KENTUCKY DERBY PICKS AND ANALYSIS- 2014

All the speed is inside, all the closers are outside. This should be fun! Here we go, you know the drill by now:

PACE:

#10: WILDCAT RED (15-1) (D’Wildcat- Racene/Miner’s Mark)

261 Tomlinson Distance, 101 Beyer

Pros: He’s certainly showed toughness and grit at Gulfstream this season, outrunning his sprint-oriented pedigree to finish 1st at 8.5f and 2nd at 9f in Stakes company. He’s been able to carry his natural speed to the wire impressively and doesn’t back down easily when challenged, and you have to like how battle-tested he is heading into the biggest race of his life. While he lost the lead down the stretch of his first 9f attempt, he did come home in respectable fractions for his final 3/8 and 1/8 in that race (:37.2, :12.7).

Cons: That…pedigree. There’s probably an argument to be made that the speed bias at Gulfstream has carried him further than he really wants to go, and it bears mention that he hasn’t won beyond 8.5f in his career after giving way to Constitution in that Florida Derby stretch duel, and he was allowed to set easy fractions in that race. Winning a 10f race looks to be a major stretch for him against any field, let alone one of this caliber. And, he hasn’t shown any tactical versatility whatsoever, running all of his races on the lead. He hasn’t looked the smoothest working over the Churchill surface, and he may have trouble duplicating his Gulfstream form on a more even track, never mind the added distance.

Conclusion: I can’t back a horse with such a clear sprinting pedigree at this distance. He should be part of the early pace and that won’t help his chances. His come home times in the Florida Derby appear fishy to me based on the slow early pace in that race (1:12.0 opening 3/4); he had every right to have gas left in the tank after getting away with murder on the lead. I don’t anticipate the same if he has to follow or set a 1:10 in this race and will play against him, with some reservations due to my respect for his grit.

#5: CALIFORNIA CHROME (5-2 Morning Line Favorite) (Lucky Pulpit- Love the Chase/ Not For Love)

288 Tomlinson, 107 Beyer

Pros: He’ll be as deserving a favorite as we’ve seen since probably Big Brown, coming off back to back efforts at Santa Anita that tower over the competition here (doubling up 107 Beyers that rank far ahead off the rest of the field). What was most impressive was the way he won the Santa Anita Derby in such effortless fashion, coming home in :36.65 for his final 3/8 and :12.49 for his final 1/8 (the former tops in the field on dirt) without ever feeling the whip. His connections had already secured a position in the Derby and didn’t need to dominate that race, so the fact that he still blew away his accomplished competition, winning by over 5 lengths while under a hand ride, speaks to his overall quality. His fitness is top notch, having run three nicely spaced races in 2014, and clearly appears to be firing on all cylinders right now. He has a strong foundation, as his ten career races top the field, and is as professional as they come. He gets a decent enough post, lining up off the rail and in between the speed.

Cons: After three straight dominating performances, has he peaked too soon? He’ll have to move away from Santa Anita, a track that’s been very conducive to his front-running style, for the first time this year, so it’s worth wondering how that form will translate onto the Churchill surface, especially since he arrived late and didn’t get a workout in over it. How will he handle shipping east? Do the combination of these factors make him a candidate for a bounce? If you really want to nit-pick, it’s worth noting that his sire is a fairly unknown son of Pulpit who never won beyond 5.5 furlongs, and his dam was a mere maiden winner. Digging deeper into his pedigree does reveal hidden stamina influences further back but on the surface level, it is a puzzling combination for a Derby winner. He’s clearly outrun his pedigree to this point, but it’s worth pointing out if you are looking for a reason to try to beat his otherwise obvious standout form.

Conclusions: In a 20 horse field, it is very difficult to support a 2-1 or 3-1 favorite independently, regardless of his credentials. There are enough things that can go wrong that you are better served seeking value elsewhere if unless you feel that the horse is invincible. His post could be worse, but he still needs to break well or he could be pinched between a wild speed duel, and he’s had some trouble breaking well in the past. While I won’t be leaving him off the top line of any exotics altogether, I think the combination of his running style and the added distance as well as adjusting to a new track could leave him more vulnerable than his likely odds will suggest. A must for exotics, but won’t offer value in the win/place/show pools.

#1: VICAR’S IN TROUBLE (20-1) (Into Mischief- Vibrant/ Vicar)

258 Tomlinson, 97 Beyer

Pros: After dominating the LeComte back in Janurary, he threw in a clunker in his next start, the 8.5f Risen Star, only to regroup and wire the Louisiana Derby in his next attempt and his first try at 9f. If you throw out the Risen Star, he’s been a consistent speed type, doubling 97 Beyers.

Cons: Playing against the trendy and seemingly mile-oriented Into Mischief progeny was the right move last year in this race (Goldencents, Vyjack), and this one hasn’t been as inspiring as those two were with the same sprinter-oriented pedigree. After getting away with an easy lead in his Louisiana Derby win, he still dawdled down the stretch, coming home in :38.63 for the last 3/8s and :13.62 for the final 1/8. He won’t have it his way this time around especially from the dreaded inside rail post, and even if he did, those fractions won’t be enough the hold on as the next furlong figures to be even tougher based on his pedigree.

Conclusion: He’s a nice colt but the feeling here is that he may have reached his ceiling in the 97 Beyer range, and is a bit one-dimensional to make a meaningful impact in a race this contested. Far better horses than him have tried and failed in this race from the one hole, and he’s practically a toss on that angle alone, and he figures to take more money than he should from the novice public with the popular Rosie Napravnik aboard.

#13 CHITU (20-1) (Henny Hughes- Sea Gift/ AP Indy)

311 Tomlinson, 101 Beyer

Pros: He looked impressive in winning the Sunland Derby, posting a triple digit Beyer and gaining on the field through the wire. He shows one of the more interesting pedigrees in the field, with a sire line heavily geared towards sprinting combined with stamina influences spread all across the bottom. His Tomlinson of 311 is actually the third highest in the field, and seems to indicate that he will be able to tap into his dam line and carry his speed for 10f, at least the most so of the pace-setters, and sits outside of all the other speed.

Cons: There are certainly questions regarding the quality of the field he beat at Sunland, a race that outside of one flukey win by Mine That Bird in 2009, hasn’t exactly been a stepping stone into this race. That race was six weeks ago and every other horse in here has raced since then; it’s practically unprecedented for a horse to win this race off that kind of layoff (Animal Kingdom in 2011 is the lone exception), and with only four career starts he is one of the least seasoned runners in the field. He wasn’t flattered at all when the horse that blew by him in the stretch of the Robert Lewis, Candy Boy, didn’t run to expectations in the Santa Anita Derby. Come home times of :38.3 and :13.3 in his last aren’t terrible but don’t exactly jump off the page for a horse that has shown the need to run on the lead. His connections were a bit indecisive about this race, entering him in last weekend’s Derby Trial and then scratching the enter here.

Conclusion: While he’s in the right hands with Bob Baffert as the trainer, I feel he will be up against it based on the long layoff and extreme step up in competition, especially with so many other horses vying for the lead, a scenario he hasn’t had to overcome previously. The combination of the layoff and lack of overall seasoning is enough to push me away.

#3 UNCLE SIGH (30-1) (Indian Charlie- Cradlesong/ Pine Bluff)

239 Tomlinson, 96 Beyer

Pros: He’s battle tested, having engaged in two stretch duels with Samraat and coming up just short in both. He’ll add blinkers for this race in hopes to focus on running his race near the lead, and who knows what kind of results that could produce (we all remember last year). His 6th place finish last time out in the Wood Memorial can possibly be overlooked based on a very bad trip there, and he did manage to get involved late and come home in a respectable :38.2 and :13.0 over the final 3/8 and 1/8, but had to settle for 5th.

Cons: Even with the traffic trouble in the Wood, he hadn’t exactly been facing top competition previously and his speed figures are a cut below the best here. His Tomlinson Distance figure is the second lowest in the field, and he appears overmatched based on pedigree. Starting from a far inside post, he’ll be forced to go early and engage in a speed duel the likes of which he has never seen.

Conclusion: The fact that he’s adding blinkers here seems a bit perplexing, but I suppose that after his Wood Memorial mishap, the connections want to make sure he is forwardly placed, although we all remember what happened last year when the connections of Palace Malice made a similar decision and got more than they bargained for. I don’t think he has the natural ability to carry his speed for 10f on the lead, but can see that strategically, that may be his only chance to hit the board. I’ll be against him.

JUST OFF THE PACE:

#6 SAMRAAT (15-1) (Noble Causeway- Little Indian Girl/ Indian Charlie) 266 Tomlinson, 98 Beyer

Pros: Very professional and tractable, he followed back to back front-running duel victories with a 2nd place finish in the Wood Memorial that saw him rate two lengths off the pace and improve position at every call. His Beyers have improved in each of his three starts this year.

Cons: While his run in the Wood Memorial was encouraging, it bears mention that he was losing ground on the winner in the stretch, and only managed to come home in :38.45 and :13.22 over the final 3/8 and 1/8 respectively. This combined with the fact that his pedigree may limit him to 9f or less gives some cause for concern at this longer distance. While his Beyers have been increasing, he still hasn’t broken through the triple digit barrier, and may be just a step slower than the best here.

Conclusions: A hard fighter and a nice colt for sure, but I’m just not seeing a place for him in this race. He seems to always be there in the mix, but I question the quality of the opponents he’s beaten and have my doubts about his ability to stretch out against the likes of these.

#8 GENERAL A ROD (15-1) (Roman Ruler- Dynamite Eyes/ Dynaformer)

257 Tomlinson Distance, 101 Beyer

Pros: He’s fit and battle tested after chasing rival Wildcat Red in his last two races and falling short. It’s worth pointing out that he’s raced with blinkers recently and as a result has been more forwardly placed than might be ideal, as his pedigree certainly indicates some affinity for distance despite a surprisingly low Tomlinson number. He’s one of only two great grandsons of Mr. Prospector in the field. Thus far he hasn’t shown that turn of foot as distances have increased, but perhaps a change in racing tactics can uncover a new horse. He does have a 101 Beyer to his credit at 8.5f in his hard fought stretch loss in the Fountain of Youth, and hasn’t run a bad race.

Cons: Still, he seems to be a bit of a one-paced grinder that can’t accelerate. He had a perfect setup in the Florida Derby, tracking a slow pace from an inside post on a speed-favoring track, and still couldn’t get past the pacesetter, coming home in a respectable :37.4 and :12.8 but failing to close any ground. Also, he might have the worst name in the history of horse racing.

Conclusion: I was really let down by his Florida Derby race as my win pick, where he simply could not get past the gutsy Wildcat Red through the stretch, and actually lost ground with no excuses. Maybe he’ll find a way to harness that distance pedigree but it takes a bit of a leap of faith to envision it, and his performance there seems to support that low Tomlinson number. With a new running style, he’s a horse you can play on an angle at a price, but the bottom of the trifecta would appear to be his limit within reason.

#15 TAPITURE (12-1) (Tapit- Free Spin/ Olympio)

246 Tomlinson Distance, 99 Beyer

Pros: He showed good form at shorter distances, winning twice at 8.5f and finishing strong throughout a bumpy stretch duel for second in the Rebel at the same distance. One could argue that his subsequent misfire in the Arkansas Derby shouldn’t be held against him, as he had already secured the points to make this race and was not gunning for the win.

Cons: It doesn’t take a large amount of perception to notice that as the distances have gotten longer, his finishes have gotten worse, and based on his pedigree this should not be a surprise. Despite his foundation he appeared rank and uncomfortable in the Arkansas Derby when taken back from the lead, and if he is unable to rate off the pace in a race like this, he will be up against it, especially with his apparent distance limitations. He still has yet to record a triple digit Beyer, and appears less likely to do so with the added ground here. He only managed to come home in :38.4 and :13.1 in his first try at 9f.

Conclusion: Was his 90 Beyer following a three race progression of 83-98-99 a bounce, or simply an indication that he was beyond his range on the stretch out? For me, the Arkansas Derby confirmed what I already suspected and what I suspect about most Tapits- they reach their limit at or before 9f. He seems poised for a mid-pack finish at best.

#21 PABLO DEL MONTE (50-1) (Giant’s Causeway- One Hot Wish/ Bring The Heat)

292 Tomlinson, 91 Beyer

Pros: He seems bred to run over a distance of ground, but perhaps the Gulfstream carousel and Keeneland synthetic weren’t ideal for his style. He draws in off the scratch of Hoppertunity, so who knows? His inclusion could certainly have an impact on the race in terms of shape, as there is no telling what type of style he will employ to avoid having to run wide all the way around the track.

Cons: A change in tactics led him to lead for the first 8f in the Blue Grass three weeks back, but he faded to third through the stretch. He’s been soundly beaten at Gulfstream by Wildcat Red and General A Rod, horses with a similar style. Maybe he’s better on synthetic than dirt, and better off the pace than on it? If that’s the case, neither of the conditions here work to his benefit.

Conclusion: He seems very difficult to support in this spot, especially coming into this race somewhat surprisingly. There’s something to be said for the fact that his connections entered him even though he was over the limit, and that he has therefore been geared for a shot here, but based on his record he would appear well in over his head.

#2 HARRY’S HOLIDAY (50-1) (Harlan’s Holiday- Daisy Mason/ Orientate)

282 Tomlinson, 85 Beyer

Pros: Showed decent form when 2nd in a pretty sluggish rendition of the Spiral over the Turfway synthetic, giving way to We Miss Artie by a nose. He’s showed some improvement adjusting to the surface this week, which is important for a horse with such a strong synthetic record.

Cons: His subsequent run in the Blue Grass was a disaster, as he finished 13th after falling out the mix before the home stretch. The 48 Beyer he posted there isn’t exactly the way you want to come into this race. While his Tomlinson figure is middling and somewhat respectable, his over pedigree seems to suggest that 10f may be beyond his scope, with a 9f specialist on top and a female side that seems heavily geared towards sprinting. His post position, lodged between two speedsters, is far from desirable.

Conclusions: He should be either the longest or second longest shot in the field, and the combination of distance concerns and low speed figures seems too much to overcome. It’s hard to find an angle that justifies his inclusion.

STALKERS:

#19: RIDE ON CURLIN (15-1) (Curlin- Magical Ride/ Storm Cat)

290 Tomlinson, 98 Beyer

Pros: From a pedigree standpoint, he is one of the most impressive in the field, with stamina influences all over the place, and one of the closest descendants from the Mr. Prospector sire line (great-grandson). Like his daddy, he appears to be a late bloomer not unlike Palace Malice was last year, showing steady improvement and maturity with each race. His ability to lay off the pace in the Arkansas Derby allowed him to sit back, make one run and pick up the pieces late, coming home in an impressive :12.55 over his final 1/8 and :37.59 over the final 3/8 after a wide, difficult trip. That race added fitness and a bit of education for this colt in terms of running style, as he’d finished his previous three starts burnt out after running on the lead. His wide draw here will actually force him to drop back and reserve energy for the latter stages of the race, which is arguably a positive. He’s run nine career races so the foundation is there. And, you have to like that the king of Churchill, Calvin Borel, picks up the mount.

Cons: Even with the rough trip and impressive finish, he was still no match for the virtually unknown winner Danza, who went off at 41-1, and the result of that race was perplexing enough to draw the quality of the entire field into question. While I wanted to see a step forward from a tactical standpoint and did, I also would have preferred to see a step forward in terms of figures, and he didn’t show that, regressing from the 98 Beyer he posted in the Rebel back to a lukewarm 94. While he seems to be a colt that is always in the mix to hit the board, he just doesn’t appear to have a will to win. He also will pick up considerable weight here, going from 118 in his last to 126.

Conclusion: All in all, I was pretty happy with what he showed in the Arkansas Derby, and am inclined to forgive the Beyer drop based on the rough trip he had. Still, it is difficult to make a strong case for him on top outside of taking a shot based on his strong pedigree. But, the feeling here is he always runs well and that he is nearly guaranteed to hit the board, and aside from being a good value show bet, therefore is a must use in exactas and underneath in trifectas, and should provide some spice there. He’s one I’ve had my eye on since last fall, and have been betting all year, so I’ll have a saver trifecta with him on top of some more obvious horses just for suicide insurance.

#4: DANZA (8-1) (Street Boss- Champagne Royale/ French Deputy)

241 Tomlinson, 102 Beyer

Pros: There seems to always be a colt that comes out of nowhere to add confusion to an already impossible handicapping puzzle, and this year it is Danza, whose win at 41-1 in the Arkansas Derby was equally shocking as it was difficult to explain based on his prior form. On the positive side, he posted a 102 Beyer, which ranks third highest in the field, and came home in his final 1/8 in :12.30, which is the fastest of any horse in the field on dirt, and finished the last 3/8 in an explosive :37.09. His pedigree appears more suited to 8f than 10f, but sire Street Boss is a great-grandson of Mr. Prospector.

Cons: One could certainly make the argument that he had a dream trip in the Arkansas Derby win, as he rode the rail behind the speed early and was able to save ground, and then took advantage turning for home when rail opened up. He could have a bit more difficulty this time, as he may be forced early having drawn between two speedsters. His pedigree is a bit mixed for the Derby distance, sired by Street Boss, a 7f specialist but the son of Street Cry, a winner of the Dubai World Cup and Stephen Foster. On bottom, damsire French Deputy won at 8f in a short career, and he’s a son of Deputy Minister, winner of the Donn Hcp, but never past 9f. His Tomlinson Distance figure of 241 ranks in the bottom three in this field, which has historically been a barrier to entering the exacta. With only four career races, he is the least seasoned runner in the field and asking him to run back off only three weeks rest following a freak effort may be asking a lot.

Conclusion: He was 41-1 for a reason in his last, as prior efforts were simply not even in the same ballpark as most of his competition, and if you didn’t have him in that one it’s hard to justify an outright bet at 1/5 of that number here in a much tougher race. Amazingly, the Arkansas Derby was his first career race beyond 7f, and oh, he does pick up eight pounds here compared to that race, whereas most of these runners pick up just four. So, this is either an example of a colt rapidly improving at the right time, or a fluke, or an indictment of the possibly overstated form of his competition. It’s a tough call, and while quick turnaround on three weeks rest after a career best effort, favorable trip and questionable pedigree give me that “bounce” feeling, his come home time is difficult to ignore in the hands of Todd Pletcher, and it’s a paradox that I can’t recall having to deal with in previous Derbys. I’ll split the difference here, leaving him out of my exacta box, but including him underneath on my deeper trifecta ticket.

#18: CANDY BOY (15-1) (Candy Ride- She’s an Eleven/ In Excess)

253 Tomlinson, 96 Beyer

Pros: He stalked the pace and showed the type of turn of foot you like to see in a Derby horse when he won the 8.5f Lewis, and was flattered when the horse he defeated there, Chitu, came back to win the Sunland Derby, posting a 101 Beyer. He had excuses when 3rd in the Santa Anita Derby, suffering a wide trip, and did come home just under :13.0 over his final 1/8. His workouts at Churchill have been received with rave reviews by all onlookers.

Cons: Unfortunately, he was unable to fully take the step forward that he needed in the Santa Anita Derby, finishing a distant third and never threatening in a race where he needed to run well, and coming home in only :38.4 over his final 3/8 over a speedy surface. As disappointing as that race was, the long layoff between that and Lewis surely didn’t help, and he could now find himself short on conditioning heading into this one. He regressed from an already unimpressive 96 career high Beyer and his pedigree doesn’t exactly scream for distance either. While there are influences on top and bottom that won at longer distances, their progeny have been almost exclusively sprint specialists. The wide post could compromise him if he is unable to relax into the pack.

Conclusion: To me, he appears a cut below the best here as far as pure speed is concerned, and he doesn’t create much excitement in terms of potential based on his overall pedigree. He certainly needed his last race though, and stands to improve upon that effort in his second off the layoff here. I’ll give him a shot to barely hit the board on my deeper trifecta ticket based on his strong appearance on the track this week.

#9 VINCEREMOS (30-1) (Pioneer of the Nile- Kettle’s Sister/ More Than Ready) 311 Tomlinson, 88 Beyer

Pros: While he hasn’t posted any eye-catching figures, his pedigree does seem to suggest that the 10f of the Derby won’t be a problem, as his 311 Tomlinson Distance Figure is tied for the second highest in the field.

Cons: He would seem to be heading in the wrong direction following a last place finish in his last start, the Blue Grass. Poly excuse or not, he’s still never posted a Beyer over 90, which is not competitive here at all. The Tampa Bay Derby form was not at all flattered by Ring Weekend and Conquest Titan’s subsequent efforts, so his 2nd place finish there doesn’t amount for much, except of course, points to enter this race.

Conclusion: The respectable pedigree aside, he looks way overmatched here. His pedigree could keep him grinding along to fill out the super, as we’ve seen from pretty random 4th place finishers over the years…but that’s exactly why I avoid the superfecta altogether in this race, especially with the $1 minimum. There’s no place for him in the trifecta of a reasonable person.

#7: WE MISS ARTIE (Artie Schiller- Athena’s Gift/ Fusaichi Pegasus)

235 Tomlinson, 85 Beyer

Pros: He’s taking the same path to the Derby that 2011 winner Animal Kingdom did, winning the 9f Spiral over synthetic from off the pace. That’s all I can come up with…

Cons: Where to begin. He’s clearly bred for turf racing, and all of his prior dirt races show horrible, dismal form. His layoff since the March 22nd Sunland is concerning, and the fact he only managed to cover the final 3/8 in that race in :39.3 doesn’t exactly scream “contender” here. Neither does the 85 Beyer he posted in that win. To add insult to injury, the top three horses he beat there all came back to run very badly in the Blue Grass, drawing question not only to the surface but to the quality of the field as well.

Conclusion: A total mess. Animal Kingdom he is not. The 2011 Derby winner had the highest Tomlinson figure in the field; We Miss Artie has the lowest. Toss.

CLOSERS

#20: WICKED STRONG (6-1) (Hard Spun- Moyne Abbey/ Charismatic)

330 Tomlinson, 104 Beyer

Pros: His win in the Wood Memorial was precisely the type of race I look for in selecting a Derby winner. He took advantage of an inside post and stalked just behind some pretty strong fractions, and then exploded through the stretch for win, striding out beautifully to cover his final 3/8 in :37.35 and his final 1/8 in :12.52. The move to Aqueduct was clearly the change he needed, as the speed-biased track at Gulfstream, where he had run 4th and 9th in his prior two races, simply wasn’t conducive to his closing style. I’m willing to toss those races and moreover, feel that the Wood result was a pretty meaningful indictment of the Gulfstream Park form, as the speedy Social Inclusion, who had set a track record at Gulfstream in this previous start, managed only a fading 3rd on a more even track. In terms of pedigree, he has a Derby winner and a Derby runner-up on opposite sides of his first two generations, so just as his races have suggested, it appears he will only benefit from the added distance. His Tomlinson Distance figure is in the top 2 in the field, adding confirmation to this angle. Additionally, the 104 Beyer he earned in the Wood Memorial is the highest in the field outside of California Chrome.

Cons: Can you completely ignore his two off-the-board finishes at Gulfstream and blame them on track bias, or is that letting him off too easily? He got a perfect setup in the Wood Memorial with a beneficial post, and he’s drawn very wide here. It’s worth wondering whether he is rounding into form, or if he is simply an inconsistent type.

Conclusion: He looms a major player with the added distance here. It’s worth pointing out that his 104 Beyer equates to only a length and a half behind California Chrome’s field-topping 107, so there’s every reason to surmise that he could make up those lengths with the extra distance with a step forward and the slightest hint of regression or bad racing luck by the favorite. The wide post doesn’t bother me and has actually been beneficial in recent years. With all the speed drawn inside anyway, he shouldn’t have much trouble dropping back early and conserving energy for his late move. The Pick.

#16: INTENSE HOLDAY (12-1) (Harlan’s Holiday- Intensify/ Unbridled’s Song)

268 Tomlinson, 97 Beyer

Pros: He’s one of the only horses in the field to demonstrate the ability to win while closing, as he made up three lengths into slow fractions in the stretch to nose out a victory in the 8.5f Risen Star. He’s been consistent this year, hitting the board in all three attempts. His pedigree is probably more geared towards 9f, but there’s enough stamina on the bottom to carry him 10f with his running style in a race that sets up for him right, and this one should with all the speed drawn inside. Reports indicate that he appears to be flourishing on the Churchill track.

Cons: He looked very unprofessional through the stretch of the Louisiana Derby, as he had problems switching leads and didn’t make any impact on front-running winner Vicar’s In Trouble. For a closer, his come-home fractions in that race of :38.9 and :13.6 leave lots to be desired. That race was a certain regression from his Risen Star victory, and even that one only earned a 97 Beyer, which is a cut below the best figures here.

Conclusion: Kind of a mixed bag here. Even if we give him a pass for the Louisiana Derby, as it does bear mention that he raced closer to the lead than he typically does, it’s still hard to get past his distant third in the Holy Bull, a race that wasn’t flattered by the Florida Derby result. Sure, you could argue that his style didn’t translate to the speed-favoring track there, but then how can you ignore the way Conquest Titan blew past him from further back to grab place honors in that race? Still ,the feeling here is that he’s the type of grinder that could get up to surprise in the event of a total pace meltdown, especially the way he has been improving. He’s worth beating for the win, but including underneath in exotics.

#14: MEDAL COUNT (20-1) (Dynaformer- Brisquette/ Unbridled’s Song)

332 Tomlinson, 94 Beyer

Pros: He rallied from well off the pace to finish 2nd in the Blue Grass in his last start, coming home impressively in :36.67 and :12.28 over his final 3/8 and 1/8. He had a wide trip and covered more ground the than the winner, and was running back on just eight days rest. In terms of pedigree, he looks bred to run all day, sired by stamina influence Dynaformer out of a strong female family that descends from Unbridled. His Tomlinson Distance figure of 332 tops the field, and three of the last four Derby winners have had either the highest or next highest Tomlinson number. He’s looked great over the Churchill dirt and trainer Dale Romans is highly confident he will handle the surface switch.

Cons: His best races have come on turf and synthetic, while his dirt form has been suspect. He did break his maiden over the dirt after an Ellis Park turf race was moved off, but he was nowhere near the board in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile or Fountain of Youth. While his come home times over polytrack in his last start look impressive on paper, those sorts of moves have not translated to the Churchill track historically.

Conclusion: It’s interesting to keep in mind that both of his stakes attempts on dirt came on speed favoring surfaces that didn’t complement his running style. While he has spent most of his career running on turf and synthetic, nothing about his breeding seems to indicate that he couldn’t be successful on dirt. He comes back on short rest again and is a bit of a throwback, and an intriguing option to fill out exotics based on running style and pedigree. He’ll need a step forward in terms of speed figures, but maybe the switch to a fair dirt track will provide exactly that? At long odds, I’ll apply my long standing rule to include the horse with the highest Tomlinson figure in my exacta box.

#12: DANCE WITH FATE (20-1) (Two Step Salsa- Flirting With Fate/ Saint Ballado)

247 Tomlinson, 97 Beyer

Pros: He came flying home late to win the Blue Grass over the Keeneland polytrack, posting impressive come home times of :36.32 and :11.98, both tops in the field for the final 3/8 and 1/8 of a Derby prep. To his credit, he hasn’t performed poorly on dirt either, and shows a runner up finish in last year’s Front Runner Stakes at Santa Anita, and was a mid-pack 8th in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile there.

Cons: Still, he seems to be one that has moved up with the synthetic surface switch, and his connections all but admitted that he wasn’t a dirt horse before throwing the proverbial “ah, what the heck” rabbit into the hat and entering this race, not without adding that they prefer for him to run on more rest than three weeks. His pedigree seems more geared towards shorter races and even though he likes to move late, it remains to be seen whether he can hold that move long enough and still have enough gas in the tank to make an impact in a race this long.

Conclusion: Generally, it is prudent not to overstate closing fractions over polytrack surfaces as they apply to this race. The added question about his pedigree and his connections’ uncertainty about running in here to begin with screams Derby Fever and gives me all the conviction I need to avoid him.

#17: COMMANDING CURVE (50-1) (Master Command- Mother/ Lion Hearted) 274 Tomlinson, 88 Beyer

Pros: Broke maiden in fourth try over the Churchill Downs surface, so he has the benefit of having won over the track. He closed well when 3rd after a tough, wide trip in the Louisiana Derby and was the only horse to gain on the winner over the final 1/8 and 3/8, improving from 9th at the top of the stretch.

Cons: This appears to be a pretty big leap in terms of class, as he shows just the single aforementioned maiden win in his six career starts. With only an 88 Beyer to his credit, he looks well behind the best here in terms of speed. Some will point to his late move in the Louisiana Derby as reasoning for using him as a potential bomber in exotics, but that move looked better visually than it does on paper, as come home times of :38.38 and :13.12 aren’t competitive with others in the field.

Conclusions: The comparisons to last year’s runner up, Golden Soul have already begun, as he translated a similar move in the Louisiana Derby to a career effort that he never duplicated in last year’s run for the roses. The difference, to me, is that Commanding Curve’s come home times don’t tower above the field the way Golden Soul’s did. I’ll try to keep him off the board and hope he takes some action as the potential “wise guy” closer, but more likely, he’ll remain one of the longest shots in the field for good reason.

PICKS SUMMARY:

1)    Wicked Strong

2)    California Chrome

3)    Ride On Curlin

4)    Medal Count

5)    Danza

6)    Intense Holiday

7)    Candy Boy

8)    General A Rod

9)    Wildcat Red

10) Chitu

11) Dance With Fate

12) Tapiture

13) Samraat

14) Vincerermos

15) Uncle Sigh

16) Commanding Curve

17) Vicar’s In Trouble

18) Pablo del Monte

19) Harry’s Holiday

20) We Miss Artie

HOW TO BET $100 ON THE RACE:

$13 Win, Place, Show- Wicked Strong ($39)

$20 Show- Ride on Curlin ($20)

$1 Exacta Box- Wicked Strong, California Chrome, Ride On Curlin, Medal Count ($12)

$1 Exacta Box- Wicked Strong, California Chrome ($2)

$0.50 Trifecta Key-

Wicked Strong/

California Chrome, Ride On Curlin, Medal Count, Danza, Intense Holiday/

California Chrome, Ride On Curlin, Medal Count, Danza, Intense Holiday, Candy Boy, General A Rod ($15)

$0.50 Trifecta Wheel-

California Chrome, Ride on Curlin/

California Chrome, Ride on Curlin, Wicked Strong, Medal Count/

California Chrome, Ride on Curlin, Wicked Strong, Medal Count, Danza, Intense Holiday ($12)

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