Christmas has finally arrived for thoroughbred horse players everywhere. Churchill Downs is to horse racing as Augusta National is to golf, as Daytona Speedway is to NASCAR, and as the Rose Bowl is to College Football. Rain or shine, nothing will dampen our enthusiasm come 6:25pm on Saturday as we watch the most exciting 2 minutes in sports.
The forecast for the Louisville area is for scattered thunderstorms, high 70 degrees. That really throws a wrench into an already tough task of handicapping this race due to the fact the track condition could be labeled fast, good, sloppy or muddy come Derby race post time.
Just in case you haven’t heard, #19 – Uncle Mo was scratched out of the race yesterday. Also, his jockey Johnny Velazquez picked up the mount on #16 – Animal Kingdom because his original jockey, Robby Albarado on Wednesday in the 3rd race Post Parade was thrown by his mount who then stepped on his face! Albarado suffered a broken nose and multiple facial lacerations yet still wanted to ride on Saturday.But once Velazquez became available, the owners of Animal Kingdom opted for a jock who was 100% healthy. Tough business.
The balance in this 19 horse field is uncanny as far as their running styles. The way I see it there are…
4 – Speed
5 – Tactical Speed
4 – Mid-Pack (Plodders)
6 – Closers
With Uncle Mo out of the race, that leaves four (4) “Speed” horses which many believe will help the other Speed types, thinking the early pace will not be too quick. Maybe so, but in Derby history only 22 winners have gone gate-to-wire. That’s 22 for 136! The last one to do it was War Emblem in 2002.
One blog reader suggested (tongue in cheek) a PETA Trifecta, #9 – Derby Kitten, #11 – Master Of Hounds and #16 – Animal Kingdom. Here’s another (Exacta) bet that I’m sure will be popular with the locals in Kentucky… #9 – Derby Kitten with #10 – Twinspired.
Here’s how I see the 137th running of the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands playing out, listed in my predicted order of finish. Odds shown are the current betting odds after Friday’s advanced wagering.
Keep in mind I’m picking horses 24 hours BEFORE they walk out on the track. If at all possible, you should not make your wager until you’ve seen the horses in the Post Parade (15 minutes before the start). When horses reach the track, their physical appearance and body language can tip you off on which one(s) to include in your Exacta, Trifecta, Superfecta or simply WIN, PLACE and/or SHOW bet. Good Luck!
1st – # 2 Brilliant Speed (30-1): Of all the synthetic surface runners in this race, he could be the one to come out victorious. The first 2 races of his career were on natural dirt last Summer sprinting. He ran 4th by 19 and 7th by 21. On the surface one could immediately dismiss him in a dirt race. But the Past Performance Comment lines tell the story. “Off slow 4 wide; green lane” and “Off bit slow; rank; green”. Translated he was still immature and not yet ready to start his racing career. His bloodlines are not necessarily turf dominant, but loaded with stamina and he has moved forward in each race since hiis initial 2 on dirt, albeit 5 on turf and most recent on synthetic, even with 3 troubled trips along the way. He always trains on dirt, so it is nothing new to him. He has loved the sloppy track at Churchill all week, so more rain would be to his benefit.
2nd – #8 – Dialed In (9-2): Was made the 7-2 Morning Line favorite mainly because he hasn’t done anything wrong leading up to the Derby. He’s under care of two-time Derby winning trainer Nick Zito who has been talking very confidently about his colt. This son of Mineshaft possesses one helluva late closing kick, but when you need to get past 18 rivals to win, traffic is always a concern. His last-to-first Florida Derby victory was especially impressive because that day the track was very “speed favoring”. He was the only winner who rallied from more than 3 lengths off the lead at any point in the race all day. If you recall seeing any of Zenyatta’s races, that’s exactly how Dialed In runs. Look for him in the back of the pack until the field hits the far turn.
3rd – # 12 Santiva (23-1): 3 months ago this guy sat atop my GQ’s Derby Double Dozen list and sticking with him to run a big race even though he only has 2 races in 2011. Until his most recent race (9th by 6) in the Blue Grass he had never been off-the-board, but supposedly had an excuse (“Bothered; lacked room”). Watching that race over & over again, the jock never hit or asked Santiva to run in the final 3 furlongs because he had nowhere to go until reaching the 1/16th pole and it was too late then, so he was just hand ridden without urging and still only lost by 6. There are a couple negatives about him that do concern me… only 2 races in 2011 and WHY did Mike Smith who rode him 2 races back not ride him in the Blue Grass? He does get reunited with the jock who rode him to victory over this (CD) track last Fall.
4th – # 13 Mucho Macho Man (12-1): Is trained by Kathy Ritvo who received a heart transplant in 2005. Female trainers are 0 for 14 in the Derby, but this guy has got a ton of heart and could carry his trainer into the Derby record books. In his most recent race (LA Derby on Mar. 26th) he lost a front shoe coming out fo the gate, yet still ran a game 3rd, less than 1 length behind the winner. He has a stalking running style which should give him the best shot at picking off the early speed horses that should begin to fade in the stretch.
He was a late foal (born June 15th). So technically he is still 2 year olds, but over the past weeks has been maturing physically.
5th – # 11 Master Of Hounds (18-1): His Grand Sire is Mr. Prospector, who has had 10 male-line descendants of his win the Kentucky Derby:.. Unbridled (1990), Thunder Gulch (1995), Grindstone (1996), Real Quiet (1998), Fusaichi Pegasus (2000), War Emblem (2002), Funny Cide (2003), Smarty Jones (2004), Street Sense (2007), and Mine That Bird (2009). That’s pretty impressive. 10 of the past 21 Derbies! But unlike Master Of Hounds, all 10 ran on natural dirt AND had more than one race as a 3 year old AND had beaten winners AND last prep race wasn’t in Dubai BEFORE running in the Derby! On the other hand, none of the 10 had raced beyond 1 1/8 mile (he’s run 1 3/16) nor had carried Derby weight (126 lbs.) or more prior to the Derby (he has in 5 of 7 career races).
6th – # 17 Soldat (17-1): Never worse than second in 7 starts prior to last race, the Florida Derby (5th by 10). I was there and he was getting “washed out” in the Post Parade, so that could have been his excuse. Everyone has written him off saying because he didn’t get the early lead, he was toast. Didn’t like being on the rail behind horses getting dirt kicked in his face… maybe, but in all 3 of his turf races he wasn’t on the lead and passed plenty horses. His trainer (Kiaran McLaughlin) said the FL weather was brutally hot and feels Soldat will welcome the cooler weather… and if the track comes up SLOPPY, his odds will drop!
7th – # 16 Animal Kingdom (24-1): Has his work cut out for him as he only has four (4) career races under his belt, 2 as a 3 year old. None of the four were on a dirt surface, his bloodlines (top & bottom) are filled with successful TURF runners and his most recent race came six (6) weeks ago. There’s plenty of Derby history in each of these facts that suggest he cannot win. On the positive side, this week he had a dynamite 6 furlong workout (1:13) over a sloppy CD oval. Many people saw this as his ability to handle dirt… really wet dirt, which turf and synthetic runners usually do, but how he’ll handle a dry, fast track remains to be seen.
8th – # 1 Archarcharch (13-1): Holds the “feel good story” of this years Derby. After 30 years and 3,500+ wins, 50 year old jockey Jon K. Court will ride in his first Kentucky Derby. His father-in-law (William “Jinks” Fires) trains this horse so what a story it will be if he wins. The horse has looked exceptional every time he’s taken the track since arriving at CD, but Mother Nature may be his most daunting foe come Saturday. His only off-the-board finish (4th by 13 when even money favorite) came on a track listed as “good”. The confidence both trainer and jockey have in Archarcharch‘s ability is second to none. In his 6 race career he has set a win-then-lose pattern. He won his previous race.
9th – # 19 Nehro (7-1): This year’s Derby Wise-Guy horse, who by the way have never won the Derby. He’s a late bloomer who has only raced 4 times. Less then 3 months ago he was still a maiden, not winning his 1st and only race until Feb. 21st. He followed that up with two runner-up finishes in the LA and AR Derby’s, displaying an impressive closing kick, suggesting that when he runs the added eighth of a mile, he’ll win. My thought is the Derby will be his 3rd race in a span of 6 weeks and he is the only Derby runner whose Dosage Index (4.33) exceeds 4.00. Dosage used to be the primary indicator of whether a horse had the stamina in his bloodlines to get the Derby distance. Recently when Giacomo (2005) and Mine That Bird (2009) won with DI’s greater than 4, many stopped using it as a barometer in picking Derby horses.
10th – # 15 Midnight Interlude (11-1): Trainer Bob Baffert had 3 Derby contenders just a few weeks ago, but the 2 most promising ones suffered injuries. This guy wasn’t even in the Derby picture until his upset victory in the Santa Anita Derby on Apr. 9th one race after breaking his maiden. With only 4 career races to his credit, his inexperience might be his second biggest hurdle to overcome. The first? Well, he was unraced as a 2 year old. The last Derby winner who didn’t start his career until age 3 was named Apollo… 129 years ago!
11th – # 14 Shackleford (19-1): Everybody thinks he ran the race of his life in FL Derby… I don’t, I think he is the one Speed horse who could “stay”. I watched the Fountain Of Youth as they were going in the gate… he looked like he had ALREADY run 2 miles! Probably one of the worst cases of being “washed out” I had ever seen… and he ran like it (5th by 23). So immediately everybody thought he was out of his class in these graded stakes. Not so, you look 3 races back (Feb. 5th win). The runner-up Casper’s Touch was 1-2 and was hyped so much as a Derby contender. That was a legit win. But on the negative side… final time in FL Derby was slow AND since the advent (1994) of Brisnet PP’s and Speed Figures, NO DERBY winner has had a “10 point or more difference” in his Speed Figure from 2nd to last prep to last prep race. His is 77 to 101. He did work quite well this week on the slop at CD even though he has never run a race on an OFF TRACK.
12th – # 10 Twinspired (21-1): The group who owns this guy has had a bad case of Derby fever since he won a $50k stakes race on the synthetic track surface at Turfway Park in early February. He’s continued to run exclusively on synthetic since then and there lies the problem. In his only dirt track race he finished 8th by 11 lengths when 4-1. He hasn’t even trained on the CD track since arriving in Louisville, but has worked out on other dirt tracks in decent times, so maybe he can run on dirt, but just didn’t care for the Remington Park dirt track? He was able to attract Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith who won his first Derby on longshot Giacomo in 2005, so maybe lightning can strike twice?
13th – # 20 Watch Me Go (29-1): Hit the Derby scene via his win in the Tampa Bay Derby at 43-1. That was the pinnacle of his terrific winter in Florida, but lost all of his luster when he ran 6th by 17 lengths as the 2-1 favorite in the Illinois Derby. His trainer, Kathleen O’Connell would be the first female trainer to win the Derby. Breaking from post 19 won’t help and neither will an OFF TRACK.
14th – # 4 Stay Thirsty (17-1): “The most interesting horse in the world”. Not really, just making a lose connection to the Dos Equis beer commercial. Just like his stablemate (Uncle Mo) he’s run only 2 races this year, not ideal for being in top condition for the biggest, longest and toughest race of your life. He has looked a bit better than “Mo” in the A.M. drills as they always work together. So is it that he has vastly improved since his woeful performance (7th by 16) in the FL Derby or is Uncle Mo not quite the same colt he was at 2? I tend to believe the latter considering Uncle Mo was scratched. His breeding screams for the classic distance, but not since 1957 (Iron Liege) has a horse won the Derby after finishing worse than 4th in the race prior. The phrase “Stay Thirsty my friends” should remain infamous with a brand of beer and not mistaken for a tip on a Derby horse, though a sloppy track would enhance his slim chances.
15th – # 2 Twice The Appeal (7-1): One week ago 3-time Derby winning jockey Calvin Borel was without a Derby horse, but picked up the mount on Twice The Appeal over the weekend. Borel has the same number of Derby wins as the other 19 jockeys combined (only 3 others have 1 win…Pat Valenzuela, Mike Smith and Victor Espinoza). He’s run on every type of surface (5 on dirt, 4 on synthetic and 1 turf) but dirt appears to be his best with 3 wins a 2nd and 3rd. Don’t get too excited. His most recent race was 6 weeks ago and not since 1956 has a horse won the Derby on a layoff of more than 5 weeks.
16th – # 7 Pants On Fire (9-1): Will be a huge underlay (i.e. odds lower then they should be) due to Rosie Napravnik, only the 6th female jockey to ride in the Derby. The former Maryland apprentice rider will need to get him out of the gate quickly and clear from the pack to have any chance in this contest. But I cannot see him being a factor beyond the 1/8th pole as the bloodlines do not suggest stamina at the Derby distance. The best female rider finish in the Derby has been 11th.
17th – # 6 Comma To The Top (43-1): One month ago his trainer advised the horse racing world that this guy was off the Derby Trail. Then after a game 2nd place finish in the Santa Anita Derby, the owners made the call to run the horse in the Derby. This is a classic case of Derby Fever. “Comma” will be one of the 4 speed horses whose slim chance relies on getting to the front early… and if he does he won’t be there for long has he’ll likely “bounce” off of that huge effort in his last rarce.
18th – # 9 Derby Kitten (29-1): If the Derby were run on turf or a synthetic surface, he’d have a legitimate shot to win, but it’s not. He’s the son of Kitten’s Joy who was a very successful turf runner and has turned out dozens of offspring who all shared their Dad’s fondness for running his best on any surface other than dirt. His owner/breeder is a 75 year old Kentucky native who has always wanted a horse in the Derby, and now he can check that off of his Bucket List.
19th – # 5 Decisive Moment (42-1): Will carry the oldest jockey (Kerwin Clark, 52) among the 19 who also happens to be riding in his first Derby. If you’re into short, cheap thrills then this horse is for you. After breaking out of the gate, he’ll surely be one of the front runners as the field passes the Grandstand for the first time. But before the field turns for home, this guy will have already thrown in the towel as he’s just not cut out to run the classic (1¼ mile) distance and will have begun to retreat to the back of the pack.
Based on my analysis of the Derby, I’ll play…
$10 WIN, PLACE, SHOW on # 2 (Brilliant Speed)
$1 EXACTA BOX on # 2 (Brilliant Speed), # 8 (Dialed In), # 12 (Santiva), # 13 (Mucho Macho Man)
$1 TRIFECTA PART-WHEEL #2, #11, #12, #13, #17 with #8 (Dialed In) in 2nd spot with #2, #11, #12, #13, #17
Recapping Day 20 (Friday, May 6th) at the Pimlico Spring Meet…
Best Bet Line Change (#1 9th race; M/L 6-5; P/T 1-2) was heavily backed and didn’t disappoint with a convincing victory returning $3.00 to WIN, $2.20 to PLACE and $2.10 to SHOW..
Best Bet pick scorecard from 20 selections at the Pimlico Meet: 7 WIN – 3 PLACE – 5 SHOW.
Longshot Elusive Appeal (#8 5th race on turf; M/L 10-1; P/T 7-1) didn’t fire and finished off the board.
Longshot pick scorecard from 20 selections at the Pimlico Meet: 3 WIN – 5 PLACE – 1 SHOW.
Here’s how the WDYL (Who Do Ya Like?) Plays panned out…
1st race ($2 DD): 1, 7 w/ 1 ($4)… came 3-6
3rd race: # 10 – Frogtown (6-1)… SHOWED paying $3.60
7th race: #2 – Giant Talent (7-1)… SHOWED paying $3.80
9th race ($1 DD): 1 w/ 4, 7, 8, 9… came 1-4; WINNER paid $21.60 for a $1
For the Pimlico Spring Meet, Day 21 (Satuday, May 7th) …
Soup of the Day: Chicken Noodle
Best Bet: J W Blue (#7 10th race – Federico Tesio Stakes; M/L 5-2) competed at Oaklawn Park in a couple Derby preps unsuccessfully, but was not grossly overmatched. He was 6th by 7 lengths to Archarcharch in the Arkansas Derby. Early in his career he ran behind another Derby runner Pants On Fire. He’s a nice horse who could find his way into the Preakness in 2 weeks if he is a winner here.
Longshot: Skidoodle (#4 1st race M/L 6-1) is a 6 year old maiden who is 0 for 35 lifetime, so why is today the day?! His competition has struggled as well, with the exception of the 2-1 favorite (#7 – Rain Stopped Play) who makes only his 2 career start. Skidoodle has shown signs of life lately on a fast track. The fact he caught a sloppy track (only 1 for 10 ITM) in his last race and finished 4th might be why he has a generous Morning Line.
Other “Who Do Ya Like” (WDYL) Plays…
1st race ($2 DD): 3, 4, 7 w/ 1, 3 ($12)
4th race:: #3 – Belongs To Dixie (6-1) is 1st-timer for hot barn
5th race on turf: #6 – Reine De Bonbon (7-2) 4 yr old gray ready to graduate
6th race: #4 – Romantic Cuvee (2-1) is lone speed in this sprint
7th race on turf: #12 – Malibu Mambo (20-1) training nicely for turf debut
8th race: #5 – Mythical Power (3-1) fires in 1st race in 2011; 7-5 fav. vulernable
9th race ($2 DD): 4, 7 w/ 4, 6, 8 ($12)
Enjoy a great day of thoroughbred horse racing. Share the fun with a friend.