So here we are. Four months and multiple preps later, the road on which Horseplayer Now’s Brian Nadeau started us makes its stop at Churchill Downs. His analysis of the race follows; my preview comes tomorrow, with an entirely different perspective on the race (hint: it won’t have a lot to do with past performances).
Churchill Downs: The Grade I, $2 million Kentucky Derby at 1 ¼ miles
#1 Daddy Long Legs (30-1): The lone European invader looked good winning the GII UAE Derby over the Tapeta at Meydan in Dubai and will try and better his forgettable 12th-place finish in his lone dirt start in last fall’s GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile here. Broke through in a big way in Dubai and that win was at 1 3/16 miles, which is further than anyone else in here has traveled, so as a son of Scat Daddy, he’s already outrun his middle distance pedigree. In expert hands with O’Brien calling the shots and it’s not like they came over just to pad their frequent flier miles, but with this terrible draw and suspect dirt form, it’s asking a lot; passing.
#2 Optimizer (50-1): Lukas charge was the last horse to make the field and it took a defection to get him in, so it’s not like he enters breathing fire. Son of turf champion English Channel looked good rallying late to finish second in Oaklawn Park’s GII Rebel in March, but then stubbed his toe badly when he was beaten over 20 lengths by Bodemeister there in the GI Arkansas Derby. It seemed he raced too close to the pace last time, so expecting that he drops back and tries to make one big late run, and while that might allow him to pass a few, it’s tough to think he can do much more than that; deserving longshot.
#3 Take Charge Indy (15-1): Beautifully bred colt rode the rails and the inside speed bias to an upset win over fellow Derby rival Union Rags in the GI Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park to stamp himself as a major contender today. And sure, he did upset down south, but he’s been facing some toughies all along and never disgraced himself, so there’s a good chance that he’s simply peaking at the right time for Byrne. The issue today is the draw and the fact that there’s tons of other speed to his outside, so it’s highly unlikely that he’ll be able to clear and set a loose lead, which means that when the real running begins, he could be spent and looking to drop anchor, all at a price that is probably half this ML with local legend Borel riding; playing against.
#4 Union Rags (9-2): The winter book favorite enters off a tough-to- read third at odds-on to ‘Indy at GP and will try to make amends for Matz, who won this race with Barbaro in 2006. The GP run is all in the eyes of the beholder, as his fans will argue that he got a bad ride from Leparoux while getting hemmed in on the inside and not getting out until it was far too late; the contrarians will say that he got a dream trip while saving all the ground and simply wasn’t good enough when it mattered most. The truth probably lies somewhere in between, but what is fact is that he certainly didn’t look comfortable being down inside and that’s likely the trip he pulls again in the Derby. Plus, you can make a case that he’s the exact same horse he was at two and simply hasn’t progressed like many thought he would (or believe he has). And it’s also worth noting that the two times he’s had things go against him in a race, like at GP and in last year’s Juvenile when he was wide and bumped repeatedly, he’s lost. So, do you really want to take a short price on a horse who didn’t get the best of it in terms of the draw, has no speed figure advantage over his rivals and as a son of Dixie Union may not love that 10th furlong? Tossing completely.
#5 Dullahan (8-1): Synthetic lover made it 2-for-2 in GI’s at Keeneland when he closed stoutly to run down 2yo champion Hansen in the Blue Grass (he also won the Breeders’ Futurity last fall) and will go for his first win on conventional dirt for Romans. His late running style should play well in a field loaded with speed, but there’s no denying that up to this point he’s simply much, much faster on the fake stuff than he is on the real stuff. Figures to be among the last few horses early and then look to rally late, and while there’s no doubt that he’ll pass some, he’s going to need a major boost from his other dirt starts to run by more than the drunken soldiers in the lane; for the bottom of the exotics, if at all.
#6 Bodemeister (4-1): Baffert’s ML favorite is clearly the fastest and most talented horse in the race and wins this for fun if he runs back to his 9 ½-length romp in the Arkansas Derby, but he also brings a ton of questions to the party as well. First off, he’ll try to buck eons of history by becoming the first horse since Apollo in 1882 to win the Derby without running as a 2yo. Second, he’s going to have to do something he’s never done before: sit behind horses and win a race. His two wins have come in easy wire-to-wire fashion and with the speedball Trinniberg entered, it’s clear that he’s not getting to the front, not to mention that it’s tough to think that he does anything but bounce off that giant run at OP. Still, even if he regresses, he can win this, and there’s no doubt that his talent is immeasurable and he’s not really meeting the saltiest Derby field we’ve ever seen. But at the end of the day, do you really want to take 4-1 on a horse that seemingly has a ton of things going against him in a 20-horse field where strange things happen more often than not? Quite content playing against on top.
#7 Rousing Sermon (50-1): Deep closer has been nothing but a fringe player in a trio of preps this year but does enter off his best effort yet, a fast-closing third in the GII Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds for the recently crowned Hall of Famer Hollendorfer. The problem is that the race was won by a 109-1 horse named Hero Of Order and the second place finisher, Mark Valeski, came out of the race in such rough shape that he was declared from the Derby earlier in the week after a subpar workout. So, needless to say, the La. route to CD isn’t exactly scaring the competition. But hey, it’s already been mentioned that the pace figures to be hot, and you know this dude will be closing, so maybe at a giant number he can sidle his way into the bottom part of the exotics; thinking he outruns his odds.
#8 Creative Cause (12-1): The West Coast’s pro-tem leader looked great winning the GII San Felipe over Bodemeister at Santa Anita in March but then regressed when he was beaten a nose there in the GI Santa Anita Derby in his last start. Harrington took the blinkers off for his last and they stay off today, so it’s fair to wonder if he’s as good with the hood removed as he was with it on. Somewhat troubled trip last time, in that he had to rally between horses and didn’t seem to like the close quarters he had to endure throughout the stretch. But it’s also worth noting that both he and race winner I’ll Have Another were all out to get by reformed claimer and huge longshot Blueskiesnrainbows, so you’re allowed to wonder about the quality of that race. Still, he should be further off the pace today and has shown he can pass horses late, and he’s one of the very few in the race to actually run fast, which are all great attributes to bring to the party; huge threat.
#9 Trinniberg (50-1): Freaky fast runner was a surprise entrant for Parboo after wiring a pair of one-turn GIII’s this spring, and there’s little doubt that he’s going to the front and taking them as far as he can on the engine. And that alone is a big deal, as it means ‘Indy and ‘Bode will likely be taken out of their best game, which is setting a sharp but uncontested pace. Yet to run past seven furlongs, so obviously this is a Herculean task, though there’s no doubt they’ll know he’s in there because they’ll see his tail for the first half-mile or so, but after that, let’s just hope he gets home safely; easy toss.
#10 Daddy Nose Best (15-1): Underrated sort has done little wrong this year for Asmussen, winning both GIII starts, including a fast-closing and speedy score in the GIII Sunland Derby in his last. Son of Scat Daddy has clearly elevated his game this year, and if you simply look at his Sunland win–his only two-turn start on conventional dirt—he hits really hard in a race that has a bunch of contenders that have yet to run very fast. Owns the right running style, is in expert hands, and figures to offer a ton of value in a wide open race; won’t fault anyone giving him an upset chance.
#11 Alpha (15-1): Exits a troubled second place finish in Aqueduct’s GI Wood Memorial, where he was shuffled back on the first turn and forced to rally wide on what was an inside speed favoring track all day. Beautifully bred son of Bernardini has done little wrong in three starts this year for McLaughlin, should sit a dream trip in midpack, and gives the impression that he’s one of the few horses in the race ready to peak, as the Wood was his first start in over two months. If there’s a worry, it’s his tendency to be a bad gate actor, and drawing the 11-hole means that he’ll be the second group to load (the 1 and 10 will load first, then 2 and 11, etc.), which will have him sitting in the gate for a quite a while. But hey, if he’s gotten this far, you just have to go with it and hope for the best, and that best means that he’s poised to give Godolphin their long-sought-after win in America’s most prestigious horserace; call to win an absolute scramble of a Derby.
#12 Prospective (30-1): Casse trainee added blinkers to win the GII Tampa Bay Derby two back but then spun his wheels behind Dullahan while running sixth in the Blue Grass, so he should enjoy the return to the dirt today. The Tampa route didn’t really produce any other Triple Crown threats this year, unlike it has in the past, so you have to take a skeptical view of this colt, as he’s blinked anytime he’s been in with a top horse. Owns the right stalking style to make a run, but up to this point he’s simply not shown enough to suggest he can threaten any of the main contenders; longshot.
#13 Went the Day Well (20-1): GIII Spiral winner will try to emulate last year’s Derby winner Animal Kingdom, as he exits the identical prep for the identical connections in Team Valor, Motion and Velazquez. And what’s even more impressive is that this son of Proud Citizen (2nd in the 2002 Derby) owns a two-turn dirt win, which is more than Animal Kingdom could say when he entered the starting gate last year. Tactical runner adds blinkers off a win, which kind of rubs you the wrong way, though it’s also tough to question anything Motion has done the past few years. Enters on the upswing, is in expert hands, should sit the right trip and get first run on the closers; contention clearly runs deep.
#14 Hansen (10-1): Reigning 2yo champion and BC Juvenile winner over the track has had an odd year as he disappointed at odds-on in GP’s GIII Holy Bull in January, got back on the beam in Aqueduct’s GIII Gotham in March, and then was run down late by Dullahan in the Blue Grass. Still, even in defeat he ran huge at KEE, when he set a wicked pace and only relented in deep stretch in an effort that says he’s ready for the toughest test of his career. Showed a new dimension in the Gotham, as he was able to stalk early and kick clear late, and that will be important today, as he won’t be on the lead early. Drew best off all the other speed, as Dominguez can let things develop early and act accordingly, but even with that stalking gear in tow, it’s tough to envision him being close to the hot pace early and having enough late to hold off the charge; taking a stand against.
#15 Gemologist (6-1): Pletcher colt enters undefeated in five career starts after bravely holding off Alpha in the Wood after it looked certain he was going to be passed late. Has come to hand nicely this season after waiting until mid-March to make his 3yo debut and he gets some bonus points for his 2-for-2 record at CD, which includes a two-turn win in the GII Kentucky Jockey Club. Son of Tiznow got all the best of it in the Wood, as he was close to a false runaway leader before getting first run on Alpha, and if he’s keyed up again on Saturday, it will prove costly in the lane. Hard to knock a GI winner who is undefeated, but the gut says that he’s going to regress instead of move forward, and it’s not like he has any margin for error to begin with; capable, but trying to beat.
#16 El Padrino (20-1): Loved his chances going into the Florida Derby but he was awful and a beaten horse after five furlongs. Still, he took all the worst of it that day while racing wide, and even as bad as he was, there was some resurgence late as he re-broke and chased the top trio home. Pletcher’s “other” horse looked good winning the GII Risen Star at FG in February and has that Thunder Gulch look to him, as that colt was a hotshot early in his 3yo season, ran a bad fourth in the Blue Grass, and then bounced back for Lukas to shock them at 24-1 in the 1995 Derby. It’s worth noting that he has run fast before and should get a nice trip just off the pace, so if you were a believer before the poor Florida run, you’ll get much, much better odds than you ever thought you would; Pletcher fans get their guy at a price.
#17 Done Talking (50-1): Rapidly developing colt brings legendary Maryland horseman Ham Smith to the Derby after rallying late to annex the Illinois Derby at Hawthorne in his last. Sure, they timed that GIII with a sundial, but it’s never a bad thing to have an improving 3yo who should relish the Derby distance in your corner. Figures to lag well off the pace early on and then make a late charge, and with the expected hot splits likely to take their toll on the frontrunners, this colt looms an intriguing exotics threat at boxcar odds; thinking he runs somewhere in the number.
#18 Sabercat (30-1): Asmussen’s second runner has slowly come to hand this year and may be sitting on a top run after rallying mildly to finish third behind Bodemeister in Arkansas. Rolled home in the GIII Delta Jackpot at Delta Downs to end his 2yo campaign and that gave him the earnings to get into the Derby, which has allowed Asmussen to take the patient approach this year. So all that means that he could be sitting on a peak run while owning a running style that will give him every opportunity to put his best foot forward; yet another who could emerge.
#19 I’ll Have Another (12-1): Underrated O’Neill colt has done little wrong this year at Santa Anita, shocking them at 43-1 in the GII Bob Lewis in February and then doggedly beating ‘Cause in the Derby there last month. Tactical runner likes to be involved early, so this draw really does him no favors, as he’s likely to be wide entering the first turn and chasing some hot splits. Tough to knock a horse who is 2-for-2 this year and has a bit of a nasty streak in him as he clearly wants to beat you, but with this draw, coupled with his running style, it’s tough to envision him putting away all the speed and holding off the closers late; playing against.
#20 Liaison (50-1): The second from Baffert has been much better on synthetics up to this point and will need a big form reversal from his dirt runs if he’s to threaten. Has finished well-beaten by ‘Bode, ‘Cause and ‘Another out West and meets several sharp new shooters as well, so even Baffert fans will have trouble looking this way; outsider.
#21 My Adonis (50-1): Second tier outsider has already made history for Breen, as he’s the first horse ever on the also-eligible list for the Kentucky Derby, though even if he does draw in, he’s up against it. Chased Hansen home in both the Holy Bull and Gotham, while finishing well-beaten in both, and there are others who rank higher than the champ today, so even if he draws in, he’s tough to tout; needs softer to threaten.
#8 Creative Cause
#17 Done Talking