Don’t be turned off by prep non-winners. 3 year olds can show dramatic improvement from week to week, and those who came up short a month ago might be ready to turn the corner. Don’t ignore the dam when looking at bloodlines. Horses out of successful mares tend to do better in the Derby, regardless of Sire. And of course, if the rain holds up, look to see who’s mudda was a mudda. Don’t give a whole lot of merit to post positions, as a quality horse is a quality horse from anywhere on the track. Getting a clean and comfortable trip is more important than where you start from.
1. Sedgefield–Let’s see, a horse who’s yet to race on the dirt gets his first stab at it in the Kentucky Derby…and from the dreaded 1 hole. In short, anything decent here would be a surprise. He has shown consistency, and Leparoux is as good as they come, your average graded turf race, this is not. Good luck.
2. Curlin–Let’s just say Woo blindly picked a good one here in the morning line favorite. This horse has all the makings of a proverbial super-horse (picture him flying through the air in a cape), but will be racing against history here. He’s a perfect 3 for 3 this year, and hasn’t even been sniffed–he’s won his 3 races by a combined 28 lengths. The only problem: those are his only 3 career starts, and as we all know, it’s been 120 years since a horse won the Derby without racing as a 2 year old. As of now, Curlin is an enigma; dominating, but green. How he’ll handle the swarm of 150k drunkards, unyielding competition, and 18 horses to his right remains a mystery. Maybe he is a once-in-a-generationer, but I’ll have to wait one.
Note: Curlin is named after the great grandfather of co-owner and Lexington attorney Shirley Allen Cunningham–who if you’ll remember was the Heavy Hitter before Daryl Isaacs even had warning track power.
3. Zanjero–This one intrigues me. At 30-1, my guess is he’ll get some decent play in a lot of exotics and come down a bit. In my opinion, this colt has yet to show us his best stuff, and his steady improvement throughout the year coupled with his solid works over the Churchill track tell me he may be ready to fire a gem. The added distance shouldn’t be much of an issue, and if the pace gets hot, this stretch runner just might drop a bomb. Don’t leave him off too many tickets.
4. Storm in May–It’s hard to put much merit on his 2nd in the Arkansas Derby, seeing as how Curlin was 10 ½ lengths ahead of him. He does have some quickness, but looks to be in over his head here. To add to the uncertainty, he’s blind in his right eye. That’s right, blind, just like in the movies. Gotta love it.
5. Imawildandcrazyguy–Purchased for a mere $17,000 as a yearling, it’s a surprise that he’s been this successful. He appeared to be knocking on the door early this year with a solid effort in the Risen Star, but has taken a step back in his last two starts. I’ll give him some slack for the 6th place in the Florida Derby, as he was almost went to his knees at the start. But there are too many other good prices out there attached to much better horses.
6. Cowtown Cat–I’m hearing from a lot of horsemen that this colt could be a surprise. You can’t knock his pedigree, and you certainly can’t knock his resume. One of five horses from the Pletcher supercenter, the Illinois Derby champ might also have his best effort ahead of him. If he can survive the break and get a clean avenue to the front, he could be tough.
7. Street Sense–You really couldn’t script this colt’s ascent to the Derby any better. He routed fellow rivals in the BC Juvenile as a 2 year old at this very track, took the Tampa Bay Derby in his first start of the year, and was barely nudged at the wire in the Bluegrass last month. His workouts have been flawless, as has his condition. With all his accomplishments, I believe he’s yet to be asked for his all, and his all just might bury this field. Assuming he gets a clean ride, he’ll be the one to beat.
Note: Trainer Carl Nafzger returns to the Derby for the first time since 1990, where he saddled the victor, Unbridled. Also, facing long historical odds, as no Juvenile champ has ever won the Roses.
8. Hard Spun–Disposing 5 furlongs in 57:60 as he did last week at Churchill is freakish; but was it too much? This is another mystery horse–consistently dominant, but against lesser competition. His romp in The Lane’s End on the Poly at Turfway was convincing, but trainer Larry Jones decided to buck tradition and hold his horse out for the remainder of the prep season. As peculiar as Jones’s tactics may be, he knows his horses, and is very confident in his colt. That alone makes him hard to rule out, but he’ll have to prove that he belongs.
9. Liquidity–This West Coaster trained by Doug O’Neil is often overlooked in favor of his stable mate, Great Hunter. With odds of 30-1, it’s likely that this trend will continue on Saturday. I’m not saying he’s got what it takes to win, but don’t be surprised to see this Tiznow colt in the thick of things. He’s got some good early speed, and if he can keep up with Trueflesburg in a fairly moderate pace, he could hit the board. His works show he’s in peak form and ready to improve off his 4th place in the Santa Anita Derby. Worth a look.
10. Tueflesburg–Was fortunate in the Blue Grass to be unchallenged for the lead, setting a crawling pace and leaving enough in the tank for a strong 4th place. He’ll be gunning for the lead, so a clean break is essential. The added distance might prove too much, and with Curlin, Stormello, Cowtown Cat, and Liquidity likely to challenge for the lead, he’s not going to have the pleasure of a :50 opening quarter.
Note: If you want a Rudy story, here it is. He was purchased for a mere $9,000 as a yearling. Nice return.
11. Bwana Bull–Was giving Great Hunter a run for the West Coast title before a disappointing 5th in the Santa Anita Derby. Anything stellar tomorrow would be a surprise, as he looks more overachiever than champion.
12. Nobizlikeshobiz–Trainer Barclay Tagg is the quintessential horseman: peculiar, conservative, methodical, and reserved; the guy also happens to be damn good at what he does, and as we saw with Funny Cide in 2003, puts his horses in winnable situations. The winner of the Wood Memorial, this colt is the definition of consistency, having never fared worse than 3rd in 6 career starts. His tendency to lose focus seemed rectified by the addition of blinkers in the Wood, and he has a pretty good position here to get out and stalk the pace. The only real knock is he hasn’t sown blazing speed en route to his past wins, but his workout show me he’s capable of a spurt. Factor him in.
13. Sam P.–This appears to be a stretch…solid 2 year old campaign, but has yet to find the winner’s circle at 3. It’s difficult to envision a Derby champ with a 2 and 8 lifetime record.
14. Scat Daddy–Florida champ has done everything asked of him this year, winning his two major preps in the sunshine state. Has never run a bad race in his life, and Pletcher has been aiming him here since day 1. Still, Street Sense beat him by some 15 lengths at this track last year. I think he’s definitely got the stuff to win, but he’ll need a perfect trip. I like him if the price is right.
15. Tiago–Much like his half-brother Giacomo, the added distance shouldn’t affect this stretch running longshot winner of the Santa Anita Derby. A hot pace would play right into his hooves, and out of all the stretch bombers, he might have the strongest kick. He’s very green, however, and has never raced outside of SA. If he gets a fast pace, and an alley, it could be dÃ©jÃ vu from 2005.
Note: Owned by Jerry Moss, who also owns A&M records, and is named for the son of Brazilian singing sensation (or so I’m told) Sergio Mendes. If you’ll remember, Giacomo was named in honor of Sting’s son. Precious.
16. Circular Quay–A lot to like with this improving colt and Louisiana Derby champ. Ran second to Street Sense on this track in the BC last year. Will be coming off a fairly long layoff, which normally could be a positive, but in a 20 horse field, maybe too much to ask. Not sure if he can rate at 1 ¼.
17. Stormello–Jockey Kent Desormeaux is a Derby vet, so it surprised me when he all but predicted a victory earlier this week. Nice colt, yes, but he getting the lead from the 17 post will require a lot of early horse. I think he has the stamina, as evidenced as his sizzling 2nd place effort and 112 Beyer in the Fountain of Youth attested, but I’m wary of a speed duel. Everything has to go right.
18. Any Given Saturday–Easily the best name, so that’s worth at least a $5 bet. Much like Stormello, his post position doesn’t favor his front running style, and these two could cancel each other out early. Was nosed out by Street Sense in the Tampa Derby, but earned a sexy 114 Beyer fig for his effort. Some might be turned off by his 3rd place in the Wood, but he was wide on both turns and lost some ground. Impeccable bloodline, and winning connections (Pletcher-Gomez has been on fire of late), and barring a torrid opening quarter, could be a serious factor. Very attractive, especially with a good price. This just might be that Saturday.
19. Dominican–This gelding had to have the Blue Grass Stakes to get in, and came through with an impressive late spurt to nip Street Sense at the line. However, the tortoise pace might have been his saving grace, and he’s shown spotty success when not on the cushion. His bullet work at Chruchill shows that he may be peaking at the right time, and could be poised for another dynamite effort. Bejarano is a master, and should never be written off. Can’t ignore his recent form, and his extreme outside post shouldn’t pose too much of a problem.
Note: calls Springfield, Ky home, owned by the Hamilton family. He’s named after the Saints, and not the Country, so divine intervention may be in store.
20. Great Hunter–The West Coast champ disappointed in the Blue Grass where he was knocked around in the stretch. The post position looks ominous, but it might not be a problem if he can seamlessly position himself off the pace early, and not get caught too wide in the first turn. If he has sitting with a full tank in the turn for home, look out. By far the best bargain at 15-1, and it might not come down too far if bettors are turned off by the post position. Very capable.
My Picks: 1. Street Sense
Should have picked:
1. Any Given Saturday