29 Days and Counting Until the Kentucky Derby

April 04, 2008 | Gary Quill

This weekend marks the culmination of the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament. On Saturday, the survivors from each of the four regions (East, Southeast, Midwest and West) make their bid to play in the Championship game on Monday evening.
In an attempt to draw a somewhat lame comparison to March Madness, three of the final five major Derby prep races will also be run on Saturday. One in the East (Wood Memorial at Aqueduct in New York), one in the Midwest (Illinois Derby) and one in the West (Santa Anita Derby in California). The other two, the Arkansas Derby (Southeast region) and Blue Grass Stakes (Lexington, KY) are run the following Saturday, April 12th.
And just like with March Madness, the winners of these races on Saturday move onto the ultimate event… the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May. The beauty here is that even those who run 2nd, 3rd or even 4th might still get a shot to Run for the Roses.
Now here’s my opinion on each of the three. Let’s start in the East with the Wood Memorial (9th race at Aqueduct). Here’s the field…
# 1/1a (entry) – Court Vision/ Inner Light (Approx. Odds: 5-2)
# 2 -    Texas Wildcatter (5-1)
# 3 –    Spurrier (30-1)
# 4 –    First Commandment (15-1)
# 5 –    War Pass (2-1)
# 6 -    Roman Emperor (10-1)
# 7 -    Giant Moon (8-1)
# 8 -    Tale of Ekati (10-1)
# 9 -    Anak Nakal (20-1)
Here’s how I see it…War Pass got exposed in his last race when he failed to get the lead for the first time in 6 lifetime starts and struggled the entire race, getting beat by 23 lengths. I’m buying into the rumor that he wasn’t 100% that day and he’ll bounce back. If he does get the lead, he’ll have company in Giant Moon and Inner Light. The latter is in here to serve one purpose, to be the “rabbit” for stablemate Court Vision. In horse racing a “rabbit” is a horse used to prompt a quick pace in an attempt to give his entry mate (whose running style displays a ‘closing kick’) an edge. Roman Emperor should improve as he sheds the shades (Blinkers Off).   
My play in the Wood Memorial is Court Vision
$10 WIN and PLACE on # 1               (cost: $20)
$ 2 EXACTA 1 with 2, 5, 6, 8              (cost: $8)
Let’s go to the Midwest region next, the Illinois Derby (7th race at Hawthorne). Here’s the field…
# 1 -    Recapturetheglory (Morning Line Odds: 8-1)
# 2 -    Instill (15-1)
# 3 –    Z Humor (3-1)
# 4 –    Atoned (4-1)
# 5 –    Denis Of Cork (2-1)
# 6 -    Golden Spikes (5-1)
# 7 -    Real Appeal (8-1)
Here’s how I see it…on paper, it appears this race has an even distribution of early speed, tactical speed and closers. So the pace should be an honest one. Denis Of Cork comes in undefeated but lightly raced (3 for 3). This will be his first start since winning the Southwest Stakes on February 18th. To me, he’s a suspect favorite. Atoned ran well in his 2008 debut, but appears to have “second-itis” (4 consecutive 2nd place finishes). I’m not crazy about Z Humor because his best distance might be a mile, whereas they’re running 1 1/8 mile today. Real Appeal has the most upside. I cannot believe I’m saying that about a horse who ran at Sam Houston race track in his most recent (and only 2008) race. I like his progression, the fact Thomas Amoss now trains him and he should like the distance. He will be a nice price.   
My play in the Illinois Derby is Real Appeal
$10 WIN and PLACE on # 7               (cost: $20)
$ 2 EXACTA 5, 7 with 4, 5, 7              (cost: $8)
And we’ll finish up in the West region, the Santa Anita Derby (6th race at SA). Here’s the field…
# 1 -    Yankee Bravo (Approx. Odds: 7-2)
# 2 -    Signature Move (10-1)
# 3 –    Coast Guard (8-1)
# 4 –    Bob Black Jack (4-1)
# 5 –    Colonel John (8-5)
# 6 -    On The Virg (15-1)
# 7 -    Shore Do (12-1)
# 8 –    El Gato Mato (9-5)
# 9 -    Polonius (15-1)
# 10 -  Meetingwithdestiny (30-1)
# 11 -  Rosso Corsa (50-1)
Here’s how I see it…this is billed as a rematch between Colonel John and El Gato Mato. I hope the betting public buys into it, because I think they are both vulnerable. You could make an excuse for Signature Move and Coast Guard, who ran bad races on natural dirt last time, but return to the synthetic footing back at Santa Anita. Yankee Bravo also fits that bill, but actually ran a nice race in his natural dirt debut at Fair Grounds. Bob Black Jack isn’t going to last 1 1/8 miles and the rest of this field doesn’t belong. 
My play in the Santa Anita Derby is Yankee Bravo

$10 WIN and PLACE on # 1           (cost: $20)

$2 EXACTA 1 with 2, 5, 6, 8              (cost: $8)

Take a break from the March Madness marathon and enjoy these races. BTW, who do you like?