by Brian Nadeau of Horseplayer Now and Capital OTB TV.
Churchill Downs: The GI, $2 million Kentucky Derby at 1 1/4 miles
#1 Trojan Nation (50-1): Gigantic longshot almost blew up the board at 81-1 when he came up the inside in Aqueduct’s muddy GI Wood Memorial to run second, beaten just a head by fellow rival Outwork, in what was far and away his best lifetime run for Gallagher. Of course, the pace was hot that day and the leaders walked home, which flattered his closing kick, and that continued a string of six straight starts that this son of Street Cry (IRE) lost, so it’s pretty implausible to think that he’s winning the biggest horse race in the world as a maiden. Stretch-runner drew the dreaded rail post, but it really won’t matter as he wants to drop way back and make a run anyway, but in a race where the pace looks moderate at best, this isn’t the spot to break through; easy toss.
#2 Suddenbreakingnews (20-1): Deep closer was a good second in the GI Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park in April behind his rival next door Creator and is one of many in here with no early lick that is hoping for a pace meltdown in deep stretch. Son of Mineshaft has enjoyed a fine winter for Von Hemel and sure looked good winning Oaklawn’s GIII Southwest in February to announce his presence on the national scene. Of course, the worry for him, along with all the others at the mercy of the pace, is that the engine doesn’t look too crowded today, and don’t forget, odds-on Cupid didn’t run a lick last time in the Derby (word is he had an entrapped epiglottis) but beat him soundly two back in the GII Rebel at Oaklawn, so you’re allowed to wonder if he got to play while the big cat was away; fringe player at best.
#3 Creator (10-1): Stretch-runner mowed them all down in the Arkansas Derby and has really come to hand of late for Asmussen, as he was a maiden late in February and now rates as a major contender in here. Tapit colt was even behind ‘News in the early stages last time, so you know he’s another hoping for hot splits, and like that rival next door, he was only third to Cupid in the Rebel, so there’s a chance he too benefitted when that colt didn’t fire last time. It’s also worth noting that he didn’t really get good until he got to Oaklawn, which brings the “horse for the course” idea to mind, so while his closing kick is big, he got flattered by the suicidal pace in Hot Springs, which he likely won’t be getting today; underneath, if at all.
#4 Mo Tom (20-1): Local 2-year-old winner just can’t catch a break this year, as he’s been brutalized in the stretch in each of his last two starts behind fellow rival Gun Runner, when third in Fair Grounds’ GII Risen Star in February and fourth in their GII Louisiana Derby in March. But when you have no speed at all, it’s a tough ask to think you’re just going to get a traffic-free trip in a deep field, so if that didn’t happen in New Orleans in 10- and 11-horse fields, respectively, what’s going to happen in here with 20 lined up? The first of three sons of Uncle Mo is overdue for some luck for Amoss, and he did look good winning Fair Grounds’ GIII Lecomte in January, but even if he gets a clear run, the simple fact of the matter is that’s he’s never run nearly fast enough to be a factor in here anyway; not seeing it.
#5 Gun Runner (10-1): Streaking runner was a sharp winner of the Risen Star, then dominated the Louisiana Derby and gives Asmussen a solid 1-2 punch, not to mention that he’s the first in here with some actual speed, so expect him to trip out beautifully in the first flight just off the lead. Son of Candy Ride (ARG) has some questions to answer, though, as he hasn’t been out in six weeks, beat extremely weak company in New Orleans and has never run remotely fast enough to win this, so he better improve open lengths to get his picture taken. The good news is that he’s one of just a few in here with a local win, but with that layoff causing some concerns, and the fact that he’s looking up at several of these on paper, let’s keep looking; underneath exotics potential.
#6 My Man Sam (20-1): Yet another stretch-runner, this son of Trappe Shot closed from 14th and last in Keeneland’s GI Blue Grass last time to be second and earn his way in here as the first of two from Brown. Lightly raced runner has come a long way since breaking his maiden over the inner dirt at Aqueduct in January, and he doesn’t have to drop out the back like he did last time, so expect Ortiz to at least try to keep him a bit closer today. The lack of pace will hurt, though, as he’s still going to have to pass the majority of the field to get there, which seems like a daunting task in this year’s Derby; minor award appears to be his ceiling.
#7 Oscar Nominated (50-1): If you’re looking for someone to come in last, this turf/synthetic runner is probably the 5-2 favorite, as he’s never been on dirt and ran slow in winning his way into this in the GIII Spiral over the Polytrack at Turfway Park in April. Son of Kitten’s Joy goes for a Maker barn that is off to a hot start at the meet, and it’s always good to see Ken Ramsey at the party, but this colt is way out of his element; get home safely.
#8 Lani (30-1): The wildcard had a rough trip in his win in the GI UAE Derby at Meydan in Dubai last time and gives the Japanese something to cheer for in America’s biggest race. If nothing else, he’s by Tapit, so he’s bred for this, and you have to applaud Matsunaga, who said right away he’d be coming for the Derby, but yikes, this is one tall ask of a horse who was all-out to win over a very weak group in Dubai (a filly was the odds-on favorite). The Dubai to the Derby angle hasn’t worked for a lot better than this, so to think he can come over here and be a factor seems mighty ambitious; no thanks.
#9 Destin (15-1): Very tricky read from Pletcher will get some play, in that he’s run fast in a year where very few have, but he also enters off a seismic two-month layoff after winning the GII Tampa Bay Derby March 12, which is a huge concern. Son of Giant’s Causeway goes for the best barn in the country, but one that has struggled mightily over the years in this race, which really clouds the picture, especially because the rumor is that the owners wanted to run off this layoff, while the trainer wanted another prep. Tactical sort should trip out nicely and will be in front of the majority of the field when they hit the far turn, but don’t forget that both wins came over a tricky Tampa surface a lot of horses don’t handle, and that he was drubbed soundly by Mo Tom in the Lecomte; tread very lightly if you’re landing here.
#10 Whitmore (20-1): Stretch-runner (talk about a theme) ran well all winter in Arkansas without winning but will need a big form reversal to win this, as he’s not only looking up at ‘News and Creator, but he’s lost ground late in every two-turn start. Moquett charge has certainly had a nice campaign and is eerily similar to last year’s Far Right for these very connections, as that deep closer did some good things in Arkansas but bombed in the Derby. Pleasantly Perfect gelding won his debut over the track in November and is bred for this trip and does have a nice 5-furlong move in him, but the proof is in the pudding, and he just doesn’t have the credentials to be a factor here; playing against.
#11 Exaggerator (8-1): Heavy hitter looked awesome closing from the clouds in the sloppy GI Santa Anita Derby last month and rates as a deserving second choice on the morning line off that breakthrough GI win for trainer Keith Desormeaux. Son of Curlin is bred to relish this 1 1/4-miles distance and has shown that he doesn’t need to be that far off the pace, so expect Kent Desormeaux to keep him a little closer today, as he no doubt knows that winning this Derby from the back of the pack will be a tough task. Versatile sort gave heavy favorite Nyquist a good battle when second to him in his comeback in Santa Anita’s GII San Vincente going 7 furlongs in February and then moved too soon when third to today’s likely pacesetter Danzing Candy in their GII San Felipe in February, and if you’re thinking he’s bred a lot better to get this trip than those two, it would be tough to argue with you; looms the main danger.
#12 Tom’s Ready (30-1): Giant longshot had a “someone had to be second” feel to him when he clunked up in the Louisiana Derby, while never threatening Gun Runner in the least. Son of More Than Ready should be in front of the closers and could trip out nicely, not to mention that he does own a local win, albeit in a 7-furlong MSW September. Longshot players will point out that Stewart has run second in this race at big odds over the past few years, but both Commanding Curve and Golden Soul had a lot more to offer than this slow runner; tough to endorse.
#13 Nyquist (3-1): The Rodney Dangerfield of the Thoroughbred world doesn’t get a lot of respect, considering he’s the reigning 2yo champion and enters this undefeated in seven lifetime starts, but anyone who saw his tour de force over then-heavyweight Mohaymen in Gulfstream Park’s GI Florida Derby in April had to leave impressed. Son of Uncle Mo is getting questions about his ability to handle the 1 1/4 miles, but the way he drew clear late in Florida seems to be all you need to know, and with Reddam, O’Neill and Gutierrez already owning a Derby trophy with I’ll Have Another in 2012, it’s clear they know how to get a horse to peak on racing’s biggest stage. Versatile colt showed in his Breeders’ Cup Juvenile win at Keeneland in October that he can come from off of it, then pressed crazy splits in the San Vicente and led through honest splits in the Florida Derby, so whatever they throw at him today, it’s quite apparent he’s going to pull the best trip of anyone. Expecting him to sit off loose leader Danzing Candy and be in a dream spot when they hit the far turn, and when the best horse in the race is going to get all the best of it in terms of race flow, it makes for a pretty long day at the office for the rest of them; thinking it would be a really good idea to purchase your Belmont tickets early this year.
#14 Mohaymen (10-1): Future Book Derby favorite looked Nyquist in the eye on the far turn of the Florida Derby and was swatted away like a $35,000 claimer and came up completely empty in the lane when fourth, beaten 8 1/4 lengths in a real puzzling effort for McLaughlin. Fans will tell you that he was wide every step of the way, but don’t forget that Nyquist was shipping across the country and running in this son of Tapit’s backyard, not to mention that he had a pair of 100-1 maidens pestering him early on both sides, so it’s not like that stud had things all his own way up front. And that’s before we mention how dominant this colt was in winning Gulfstream’s GII Holy Bull in January and GII Fountain of Youth in February, so sure, while he didn’t fire last time, there’s some bad vibes here, too, as he didn’t work for 18 days following that run and has been rumored to be rank and unsettled in his two 4-furlong breezes since, which doesn’t really seem like the right way to come into the biggest race of your life after being drubbed on your home court at 4-5 last time; tossing completely.
#15 Outwork (15-1): Pletcher’s second is the poster-boy for the “it’s all in the eye of the beholder” category, as he battled hard on the lead through hot splits in Aqueduct’s GI Wood Memorial over a muddy track last time and was a game and determined winner over upstart maiden ‘Nation, though the final time was the slowest ever since the Wood went to 1 1/8 miles, and he ran his last eighth of a mile in a glacial 14 seconds. The third son of Uncle Mo is another who should trip out nicely, as he’s got the speed to be likely just off Nyquist, with the hopes of testing that runner when they hit the far turn. Though, while that’s a novel idea on the face of it, we saw how that worked out for Mohaymen, and the gut says this colt took advantage of optimal circumstances last time and may be exposed today; expecting a mid-pack finish.
#16 Shagaf (20-1): The second from Brown was a hype horse going into the Wood, got a dream setup stalking the hot pace, looked like he was about 3-5 when he ranged up boldly off the far turn, then came up completely empty in the stretch when fifth, while putting his Derby status in serious doubt. Well, they forge on today, which is the good news, and as a son of Bernardini, he’s bred for this, but the simple fact of the matter is that at some point in your career you have to actually run fast to not only warrant the hype, but make waves in a race like this. So while his GIII Gotham win at Aqueduct in March was solid, you’re not making too many friends when you run down a maiden (Laoban) in painfully slow time; not drinking the Kool-aid.
#17 Mor Spirit (12-1): Baffert’s lone runner is the type everyone would love to own, as he fires every time and gets you a big, big piece while employing a running style that is going to put him in the right spot more often than not. But as Lou Holtz likes to say, “not so fast,” as his wins came in watered down renewals of the GI Los Alamitos Futurity in December and GIII Robert Lewis at Santa Anita in February, while he sucked up for second after Exaggerator blew by him, then tired in the San Felipe and was a distant second to him in the Santa Anita Derby. So, if you want to get right down to it, his wins have him all dressed up and the gut says he’s going to have nowhere to go come 6:35pm Saturday evening; taking a strong stand against.
#18 Majesto (30-1): Improving sort was a good second to Nyquist in the Florida Derby after getting a dream run up the rail, in an effort that was fresh off a long overdue maiden win there two-back, so he’s clearly going in the right direction. Beautifully bred son of Tiznow is bred top and bottom for this trip (damsire is Unaccounted For) and has a stalking style that should allow him to be placed midpack and in front of the closers. Delgado has done a nice job under the radar over the past year or so and anytime you run second to a champ you’re obviously in good form, so if you’re looking for a gigantic price underneath, you could do worse than landing here; expecting him to outrun his odds.
#19 Brody’s Cause (12-1): Blue Grass winner continued his love affair with Keeneland as he also annexed their GI Breeders’ Futurity, then was third to Nyquist in the BC Juvenile there last October, so it’s pretty obvious that he loves things in Lexington, though it must be noted that he did break his maiden over this strip in September. Like all the rest with no speed, he’s going to be left with a ton to do off the far turn, and, with things expected to move rather slowly up front, it’s tough to think that he can lag far back then make up all the ground. Romans has done good things in the Derby of late and he’s probably got a trophy with his name on it one of these years, but it’s likely that it won’t come from this son of Giant’s Causeway; could string along for a piece.
#20 Danzing Candy (15-1): Son of Twirling Candy is your expected loose and lonely leader in here, as Sise is on record as saying that the owner wants a send mission from Smith, which doesn’t leave a lot to the imagination. Well, that tactic worked beautifully in the San Felipe, when he set a fast but controlled tempo and had plenty left late to hold off Mor Spirit and Exaggerator, but it didn’t work out good at all when he was ridden like a Quarter Horse at the start of the Santa Anita Derby and set hellacious splits and predictably tired badly. But today, going 1 1/4 miles from a perfect outside draw, he’s likely going to be allowed to get into a fluid stride, with his natural speed getting him to the lead, where Smith can slow things down, and if they all just assume he comes back to them, just maybe he lasts a lot longer than they all think; don’t be surprised if he completes a speedy exacta.
#21 Laoban (50-1): The first of two on the also-eligible list would completely turn the pace upside down if he draws in, as he’s got legitimate speed and will be gunning early. Son of Uncle Mo is still a maiden after five starts but ran sneaky well when fourth in the Blue Grass for Guillot, who hates to miss a big dance. On the face of it there’s no way he can win, but you could argue that he’s the most important runner in the race, as he would give all those deep closers reason to believe; would add a lot of fuel to the fire.
#22 Cherry Wine (30-1): The stablemate of Brody’s Cause is a lot like that colt, in that he’s got no speed, either, and will need a collapse to make a dent. Son of Paddy O’Prado, who was third in this race for Romans a few years back, was a good third in the Blue Grass and does have some talent, but will need two defections to show it; could get a small slice if he surprisingly draws in.
#20 Danzing Candy
#5 Gun Runner