Brian’s Derby Preps: The Blue Grass

Brian Nadeau is back this year to offer insight and analysis on this year’s road to the Kentucky Derby. A handicapper at Horseplayer Now and Capital OTB, he’ll analyze every official Derby points race and the three Triple Crown races, back at Brooklyn Backstretch for the sixth year.

Keeneland: The $1 million Blue Grass at 1 1/8 miles (Kentucky Derby qualifying points: 100-40-20-10)

#1 It’s Your Nickel (20-1): Big longshot enters off a dominant win on the Polytrack in Turfway Park’s Battaglia last month, in what was a breakthrough run, though he’s never come remotely close to that effort on dirt, as his only lifetime victory on the surface came via DQ two-back in a slow optional-claimer at Fair Grounds. McPeek-trained son of Dialed In drew well here and will save all the ground, and figures relatively close to a pace that seems dawdling, but it’s tough to think he can make a dent when the real running begins; easy toss.

McCraken and Brian Hernandez in the Kentucky Jockey Club. Churchill Downs/Coady Photography

#2 McCraken (7-5): Heavy favorite enters undefeated and untested in four career starts but will be running here off a layoff after a minor ankle injury forced him to miss the GII Tampa Bay Derby in March, so there’s a bit of cause for concern. The good news is that he’s worked like a monster since, and, with just 20 Kentucky Derby qualifying points, it’s not like Wilkes can just give this son of Ghostzapper a spin around the track with the hopes of setting up a big run in Louisville in four weeks. Point being, he needs to be sharp and has to run well to progress, and though his closing style won’t be flattered by the pace, he’s already beaten one of today’s main rivals when he won his return in Tampa Bay Downs’ GIII Sam F. Davis over Tapwrit in February and is no doubt the horse to beat; figures a real handful.




J Boys Echo and Robby Albarado at Aqueduct. NYRA/Coglianese/Chelsea Durand photo

#3 J Boys Echo (4-1): The “now” horse reached a new level when he settled early and drew off late to win Aqueduct’s GIII Gotham last time with an extremely fast figure while essentially earning an automatic starting berth into the Derby, so you’re allowed to wonder just how tight Romans has the screws today. Son of Mineshaft was simply stunning breaking his maiden over this strip last year, so you know he likes it here, and while he was run off his feet a bit behind the hot pace in the Gotham, he’s shown in the past he can lay close to soft splits and still run well, which is a scenario that will likely play out in here. The fact that he doesn’t have to win and is looking ahead is a bit of a drawback, but the price should be honest, he’s run faster than anyone else, and he has a huge win over the track, which means you’re getting all the best of it to come right back here; call to post the mild surprise.



#4 Tapwrit (5-2): Rapidly improving Pletcher colt took down the Tampa Bay Derby while McCraken was on the shelf, which came as no surprise as he was a solid second to him in their Davis, though it was a non-threatening effort, too, which means he’s still looking up at the big horse today. Son of Tapit has a stalking style that is going to play out nicely in here, as the pace will be slow and he won’t be too far off of it, but the price is going to be on the underlaid side and, even though Tampa Bay Derby second-place finisher State of Honor came back to be an okay second in last weekend’s Florida Derby at GP, this colt has yet to beat anyone of any real significance or that would have a big chance in here, so the hurdles are not insignificant; willing to make him prove it on top.

#5 Wild Shot (15-1): The confirmed front-runner will be sent, according to Arnold, and that type of up-close style almost got the better of McCraken in November’s GII Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs, when this son of Trappe Shot was a game second. Things haven’t really panned out since then, though, as he was a modest fourth and third, respectively, in the Davis and Tampa Bay Derby, though Lanerie, last aboard for the Jockey Club, is back today and the race flow says this colt could outrun his odds; may stick around longer than they think.

#6 Irap (20-1): Well-bred son of Tiznow has logged a lot of frequent flyer miles for O’Neill, as he was in California to start the year, New Mexico for a few recent starts, and now hits Kentucky in an effort to try and break through after some middling runs against lesser. Pace-presser takes the blinkers off today but should be right on the tepid pace, though, aside from that solid second in a weak and small field in Santa Anita’s GIII Robert Lewis in February, he has yet to run anywhere near fast enough to make a dent against a group like this; not seeing it.

Practical Joke and Jose Ortiz winning the Hopeful. NYRA/Adam Coglianese

#7 Practical Joke (7-2): Expected underlay for Brown enters off the typical “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” second in GP’s GII Fountain of Youth, as fans will say it was his first start of the year and he needed it, yet still made a sharp middle-move into the sizzling pace before tiring late, while naysayers will quip that he could barely get by the speedy Three Rules, who wants nothing to do with two turns and was the only one that was part of the pace who stuck around late. And that’s without even mentioning that this son of Into Mischief is 3-for-3 around one-turn and 0-for-2 are two turns, which makes taking 5-2 or so that much more unappealing. You’ve got to respect this barn and are allowed to think he will be tighter today off that decent return run, but at the end of the day, the gut says his true calling will be as a crack one-turn miler; underneath only.



#3 J Boys Echo

#2 McCraken

#4 Tapwrit

#7 Practical Joke



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