Kentucky Derby 2023 Picks and Analysis

PACE:

#2 VERIFYING (Justify/ Repent), 15-1

99 Beyer, 102 Brisnet, 115 Timeform

Pros: The lone Brisnet “E” designation in the field figures to be the speed of the speed on paper, which is always an asset in a 19-horse field, but may be especially so in a race that might feature a softer pace up front than it experienced a year ago. The 2nd place finish in the 9f Blue Grass last time out stacks up well enough figure-wise and is especially notable from a Thoro-Graph standpoint, taking a leap from “5.5” to “1.5” which is good for the second best number in the field (these numbers are better when lower). Despite being nipped at the wire by one of today’s favorites in Tapit Trice, Verifying did come home in a competitive :37.48 for the final 3/8 and an impressive :12.45 for the final 1/8. There are no true historical “red flags” for this runner.  

Cons: Failed to make the winner’s circle in either of his two prep races for this, finishing 3rd in the 8.5f Rebel Stakes two back over a sloppy track. All told, he has never won a race beyond 8f, and to do so for the first time against 19 other foes going a full quarter mile longer than any prior wins is a tough ask. While Justify was a Triple Crown winner himself, his progeny has failed to show much affinity for longer distances, which bears out in a somewhat middling AWD (average winning distance) on top of the pedigree (6.8), which doesn’t figure to be combated by a somewhat obscure dam line. This angle seemed to receive some confirmation as Verifying lost ground in the stretch after making the lead last time, which is not something we like to see coming into this event.

Conclusion: Posting a 99 Brisnet Late Pace figure after stretching out to 9f and racing near the pace is nothing to scoff at, but he did have a perfect trip that day and failed to hang on. It is worth wondering how beneficial another furlong will be, especially as being drawn so far inside likely forces connections to send with authority into a hard-ridden start inside the rest of the speed. There are simply better closing numbers here when trying to anticipate which runners will handle the extra distance, and the huge jump in figures last time out is bounce-candidate worthy. Nevertheless, he may take them a long way on the lead if he breaks well and is allowed to set easy fractions, and is usable in the bottom spot of trifectas.

#17 DERMA SOTOGAKE (Mind Your Biscuits/ Sunday Silence), 10-1

104-106 Beyer Estimation, N/A Brisnet, 121 Timeform Estimation

Pros: One of two colts to boast a win beyond 9f, the Japanese invader enters after crushing the field in the 9.5f UAE Derby via a gate-to-wire 5.5 length triumph, posting the fastest raw time we have ever seen in that race (1:55.4). That win was later flattered relative to the American form, as Mandarin Hero came back to run 2nd by a nose in the Santa Anita Derby, and that one was last defeated by a colt who finished 4th to Derma Sotogake in December. While there are no official speed figures created for races on foreign dirt, the estimates made by Randy Moss of DRF and Craig Milkowski of Timeform suggest field-best dirt numbers. Additionally, the “1.5” given by Thoro-Graph is tied for the second strongest number in the field. Japanese-bred shipper figures to be forwardly placed in a Derby that isn’t coming up super heavy on early pace, and in fact the Timeform Pace Projector (below) believes this to be the speed of the speed. The foundation here is unprecedented for a Derby runner, with four 9f races (two wins over dirt) and a 9.5 race under his belt coming into this.

Cons: Eighteen horses have shipped from Dubai following the UAE Derby, and eighteen have failed to win the Derby or even hit the board, so there is serious history to overcome here. While the AWD numbers look solid on paper, it would be fair to squint a bit at the current 7.8f average for the progeny of Mind Your Biscuits.  A son of the sprinter Posse, Mind Your Biscuits was competitive in 8-9f races but was crushed in his only 10f try in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and was also really best known as a sprinter. Finally, it is fair to wonder how significant the rail bias was on UAE Derby Day.

Conclusion: The Japanese have been hot on the international circuit of late, and it is only a matter of time before one of them wins a race like this. Why not this year with a confirmed front-runner with impeccable foundation who has won at distances further than any other, when the favorites do not seem considerably faster than the rest of the field, and whose running styles will require a lot of racing luck to get the job done? Our top selection is a must use on top, as the combination of early speed and proven staying power is simply too dangerous to ignore in this spot.   

#6 KINGSBARNS (Uncle Mo/ Tapit), 12-1

95 Beyer, 98 Brisnet, 107 Timeform

Pros: Wired the 9.5f Louisiana Derby while benefiting from a perfect trip with an easy lead to stay unbeaten in three career starts. The fractions in that race were so pedestrian (:49.3 for the ½, 1:14.3 for the ¾) that it is hard to gauge how much credit he should get for the stellar closing fractions posted there (:36.5, :12.1 for the final 3/8 and 1/8) or the Brisnet Late Pace figure of 109. Still, the numbers are there for evaluation, as this is still a colt proven over a classic distance, one who is bred to cover it (field-high AWD numbers outside of the Japan shippers), and one who will be near the lead in a Derby likely to be a bit short on pace. Lightly raced Todd Pletcher trainee shows an improving Thoro-Graph pattern over three career starts.

Cons: Not only did the Louisiana Derby triumph come with an unchallenged lead, it is fair to question the quality of the field he beat that day, as runner-up Disarm could only manage to finish 3rd when running back a month later in the 8.5f Lexington. Previous wins command similar suspicions of weak company; a horse called Mikey Bananas ran 2nd behind him two back, for example. Perhaps most concerning is the six-week layoff leading up to this, as only two colts in the last three decades have won this race off a similar layoff (Animal Kingdom and Authentic, the latter of which won the race in September with far more bottom under him). Kingsbarns also has only three career races under his belt and did not race as a two-year old, both historical obstacles that only eventual Triple Crown winner Justify has been able to overcome in modern history. Flavien Prat jumps off to ride Angel of Empire, which seems notable.

Conclusion: On top of the historical concerns, the speed figures earned in the Louisiana Derby are also below the bar here against the main contenders (especially in the opinion of Timeform, while Thoro-Graph assessed a figure of “3”). If you are using him here it has to be from a pure pace scenario standpoint, but even then, it requires a leap of faith to convince oneself that the race shape will unfold in a similar manner to his last, or that he has even has the early speed to clear this field in the first place. The more we look at the Louisiana Derby, the more fraudulent it appears. This one is bred well-enough to hang on for a spot in the superfecta if he receives another perfect trip, but isn’t a win contender in our view.

#4 CONFIDENCE GAME (Candy Ride/ Bernardini), 20-1

94 Beyer, 95 Brisnet, 117 Timeform

Pros: Well-bred winner of the 8.5f Rebel over a sloppy track back in February has trained up to the race without a traditional final prep, an unconventional approach to be sure. Keith Desormeuax has kept his charge fresh, throwing in a bullet :59.0 5f work over the track last week, the fastest of 59 (but isn’t he expected to be working well considering all of the races he has missed?)  Shows two wins at Churchill which tops the field, and possesses an intriguing pedigree for classic distances.

Cons: For all that is made of the historical disadvantage that faces the colts who opt for six week layoffs, one can rightly assume that the same applies rather exponentially to a ten-week layoff. Outside of the foundation that racing more consistently creates, there is also the concern about stretching out to a longer distance without the proper seasoning. This is a colt that has never raced beyond 8.5f and now will take the massive jump to 10f, and the extrapolated final 3/8 time of :38.99 for the Rebel win even at that shorter distance is among the worst in the field. In addition, this could be a colt that moved up considerably on the wet track last time anyway, having been beaten easily in the start before that over a fast track. The Rebel form did not hold up well when runner-up Red Route One finished off the board in his next start, the 9f Arkansas Derby, and Confidence Game finished 5 lengths behind Two Phil’s in the LeComte three back. The post draw did no favors, as the likelihood of being pinned down on the rail inside the speed is a concern, as shown by the Timeform Pace Projector below.

Conclusion: “Enters fresh” to put it mildly, but still shows more historical red flags than any other runner between the layoff, speed figures and closing fractions, and doesn’t have favorable form lines. Just 2/6 on fast tracks; an easy toss for us in this spot for the win and in underneath spots, but might make a fair enough account off the lay to finish mid-pack.

#7 REINCARNATE (Good Magic/ Scat Daddy), 50-1

90 Beyer, 96 Brisnet, 112 Timeform

Pros: Showed promise early in the year when winning the 8f Sham on the lead before pairing 3rd place finishes in two preps for this, the 8.5f Rebel and 9f Arkansas Derby. Four-time Derby winning jockey John Velazquez gets a favorable post to make an impact in the early going, and could be the one setting the pace given that.

Cons: The speed figures were not very competitive to begin with and appear to be regressing, as the 86 Beyer when 3rd in Arkansas Derby is down a few notches from the 90 earned over the sloppy Rebel track. Seemed to be in position to win that last race after pulling into 2nd in the stretch, but simply did not have the punch to make the lead and actually lost position late.

Conclusion: With no wins past a mile and no legitimate excuse in his last, this seems like a colt who is simply a cut below and shows a tendency to hang late, a likely pace casualty that is not for us in this spot.

JUST OFF THE PACE:

#15 FORTE (Violence/ Blame), 3-1 ML favorite

98 Beyer, 103 Brisnet, 118 Timeform

Pros: Winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and defending two-year-old champion looms a deserving favorite off two graded wins at Gulfstream in 2023. Has an extreme class edge, having run in five consecutive graded stakes and winning them all. After dominating the field for an easy 4.5 length win in the 8.5f Fountain of Youth, he overcame a wide trip to surge late and get up for the win last time out in the 9f Florida Derby, covering the final 3/8 in :37.84 and exploding over the final 1/8 in :12.47. The Brisnet Late Pace figure of 96 earned there does not jump off the page, but he does have two triple digit late pace figures to fall back on from the previous two 8.5f wins. Based on optics alone, son of Violence should be better going longer in this spot as Irad Ortiz retains the mount for Todd Pletcher. This is one of just two colts in the field to post back-to-back triple digit Brisnet speed figures.

Cons: While there are not any historical red flags, there are attributes here that seem middling for a consensus Derby favorite. Most concerning is the descending Beyer pattern since the Breeders’ Cup score (100-98-96), while Thoro-Graph figures have plateaued as well, culminating with just a “3.75” in the Florida Derby. While the wins keep piling up, there does not seem to be much progression from his two-year-old form. The Brisnet Late Pace figure earned for the closing win in the Florida Derby (96) does not seem to match the visual, suggesting that perhaps he was simply passing tired horses in the stretch.

Conclusion: Brisnet Prime Power selection is clearly the most consistent and accomplished colt in the field, and one that can certainly win the race. The question is whether to expect another stagnant effort or if a big move forward is in the works after potentially playing down to the competition last out. However, as bettors, the apparent lack of separation over a weak field points to an opportunity for value elsewhere considering this price. Taking a shot against the favorite on the top line in this spot while using underneath in exotics seems like the prudent play. Seems like we say this every year, but if we were unwilling to back American Pharoah on top at 3-1, it is unlikely we will ever back anyone at those odds. We would prefer to wait for this price to drift up a bit, and hedge multi-race wagers with outright win bets if the opportunity necessitates.

#18 ROCKET CAN (Into Mischief, Tapit), 30-1

91 Beyer, 98 Brisnet, 114 Timeform

Pros: Winner of the 8.5f Holy Bull back in February has foundation, and wasn’t disgraced when 2nd to today’s favorite Forte two back in the Fountain of Youth at the same track and distance. Adds blinkers for Bill Mott, who wins at a 17% clip after making that equipment change. Also holds a win over the Churchill surface, one of just three in the field that can make that claim.

Cons: Regressed with an 86 Beyer when a well-beaten 4th in the 9f Arkansas Derby in final prep, and didn’t appear to have any discernable excuse. Speed figures were far behind what will be needed to win here anyway with only a 91 career best Beyer, so a step backwards from there is not what you like to see coming into this. Sire Into Mischief has had a lot of success in general, but still is not viewed as a 10f sire, with even his very best progeny more successful at 9f and shorter.

Conclusion: Middling sort seems not fast enough nor is he getting any faster, has been beaten by five of today’s foes over the course of his career, and has only finished ahead of one of them. Bounce candidate after pairing two Top Thoro-Graph figures four weeks apart; not for us.

#8 MAGE (Good Magic/ Big Brown), 15-1

94 Beyer, 99 Brisnet, 114 Timeform

Pros: Overcame a bad break in third career start last out in the 9f Florida Derby, and battled back to gain the lead in mid-stretch only to be overtaken by the late charge of today’s favorite Forte. The breeding here is fun for the purposes of this race, being by a strong runner-up and out of a mare by a powerful winner. It is fair to reason that if one likes the favorite, they have to like Mage at least a little bit, and he enters on an ascending Thoro-Graph pattern.

Cons: The gate issues are obviously a huge concern in a field this large. In the start before the Florida Derby, this charge was essentially lone speed, but lost that advantage by breaking poorly. Having only three career starts and none as a two-year old gives some excuse for this behavior, but as discussed previously, that alone is a clear historical obstacle in terms of overall foundation. While there is room for improvement given that fact, the speed figures are still a cut below the best here.

Conclusion: Perhaps the biggest wild card in the field. The talent is clearly there, but we’d be lying if we said we had any idea what to expect here. It is certainly to his credit that he is versatile enough to be in position to win races after bad starts, and if he breaks properly maybe he’s the leader and shows a new dimension in that element. The gut feeling is that this guy will be a force in the fall but may be a tad green to factor here, although we would certainly not talk anyone off making a play at these odds based on upside potential.

#21 CYCLONE MISCHIEF (Into Mischief/ Bernardini), 30-1

91 Beyer, 97 Brisnet, 114 Timeform

Pros: Led the field for the first mile of the 8.5f Fountain of Youth two back before giving way in the stretch, and finished a competitive 3rd just 3 lengths back of today’s favorite Forte in the 9f Florida Derby last time out. Draws in as an AE following the Practical Move scratch, the same way last year’s winner Rich Strike did.

Cons: The closing fractions posted in the final prep leave a lot to be desired, as coming home in :38.5 for the final 3/8 and :13.35 for the final 1/8 don’t inspire much confidence at the longer distance, nor does the Brisnet Late Pace figure of 88 earned for that effort. This one will be trying to be involved early from the furthest outside post and pedigree doesn’t suggest 10f will be a great fit after a wide trip. Speed figures across the board are well below the cut level, and he has finished behind Rocket Can, who we view as a mid-pack finisher at best here, twice over the last three starts. This is one of just two colts in the field who possesses zero “above the mean” attributes for a historical Derby winner.

Conclusions: Expect money to flow in on the three AE colts after last year’s result, but there isn’t nearly as much to like about this one, or any angle we can see to elevate him into contention the same way there was last year. Pass.

#12 JACE’S ROAD (Quality Road/ Silver Deputy), 50-1

90 Beyer, 91 Brisnet, 101 Timeform

Pros: This is the other runner in the field with exactly zero “above the mean” attributes relative to a historical Derby winner. Draws in after a well-beaten 3rd in the paceless Louisiana Derby, but more on that later. Thanks, points system! Brad Cox D-lister does have a gate to wire 5-length romp over today’s foe Raise Cain at 8.5f from last December.

Cons: Colt was actually a length off the lead in last, when the pace was the slowest of any prep up front, and still managed to lose by over 5 lengths. Distance does not appear to suit, and speed figures are among the worst in the field; a bad combination.

Conclusion: Rabbit for Angel of Empire? Only chance appears to be to go early, but this colt could not contest a walking pace last time, so at best could provide some meaningful impact in terms of spicing up the opening fractions a bit. It is hard to toss anything after last year’s result, but this is our choice to finish last. TOSS.

STALKERS:

#5 TAPIT TRICE (Tapit/ Dunkirk), 5-1

99 Beyer, 102 Brisnet, 115 Timeform

Pros: Owns the fastest Thoro-Graph figure in the field, earning a “1” for 9f Blue Grass score last time out, the third straight consecutive ascending figure and fourth straight win for the improving Todd Pletcher trainee, and the Brisnet speed figure of 102 earned there is the highest last prep number as well. He unleashed a late surge in that race to catch today’s foe Verifying in the stretch, coming come in an impressive :37.23 for the final 3/8 and :12.35 for the final 1/8, earning a 102 Bris Late Pace figure. This is also the only colt in the field to post three consecutive triple digit late pace figures. Both visually and from a pedigree standpoint, long-striding grey seems to be begging for that extra furlong and is bred to relish it. A similar improvement from the 88-99 Beyer progression between winning the 8.5f Tampa Bay Derby and his last will win this race by many lengths; 6 length advantage over Lord Miles in winning the former was somewhat flattered by that one upsetting the Wood Memorial at long odds. Hot jockey Luis Suiz retains the mount.

Cons: While a prominent sire on the Triple Crown trail overall, no son of Tapit has ever won the Kentucky Derby. No statistically significant red flags exist in this attempt, but the biggest concern here is a general sluggishness at the gate combined with a lack of early speed that may result in a tough trip that requires some racing luck. From a post draw standpoint, starting further outside would have likely been preferable, as a slow start from the #5 post likely leaves him buried inside a wall of horses with a difficult trip ahead.

Conclusion: It is notable that Timeform does not view the Blue Grass as favorably as Brisnet, Beyer and Thoro-Graph, but the buzz on this improving colt is understandable considering his mental progression. He showed a new dimension in making a middle move to come within a length of the leaders at the second call of that race, making a 10 point improvement in Bris E2 speed, and then was still able to power home for the win without losing any closing punch. Of the two favorites, this looks like the one with the most upside and greatest trajectory, is probably the most likely winner of the race overall, and should be used defensively in multis at the very least. Could vie for favoritism.

#3 TWO PHIL’S (Hard Spun/ General Quarters), 12-1

101 Beyer, 107 Brisnet, 121 Timeform

Pros: Owns the highest Beyer, Brisnet and Timeform speed figures in the field following his 5.25-length romp in the 9f Jeff Ruby over the synthetic Turfway surface, the same race that produced upset winner Rich Strike at 80-1 a year ago. Moreover, the Brisnet speed figures earned over the last six races have not declined once between races among a variety of surfaces and race shapes. Settling a couple of lengths off the early pace in the Ruby, the versatile Larry Rivelli trainee devoured horses late, coming home in a field best :36.72 final 3/8 and :12.34 final 1/8, earning an impressive Brisnet Late Pace figure of 106. Versatile runner is the only one in the field to have posted three straight double digit Brisnet E2 figures, suggesting the ability to make the middle move that is often so important in this race. The Thro-Graph figure of “2” earned in that effort shows solid progression as the third straight improvement, and this is one of just three runners with a win at Churchill. Rivelli’s first career Derby foray, and he wins with 32% of his starters going from all-weather to dirt.

Cons: Lone two-turn dirt win came over a sloppy Churchill Downs track, so it is fair to wonder if the synthetic performance was indicative of true form on dirt or not. While hitting the board in two formidable true dirt starts between those races, it bears mention that he was beaten by today’s foes Angel of Empire and Sun Thunder in the 9f Risen Star. The Ruby win came six weeks ago, which is a historically long layoff for a Derby win candidate. Also, an apostrophe is not needed here in the confusing plural of “Phils”. Could be an underlay based on the phenomenon of novice bettors gravitating towards human names.

Conclusion: There is an Animal Kingdom vibe creating a bit of a wise guy buzz with this son of Derby runner-up Hard Spun, between the impressive figures over the synthetic track and the six-week layoff. There is an argument to be made that he was against the flow a bit in the aforementioned dirt races that provides some excuse for those losing efforts, although it is still difficult to elevate him above Angel of Empire on that angle. A player for the underneath spots in exotics at a price, and a win contender if one believes that the freak out on synth was indicative of an imminent move forward on dirt; we can’t quite get there with the latter, but would hedge live multis with win bets at double digit odds.

#1 HIT SHOW (Candy Ride/ Tapit), 30-1

93 Beyer, 99 Brisnet, 116 Timeform

Pros: Winner of the 9f Withers has not shown a declining Brisnet Speed figure in five career starts, and had a rough tip last out when 2nd as the favorite in the 9f Wood Memorial. The “2” Thoro-Graph figure posted in the Withers looks competitive here. Well-bred Brad Cox trainee figures to be overlooked following recent effort and out of a prep that has not had much recent impact in this race. The dreaded rail post is never great but isn’t a killer here for a colt that figures to want to take back, tuck in and save some ground anyway.

Cons: It is fair to question the company he has kept, as no colts who ran behind him the Withers have produced anything of substance, and losing to a 60-1 shot just off a maiden win as a heavy favorite in a final prep is a pretty bad look, difficult trip or not. Previous form shows head-to-head losses to today’s foes Rocket Can and Confidence Game from last November at 8.5f over this track. Speed figures lag behind the best here, and closing figures are average at best (95 Brisnet Late Pace, :37.84 final 3/8). The Withers come home time was especially ugly over a deep track that day.

Conclusion: Appears perhaps a cut-below this group; likely mid-pack runner with a fair amount of upside later in the year.

#11 DISARM (Gun Runner, Tapit), 30-1

90 Beyer, 97 Brisnet, 114 Timeform

Pros: Gained the necessary points for entry via a gaining 2nd place finish in the paceless Louisiana Derby, and hung on for 3rd last out in the 8.5f Lexington to sneak into the field. On paper, this is a very well bred colt, and while the 110 Brisnet Late Pace figure earned two races back was pace assisted, it remains the highest in the field. Steadily improving, having never posted a declining Brisnet speed figure in five career starts.

Cons: Still just a maiden winner, having won just once in those five tries. The effort in the Lexington, while sufficient to gain the needed points for entry, simply does not provide much optimism for a competitive showing here. Speed figures are in “red flag” territory, and he did not advance on the leaders at all in the stretch in last- where is the necessary improvement supposed to come from exactly?

Conclusion: Feels like more of an 8-8.5f type. Aside from recalling the tune of a great Smashing Pumpkins song every time we see his name, there isn’t very much to like here; won’t be using.

#16 RAISE CAIN (Violence/ Lemon Drop Kid), 50-1

90 Beyer, 94 Brisnet, 111 Timeform

Pros: Winner of the muddy 8f Gotham two back shows three consecutive ascending Brisnet figures. Strong dam line provides some stamina for closing type, as damsire Lemon Drop Kid progeny holds an AWD of 7.9, the field high for American breds.

Cons: Was no factor in final prep, finishing 5th in the 9f Blue Grass, the worst finish of any contender here in their final prep. Speed figures are still far below par.

Conclusion: Could not make up in any ground late in last when sitting well back off an honest pace. This may be more of a one-turn closer, and we anticipate wheels spinning late. Toss.

CLOSERS:

#14 ANGEL OF EMPIRE (Classic Empire/ To Honor And Serve), 8-1

94 Beyer, 101 Brisnet, 117 Timeform

Pros: Upset winner of the 9f Risen Star proved that was no fluke when dominating the Arkansas Derby at the same distance in final prep, becoming the only runner in the field to boast two wins at 9f or beyond over US soil. Unlike the Louisiana Derby, the Arkansas Derby saw hot fractions up front, and Angel of Empire closed powerfully to earn a Bris Late Pace figure of 108 while coming home in :36.79 and :12.12 for the final 3/8 and 1/8 respectively, all field highs when eliminating the Louisiana Derby due to its pace assisted flow. Furthermore, although the Risen Star performance received low speed ratings across the board, it was ultimately flattered by Two Phil’s (3rd in that race) dominating next out win. Gets bonus points for breaking maiden at Indiana Downs.

Cons: The low Beyer speed figure (94) earned in the Arkansas Derby score still looms a historical outlier for a Derby winner. On paper, the pedigree data stands in contrast to visual observations, as AWD numbers for both sire and damsire linger below the 7.0f threshold, the only colt in the field where this is the case.

Conclusion: There is a lot to like here about a colt who keeps being doubted but keeps winning and is improving with every start, coming with a strong form line into this race off five straight ascending Brisnet speed figures and three straight improving Thoro-Graph numbers. It is easy to knock the last out Beyer, which seems a cut below the top guns here, but a similar leap in figures based on the trajectory of the last two would put him squarely in the mix (87-94 progression). A win contender that will surely be flying late with Flavien Prat keeping the mount for the strongest of the Cox barn’s hand.

#22 MANDARIN HERO (Shangai Bobby/ Fuji Kiseki), 20-1

100 Beyer, 100 Brisnet, 121 Timeform

Pros: Draws into the field in the 11th hour following the scratch of Lord Miles, and all is well that ends well, as a 2nd place finisher by a nose in the Grade 1 9f Santa Anita Derby is surely deserving of a spot here. That race was the first on American soil for Japanese import, who had won four of five starts in Japan at 6-8f before missing by a neck at 9.5f. Made an impressive account of himself late at Santa Anita to gobble up ground and just miss knocking off winner Practical Move (also scratched here), who likely would have been overtaken with another single stride. Mandarin Hero earned a slightly better Thoro-Graph figure in that race than the winner did (“3 ½”), by way of the tougher trip experienced there. All told after the dust has settled here, Mandarin Hero holds the fastest dirt Beyer (100) and Timeform speed figure (121) in this bunch and owns the second best Brisnet Late Pace figure adjusted for pace considerations (106). Closing fractions also confirm a strong contender, having come home in :37.04 for the final 3/8 and :12.76 for the final 1/8, and this Japanese invader earns the top Timeform Late Pace figure in the field for that effort.

Cons: There are not any historical red flags to be concerned about here, having raced on American soil and posting speed figures as well as closing figures that are typical for a true win contender. While the pedigree numbers look fine on paper as well, sire Shanghai Bobby was more of a sprinter, which bears out in the 6.8 AWD for his progeny. As far as the damline goes, your guess is as good as ours, but we do see Sunday Silence as the grandsire of the dam, much like fellow shipper Derma Sotogake, and so many of these Japanese runners. Given the huge effort last out after the ship, it’s fair to wonder how much that took out of him. Drawing in as an AE, he will have to navigate from the second widest post here. The last colt to beat him in Japan finished 4th behind fellow shipper Derma Sotogake last December, and this one has certainly raced on the lesser circuit abroad between the two.

Conclusion: There is simply too much to like here to let this one get away at anywhere near these morning line odds, and it would be very hard for us to dismiss entirely given Skinner who he defeated in last would have been our top selection in this race before that one scratched out with a fever. If the race plays out according to Timeform Pace Projector’s most simplistic view, a “fast pace” in a race leads to its highest rated closer winning it. That points directly here, as it did, somewhat amazingly, to Rich Strike a year ago at 80-1 from a similar post and late draw-in situation. Even if the pace is more moderate than that, as we expect, Mandarin Hero has shown ability to stay within contact of the front of the pack (only 2 lengths back of the leaders at the second call of last two races), so he does not have to come from the clouds. There will be a narrow place for this shipper on the top line of our plays simply from the standpoint of value, sitting as a 27-1 overlay in the win pool as we type and likely the value of the race if that holds. Any move forward from last stands a good chance to spice up exotics at the very least.

#13 SUN THUNDER (Into Mischief/ Medaglia d’Oro), 50-1

89 Beyer, 96 Brisnet, 108 Timeform

Pros: Best career race came three back when 2nd beaten a length by Angel of Empire in the 9f Risen Star, an effort that was flattered when that one crushed the Arkansas Derby field in subsequent start. Earned a competitive Brisnet Late Pace figure of 104 when 5th beaten 8 lengths in 9.5f Louisiana Derby, but as noted previously that number was heavily pace assisted. Has some excuse for the poor finish there considering how badly that flow played against his running style; we are inclined to toss that race entirely from the form line. Bottom side of the pedigree screams distance, as the damsire AWD of 7.7 is second best in the field of the American breds.

Cons: Has regressed in last two preps, finishing well of the board beaten a combined 15 lengths by five of today’s foes. Has never run a 90 Beyer, and shows only one career win by breaking maiden in second attempt. Trainer Ken McPeek adds blinkers in an effort to keep his charge more in touch with the leaders, but wins at just a 10% clip after making that equipment change, and this is a strange look overall ahead of this event.

Conclusion: Grinding type should be making progress late, but most recent effort was very discouraging and seemed devoid of any turn of foot. That trip was not ideal, but it’s still tough to envision a scenario with enough improvement in the works to turn tables here; won’t be on our tickets but here’s a fun prop bet- colt most likely to finish where he starts.

#23 KING RUSSELL (Creative Cause/ Proud Citizen), 50-1

87 Beyer, 96 Brisnet, 112 Timeform

Pros: Charged home at long odds to earn runner-up honors in the 9f Arkansas Derby, earning a spot here after three defections. The most notable positive in that race were the strong closing fractions posted, coming home in :37.18 and :12.17 for the final 3/8 and 1/8, earning a 102 Brisnet Late Pace figure.

Cons: Took five tries to break his maiden, which remains only career win in six starts. The prior attempts included a 5-length loss to today’s foe Sun Thunder, for a bit of a form gauge. Was still quite easily beaten by 4.5 lengths last out and earned just an 87 Beyer, which is the lowest top figure in the field. Closer draws in last of all following the fever-related scratch to our top selection Skinner, so will exit the furthest outside post.

Conclusion: After Rich Strike last year, it is hard to be completely dismissive of any of the AEs, especially one that figures to come from off the pace. However, we can’t see lightning striking twice with this guy, who may well be an underlay off of that angle alone for novice bettors. Should be making up ground late but would nice a massive jump figure wise or a complete pace meltdown to factor on the board; neither seems likely in our view.

Picks Summary:

  1. Derma Sotogake 10-1
  2. Angel of Empire 8-1
  3. Tapit Trice 5-1
  4. Mandarin Hero 20-1
  5. Forte 3-1
  6. Two Phil’s 12-1
  7. Verifying 15-1
  8. Kingsbarns 12-1
  9. Mage 15-1
  10. Confidence Game 20-1
  11. Hit Show 30-1
  12. Sun Thunder 50-1
  13. Rocket Can 30-1
  14. Disarm 30-1
  15. King Russell 50-1
  16. Reincarnate 50-1
  17. Raise Cain 50-1
  18. Cyclone Mischief 30-1
  19. Jace’s Road 50-1

WAGERING STRATEGY:

How to bet $100 (and 1) on the Kentucky Derby:

$10 to Win, $20 to Place on Derma Sotogake

$20 to Place on Angel of Empire

$2 Exacta Box: Derma Sotogake, Angel of Empire, Tapit Trice ($12)

$1 Exacta Box: Derma Sotogake, Angel of Empire, Tapit Trice, Mandarin Hero ($8)

$0.50 Trifecta Part Wheel:

Derma Sotogake, Angel of Empire, Tapit Trice/

Derma Sotogake, Angel of Empire, Tapit Trice, Mandarin Hero, Forte/

Derma Sotogake, Angel of Empire, Tapit Trice, Mandarin Hero, Forte, Two Phil’s, Verifying ($30)

$0.50 Trifecta Box:

Derma Sotogake, Angel of Empire, Tapit Trice ($3)

Use in Multi-Race Wagers:

Derma Sotogake, Angel of Empire, Tapit Trice, Mandarin Hero

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