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2010 Kentucky Derby Contenders: Rule

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Trainer Todd Pletcher has dominated this spring's Kentucky Derby prep races by winning seven events, including the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis with Rule. (Photo by David Turnley/Getty Images)
Trainer Todd Pletcher has dominated this spring's Kentucky Derby prep races by winning seven events, including the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis with Rule. (Photo by David Turnley/Getty Images)

Rule

Rule

Sire: Roman Ruler
Dam: Rockcide (Personal Flag)
Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Jockey: Open (John Velazquez rode rule in all but one of his starts but will almost certainly ride Eskendereya in the Derby)

Career Record: 7-4-1-2
Graded Earnings (rank): $645,000 (#3)

Running Style: Early Speed

Rule's won four races in his career and every single one of them saw him leading every step of the way.  Three times in his career this colt did not have the lead after a half mile and lost each one.

Prior to the running of the Grade 1 Florida Derby, trainer Todd Pletcher was quoted as saying that he didn't believe that Rule needed to have the lead in order to win and that his colt could be rated.  With all due respect to Todd Pletcher, no trainer ever says that their horse can't do something.  "Can your horse handle the dirt?"  Yes.  "Can your horse handle the turf?" Yes.  "Can your horse rate?" Yes.  "Can your horse handle the distance?"  Yes.  In the history of horse racing has there ever been a trainer that answered "no" to those questions before a race?

There are times when you can pick up on things a trainer says that give an indication as to whether their horse is ready for a big effort (or a lack of one), but a trainer telling you whether the horse can do "A" is generally not one of them.  If a usually quiet trainer really talks up his horse, that tells me something.  If a usually brash trainer seems skeptical, that might be a clue.  But when asked if a horse can do something that he's never done in his career, the trainer will likely find out when the gates open...just like the rest of us 

I have no doubt that Todd Pletcher believes that Rule can rate and win.  The problem for the betting public is that we've never, ever seen this colt win a race in that manner.  And at some point we have to accept this colt for what he is, and that's a speed horse.  Now, in the past, Pletcher has been successful at transforming early speed horses into ones that will rate.  His work with Lawyer Ron several years ago was exceptional.  However, I would be very surprised if Rule will do anything different in the Derby than what he has done in all of his lifetime starts.

How he got to the Derby: Rule put himself squarely in the Derby picture when he won the $750,000 Grade 3 Delta Jackpot at Delta Downs on December 4th during his two year old campaign.  That race alone gave Rule $450,000 in graded earnings, which was plenty of cash to get him to Louisville.

Rule made his three year old debut by scoring a wire-to-wire win in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs over Schoolyard Dreams and Uptowncharlybrown.  He followed that up with a start in the Grade 1 Florida Derby where he dueled on the front end and finished third by a length.

What has to happen for him to win: If Rule is going to win the Kentucky Derby, and if he's going to win it like he's won all of the other races in his career, he's going to need to get up on the lead and slow the field down.  Way down.  And with all the other speed in this race, I don't foresee any horse getting an easy lead.

If Rule can't get an easy lead, then he's going to have to learn how to rate and pass another horse in the stretch.  It's a tall task to not only run the longest race of his career while carrying the most weight he's ever carried, but also to ask him to do it in a completely different running style than all of his prior races.

In the last twenty years there have been only two editions of the Kentucky Derby where the pacesetter went 1:12 or slower for six furlongs.  I'd be shocked if the 2010 Derby was number three.

It's not an impossible task for Rule, but it looks like an improbable one.

Odds: 30/1

I've pegged the majority of the speed horses at around 30/1 to 50/1 on my line, depending on how I viewed the strength of their prep races.  I think Rule is one of the better speed types in here, but the presence of all these "need-to-lead" colts makes a front end victory seem awfully unlikely. 

The question might be asked, "if you don't think any of the speed has a shot, shouldn't they be 99/1 or more?"  My feeling is that the top speed horses all have a chance (albeit a slim chance) to freak on Derby day and wire the field.  I don't like to give horses too little of a chance because I think it skews how I look at a race. 

Key Race: Grade 1 Florida Derby (3rd)

Some may believe that Rule's victory in the Sam F. Davis was the key race of his prep season, but I think the Florida Derby was much more telling.  Rule was pressed the entire way around the track by long shot Pulsion.  He held on for third, losing by only a length, which I think was a very gutty effort.  At the same time, this colt looked done to me at the top of the lane and I was more disappointed that the top two didn't get by him quicker during the stretch drive. 

I'll give Rule credit for holding on to the third spot after doing all the dirty work on the front end, but that's about as far as I'm willing to go.  I'm not too concerned with Rule's pedigree but I am concerned with his running style, and the Florida Derby is Exhibit A as to why.