KENTUCKY DERBY 2011: Preview and Picks

LOUISVILLE, KY - APRIL 30: Midnight Interlude runs during the morning exercise session in preparation for the 137th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on April 30, 2011 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

After months of speculation, training and prep races, the 137th running of the Kentucky Derby is finally upon us.  And what a race it is this year!  The prep season saw a tremendous amount of twists and turns, while the run-up to the Derby itself has seen the scratch of juvenile champion Uncle Mo and the defection of the Wood Memorial winner (again!).  But all that is behind us, it's time to get ready for Kentucky Derby 137.

Below is a colt-by-colt look at the 2011 Kentucky Derby.  Horses are listed by post position and contain their morning line odds.

1-Archarcharch (10/1): He probably got the worst of it in the post position draw but his troubles might not come until later in the race when he'll need to get off the rail to make a late move. The only other time Archarcharch drew on the rail he got a bit rank in the early going and finished a well beat 3rd, six lengths back, in the Grade 2 Rebel. Jockey Jon Court has a big task in front of him as he needs to secure a good position while at the same time getting Archarcharch to settle early.  If he's rank like he was in the Rebel, he'll have no shot to win the Derby.  If he can settle, it could be a big day for the Arkansas Derby winner.

2-Brilliant Speed (30/1): This colt is bred to run all day long and he scored a nice victory in the Grade 1 Blue Grass over the Polytrack at Keeneland. He tried running on conventional dirt in the first two races of his career last summer and they both were absolute disasters. It's possible that he'll take to the dirt better in his third try, but I wouldn't bet on it.

3-Twice the Appeal (20/1): I've got a bunch of problems with Twice the Appeal: first, I'm not convinced that this colt wants anything to do with ten furlongs (although his dam has produced a couple of foals to do well routing). Second, he's got serious class issues. Sure, this isn't the best Derby field we've seen in the last ten years, but it's still a Grade 1 race and I'm not sure he's faced anything as good as what he's facing today. Calvin Borel gets the call in the saddle, and the fact that he's won three of the last four Runs for the Roses will entice some action ridiculous action at the windows...but not from me.

4-Stay Thirsty (20/1): Todd Pletcher and Mike Repole are obviously disappointed that Uncle Mo had to scratch from the Derby, but they still have another shot with this son of Preakness winner Bernardini.  Stay Thirsty comes into the Derby off of what can only be described as a horrible effort in the Grade 1 Florida Derby on April 3rd. He's capable of better than that, as he showed when he won the Grade 3 Gotham over eventual Wood Memorial winner Toby's Corner earlier this spring.  Pletcher is taking the blinkers off with the hopes that this colt will settle a bit more in the early stages. I don't know if Stay Thirsty is a "likely" winner, but he might be able to get into the mix if things break right.

5-Decisive Moment (30/1): This colt is a speed horse that has drawn inside most of the other speed, a situation that will likely require jockey Kerwin Clark to send him early in order to avoid getting boxed as the field goes into the first turn. Toss into the mix a questionable pedigree for winning at ten furlongs and it's hard to get excited about this colt ending up in the winner's circle.

6-Comma to the Top (30/1): He ran his heart out in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, only to lose by a head to Midnight Interlude at the wire. He gets Pat Valenzuela in the irons so you know he'll be up front in the early stages. While getting to the front probably won't be a problem for this colt, he's going to need a super-horse effort to stay there for ten furlongs. His sire, Bwana Charlie, isn't known for producing horses that can get a distance of ground, and the stamina from his dam's side is decent, but nothing special. He's probably going to be running on empty in the final quarter mile.

7-Pants On Fire (20/1): The intriguing fact with this colt is the fact that he relaxed (somewhat) off of the early pace in his last race, the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby. Prior to that race he had been a "need to lead" colt, a running style that isn't well suited to winning the Kentucky Derby. I'm not sold that he's going to want to get the entire mile and a quarter distance, but If red hot jockey Rosie Napravnik can settle him down in the early stages and conserve some energy, he might be able to outrun his pedigree.  This colt may be starting to figure things out, and when that happens with a young horse it's not uncommon to see major improvement.

8-Dialed In (4/1): The Nick Zito colt has done pretty much everything you'd like to see out of a Derby contender this spring. As Gary Stevens mentioned in our interview on Wednesday, Zito's decision to keep him in Florida and bring him to Kentucky late was a tremendous plan because it avoided all the weather that has played with the work schedules at Churchill Downs. While Dialed In is a deep closer, he has the ability to get into the race coming into the far turn. The key for Dialed In on Saturday is if jockey Julien Leparoux can get him to make a big move to get him close mid-way on the turn. If he can, I think he'll have an excellent chance to run down the leaders in the long Churchill Downs stretch drive.

9-Derby Kitten (30/1): It's asking a lot of this colt to come to Louisville and run a big race on dirt when all of his best efforts to date have occurred on turf and Polytrack. His only start on a dirt track came last fall at Belmont Park in a maiden special weight that came off the turf and was run on a "fast" main track; Derby Kitten finished 7th of 10, 27 ½ lengths behind the winner. Like Brilliant Speed, it's possible he'll fair better with this try on the dirt, but it's a tough race to try and make that happen.

10-Twinspired (30/1): Another colt that has done his best running on turf and synthetic, and another that had a horrible time in his only start on a dirt track.  It's hard to make a case for this colt when his dirt form is a huge unknown.  Perhaps he can squeeze into the top four with a big run, but the race would probably have to fall apart in the stretch for this one to come out on top.  His best quality: he has a lot of stamina in the pedigree and should be fine running a mile and a quarter. 

11-Master of Hounds (30/1): This colt is the wild card of all wild cards in this year's Derby.  Like several I here, he's not a dirt horse, or at least has never run on dirt.  Master of Hounds comes to the Derby from Ireland, where he finished 3rd in the Group 1 Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster last October.  He then came to the U.S. to run in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, finishing 6th, beaten three lengths.  This spring he went to Dubai where he was beaten a nose by Khawlah in the UAE Derby on the Tapeta synthetic surface. 

Master of Hounds is bred to run all-day long due to fantastic stamina influences on the top and bottom of his pedigree.  In his turf races, he's shown the ability to sit near the lead but it's highly unlikely that he'll show a lot of speed in this race.  Additionally, he's only had one race this spring - a prep schedule that is unheard of in American racing.  However, European horses are conditioned much differently than those in the U.S., which adds even more mystery to this colt.  At the end of the day, I don't think Master of Hounds will win the Derby but I won't be surprised if he comes up with a decent effort and, maybe, cracks the superfecta.

12-Santiva (30/1): Draw a line through his race in the Blue Grass at Keeneland last time out, he didn't care for the Polytrack at all and should do better back on dirt.  That being said, you wonder if he got enough out of that race to launch a big effort in the Derby.  On the plus side, Santiva has won at Churchill Downs before when he won the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club back on November 27th, and it's always nice to see a prior win over the surface in the past performances.  He's a longshot but not without hope.

13-Mucho Macho Man (12/1): There's a lot to like with this son of Macho Uno, not the least of which is the fact that he's been one of the more consistent three-year-old colts all spring long.  He just missed in the Louisiana Derby after a nice win in the Grade 2 Risen Star at the Fair Grounds on Feb. 19th.  His works at Churchill have been strong over the past two weeks and he's drawn in the perfect spot for a colt that wants to stalk the early speed.  He seems like a good bet to at least be in the trifecta and he looms as a serious win candidate.

14-Shackleford (12/1): A tough colt to figure out; he didn't run a lick in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 26th and then almost takes the Grade 1 Florida Derby gate-to-wire at odds of 69/1 on April 3rd.  He owns a win over the Churchill Downs main track and his pedigree suggests that he should get better as the distances get longer.  On the down side, he's a speed horse and there is plenty of that in this race.  Can he withstand the early pace and find something extra in the later stages cause that's what he'll need to do to win this race.

15-Midnight Interlude (10/1): Less than two months ago this colt was breaking his maiden at Santa Anita Park against and over-matched field of five colts.  On Saturday he'll be one of the hotter bets at the windows.  His Santa Anita Derby win was very impressive considering how lightly raced he is and he's a big, strong colt that appears to be in excellent physical condition.  Bob Baffert has been working him like a freight train (three bullet works since his SA Derby win), which is the way Bob likes to do things in the morning.  The big question: can a colt that never raced as a two-year-old win the Derby?  It hasn't happened since Apollo in 1882.  That's a lot of history to overcome, but at the same time, one of these days it will happen again and this colt could be the one to do it.

16-Animal Kingdom (30/1): See if you've read this before: Animal Kingdom is a colt that has run his best races on synthetic surfaces and has never raced on a dirt surface.  Of the turf horses entered in the Derby, I think Animal Kingdom might have a shot to run decently, even if I don't like him for the win.  His morning work over the Churchill course on April 30th was decent, if unspectacular, and trainer Graham Motion is a very good horseman that usually has a good read on whether his trainees can handle certain surfaces.  Animal Kingdom will be ridden by John Velazquez, replacing Robby Albarado, who was injured earlier in the week when he was thrown from one of his mounts.

17-Soldat (12/1): If the track comes up wet before the Derby, this colt has got to be on every single one of your tickets.  The connections tried to rate Soldat in the Florida Derby and it was a disaster; he finished 5th, 10 ½ lengths behind Dialed In.  He's capable of much better than that and he should show an improved performance in this spot.  The post draw gives Alan Garcia a lot of options leaving the gate - he can try to go for the lead if the pace is soft (probably unlikely), or he can sit just off the pace in the three or four path heading into the first turn.  He'll be a bit wide but he won't get the dirt kicked in his face like he did in Florida (something he did not like).  Of all the speed horses, I like Soldat's chances the best.  I like him even more if the track is muddy or sloppy.

18-Uncle Mo (8/1): SCRATCH

19-Nehro (6/1): Don't worry about the wide post with this colt, as he will just tuck inside the rest of the field and bide his time until the a mile later when he'll start to make his run towards the front.  He just missed winning the Louisiana Derby when he encountered a bit of traffic and came up a neck short.  A month and a half later he came up a neck short to Archarcharch in the Arkansas Derby.  Nehro is a nicely developing son of Mineshaft that should relish the mile and a quaarter distance, the long Churchill stretch drive, and a fast early pace.  He's a legit contender. 

20-Watch Me Go (50/1): 50/1 is too short a price on this colt and I don't know that there's a number you could put in front of me that would make be drop $10 of your money on him.  He won the Tampa Bay Derby at huge odds...and then lost in the Grade 3 Illinois Derby (against a very weak field) by 17 lengths.  No, thank you.

Picks

My top 4 in this year's Derby are 8-Dialed In, 13-Mucho Macho Man, 15-Midnight Interlude, and 17- Soldat.  My long shot plays are to 11-Master of Hounds and 16-Animal Kingdom. To be honest, the only horses that I'm going to be surprised if they win are 20-Watch Me Go, 3-Twice the Appeal and 6-Comma to the Top, after that I can find positives and negatives about every colt in this field.  This is, by far, one of the stranger Kentucky Derby races I've ever tried to handicap. 

If Dialed In stays at odds of 4/1 or higher, he'll be my prime win bet.  If he slips into the 7/2 or 3/1 range, I'm going to have to move to on to someone else; I just can't take less than 4/1 in a Derby with so many question marks.  My choice would come down to Mucho Macho Man and Midnight Interlude, and I'll probably go towards Midnight Interlude since he's got the least negatives on my board.  Plus, I'd love to see Bob Baffert hit the Oaks-Derby double.

Any Pick 4 or Pick 5 ticket I play will involve the six horses I named above, plus Nehro and Archarcharch, depending on the conditions and how the track is playing.

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