Brian Nadeau’s Road to the Triple Crown 2019: The Kentucky Derby

Churchill Downs: The GI, $3 million Kentucky Derby at 1 1/4 miles

#1 War of Will (15-1): The reported inside speed drew worst of all, but, because of the two defections, he will at least get to move over one stall and not actually break from the extremely disadvantageous rail, though being inside in the 2-hole is no great shakes, either. Early season darling looked good winning both the GIII Lecomte and GII Risen Star at Fair Grounds with ease, then saw his bandwagon empty with an ugly ninth at odds-on in their GII Louisiana Derby, when he reportedly suffered a muscle injury in his right hind, which would help explain such a dreadful performance. Casse has been open about this War Front colt being on the lead, and judging by his recent works, he’s back to his best, but the issue is that that was never good enough to begin with, and entering the biggest race of your life, off a complete no-show and a tricky six-week break, with plenty of speed to your outside, just isn’t an ideal set of circumstances; pop and stop seems likely.

War Of Will and Tyler Gaffalione winning the Lecomte in January. Hodges Photography/Brit Benson

#2 Tax (20-1): Tactical runner was a game second to Tacitus in the GII Wood Memorial last time at Aqueduct after doing the dirty work chasing a hot pace and making first run, and he enters off a trio of successive 1 1/8-mile runs, so you know fitness won’t get him beat Saturday. Son of Arch is certainly bred for the trip, and his running style—if he can work out a trip from this tricky draw—says he’s going to be in the right spot entering the far turn, which will get him first run on the closers, too. Gargan may be a new name on the national scene, but he knows what to do with a good horse, and while this former 50k claimer won’t be on the top of a lot of lists, there’s a lot to like in this corner; thinking he fires a huge shot.

#3 By My Standards (15-1): Sharp winner of the GII Louisiana Derby has been one of the local steam horses, as he’s been reportedly training lights out for Calhoun, who appears to be bringing a colt that is peaking at the right time. Goldencents colt is another that should trip out just off the speed and get first run, and he showed a lot of athleticism last time rallying inside of Spinoff in what was his first start against winners. The worry here is that his breakthrough win was six weeks ago, and that’s a tough bridge of inactivity to cross when trying 1 1/4 miles for the first time, so while he does appear to have plenty of talent, this seems like a very tough assignment; siding against.

#4 Gray Magician (50-1): Ginormous longshot was second to fellow bomber Plus Que Parfait in the GII UAE Derby at Meydan in Dubai, so this is one big ask, as he returns on short rest after a trip halfway across the world. Son of Graydar has plenty of speed and has been working well for Miller, so maybe he breaks running and gets involved early, but there’s little chance he’ll be there late; easy toss.

#5 Improbable (5-1): The first of a trio for Baffert will vie for favoritism with his stablemates but is still looking for his first win of the year after being run down late by Long Range Toddy in a split division of Oaklawn Park’s GII Rebel and then running second to would-be favorite Omaha Beach there in the GI Arkansas Derby last month. Stalker is by City Zip, who is predominantly a sprinter, though he was a half-brother to BC Classic winner Ghostzapper, but nothing in this colt’s two races this year suggest that he’s screaming out for 10 furlongs, and he seemingly lost a race he simply couldn’t lose, to a fringe contender at best, in the Rebel, so there are a lot of question marks. If you’re a fan, you’ll likely get a better price than 5-1, and he does fit on paper, but until he shows a bit more punch in the stretch, it’s best to keep looking; quite comfortable making him prove it.

#6 Vekoma (15-1): Dominant winner of Keeneland’s GII Blue Grass is a definite pace player here, and depending how aggressive Castellano wants to be, you could see this son of Candy Ride (ARG) disputing the early splits from just off of War of Will. Lightly-raced runner doesn’t have a lot of foundation, as he’s started just four times, but Weaver has done a nice job and appears to have him primed for the ever-important third start of his form cycle. The worry, though, as it is for several in here, is that he doesn’t give the impression of a horse that is going to move up at this longer trip, especially with pace on both sides, so while he’s going to win something significant this year, this won’t be it; minor award appears his ceiling.

#7 Maximum Security (8-1): Undefeated son of New Year’s Day made it 4-for-4 in a tour-de-force when wiring Gulfstream Park’s GI Florida Derby five weeks ago, though he did it walking on the lead that day, and that’s not a trip he’s puling here, so he’s going to have to show a new dimension to wear the roses. Untested colt goes for Jason Servis, who has been working wonders across the East Coast for the past year, and he’s apparently doing it here, too, as this colt was entered for a 16k tag to kick off his career and is now on the verge of reaching dizzying heights. It’s obvious they have yet to get to the bottom of this runner, and he has shown he can settle a bit early, so that’s a feather in his cap, too, but he’s going to be on the wide chase the whole way and is going to have to lay his body down at some point, and the price just won’t be big enough to string along to see how he reacts; mixed signals in this corner.

#8 Tacitus (8-1): Juddmonte homebred is bred to be a superstar, as dad Tapit is an all-world sire and mom Close Hatches was a multiple GI winner for Mott a few years back, so it’s no surprise to see him developing this horse into a definite Derby contender. Versatile colt came from far back to win the GII Tampa Bay Derby in his seasonal debut and showed more speed when sitting fourth before winning the Wood, so it’s apparent that he can make his own trip and adapt to any pace scenario. If there’s a bit of a worry, it’s that he’s had dream trips in his last two (the trouble in the first turn of the Wood wasn’t much), and also he had trouble putting Tax away last time, even though the latter had to run much harder, plus with José Ortiz choosing to ride here instead of Improbable, the price will be a bit on the short side, but still, there’s little doubt he’s one of the ones; rock solid.

Tacitus and José Ortiz. NYRA/Chelsea Durand photo

#9 Plus Que Parfait (30-1): Upset winner in Dubai was game in victory and netted a huge purse, so kudos to Walsh and his owners for taking a swing in a race that was clearly going to be there for the taking. Well-bred son of Point of Entry is bred for this, too, though none of his stateside runs would make a dent here, so they’ll likely be wishing he was still in the desert when the real running begins; tough to endorse.

#10 Cutting Humor (30-1): The first of two from Pletcher sat just off a hot pace and held on late in the GII Sunland Derby six weeks ago to gain entry for a barn that was a non-factor on the Triple Crown Trail through much of the spring. Improving son of First Samurai is another in here that has the speed to be on or just off the speed, and his last win was a huge step forward, but his prior stakes run was a weak seventh in OP’s GIII Southwest in February, so it’s tough to take him too seriously here; not seeing it.

#11 Haikal (30-1): SCRATCHED

#12 Omaha Beach (4-1): SCRATCHED

#13 Code of Honor (12-1): Stretch-running son of Noble Mission (GB) put McGaughey back in the Derby fray when he closed up the inside to win GP’s GII Fountain of Youth in March to finally deliver on all the promise he had hinted at as a 2-year-old. Things unraveled a bit in the Florida Derby, as what looked like a speedy race on paper turned into a merry-go-round on the track, though he did do well to close for third in a race that he had no chance in, based on the flow. The Derby seems a different story, though, as the pace, which won’t be as hellacious as it was in the FOY, should be honest and contested, which means his late run figures to once again give him a puncher’s chance, and while he’s not on the top of the list, you could do worse than landing here for a Hall of Fame trainer/jockey in McGaughey and John Velazquez who both know what it’s like to win this race; exotics appeal.

#14 Win Win Win (12-1): Deep, deep closer endured a very troubled trip in the Blue Grass but still rallied boldly to get second and secure a berth here and has garnered a bit of a following this week, especially after a funky local drill that saw him engage a trio that included Tacitus and Country House and prove best down the lane. Son of Hat Trick (JPN) was visually impressive in Lexington, as he had to stop and start again, but he did it in an instant and no doubt will like the pace here for Trombetta, who long ago actually had the betting favorite in this race with Sweetnorthernsaint in 2006. The problem here is that this colt has never won a two-turn race and is extremely slow on figures going long, so sure, he’s going to pass a lot late, but getting a clean run and running them all down is one big ask; could close for a share.

#15 Master Fencer (JPN) (50-1): The ultimate unknown comes from Japan and is only here because he accepted an invitation as the “winner” of the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby, even though the top three finishers all declined to make the trip. Son of Just a Way (JPN) is 2-for-6 lifetime for Tsunoda, with just a maiden and allowance win to his credit, so while he’ll attract a lot of foreign dollars to the wagering pool, it’s unfortunate it will be at the expense of one of our much more deserving US-based horses; next.

#16 Game Winner (9-2): Reigning 2yo champion is still looking for his first win of the year, though he did run well when second to Omaha Beach in the second division of the Rebel and second to Roadster in the GI Santa Anita Derby last month. Baffert’s second is favored on the updated ML, most likely because he cemented his championship with a win in the local BC Juvenile last year, though what that means today, some six months later, is all in the eyes of the beholder. Candy Ride (ARG) colt is bred for the trip but doesn’t exactly give the impression in the afternoon that it’s going to be to his liking, and while he’s gotten a lot of publicity for being wide every step last time, he was also off a tepid pace and got first run on Roadster but was still run down relatively easily, and the gut says that he hasn’t progressed from age 2 to 3 like some of his peers; making him prove it.

Game Winner and Joel Rosario at Churchill Downs, winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Photo: Breeders’ Cup Ltd.

#17 Roadster (5-1): Extremely impressive winner of the Santa Anita Derby settled early, dropped back entering the far turn, then displayed push-button acceleration to run down Game Winner comfortably and hint that not only will this distance be right up his alley, but that there’s another move forward coming for a colt that has run just twice this year. Baffert’s third is a son of Quality Road who has a ton of untapped potential, and a versatile running style, too, as he showed in his comeback optional-claiming win that he can lay close to the pace, too, if the splits are on the soft side. Expected post-time favorite should still be in the 4-1 range, and while that’s not ideal value in the win pool, there are other ways of making him work for you, which seems like a good idea because this guy is going to be rolling through the lane; mows them all down.

#18 Long Range Toddy (30-1): Upset winner of the Rebel when he reeled in Improbable regressed mightily when a distant sixth in the Arkansas Derby, though believers will simply say he didn’t handle the off-track that day. Well, that’s a viable excuse, though rain is in the forecast again, so there’s a chance he gets another wet track, which further clouds this son of Take Charge Indy’s chances. It’s never wise to ignore Asmussen in a big spot, and the run two back makes him a fringe contender here, but like a few others, coming into a race like this off a real dud isn’t the way to the winner’s circle; passing.

#19 Spinoff (30-1): The better of the two Pletcher runners was a good second in the Louisiana Derby after making the front off the far turn and getting run down late by By My Standards, in what was just his second start of the year and at two turns. Speedy son of Hard Spun figures to be sent away from this wide draw, with the intent on securing position entering the first turn, and with some stalker/closers to his inside, don’t let this post scare you if he’s for you. Lightly raced and improving runners from ace barns are never to be taken lightly at this time of the year, especially at big prices, though the race flow, and the fact he’s biting off a lot to chew here, says this isn’t going to be his day; remember this name for down the road.

#20 Country House (30-1): Closer was third for Mott in the Arkansas Derby, as he used a slingshot move entering the far turn to get into contention, then predictably tired late behind the two favorites, in an effort that looks better visually than it does on paper. Experienced son of Lookin At Lucky is another that should like the pace and distance today, and note that he’s logged plenty of miles this year, as all four races have been at two turns, so a lack of foundation won’t get him beat. And sure, he’s never run remotely fast enough to win this, but he also fits the profile of a horse that can run on late when a lot of the others are feeling the effects of the pace and distance, and that’s a blueprint that has worked well in this race in the pace; thinking he outruns his odds.

#21 Bodexpress (30-1): Florida Derby runner-up will draw into the field for Delgado and has the unenviable task of trying to secure his first career win in the world’s most famous horse race, so obviously the cards are stacked against him in a big way here. And while he has no real chance of winning, it’s extremely important that he’s going to meet the starter, as he’s chased sub 45-second half miles sprinting this year and shadowed Maximum Security the entire at GP, so, with this wide draw and a lot of natural speed, expect him to be pressing the issue from the outside entering the first turn; know him early.

 

Selections:

#17 Roadster

#2 Tax

#8 Tacitus

#20 Country House

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