Brian Nadeau’s Road to the Triple Crown: The Kentucky Derby

Churchill Downs: The GI, $2 million Kentucky Derby at 1 1/4 miles

#1 Firenze Fire (50-1): Arguably the longest shot in the field danced every dance this winter in New York with the sole purpose of accumulating qualifying points to get into the gate in Louisville, and while the mission was accomplished, it doesn’t mean he’ll make any kind of dent. GI winner at one-turn just hasn’t improved at 3, and while Servis is as good as they get, this son of Poseidon’s Warrior is way out of his element here; easy toss.

#2 Free Drop Billy (30-1): The first of two side-by-side for Romans has spent his season looking up at some of the perceived heavy hitters today while not making any kind of dent, so while this son of Union Rags is eligible to trip out nicely off the speed, he’s going to need by far a lifetime best to factor. If you’re a fan, you’re likely banking on him passing some in the lane, as he’s shown the penchant to do just that, but he’s yet to come remotely close to threatening in any of his three preps this year, so to think he can do so today is one heck of a reach; midpack finish seems likely.

#3 Promises Fulfilled (30-1): The second from Romans doesn’t have a winning chance, but one can argue he’s the most important horse in the race, as this is your confirmed inside speed, and the type that could make things difficult for Justify and a few of the others who want to hear their feet rattle early on. Son of Shackleford got loose and forgot to stop while running to the first finish line in Gulfstream Park’s GII Fountain of Youth, then was used on the pace in their GI Florida Derby, and while he’s not as bad as that 35 1/4-length defeat, he’s also nowhere near as good as the win either; pace player, nothing more.

#4 Flameaway (30-1): Hard-knocking son of Scat Daddy is versatile enough to be on or just off the early lead and has built a nice resume this year while running under the radar for the most part, even though he enters off a very game second to potential contender Good Magic in Keeneland’s GII Blue Grass last month. Casse charge has some street fighter in him, too, in that he’s 5-for-9 lifetime and wants to beat you, so while a win seems out of reach, he’s the type that could hang around for a share and really blow up the exotics; worth a look underneath at a big number.

Audible and Javier Castellano. Gulfstream Park photo

#5 Audible (8-1): The first of four for Pletcher is the undisputed leader from Florida, as he aired in both GP’s GII Holy Bull and Florida Derby while showing the versatility to stalk a slow pace or come from well off of a blistering one, and both assets will serve him well in here. The worry is that this is yet another from TAP who may have the “What happens in Florida stays in Florida” banner attached to him, as nothing this son of Into Mischief has done away from GP compares to what he did over that oval. And sure, maybe he’s just a much better horse now, and last year’s Derby winner Always Dreaming also won the Florida Derby for this barn, but it took a ridiculous inside speed bias over a wet track to get it done in Louisville, so while this colt will be on many people’s short list, he’s not on this one; playing against.

#6 Good Magic (12-1): Aforementioned Blue Grass hero and reigning 2-year-old champion off a maiden win in the BC Juvenile was a workmanlike winner in Lexington while failing to deliver a “wow” performance many were expecting, so he’s got his work cut off for him today if he’s to wear roses. Son of Curlin is bred for this trip but hasn’t exactly acted like a horse who will relish additional ground, as he seemed to be one-paced in the Blue Grass when passing Flameaway, who dueled on the lead while this colt sat back and bided his time. The other issue is that he’s trained by legend-in-the-making Brown, whose runners routinely go off at huge underlays, and when you’re talking about a horse with modest credentials at 3, who has taken the road less traveled to avoid the elite of the division, that’s not exactly the best risk/reward scenario when you’re facing by far the best field you’ve ever tangled with; just don’t see it.

#7 Justify (3-1): The horse that would be king enters unbeaten and untested in three starts but will look to jump over the one Derby hurdle that has yet to be cleared, as he’ll try to become the first horse since Apollo in 1882 to win the Run for the Roses without running at 2, and before you scoff at that, don’t forget it’s a “curse” that has claimed both Curlin and Bodemeister in recent years, so it’s not like a bunch of hapless no-hopers have tried and failed. Of course, this son of Scat Daddy has been breathtaking in his wins, which include a comprehensive defeat of Bolt d’Oro last time in the GI Santa Anita Derby, so there’s little doubt the path to the winner’s circle goes through him. There are issues, though, most notably that he’s never had a straw in his path for a millisecond in any of his races, and he absolutely walked early last time, while ‘Bolt had to do all the dirty work chasing, yet when they turned for home, this colt didn’t really explode like you might have thought, while drifting out a bit, too, which suggests the extra furlong he has to negotiate Saturday could prove troublesome. The good news is he drew best of all and will be able to sit off the speed and gauge the proceedings early, but when you’re talking 3-1 in a 20-horse field, while still being an unknown in terms of what might happen if/when you have to face some adversity, while trying to bust through 135 years of history, it seems like a mighty short price to take; scary, scary, scary, but second-best.

Lone Sailor at Fair Grounds. Photo: Amanda Hodges

#8 Lone Sailor (50-1): Deep closer almost got there last time when he came up a nose short to fellow rival Noble Indy In Fair Grounds’ GII Louisiana Derby, in what was by far a career-best performance after several middling runs in his first seven starts. Son of Majestic Warrior has a running style that should allow him to pick up the pieces, and Amoss sent him out for a wicked 57 3/5 spin over the local oval 4/19, so you have to surmise he likes it here, and therefore, if his kind is for you, you’re allowed to toss him in underneath; thinking he outruns his odds.

#9 Hofburg (20-1): The universal “buzz” horse figures to be potentially half this ML since you can’t walk to the grocery store without hearing his name, as he got everyone’s attention not only after running second to Audible in the Florida Derby, but also with his training and appearance over the track in Louisville. Son of Tapit has come a long way in a short period of time for Mott, who never pushes them, so the fact he’s here is because he brought them to the Derby, not because they pushed him to get to the race. On the face of it, this is way too much of an ask off just three starts, but he’s also one of the very few in here with a reason to improve, and that’s not a bad thing at this time of the year, especially when the majority of them are just trying to tread water, let alone move forward; expecting a big run.

 

 

 

#10 My Boy Jack (30-1): Deep closer has done nothing but pass a bunch of horses in the stretch all winter and spring, so he’ll be hoping for a big pace meltdown up front, as he’s one of the few in here who figure to relish the 1 1/4 miles. On paper this son of Creative Cause is too slow to get there first, but the Desormeaux brothers know how to get a horse to peak on the big day, and that win in the GIII Lexington last time was impressive, since he had to get up in time over the short stretch and first finish line at Keeneland, so while he’s not a win threat in this, the gut says he’s hitting the number; could blow up the exotics.

Bolt d’Oro on the track at Santa Anita. Alex Evers photo

#11 Bolt d’Oro (8-1): Heavy-hitter from California somehow starts as the forgotten horse, even though he duked it out with everyone’s darling McKinzie when placed first in the GII San Felipe at Santa Anita, then had no winning chance when a solid second to a loose Justify when that colt had things all his own way in the SA Derby. Well, here we are on the first Saturday in May, when this long-striding son of Medaglia d’Oro will finally get a truly run race, while being allowed the luxury of letting the others do the chasing this time, something Ruis has been looking for all along. Expected stalker could somehow be higher than this ML price too, as several others are getting a ton more publicity, even though he’s one of the very few in here to repeatedly run fast, while still reserving the right to improve under today’s conditions, which stamps him as the one to keep the curse alive; his time to shine.

#12 Enticed (30-1): Tricky read made some headlines last November for McLaughlin and Godolphin when he won the local GII Kentucky Jockey Club but hasn’t really made a lot of friends at 3, as his lone win was the one-turn GIII Gotham at Aqueduct in March before running a distant, albeit troubled, second to fellow rival Vino Rosso in their GII Wood Memorial last time. Son of Medaglia d’Oro is actually supposed to relish this trip, especially with Mineshaft on the bottom of his pedigree, but up to this point, he just doesn’t look like a colt who is going to relish the added ground, which isn’t a ringing endorsement when getting out of your comfort zone; tough to tout.

#13 Bravazo (50-1): GII Risen Star here put Lukas back in the Derby with that upset at FG in February but will need to erase a total bomb job in the Louisiana Derby last time, and that surely isn’t the way to enter a race like this. Well-bred son of Awesome Again is supposed to sit a nice trip in here for a barn that has won this race four times, but when the real running begins, he won’t be around to make it five; get home safely.

#14 Mendelssohn (5-1): The trickiest of reads will look to give the foreigners their first Derby win and has gained quite a following, as Americans are familiar with him off his win in last year’s BC Juvenile Turf for Coolmore and O’Brien, and then watched in awe when he won the GII UAE Derby at Meydan in his dirt debut by a ridiculous 18 1/2 lengths when last seen March 31. But take note that there was an intense inside speed bias that day in Dubai, when every dirt route was won in decisive fashion in conveyor belt style, so there’s still a lot this son of Scat Daddy has to prove. The other rub is his price, which figures to be way too short to get involved, and as potent as his trainer is overseas, he’s never done a thing when he ships to the US to run on dirt, so while there’s a ton of talent here, and he is a half-brother to future Hall of Famer Beholder, this is a tough spot to think it will come out; making him prove it.

#15 Instilled Regard (50-1): The last to make the field (after the defections) is understandably one of the longest shots in the race, as he’s going the wrong way after winning FG’s GIII Lecomte in January for Hollendorfer. Son of Arch is tactical, which means he may have to be sent from this wide draw, but he’s basically been running the same race on figures in each start, which puts him behind most, if not all, of them in here; needs much softer to have a say.

#16 Magnum Moon (6-1): The second from Pletcher is also looking to break the Apollo curse, as he didn’t start until January 13, though, like Justify, he’s come along quickly and enters off decisive scores in Oaklawn Park’s GII Rebel and GI Arkansas Derby, so he’s got some heady credentials. Versatile son of Magnum Moon wired last time but showed he can stalk in the Rebel, so he should be able to break and secure a decent position into the first turn, which would help his chances and allow him to sit the right kind of trip in a big field. But while he is bred decently for the trip, he drifted badly off the turn in the Arkansas Derby and doesn’t give the impression he’s the type who will relish that 10th furlong, so at underlaid odds, with a ton of history staring him in the face, he’s not the type to latch on to; not a fan.

#17 Solomini (30-1): The far less-fancied of the two Baffert runners started the season with high hopes, as he was second in the BC Juvenile and beat McKinzie (though he was controversially DQ’d) in the GI Los Alamitos Futurity, but like several in here, he’s basically the same horse at 3 as he was at 2, which isn’t going to get it done. Son of Curlin is another stalker in a race full of them, but he’s been beaten up pretty good by Magnum Moon twice at OP, and if that colt isn’t the one today, this one sure isn’t either; no thanks.

#18 Vino Rosso (12-1): The third of the Pletcher’s impressed in winning the Wood comfortably and gives the impression he’s getting good at the right time and can still improve, which bodes well against this kind of field where many have already potentially reached their ceiling. Son of Curlin is bred to relish this distance, especially with Street Cry (IRE) on the bottom of his pedigree, and he showed last time that he’s more than comfortable settling early and rolling late, which is a style that will come in handy behind what could be a speedy pace. Sure, he still needs to find 5 or 6 more lengths to be a real threat, but he gives the impression there’s more in the tank, so at a nice price you could do worse than landing here; eligible to make his presence felt in the lane.

#19 Noble Indy (30-1): The last and longest shots of the Pletcher foursome was fortunate to be in New Orleans this winter, as he was trading blows with several of today’s longshots en route to a third in the Risen Star and a game but slow win in the Louisiana Derby. Take Charge Indy colt has progressed on figures in each start, and fans of this barn will get their guy at a huge price, but nothing he’s done up to this point suggests he’s a player in here; can’t endorse.

#20 Combatant (50-1): Deep closer from Asmussen will look to emulate stablemate Lookin At Lee, who closed from the clouds to get second in last year’s Derby, though it must be noted he got a dream trip up the rail and benefitted from the intense bias. Fringe player in Arkansas never got close to Magnum Moon in the Rebel or Arkansas Derby but did pass several, though this son of Scat Daddy will need an epic pace collapse, and a huge move forward to boot, if he wants to get a piece; unlikely to pass enough to hit the number. 

Selections:

#11 Bolt d’Oro

#7 Justify

#9 Hofburg

#10 My Boy Jack

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