Kentucky Derby Preview and Analysis

Post positions have been drawn for the 135th Kentucky Derby. As I look over this field, I can’t help but feel like this is one of the deepest fields we’ve seen in many years, and then pause to ponder what it could have been without the injuries to Quality Road, The Pamplemousse, Old Fashioned and Midshipman. Wow. Still, there is no clear cut favorite, and there is a handful of horses with a strong shot to make it onto the board or into the superfecta. Having said that, I am almost 100% certain that the winner of this race will be one of four horses. You’ll have to read the whole article (or at least scroll to the bottom) to find out which four, but if you are a big speed figure guy like I am, it should be fairly obvious who three of the four I am talking about are, and the other is more of a mystery horse that has been training impressively and looks like the whole package. To me, two horses tower over this field by any paper measure you can put together. Both of them have their own question marks and reasons to play against, but trends keep falling every year. The other two appear too tough to ignore as well, but I am incredibly confident that one of my four will win the Kentucky Derby.

A quick word on figures: Over the last 25 runnings of the Kentucky Derby, the winning horse has posted a previous-best Beyer over 100 on 23 of those runnings. This is not a coincidence, and that 100 Beyer threshold is a key number in my mind. Admittedly, the switch to synthetic racing (especially at Santa Anita) makes this measure a bit less of a disqualifier, as some horses move up by double digits after they switch to dirt, and it certainly seems that the synthetic speed figures always come in lower. Nevertheless, it helps to eliminate some of the horses that have run only on dirt, and forces careful attention to the synthetic horses as they work on the Churchill dirt. My pick to win last year, Colonel John, was a perfect example of this, and his form reminds me a lot of a certain horse in this field (again, you’ll have to keep reading). Despite the fact that he’d never earned a Beyer higher than the 95 he earned on a synthetic course, I still liked him, as he devoured the dirt at Churchill in his pre-race workouts, and I really felt that he would flourish at ten furlongs based on his strong classic distance pedigree. I expected him to improve by at least ten Beyer points.

The Colonel ran a strong race through an unenviable trip to finish a non-threatening sixth, and I didn’t cash a single ticket (although I did have a Big Brown-Denis of Course exacta that just missed). As a result of this lingering goose egg, my speed figure radar is on high alert this Derby season. Some additional statistics of note in regard to Beyer speed figures:

– The average previous best Beyer of the last 16 Kentucky Derby winning horses is 106.8.

– The average Beyer earned by the winner of the last 16 Kentucky Derbys is 109.0.

– Interestingly, only 6 of the last 16 Kentucky Derby winners have been the horse with the top Beyer in the field: (Big Brown, Street Sense, War Emblem, Fusaichi Pegasus, Charismatic, Lil E Tee). This is noteworthy on two accounts. For one, this seems to indicate that more often than not, the horse with the top Beyer in the field bounces off that effort, while horses above 100  but below the top level seem to improve off their last effort and overtake that horse. Secondly, in years that front-running types have posted surprise wins (War Emblem, Charismatic, Lil E Tee), their Beyer figures told the story beforehand, and the betting public was probably silly to send them off at such long odds with that information right in front of them. Years later, we now can use that hindsight to our own benefit. Like I always say, picking horses isn’t really that hard, you just have to pick the fastest horse in the field. Sometimes, under the right circumstances, these speed figures do all the work for you.

– Over the past 25 years, only four horses have posted two career Beyers over 110 before entering the Derby. They are:

  • Holy Bull in 1994: 115 Florida Derby, 113 Blue Grass. Holy Bull finished way behind in the Kentucky Derby, but went on to win several fall races and was eventually crowned Horse of the Year, and is widely regarded as one of the best racehorses of that decade.
  • Silver Charm in 1997: 110 San Vincente, 110 Santa Anita Derby. Silver Charm won the Kentucky Derby. He then went on the capture the Preakness Stakes two weeks later and the Dubai World Cup the following winter.
  • Indian Charlie in 1998: 112 Allowance, 111 Santa Anita Derby. Indian Charlie finished an impressive third as the favorite in the Kentucky Derby
  • Quality Road in 2009: 113 Fountain of Youth, 111 Florida Derby. Will not run- but it could be valuable to look closely at horses that have run close to him in his races, as he is surely a rare talent based on this statistic, and will be a force if he can make it back for the Preakness.

Here is another very interesting historical trend that I ran across, which I post more for comfort than anything else: seven of the last fourteen Derby winners have come from outside of post #14. That’s just a shocking stat, which I think points more toward the fact that the best horse wins regardless of his post than it does to the outside posts providing an advantage. This is an important differentiation to make, and it was never better exemplified than last year when Big Brown won easily after a six wide trip out of the #20 post.

Lastly, I wanted to talk a bit about pedigree. This becomes especially important in evaluating which horses should have the ability to improve by virtue of running an extra furlong, and which horses will find that task to be too daunting. Aside from looking at a horse’s sire, dam and damsire, which I provide for you below, it is important to look behind the immediate family for stamina influences. Looking at the sire line, I ran across a startling statistic: Horses from the Mr. Prospector line have won 8 of the last 14 Kentucky Derbys! This doesn’t narrow the field down too much since nearly half of the field is of that line, but it still is worth mentioning (includes Dunkirk, Pioneer of the Nile, Chocolate Candy, Desert Party, Papa Clem, Summer Bird, Regal Ransom and Flying Private). Meanwhile, the Bold Ruler line has not produced a Derby winner since Spectacular Bid in 1979. Horses from that line include I Want Revenge, Friesan Fire and General Quarters. Use that information as you will.

As always, I will break down this year’s running of the Kentucky Derby based on the likely pace scenario, and then analyze the pros and cons of each horse before coming to an overall conclusion. It is important to note that in my opinion the injuries to speedsters Quality Road, The Pamplemousse and Old Fashioned greatly change the complexion of this race from a pace perspective, and I actually expect the race to be run under even faster fractions now due to what I like to refer to as “the rabbit factor”. Nothing too crazy though- think :46 and change.

contender-image-default1PACE:

REGAL RANSOM (Distorted Humor- Kelli’s Ransom/ Red Ransom) PP#10, 100-102 Beyer Equivalent, 30-1 Morning Line

Pros: In all likelihood, he will be among the early pacesetters on Derby Day, and he has enough speed to separate himself from the field if no one opts to press the pace. He figures to dart right to the front off the flank of Join in the Dance, who will be on in his inside. His sire line boasts a great deal of distance and surface versatility, and he is also inbred to the Mr. Prospector line. If anything, he should benefit from being able to dictate the pace; although I don’t expect him to get away from this field very easily, he shouldn’t have much trouble being in front by the 6f mark. His workouts at Churchill have been outstanding, as he’s been speedy (:59.2 for 5f) and has handled the track perfectly.

Cons: To date, he hasn’t demonstrated an affinity for distance, and ten furlongs could be asking a lot from this one. The Derby is rarely won wire to wire, although this year does set up as a pace scenario where such a situation is conceivable if he can handle the extra distance. The overseas trip is always a concern, and there isn’t a lot to compare against here besides an abysmal 8th place finish at Santa Anita last year in his only race in the States. He’s also a “young” three-year old, as he won’t really turn three until May 26th, and that could prove a small disadvantage for him compared to the January yearlings.

Conclusion: It is worth mentioning that Godolphin has a long-standing Derby curse. More importantly, they took their sweet time deciding whether to enter this horse who is undeniably a go-t0-the-lead type. His inclusion now raises some questions as to how the race will set up, as Godolphin could conceivably use him to set hot rabbit-like fractions to aid stablemate closer Desert Party’s chances–or simply wire the field himself. If I’m Godolophin, I see this as a win-win situation. However, given that scenario, I like his chances to wire the field even less, and could see him fading way back after leading for the first mile. Even if that doesn’t happen, his likely distance questions lead me to look elsewhere. Also, looking back at horses that have wired the field in this race, they’ve often been among the fastest two or three horses in the field, and I don’t think Regal Ransom fits that bill. He’s likely to be a “wise guy” pick based on his impressive workouts, and he’s a huge overlay at 30-1, but I think I will be wiser to pass.

JOIN IN THE DANCE (Sky Mesa- Dance Darling/ Devil’s Bag ) PP#9, 90 Beyer, 50-1 Morning Line

Pros: He figures to be the main speed in the race, and it’s possible that Pletcher will plan to use him to set a hot pace and serve as a rabbit for Dunkirk. Coming out of the #9 post in the center of the track should put him to the lead quickly.

Cons: I give him virtually no chance to get the distance, but he will be an important part of the way the race plays out depending on how fast he wants to run the first quarter mile. His speed figures put him nowhere near contention, adding further validity to the idea that is he only in this race to strategically aid his stablemate.

Conclusion: I anticipate he’ll be in need to an oxygen tank after the first six furlongs, but his inclusion certainly makes the pace scenario a bit more interesting.

PAPA CLEM (Smart Strike- Miss Houdini/ Belong to Me) PP#7, 101 Beyer, 20-1 Morning Line

Pros: He was impressive in winning a hard fought stretch duel over Old Fashioned in the Arkansas Derby, which proves that he can rate and win, although one would think he’ll shoot for the lead in this one. He finished ahead of likely favorite I Want Revenge on the Pro-Ride track in the Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita, but finished second to Pioneer of the Nile. In the Louisiana Derby, he demonstrated his front-running style and led most of the way over the slop before fading to finish a distant second to Friesan Fire.

Cons: He is going to have to get close to the lead and press the pace to have a chance here, and that could take a lot out of him.  Not much about his pedigree or performances to date indicates that he will benefit from the extra furlong. The 101 Beyer puts him in contention from a historical standpoint,  but there are horses in this race that have posted much faster figures, and he’s a huge bounce candidate after his last effort, which was a career best. Despite winning the Arkansas Derby, two other horses in that race ran the final 3/8 of a mile faster (:37.04, :12.26 final furlong). His last workout at Churchill was not very impressive, as onlookers observed that he looked tired and worn out coming home in a work that was widely regarded as one of the week’s worst.

Conclusion: It is hard to decide how close to the lead he will try to be, as he has shown versatility in his running style, but regardless, I just don’t see him getting the distance. His claim to fame seems to be beating I Want Revenge narrowly at the beginning of this year on a synthetic surface, but I don’t see him holding up against that one on the dirt, not to mention at the longer distance. Probably more disturbing was just how badly he was beaten by Friesan Fire in the Louisiana Derby–and I don’t care if the track was sloppy, that was a romp, plain and simple. And although the Arkansas Derby winner has had some success of late in this race, I feel like that field was very watered down this year, and Old Fashioned was running on three legs down the stretch.

JUST OFF THE PACE:

FRIESAN FIRE (A.P. Indy- Bollinger/ Dehere) PP#6, 104 Beyer, 5-1 Morning Line

Pros: He demonstrated tactical speed in winning the Louisiana Derby in blowout fashion over a sloppy track, but hasn’t raced since, and that was seven weeks ago, although the extra rest will probably serve to his benefit after that effort. The male side of his pedigree indicates that he should relish the distance (AP Indy’s 8.2f average winning distance is tops as a sire currently), although his female side is bred more for speed at shorter distances. His 104 Beyer is bested by only two horses in this field and puts him squarely in the conversation. Trainer Larry Jones has finished second in this race with Hard Spun and Eight Belles in the last two years, both after long layoffs and unorthodox training methods leading up to the race. After the ill-fated Eight Belles gutsy second place finish last year, he seems to be a sentimental pick, as you can’t help rooting for Jones. Sometimes karma matters. On a sloppy track, he figures to move up. His blowout work on Monday (5f in :57.4) was almost identical to Hard Spun’s last workout in 07, and that horse easily could have won that Derby if not for some great jockeying by Calvin Borel on Street Sense.

Cons: Jones has taken his usual strange approach to bringing his horses up to the Derby, which still raises concerns even though it has worked the past two years.. The seven week layoff poses some questions for this horse, but not as many as the fact that he’s never even raced up to nine furlongs before. His win in the Louisiana Derby was an impressive romp in a close-to-the-pace stalking trip, but did he benefit from the sloppy track that day? Also, he is of the Bold Ruler sire line, and no horse from that line has won the Kentucky Derby since Spectacular Bid in 1979. Despite his fast workout time, his gallop out was perplexing as he came to a virtual stop.

Conclusion: As much as I wanted to play against this horse as I simply have so many questions about a horse in this race that has never run 9f, two things changed my mind. First, I remembered that I dismissed Eight Belles last year because of that same issue, and that wound up biting me in the ass big time. Secondly, Monday’s work was just too identical to Hard Spun’s in 07 for me not to take notice, and despite picking the winner correctly that year, Hard Spun destroyed all of my exotics. I’d be foolish to make the same mistake for the third time. I don’t understand the methods Larry Jones uses to get his horses ready for the Derby, but that’s why he’s the horse trainer and I’m the options trader/ amatuer horse analyst. He’s not in my top three because I still think he’ll struggle to get the distance, but if he wins or hits the board, I won’t be crying the blues this time, because he’ll be on several of my tickets. The potential for a wet track makes him even more frightening. (below)

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MUSKET MAN (Yonagusta- Fortuneqsue/ Fortunate Prospect) PP#2 , 98 Beyer, 20-1 Morning Line

Pros: He is coming off a win in the Illinois Derby where he played more of a stalking role, but I expect him to be closer to the pace in this one. He continues to outrun his pedigree, and hasn’t done much wrong so far. He also has a win over General Quarters in the Tampa Bay Derby. The general consensus describing him is that he is a “tank”- big, not super fast, but keeps on going.

Cons: The pedigree/ class concerns here are massive, as it would clearly appear that he won’t be able to get ten furlongs. He has two wins to his credit from out of nowhere, but hasn’t demonstrated blazing speed, as his top Beyer is below the 100 level. This is usually a red flag. The competition he has won against is questionable, although he was flattered by General Quarters’ win in the Blue Grass. His most recent workout was subpar to say the least. He won’t benefit from a tight inside post, where he is likely to get pinned behind the speed horses to his outside.

Conclusion: As heartwarming of a story as this former $15,000 claimer is, I think he is in way over his head here. People love to use the Illinois Derby winner as a trendy pick. Read: This is not War Emblem. This isn’t even Sweetnorthernsaint. If the pedigree concerns don’t make him a toss at this price, then the sub-100 Beyer over the dirt and poor training certainly do, and the combination of the three is too much for me to bear in a field this deep.

FLYING PRIVATE (Fusaichi Pegasus- Beautiful Treasure/ Unbridled), PP#20, 94 Beyer, 50-1 Morning Line

Pros: His connections benefit from the yoda of horse training, D. Wayne Lukas. Performance-wise, he’s still looking for his first graded win and has only hit the board once in his last four starts.

Cons: Is way outclassed here, as four of these horses finished ahead of him on the dirt in the Arkansas Derby. The only horse in this race he’s beaten was West Side Bernie in a second place finish at Turfway over a synthetic track. Starting out of the dreaded #20 post won’t help his already bleak chances. Obviously, this isn’t going to be a repeat of last year, because he’s no Big Brown.

Conclusion: Aside from Lukas, he doesn’t have much going for him. Too many other horses to like here, this is a big pass for me. But crazier things have happened (Read: Giacomo).

STALKERS:

I WANT REVENGE (Stephen Got Even- Meguial/ Roy) PP#13, 113 Beyer, 3-1 Morning Line Favorite

Pros: He has been sensational since switching to dirt. After earning a 113 Beyer in the 9f Gotham and absolutely crushing that field, he came back to win the Wood Memorial after spotting the field six lengths due to a bad start. He’s shown versatility and a will to win, and his top Beyer is the highest in the field. His pedigree is stacked with stamina, with A.P. Indy blood on his paternal side (which means Seattle Slew too) and South American distance blood and a hint of Secretariat on the other. Early losses to Pioneer of the Nile on synthetic tracks may not be relevant for the Derby, as his figures indicate that he is a different horse on dirt. His final 3/8 in the Wood Memorial came in :36.37, which puts him right in contention, and he overcame everything in that race and never even felt the whip. He was certainly flattered by Mr. Fantasy’s recent win in the Withers, as he demolished that one in the Gotham. His last work went off well at Churchill, as he confidently worked 4f in a blazing :47.1.

Cons: As mentioned before, no horse from the Bold Ruler sire line has won a Kentucky Derby since 1979, so he is at somewhat of a historical disadvantage from a pedigree standpoint even though it looks to be among the most dominant in the field on paper. He’s also only beaten one horse in this field, so there remains some class questions despite the impressive styles in which he has been winning. His jockey, 19 year-old Joe Palamo is talented but will be riding in his first Derby, and the rest of his connections (trainer Jeff Mullins most notably) don’t exactly have the cleanest reputation in the business. As the morning line favorite, he obviously provides the least value. He’s also prone to behavior issues, and has been bit of a head case. Moreover, there could be concerns that his last two dominating efforts took their toll on him, although there hasn’t been any evidence of this in his training.

Conclusion: He is clearly a monster on the dirt, and there’s no getting around what he overcame to win the Wood Memorial under very little urging from Palamo. Looking back on that race, the four to six lengths he gave up at the start cost him enough in his final time and speed figure that he’d probably be in Quality Road’s territory figures-wise with a better trip, and his stalking style figures to work better here than that one’s does. Don’t forget that the 113 Beyer he posted in the Gotham is the best figure here. Very dangerous; ignore the healthy favorite with the fastest figure at your own peril. (below)

Wood Memorial Horse Racing

DUNKIRK (Unbridled’s Song- Secret Status/ A.P. Indy) PP #15, 108 Beyer, 4-1 Morning Line

Pros: His move coming around the final turn in the Florida Derby was arguably the most exciting moment of the season so far, and even though he wasn’t able to hang on and overtake Quality Road in that race, he likely gained valuable seasoning from the race. Moves like that are moves that win Derbys. The track was certainly fast that day as three track records went down, and his placement (seven lengths back in the early going) didn’t help his chances any more than his wide trip around the final turn. Still, he came home in :36.69 for the final 3/8 furlong and an astonishing :24.0 for the final 1/4. His pedigree is among the best in the field, as he is bred up and down for stamina, and is of the Mr. Prospector sire line. The 108 Beyer figure that he earned in the Florida Derby is the second fastest in the field, and he seems poised to improve upon that based on his form in workouts. You have to think that his connections are pleased with this post.

Cons: He did not race as a two-year-old. No horse has won the Derby since Apollo in 1882 that did not race as a two-year-old. There are trends and there are big trends. This falls in the latter category, and seasoning is clearly the main concern here, and moreover, poses the bigger question: If Curlin couldn’t do it, can Dunkirk? He also hasn’t placed ahead of a single horse in the field as of yet. Again, seasoning remains a big concern off of only three career races. His final workout was a bit on the slow side (1:01.2), but remember, this one does his running towards the end of the race, and that could set up well for him.

Conclusion: As I look over all of the factors in this race, he seems to benefit from everything from historical trends (Apollo jinx excluded) to the setup of the pace. The only real question here is seasoning since he has only three career starts and none at two years old, but in my opinion all he has to do is run back to his Florida Derby with a better trip and he’ll win this race, and logic says he should only improve off of that effort, as his 108 Beyer isn’t tops in the field but is well above the historical range. To me, the Apollo curse isn’t as big a deal as it might seem, as the statistic itself is flawed; over the past 93 years, only eight horses have even attempted to run in the Kentucky Derby without starting as a two year-old, and all of them were obscure longshots with the exception of Curlin. From the pedigree to the stalking style and the ability to make an explosive move coming home, he has all of the elements I look for in a Derby winner. His long stride should only help over the final furlong, and I keep watching that Florida Derby replay as he gallops out handily beyond Quality Road. The pick. (below)

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PIONEER OF THE NILE (Empire Maker- Star of Goshen/ Lord at War) PP#16 , 96 Beyer, 4-1 Morning Line

Pros: Has been the ultimate professional in winning his first four races, all over synthetic surfaces, and it is clear that he has the heart of a champion and refuses to lose. He’ll try to avenge his sire’s loss in the 2004 Derby, and his sire line (Mr. Prospector-Fappian0-Unbridled-Empire Maker) gives him outstanding stamina. Eclipse Award winning jockey Garrett Gomez chose this mount over Dunkirk, which should speak volumes. He’s worked impressively, although not overly quickly (5f in 1:01, with a strong gallop out), over the dirt at Churchill, but has seemed to prove that the surface switch won’t be an issue. With Bob Baffert on the sidelines, you know he’s in as good of hands as he can be, and he seems to have been the winner of the beauty contest at Churchill this week.

Cons: He hasn’t run an actual race on dirt yet, and his stride seems as though it may be better suited for the turf. To me he is the biggest question mark and wild card in the entire race, as his speed figures in four career races have never topped a 100 Beyer, but, then again, he’s always been on synthetic surfaces (Colonel John anyone?). I didn’t like his eagerness to get to the lead in the Santa Anita Derby; he was very rank and Gomez was physically pulling on the reins to get him into a more settling position. Granted, the colt pulled through with determination, but if he refuses to settle in the Kentucky Derby, he could very well be cooked. Additionally, even though he’s looked pleasing to the eye in his works at Churchill, he hasn’t exactly answered that speed question. Considering Baffert generally works his horses at fast speeds, his workouts were a little perplexing.

Conclusion: I have respect for everything he does, but at the end of the day, I really think he’s going to be slower version of Colonel John. He’s a fine horse, but there is just nothing that jumps out at me that makes me want to back him for the win, especially at these odds. There are just faster and better bred horses in this race on all ends of the spectrum, from the pacesetters, the stalkers and the closers, so regardless of where he chooses to run this race, I just think he’ll have a hard time getting past them at this distance. In case I’m dead wrong, he’ll be on the bottom of a few exotic bets, because I do think he’ll run a strong race and finish in the upper third of the field, and certainly has a better chance to hit the board than many of these horses. He’s just not in my top five, there are too many questions for me with him, not the least of which is the fact that he’s never had real dirt in his face.

GENERAL QUARTERS (Sky Mesa- Ecology/ Unbridled’s Song) PP#12, 102 Beyer, 20-1 Morning Line

Pros: He demonstrated an impressive turn of foot in coming from slightly off the pace in the Blue Grass, covering the final 3/8 in :35.85 over Polytrack, the fastest come home in the field over that distance. His only win on dirt came in February at Tampa Bay, where he beat Musket Man, but that one turned the tables in decisive fashion the next time out, albeit after handing General Quarters a rough trip. His pedigree is the best in the field in the event the track turns up sloppy, and his short stride could gobble up a lot of ground in that event. He’s also the only horse in the field with a victory at Churchill Downs, and his 102 Beyer on polytrack is very respectable.

Cons: He seems to run a lot better on synthetic surfaces than on the dirt, as he was an easily beaten 5th in the Tampa Bay Derby last time out. This leaves questions as to whether he’ll be able to duplicate his closing speed on a new surface. He hasn’t looked like a dirt horse in his workouts at Churchill, although he has been improving steadily. His sire line of Sky Mesa and Pulpit seemed more successful at 9f than at 10f. And honestly, the Blue Grass has been the kiss of death for the winner, especially since Keeneland switched to synthetic. Dominican finished up the track in 2007, and Monba was dead last in 2008.

Conclusion: He seems to fall just above the Musket Man class level, as they’ve split with each other on the dirt, and he’s another low-priced claimer ($20,000) who makes a great story, but is probably in over his head here. He looked good in the Blue Grass and his closing fractions merit a look, but there’s no question that Hold Me Back would have had his number after another furlong. He had a chance to sway me if his form on dirt looked outstanding in his workouts, but that hasn’t been the case. If you like Musket Man, you have to like General Quarters probably a bit better, but it’s pretty easy to put your money against both, and that’s what I’ll be doing.

MINE THAT BIRD (Birdstone- Mining My Own/ Smart Strike), PP#8, 81 Beyer, 50-1 Morning Line

Pros: I can’t really think of any. Finished fourth at Sunland Park last time out, and was twelfth in the BC Juvenile last fall against some of these.

Cons: Really, really seems overmatched here. Observers of his workouts note that he could possibly be “mentally challenged.” He’s the longest shot in the field for good reason. His top Beyer of 81 is abysmal.

Conclusion: The perfect example of Derby Fever, as this horse has no business running against the rest of these. He’s just another body to create a meaningless traffic jam. Reason number 10,000 that the field should be cut down.

ATOMIC RAIN (Smart Strike-Paradise Pond/ Cox’s Ridge) PP#14, 90 Beyer, 50-1 Morning Line

Pros: I don’t see too many here, as he’s a very late addition thanks to some defections. He was fourth in the Wood Memorial and probably would have been second with a better trip.

Cons: He finished off the board in his last two graded attempts, finishing fourth in the Wood Memorial and seventh in the Sam Davis at Tampa Bay. His third place finish in between in a Gulfstream allowance race isn’t getting me too excited.

Conclusion: Simply, there isn’t a lot that stands out here and I don’t see anything to like. Probably in way over his head by every conceivable measure.

CLOSERS

CHOCOLATE CANDY (Candy Ride-Crownette/ Seattle Slew) PP#11 , 95 Beyer, 20-1 Morning Line

Pros: His late-running style could suit him well if the pace is faster than expected. He’s worked well at Churchill and could benefit from the switch to dirt from a pedigree standpoint (damsire is Seattle Slew, enough said). He ran well in a second place finish to Pioneer of the Nile in the Santa Anita Derby, and actually covered the final 3/8 quicker than that one (:36.11). He’s certainly one to watch if things go his way, and should move up on an off-track. His workouts show an improving colt, and he seems speedier on the dirt surface, posting his final 5f work in a confident :59.1. From an appearance standpoint, his coat is blooming beautifully, a sure sign of top fitness.

Cons: The main concern here has been that he is simply not fast enough. The only horse in the past 20 years to win the Derby without previously running over a 100 Beyer got there because of an insane pace meltdown, and that’s unlikely to happen here with much softer pace expectations than that race had. Again, he has yet to run on the dirt, so that statistic doesn’t hold quite as much water as it would for a horse with several dirt starts. He’s also yet to get past Pioneer of the Nile, although I think he’ll like the dirt better.

Conclusion: He seems to have momentum coming into this race and looks to be improving as much as any other horse on the track. I still can’t stop looking at the strong pedigree (there’s that Mr. Prospector sire line again) and his closing figures- he’s probably the strongest pure closer in the field if he gets a good set-up, and I like his chances to show new form on the dirt. The fact that he has been training faster than Pioneer of the Nile helps my separation decision between those two, as I am confident that Chocolate Candy has the better pedigree for this distance. Live for exotics, and an overlay at this price. (below)

chocolatecandy

DESERT PARTY (Street Cry- Sage Cat/ Tabasco Cat) PP#19 , 100-102 Beyer Equivalent, 15-1 Morning Line

Pros: Dubai’s best hope for a Derby win in years comes off a 2nd place finish in the UAE Derby that was better than it looked; Desert Party actually closed admirably to cover the final 3/8 in :36.74 and should gain important fitness from that effort. With stablemate Regal Ransom likely to try to set a hot pace, things could fall into place for this closer. I like his pedigree as well, with influences from the Mr. Prospector line on his sire line and stamina on his dam line as well (any horse with Tabasco Cat influence is going to get a look from me, even though the Cat hasn’t had great success as a dam sire as of yet). His works at Churchill have been visually impressive and quite quick for a horse that seems to have a lot left in the tank (:59.3 for 5f). He actually tried to chase down a horse out for a gallop after his workout had concluded. That makes me think he wants to pass horses, and that’s a good mindset to have!

Cons: There are lots of questions here, such as the overseas trip and the difficulty to compare his speed figures to the rest of the field. Also, top Dubai jockey Frankie Dettori opted to stay across the pond for this one. Why would he do that if he thought he had to chance to win the most famous race in the world? Most concerning is the fact that he starts out of such a wide post, but considering he figures to fall back early, this won’t be as damaging as it would be if he was a speed horse. Still, he’ll have a lot of horses to navigate through from near the back of the pack.

Conclusion: Although a lot of people are jumping on board and he figures to be a bit of a “wise guy horse” Saturday morning, I have a really good feeling about him. He’s flown under the radar but looks to have all of the pieces to pull off the upset here, from the closing style to the pedigree and competitive mentality. He definitely will be in my exotics and outright bets, and he looks like the best chance Godolphin has had to actually win this thing in a long, long time. (below)

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WEST SIDE BERNIE (Bernstein- Time Honored/ Gilded Time) PP#1, 101 Beyer, 30-1 Morning Line

Pros: He closed gamely in his last outing, finishing second at Aqueduct in the Wood Memorial. He earned a 101 Beyer in that effort which merits a look. He likes to come from off the pace, and his final 3/8 in that effort came home in :36.55, which isn’t too shabby.

Cons: He’s been beaten on Polytrack by some of the long shots here (Hold Me Back, Flying Private) and his second place finish in the Wood probably wasn’t as good as it looked given the fact that the winner spotted the field six lengths at the start. He’s prone to hanging late in the race. His pedigree is weak compared to the rest of the field, with some sprinting blood on both sides of his immediate family but some stamina influences further back. This is a big step up for him class-wise, and for a horse that wants to close, it doesn’t get much worse than drawing the #1 post.

Conclusion: All indications are that he would need to move up considerably to be a factor here. I’m not as impressed by his Wood Memorial runner-up performance as some are, and his pedigree has to be bottom three in the field as far as wanting the distance. Not for me.

ADVICE (Chapel Road- Word O’Wisdom/ Hennessy) PP#4, 94 Beyer, 30-1 Morning Line

Pros: He closed stoutly in his last outing to win the Lexington over synthetic and earn his spot here, coming from eighth to first in the final half furlong. This was a large improvement over his previous three starts.

Cons: It’s likely that the Lexington took a lot out of him, and even in that win his speed figures leave a lot to be desired against the rest of these; he’ll have to improve vastly upon that effort to factor here and that will be a tall order off of the short rest. His pedigree doesn’t really stack up either, and he certainly looks like a synthetic specialist.

Conclusion: I’m going to look elsewhere, but if the pace is faster than expected, he could grab a piece of the board if he really steps forward from his last race and takes to the dirt. Still, that’s a few too many “ifs” for me, and looking over his overall resume, there are better off-the-pace horses to play.

NOWHERE TO HIDE (Vindication- Stirring/ Seeking the Gold) PP#18, 90 Beyer, 50-1 Morning Line

Pros: He got into the race somehow after the late defection of Win Willy. Welcome! Not sure what flight to put him in, but I figure he’ll be nowher near the leaders, so if he’s going to make a run, it’s going to have to be a late run.

Cons: A disgraceful entrance, as the horse hasn’t even hit the board in three starts since breaking his maiden. He’s at a great disadvantage to the rest of these as he hasn’t been training to run in this race. A bad move overall to enter. Nothing looks interesting about the pedigree either.

Conclusion: He has to be the best bet to finish last simply based on his lack of conditioning and overall lack of speed. Hopefully they scratch him.

DEEP CLOSERS

HOLD ME BACK (Giant’s Causeway- Restraint/ Unbridled’s Song), PP#5 , 97 Beyer, 15-1 Morning Line

Pros: He looked fantastic closing to finish second in the Blue Grass, covering the final 3/8 in :35.97 and closing ground on the winner in the final furlong. He likes to come from way back, but has so far only been successful on synthetic surfaces, so it will be interesting to see how this attempt on the dirt plays out. He’s been training fairly well at Churchill, and would benefit from a faster than expected early pace.

Cons: Despite having perhaps the best closing numbers in the field, it remains to be seen whether or not he is simply a synthetic specialist, as his only try on the dirt ended dismally with a 5th place finish at Aqueduct last year. His pedigree certainly points to an affinity for turf; while his sire was successful on both surfaces, most of his successful offspring have been turf horses, and the same is true for his dam. Additionally, all of the deep closers could be at a disadvantage this year if the pace is soft, as they may lose more ground early than they can make up.

Conclusion: He’s been among the most impressive training at Churchill, posting an reasonable 5f conditioning move in 1:01.3 in his final work, but also passing the beauty contest with flying colors. All indications seem to be that he will take to the dirt, and is probably the most dangerous of the deep closers, which always merits inclusion in exotics just in case the race turns crazy. I don’t think he’s fast enough to win the race unless we see a much faster pace than anticipated, but he’ll definitely be flying late whatever the case. Should be a good price, use underneath in exotics.

MR. HOT STUFF (Tiznow-Sweet Damsel/ Turkoman ) PP#3, 96 Beyer, 30-1 Morning Line

Pros: Showed a strong late kick in closing to hit the board in the Santa Anita Derby and also closed strongly earlier this year in the Sham. Those were both on synthetic surfaces, and his sire line says he should move up on dirt and love the extra distance.

Cons: This is a big step-up for him from a class perspective, and a lot of things would need to go his way for him to factor here. The main concern here is that he is behind the curve mentally and needs a bit more experience to realize his full potential. He’s a full brother to Colonel John. On second thought, maybe that’s a pro…

Conclusion: This is a colt with a lot of upside, but I don’t think he’s quite fast enough to compete here at this point in his career. He stands a chance to hit the board if the pace completely disintegrates, but I don’t think that is a likely scenario. Still, he will surely be flying down the stretch, and I wouldn’t say hitting the board is unthinkable, just unlikely in a field this classed.

SUMMER BIRD (Birdstone-Hong Kong Squall/ Summer Squall ) PP#17, 95 Beyer, 50-1 Morning Line

Pros: He is certainly bred for distance, although one wonders if this race is actually too short for him. His sire Birdstone stopped Smarty Jones’ quest for the Triple Crown at the wire in the 12f Belmont Stakes in 2004. Summer Bird himself put in an impressive performance in his last outing, flying down the stretch while finishing third in the Arkansas Derby, running the final 3/8 in :36.79, and looking likely to overtake the leaders in another half a furlong. Coming from the Mr. Prospector line, he’s a live longshot to hit the board.

Cons: He likes to give up a lot of lengths early and then make a big late move, but often those types of runners run out of time in softer paced Derby races, which this one could very well be. There are serious class concerns as well with this one, as he hasn’t beaten a single horse in the field and will need a career best effort to factor here. Above all, with no Beyer figure above 95 on the dirt, is he anywhere near fast enough to matter in this race? In his workouts, he has looked far too slow to factor.

Conclusion: To me, just like his sire, he looks to be more of a Belmont horse than a Derby horse. He figures to improve and I like him to close stoutly and finish in the top half of the field, but let’s be honest, he needs a Spanish Chestnut-like pace meltdown to hit the board here and even then there are probably several closers with more pure speed than he has. Keep your eye on him in the Belmont, otherwise, I think this is a lot to ask for him here unless he goes off at over 50-1, in which case I’d still keep my money in the show pool and on the last line of the superfecta as far as this guy goes.

PROJECTED ORDER OF FINISH:

  1. Dunkirk
  2. I Want Revenge
  3. Desert Party
  4. Friesan Fire
  5. Chocolate Candy
  6. Pioneer of the Nile
  7. Hold Me Back
  8. Regal Ransom
  9. General Quarters
  10. Summer Bird
  11. Papa Clem
  12. Mr. Hot Stuff
  13. Musket Man
  14. West Side Bernie
  15. Advice
  16. Flying Private
  17. Atomic Rain
  18. Join in the Dance
  19. Mine That Bird
  20. Nowhere to Hide

HOW TO BET $100 ON THE KENTUCKY DERBY

$2 Exacta Box: Dunkirk, I Want Revenge, Desert Party ($12)

$6 Exacta Box: Dunkirk, I Want Revenge ($12)

$1 Exacta Key: Dunkirk, I Want Revenge, Desert Party/ Freisan Fire, Chocolate Candy, Pioneer of the Nile, Hold Me Back ($12)

$1 Exacta Key: Friesan Fire/ Dunkirk, I Want Revenge, Desert Party, Chocolate Candy ($4)

$10 Win, Place, Show: Dunkirk ($30)

$10 Place, Show:  I Want Revenge ($20)

$10 Show: Desert Party ($10)

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