UPDATED: Eskendereya is out of this year's Kentucky Derby due to a injury suffered during training, according to trainer Todd Pletcher.
Sire: Giant's Causeway
Dam: Aldebaran Light (Seattle Slew)
Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Jockey: John Velazquez
Career Record: 6-4-1-0
Graded Earnings (rank): $600,000 (T-5th)
Running Style: Presser
Eskendereya might be a little more versatile than I give him credit for as he came from farther back in his juvenile races at Saratoga and Belmont than he has in his races as a three year old. He was shuffled back early in the Pilgrim at Belmont on October 4th and split horses at the top of the stretch to move to the front. In his debut at Saratoga on the lawn, he found himself four to five lengths behind the leaders on the backstretch and rallied to finish second. He displayed more of a mid-pack style in those two races than he's shown in recent efforts.
As a three year old, Eskendereya has been near the lead in all of his races, including a wire-to-wire score in an Allowance event at Gulfstream in early January. His last two races saw him completely annihilate his competition after stalking opening six furlong fractions of 1:12 and 2 and 1:13 and 3, respectively. Eskendereya will probably find himself a little farther back in the Derby than he has in his last two and if his two year old form is any indication, that shouldn't be a huge problem.
How he got to the Derby: Pretty simple path to the Derby for this colt - he crushed the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth and the Grade 1 Wood Memorial by a combined 18 ¼ lengths, and in the process earned Beyer figs of 106 and 109, easily the highest of this year's contenders.
At the conclusion of his juvenile campaign he attempted to run in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, but it was readily apparent that this colt wanted nothing to do with Santa Anita's synthetic surface ("last start dirt" horses are something like 0-for-forever in the two Breeders' Cups on the synthetic at SA)
What has to happen for him to win: Pace and traffic. The only question mark for this colt is how he will respond if he gets roughed up a bit in the Derby, and that's a legitimate concern considering how the Derby tends to be run year after year. He's likely going to be farther back on Derby day than in any race since he was a two year old and how he'll react to that will determine whether he wins the race.
Eskendereya is a double-top Beyer horse, meaning his last two races have produced speed figures better than any figure earned by any other horse in any race of their career. That's a very, very powerful angle...an angle that I'm going to try to beat on Derby day, but powerful nonetheless.
I have Lookin At Lucky as my favorite at 7/2, with Eskendereya right behind at 4/1.
Churchill Downs odds maker Mike Battaglia stated during the telecast of the Blue Grass Stakes that he would probably make Eskendereya the 2/1 morning line favorite for the Derby following the draw next week. That seems about right for this horse since the purpose of the morning line is to (hopefully) predict how the public will bet this horse and not to assess true odds. Determining "true odds" is our job. I have no doubt that the public is going to pound this horse on Derby day, possibly pushing the odds to the neighborhood of 7/5 or lower by post time.
In terms of this colt's true odds, my gut feeling is that Eskendereya is a just a notch below Lucky right now. 4/1 feels about right. 2/1 odds indicate that the public believes Eskendereya has a 33% chance of winning the race, while 4/1 is a 20% chance. I think 33% is too high given the competitive, and sometimes fluky, nature of this race. 20% (or even 25%, if you think he's better than Lucky) seems like a better representation of his true changes.
By putting Eskendereya at 4/1 on my personal odds line I've pretty much eliminated the possibility that I'm going to place a win wager on this colt (since he won't be near those odds at post time). He will, however, be all over my exotic plays.
Key Race: Grade 1 Wood Memorial (1st)
I suppose the Fountain of Youth could be the key race for this horse, but I think the Wood was the more informative race simply due to the fact that Eskendereya completely validated his performance in the Fountain of Youth by repeating it in this race.
If we have to quibble with this horse and this race, we might think that it was too big of an effort, that a performance this good is better served in the Derby than in the final prep. On the other hand, it's not like he had to work hard to demolish this field, so it's unlikely that he left his "A" game at Aqueduct.