This will be like most notes of the past with the good, bad, and overall opinion of the field for this year’s (139th) running of the Kentucky Derby. There is an early scratch of the Spiral Winner, (#1) Black Onyx, due to an ankle chip. Get better soon! Chances of rain are quite strong for Derby Day this year, so look for mud breeding for horses and their past form on sloppy tracks. It doesn’t really change my initial top 5 selections all that much. Now, it is time for the other 19 horses in the field to be looked at for bets and stuff.
(#2) Oxbow, Jockey—Gary Stevens, Trainer—D. Wayne Lukas, Early Odds—25
Past winners: Gary Stevens (’88, ’95, ‘97), D. Wayne Lukas (’88, ’95, ’96, ‘99)
The good: Has a combined 7 wins between jockey and trainer in this race, though none have happened in 14 years for Lukas and 16 years for Stevens, respectively. Two of them happened together. He won’t have as horrible a trip with the 1 post vacant thanks to Black Onyx’s scratch. Awesome Again won the 1998 Stephen Foster and BC Classic at Churchill, and Oxbow has a win of his own at Churchill. It’s pretty much a foregone conclusion he’ll go to the front from the inside post.
The bad: He is speed on the rail, which usually does not bode well in Derbies. Also is untested on wet dirt, though he’s certainly bred to handle it well. If he decides to rate, it ended badly for him in Arkansas his last race. Even with the new points system in place, it appears there’s enough pace to hurt his chances on Saturday.
Overall: Should get some calls early in the race as the pace and will likely falter down the lane. Unless it is an inside speed track tomorrow, I’m leaving him be, great of a story as it would make if Stevens and Lukas won the Derby again.
(#3) Revolutionary, Jockey—Calvin Borel, Trainer—Todd Pletcher, Early Odds—5
Past winners: Calvin Borel (’07, ’09, ‘10), Todd Pletcher (’10)
The good: Has a combined 4 wins between jockey and trainer in this race (including the 2010 Derby together). He has a jockey on board that knows every square inch of real estate of the Churchill Downs dirt. The “Calvin” rail is further inside than the “normal” rail, even. He has won races rating off the pace and coming from far behind with success in both kinds of efforts. His career best Beyer happened on a good (little bit of rain in it) track, a condition he might catch on Derby Day.
The bad: He could be compromised by his inside post, but Calvin had a 4 year stretch where he was 1st/3rd/1st/1st in the Derby from 2007-2010. I also worry about having the pace to run at that normal Derbies offer in the past had more of in the running.
Overall: The benefits outweigh the disadvantages with this horse. I rate his chances the third best of the bunch. Might be overplayed because Borel is his rider, but there are worse things to have as a problem. Super Saver appeared over-bet, too, but he won just fine with a perfect trip that Revolutionary may also have.
(#4) Golden Soul, Jockey—Robby Albarado, Trainer—Dallas Stewart, Early Odds—50
The good: Has run against top competition in his Derby preps at Fair Grounds. He also has local connections with Robby Albarado and Dallas Stewart, who have won big races at Churchill before, though the Derby has yet to be one of them. He should close from the middle of nowhere if the pace is hot, as most Derbies are accustomed to seeing a fast pace.
The bad: He is still eligible for entry-level allowance races. Many of the contenders in her have beaten him regularly. His lone win was in a small field with a slow pace. Calvin Borel rode him in Louisiana only to jump ship to Revolutionary. I would have been a lot more confident in him if Borel stayed here.
Overall: If they still had the mutuel field (basically the worst horses that made up the 14th betting interest back when there were only 14 “numbers” to pick even if there were 20 horses), he’d be in it. Anyone can get a placing in the Derby (see: Mine That Bird, Giacomo as winners; Invisible Ink, Closing Argument as runners-up), so he’s not totally hopeless. But I struggle to see him getting anything in here unless there’s a total meltdown of the pace. Daddy won a Grade 1 on Turf at Keeneland, so trying turf might make sense for him down the road.
(#5) Normandy Invasion, Jockey—Javier Castellano, Trainer—Chad Brown, Early Odds—8
The good: The horses that beat him are among the top choices in the Derby. It would be a redeeming story for the owner, as they owned Eight Belles and Hard Spun, who both ran second in their Derbies. Especially for Eight Belles, as she tragically died in 2008 in the Derby. Other than his nightmare Risen Star trip and his maiden race, he’s been top 2 in his 3 career starts.
The bad: Tends to like running for checks that aren’t the big check, as he’s 5/5 in the top 5 but 1/5 for winning. Reminds me of horses like Nehro and Aptitude that ran 2nd in their Derbies who might improve later on in their career, but don’t like passing the last horse as of yet. He is the wise guy horse so far, as evidenced by his 8-1 odds in Friday betting.
Overall: He could be a major factor, especially on an off track with his breeding. Having Tapit, Pulpit, and Boston Harbor in his bloodlines suggests that he has the breeding to belong in a Derby. But all these horses had troubles in their racing career that hampered their talent to varying degrees, which worries me about his longevity. Not enamored with his chances, but he’s talented enough to do it.
(#6) Mylute, Jockey—Rosie Napravnik, Trainer—Tom Amoss, Early Odds—14
The good: His company lines are pretty good, as the co-favorites in Friday betting are among the horses that have beaten him recently. His daddy ran his career best race on a sloppy track in 2007 when he won the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (Midnight Lute that is). That could help him on Derby Day. He is very adaptable since his win came sitting third off the pace and he came from 11th to finish 2nd in the La. Derby in his last start.
The bad: He has 5 seconds and thirds in 9 starts compared to 2 wins. This reminds me of 2011 runner Mucho Macho Man. They ran well in Fair Grounds preps, and Mucho Macho Man ran 3rd in the 2011 Derby. I think getting a placing might be his ceiling since he’s only won condition races.
Overall: He has hidden wet track breeding that’s to his liking, and it would mark the first female rider to win the Derby (and 2nd to win a Triple Crown race—Julie Krone won the ’93 Belmont on Colonial Affair) should he win. Midnight Lute’s AWD (average winning distance) as a sire is just 6.6 furlongs—the Derby is 10 furlongs. That concerns me a bit. I rate him as probably finishing mid-pack and being a Kings Bishop contender.
(#7) Giant Finish, Jockey—Jose Espinoza, Trainer—Tony Dutrow, Early Odds—44
The good: Stranger horses have won the Derby. The fact I open with that should tell his chances are slim. However, New York dirt form found the winner of the Oaks at a price, so it’s not a total stunner if lightning strikes twice here. Tony’s brother, Rick, won with Big Brown in 2008.
The bad: His wins are against state bred horses in New York. While he has an off-track win, I doubt he stands up to these on back class and numbers. If he couldn’t win the races in my hometown of Florence, I doubt he’ll run well here.
Overall: He appears to be the most overmatched horse in the race. I said that about Mine That Bird before his Derby win, but there are no Calvin Borel magic powers in the favor of Giant Finish this year. He might be the favorite to finish last.
(#8) Goldencents, Jockey—Kevin Krigger, Trainer—Doug O’Neill, Early Odds—5
Past winners: Doug O’Neill (’12)
The good: Everything that involves Rick Pitino (part-owner) has been golden the past month, not least of all his Louisville Cardinals (yay alma mater) winning the 2013 Men’s National Championship in basketball. This horse isn’t half-bad either. He won the prep race that saw I’ll Have Another find success in the Derby from, which helps. There have been 5 horses win 2 Triple Crown races the past 16 years that prepped in the Santa Anita Derby. He also has the trainer of I’ll Have Another. Having the last race out top Beyer (and co-top overall) helps his cause as well. If Kevin Krigger won, he’d be the first African-American to win since Jimmy Winkfield on Alan-A-Dale in 1902.
The bad: Into Mischief, while a 1 1/16 winner in the Hollywood Futurity at 2, has an AWD of 6.9 furlongs for his horses. The damsire (mom’s daddy) is just at an AWD of 6.8 furlongs. Distance limitations could be a factor here, unlike I’ll Have Another—whose daddy, Flower Alley, won the Spiral and Travers in 2005. He’s been first or second at every early call. Plus his price will be underlaid for having O’Neill and Pitino as trainer/part-owner.
Overall: While he still is my pick-to-click, I have reservations about his distance limitations. Java’s War will be my win bet, though Goldencents will be certainly involved in my vertical (exacta/trifecta) and horizontal (double/pick 3/pick 4) wagers. Take this pick with a grain of salt. Maybe a silo of salt if he runs badly. My heart wants him to win for fun, my head suspects he could pull a Sidney’s Candy and run up the track.
(#9) Overanalyze, Jockey—Rafael Bejarano, Trainer—Todd Pletcher, Early Odds—14
Past winners: Todd Pletcher (’10)
The good: He won the Arkansas Derby, albeit with a perfect race setup. Repole Stable is owed some karma for Uncle Mo scratching in 2011 for this race. Having top jockey Rafael Bejarano aboard helps, as he used to ride here regularly in the past. He’s a proven passer with 2 victories at 1 1/8 mile stakes races (Remsen, Ark. Derby). Thunder Gulch also won the ’94 Remsen before his ’95 Derby triumph.
The bad: Like I said, PERFECT trip on Arkansas Derby Day. Also patterns win/loss in his form, and is due to lose the race if that holds. There are other 10-1 or above contenders in here I like more than him in this race. 14-1 is the price floor for me betting this horse in most bets. I’d like to see 20-1 before rating him to win.
Overall: The Arkansas Derby was terribad. I said exactly that the day of the race and haven’t seen much to change my mind just yet. While Oaklawn was slow most of the meet, tough to ignore almost needing 1:52 to finish the Arkansas Derby. Dixie Union is mostly a miler sire.
(#10) Palace Malice, Jockey—Mike Smith, Trainer—Todd Pletcher, Early Odds—26
Past winners: Mike Smith (’05), Todd Pletcher (’10)
The good: Mike Smith just won the 2013 Oaks on a longshot. He also won the 2005 Derby on a longshot that looked more out of it than he has looked lately. Some of Curlin’s best races (2007 BC Classic & Jockey Club Gold Cup) were run on wet dirt. Unlike most in here, his breeding suggests that handling distance won’t be a potential roadblock. Curlin won the BC Classic, Preakness, Dubai World Cup, and Jockey Club Gold Cup all at Classic Distances. Royal Anthem was a 12 furlong turf horse. He’ll have energy to spare in the stretch.
The bad: He has just one win. Like Normandy Invasion, getting a check without getting the biggest check of them all is a problem with him. He did lose on a sloppy track at Gulfstream as an odds-on favorite. He could be a trouble trip candidate with a middle post position.
Overall: There are more positives with him than most, though they lean more towards the 2nd/3rd/4th slots than the winner’s circle. I have to use him to a point since Java’s War is my win bet in here, though in a vacuum, I’d rate him about 7th best of the 19.
(#11) Lines of Battle, Jockey—Ryan Moore, Trainer—Aidan O’Brien, Early Odds—42
The good: He has arguably the biggest name owner and trainer in the world at his disposal. He also won at 1 3/16 miles (1900 meters actually) in his prep race in Dubai. Arch—his grandsire—sired Blame, the lone horse to defeat Zenyatta. He’s also 2/2 on synthetic surfaces and has better dirt breeding than it appears at first glance. This horse should figure to avoid trouble with his decent tactical speed for a Euro horse.
The bad: He hasn’t run on dirt in his life. His worst start was his lone trip in the USA in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. War Front mostly won 7f-8f dirt races in his lifetime, though his sire/damsire AWD is higher than many in here. The traveling from Dubai thing hasn’t really worked since the 1999 running of the UAE Derby, when Worldly Manner threatened for the first 8-9 furlongs of the race before faltering.
Overall: Best owner/trainer on Earth or not, no one has done the UAE/Kentucky Derby double as of yet. I’m going to let him beat me if he wins.
(#12) Itsmyluckyday, Jockey—Elvis Trujillo, Trainer—Eddie Plesa Jr, Early Odds—11
The good: He beat Shanghai Bobby before ‘Bobby was exposed definitively as a 7-8 furlong type. There’s no shame in losing to Orb, as he did last out in the Florida Derby. Lawyer Ron wasn’t all the way there as a 3 year old, but was a champion older male at classic distances later in his career. He is based from Calder, a deeper track that helps horses stay pretty fit. If you like Orb or Goldencents, he makes sense as well.
The bad: Appears to need good trips to run well, which isn’t a guarantee in the Derby. He won in the slop at Calder once, so he can handle wet dirt, though that was a sprint race. Lawyer Ron needed more time to fully reach his potential, and his son might need more of the same.
Overall: He’s usable in exotics, though not near the top of the list for me. I fear he may be best in Florida, as his shipping race at Delta Downs was his career worst. Probably a mid-pack type to me, though he could get there on his best day.
(#13) Falling Sky, Jockey—Luis Saez, Trainer—John Terranova, Early Odds—48
The good: Should show speed, which sometimes helps a bit on sloppy tracks on Derby Day (see: 2004 Derby when daddy ran 2nd to Smarty Jones). Three of the horses that beat him his last two starts later won graded prep races to merit top selections in this year’s Derby. He appeared to be the only horse with a bit of an excuse in the Arkansas Derby. He didn’t get trouble lines, per se, but the rail was horrendous at Oaklawn on Arkansas Derby day.
The bad: He is speed among other speed horses. This could end badly if the pace is fast. Also, his wins are against cheaper types and he might be best at Tampa Bay Downs. The bullet work may have hurt him a bit at Oaklawn; could it sap his energy on Derby Day?
Overall: I’ll box him with 14 & 19, as they have a common prep race. But past that, I may not use him at all because of the pace that could be very quick early on in here.
(#14) Verrazano, Jockey—John Velazquez, Trainer—Todd Pletcher, Early Odds—11
Past winners: John Velazquez (’11), Todd Pletcher (’10)
The good: He hasn’t lost yet, and had to dig to the bottom a bit to win the Wood Memorial. That could sap his energy, but it’s good to know that he won a race where everything didn’t go his way. JV won on Animal Kingdom in a similar post position (AK was 16; Mr. Bridge will be 13) in 2011. I like Java’s War to win, so by extension, he’s someone to consider, too.
The bad: There’s the thing with Apollo being the lone Derby winner to not start at 2…back in 1882. It may have hurt Curlin and Forego, who both won multiple Horse of the Year awards. Bodemeister also lacked 2 year old form. Also, he may look like a faster version of Gemologist in that he’s unbeaten, but not terribly battle tested, either. More Than Ready ran 4th in here in 2000 after having a good 2 year old year and a B-level 3 year old year.
Overall: I like him in the top 3-5 in this race, but worry about the no starts at 2. Even without that, he hasn’t proven he can meaningfully pass (from 6th or further behind) yet. Will use in exactas and maybe to win if he goes off 8-1 or better.
(#15) Charming Kitten, Jockey—Edgar Prado, Trainer—Todd Pletcher, Early Odds—32
Past winners: Edgar Prado (’06), Todd Pletcher (’10)
The good: The Ramseys have been winning lots of races lately. Surprisingly, none of their horses have won the Derby as of yet. His AWD for sire/damsire is in the mid-7s (7-8 furlong range), which is better than many in the field. Edgar Prado also won on Barbaro, another horse that had turf form in his past.
The bad: Barbaro proved he could win on the dirt before this; Charming Kitten has yet to run on the dirt. He hasn’t been a workout king like Animal Kingdom was in 2011 that I’ve noticed. It appears he’s better on grass, as Kitten’s Joy was a grass lover in his career.
Overall: I like him the least of the Pletcher wave of horses. I said that in the Oaks about the eventual winner as well, but at least she had multiple wins on dirt. He doesn’t even have a start on dirt. He could get a piece as a closer, but winning is a stretch here.
(#16) Orb, Jockey—Joel Rosario, Trainer—Claude “Shug” McGaughey, Early Odds—6
The good: Joel Rosario is NBA Jam flames “on fire” hot right now. Joel broke the record for Spring Meet wins at Keeneland and is doing very well at Churchill so far. The part-owners are the owners of Ruffian, the best filly to run the past 30+ years. The trainer trained Easy Goer, the 1989 Belmont winner, and unbeaten mare Personal Ensign. They don’t run horses in here for the free trip—he’s live, as he won the Florida Derby for fun. He’s also bred royally well. Orb will benefit from a fast pace and having a clear trip from the outside. No one is riding better than Mr. Rosario is right now.
The bad: Could take too much money for his value to be worthwhile. I also question what he has beaten in Florida. He’s 1 for 4 outside of Gulfstream and 3/3 there. This concerns me as a shipper, especially one taking action at the window.
Overall: I think he’s among the best if he can ship to Churchill and handle mud as his pedigree suggests that he can. His damsire AWD is very high at 7.8 furlongs. Joel Rosario is riding in the 40-45% range the past week, which is insane for a jockey. Ignore at your own risk, though he’s not my top pick—I will use him in bets for sure. Had Beholder held on in the Oaks, I’d have a double back to him, but that wasn’t to be.
(#17) Will Take Charge, Jockey—Jon Court, Trainer—D. Wayne Lukas, Early Odds—30
Past winners: D. Wayne Lukas (’88, ’95, ’96, ‘99)
The good: Lukas knows how to win the Derby, especially on ignored longshots (see 1995 and 1999, winners my dad found). He’s versatile since he won close to the lead and from off the pace. He should have lots of energy with his extended rest, something Lukas often doesn’t do, since Charismatic won the 1999 Derby off 2 weeks rest.
The bad: He has been off since March 16th. That’s A LONG TIME, even for today’s resting standards. Despite being bred well for wet dirt, he ran up the track in the Southwest in the slop. I worry that he may need a race after having been off for 7 weeks.
Overall: While he could get there and surprise people because the Derby is weird, not running in 7 weeks is puzzling. I don’t think that he’ll be the one winning Roses on Saturday. If he does, good story for the people involved.
(#18) Frac Daddy, Jockey—Victor Lebron, Trainer—Ken McPeek, Early Odds—15
The good: His losses came to many of the favorites in here, so he’s not losing to bad horses. His breeding is pretty good, as Scat Daddy, Johannesburg, and Skip Away are all grade 1 winners in his family. He also boasts a win at Churchill Downs, which helped Street Sense and Super Saver get first in their Derbies.
The bad: I thought it was a typo that he’s 15-1 in early betting. He only has 1 win and 3 seconds, which means he may not like passing horses very much. Horses in his family also have a history of running terribly in the Derby and at Churchill Downs, which doesn’t help much, either.
Overall: Weirder horses have gotten there. Victor Lebron is a local rider, and it’d be cool to see him win, but I doubt it will happen on Frac Daddy. If I have doubts about Orb, I certainly do about this guy.
(#19) Java’s War, Jockey—Julien Leparoux, Trainer—Ken McPeek, Early Odds—27
The good: He won the Blue Grass despite trouble of a different order in that race. Closing from last at Keeneland at 1 1/8 miles isn’t easy to do. He pulled off the feat quite well. Julien Leparoux has won pretty much most big races in his career save for Triple Crown races. He is as live as anyone to accomplish that in recent memory. I usually dislike Blue Grass winners on Derby Day, but he could get the job done. Also, War Pass ran out of his mind in the 2007 BC Juvenile in the slop; it’ll be a wet dirt tomorrow barring the weathermen being dead wrong.
The bad: His Churchill dirt start was bad; as he was 6th and even Frac Daddy beat him that day. Julien is infamous for having slow starters in Derbies (Dialed In, Union Rags) in recent memory. War Pass, while he loved mud, didn’t fire as well as a 3 year old as he did at 2. Verrazano beat him pretty soundly at Tampa Bay, although that bias didn’t favor Java’s War that day. No Blue Grass winner has won the Derby since Strike the Gold in 1991.
Overall: He’s my win bet and my 2nd choice overall behind Goldencents. So obviously, I like him. If only one of the horses that didn’t look lost had won the Oaks, I’d be in good shape to not have to bet him to win. But if he stays in the 27-1 range and fires as he did in the Blue Grass, he may go all Thunder Gulch on the field and have people asking “why was he that big of a price” at race’s end.
(#20) Vyjack, Jockey—Garrett Gomez, Trainer—Rudy Rodriguez, Early Odds—42
The good: Garrett Gomez won the Belmont on Rags to Riches beating Curlin in 2007. And Rudy Rodriguez hasn’t been a slouch as a trainer. He gets the Big Brown saddle number of #20 that boded well for him that day back in 2008. He came from 10th to win the Gotham with a wide trip. He’ll be wide in the Derby unless he makes the lead.
The bad: His Wood Memorial was a flat third place finish. While I like wide posts in the Derby, this is a bit of an extreme. He may have distance limits, as his sire is the same as Goldencents’ sire. Stravinsky was a turf sprinter, too, which also raises questions. Then again, Harlan’s Holiday was betting favorite in the 2002 Derby. Who knows?
Overall: He doesn’t lay over the field or have a solid grade 1 win like Big Brown and/or I’ll Have Another did from wide posts. This scares me away from him, even at 42-1 odds early in the betting. He could shock a la Princess of Sylmar, especially coming from New York with multiple victories and a better than it looked prep defeat. But I won’t count on it, even at these odds.
My super-high-five wheel: 3,8,19/3,8,19/3,14,16,19/3,14,16,19/3,14,16,19
My top ten: 8-19-3-14-16-5-10-6-12-9