KENTUCKY DERBY PICKS AND ANALYSIS

I can’t remember a year where I have been less certain about my Derby pick than I have been this year. For much of the spring prep races, it has seemed to be even more wide open then usual, without a horse really stepping to the forefront and providing a “wow” factor. This is not to say that this crop of three year olds is weak, although it very well might be (only three colts have run a 100+ Beyer Speed Figure in a race beyond 8 furlongs, which would have been unfathomable even five years ago), but just that the race appears even more wide open and difficult to handicap than usual.

The first step is always to determine the likely pace scenario once the post positions are drawn. This year, a large point of contention among the experts is that the 2013 edition of the Kentucky Derby will feature a less grueling pace than what we typically see, which will therefore be advantageous to the horses closer to the lead. I do not share this view; I believe that any race with 20 horses entered will have a faster pace than expected. That was the case last year, even with fast fractions anticipated, and it will be the case again this year, with speedy contenders like Goldencents and Falling Sky fully capable of taking the field through an opening half of around 46.5 seconds. A pace that lively could lead to a meltdown up front and set up for horses that sit just off the pace or for stalkers, as this race usually does. Horses coming from further back, the closers, often find themselves in traffic trouble and need some racing luck, but are always dangerous as the added distance takes it toll on the majority of the young field. None of these horses have ever run 10 furlongs before.

So, I have broken the field of 20 into four categories based on running style: Pace, Just off the Pace, Stalkers, and Closers. You’ll see the horse’s post position and Morning Line odds after the pedigree information I’ve provided in this format: (Sire- Dam/ Damsire) Also worthy of note is the Tomlinson Distance Rating, a formula that attempts to quantify a horse’s ability at a given distance based on its breeding (this has been a useful stat, as the past three Derby winners have owned either the highest or second highest Tomlinson Figure). Finally, I’ve included each horse’s best Beyer Speed Figure for the 2013 campaign for races beyond 8f.

Without further adieu, here are my reasons to like and dislike every horse in the field, along with my final conclusion in terms of betting strategy. I can’t ever remember a year where every horse, even the best ones, had as many cons as they had pros, but that is where we find ourselves as we close in on the first Saturday in May. To further complicate matters, there is a 90% chance of rain in the forecast, so if you’re looking for longshots, pay attention to the mudders. Happy picking to all.

PACE

Verrazano  (More Than Ready- Enchanted Rock/ Giant’s Causeway) PP #14, 4-1 Morning Line, 301 Tomlinson Distance Figure, 101 Beyer

Pros: Undefeated in four career starts, Verrazano is a deserving second choice and may well go off as the betting favorite. He has posted two Beyer figures above 100, one of only two horses in the field to lay that claim, and also holds the field high figure of 105, albeit at a shorter distance of 8f. He benefited from a slow pace and an ideal trip in the Wood Memorial, but was able to hold off closing challengers and seemed to have plenty of gas in the tank, coming home in :12.55 for his final 1/8 and in :36.43 for the final 3/8 after getting away with murder on the front end (:49.62 opening half mile and 1:13.74 through 3/4). He is one of the most visually spectacular colts in the field, and seems to be improving with each race. It is fair to wonder whether we have seen his best yet, as he appeared to win both of his last two races, the Tampa Bay Derby and the Wood Memorial, without much urging. His tactical speed will keep him close to the leaders, and while his kick hasn’t been explosive, it appears he is more than capable of carrying his high cruising speed over a distance of ground. His draw couldn’t have gone more perfectly, as he sits outside the speed and can track outside of it to time his move.

Cons: There remains some concern about his ability to handle the longer distance of the Derby. Those fears were eased a bit after his front-running win at 9f, but his inability to dominate that field (less than a length separated him from the 2nd and 3rd place horses, Normandy Invasion and Vyjack) after such an ideal trip and soft pace setup raises some valid questions. While the slow opening fractions lend some credence to the relatively low Beyer speed figure of 95 he earned there, it bears mention that his figures have been in decline since the 105 he posted at Gulfstream in his allowance victory (101 in the Tampa Bay Derby win in between), and that distances have increased over those three races as well. Coincidence? From a pedigree standpoint, sire More Than Ready did finish 4th in the 2000 Kentucky Derby, but was more successful as a sprinter. Most of the stamina influences will have to come from the bottom side of the pedigree, and coming out of a Giant’s Causeway mare could stretch his sire’s speed a bit. However, the average winning distance of horses on the More Than Ready/ Giant’s Causeway cross is a mere 6.36 furlongs, and among the shortest of any horse in the field. Notably, he was unraced as a 2 year old, and therefore has the dreaded Apollo curse to contend with just as Bodemeister did that last year (but nearly overcame). No horse has won the Derby unraced as a 2 year old since 1881.

Conclusion: There are two completely different schools of thought here in terms of his Wood Memorial victory. On the one hand, his come home times look impressive on paper, but given the easy lead he was able to carve out, they should have been. However, he didn’t need to demolish that field and didn’t appear slightly winded after the win, suggesting that he likely gained fitness out of the race while remaining fresh and ready for a peak effort. Alternatively, one could argue that it is a serious red flag that he was unable to put away his rivals down the stretch as he should have had plenty of run after walking on the lead; Normandy Invasion was actually gaining on him late and galloped out past him. When faced with opening fractions that will likely be closer to :46 than :49 in the Derby, it is still going to be a bit of a guessing game to see how he handles it and whether he has any kick left for the stretch run. Still, as the only undefeated colt in the field, it would be tough to leave him off the top line altogether, and his Tomlinson Distance Figure is high enough to suggest that he’ll get the distance with no trouble. Probably the easiest place bet of the day based on his talent alone. (Pictured below).

verrazano-300x212

Oxbow  (Awesome Again- Tizamazing/ Cee’s Tizzy), PP #2, 30-1 Morning Line, 336 Tomlinson Distance, 95 Beyer

Pros: His well-planned, spaced out campaign has given him a seasoning advantage over this field that should have provided him with a good amount of bottom, as he is one of only three horses to run four times this year. That, combined with what is probably my favorite pedigree in the field, boasting the second highest Tomlinson here, could be a dangerous combination in this race. Sired by Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Awesome again, he is out of a Cee’s Tizzy mare that is a full sister to dual Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Tiznow. His overall pedigree is remarkably similar to Grade I winner Paynter, both being sired by Awesome Again, and Paynter being out of another full sister to Tiznow (Tizso). He’s had excuses in nearly all of his races, running wide and covering extra ground, and had posted three ascending Beyers before bouncing hard in the last. With rain expected Saturday, it’s worth mentioning that his Tomlinson Wet Track Rating is the highest in the field (424).

Cons: I was hoping he could show me something in his most recent start, but his run when 5th in a weak edition of the Arkansas Derby was too bad to be real. The 80 Beyer he earned there was a catastrophic bounce for him after previously posting three ascending speed figures. He seemed to lack the turn of foot and killer instinct it takes to be successful at this level and appeared to be more of a grinder that has trouble finding the second gear that his pedigree suggests he should possess. He likes to run near the lead, but was caught easily in the stretch of the 8.5f Rebel by Will Take Charge. He ran that race wide and had his excuses, but after his poor showing in Arkansas, I’m not sure he got quite the fitness from that effort as I had originally imagined. While his workouts at Churchill have been speedy, he has looked a bit high strung and uncomfortable.

Conclusion: Had he moved forward in the Arkansas Derby he had a chance to be my win pick, but the regression he showed in that race was concerning. He has seemed one-paced and one-dimensional up to this point, which is hugely disappointing for a horse with his potential. However, while his post isn’t ideal, it will afford him the opportunity to save ground and avoid the wide trips that have been his undoing, as he’ll have to go early with the speed. He’ll be one my longshot plays underneath in the trifecta. The point here is that if I’ve liked him all year and his last race will only serve to improve his value, he is a must play regardless of the poor effort there. He does have the highest Tomlinson of any horse who was run on dirt, and that has meant something the past three years. In a race that could have less pace than a usual Derby, he has the tactical speed to be forwardly placed early and after that, who knows?

Goldencents  (Into Mischief- Golden Works/ Banker’s Gold), PP #8, 5-1 Morning Line, 163 Tomlinson Distance, 105 Beyer

Pros: He turned his form around in a sensational win in the Santa Anita Derby, relaxing a bit off the pace and posting a field high 105 Beyer in that race. That’s the highest last race figure in the field and the only 100+ last race figure as well. That track appeared to be quite friendly to the lead, but the fact that he was able to rate off the immediate pacesetter, manage the distance and keep his momentum through the finish was a step in the right direction after wearing down in the stretch after a hot pace duel during a 4th place finish in the San Felipe the race prior to that. With less speed showing up in this year’s race, he may be able to carve out pretty reasonable fractions on the lead from a good post, and having proven his ability to handle a longer distance of ground, is certainly dangerous.

Cons: A bit of the luster from his Santa Anita Derby win dimmed when it was revealed that Flashback, his main rival there, suffered a bone chip in his knee, seemingly giving him an excuse for his poor 2nd place finish. While Goldencents contested a hot early pace (:46.48 opening 1/4), his final 1/8 of :13.0 and final 3/8 of :38.4 leaves a bit to be desired, and outside of the injured Flashback, his competition in that race wasn’t strong. He actually ran the second half of that race slower than the first half. From a pedigree standpoint, there are certainly reasons to question his ability at the Derby distance, as none of his immediate influences ever won beyond 9f, and his female side appears particularly geared towards speed. His Tomlinson Distance Figure for 10f is the lowest in the field by a considerable margin.

Conclusion: Conventional wisdom would say that if I was set on tossing him following the San Felipe pace meltdown, a front-running win over a fast track against a weak field shouldn’t change my mind, and moreover, should add value to playing against him as the third choice here. The perceived lack of pace this year gives me some pause, but the simple fact is that he is probably the very most questionable horse here in terms of distance ability, and he’s fairly certain to be near the pace, however fast or soft it turns out to be. That doesn’t sound like a great combination to me, and since there will be added value to keeping him out of the trifecta, that’s exactly what I will try to do.

Itsmyluckyday (Lawyer Ron-Viva La Slew/ Doneraile Court) PP #12, 15-1 Morning Line, 231 Tomlinson Distance, 104 Beyer

Pros: He is one of only two colts in the field to duplicate triple digit Beyer numbers in his career. His gritty win over 2 year old champion Shanghai Bobby in the Holy Bull was one of the most impressive preps run this year in terms of figures, and he wasn’t disgraced in his 2nd place finish in the Florida Derby following a long layoff. Given the back to back high numbers in January and the two month break, his bounce back to a 93 speed figure in that race isn’t altogether shocking or inexcusable.

Cons: It may be that he is better suited to distances much shorter than the Derby will offer, as he was no match for Orb down the stretch in the Florida Derby after leading on the turn for home, coming home in a less than desirable :38.33 for his final 3/8 and a plodding :13.6 for his final 1/8. His claim to fame was the aforementioned win against Shanghai Bobby, but that looks less impressive now in terms of contending for this particular race. Sire Lawyer Ron was much more effective at 9f and shorter than he was at this distance, and while damsire Doneraile Court is a son of Seattle Slew, his best win came at 8f and his offspring have not won beyond 9f.

Conclusion: This is a nice colt who will likely have a good career as a miler, but I lean against giving him the benefit of the doubt based on the layoff. It wasn’t that he lost in the Florida Derby, it was the way he lost. He had no answer whatsoever in the final stages as Orb inhaled him, and his pedigree seems to back up this result, layoff or not. He’s a play against for me, with the annoying name sealing the deal.

Falling Sky  (Lion Heart- Sea Dragoness/ Sea Hero), PP#13, 50-1 Morning Line, 255 Tomlinson Distance, 92 Beyer

Pros: Well, he is expected to go to the lead, so he will be the one to catch. Wet Figure of 412 is among the highest in the field, and the track could be helpful to the lead depending on how it is playing if it comes up sloppy.

Cons: Nothing about his pedigree or prior race form suggests that he can hang onto the lead, especially after getting some pressure from the classier colts here. He is always fading even at much shorter distances, so this race presents a real challenge for him from a distance perspective.

Conclusion: His presence in the race is meaningful if only because it could have a strong bearing on the early pace. If he gets away in a :46 first 1/2 mile and the other speed goes with him, the complexion of the race will change vastly. For me, he can’t be expected to hang on even if he goes in :50, which won’t happen, and isn’t usable on any level.

JUST OFF THE PACE

Lines of Battle (War Front- Black Speck/ Arch), PP #11, 30-1 Morning Line, 352 Tomlinson Distance

Pros: As always, he’s the winner of the UAE Derby, so he’s the only horse here to have won a race beyond 9f. The bottom side of his pedigree would confirm his ability to handle a distance of ground, and a dirt course as well. His Tomlinson Distance Figure of 352 is the highest in the field, which has been a good omen in recent years to say the least.

Cons: The Derby will be his first dirt start, which combined with the long trip from Dubai is difficult for a young horse to overcome.  The track there is very deep, but his time of 2:02 over 9.5f is remarkably slow. Expect the Derby winner to cover 10f faster than that. He arrived late and was in quarantine until Friday, so he didn’t have much time to become acclimated with the dirt course. He’s been very lightly raced, with only the one start this year, and that combined with the late arrival could put him at a decided seasoning disadvantage.

Conclusion: In a year this wide open, anything could happen. Usually, the UAE Derby winner is an easy toss every year but this horse could be an intriguing overlay if he takes to the dirt the way he should. Aidan O’Brien doesn’t bring horses over the pond for no reason, and he wasn’t far out it two years ago when Master of Hounds ran 5th. This pedigree is arguably even more impressive, and he’ll need to be used on the bottom of trifectas at the very least. A small place bet to hedge the exacta should he ruin it probably isn’t a bad idea either as he should offer value in that pool.

Vyjack (Into Mischief- Life Happened/ Stravinsky), PP #20, 15-1 Morning Line, 206 Tomlinson Distance, 93 Beyer

Pros: Vyjack continues to outrun his pedigree, and ran a respectable 3rd in his last start in the Wood Memorial, finishing only a length behind the highly regarded Verrazano. That race was his first career loss in five starts, having won both the Gotham with an impressive late rush and the Jerome Stakes at shorter distances prior to that. Although he was allowed to stalk easy opening fractions in the Wood, his :12.55 final 1/8 would seem to indicate that he had energy remaining in the stretch, and he actually covered the final 3/8 faster than the winner (:36.43). One could argue that while that race was there for the taking, it played against his running style, as he is one that prefers to lay back and make one run, and the slow early fractions nullified that effect as the leader had plenty of run left.

Cons: In five career starts, he hasn’t been able to make a decisive jump in terms of figures, as his career best Beyer of 93 doesn’t match up with the best here. Even if you are going to give him the benefit of the doubt based on an unfavorable pace scenario in the Wood, you’d still have to like Normandy Invasion a bit more, as he couldn’t hold that one off down the stretch. Given that his pedigree is strongly geared towards sprinting on the dam side, it is hard to imagine him making the needed improvement in terms of figures as the race distance gets longer. He came out of his most recent race with a lung infection, which is not exactly the type of tune up you ideally want to see. He’s also never run outside Aqueduct and drew furthest outside of all.

Conclusion: While he is admittedly a hard trier, I just can’t get past the pedigree aspect here. His Tomlinson of 206 is the second lowest in the field above only Goldencents, who shares the same sire and has posted far higher speed figures. I just don’t think he can take the needed step forward here to hit the trifecta, although it bears mention that last year’s field low Tomlinson, Went the Day Well (155) ran on well the finish 4th. I wouldn’t be totally shocked by that outcome, so he’s worth including in superfecta bets if you feel like really going for the home run.

Palace Malice (Curlin- Palace Rumor/ Royal Anthem), PP #10, 20-1 Morning Line, 312 Tomlinson Distance, 94 Beyer

Pros: He ran huge on only two weeks rest in a make or break race last time out, finishing 2nd over an unfamiliar surface on the Keeneland polytrack in the Blue Grass. He ran near the lead and still covered his final 1/8 in :12.8 and his final 3/8 in 37.1, both competitive fractions against this field. He had excuses in his prior two races, as he was bottled up badly in both and was forced to come to nearly a complete stop in the Louisiana Derby, nullifying any chance he had to make a move. In terms of pedigree, there is a lot to like, as being the son of two time Horse of the Year Curlin means he also descends from the sire line of Mr. Prospector. On the dam side, Royal Anthem was a tough turf horse that won at distances well beyond 10f, and has sired distance runners as well.

Cons: A May foal, it’s possible that Palace Malice has not yet come into his peak form, and while there is room for improvement, this race could be a tall task especially coming off such a tough campaign. This will be his third race in five weeks. For all the work it took to get here, he hasn’t been terrifically impressive in any of his races. His last race was strong but he couldn’t hold on in the stretch, as Java’s War gobbled up ground to win by a head. The Beyer speed figure of 89 that came back from that race isn’t particularly inspiring. It’s possible that he just isn’t fast enough at this point in his development.

Conclusion: There are many reasons to be bullish on his potential improvement, but I tend to think we will see it this fall. He appears very playable based on his pedigree and overall toughness, so there’s always the potential that he keeps running on and grabs a piece of the pie, but I’m going to use the angle that he’s worn out from such a tough campaign. Three races in five weeks is a lot, and this will obviously be the most grueling yet. It’s tough to see him any higher than hitting the superfecta.

Frac Daddy (Scat Daddy- Skipper’s Mate/ Skip Away) PP #18, 50-1 Morning Line, 267 Tomlinson Distance, 81 Beyer

Pros: He picked up the needed points to make the race when 2nd in the Arkansas Derby, bouncing back somewhat from back to back dismal performances when 6th in the Florida Derby and 7th in the Holy Bull. His pedigree would seem to indicate some stamina, especially on the dam side, being out of a Skip Away mare. He ran perhaps the best race of his career over this track last year when 2nd in the Kentucky Jockey Club last fall.

Cons: While he turned up 2nd in the Arkansas Derby, there is a case to be made that he didn’t run much better there than he did in the prior two races where he was soundly beaten. He was no threat to the winner, losing by more than 4 lengths, and actually lost ground over the final 3/8, coming home in a dismal :40.0 and finishing far off a race winner that earned the lowest Beyer figure of any prep this year.

Conclusion: I suppose someone had to finish 2nd in the Arkansas Derby, so he got the points there and finds himself up against a far tougher bunch. I was hard against Scat Daddy in the 2007 Derby and have helped myself narrow the field down in recent years by tossing his progeny as well. So far, this has been a quite successful strategy, and I don’t see a compelling reason to change it with this guy.

Giant Finish (Frost Giant- Apocalyptic/ Hickman Creek) #7 PP, 50-1 Morning Line, 286 Tomlinson Distance, 86 Beyer

Pros: He ran a determined enough race when 3rd in the Sprial behind Black Onyx. He did break his maiden over the dirt in a 6f race at Aqueduct.

Cons: All three of his races in 2013 have come over synthetic surfaces, and he takes a giant leap in class.

Conclusion: This was the horse that I said “who?” when they were drawing the posts. He looks severely, colossally overmatched.

STALKERS

Orb (Malibu Moon- Lady Liberty/ Unbridled) PP #16, 7-2 Morning Line Favorite, 293 Tomlinson Distance, 97 Beyer

Pros: Those who believed he benefited from a hot pace after his hard closing victory in the 8.5f Fountain of Youth bore witness to his versatility during his 9f Florida Derby win. Orb sat closer to a less grueling pace, yet was still able to overtake the leaders with ease in the stretch, covering his final 3/8 in :37.68 and his final 1/8 in :12.9. His duplication of a 97 Beyer in that race is highly competitive here. From a pedigree standpoint, he appears well suited for the added distance on both sides, as his sire, a son of AP Indy, has produced multiple 10f winners. His dam was a winner at 12f, and his damsire Unbridled, a Derby winner himself, has left his own mark on the Classics, siring Derby winner Grindstone, Preakness winner Red Bullet and Belmont winner Empire Maker. He is inbred 3 x 4 to Mr. Prospector.

Cons: While his recent wins have been impressive, there remains some question as to the quality of the fields he has beaten. On paper, the Florida Derby appears to have been loaded with speed types that were not suited for the distance, and the win in the Fountain of Youth over the highly touted Violence doesn’t look as good as it originally did after that foe came back with a significant, career-ending injury sustained in that race. While visually impressive, his final furlong in the Florida Derby probably should have been a bit faster considering how slow the early internal fractions were (:48.56 and 1:12.89.) The inbreeding to Mr. Prospector has upside in terms of stamina, but is often associated with structural hoof issues.

Conclusions: Considering the ease in which he won the Florida Derby and the fact that he didn’t even need to win that race to solidify his spot in the Kentucky Derby, I’m inclined to believe that we’ve yet to see his best and that he is sitting on a big race here. Any increase in his speed figures in combination with his running style and pedigree points to a strong contender for the win. Remember, he’s one of three colts here that is undefeated in 2013, so the point is that he will do what it takes to win. He’s looked primed over the track in his works this week. The pick. (Pictured Below).

orb

Overanalyze   (Dixie Union- Unacloud/ Unaccounted For), PP#9, 15-1 Morning Line, 313 Tomlinson Distance, 88 Beyer

Pros: He certainly appears to be rounding back into form after a surprisingly flat effort in the Gotham in his 2013 debut. He was high on many early Derby lists coming off his win last year in the Remsen over Normandy Invasion, a race that looks a bit better now than it did a month ago. He posted an eye catching 99 Beyer as a two year old in that race. He was much the best in winning his last start, the Arkansas Derby, by more than four lengths after running wide most of the way, and winners of that race have had a great deal of success in recent Derbys. This will be his third start off a layoff for Todd Pletcher. His Tomlinson Distance Figure suggests the Derby distance should be to his liking, as his 314 is the third highest in the field.

Cons: He looked like an impressive winner in the Arkansas Derby, but digging deeper into that race, the details appear far from impressive. The 1:51.9 final time was over 11 lengths slower than the Oaklawn Handicap which was run two races before. He finished the final 1/8 in :12.7, but covered the final 3/8 in a mediocre :38.8, indicating that his win may not have been as powerful as it appeared; moreover, all the horses were slowing down, he was just slowing down less. The 88 Beyer he earned there is the lowest winning number for any major prep run this year, and is only marginally better than the 86 he earned when 5th in the Gotham the race prior, easily beaten in the stretch by a surging Vyjack.

Conclusion: While his win in the Arkansas Derby on paper looks unimpressive and hard to elevate him above Vyjack, I just have the feeling he is improving at the right time and sitting on a big race. By extrapolation, it stands to reason that he was speeding up through the finish of the Arkansas Derby as he ran his final 1/8 faster than the prior two 1/8s. (:26.1 into :12.7). Visually, the way he won his final prep is exactly what you want to see in a Derby horse, and while his closing fractions and overall speed probably rule him out as a true win contender, he’s very usable at these odds in outright bets and underneath in exotics. He is certainly the most playable of the 15-1 Morning Line entrants, and should benefit from a central post.

Black Onyx (Rock Hard Ten- Kalahari Cat/ Cape Town), PP #1, 50-1 Morning Line, 297 Tomlinson Distance, 90 Beyer

Pros: He took the same route to the Derby as previous winner Animal Kingdom did, winning the Spiral at Turfway over the synthetic track and heading straight to Churchill after that. The average winning distance of his sire/ broodmare sire cross is the highest in the field at 8.71 furlongs, which would seem to suggest that the distance won’t be an issue and moreover, could be to his liking. Last year’s Spiral winner, Went the Day Well, went virtually unnoticed in the wagering, and found his way into the superfecta, so the race itself has been successful in producing contenders over the last two years.

Cons: Having not raced since March 23rd, he’ll be coming off a six week layoff up to the race, which hasn’t historically been successful, with the recent exception of Animal Kingdom. The times and figures for the Sprial have historically been a bit of an enigma, but it bears mention that the 90 Beyer he posted in the win there as well as the :13.6 final 1/8 are not very competitive here. Like previous winners of the Spiral before him, there are serious questions about his dirt form. He lost an allowance dirt race by 19 lengths back in January in his most recent start over that surface. He did not look very comfortable over the track during his workouts this week, and the one hole has been pretty impossible to overcome in this race, so the post draw didn’t do him any favors.

Conclusion: I seem to recall dismissing Animal Kingdom in 2011 based purely on the slow closing fractions coming out of the Spiral. Learning my lesson there I will toss that data for that particular race this year. But you still have to wonder if he is fast enough to make an impact here and whether he has the potential to reverse his dirt form and overcome such a difficult post. I’ll be betting against it again, but because of his pedigree and long odds, he’s definitely one you don’t want to overlook entirely if you are a superfecta player. He’d be my top choice of the 50-1 horses, but surely has a lot to overcome.

Mylute (Midnight Lute- Stage Stop/ Valid Expectations), PP #6, 15-1 Morning Line, 260 Tomlinson Distance, 93 Beyer

Pros: He seems to be improving at the right time, and as the distance gets longer, as he gave the highly touted Revolutionary all he could handle in the Louisiana Derby, finishing the final 3/8 in :37.7 and the last 1/8 in :12.6 to lose by a neck. Sire Midnight Lute is a great grandson of Mr. Prospector, so he is one of only four colts to represent that strong classic sire line.

Cons: That said, his overall pedigree appears more speed oriented thanks to Valid Expectations on the dam side. Prior to his last race, he was a handily beaten 7th in the Risen Star. The reality is that he may be getting more credit than he deserves for his 2nd place finish in the Louisiana Derby. He appeared to have the race won coming through the stretch but couldn’t hold off what most agree was a superior colt in Revolutionary. And, with the slow winning figure there, he didn’t really have an excuse. Is there reason to believe added distance will be to his advantage considering that result and how he flattened out in the stretch?

Conclusion: I saw this horse run in person at Arlington last summer and I hit the trifecta by keeping him out of it. He’s certainly been improving since then, but if he couldn’t crack the top three against that field, he’s going to be really up against it in this spot. I can’t bring myself to use him as I don’t think the distance will be to his liking.

Charming Kitten (Kitten’s Joy-Iteration/ Wild Again), PP #15, 285 Tomlinson Distance, 88 Beyer

Pros: He is one who likes to move late, as he made up four lengths late in the Blue Grass to snatch third place and qualify for this race, finishing only a half length away from the winner. His pedigree is strong enough overall to suggest that the distance shouldn’t be an issue.

Cons: This will be his first career dirt start, and his pedigree is definitely more oriented towards turf racing. His speed figures don’t add up with the top competitors here, having never broken the 90 Beyer threshold.

Conclusion: This looks like a pretty tough spot for him and a big step up in terms of class. It’s hard to see a scenario where he hits the board.

CLOSERS

Normandy Invasion (Tapit-Boston Lady/ Boston Harbor), PP #5, 12-1 Morning Line, 228 Tomlinson Distance Figure, 94 Beyer

Pros: After a very rough trip that resulted in a 5th place finish in the Risen Star, Normandy Invasion came back to close hard and finish an impressive 2nd in the Wood Memorial, less than a length behind the highly regarded Verrazano. The slow early fractions of that race make his ability to close into the leaders in the stretch even more impressive, although it should be noted that he was never more than 3 of 4 lengths off the pace. Nevertheless, his final 1/8 of :12.1 is among the fastest of any prep run this year, as is the :36.0 he posted over the final 3/8. Both of his last two speed figures should be taken with a grain of salt, as he was bottled up badly in the Risen Star, while the early pace of the Wood Memorial pretty much renders that figure difficult to judge. If he can run back to the 99 he posted in last fall’s Remsen, and improve upon that as he takes a liking to the added distance, he could be a fierce competitor indeed. He’s another that should benefit from an off track, with the second highest Tomlinson Wet Track Figure in the field (418).

Cons: He seems prone to traffic trouble, which isn’t a great sign in a 20 horse field where horses who like to come from off the pace like he does are bound to need some racing luck. His pedigree offers a mixture of speed and stamina, but is less than ideal to my liking. Sire Tapit has been hot of late, but his best runners, such as 2011 2 year old champion Hansen, have been better at 9f. The bottom side appears more speed oriented. His Tomlinson Distance Figure is in the bottom three in the field, and historically that has been a very hard stat to overcome in terms of the win.

Conclusion: For what it’s worth, Javier Castellano voluntarily chose to ride this horse over Revolutionary. You’re looking at the horse who posted the fastest late fractions over dirt in the whole field, which could help to dissuade any pedigree concerns, although I haven’t been crazy about his stride or his general physical imposition. His inside post could force him closer to the pace which should help his chances, so he certainly has to be used, but probably not on top except in exactas.

normandy-invasion

Revolutionary (War Pass- Runup the Colors/ A.P. Indy), PP #3, 10-1 Morning Line, 254 Tomlinson Distance, 93 Beyer

Pros: Winner of his only two Derby preps in 2013, Revolutionary has had very difficult trips but has found a way to win nevertheless, and that experience should be beneficial coming into a race like this. After overcoming brutal traffic trouble to rally and win the 8.5f Withers, he swung five wide making the winning move in the Louisiana Derby, and held off Mylute in the stretch, finishing his final 1/8 in :12.5 and his final 3/8 in :37.89. Departing’s impressive win the Illinois Derby flattered the form of the Louisiana Derby a bit, as he was 3rd there. His very balanced pedigree bodes well for his chances here, as sire War Pass provides ample speed on top, and dam Runup the Colors was a winner of the 10f Alabama. Damsire AP Indy has been one of the most influential and successful sires of his generation, especially at longer distances.

Cons: While his wins have been gritty and demonstrated toughness, the speed figures he has produced and the fields he has beaten appear to be a bit suspect. Mylute was coming off a 7th place finish in the Risen Star going into the Louisiana Derby, and Revolutionary was all out down the stretch to hold that one off. It’s also somewhat concerning that he hasn’t broken well out of the gate especially after drawing so far inside here. His deep closing style and ability to maneuver around his foes has nullified his bad breaks up to this point, but he could put himself at a disadvantage against a much larger and talented field here should this trend continue. As impressive as his pedigree appears on paper, his Tomlinson figure is not in the top half of the field, which is worth noting, although there isn’t a lot of data available for his late sire War Pass.

Conclusion: It’s important to remember from a figure perspective that Revolutionary did post a 102 Beyer when he broke his maiden at 8f in late December, and that in the decidedly lower figures he has posted since then, he has encountered severe traffic trouble and still found a way to win. Should he get a clean trip and some racing luck, there’s no reason he can’t run back to that number, which puts him squarely in the mix here. Combine that with a pedigree that is among the field’s most impressive despite what the Tomlinson number says, and he has to be used in exotics. However, there are too many knocks against him for me to put him on top or bet him to hit the board outright at his likely odds.

Java’s War (War Pass- Java/ Rainbow Quest), PP #19, 15-1 Morning Line, 254 Tomlinson Distance, 96 Beyer

Pros: He overcame a terrible start when he circled the field, coming from last to first to win the Blue Grass over the Keeneland polytrack. In an eye catching late move running widest of all the runners, he covered the final 3/8 in :35.8 and the final 1/8 in :11.9, both field best closing fractions. His deep closing style will be attractive to players who like to support horses that can pick up the pieces of a pace meltdown and come flying home late. In the race previous to that in the 8.5f Tampa Bay Derby, he was no match for the winner Verrazano, but was definitely making up ground late on the dirt track, and wound up a clear 2nd in that race. The added ground here would appear to help based on his running style.

Cons: There is some concern about his ability to transfer his polytrack form to the dirt. Despite his performance at Tampa, he struggled in his only start at Churchill Downs, finishing 6th in an 8.5f race last November. While his running style seems to indicate a desire for more ground, his pedigree would surprisingly predict the opposite. The average winning distance of his sire and broodmare sire cross is a mere 6.01 f, the lowest in the entire field. His direct influences suggest speed on top and an affinity for turf underneath, so a 9f winner over synthetic sounds about right. As eye-catching as his Blue Grass win was, the strategy of dropping back to last early in a 20-horse field could be asking for trouble. And, the Beyer figure he earned even with such strong closing fractions doesn’t look very competitive. His high leg action is more typical of a turf runner and he hasn’t looked great over the course this week.

Conclusion: If you’re a fan of deep closers, it’s probably better to look toward his performance at Tampa Bay rather than in the Blue Grass, a race that hasn’t translated well at all into Derby form over the past few years. His closing fractions look impressive on paper, but they should considering he didn’t start running until the end. Still, without as a hot a pace scenario this year, I’m iffy on using a horse that gives away so much ground early in a race with so much traffic, and drawing this far outside will only add to that. I’ll play the Blue Grass curse angle and try to keep him off the board.

Will Take Charge (Unbridled’s Song- Take Charge Lady/ Dehere), PP #17, 20-1 Morning Line, 229 Tomlinson Distance, 95 Beyer

Pros: Trainer Wayne Lukas is keeping him fresh, opting for a seven week layoff with several long workouts to give him bottom rather than trying to run back after only three weeks rest. He looked strong in his last contest, overtaking stablemate Oxbow down the stretch of the 8.5 Rebel at Oaklawn. He certainly looked like he wanted to run longer there and the empirical data regarding his pedigree would suggest the same, as the average winning distance of his sire/ broodmare sire cross is 7.93, good for the second best in the field. He is one of four colts running here that descend from the Mr. Prospector sire line, which has won 10 of the last 18 Kentucky Derby’s, including last year’s winner I’ll Have Another. The wide post should help keep him out of traffic and allow him to make his move late.

Cons: It’s somewhat surprising that Lukas opted for the unorthodox decision to train him up to the Derby following his Rebel win on March 16, and the seven week layoff and lack of a major prep race could put him at a disadvantage in terms of seasoning. It’s been over 60 years since a horse won this race with that kind of a break, and when Barbaro won in 2006, he was the first in years to do so after even five weeks of rest. He’s also never raced beyond 8.5 furlongs, so this will be quite a jump for him. His average winning distance looks strong in terms of pedigree, but it’s worth noting that he’s a half brother to Take Charge Indy, who struggled to get the distance in his Derby try, and who arguably has better stamina influences on his top side (AP Indy vs Unbridled’s Song). The low Tomlinson Distance Figure seems to confirm this. While his Wet Figure looks high on paper (413), he ran the worst race of the year over a sloppy track when 6th by 18 lengths in the Southwest. The worst race of his career, the Kentucky Jockey Club, came over this track last November, where he finished 13th by over 25 lengths, posting a 32 Beyer after flattening out. Earlier this week, Morning Line Favorite Orb galloped out 5 furlongs nearly as fast at Will Take Charge’s hard 5f work.

Conclusion: He’s admittedly somewhat of a wildcard, but I can’t say I’m enthused by either the seven week layoff or the fact that he’s the least tested at the distance of any horse in the field. He’d really have to be a superstar to move up from an 8.5f winner to a 10f winner against 19 other horses and no races in between. While he’s a candidate to pick up the pieces late, his 95 Beyer in the Rebel doesn’t scream superstar to me, and I like others just a bit better.

Golden Soul (Perfect Soul- Hollywood Gold/ Mr. Prospector) PP #4, 50-1 Morning Line, 251 Tomlinson Distance, 89 Beyer

Pros: He ran well at Churchill Downs in his debut, and has stamina influences on the bottom side of his pedigree that could help him run on late if the pace if quicker than expected.

Cons: He was no match for Oxbow in the 8f LeComte, as he was crushed by 11 lengths. He’s been improving since but has finished off the board in his last two races against several competitors here.

Conclusion: It’s tough to make much of a case for him here and will likely be even higher than his morning line odds suggest. I just can’t find an angle on him that merits taking any kind of shot.

PICKS SUMMARY:

1)    Orb

2)    Verrazano

3)    Normandy Invasion

4)    Revolutionary

5)    Overanalyze

6)    Oxbow

7)    Lines of Battle

8)    Goldencents

9)    Itsmyluckyday

10) Vyjack

11)  Java’s War

12)  Palice Malice

13)  Will Take Charge

14)  Black Onyx

15)  Mylute

16)  Charming Kitten

17)  Frac Daddy

18)  Falling Sky

19)  Golden Soul

20)  Giant Finish

BETTING STRATEGY:

Admittedly, it is far from ideal that in a race this wide open, I have landed on the two favorites as the most likely winners. However, I remind myself that 4-1 or 5-1 on horses that you feel good about is not too shabby even in a field this large. It’s better to trust your handicapping than to search for value where it doesn’t exist. So, my outright bets are rather chalky this year. But, to compensate for this, I’ll search for value by trying to beat Goldencents altogether, throwing in some longshots into the exacta and trifecta. I’ll go five deep in the exacta and seven deep on the bottom of the trifecta. I don’t have the patience to bet the superfecta. I feel like playing the superfecta in this race is like having multiple brackets in the NCAA Tournament. You just spread yourself too thin trying to cover everything and end up losing the essence and fun of the event in the process.

HOW TO BET $100 ON THE KENTUCKY DERBY:

$10 to Win, Place, Show on ORB

$10 to Place, Show on VERRAZANO

$10 to Show on NORMANDY INVASION

$1 Exacta Box- ORB, VERRAZANO, NORMANDY INVASION, REVOLUTIONARY, OVERANALYZE ($20)

$0.50 Trifecta Wheel- ORB, VERRAZANO/ ORB, VERRAZANO, NORMANDY INVASION, REVOLUTIONARY, OVERANALYZE/ ORB, VERRAZANO, NORMANDY INVASION, REVOLUTIONARY, OVERANALYZE, OXBOW, LINES OF BATTLE ($20)

 

 

 

 

 

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