Staff Picks: 2012 Kentucky Derby

It's the biggest race of the year and JP, Jared and TFTribe are all ready to give you their take on the 2012 Kentucky Derby in this week's Staff Picks. Which horse will our handicappers land on in the Run for the Roses? The favorite, Bodemeister? The juvenile champ, Hansen? How about the Wood winner, Gemologist?

Below is this week's Staff Picks: 2012 Kentucky Derby

TFTRIBE

Honestly, we all know what a crapshoot the Derby is. That's part of what makes this race so great and such good TV. Anyone can hit it big. Layered on top of that, I have my own selfish reasons that can't do anything but cloud my judgement and influence my handicapping. I have a darling every year, which is focused completely on the pedigree and which one benefits me the most, to be quite frank. Last year it was Archarcharch. I got stuck with a horse starting on the rail, and he ultimately got hurt. So in summary: the worst post, a bad trip, and a career ending injury.

This year, I'm hoping to avoid all of the above.

But instead I'm picking Daddy Long Legs to win. First: his run in Dubai was as impressive as any I've seen thus far. His Racing Post Rating was in line with a good speed figure (admittedly, the equating of the two is very imprecise) in the Dubai Derby. His ride was comfortable, and he dominated down the stretch after stalking the speed. Second: I looooove (note: that's 5 "o"s) Scat Daddy. Third: he's going off at a great price, guaranteed.

We know how the race will shape up. I'm positive Hansen (and company) still goes out and runs himself out if it with fractions of 22 in the first half mile. I think the colts picking up the pieces are those in the 5-7 positions that are stalking the speed. I see those three being Daddy Long Legs, Creative Cause, and Dullahan, in that order.

I just see too much speed going off too quickly with Trinniberg, Hansen, Bodemeister, Gemologist, Take Charge Indy, and I'll Have Another trying for the lead. All want the lead to themselves, and they're going to fight for it, especially with speed horses inside in post 3 and outside in post 19, it'll be a dead sprint for the front over the first half mile.

Good luck, have fun, drink bourbon, Happy Derby!

JARED L. CHRISTOPHER

This year's Kentucky Derby field appears to be the deepest in recent memory. When the starting gates springs open, nine of the 13 entries in last year's Breeder's Cup Juvenile will explode from the gates. This is a marked departure from last year's field which fumbled their way through a series of inconclusive prep races that produced more questions than answers. 2012 is a different story.

The Analysis:

1. Daddy Long Legs

Comments: Finished a distant 12th in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile (also at Churchill Downs) against many of the same horses he will line up against today. Trainer Aiden O'Brien is no slouch, having guided Cape Blanco to the American Champion Male Turf Horse title in 2011. The Irish trainer took Daddy Long Legs to the UAE Derby last month and walked away with the trophy. Sire Scat Daddy finished 18th in the 2007 Kentucky Derby.

Opinion: Although he has shown obvious improvement since his outing in the BC Juvenile, he is not in the same league with the upper half of this field. His post position coupled with his previous effort on this track makes him one to stay away from.

2. Optimizer

Comments: Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas is very fond of this colt. This Derby will mark the veteran trainers 45th and he thinks his colt wants more ground which he will get Saturday. A rousing closing charge in the Rebel Stakes made people take notice but his dismal performance in the Arkansas Derby left Lukas scratching his head.

Opinion: This horse was just an excuse for Lukas to make another Derby. The Arkansas Derby field, with the exception of Bodemeister, was mediocre at best. If he couldn't hit the board there don't expect to hear his name down the stretch.

3. Take Charge Indy

Comments: He wasn't a factor in the BC Classic last fall but has appeared to mature since. Trainer Patrick Byrne gambled last month, bypassing the Tampa Bay Derby in favor of a chance to run against Union Rags in the Florida Derby. The moved paid off as Indy thwarted a late charge from Union Rags in last months Florida Derby with the talented Calvin Borel in the irons.

Opinion: This horse is the sleeper of the field. Anytime the Churchill Magician is aboard and his horse already has a rail post position, look out!

4. Union Rags

Comments: The colt bred at Point Lookout Farm in Delaware has been turning heads since his maiden, come-from-behind victory at Delaware Park. His 2 losses have come from bad trips, both of which could have been avoided by his veteran jockey, Julien Leparoux. He has never lacked a burst down the stretch which will come in handy with the added distance the Derby brings.

Opinion: Owner Phyllis Wyeth literally had a dream that Union Rags was going to win the Derby before the horse had even been in a single race. Problem was she had sold him. Obviously her dream was convincing because the 71 year old bought him back for nearly twice the price. Dreams are what the Kentucky Derby is made of and this horse has proven time and again that he is extremely talented. Couple that with the backing of trainer Michael Matz (Barbero ring a bell?) and the sworn allegiance of Leparoux who had his choice between Rags and Steve Asmussen colt Daddy Knows Best. This one should hit the board.

5. Dullahan

Comments: Has an indomitable will down the stretch. His last effort saw him charge from 10th back with a quarter mile to go and sweep past the ghost-white Hansen to take the Bluegrass Stakes in convincing fashion. Trainer Dale Romans knows the track better than any other trainer. His horses occupy barn 4, the same barn that housed his father's horses before him.

Opinion: Has the closing kick required to win the blanket of roses but will 19 other horses be in his way around the far turn? Has to stalk the leaders and stay clear of traffic in the early going. The Bluegrass was on synthetic, how will it translate to the dirt? Too many questions but one thing is certain... if he is in position around the far turn he will have a great chance to come home.

6. Bodemeister

Comments: The favorite destroyed his competition in the Arkansas Derby winning by nearly 10 lengths. Trainer Bob Baffert hasn't saddled a Derby winner in years but this horse appears to be of a higher caliber than anything he's had in recent memory. With Mike Smith aboard and good workouts under his belt, the lightly raced colt will try to become the first horse in over 100 years to win without having raced at the age of 2.

Opinion: It's hard to bet against a horse that seems to be so gifted. He has the early speed to stay out of trouble and the late surge to hit the wire in front. I don't like his odds for betting purposes but any horse that Bob Baffert would name after his own son is one I wouldn't bet against.

7. Rousing Sermon

Comments: Jockey Jose Lezcano finished second in the 2010 Derby aboard the Nick Zito trained Ice Box. The horse from Idaho will have to improve quickly to have a chance against this talented field. His last two efforts include to mid 80's Beyers against Grade II talent. Winner of only two of his nine starts.

Opinion: Has a finisher's style but he is in over his head here. A perfect trip and some luck might see him round out a super at best.

8. Creative Cause

Comments: Has never finished out of the money and carries the hopes and dreams of his 70 year old trainer and 80 year old owner, both of which have never made it to the Derby until now. Finished a close third in the BC Juvenile on the same track. Also ran down the favorite Bodemeister in the San Felipe Stakes a few months back. The gray/roan offspring of Giants Causeway and Dream of Summer, this horse has classic distance in his blood.

Opinion: Appears to shy from contact. That could be a problem in a congested field of 20 horses. Proven that he does not back down when challenged at the 1/8th pole time and time again. If his trip is clean he will be there down the stretch.

9. Trinniberg

Comments: Has never raced past 7 furlongs. At a mile and a quarter, he is out of his league.

Opinion: Early duel with Hansen will tire this one out before the far turn.

10. Daddy Nose Best

Comments: Has raced 10 times already. Trainer Steve Asmussen looks to win his first Derby, something he nearly accomplished with Nehro in the 2011 run for the roses. Garret Gomez will be aboard for the first time.

Opinion: Nice closing speed, two consecutive wins leading up to the Derby and a veteran the caliber of Gomez in the irons makes this one an interesting play.

11. Alpha

Comments: Zero wins in three Grade I races. He was the best of the rest in the Wood last month but soundly beaten by Gemologist. Appears ready for more distance. Known as a very content horse who should keep his composure in front of the 120,000+ in attendance at Churchill.

Opinion: Could make his way to the lead around the quarter poll but seems to be out-classed by his opponents. He will be in the mix down the stretch but should ultimately fade.

12. Prospective

Comments: Ran dead last in the 2011 BC Juvenile over the same track against the same opponents. Biggest win was the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby which was ignored by horse the caliber of Union Rags and Take Charge Indy. His best Beyer is a 90. That won't cut it on Saturday.

Opinion: Hard to see a horse completely reverse field and go from last to first. I don't see that happening here.

13. Went the Day Well

Comments: Owned by Team Valor (Animal Kingdom). Connections opted for an extra weeks rest by racing him early in the Spiral Stakes. Lightly raced and fresh.

Opinion: The addition of blinkers this late in the game is a question mark. I like his late speed and the fact that he has had more rest than his opponents. I can see this long shot finding his way around the turn in perfect position to attack the leaders.

14. Hansen

Comments: The Great White Hope is the fan favorite and should steal the show in spite of his idiotic owner. Kids everywhere are in love with the Ghost. Is tough as nails and won't back down in a stretch drive. His early speed may be his saving grace if he can rate in the first half of the race. If he can't it will be his downfall.

Opinion: Should burn up the first half in a speed duel with Gemologist. I can't imagine him holding up for a mile and a quarter but he will die trying. He will be in the mix at the 1/8th pole.

15. Gemologist

Comments: Sports the only unblemished record in the race. His strong performance in the Wood makes him a real intriguing pick. His last two races produced impressive upper 90's Beyers and he seems to have that extra gear down the stretch. Trainer Todd Pletcher has played coy downplaying his horse's chances, choosing to deflect all media attention to other horses. Pletcher and WinStar farm teamed up to bring SuperSaver home in the 2010 Derby. Gemologist looks even better.

Opinion: He hasn't beaten many top level horses but he has beaten the one's he should have in top tier fashion. Jockey Javier Castellano has to be careful not to get in an early speed duel with Hansen. If he can manage that he will most assuredly hear his name called by the track announcer around the final turn.

16. El Padrino

Comments: Another Pletcher horse that showed promise in the early part of the 2012 campaign. His star has dimmed since taking a thumping in the Florida Derby to three other horses he will be facing on Saturday. Did manage a 100 Beyer in his January 12 start. Will have a new jockey aboard as Castellano opted to ride stablemate and next door neighbor in the post, Gemologist.

Opinion: Has shown flashes of brilliance but I'll take Castellano's word for it. If he likes Gemologist over El Padrino, so do I.

17. Done Talking

Comments: Won his last start in the Illinois Derby with an astounding close albeit against inferior competition. Trounced by Hansen in the Grade 3 Gotham earlier this year. His Beyer numbers have improved with each race.

Opinion: Outclassed. And add to that, no horse has ever won from post 17.

18. Sabercat

Comments: Another Asmussen entry. Showed tremendous promise as a 2 year old winning four consecutive starts 2 of which were Graded events. Jockey Corey Nakatani (Nehro) brings bravado and experience to the table. Likes to close.

Opinion: Will have a ton of ground to make up starting so far outside with a lack of early speed. If the pace is hot he may have a chance but Nakatani will have to remain incredibly poised to guide his horse through the traffic late.

19. I'll Have Another

Comments: Winner of his last 2 starts, this colt seems to be peaking at the right time. Winner of the West Coasts big Derby prep, the Santa Anita Derby over none other than Creative Cause in a thrilling head bob at the wire. He is lightly raced but always against top shelf competition.

Opinion: He is in post position 19, another post without a winner in the history of the long race. Give him a better post and I'd give him a shot. He may be able to finish in the money but a win will elude him.

20. Liaison

Comments: Another Baffert entry. Seemed destined for big things after a win the Grade I Cash call Futurity last December. Has disappeared ever since missing the board in all 3 of his subsequent races. Baffert will add blinkers in a last ditch effort to find something, anything that will wake him up and help him find his old form.

Opinion: His post position and his talent are too far outside.

The Picks:

What my heart tells me:

Bodemeister is the most talented horse in the field but he is raw. He will be breathing down Hansen's neck at the quarter-pole. With Gemologist at his hip, Bodemeister overtakes Hansen and heads for the wire. Gemologist makes his move but just as he does, so does Creative Cause who has been stalking all the way. The horses lock eyes and drive to the wire. Creative Cause hits the wire a neck in front with Gemologist and Bodemeister in a photo finish for second. Hansen hangs on for fourth.

What my head tells me:

There are too many horses that like to run in this race. The pace will be hot early and this will set the table for a horse to come from off the second set of horses who sit just off the leaders. Union Rags and Leparoux will be determined to stay clear of trouble and will stalk the leaders (Hansen, Gemologist, Take Charge Indy). He will overtake them going into the stretch but the sizzling pace will begin to take its toll on the group. This will allow the second wave to make their move. Creative Cause and Dulluhan will move first, coming up alongside Union Rags and the three will appear to be fighting for the wire. Dulluhan will submit and at the last moment, Daddy Knows Best and Went the Day Well will find an extra gear and challenge the leaders. Went the Day Well will drive from the outside and pass a straining, lunging Creative Cause with Daddy Nose Best hitting the wire a length behind in third.

The Play:

Went the Day Well across the board as well as a mixture of exactas: 13 over 8/4, 10 over 13/4

JP FANSHAWE

I won't bore you guys with a "What I Like/What Worries Me" analysis this week, because the Derby's 20-horse field demands, in itself, a change in handicapping approach. What I will do instead is point to the five horses I plan to use in exotics (in conjunction with the all button, incidentally).

My brother and I have had the Derby Future PP's printed out for months now, and it is always a relief to get one's hands on the final set of PP's, even if one has already become somewhat familiar with the horses that made the field.

Allow me to cut to the case: I have belabored the point in a previous post that I think the race will provide a hot pace and, the results of the Kentucky Oaks notwithstanding, I am sticking to that.

Top Selection:

16-El Padrino. I like his connections. I like his post. He has won twice against pace, even though he wasn't as far back in those as I would like when looking at this race. Both of those wins came in routes. His speed numbers coming in have declined in his last two out since the first time Castellano picked up the mount in January. I feel strange taking him over Union Rags coming out of the Florida Derby, but I think he was pointed to this one, not the two preps leading in. In the 16 of the last 19 years, the horse winning the Derby has run a Beyer Speed Figure average in his last 3 races of 98. Only three horses here come close to that number: the 6-Bodemeister, the 8-Creative Cause, and the 16, here. He is well-represented in the numbers. Best in late pace, best in speed figure average, third in total points.

Will Include:

5-Dullahan. It was a close call. I could have flipped a quarter and made this one my key. He has handled pace to win or hit the board in three of his last four races, and I have caught interviews with owner Crawford and trainer Romans that exude an intense confidence. In 11 of the last 19 years, the winning Derby horse entered the race off a best-ever speed figure (which runs coutner to the Beyer bounce theory). Seven horses meet that criteria here, but Dullahan and Gemologist share the highest of those last-out numbers. He has room to jump forward and to hear Romans talk about it, even though two of his three Churchill Downs visits ended off the board, he says Dullahan likes the track.

4-Union Rags. What did I say about that quarter? Can it be three-sided? Not much to dislike about this colt, and from my brother's visceral-handicapping textbook...is there a better name than this one for the side of a Derby glass? He has faced pace and hit the board, but also rated against slow times and done well. Never worse than third, has a placing over the track, and is second in late pace, third in earnings per start. What sticks with me on a repeated viewing of the Florida Derby is Leparoux never went to the whip, ever. Horse was urged, but never asked for all out, and still closed and would have won that race by 5 if another 1/8 had been left.

14Hansen. I see this one as the speed-of-the-speed, and although I can't see him winning, he has done nothing wrong in his career. Never worse than second, and that is even in races that have had blazing fractions that should have compromised him. Granted, some would say he hasn't faced much, but the BRIS numbers don't bear that out, as he is 3rd in this field in Average Class Last Three. Fifth in Tomlinson rating for pedigree. He is tops in early and middle pace, and I figure he could hold on for a piece of the placings.

7-Rousing Sermon. I have often said that when something happens once in a race, it might be luck. But when it happens twice, maybe not. This horse has twice closed from at least 6 lengths back to hit the board. And in nine career races, he has improved position every time. That is the kind of style that suits a race as crazy as this one. Hollendorfer and Lezcano are names every horseplayer knows and respects, and the horse enters off the four solid works. Nowhere in the numbers, but I still like him.

15-Gemologist. I can't overlook a horse that has never tasted defeat in good conscience. He has seen hot pace and prevailed twice, and he is entering the race 3rd off the layoff, at the top of what most trainers recognize as the peak of the form cycle. LIke Dullahan, he comes in off a top speed figure and two solid works point to fit-and-ready. He is tops in BRIS average competitive level.

Fear:

8-Creative Cause. Three solid works, a form cycle that suggest improvement, never worse than third. Third in late pace.

18-Sabercat. Won a race versus a blistering pace, and clockers say he has been training beautifully. The old axiom is that the fittest horse wins the Derby, which makes me wary

13-Went The Day Well. He's never seen pace, and I wouldn't be surprised if he can rate and rally at the end.

6-Bodemeister. Because maybe he is just a freak of nature...

How is that for, well, an uncertain opinion! Hey, it's the Derby! Enjoy your juleps, and GOOD LUCK!!!!!

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