this point, his best simply is nowhere near good enough to garner anything more than a minor award; needs softer to threaten.
#6 Dullahan: Romans’ colt annexed the Breeders’ Futurity here last fall; he ran well with trouble in his 3yo debut on the grass in the GIII Palm Beach at GP last month. Figures to be much tighter today and enters off a sharp bullet over the local oval, and it’s always nice to see a GI win over a track that not everyone is capable of handling. Figures to set up shop somewhere in the middle of the pack and make his move around the far turn, and it would be no surprise to see that carry him all the way into the winner’s circle; huge threat for the win.
#7 Politicallycorrect: Potential pace player enters off a win in a 7F optional claimer at GP and will make his graded stakes debut in a mighty tough spot. His lone stakes try was a dismal seventh in the GP Derby New Year’s Day, and while he did run second over the track in a MSW debut last fall, that’s not scaring anyone today; figures to fade when the real running begins.
#8 Midnight Crooner: Baffert colt broke his maiden over the Tapeta at Golden Gate and enters off a modest third in the grassy Pasadena at Santa Anita and is another who should be close to the pace early on. Lightly raced son of War Chant has progressed nicely this year and seems to be improving, but this is a big step up against some seasoned GI stakes winners, and it’s not like he owns a pace or figure edge that will help him compete; in too deep today.
#9 Holy Candy: Highly touted Sadler colt finally broke his maiden after four starts and now heads across the country and gets thrown right into the deep end of the pool in a last ditch effort to get some graded earnings for the Derby. Looked good rolling home in his SA MSW win and owns a nice blend of tactical speed and stamina that should have him sitting midpack and moving towards the leaders off the far turn. No doubt he’s stepping way up today, but he finally tasted victory last time, so there’s a chance the light bulb has gone on for a colt that seems to have a world of talent; don’t sell him short at a big price.
#10 Howe Great: Motion colt got the jump on Dullahan to win the Palm Beach and enters 4-for-5 and on the upswing as he tries synthetic for the first time. Drew poorly but he has the speed to get position entering the first turn, which should give Castellano some options in a race where the early pace could flatter the front-runners. It’s never a bad thing to have a horse that wants to beat you in your corner, and that’s exactly what this colt wants to do; contention runs deep.
#11 Ever So Lucky: Talented Sheppard charge hasn’t had a smooth go of it since running second to the undefeated Gemologist in the GII Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs to end his 2yo campaign, but he finally gets to put back-to-back starts together after running third in the GIII Swale at GP in his seasonal bow. Son of Indian Charlie is as talented as they come and flashed a liking for the track when he blitzed 5F’s in :57 with Leparoux aboard Tuesday, so you know he’s ready to roll. Drew poorly, which won’t help matters, but the gut says you’re finally going to see what all the fuss what about when this guy was making so many waves last fall; expecting a big run.
#12 Hero Of Order: The second for Dorochenko shocked them all at 109-1 at Fair Grounds when he won the GII Louisiana Derby and now wheels right back 13 days later in an effort to strike while the iron is hot. Son of Sharp Humor pressed the pace before drawing clear late last time, and that style could have him 4- to 5-wide around the first turn, unless Martin decides to gun early and try and clear, and neither scenario is too promising. Underrated runner deserves some respect and is clearly on the upswing after his win last time, but making him prove it again seems like the prudent approach; siding against.
#13 Scatman: Speedy runner set the pace before tiring in the GII Rebel at Oaklawn Park last time and is another runner that wants to be involved early but got beat up by the draw. Son of Scat Daddy chased Secret Circle in his past two at OP and that runner will take some beating there in the GI Arkansas Derby, so you know he’s been keeping good company. Looked sharp breaking his maiden sprinting here last year and is definitely talented enough to make his presence felt in a race like this, but this draw just makes it tough to endorse him on top; playing underneath, if at all.
#1 Heavy Breathing