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Kentucky Derby 141 Preview

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Let's reunite the band, if only for one more day. It's Derby time. Meaning I'll either look brilliant (2008, 2012, 2013, 2014), come up just short (2011), or be comically off (2009, 2010). We shall see. Now to run that race in Louisville that's a big deal for all us...

California Chrome's 2014 Derby triumph.
California Chrome's 2014 Derby triumph.
AP Photo/David J. Phillip

*also on the Card Chronicle site*

Been awhile since I've wrote one of these analyses of a horse race. I used to do this all the time back when And Down The Stretch They Come was active. For what it's worth, I correctly picked the last 3 Derby winners and ran 2nd behind Animal Kingdom in 2011 with Nehro. Which means I'm due to pick a dud, but we'll see. Here's a breakdown of the horses running in this year's Kentucky Derby:

My top 5 picks: 8-19-3-18-6

#1 Ocho Ocho Ocho (Jockey-Elvis Trujillo; Trainer-James Cassidy; Morning Line-50/1)

Positives: He has 3 wins, including a 1 1/16 mile win as a two year old against two other Derby starters. The scratches of El Kabeir and Stanford might make his post position slightly less scary, as the inside 2 posts in a 20 horse field basically stare the inside rail in the face after the first 40-50 yards of the Derby after the break. Also figures to play a factor in the early pace. His sire, Street Sense, won the 2007 Derby as well.

Negatives: 0/2 as a 2 year old against many in this field. That rail post isn't usually the greatest at Churchill Downs unless your jockey is Calvin Borel, either. I'll pass on his chances.

#2 Carpe Diem (Jockey-John Velazquez; Trainer-Todd Pletcher; Morning Line-8/1)

Positives: He's only lost one race, which was last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile. The last four Derbies have been won by winners of their most recent prep race; he won the Blue Grass in a style that would suit him well in the Derby. His trainer won the 2010 Derby and his jockey won the 2011 Derby. His sire, Giant's Causeway, narrowly lost to Tiznow in the 2000 Breeders' Cup Classic on the grounds as well. It also helps that the Oaks winner won Keeneland's prep race in her prior start.

Negatives: No Blue Grass winner has also won the Derby since 1991 when Strike the Gold did it. Then again, the newest iteration of Keeneland's dirt plays similarly in running style to Churchill Downs since it was installed last Fall, and he's 2/2 for there. His value may not be terribly great, either, as it's very possible he could be the third choice in the race when there are 9-12 viable options to win this race.

#3 Materiality (Jockey-Javier Castellano; Trainer-Todd Pletcher; Morning Line-12/1)

Positives: Not that I drink from the chalice of the Beyer speed figure too heavily, but he has the top Beyer in the field. It also helps that he's 3/3 and won impressively in the Florida Derby, a prep that yielded the 2013, 2008, and 2006 winners of the Derby. His dad, in a less bizarre Derby, may have been a Triple Crown winner, as he was a threat to win the 2005 Derby late in the running before winning the Preakness and Belmont after that. Pletcher also trained Super Saver in 2010.

Negatives: There's only been one winner win the Derby without racing at 2. And that was Apollo, when Chester Arthur was president...in 1882. If Curlin and Forego (to be fair, Forego had the misfortune of being born the same year as Secretariat) couldn't win the Derby without a 2 year old start, it's a big ask for Materiality to do so. Also suspicious of what he beat in Florida besides Upstart.

#4 Tencendur (Jockey-Manuel Franco; Trainer-George Weaver; Morning Line-30/1)

Positives: He's finished in the top 5 in every start, which suggests he doesn't get beaten soundly too often. He ran against the bias a bit when he held on for second in the Wood Memorial. Like Funny Cide, he's a New York bred coming off a decent second place finish at Aqueduct. He also has proven he can pass horses if the pace is fast.

Negatives: Still eligible for an entry-level allowance race. Even Mine That Bird had multiple victories under his belt prior to his 2009 Derby upset. Also, his win came in the mud, and the track figures to be playing fast in the Derby this year. Might be over-matched in here.

#5 Danzig Moon (Jockey-Julien Leparoux; Trainer-Mark Casse; Morning Line-30/1)

Positives: He ran a decent second to Carpe Diem in the Blue Grass. Julien Leparoux is among the best, if not the best, jockey yet to win a Derby. He also has experience running at Churchill Downs, something that seemed to help Super Saver and Street Sense in their Derbies.

Negatives: He would have to make up a few lengths on Carpe Diem, let alone the Baffert duo, to catch up with these. The running style and pace may suit him better here, but I need to see him improve before I'll believe it can happen.

#6 Mubtaahij (Jockey-Christophe Soumillon; Trainer-Michael de Kock; Morning Line-20/1)

Positives: He's ran at 1 3/16 miles, just shy of the Derby distance, and won both times. He's been a revelation on the dirt, as he's 4/5 on the main track. He might have the best (certainly the most underrated) trainer in the world at his disposal and he has made the "Derby move" where he can pass horses and accelerate quickly to draw off from the field in a flash. Probably the best UAE Derby entrant to give this a try since Worldly Manner in 1999.

Negatives: No one has shipped from Dubai and made this work, or even hit the board, for that matter. He had a dream set-up in the UAE Derby and received weight from some of his foes since Southern Hemisphere 3 year olds (4 for us in the North) can run as well. Also picks up more weight than some of the others, which is usually rare for a European horse.

#7 El Kabeir scratched with a foot bruise. No Calvin Borel magic unless he picks up the mount on #21.

#8 Dortmund (Jockey-Martin Garcia; Trainer-Bob Baffert; Morning Line-3/1)

Positives: He has yet to lose, and one of those wins happens to be at Churchill Downs. Firing Line's prep win flattered his form. While he has been on the engine as a 3 year old, that may be a byproduct of racing at Santa Anita, a track that favors speed. He passed to win all three races as a 2 year old. Daddy won for fun in the 2008 Derby as well. Bob Baffert won the 1997, 1998, and 2002 Derbies. Unlike his stablemate, he's dug in and won in a close race before, which is why I give him my top pick for the 2015 Derby and will bet him to win if he's 9/2 or better.

Negatives: The San Felipe aside, he's faced small fields in his last few starts. Seeing 18 other runners might be more prone to seeing troubled trips, but all horses have that dilemma in the Derby. Value may also suffer a bit, as he's the likely second choice. At least there aren't trainer entries anymore, as he'd be odds-on then.

#9 Bolo (Jockey-Rafael Bejarano; Trainer-Carla Gaines; Morning Line-30/1)

Positives: If you like Dortmund, Bolo is a must use in exactas and trifectas by default, as he ran third behind Dortmund in his preps this year. Rafael Bejarano ought to know the track well, as he used to ride at Churchill Downs regularly. Might be easier for him to pass in the Derby than at the merry-go-round that Santa Anita can be at times.

Negatives: He's only won twice, and those were grass starts at 2. Carla Gaines is also ice-cold training this year, as she has only won 4% of her starts. Also, Bejarano and Gaines are 0/6 since 2014 when teaming up with horses.

#10 Firing Line (Jockey-Gary Stevens; Trainer-Simon Callaghan; Morning Line-12/1)

Positives: Save his maiden race, where he still ran second after a bad break, he either wins or runs a game second behind Dortmund in his races. Gary Stevens also took down the 1988, 1995 and 1997 Derbies. Line of David won the 2010 Arkansas Derby where he beat Super Saver (before the roles reversed in Louisville that year).

Negatives: If Dortmund is in the race, he can't beat him. And Dortmund is here. I am also wary of betting Sunland Derby horses that run off for fun against softer fields. Mine That Bird at least saw a tougher field and a troubled trip with his jockey before picking up Calvin Borel in the irons for the '09 Derby. Animal Kingdom's also the only horse in the last 50+ years to win with a 6+ week break.

#11 Stanford also has scratched. That's why the #21 will run.

#12 International Star (Jockey-Miguel Mena; Trainer-Michael Maker; Morning Line-20/1)

Positives: He has won all his starts so far this year, something that helped California Chrome and I'll Have Another find the winner's circle in their years. His dad won the 2000 Derby with ease. He's probably the best horse that the Ramseys have owned that could run in the Derby.

Negatives: The horses he beat at Fair Grounds are or would be longshots in here. His race over the grounds as a 2 year old was a bit mediocre, though he did chase El Kabeir all the way around the track, to be fair. He may not have the evidence to run as fast as the favorites yet, although he could do it.

#13 Itsaknockout (Jockey-Luis Saez; Trainer-Todd Pletcher; Morning Line-30/1)

Positives: One of several Todd Pletcher entrants. His dad spoiled Charismatic's Triple Crown bid in 1999. He was 3/3 prior to the Florida Derby, so one bad start isn't a total wash on his chances, per se.

Negatives: The #3 and #19 beat him by the length of the stretch in the Florida Derby. And the third place finisher had him by another 7 lengths. Also, his Fountain of Youth win was aided by a DQ where Upstart bothered him.

#14 Keen Ice (Jockey-Kent Desormeaux; Trainer-Dale Romans; Morning Line-50/1)

Positives: Kent Desormeaux has won 3 Derbies (1998, 2000, 2008). Curlin liked the track, other than on Derby Day, where an inside post hampered his chances and he ran a decent third with a bad trip in 2007. His lone win did come at Churchill Downs.

Negatives: Were this a Derby from the 1990's, he'd certainly be part of the mutuel field because of his poor record. While his win was impressive at Churchill, that's his only win, meaning an undercard allowance race might suit him better. Would have to improve along with a Giacomo-like meltdown of pace to have a realistic chance.

#15 Frosted (Jockey-Joel Rosario; Trainer-Kiaran McLaughlin; Morning Line-15/1)

Positives: Won the Wood Memorial with Joel Rosario aboard. Joel won a prep race (in Florida) to see Orb home in 2013 with a horse with a similar running style. He seems to run better the longer that he runs races.

Negatives: Couldn't shake Upstart in Florida, and would have to do so here to succeed. Has yet to win outside of New York. Might be a bit of a hanger, too, as he has 4 seconds against 2 wins.

#16 War Story (Jockey-Joe Talamo; Trainer-Tom Amoss; Morning Line-50/1)

Positives: Another horse with a Churchill win. Tom Amoss knows the track as well or better than anyone, as he trains there locally. Were it not for International Star, we might be talking about him as a serious contender, as he beat him all three times at Fair Grounds (twice being the only horse to beat him).

Negatives: No wins this year thanks to the #12. Not sure how he'll react to having blinkers off, as he's always worn them until the Derby. Also an old "mutuel field" horse were this the 1990's.

#17 Mr. Z (Jockey-Ramon Vazquez; Trainer-D Wayne Lukas; Morning Line-50/1)

Positives: Has D Wayne Lukas in tow (won the 1988, 1995, 1996, 1999 Derbies) as well as good seasoning with 12 starts. He did break his maiden at Churchill Downs. His breeding suggests that 1 1/4 miles shouldn't be an issue for him.

Negatives: The ignored horse that Zayat owns, he only has 1 win in those 12 starts. Which came in his first start, mind you. 11 race losing streaks usually don't get snapped in the Derby. Also might get burned in the early pace.

#18 American Pharoah (Jockey-Victor Espinoza; Trainer-Bob Baffert; Morning Line Favorite-5/2)

Positives: Has last year's Derby winning jockey and a 3-time Derby winning trainer. Since his first start, he has done no wrong in his 4 wins since then. The Arkansas Derby proved that he can pass a target if he doesn't get the lead. Outside post shouldn't hurt either, as only Upstart figures to be a horse that might press him inside. His dad was second to Mine That Bird in the 2009 Derby.

Negatives: Like Point Given, the 2001 favorite, he has beat up on small fields in his prep races. Seeing 18 neighbors might see him get into trouble. It's also possible that Mr. Z, his other cohort of the Zayat stable, could burn him up in a pace duel along with Ocho Ocho Ocho. Figures to be cheap, as he'll be favored, so betting him to win might not be the handsomest return at the betting window.

#19 Upstart (Jockey-Jose Ortiz; Trainer-Richard Violette; Morning Line-15/1)

Positives: Ran well in all his starts, even in defeat. No shame in his last two losses, as Materiality got to set the pace and he was taken down from first in the start prior to that. A repeat effort of the Florida Derby or Holy Bull would see him run very well, if not win. Capable of making a move on the turn to help him win and should stay clear of trouble in the 18 outpost.

Negatives: He's lost 3 of his last 4, including to several of his rivals. His early speed, while tactical, could leave him very wide on the turns. I need to see him win and run straight before I'll believe it can happen again the way his last two starts were. A hard ran second at Gulfstream might have tired him for this one.

#20 Far Right (Jockey-Mike Smith; Trainer-Ron Moquett; Morning Line-30/1)

Positives: One of a litany of horses with a Churchill win in his past. His Oaklawn races are good enough to stay live in these fields. His Beyer got a little undermarked because American Pharoah romped ahead of him in a second place effort. Mike Smith has closed with a longshot before to win this race (2005-Giacomo).

Negatives: While Mike Smith is an outstanding jockey, picking up Calvin Borel may have helped him a bit more to save ground until he has to pass horses. Smith tends to ride his horses wide, and this could cause a great deal of ground loss, which compromises his kick unless they go insane up front early in here.

#21 Frammento (Jockey-Corey Nakatani; Trainer-Nick Zito; Morning Line-50/1)

Positives: Nick Zito won the 1991 and 1994 Derbies. Considering he tried to close up a dead rail in the Blue Grass, his fourth place finish wasn't horrible. Might clunk up a top four finish behind the winner, as he reminds a bit of Golden Soul.

Negatives: Were the Derby bet like an ordinary race, he'd be about 60-1 or higher to win this race, as he was in the Fountain of Youth. But since it's the Derby and people bet everything and everyone because of Mine That Bird and Giacomo, who were at least closers with top riders, he'll be grossly overbet. A first-level allowance race would seem a much better fit than this. Zito is channeling his inner Lukas in that he's running a horse just to be in the Derby.

#22 Tale of Verve didn't draw into the field since #7's scratch came too late on Friday.