2015 KENTUCKY DERBY: The BLS Comprehensive Field Guide & Betting Preview

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Updated: May 1, 2015
Derby 7

By BLS Horse Racing Handicapper, RED RYDER

The 2015 Run for the Roses is this Saturday folks. That means it’s time to get some handicapping done and see if we can’t narrow this monster field down a bit. If you’re going to throw some scratch down on the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, here is some info and analysis that will hopefully help. If you like to pick your Derby ponies by the name of the horse, the post number, the color, or whatever else – that can work too – do your thang. The Derby is traditionally a tough race to predict. It’s particularly tough to hit the exotic vertical wagers such as trifectas or superfectas, but those bets usually pay fat stacks so we’re going to try to hit them. The reason the race is so tough to nail is simple. The Derby is the first time any of the horses have faced 19 rivals or gone the classic distance of 1 1/4 miles. In fact, since 1980 only 6 post time favorites have won the race – including our boy California Chrome last year. Most years one or two longshots hit the exotics making the payouts huge. Hitting the board in the Kentucky Derby generally requires racing luck and a good trip. Both are nearly impossible to predict. If your horse is stuck in traffic, pinched at the rail, or pushed out wide, then just pray for things to open up off the last turn. That said, here is the structure of my handicapping assumptions for this year’s Kentucky Derby. They are based on the recent history of the race (going back to 2000 or so) and my analysis of each horse that will be lining up on Saturday.

 

THE RACE

Derby 2

And they’re off!

My expectations of how the race will unfold are based on both Derby history and the various running styles of this year’s entries. First, I expect the pace of the race to be moderately hot. Prior to 2014 when Derby qualification was based on graded stakes earnings and not points, the pace was almost always super hot. This was due to the annual inclusion of distance-limited horses (when earned their qualifying $$ in 7 and 8 furlong races) and class-limited horses (who won their $$ as 2 year-olds or in Grade 3 races) whose connections think their only chance is to go to the front and hope to stay there. The points system changes the early pace prediction in my view. Starting last year, most significant points races are not only at 1 1/16th – 1 1/8th miles but also come during the spring of the 3-year old campaign. Horses must have a least a little staying power to get in the race and speed does not guarantee you a spot. That said, I think that there is enough natural speed this year to make the pace solid early, but I don’t expect any early speed-balling. Since 2000 the only front-runner to take the Derby field gate-to-wire was War Emblem in 2002. The one or two best front-runners have a shot to hit the board, but a hot pace makes a win very unlikely. If they don’t go quick early and the pace is slower than expected, the classier front-runners and pace-pressers that can get the 1 ¼ mile distance have a great shot to hold on and hit the board.

 

BETTING THE RACE

Derby 3

Sometimes the best bet is to be overpaid $15K at the window like Wes Welker in 2014.

Like most horseplayers, I look for the best combination of a colt’s chances to win the race or hit the board (depending on the type of bet) and value offered by the post time odds. My goal in handicapping such a huge field as the Derby is to eliminate as many horses as possible based on my estimation of how the race will be run and identify the best value horses left for win wagers and the group that I will use to build my exotic wagers, primarily trifectas and superfectas since that is where the big money is made on the Derby. They are certainly harder to hit, but the reward is usually a monster on the Derby. To make that clear, here are the Kentucky Derby payouts on $1.00 trifecta and $0.10 superfecta bets since 2000:

YEAR WINNER $1 TRI $.10 SUPER
2014 California Chrome $1,712.30 $796.19
2013 Orb $3,462.80 $2,854.20
2012 I’ll Have Another $1,532.80 $2,854.20
2011 Animal Kingdom $1,976.29 $2,406.30
2010 Super Saver $1,168.70 $10,128.46
2009 Mine That Bird $20,750.30 $27,850.32
2008 Big Brown $1,722.80 $2,936.89
2007 Street Sense $220 $1,452.32
2006 Barbaro $5,709.20 $4,243.02
2005 Giacomo $66,567.40 $43,212.67
2004 Smarty Jones $493.80 $2,069.01
2003 Funny Cide $332.40 $279.58
2002 War Emblem $9,186.60 $9,176.45
2001 Monarchos $6,119.20 $6,298.69
2000 Fusiachi Pegasus $217.50 $163.54

Damn. Other than the Street Sense, Funny Cide, and Fusaichi Pegasus years, those trifecta bets paid stacks. And if American Pharoah and/or Dortmund do not hit the board this year – Boom! Keep in mind that California Chrome, Orb, Big Brown, and Smarty Jones were favorites in years the $1.00 trifecta paid quite well. Also, check out what a difference the 4th place horse makes for the superfecta. If you catch a bomb to round it out, it can pay huge compared to the trifecta with only a $0.10 base wager as it did in the I’ll Have Another, Super Saver, Street Sense, and Smarty Jones years.

 

MY SELECTIONS

I provide a summary here of the horses that my handicapping suggests have the best combination of odds value and probability to either win, hit the board for a trifecta, or round out a superfecta. I generally try to find my favorite among the favorites, my favorites among the middle-odds horses, and a few longshots that I believe have the best chance to hit the board to maximize payoffs if they hit. There is a brief analysis of each horse below from which I drew my selections after handicapping each horses’ strengths and weaknesses with respect to how I think the race will be run, so check it out and see if it meshes with your opinion. For my betting purposes, I group the horses by category and mix and match a bit and hope to hit the right combination. If you don’t agree, pick any of ‘em you like however you like to pick ‘em and get some cheddar down on the most exciting 2 minutes in sports. Another quick note, if you’re playing several trifectas and supers like me, it doesn’t hurt to throw in a horse or two that I toss out in a few to cover your arse just in case. If a horse I toss hits the board or the super, obviously most if not all of my bets are toast. Best of luck to y’all on Saturday!

 

VALUE-BASED WIN BETS

The horses that I think provide the best value for WIN bets are:

  • 6. Mubtaahij (20-1)
  • 12. International Star (20-1)
Derby 4

Mubtaahij won the G1 UAE Derby in Dubai last time out.

 

KEY HORSES FOR VERTICAL EXOTICS (Trifecta and Superfecta)

The horses that I will key on in most exotic wagers are:

  • 6. Mubtaahij (20-1)
  • 10. Firing Line (12-1)
  • 12. International Star (20-1)
  • 16. War Story (50-1)
  • 18. American Pharoah (5-2)
Derby 5

The morning line favorite American Pharoah drew the #18 post.

 

HORSES IN WITH A SHOT (Uses on some Trifectas and Superfectas)

Other horses that I will mix in but not key on are:

  • 2. Carpe Diem (8-1) – odds up only
  • 3. Materiality (12-1)
  • 8. Dortmund (3-1)
  • 19. Upstart (15-1)
Dortmund

Bob Baffert’s Dortmund is an undefeated 6 for 6 in his career.

 

HORSES THAT I TOSSED

I will not use these horses and if they hit the board it is no bueno:

  • 1. Ocho Ocho Ocho
  • 4. Tencendur
  • 5. Danzig Moon
  • 7. El Kabeir
  • 9. Bolo
  • 11. Stanford
  • 13. Itsaknockout
  • 14. Frosted
  • 15. Keen Ice
  • 17. Mr. Z
  • 20. Far Right

 

HORSE BY HORSE ANALYSIS

Derby 6

Let’s breakdown this monster field of horses.

1.OCHO OCHO OCHO (Street Sense – Winner, by Horse Chestnut)

Trainer: Jim Cassidy

Jockey: Santiago Gonzalez

Owner: DP Racing, LLC

Qualifying Points: 30 (19th)

M/L Odds: 50-1

Why he can win: This is one of the more difficult sells in the field, but we’ll give it a shot. Ocho3 ran a respectable 3rd last time out in the G1 Toyota Bluegrass at Keenland finishing 5 ½ lengths behind Derby entrants Carpe Diem and Danzig Moon. That third was the result of fading down the stretch after leading most of the way. From the dreaded #1 post, it looks like the only choice for 888 is to gun it and get on or close to the lead early. So there’s that. Oh yeah, and his pops is 2007 Derby winner Street Sense and his mom’s name is “Winner’” – which is nice.

Why he can’t win: For starters, the most dreaded post position in the Kentucky Derby is the #1. The 1-hole has not produced a Derby winner in eons. Prior to his 3rd last race, the Ocho got smoked by Dortmund in the G2 San Felipe at Santa Anita by 15 ½ lengths. He has not won a race since hitting the wire a nose ahead of Mr. Z in the G3 Delta Jackpot last November.

Overall take: Ocho Ocho Ocho is an easy toss for me. If you take the #1 post, lack of quality wins, and slower speed figures at 3 y/o than at 2 y/o, you get a bad recipe for a Derby winner.

 

2. CARPE DIEM (Giant’s Causeway – Rebridled Dreams, by Unbridled’s Song)

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Jockey: John Velasquez

Owner: WinStar Farm

Qualifying Points: 164 (3rd)

M/L Odds: 8-1

Why he can win: Carpe Diem sports a 4 for 5 lifetime record including a 3 for 4 mark at 1 1/16th miles or more. His only loss is a strong-closing 2nd (6 ½ lengths) behind Texas Red in the G1 Breeders Cup Juvenile. He won the G1 Toyota Bluegrass last time out by 3 lengths over Danzig Moon and 5 ½ over Ocho3 and easily won the G2 Tampa Bay Derby by 5 prior to that. Carpe’s usual stalking running style suits the Derby (if he can get into position early), and his speed figures are consistently strong. He also looks great in the program with a top-notch pedigree (Giant’s Causeway is about as good as it gets), trainer, jockey, and ownership. An excellent work at Keenland on April 25th (0:48.3 for 4 furlongs) doesn’t hurt either.

Why he can’t win: If the #1 post is brutal, the #2 is not a ton better. The inside posts simply run the risk of getting pinched early and having a rough trip. You can also argue that Carpe Diem has not faced the most difficult of fields, although I think that Danzig Moon might have a look if he improves off the Bluegrass effort.

Overall take: Carpe Diem is all about the post time odds for me on Saturday. I like his record but don’t love his opponents. If his price goes down or holds near 8-1 (which is more likely I think), I like him less. If he floats up to 12-1 or better, I like him much more.

 

3. MATERIALITY (Afleet Alex – Wildwood Flower, by Langfuhr)

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Jockey: Javier Castellano

Owner: Alto Racing

Qualifying Points: 100 (6th)

M/L Odds: 12-1

Why he can win: Materiality is a perfect 3 for 3 in his short career, and you never sneeze at an undefeated horse. As his competition has gotten better each race, so have his speed figures (96, 100, 105). In his second career race, he stalked and easily put away fellow Derby runner Stanford and battled Upstart to a 1 ½ length win last time out in the G1 Florida Derby. The Afleet Alex colt is clearly talented and if the improvement pattern continues he could be a real contender.

Why he can’t win: Materiality did not race as a 2-year old. The last Derby winner that did not race as a 2-year old was Apollo in 1882. So, a little while back. He has also only raced 3 times in 2015 which is incredibly light for a Derby contender. Saturday will be his first race away from Gulfstream Park as well, so we don’t yet know if Materiality is a horse-for-Gulfstream-course (although an April 24 work at Churchill going 4 furlongs in 0:48 suggests he might like the surface). Finally, Pletcher had no fun at the post-draw party on Wednesday as his top two contenders ended up in the #2 and #3 holes.

Overall take: History matters enough to me that I am tossing Materiality as a contender for the win. I wouldn’t dare talk anyone off the horse, but 133 years is…. 133 years. However, if his odds hold or float up a bit, he could be a horse to use in vertical exotics.

 

4. TENCENDUR (Warrior’s Reward – Still Secret, by Hennessey)

Trainer: George Weaver

Jockey: Jose Ortiz

Owner: Philip S. Birsh

Qualifying Points: 41 (15th)

M/L Odds: 30-1

Why he can win: Tencendur ran a decent 2nd by 2 lengths behind Frosted last time out in the G1 Wood Memorial after taking a brief lead mid-stretch. He had a solid work to prep for the Derby, running 5 furlongs in a solid 1:00 flat (1/67) on April 25th.

Why he can’t win: With only a maiden victory to his name and a paltry 1 for 5 lifetime record, Tencendur has been anything but a winner thus far. Other than his maiden win and 2nd last time, his races include finishes of 5th (3 ¾ lengths), 4th (4 lengths), and 3rd (6 ¼ lengths). Not too bueno. Also, he ran a speed figure 14 points higher last race than any in his career which often is an indicator that he may bounce a bit after such a big effort.

Overall take: Straight toss for me. The weak record, potential bounce, and uninspiring pedigree don’t work in Tencendur’s favor in my opinion. Also, his great workout last week is mitigated by the fact that he ripped off excellent works before his previous two races when he was soundly defeated.

 

5. DANZIG MOON (Malibu Moon – Leaveminthedust, by Danzig)

Trainer: Mark Casse

Jockey: Julien Leparoux

Owner: John C. Oxley

Qualifying Points: 45 (13th)

M/L Odds: 30-1

Why he can win: His 2nd place effort (3 lengths) behind Carpe Diem in the Bluegrass was solid and showed some evidence of a colt on the improve. If Tencendur’s 1:00 flat work on the 25th was fast, Danzig Moon’s 5 furlongs in 0:58 flat (1/60) on April 18 at Churchill was blistering and showed a nice turn of foot over the Derby strip.

Why he can’t win: Much like Tencendur, Danzig Moon only has a maiden win to his name and the same 1 for 5 total record. It took the son of Malibu Moon 3 tries to break the maiden, and he got smoked by 12 ½ length in his first try against winners two races back.

Overall take: While Danzig Moon is quite similar to Tencendur on paper and also a toss for me, I actually think he has a better shot to hit the board than most of the 30-1 or more longshots in the Derby. I think there is a chance that he is indeed on the improve and can maybe sneak into the superfecta if the race breaks his way.

 

6. MUBTAAHIJ (Dubawi (IRE) – Pennegale (IRE), by Pennekamp)

Trainer: Mike De Kock

Jockey: Christophe Soumillon

Owner: Sheikh Mohd bin Khalifa al Maktoum

Qualifying Points: 100 (6th)

M/L Odds: 20-1

Why he can win: His win in the G1 UAE Derby in Dubai last time out was spectacular. He crushed that field in the easiest of ways and is an overseas shipper that is somewhat different from those who have tried the Derby in the past. His trainer, world-renowned Mike De Kock, has been pointing to the Kentucky Derby as the end-game for his son of Dubawi for some time. This may be an indication that the rigors or shipping to the U.S. and the dirt surface that most foreign-based horses do not like are different for Mubtaahij this year. He is 4 for 5 on the dirt (with a 2nd place effort) in his career and clearly likes the surface more than most foreign-based horses.

Why he can’t win: Traditionally, foreign-based horses do not fare well in the Derby. The dirt surface, long travel to Kentucky, and any number of other factors have generally limited the success of horses like Mubtaahij in the past. The quality of his competition is also a question mark as he has faced a colt named Maftool in 3 of his past 4 races. If Maftool is in fact a quality dirt 3-year old, Mubtaahij’s form is flattered. If Maftool is not Derby-quality, Mubtaahij is likely not either.

Overall take: I am going against tradition here and making Mubtaahij my top value win play for the Derby. The two primary reasons are his uber-impressive win in the UAE Derby where his turn-of-foot to pull away from the field was unreal looking and the fact that Mike De Kock has had this trip to Kentucky in mind for Mubtaahij all along. I’ll take the shipper and hope his price holds at 20-1 or floats up a bit.

 

7. EL KABEIR (Scat Daddy – Great Venue, by Unbridled’s Song)

Trainer: John Terranova II

Jockey: Charles Lopez

Owner: Zayat Stables

Qualifying Points: 95 (8th)

M/L Odds: 30-1

Why he can win: El Kabeir is battle-tested and has 4 wins, 2 seconds, 2 thirds, and a fourth in 9 career starts. After a pair of graded stakes wins in late 2014 and early 2015 (the G2 Kentucky Jockey Club and G3 Jerome Stakes), El Kabeir was among the early Derby favorites. Since then, he has run 2nd (1 ¾ lengths) in the G3 Withers, 1st (2 ¾ lengths) in the G3 Gotham, and 3rd (5 ¾ lengths) in the G1 Wood Memorial last time out.

Why he can’t win: In the view of many, including myself, El Kabeir has fallen off quite a bit since his win in the Jerome. He was defeated in the Wood by Frosted (1st) and Tencendur (2nd) and I do not think Tencendur has much of a shot on Saturday. In his one victory since January, the field produced no other Derby horses and appears quite weak in hindsight.

Overall take: I am tossing El Kabeir from all wagers. I think he is a good horse against Grade 3 company, an average horse against Grade 2 company, and weak against the Grade 1 top dogs he will face in the Derby. If he is good enough to beat this group, he will do it without my money.

 

8. DORTMUND (Big Brown – Our Josephina, by Tale of the Cat)

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Jockey: Martin Garcia

Owner: Kaleem Shah

Qualifying Points: 170 (2nd)

M/L Odds: 3-1

Why he can win: Dortmund is an undefeated 6 for 6 in his career and a deserving morning line 2nd choice in the betting. I don’t think many would have an issue if he were the favorite. The huge son of 2008 Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown has shown a ton of fight and heart in several of his races and his best race to date was probably his last. Dortmund easily won the G1 Santa Anita Derby by 4 ½ lengths in his final derby prep. He drew a great post position for his size and style as well. Dortmund is the biggest horse in the field and (unusually for a big boy) likes to run up front. In fact, his last two wins were essentially gate-to-wire. The #8 post suits that well. If that is not enough, he rocks the outstanding jockey-trainer-owner connections and his daddy won the Derby from the #20 hole.

Why he can’t win: There are not many knocks on Dortmund as you might imagine. His size could be a potential disadvantage if he is not able to get up close to the front early. It can be harder for horses of his size to deal with the tight quarters and traffic issues in the middle of the 20-horse Derby field. He is not like Zenyatta (another monster size-wise) who just kicked it in the back until the last turn and blew by everyone. Unless he has a backup running style that we don’t know about yet, he will probably need to make sure he gets up with the front runners early.

Overall take: Dortmund can win the Kentucky Derby – no question. But as I wrote above, betting the Derby is all about finding value. If one of the M/L betting choices float up for some reason (which I do not expect), then there may be some value in American Pharoah or Dortmund. But if not, there is not enough value there for me beyond inclusion in a few exotic wagers.

 

9. BOLO (Temple City – Aspen Mountain, by Chief Seattle)

Trainer: Carla Gaines

Jockey: Rafael Bejarano

Owner: Golden Pegasus Racing Inc.

Qualifying Points: 30 (20th)

M/L Odds: 30-1

Why he can win: Because anything can happen in the Kentucky Derby. Complete longshots have won the race in recent years (Giacomo, Mine That Bird), and a perfect trip can mean a lot in such a big field. Since moving to dirt, Bolo has 2 consecutive 3rd place finishes, including a nice effort to finish 1 ¾ lengths behind Dortmund in the G2 San Felipe two starts back, and may be able to improve in his third start on the surface. Also, there are some analysts who think Bolo is a solid sleeper with a chance to hit the board.

Why he can’t win: After starting his career 2 for 3 on the lawn, Bolo moved over to the dirt and regressed a bit in his second start. After finishing 1 ¾ lengths behind Dortmund at 1 1/16th miles, he finished 6 ½ lengths behind him at 1 1/8th miles in the Santa Anita Derby in a visually uninspiring effort.

Overall take: For the longshot horses, you can go either way with Bolo. I am tossing him because I was not impressed with his last effort.

 

10. FIRING LINE (Line of David – Sister Girl Blues, by Hold For Gold)

Trainer: Simon Callaghan

Jockey: Gary Stevens

Owner: Arnold Zetcher

Qualifying Points: 58 (12th)

M/L Odds: 12-1

Why he can win: Firing Line has never finished worse than 2nd in 5 career races. Since finishing 2nd in his first career start, his only other 2nd place efforts were both by a head to Dortmund. After two consecutive defeats by a head to Dortmund in the G1 Los Alamitos Futurity and G3 Robert B. Lewis, Firing Line crushed a weak field in the G3 Sunland Derby by 14 ¼ lengths. Even though the Sunland Derby field was nothing to write home about, the Simon Callaghan-trained colt destroyed them with nothing by a hand ride. He also has Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens in the saddle on Saturday and his speed figures have slightly and steadily increased with each race.

Why he can’t win: After getting in front of Dortmund in the stretch in both of their battles, Firing Line let his main edge past before the wire both times. You can look at this two ways. If Dortmund is the real deal and deserving of the 1st or 2nd favorite spot on Saturday, the Firing Line is a great play because he almost defeated him twice and will have much better odds. If Dortmund was not deserving of his ranking once the Derby is over, it is likely that Firing Line wasn’t either.

Overall take: While I think Dortmund is a real contender, the value I place on Firing Line will be based on his post time odds. I am hearing rumblings that Firing Line might be a wise-guy horse and his odds might come down. If that is the case, I am not terribly interested. If his odds hold or float up, I think he presents some solid value in the Derby.

 

11. STANFORD (Malibu Moon – Rosy Humor, by Distorted Humor)

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Jockey: Florent Geroux

Owner: Stonestreet Stables, LLC

Qualifying Points: 40 (17th)

M/L Odds: 30-1

Why he can win: Other than throwing in a complete dud in his 2nd career start, a dismal 6th (11 lengths) in the G2 Saratoga Special, Stanford has 2 wins and 2 seconds to his name. Both second place finishes were to Derby rivals Materiality and International Star after leading both races into the 2nd turn. Stanford will likely run to his normal style in the Derby and get up front early. If the pace is not too hot, he may be able to be the best of the front-runners and find a way to hold on until the wire.

Why he can’t win: Stanford’s front running style is not the best recipe for Derby success. As I mentioned earlier, the only horse to go gate-to-wire in the Derby since 2000 was War Emblem in 2002. Perhaps he can be taken off the pace as he did in his first two wins, but if he’s up front and the pace is relatively quick, he has not shown the staying power as of yet. Also, while his record of 2 wins and 3 seconds in 5 starts is nothing to dismiss, his 2 wins are in his maiden breaker and an optional claiming race at Gulfstream. He has yet to finish first in a stakes race.

Overall take: Stanford is a toss. I think he gets up on the pace (or sets it) early, and I do not think that will work in his favor on Saturday. He’ll be a nice price, so I won’t talk you off him if you like him as one of your bombs. I think he has a shot to be a great miler. Not a classic distance type for me despite his nice pedigree.

 

12. INTERNATIONAL STAR (Fusiachi Pegasus – Parlez, by French Deputy)

Trainer: Michael Maker

Jockey: Miguel Mena

Ken and Sarah Ramsey

Qualifying Points: 171 (1st)

M/L Odds: 20-1 

Why he can win: Here is an odd and interesting Derby contender. International Star finished 1st in Derby qualifying points, yet is 20-1 on the morning line. He is undefeated as a 3 year-old (3-0) having defeated Derby rivals War Story, Stanford, and Keen Ice, has wins on all 3 surfaces, is battle-tested and sports an overall record of 5 wins and 2 seconds from 9 starts, yet he is 20-1 on the morning line. He is a Ken and Sarah Ramsey colt that is not a son of Kitten’s Joy (the Ramsey’s beast of a stallion) – which is weird. He is by 2002 Derby winner Fusiachi Pegasus and has registered an increased speed figure in each of his last 3 races, yet is 20-1.

Why he can’t win: The morning line odds say he does not have a great chance, and my best guess as to why is that his 3 wins in 2015 are by 1 ¼, 1, and 2 ½ lengths. Each win is over other Derby horses that are not terribly fancied – 2 over War Story and 1 over Stanford. His speed figures are good but are a slight notch below the top contenders. His last 3 wins are all at the Fairgrounds, however, he does have wins as a 2-year old at Belmont and Woodbine.

Overall take: This is a case where I am going against the morning line and putting International Star as my second price horse (after Mubtaahij) and getting him into my exotics. I like horses that are potentially overlooked despite data that would suggest support (he qualified with the most points for goodness sake) and International Star fits the bill. A strong use for me.

 

13. ITSAKNOCKOUT (Lemon Drop Kid – Stormy B, by Cherokee Run)

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Jockey: Luis Saez

Owner: Starlight Racing

Qualifying Points: 60 (11th)

M/L Odds: 30-1

Why he can win: The lightly-raced son of Lemon Drop Kid snuck in his first career race, a maiden win, in December 2014, so he is clear of the Apollo rule. His win in the G2 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park was by disqualification of actual winner Upstart, but the 2nd place effort was solid enough anyway. He smashed a 4 furlong work at Churchill on April 24 in 0:48 flat.

Why he can’t win: Several reasons in my opinion. Most importantly, since winning an optional claiming race at Gulfstream in January, his speed figures have dropped by about 10 points per race since (102 91 82). That is not a good trend. He has only raced at Gulfstream thus far and he was crushed by Materiality by 21 lengths in the Florida Derby last race.

Overall take: Straight toss. Recent form is less than awesome and not a derby profile that gets me excited.

 

14. KEEN ICE (Curlin – Medomak, by Awesome Again)

Trainer: Dale Romans

Jockey: James Graham

Owner: Donegal Racing

Qualifying Points: 22 (22nd)

M/L Odds: 50-1

Why he can win: He got into the Kentucky Derby field as the last one in, so there’s that. As I said before, anything can happen in the Derby a la Giacomo and Mine That Bird. Plus, I’m not one to talk anyone off a 50-1 shot if you like ‘em. On the track, Keen Ice is a closer which can be a good style in the Derby if the pace is super hot up front. He finished a strong closing 3rd (2 ¾ lengths) in the G2 Risen Star two races back behind International Star and War Story.

Why he can’t win: Where to start? Keen Ice has one win to his name – his maiden breaker by a head last September. Since then, the Keen one has finished 5th (13 ½ lengths), 3rd (8 ½ lengths), 5th (10 ½ lengths), 3rd (2 ¾ lengths) and 4th (6 ¾ lengths) last time out in the G2 Louisiana Derby. That is particularly no bueno.

Overall take: Easy toss. Tossed salad. If he hits the board I will be shocked.

 

15. FROSTED (Tapit – Fast Cookie, by Deputy Minister)

Trainer: Kiaran McLaughlin

Jockey: Joel Rosario

Owner: Godolphin Racing

Qualifying Points: 113 (5th)

M/L Odds: 15-1

Why he can win: Frosted won the G1 Wood Memorial by 2 lengths over Tencendur last time out with a career best speed figure. The Tapit colt has a nice stalk and close style that tends to work well on Derby day. He is owned by international powerhouse Godolphin Racing, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, and Joel Rosario gets the mount – all are good things. The gray colt finished 5th in qualifying points and has been facing several other Derby entrants in his last four races.

Why he can’t win: While Frosted has finished 1st or 2nd in all but one of his seven races, he has only won twice – his maiden breaker and the Wood. Prior to his win in the Wood, he finished 4th (4 ¾ lengths) behind Upstart in the G2 Fountain of Youth and 2nd (5 ½ lengths) behind Upstart in the G2 Holy Bull.

Overall take: Frosted in not without a chance in the Derby, but since I like a few horses at longer odds than the 15-1 on Frosted, he’s a toss for me. If he gets a good setup, a good finish is not beyond the realm of possibility.

 

16. WAR STORY (Northern Afleet – Belle Watling, by Pulpit)

Trainer: Tom Amoss

Jockey: Joe Talamo

Owner: Christopher Dunn and Loooch Racing Stable

Qualifying Points: 44 (14th)

M/L Odds: 50-1

Why he can win: War Story has not finished worse than 3rd in 5 career races. After breaking his maiden at first-asking (at Churchill Downs) and winning an optional claiming race in start number two, War Story finished 2nd to International Star in the G3 LeComte (2 ½ lengths) and the G2 Risen Star (1 length). In his last, the Tom Amoss-trained colt ran a respectable 3rd (4 ½ lengths) to International Star and Stanford in the Louisiana Derby. His closing style might be effective if the race falls apart late and Joe Talamo in the irons is a good thing.

Why he can’t win: Other than the fact that he is 0 for 3 against International Star, War Story has not won a race above the optional claiming level. His speed figures are consistently solid, but not once spectacular to date. His works at Churchill have been less than impressive thus far, and he is fairly lightly raced in his young career.

Overall take: I’ve seen a hell of a lot worse 50-1 shots than War Story. In fact, of the uber-bombs in the race, War Story is my favorite. We made the right call on Commanding Curve last year at 50-1 to hit the board (he finished 2nd), and War Story is our big bomb call this year. I won’t be surprised if he hits the board or finishes 15th.

 

17. MR. Z (Malibu Moon – Stormy Bear, by Storm Cat)

Trainer: D. Wayne Lukas

Jockey: Ramon Vazquez

Owner: Zayat Stables, LLC

Qualifying Points: 34 (18th)

M/L Odds: 50-1

Why he can win: Mr. Z is a grinder. He already has 12 starts under his belt – by far the most in the field. In all but 3 of those starts, he has not finished worse than 3rd. He likes to run close to the pace, so if they go slow up front it helps Mr. Z’s grinding style for sure. He finished 3rd (8 ¾ lengths) last time out to American Pharoah in the G1 Arkansas Derby and a particularly game 3rd (1/4 length) to Dortmund and Firing Line in the G1 Los Alamitos Futurity last December.

Why he can’t win: Did I mention that in those 12 starts Mr. Z has one win? Yep, his maiden victory in the first career start. He has not won a race since then. June 28, 2014 to be exact. While the well-bred son of Malibu Moon has been competitive most of the time, he does not win. Mix in the fact that he finished 9th (20 ½ lengths) two starts back in the Louisiana Derby and has had 7 different jockeys in 12 races, you have got some concerns.

Overall take: Mr. Z’s grinding style that does not produce big results (three 3rd’s and a 9th in 2015) is not my cup of Derby tea. Toss for sure. If he grinds out a 3rd or 4th running his best race, I can’t say I will be surprised. But he will not be on any of my tickets.

 

18. AMERICAN PHAROAH (Street Boss – Champagne Royale, by French Deputy)

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Jockey: Victor Espinosa

Owner: Zayat Stables

Qualifying Points: 160 (4th)

M/L Odds: 5-2

Why he can win: Your morning line favorite has been a beast in his last 4 starts. After finishing 5th in his first career start, American Pharoah has rattled off 4 consecutive wins by 4 ¾, 3 ¼, 6 ¼, and 8 lengths. He destroyed the field by that 8 lengths last time out in the G1 Louisiana Derby and the only other horse that would be worthy of favoritism is Dortmund. The Pharoah runs up front, so if he’s able to get there and slow the pace down a bit – watch out. His connections are top shelf with Baffert, Espinosa (Cali Chrome’s jockey), and the Zayat Stable in his corner. He finished 5th in qualifying points despite having only 5 total starts. He can win the race for sure if he gets the trip and pace setup.

Why he can’t win: American Pharoah has had everything his own way in his last 2 starts. He has not yet had to face a hot pace with other graded stakes quality horses up front. The #18 post is not ideal. Particularly if he does not clear the inside horses early and establish a position near the front. Oh yeah, and only 6 post time favorites have won the race since 1980.

Overall take: American Pharoah is talented and a deserving post time favorite if that is how the wagering shakes out. But I don’t bet favorites to win the Derby. I will play favorites in exotics like we did with Cali Chrome last year, but there is no value in betting a 2-1, 5-2, or 3-1 horse in a field of 20 horses. I will have the Pharoah in a few vertical exotics and nothing more. He is a beast, but California Chrome came into last year’s Derby with a much more accomplished record and beastly resume.

 

19. UPSTART (Flatter – Party Silks, by Touch Gold)

Trainer: Rick Violette, Jr.

Jockey: Jose Ortiz

Owner: Ralph Evans

Qualifying Points: 76 (9th)

M/L Odds: 15-1

Why he can win: Upstart boasts a stellar record to date with 4 wins (3 officially due to DQ in Fountain of Youth), 2 seconds (3 officially due to DQ in Fountain of Youth), and a third from 7 starts. The only horses to finish ahead of Upstart thus far are Materiality (last time out by 1 ½ lengths), Texas Red, Carpe Diem, and Daredevil – a strong cast. His mid-pack pouncing style is well-suited for the Derby, and he has been competitive in all of his races. His speed figures match up with the best 3-year olds in the country, and he has finished in front of Derby rivals Itsaknockout and Frosted in his last 3.

Why he can’t win: Upstart’s best work has been done at Gulfstream Park and he does not have an official work over the Churchill main track. He was turned back by Materiality in his last start and needs a good trip to get in the money on Saturday.

Overall take: Upstart is a good horse. He has faced good company and finished well every time. I like Upstart as a vertical wager horse – even more if his odds float up from a pretty juicy 15-1 morning line.

 

20. FAR RIGHT (Notional – Zindi, by Vindication)

Trainer: Ron Moquett

Jockey: Mike Smith, Jr.

Owner: Robert LaPenta and Harry Rosenblum

Qualifying Points: 62 (10th)

M/L Odds: 30-1

Why he can win: Far Right is a seasoned colt with 9 career starts and has never finished worse than 4th (in October of 2014). Since the legendary Mike Smith took the mount 3 starts back, Far Right has two wins and a second (albeit by 8 lengths to American Pharoah). The man with the plain name is anything but plain in big races. He won the 2005 Derby aboard Giacomo and has also won the Preakness, Belmont, 17 Breeder’s Cup races, and 3 Breeder’s Cup Classics. Dude rides his best races in the biggest races. Far Right is a deep closer, so if he gets a hot pace setup, he’ll be rolling late with Zenyatta’s (perhaps the best deep closer in racing history) jockey in the irons.

Why he can’t win: While he has been competitive in almost all of his races, the only Derby horse Far Right has beaten in a race is Mr. Z. He was defeated by 8 lengths to American Pharoah last time and finished 4 lengths behind Ocho Ocho Ocho last November. He has defeated lesser company and has not been quite good enough against the elite. And the only horse to win the Derby from the #20 post was the other-worldly Big Brown in 2008. Far Right is not Big Brown.

Overall take: I am going to toss Far Right due to his lack of wins against the top 3-year old and his post position. He does have a real chance to hit the board, however, if they go too fast up front and the race breaks down. The #20 hole doesn’t hurt a deep closer quite as much as some others.

NBC

The 2015 Kentucky Derby – 1 PM Pacific on NBC.

 

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2014 KENTUCKY DERBY: The BLS Comprehensive Field Guide & Betting Preview