2014 KENTUCKY DERBY: The BLS Comprehensive Field Guide & Betting Preview
By BLS contributing author, RED RYDER
The 2014 Run for the Roses is almost here so 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, particularly hitting the exotic vertical wagers such as trifectas or superfectas, but those bets also usually pay fat stacks on Derby day if you hit them. The reason the race is so tough to nail is simple. It’s usually the first time any of the horses has faced 19 rivals or gone the classic distance of 1 ¼ miles. In fact, since 1980 only 5 post time favorites have won the race, and most years one or two longshots hit the exotics making the payouts huge. A lot of it has to do with the trip around the track that a horse gets and racing luck, and that is nearly impossible to predict. If your horse is stuck in traffic, pinched at the rail, bumped, 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.
My expectations of how the race will unfold are based on how the Derby is usually run and the various running style of this year’s entries. First, I expect the pace of the race to be moderately hot to very hot early with fast fractions run by the leaders for the first quarter, half, and three-quarter miles. Historically, the Derby has fast fractions because there are distance-limited horses and class-limited horses whose connections think their only chance is to go to the front and hope to stay there along with the naturally fast but classy horses whose best running comes on the front end even if they can get the distance. This year is no different in my view. If their past performances are a good indicator and the trainers and/or jockeys do not do something very out of character for the horses most successful previous running style then all or most of the group including Vicar’s In Trouble, Uncle Sigh, Samraat, General A Rod, Wildcat Red, Chitu, and possibly Tapiture should be vying for the lead, pressing the pace, or very close early if they are able to get to that position when the gate opens.
That is a good chuck of the field that I estimate has their best chance if they are up close early which should produce a hot pace. If this pace setup happens, it benefits the mid-pack stalkers and the closers who I favor this year (and most years in the Derby) as the pace setters generally tire and fall back. In fact, 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, and my tickets will need tons of racing luck to get home.
In terms of this year’s horses, the view of most experts and respected handicappers is that it’s California Chrome’s race to lose. The California-bred colt was made the 5/2 morning line (M/L) favorite and deservedly so. He is in the best form having won his last 4 races by a combined 24 ½ lengths, he owns the highest Beyer Speed Figure in the field with a 106 last time out, has three +100 Beyers in his last 4 starts, and he has a stalk and pounce racing style that has traditionally been a good recipe for the Derby. If his M/L holds or is bet down as most expect, there is little value in a win bet on California Chrome considering the size and age of the field, the unpredictability of each horses potential trip, and the lack of favorites finding the winner’s circle since 1980. So if not Cali Chrome, then who? My analysis tries to narrow it down to a handful of horses from the remaining 19 that I think have the best shot to win or hit the board to make the vertical exotic wagers pay big.
Betting the Race
Like most horseplayers, I look for the best combination of a horses’ 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 $1.00 Trifecta $0.10 Superfecta
2013 Orb $3,462.80 $2,854.20
2012 I’ll Have Another $1,532.80 $4,804.64
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 $220.00 $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 California Chrome does not hit the board this year – Boom! It’s not something that I expect, but you best believe that I will have some trifecta and superfecta tickets without the Chrome included just in case it’s a Mine That Bird, Giacomo, or War Emblem year and I’m able to catch lightning in a bottle. Keep in mind that 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.
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 in trifectas and superfectas (two horse exactas work just as well too). If you don’t agree, great! 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:
- 12. Dance With Fate (20-1)
- 14. Medal Count (20-1)
Key Horses for Vertical Exotics (Trifecta and Superfecta)
The horses that I will key on in most exotic wagers are:
- 1. Vicar’s In Trouble (30-1)
- 5. California Chrome (5/2)
- 12. Dance With Fate (20-1)
- 14. Medal Count (20-1)
- 17. Commanding Curve (50-1)
Horses In With a Shot (Uses on some Trifectas and Superfectas)
Other horses that I will mix in but not key on are:
- 4. Danza (10-1)
- 11. Hoppertunity (6-1) (SCRATCHED THURSDAY)
- 13. Chitu (20-1)
- 18. Candy Boy (20-1)
Horses That I Tossed
I will not use these horses and if they hit the board it is no bueno:
- 2. Harry’s Holiday (50-1)
- 3. Uncle Sigh (30-1)
- 4. Samraat (15-1)
- 7. We Miss Artie (50-1)
- 8. General A Rod (15-1)
- 9. Vinceremos (30-1)
- 10. Wildcat Red (15-1)
- 15. Tapiture (15-1)
- 16. Intense Holiday (12-1)
- 19. Ride On Curlin (15-1)
- 20. Wicked Strong (8-1)
Horse by Horse Analysis
1. Vicar’s In Trouble (Into Mischief – Vibrant, by Vicar)
Trainer: Mike Maker
Jockey: Rosie Napravnik
Qualifying Points: 120
M/L Odds: 30-1
Why he can win: He won the Louisiana Derby last out in pace-pressing and fashion and pulled away from two other Derby horses (Intense Holiday, Commanding Curve) while posting a career high Beyer Speed Figure of 104. The #1 post should not affect Vicar’s as much as it would have for many others in the field because I expect him to be on the lead or very close early which will provide him a ground-saving trip if he’s good enough. Also, he has 3 wins from 5 starts, has never missed the board, and is owned by red-hot, reigning Eclipse Award winning owners Ken and Sarah Ramsay which doesn’t hurt.
Why he can’t win: The Derby pace is usually hot, and I expect Vicar’s to be a part of it. Traditionally, that is not a great recipe for getting into the winner’s circle on the first Saturday in May. Poor last work over the Churchill strip on 4/26 is also not a great sign as he might not like the surface. Getting the Derby distance might also be an issue.
Overall take: Of all the horses I expect to be on or near the pace, I like Vicar’s in Trouble the best. Particularly if the pace is not too hot (which I don’t expect). Somewhat live longshot with tempting 30-1 M/L odds, but that last work scares me a bit. Reasonable vertical wager horse.
2. Harry’s Holiday (Harlan’s Holiday – Daisy Mason, by Orientate)
Trainer: Mike Maker
Jockey: Corey Lanerie
Qualifying Points: 20
M/L Odds: 50-1
Why he can win: Because anything can happen in the Kentucky Derby. 50-1 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.
Why he can’t win: There is nothing is Harry’s past performances that suggests he’s good enough to win against this group. His three career wins are maiden, optional claiming, and listed stakes, and all at 6 ½ furlongs or less. Also, he ran his career high Beyer of 95 back in February and career low (67) last time out.
Overall take: Absolute toss. If he wins at 50-1 (and probably much more come post time) maybe they’ll make a movie about him too.
3. Uncle Sigh (Indian Charlie – Cradlesong, by Pine Bluff)
Trainer: Gary Contessa
Jockey: Irad Ortiz, Jr.
Qualifying Points: 24
M/L Odds: 30-1
Why he can win: Uncle Sigh is a hard-knocking type that runs very consistent speed figures (94, 99, 98, 96, 97). I expect him to be close to the early pace, so if it’s not too hot there is a chance that his speed consistency gives him the ability to grind out a close win. He also has two consecutive bullet works over the Belmont track in preparation for the Derby.
Why he can’t win: Much like Vicar’s in Trouble, I expect the Uncle to be part of the pace which is not the best Derby recipe. He still only holds a maiden win on his record and has never raced anywhere but Aqueduct. Also, he has no official works a Churchill which is not a trainer move I like very much.
Overall take: I am going to toss Uncle Sigh as I do not think his running style, nose for the wire, or overall quality are good enough to best this group.
4. Danza (Street Boss – Champagne Royale, by French Deputy)
Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Jockey: Joe Bravo
Qualifying Points: 100
M/L Odds: 10-1
Why he can win: His last out performance winning the Arkansas Derby by 4 ¾ lengths while posting a career high Beyer of 104 was super impressive. If that was the start of a continuing upward trend, Danza looks to be a threat as his stalking style usually bodes well in the Derby. He posted a solid last work at Churchill and word from the clockers is that he looks pretty good on the track in the mornings. He is 2/4 lifetime and has never missed the board.
Why he can’t win: His last performance was by far his best, so there is a chance it was either an aberration or he might bounce after that huge effort. He only has 4 lifetime starts which is a pretty light level or experience against top company for Derby winners historically. Also, he could get pinched going into the 1st turn by speed coming over from the outside and find himself in a crowded spot down the backstretch.
Overall take: As the 4th favorite on the M/L, I don’t think Danza gives great win-bet value unless his odds go up a bit by post time. At 15-1 or better, I would consider him a value win-bet option based on his last race, but with only 4 starts and 10-1 odds I consider him a useful vertical exotic horse only.
5. California Chrome (Lucky Pulpit – Love the Chase, by Not For Love)
Trainer: Art Sherman
Jockey: Victor Espinoza
Qualifying Points: 150
M/L Odds: 5-2
Why he can win: Coming into the Derby, Cali Chrome is in the best form of any horse in the field having won 4 straight by a combined 24 ¼ lengths (5 ¼, 7 ¼, 5 ½, 6 ¼). The Chrome has been crushing fools and is the very deserving favorite in the race. I expect him to be bet down from his 5/2 M/L. He has also posted the highest Beyer in the field (106), three Beyer’s over 100 in his last four (106, 102, 94, 101), and has done it mostly by stalking the early pace which is a great Derby running style. Most experts are going with the “if it’s not California Chrome, any of 10-15 other horses can win” argument. They might be right.
Why he can’t win: The primary factor here is the distance. The Chrome’s pedigree in no way screams a mile and a quarter even though he looked great going 1 1/8 last time out. He will going into the starting gate with no official works at Churchill although word is he looks good on the track in the mornings. Also, a California-bred has not won the Derby since Swaps in 1955. There are not a ton of knocks here, so it seems that only the distance, surface, or a bad trip could be his undoing,
Overall take: If the California-bred is not there at the end it will be a shock to most, present company included. He is not a win wager horse for me given that I expect him to be bet down from his M/L to the far clear favorite and since 1980 only 5 favorites have won the race (including Orb last year). The Derby field is too large, too young, and trip matters too much for me to see win value in a short-price favorite. That said, he will be in most of my exotics (trifectas and superfectas), however, I will certainly have a few trifectas and supers that do not include the Chrome because if they happen to hit they will pay absolute stacks.
6. Samraat (Noble Causeway – Little Indian Girl, by Indian Charlie)
Trainer: Rick Violette, Jr.
Jockey: Jose Ortiz
Qualifying Points: 100
M/L Odds: 15-1
Why he can win: Supporters of Samraat need only look at his winning attitude and super consistent speed figures to find rationale to bet the colt. He holds 5 wins and 1 place from 6 career starts, and has run a 99 Beyer in each of his last 4 races. That type of nose for the wire and consistency are well-liked factors for many horseplayers. His close to the pace, stalking style can work well in the Derby.
Why he can’t win: None of Samraat’s 5 wins have been above the Grade 3 level and both of his wins at the G3 level were very close victories over the only other Derby horse he has faced in Uncle Sigh. He does not have an official work over the Churchill strip and his pedigree is only so-so for the Derby distance with speed-influencing broodmare sire Indian Charlie.
Overall take: When handicapping the Derby you gotta make choices, and my choice is to toss Samraat. He may figure late, but I’m not high on Uncle Sigh who is the only other entrant he has faced and narrowly beat him both times. Once he stepped up to Grade 1 company in the Wood Memorial, he was bested by Derby contender Wicked Strong by 3 ½ lengths.
7. We Miss Artie (Artie Schiller – Athena’s Gift, by Fusaichi Pegasus)
Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Jockey: Javier Castellano
Qualifying Points: 60
M/L Odds: 50-1
Why he can win: He won the G3 Spiral Stakes last out with a nice closing kick to nip Harry’s Holiday at the wire after a wide trip in the race that produced 2011 Derby winner and 2013 Dubai World Cup winner Animal Kingdom. Artie also has the services of very capable jockey Javier Castellano and is owned by the powerhouse Ken and Sarah Ramsey outfit.
Why he can’t win: For starters, We Miss Artie’s starts on dirt have been absolutely no bueno. In 3 career dirt starts, the Artie Schiller colt has finished 8th (17 ½ lengths), 7th (4 lengths), and 2nd (6 ½ lengths) in his maiden debut. This is not good. His one work over the Churchill main track was so-so at best, and he only owns 3 victories from 8 starts including the 17 ½ length crushing in the G2 Fountain of Youth on dirt by the likes of fellow Derby starters Wildcat Red and General A Rod.
Overall take: Straight toss. If the future is bright for We Miss Artie, his past performances to this point suggest that it will be on synthetic and/or grass surfaces only.
8. General A Rod (Roman Ruler – Dynamite Eyes, by Dynaformer)
Trainer: Mike Maker
Jockey: Joel Rosario
Qualifying Points: 40
M/L Odds: 15-1
Why he can win: The General (there will be no mention of the 2nd half of his name – A Rod – henceforth due to the high douche rating even though it refers to his former owner Armando Rodriguez) is a potential contender due to his hard-trying mentality and the fact that he has never finished more than 1 ¾ lengths back from the winner and never missed the board. His pedigree screams distance with sire Roman Ruler, son of 2000 Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus, having produced several classic distance winner including 2011 Belmont Stakes winner Ruler On Ice. His broodmare sire Dynaformer is an internationally renowned and immensely successful distance influence. He has faced and narrowly defeated or closely lost to several Derby caliber horses including entrant Wildcat Red, the Derby qualified but scratched Constitution, and early year Derby-fancied colts Top Billing and Conquest Titan. He also retains the services of last year’s winner jockey Joel Rosario.
Why he can’t win: The General is a pace-pressing type which, as stated a number of times thus far, can be a bad recipe if the pace is hot as expected. Even with his strong distance pedigree, he did weaken some down the stretch in the Florida Derby last out to finish 3rd. Also, his one official work over the Churchill main track was less than impressive.
Overall take: The General is a tough one. He is always there at the end, he has a great stamina pedigree, and he always gives it is best. In the case of the Derby, however, I think he is a close-call toss. My gut tells me that he will likely press a hot pace and it will cost him in the end. That and I can’t stand his name – which is usually a great betting strategy.
9. Vinceremos (Pioneerof The Nile, Kettle’s Sister, by More Than Ready)
Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Jockey: Joe Rocco, Jr.
Qualifying Points: 20
M/L Odds: 50-1
Why he can win: Vinceremos comes from a long line of outstanding Derby performers on his pops’ side of the family. His sire Pioneerof The Nile (2009) and grandsire Empire Maker (2003) both ran second in the Derby, and his great-grandsire Unbridled (1990) won the race. On mom’s side, his broodmare sire More Than Ready ran fourth in the 2000 Derby. So the distance should be no big deal. Prior to his last race, he ran 2nd in the G2 Tampa Bay Derby (3 lengths) to the Derby-scratched Ring Weekend and won the G3 Sam F. Davis Stakes.
Why he can’t win: A number of reasons in my opinion. Starting with what in the world happened last out getting absolutely smoked while stopping badly down the stretch in the G1 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes to finish a dead-last 14th, 28 ½ lengths back of winner Dance With Fate. Ouch. Also, his career best Beyer Speed Figure is 93 and has only one other 90+ Beyer in 5 career starts. He has never defeated a G1 caliber horse and his lone work at Churchill was solid at best (0.49, 20/59)
Overall take: Easy toss. His low speed figures for this group and his abysmal performance last time out versus Dance With Fate, Medal Count, and Derby also-eligible Pablo Del Monte cannot make up for what looks like a very nice Derby pedigree in my opinion.
10. Wildcat Red (D’Widlcat – Racene, by Miner’s Mark)
Trainer: Jose Garoffalo
Jockey: Luis Saez
Qualifying Points: 90
M/L Odds: 15-1
Why he can win: Wildcat Red has never finished worse than 2nd in 7 career starts and only sports one Beyer below 96 in those efforts, an 89 while winning the Juvenile Sprint Stakes at Gulfstream Park last November. His pace-pressing and/or front-running style has served him well thus far, and a less-than-hot but unexpected Derby pace scenario could benefit the hard working colt. He is a battler who has always been in the top two so far and that alone gives many a reason to support Red.
Why he can’t win: As his races have gotten longer, his rivals have gotten much closer. In his first mile effort, he lost by a head to General _____ in the Gulfstream Park Derby. At a mile and a sixteenth in the G2 Fountain of Youth he nipped the General by a head in a grinding stretch battle. And last out, going a mile and an eighth in the G1 Florida Derby he dueled to a ¼ length loss to Derby-scratched Constitution. This seems to be a result of pedigree distance limitations. While Red does get a bit of stamina from his dam side, his sire D’Wildcat is pure speed influence and that has been his running style thus far. His pace-pressing or front running style might make him the speed of the speed on Derby day, but taken together with his pedigree, the 1 ¼ mile distance may be too much for him. An awful last work on the Churchill main track going 5 furlongs in 1:04.2 (36/37) is also an ominous sign.
Overall take: There will likely be some decent support for Wildcat Red come post time given his strong record and hard-trying style. But his potential distance limitations and terrible last work make him a toss for me. To narrow down the field tough decisions must be made.
11. Hoppertunity (SCRATCHED THURSDAY) (Any Given Saturday – Refugee, by Unaccounted For)
Trainer: Bob Baffert
Jockey: Mike Smith
Qualifying Points: 95
M/L Odds: 6-1
Why he can win: The Baffert charge has several factors that have led to his placing as the 6-1 2nd choice on the Kentucky Derby M/L. Performace-wise, Hoppertunity has been consistently improving over his past 3 races. Even in his 5 ½ length defeat to California Chrome last time out in the G1 Santa Anita Derby, the colt ran his career best Beyer of 100. This comes after increasing Beyer’s of 90 and 99 in his previous two starts. Hoppertunity has also kept some of the best company of any of this year’s Derby contenders having faced California Chrome, Candy Boy, Intense Holiday, Taipture, Ride On Curlin, and Vicar’s In Trouble in his past 3, all of whom will be in the starting gate on Saturday. To boot, his connections are top shelf. He is saddled by 3-time Derby winning, 5-time Preakness Stakes winning, and 3-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Bob Baffert. Perhaps even more important, he will be ridden by the ridiculously successful Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith. 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. His legacy will be that of “Big Shot” Bob Horry except with far better performances when the title was not on the line. Running style-wise, Hoppertunity has the style that most Derby experts like the most. In his best races, he stalks the pace and closes with a pretty nice turn-of-foot. He also sports two consecutive snappy works on the Churchill main track which is a good sign of his like for the surface.
Why he can’t win: If Hoppertunity wins the 2014 Kentucky Derby, he will be the first horse to win the race without competing as a 2 year old since Apollo in 1882. 1882?!? Yep, 1882. That is one hell of a trend. Many, many have tried. All have failed. Some have come close, including California invader Bodemeister in 2012, but 132 years is more than a trend. Other that the strange historic factor, Hoppertunity has won only 2 of 5 career starts and has missed the board twice although he has faced very tough 3 year old company.
Overall take: History notwithstanding, Hoppertunity has a good shot compared to many in here, but I am going to be watching the odds as post time nears to make a final decision. If his odds float up, tempting history might be in the cards. If his odds get shorter, history might rule my decision-making. I wouldn’t dare talk anyone off the horse, but 132 years is…. 132 years. He will certainly be included in a subset of my vertical wagers.
12. Dance With Fate (Two Step Salsa – Flirting With Fate, by Saint Ballado)
Trainer: Peter Eurton
Jockey: Corey Nakatani
Qualifying Points: 108
M/L Odds: 20-1
Why he can win: His performance last time out in the G1 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keenland was excellent. The Two Step Salsa colt was way back early and closed with a fantastic turn-of-foot of the final turn for an impressive 1 ¾ length victory over Derby starter Medal Count. He ran a career best Beyer of 99 in that effort and showed why the California-based horses are serious contenders for this year’s Derby crown. If that race was the beginning of newfound power and an upward trajectory, he could be a major factor with a good trip around the track. Dance With Fate will be ridden by the very capable Corey Nakatani and sports an ultra-impressive last work on the dirt at Santa Anita going 4 furlongs in 0:47 (2/63).
Why he can’t win: As impressive as his win in the Blue Grass was there are a few notable issues with the Peter Eurton charge. Although posted a 99 Beyer last time out, it was only his 2nd Beyer over 90 in 8 career races. He also has little experience on dirt surfaces twice going a mile and a sixteenth as a 2 year old at Santa Anita last September and November finishing 2nd (2 ½) in the G1 Frontrunner Stakes and 8th (9 ¼) in the G1 Breeder’s Cup Juvenile respectively. Because of his running style, the colt will need the relatively hot pace up front I expect and a clean trip. While he trains regularly on the dirt at Santa Anita, his race experience is limited and with mixed results and he has not had an official work at Churchill Downs. Dance With Fate has also only found the winner’s circle 3 times from 8 starts with 3 place finishes and twice missing the board.
Overall take: While I generally like to handicap a horses’ body of work and not focus too much on the last race as the central factor, there was something about the turn-of -foot Dance With Fate showed at Keenland that raised by eyebrows. Given the relative strength of the California-based horses this year, the fact that his two dirt starts were against G1 company, and that he handled a G1 last out in impressive fashion besting East Coast-based Derby starters Medal Count, Harry’s Holiday, Vinceremos, and also-eligible Pablo Del Monte, my gut is telling me that the race mattered quite a bit. If he takes to the Churchill surface and gets a good trip, I think he has a big shot. I will be playing Dance With Fate on Derby day as one of my key horses because based on my analysis the 20-1 M/L is too juicy to pass up. I just hope it goes up from there and is not bet down too much.
13. Chitu (Henny Hughes – Sea Gift, by A.P. Indy)
Trainer: Bob Baffert
Jockey: Martin Garcia
Qualifying Points: 54
M/L Odds: 20-1
Why he can win: Much like Danza, Chitu is another big time wild card. The Henny Hughes colt owns 3 wins and a place in 4 lifetime starts having only lost by ½ length in the G2 Robert B. Lewis Stakes to Derby starter Candy Boy after an exciting stretch duel. He owns career Beyer’s of 95, 89, and 96 prior to his career best of 103 last out in winning the Sunland Derby. His last 3 starts were on the Santa Anita dirt, and he has never been behind a rival at the top of the stretch. His first work upon arriving at Churchill Downs was an impressive 0:47.3 going 4 furlongs (2/46) and trainer Bob Baffert opted for a stamina work for his last in going 6 furlongs in 1:13.1. An easier pace than expected could put this wild card clearly into the picture as they come down the stretch. There is no doubt that he has quality speed and quality connections as the capable Martin Garcia takes the mount.
Why he can’t win: Experience and running style. With only 4 career starts and the last coming back in mid-March, Chitu is very lightly raced. This lack of experience has not traditionally translated well into Derby success and the Sunland Derby has been a sub-par prep race in comparison to most others. His pace-pressing and front-running style, having never trailed a horse at the top of the stretch, is a definite cause for concern as Derby pace horses generally fade over the last ½ – ¼ mile. Company-wise, the only fellow derby starter he has faced is Candy Boy who beat him on the square.
Overall take: My best guess is that Chitu will take some sneaky action come Derby day. Because he is a lightly raced colt with good speed and connections, bettors may see value in Chitu. My analysis suggests tossing Chitu as a win option, but this is a colt that I might include in a few exotics due to potential upside, particularly if his odds go up rather than down.
14. Medal Count (Dynaformer – Brisquette, by Unbridled’s Song)
Trainer: Dale Romans
Jockey: Robby Albarado
Qualifying Points: 40
M/L Odds: 20-1
Why he can win: Even though he did not win, Medal Count’s best career lifetime performance came last time out in the G1 Toyota Blue Grass behind Dance With Face, and the Dynaformer colt also displayed an impressive turn-of-foot down the stretch. He has been a steadily improving runner, posting consecutive Beyer Speed Figures of 89, 94, and 97. His distance pedigree is also quite strong as his sire is the renowned Dynaformer and his broodmare sire is the late Unbridled’s Song who produced the successful classic distance progeny such as Will Take Charge, Eight Belles, and Dunkirk. Medal Count boasts well-respected and successful connections with trainer Dale Romans and jockey Robby Albarado, the regular rider for former Horse of the Year Curlin. Four very strong works over the dirt at Gulfstream Park prior to a 6 furlong stamina work at Churchill as a final prep also bode well.
Why he can’t win: The biggest potential knock against Medal Count is surface. He has only run 3 times on dirt from 7 career starts. After breaking his maiden impressively on the Ellis Park dirt (albeit against weak competition), he subsequently finished 11th (17 lengths) in the G1 Breeders Cup Juvenile and 5th (9 ½ lengths) in the G2 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream. His closing style will require a good trip with traffic breaking up in front of him to leave enough room to come through which is no guarantee in a big field. Also, prior to February his speed figures are well below those recorded by all rivals in the Derby field.
Overall take: This horse is eerily similar to Dance With Fate in my estimation. While he has not faced the same level of company as Dance With Fate, both are coming off their best career performance (in the same race), both looked very impressive in the stretch, and both have serious surface questions. Given his strong works on the Gulfstream dirt, the impressive performance last time out, and the fact that I consider Dance With Fate a real contender, I am going to make Medal Count another play on Saturday. I put him slightly behind Dance With Fate, but I expect that if a good trip is in the cards, Medal Count has every chance to be there at the end with very enticing odds.
15. Tapiture (Tapit – Free Spin, by Olympio)
Trainer: Steve Asmussen
Jockey: Ricardo Santana, Jr.
Qualifying Points: 52
M/L Odds: 15-1
Why he can win: Tapiture has two potential surface advantages against his rivals in the 2014 Kentucky Derby. His 7 career starts have all been on dirt with 3 coming at Churchill Downs giving him among the most starts on dirt and the most at Churchill among all starters. His Churchill starts from September-November 2013 saw consistent improvement posting 85, 91, and 95 Beyer Speed Figures respectively. He owns a win in the G2 Kentucky Juvenile Cup among those starts and followed that effort with a win in the G3 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park in February. He finished a very close 2nd (1/2 length) to Hoppertunity in the G2 Rebel Stakes after being severely knocked around coming down the stretch in a race he could have won with less trouble. His stalk and close style is certainly well-suited for the Derby with a good trip. The Tapit colt also has strong connections with Eclipse Award winning trainer Steve Asmussen and experienced Churchill Downs jockey Ricardo Santana, Jr.
Why he can’t win: Tapiture seemed to have no excuses other than a bit of a wide trip in the G1 Arkansas Derby while finishing 4th (7 ¼ lengths) to fellow Derby horses Danza and Ride On Curlin. While his sire Tapit has been smoking hot for the past few years, his stamina influence is very mixed. It is still unclear at this point if Tapit’s offspring are more suited to classic distances or races a mile and a sixteenth or less where they have seen great success. Also, his last two works at Churchill have been pedestrian at best which is another disconcerting sign.
Overall take: Tapiture is a difficult horse to figure in this race. Without a stretch drive in the Rebel Stakes with so much bumping and trouble, Tapiture could have beaten Hoppertunity in my estimation and had 3 consecutive graded stakes wins prior to his dud in the Arkansas Derby. If the Arkansas Derby effort was due to the wide trip, then he likely has stamina issues. To contend in the Derby, he must find a spot toward the rail early which is not easy from the 15 hole. My take is that he will not be able to work out the trip even if he is good enough class-wise, but this is one where I certainly may be wrong.
16. Intense Holiday (Harlan’s Holiday – Intensify, by Unbridled’s Song)
Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Jockey: John Velasquez
Qualifying Points: 93
M/L Odds: 12-1
Why he can win: His sire Harlan’s Holiday and broodmare sire Unbridled’s Song were both post time Kentucky Derby favorites during their 3 year old campaigns. Although both were beaten in their Derby attempts, each provides a solid 1 ¼ mile influence for the Todd Pletcher runner. Intense Holiday has seen improvement in his Beyer figures in each of his last 3 races (91, 99, 100) although only one produced a victory. His nose-length win in the G2 Risen Star while coming off the pace showed a turn-of-foot that made many take notice. His usual off-the-pace or stalking style can work well in the Derby. Strong connections may help Intense Holiday as he is saddled by 4-time Eclipse Award winning trainer Todd Pletcher and will be ridden by Hall of Fame jockey John Velasquez who rode Animal Kingdom to the 2011 Derby crown and is a horse with whom he shares a similar sunning style. He also has a strong 0:48.3 work at 4 furlongs on the Churchill strip in his final Derby warm up.
Why he can’t win: In 8 career starts, Intense Holiday only has 2 wins, one place, and one show to his name. While he has faced strong company, including 3 Derby starters (Vicar’s In Trouble, Ride On Curlin, Commanding Curve) and many early Derby contenders who either qualified and scratched or went off the Derby trail (Honor Code, Cairo Prince, Conquest Titan), he has only won 2 and missed the board in half of his races.
Overall take: I cannot dismiss the chance that at hot pace puts Intense Holiday in a position to hit the board on Saturday. However, because I give a better shot to a few other closers in the race, I will relegate this colt to exotics only and most likely as a superfecta filler on a few tickets.
17. Commanding Curve (Master Command – Mother, by Lion Hearted)
Trainer: Dallas Stewart
Jockey: John Bridgmohan
Qualifying Points: 20
M/L Odds: 50-1
Why he can win: In his last three races, Commanding Curve has shown himself to be a deep closer, so a hot pace up front will give this longshot a potential look at hitting the board or in the most unexpected circumstance, Derby glory. 50-1 longshots Giacomo (2005) and Mine That Bird (2009) did just that. His sire Master Command is a son of the legendary A.P. Indy and the dam to his broodmare sire Lion Hearted was a full sister to classic distance hero Easy Goer, so there is a chance that the distance might not be a problem for Commanding Curve if the pace and trip provide a good race setup. His 3rd place finish last time out in the G2 Louisiana Derby earned his career high Beyer of 98 and he showed a nice closing kick down the stretch. He is also a stablemate and workmate of last year’s runner-up Golden Soul who has a similar running style. He has 3 consecutive works at Churchill. The last was a relatively weak 5 furlongs in 1:02.3 (35/69), but the previous two were very useful going 5 furlongs in 1:00.2 (6/15) and 4 furlongs in 0:48.1 (6/24).
Why he can’t win: As of today, Commanding Curve is the “last one in” after the scratch of qualifier Ring Weekend. Prior to his Louisiana Derby effort, he had posted only one career Beyer over 90 when breaking his maiden last November. He still only holds a single maiden victory to his name to go with a place, show, and twice off the board in 6 career starts. This would make a trip to the Derby winner’s circle very unlikely. Also, no winner of the Derby has ever come from the 17 post. I don’t think this means squat since winners have come from 18, 19, and 20, but do what you will with that anomaly.
Overall take: Of all the 50-1 bombs on the M/L, this is my horse. This is based on my perception of the way the race will set up. I expect a hot pace up front early. I also expect a few of the stalkers to make a move on the pace-setters perhaps a bit too early. While I think the race will be won by the mid-pack horse who gets the best trip and has the class and pedigree to get the distance, I never completely overlook deep closer in the Derby. Sure, they need a good trip and help up front, but hell, I need to find an absolute bomb to include in my exotics. Almost every year, one of these finishes in the trifecta and superfecta, so of this group of total longshots this is my guy. One maiden victory to his name and all.
18. Candy Boy (Candy Ride – She’s An Eleven, by In Excess)
Trainer: John Sadler
Jockey: Gary Stevens
Qualifying Points: 30
M/L Odds: 20-1
Why he can win: There are a few reasons why Candy Boy can win the Kentucky Derby even though he has only earned 2 wins from 7 lifetime starts. Since breaking his maiden at the now defunct Hollywood Park last November, the Candy Ride colt has not finished worse than 3rd against very tough California competition. Two of those starts were clear defeats, however, his 2nd (5 ¾ lengths) in the G1 CashCall Futurity was to the undefeated and early Derby favorite from the Jim Rome Jungle Racing barn Shared Belief (who unfortunately left the Derby trail in January with foot problems) and his 3rd (8 ¾ lengths) in the Santa Anita Derby was to Derby favorites California Chrome and Hoppertunity. He defeated Derby rival Chitu by ½ length in the G2 Robert Bl Lewis and prefers a stalk and pounce style that is effective in the Derby if he is a classy enough colt. Candy Boy has also been working very well at both Churchill and Santa Anita. He worked an impressive 1:00.4 over 5 furlongs (5/69) at Churchill last time which followed a 0:59.4 (3/64) over the Santa Anita dirt. And perhaps most importantly, Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens, his regular rider for the past 3 races, will be up again and has looked every part the rider from his pre-retirement form. Stevens has won the Kentucky Derby 3 times which ties him for the lead among this year’s jocks with Cavin Borel who line up to his outside.
Why he can’t win: Candy Boy was defeated by open lengths last time out by Cali Chrome and Hoppertunity and only holds 2 career victories. When he has faced the best California has to offer he has come up short. While his works at 5 furlongs or less have been consistently impressive, his pedigree suggest that there may be potential distance limitations, particularly at the Derby distance, and starting from the 18 post cannot help.
Overall take: This one is tough because I do believe that Candy Boy has talent. However, his open length defeats to the best of the West Coast, his 2 for 7 overall record, and his potential distance limitations might be too much for a rider like Stevens to overcome. I like the horse, but my analysis tells me that including him in a few exotics might be as far as I can comfortably go with this runner.
19. Ride On Curlin (Curlin – Magical Ride, by Storm Cat)
Trainer: William Gowan
Jockey: Calvin Borel
Qualifying Points: 55
M/L Odds: 15-1
Why he can win: The Derby distance should not be a problem for this well-bred son of Curlin, the all-time North American money earning thoroughbred ($10.5 million), who won a number of classic distance races. His broodmare sire is the world famous Storm Cat who produced champion classic distance horses and sires including Giant’s Causeway. In his last 3 races he has finished 2nd, 3rd, and 3rd, however, 4 of the 5 horses that have finished in front of him will line up in the gate on Saturday (Danza, Hoppertunity, and Tapiture twice). His Beyer figures have improved with each race (87, 98, 99) and a number of experts have tagged Ride On Curlin as a horse to watch on Derby day. The colt has a versatile running style and has shown an ability to stalk, press the pace, and close from off the pace in hitting the board in 8 of his 9 career starts – the most in the field and all on dirt. He will also get the services of Derby-favorite and 3-time Derby winning jockey Calvin Borel (nicknamed “Bo-rail” for his multiple rail-riding Derby wins) which is a big plus. My guess is that his pedigree, jockey, and running style will generate action as post time approaches. Ride On Curlin is a horse whose odds I expect to drop from the 15/1 M/L.
Why we can’t win: Ride On Curlin only has 2 wins from his 9 starts and those are his maiden breaking effort at Ellis Park last July against a weak field and a first-level Allowance race at Oaklawn Park in January. He has never won a race against stakes company and his highest career Beyer of 102 came in his maiden breaker. He also starts from the 19 hole which will require Borel to do some serious maneuvering if he wants to get to his preferred rail position. His one work at Churchill main track was a hard-to-read stamina builder going 7 furlongs.
Overall take: My best guess is that a confluence of factors including pedigree, jockey, and running style will generate action on Ride On Curlin and bring is odds down below the M/L of 15-1. The horse has a chance to hit the board because of these factors, but I don’t see the value here at anywhere from 8/1 – 15/1 on a horse that has only won 2 of 9 and is 0 for 6 in stakes races. Maybe included in a couple of vertical wagers to cover the Borel factor, but nothing for me beyond that.
20. Wicked Strong (Hard Spun – Moyne Abbey, by Charismatic)
Trainer: James Jerkens
Jockey: Rajiv Maragh
Qualifying Points: 102
M/L Odds: 8-1
Why he will win: The third choice on the M/L at 8-1, Wicked Strong’s last out winning effort in the G1 Wood Memorial by 3 ½ lengths over Derby entrants Samraat and Uncle Sigh was impressive indeed. He earned a career high Beyer of 103 when coming from the middle of the pack off the turn to draw away. The James Jerkens colt boasts a strong Derby pedigree as he is by Hard Spun, the 2007 Derby runner up, and his broodmare sire, Charismatic, won both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in 1999. He will be ridden by the very capable Rajiv Maragh.
Why he can’t win: The reasons surround his last race, the Wood Memorial. Prior to this breakout performance, Wicked Strong had never run a race that earned a Beyer Speed Figure over 90 and only had a maiden victory on his record. After his maiden score at Belmont Park last October, the Hard Spun colt had finished 3rd in the G2 Remsen (½ length), 9th in the G2 Holy Bull (15 ¾ lengths), and 4th (6 ½ lengths) in an Optional Claiming race at Gulfstream albeit to a strong field that included Constitution and a well-respected Tonalist. He has 2 wins, a place, a show, and twice missed the board in 6 career starts. He is starting from the 20 post on the far outside which is one of the most difficult places to win the Derby from. In fact, Big Brown (2008) was the first horse to win from the 20 post since 1929, and he did it as the huge favorite. It not impossible, just damn tough. Also, the Wood Memorial winner has not hit the Derby trifecta in a decade for what it’s worth.
Overall take: There is a big chance that I am big-time wrong on this one, so please tread lightly here and handicap Wicked Strong through your own lens. I am going to toss the horse for a few reasons even though he is the M/L third choice and my guess is that he will receive some reasonable support come post time. First, you have to narrow down this huge field which means you must make choices among the favorites, and I am taking a stand here. If you disagree, I encourage you to use the horse as this one is tough. In this case I am going with body of work over the great last race. No Beyer’s over 90 prior to the Wood, the Wood winner not hitting the trifecta in 10 years, 2 career wins, and the 20 post give me enough strikes that he becomes one of the M/L favorites that I toss.
Pablo Del Monte (Giant’s Causeway – One Hot Wish, by Bring The Heat)
Trainer: Wesley Ward
Jockey: Not yet announced
Qualifying Points: 20
Social Inclusion (Pioneerof The Nile – Saint Bernadette, by Saint Ballado)
Trainer: Marcial Azpurua
Jockey: Luis Contreras
Qualifying Points: 20
COMING FRIDAY EXCLUSIVELY FOR BUSCH LEAGUE SPORTS: (Video) Mint Julep recipes from 2-Michelin-star restaurant Marea in New York City.