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Kentucky Derby 2014 Preview

The one race that most people bother to bet on that everyone scratches their heads over betting, whether you only bet on Derby Day or you're at it for forever and a day like the writers (myself included) at ADTSTC. Here goes with this one. I have bet/given out the last two Derby winners to win. So this year can't possibly happen, right? We'll see. Now to bet on the horses that run ~2 minutes on that dirt track in Louisville.

# Horse, Jockey (past winners if any), Trainer (past winners if any), Friday Odds (*-favorite)

1 Vicar's In Trouble, Rosie Napravnik, Michael Maker, 21-1

Good:  Won impressively in the Louisiana Derby in his prep race.  Rosie also won the Oaks this year.  It's not inconceivable she could win both of them this year.  It's probably the Ramseys' (the owners) best chance at a Derby winner.

Bad:  Draws the rail, and is speed on the rail, in the Derby.  This trip kind of doomed Oxbow, Lookin At Lucky, and others in the past.  I'm worried a nightmare trip could be in the works for him as well.

Overall:  If you like his chances, more power to you.  Won't talk you out of it.  But I won't be talked into it, either. Having the rail in a 19 horse Derby field means you have to move immediately outside to avoid running into the rail.  Too many negatives for me to bet him to win.

2 Harry's Holiday, Corey Lanerie, Michael Maker, 35-1

Good:  Has a previous win at Churchill Downs, even if it happened in a sprint race.  Corey Lanerie knows Churchill Downs as well as most jockeys not named Calvin Borel in this field.  His dad was one of (if not the) Derby favorite in 2002 when he lost to War Emblem.

Bad:  His race in the Blue Grass was abjectly bad.  He also should have done more than he did in the Spiral.  It's asking a bit much for a horse that ran for $30,000 maiden claimers as a 2 year old to win the Derby.  Stranger things have happened, but his inside post probably doesn't help.

Overall:  It would make a good story if he won, no doubt.  But I don't see it happening for him.

3 Uncle Sigh, Irad Ortiz Jr., Gary Contessa, 22-1

Good:  Apart from his dreadful Wood Memorial trip, he's never ran a bad race with 4 top 2 finishes in his other career starts.  His dad was the 1998 Derby favorite in a losing effort to Real Quiet.  If he can carry is Aqueduct form from New York to Louisville, he could make some noise in the Derby.

Bad:  Appears to be inside speed with several others.  The inclusion of blinkers only suggests he will heighten this urge to test for the lead.  I also worry that another slow break like in his Wood Memorial race could kill his chances.

Overall:  I don't trust him to carry his form outside of Aqueduct.  I prefer horses that have shipped to horses that haven't in a race like the Derby.  I'll pass.

4 Danza, Joe Bravo, Todd Pletcher (2010-Super Saver), 8-1

Good:  He won the Arkansas Derby convincingly.  That's been a key prep in recent runnings of the Derby.  Although Smarty Jones was the last horse to do the double, horses like Curlin and Bodemeister also pop up in past winners' lines that fared well in Triple Crown races.  He made a move that was visually impressive to win at Oaklawn that may serve him well in here.

Bad:  Other than a maiden win, his other efforts didn't suggest anything like his last race.  Though I take Beyer numbers with grains (or silos) of salt, he's likely to bounce after his last effort.

5 California Chrome, Victor Espinoza (2002-War Emblem), Art Sherman, 3-1*

Good:  He's been wonderfully impressive so far this year.  The parallels to I'll Have Another (2012's winner) are striking.  Unlike Goldencents, he has proven that he can pass multiple horses to win a race.  It also helps that his jockey is a past Derby winning rider.  No one has approached his last two races thus far.  He's the one to beat with a clean trip.

Bad:  He hasn't encountered trouble yet this year.  The last time he had a bad break, he lost at Santa Anita in the Golden State Juvenile.  Another bad break could hurt him.  His value won't be great as a favorite, though he likely won't approach odds worse than 3-1 or 7-2.  Point Given looked stronger in 2001 and lost.  Chrome is no cinch, either.

Overall:  He's the best on his past resume of this bunch and my top selection.  However, he's not a standout a la Smarty Jones or Big Brown.  At least not yet.

6 Samraat, Jose Ortiz, Richard Violette, 17-1

Good:  Only one losing effort in his career so far.  That's not bad at all.  He did prove he could pass in the Gotham if he has to do so.  I also like that he's 3/4 going two turns.  That mark matches California Chrome's in routes.  If he can pass, he's dangerous.

Bad:  He also hasn't left the state of New York (similar to Uncle Sigh).  I like shipping experience in Derby horses. He could still win without having been at Louisville for racing things, but he's also vulnerable to a hot pace, as he's never been further back than 4th in a call in his life.

Overall:  I have him in Oaks/Woodford/Derby pick 3's if Wise Dan does his job in the Woodford.  17-1 is a tempting win price on him.  Look at him in the paddock first, though.

7 We Miss Artie, Javier Castellano, Todd Pletcher (2010-Super Saver), 22-1

Good:  Won the same prep that saw Animal Kingdom have nice things in 2011.  Also has 3 wins in route races.  He figures to be running late after the speed fades late in the running.

Bad:  Never won on the dirt.  Markedly better on synthetic tracks (Spiral, Breeders' Futurity both polytrack).  Didn't think much of the Spiral and the way it finished.  Also made same mistake with Animal Kingdom in 2011, but he's proved his dirt form isn't as good.  At least Animal Kingdom had room to improve his first time on dirt.

Overall:  Confused why he is 22-1 when his trainer doesn't really want him here.  Especially since the Ramseys already have Vicar's In Trouble, a proven stakes winner on dirt.  I'm ignoring him, though if he wins, more power to him.

8 General a Rod, Joel Rosario (2013-Orb), Michael Maker, 27-1

Good:  Always seems to be in the money, as he's 5/5 in that regard.  He has also proven that he can pass if he has to do so.  It also doesn't hurt that Joel Rosario gets the mount.

Bad:  I would have liked him to do a bit more in his past few starts.  Is 0/2 in 2 turn races, though Gulfstream sometimes is a love/hate track.  Then again, so is Churchill.

Overall:  He could get there, certainly.  That being said, I'm not sold on the Florida 3 year olds this year.  I'll pass.

9 Vinceremos, Joe Rocco Jr., Todd Pletcher (2010-Super Saver), 38-1

Good:  Has a 4-2-2-0 record on the dirt.  His dad was a well beaten runner-up in the 2009 Derby.  Helps that he has a Derby winning trainer at his disposal.

Bad:  His Blue Grass was awful.  Even Harry's Holiday beat him that day.  I'm not sure he is classy enough to win the Derby.  Hard to predict someone going from last in a prep to first on the first Saturday in May.

Overall:  I'm tossing him out of the picture.  Only reason I'd include him at all is in exactas with 12 and 14 (other Blue Grass horses).

10 Wildcat Red, Luis Saez, Jose Garoffalo, 14-1

Good:  Might inherit a slower pace than you'd think with the defection of Pablo Del Monte.  Did manage to fight back gamely to win the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream.  There are worse speed horses to trust.  Shackleford ran well in gallant defeat in the Florida Derby similarly en route to a 4th place finish in the 2011 Derby before taking that year's Preakness.

Bad:  It's still wire-to-wire things to be trusted in the Derby.  Only War Emblem in recent memory led every step of the race.  Also, he's never left the confines of South Florida, as all 7 of his career starts were at Gulfstream.  Even Orb ran in New York as well as Florida before winning last year's Derby.

Overall:  He'll get calls as a speed horse.  Heck, he might even steal it if they're afraid to go to the lead.  But it's still the Derby.  And speed wasn't great on Oaks Day.  Don't think the script will flip for the Derby.

11 Hoppertunity, Mike Smith (2005-Giacomo), Bob Baffert (2002-War Emblem, 1998-Real Quiet, 1997 Silver Charm), SCRATCHED

12 Dance With Fate, Corey Nakatani, Peter Eurton, 14-1

Good:  Won the Blue Grass impressively.  Dirt efforts are forgivable, since he had a bad break and may not have liked missing out on Lasix in the BC Juvenile last year.  He is a proven passer that has won on 3 different surfaces (Tapeta, Polytrack, Turf).  Multi-talented runners such as Animal Kingdom and Einstein fared well on Churchill dirt trying similar things.  He is one of the better chances at ending the Blue Grass winners' drought of 23 years.

Bad:  He's 0/2 on dirt.  Until his last two starts, he had a history of breaking out of the gate poorly.  Returning to bad habits won't help him, per se, but it won't kill him like it would a horse with more early speed.  Two Step Salsa is also more of a miler type of horse than a 10 furlong type.  Still, could be worse.

Overall:  My longshot play to win this race, as California Chrome will be too short to bet to win.  I think he can genuinely end the Blue Grass winners' losing streak in here.  Would love to see him stay in the $30 range for a win bet.  Have him in Oaks/Derby and Oaks/Woodford/Derby things.

13 Chitu, Martin Garcia, Bob Baffert (2002-War Emblem, 1998-Real Quiet, 1997 Silver Charm), 25-1

Good:  3/4 lifetime record is nothing to sneeze at overall.  I also like that he is working out 6 furlongs at Churchill, as most workouts are usually 4-5 furlongs long.  He overcame trouble once to win at Santa Anita in December.  That is gutsy, something that could serve him well in the Derby.

Bad:  Sunland was extremely kind to speed horses on Sunland Derby day.  I doubt he'll get to sit on an easy lead or pace in here.  Also don't like his foot problems that have been documented.  Still, it's Bob Baffert at 25-1 in the Derby on a horse with a chance.

Overall:  He scares me the most of the horses I didn't use in doubles/pick threes not named California Chrome (and I only excluded Chrome because those bets wouldn't return what a drink will cost on Derby Day at the track).  25-1 is tempting for a win bet.  However, there are others near his post I like better.

14 Medal Count, Robby Albarado, Dale Romans, 17-1

Good:  He also has somewhat forgivable dirt efforts despite being 1/3 on it (the win was an off the turf race at Ellis Park).  Dynaformer sired Barbaro, so lightning could strike twice.  Apart from Dullahan, it's probably Dale Romans' best shot at a Derby winner for some time.

Bad:  It's his third start in a month.  That could tire him out a bit.  Closers concern me with their trips, as it could stop their momentum in the midst of a run.  He's still my third choice in here behind 5 and 12, but there's cause for concern.

Overall:  Again, my third favorite horse in here.  I'd have liked to have seen a bit more from his dirt efforts since that maiden win, but I must use him if Dance With Fate is my value play.  It's a plus that he won't be cooked in a speed duel, either.  He's one of several in pick 3/doubles.

15 Tapiture, Ricardo Santana Jr., Steve Asmussen, 27-1

Good:  Won the Jockey Club at Churchill as a 2 year old; Super Saver also won that en route to a Derby victory.  Has always finished in the top 4 or races, so he's consistent, even when he finds trouble trips.  Benefits from the 14 impost, as he'll have breathing room at the break.

Bad:  Would have liked to have seen a better effort in the Arkansas Derby, as he couldn't even beat Bayern that day. His wins saw him close to the pace.  That could compromise him if the pace is fast in the Derby.

Overall:  He's involved in my pick 3 if Wise Dan wins the Woodford.  Could easily run well tomorrow or run up the track.  Leaning more towards the latter.

16 Intense Holiday, John Velazquez (2011-Animal Kingdom), Todd Pletcher (2010-Super Saver), 13-1

Good:  A proven passer that doesn't mind adversity, as he was one of the few that passed meaningfully (with Commanding Curve) in the Louisiana Derby.  Also helps to have a combo that has a Derby win of their own to boot, even though they weren't partners in crime for their victories.

Bad:  Only has 2 career wins.  Might leave himself too much to do late in the race.  Also a bit over-bet in the early going.  I'd prefer 18-1 or higher odds on him if betting to win.

Overall:  He's also one of many in doubles/pick threes of mine.  Not in my top 4 overall, but certainly not without a shot.

17 Commanding Curve, Shaun Bridgmohan, Dallas Stewart, 25-1

Good:  Has a win at 2 turns at Churchill Downs in his past.  Managed to pass horses in the Louisiana Derby despite the gate-to-wire score of Vicar's In Trouble.  Figures to command a good price on the tote board.

Bad:  Still eligible for entry-level allowance races.  Might need a total meltdown of pace to fire the best.  The scratch of Pablo Del Monte leaves the pace a little in doubt compared to what it would have been.

Overall:  The only outside closer I neglected to use in doubles/pick threes involving Untapable and Wise Dan. Mostly because he's 1/6 with 3 seconds and thirds.  His worst trip was in a 14 horse field.  He sees 5 more in the race in the Derby.  Not a good sign.

18 Candy Boy, Gary Stevens (1988-Winning Colors, 1995-Thunder Gulch, 1997-Silver Charm), John Sadler, 16-1

Good:  Gary Stevens has 3 Derbies to his credit, plus last year's Preakness on Oxbow.  Is a proven passer from California, and seems logical if you like California Chrome to run well.  Has a dirt win to his credit in the Robert Lewis Stakes (Santa Anita).

Bad:  Needs to make up 8-9 lengths on California Chrome.  The wide post might be an impediment if he doesn't save at least some ground early in the race.  Might get over-bet a bit.

Overall:  Used him in doubles/pick threes as well.  Probably my fifth choice in the running.  We'll see...

19 Ride On Curlin, Calvin Borel ('07-Street Sense, '09-Mine That Bird, '10-Super Saver), William Gowan, 12-1

Good:  Has Calvin Borel aboard.  Somehow managed a runner-up effort in the Arkansas Derby with a bad trip.  A similar prep race (only his was more troubled than the one in 2010) saw Super Saver kick home in the Derby.   Figures to run well late.

Bad:  Both wins are in sprints.  Not convinced of form of Arkansas Derby all that much.  Despite the presence of Calvin Borel, he's 0/3 at Churchill Downs (0/2 with Borel on him).  Also, Calvin's presence probably keeps his price 7 or 8 ticks lower than it should be (20-1 is fair on him, 12-1 is a bit of an underlay).

Overall:  Used in pick threes/doubles.  Can easily get there, if for no other reason, because of Calvin.  Wouldn't make him my lone win bet if I had to pick just one of them, though.

20 Wicked Strong, Rajiv Maragh, James Jerkens, 8-1

Good:  Won the Wood Memorial impressively.  His dad almost won the 2007 Derby and would have, but for Street Sense.  His granddad won the 1999 Derby.  Should be able to create his own trip from the extreme outside post position.

Bad:  His two races outside of New York were dreadful, although some of that can be blamed on Gulfstream Park usually not being kind to deep closers.  Also had a history of being bad around the gate (erratic start in Remsen at 2).  Being nearest to the grandstand could cause problems, though he's not as big of a problem child at the gate as Alpha was 2 years ago.

Overall:  Also a pick three/double horse.  He can easily get a piece of this, if not win it.  That being said, it took him 3 losses to get win #2 after his maiden score.  8-1 might be a bit short in a 19 horse field to justify a win bet.  If nearer 10-1 odds, I'll have a go at him to win.  My fourth choice in here; would be second or third choice if I didn't fear him being hung 7-8 wide all the way around the track from the 19 post.

21 Pablo Del Monte, Jeffrey Sanchez, Wesley Ward SCRATCHED

OVERALL:  5-12-14-20-18