Written By: Kentucky Derby Jay
On this specific spring Saturday every bettor, media personality, and local bartender proclaim themselves to be pony prognosticators. I’m a man that follows the horses every day of the year and has a knack for identifying proper betting value when breaking down this massive 20-horse field in the Kentucky Derby. Here are my thoughts on each horse for the 144th Run for the Roses.
1 – Firenze Fire – Was overmatched to begin with before drawing the rail. One of a few who look way in over their head against this very deep and talented field.
2 – Free Drop Billy – Had a big G1 win as a juvenile at Keeneland but hasn’t been able to duplicate that success as a 3-year-old; finishing 4th in the Bluegrass Stakes last out. Certainly has some back class to respect, but would need to take an unlikely big step forward to claim victory.
3 – Promises Fulfilled – Longshot comes from same trainer/jockey connection that finished 2nd at a big price in last year’s Derby. Appears likely to be the pacesetter. The son of 2011 Preakness winner Shackleford has never been headed during the first six furlongs of any race, including his victory in the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream. Unless he can slow the pace to an absolute crawl, he figures to get run by once the real running starts down the home stretch.
4 – Flameaway – Will also be vying for the lead, as his best finishes have come on the front-end, but simply appears slower than most of these horses.
5 – Audible – Had a dominant stretch in Florida with victories in the Holy Bull and Florida Derby. Possesses a strong turn of foot and a tactical style that works very well in the Derby. He’s an obvious contender, but I have questions about what horses he actually beat in Florida, as I do about his ability to duplicate that success outside the Sunshine State.
6 – Good Magic – Bluegrass winner was also a 2-year-old champ, yet still figures to be 6th or 7th choice on the toteboard, which speaks volumes about the depth of this field. Chad Brown is America’s hottest trainer, and seems likely to capture the roses sooner than later. His running style suggests he could be poised to make a swooping move on the backstretch that could put him in a prime spot once he turns over. Must be respected, and can win with a prime trip.
7 – Justify – The hype machine is in full effect, and looks to be a deserving morning-line favorite even in a field this deep. From a speed-figure standpoint, he towers over this field. The main question is the seasoning. The Curse of Apollo is real, and until a colt wins the Derby while being unraced at 2, it’s a factor that must be considered. Obviously, Baffert knows how to win this race, and he may just be a talented freak that can overcome the lack of seasoning. Has done nothing wrong, and would be no shock to go 4 for 4.
8 – Lone Sailor – A contender to pass tiring horses in the stretch, but not much more; he’s just way slower than this field.
9 – Hofburg – Has assumed the title of this year’s wiseguy horse. Ran big behind Audible in the Florida Derby, and certainly seems to be improving rapidly at the right time. Bill Mott is a Hall of Fame trainer, but rarely brings a horse to Louisville for the Derby, so must be respected on that basis alone. Has reportedly looked great since his arrival at Churchill, and with the right trip, is eligible to win this one. Strong exotics play.
10 – My Boy Jack – A deep closer type, possesses a style that often crashes the Derby board at big odds, but rarely wins the big prize. He’s consistent, and you pretty much know the effort you are going to get. Will be useful in the bottom part of exotics, but can’t recommend for the win.
11 – Bolt d’Oro – Was never catching Justify in the Santa Anita Derby, and will benefit from a larger field with a considerably different pace scenario expected. He has huge speed figures, but hasn’t been able to find the winner’s circle recently, as he hasn’t been shying away from competition. Has been finding tough trips, but draws well in the 11 hole here. If he stays out of trouble, he could be sitting on a big run. Definite contender.
12 – Enticed – Had nice stakes win over the Churchill Downs oval last fall, but appears to have been exposed a bit in recent weeks. Doesn’t look like he wants any part of 10 furlongs, and is probably too slow for this crew anyway.
13 – Bravazo – From the Lukas barn, and that’s about where the positive notes end. Can’t recommend.
14 – Mendelssohn – Ran like an absolute freak in the UAE Derby, winning by a staggering 18 lengths, earning a 106 Beyer in the process. I continue to take the view, however, that the first horse to ship in from Dubai and win the Derby will do so without my backing. Talented no doubt, but faces a lot to overcome. Will make him prove he can beat me.
15 – Instilled Regard – Has been regressing as the company got tougher. Pass.
16 – Magnum Moon – Has done little wrong this year, with 4 wins in 4 starts. Most recent score in the Arkansas Derby was visually pleasing on a few different levels. However, like Justify, he was unraced as a 2-year-old, and questions persist about seasoning. Even so, no horse has won the Derby with FOUR 3-year-old preps since Smarty Jones in 2004, so it’s somewhat of a double-edged sword. He’s a definite contender, but I point towards a few others instead given his short price.
17 – Solomini – The other Baffert charge. He’s never run out of the money, but he’s had big issues with changing leads and has been unable to score a win over any top contender. Don’t have a great read on this one, and seems unlikely to get a trip that puts him in contention, but I never discount a Baffert horse.
18 – Vino Rosso – I’m in absolute love with his performance in the Wood Memorial. The Tampa Bay races prior to that raised some questions for sure, but the move north to New York provided what I thought was the most visually pleasing victory of the Derby prep season. This horse is bred to run all day, and possesses a useful stalking tactic that has proven productive in many winning Derby runs. A top player, and strong candidate for the win.
19 – Noble Indy – His Louisiana Derby was very, very strong, and I liked his chances a lot off that effort. But no horse was hurt more by his post than this guy, and he will have to be hurried along from the 19th hole to engage early, especially with all the other prominent speed horses to his left. He’s a talented horse, but there is probably too much to overcome in this one for him to find the winner’s circle.
20 – Combatant – From a speed and talent level, he’s a cut below the competition, but he’s a clunker that isn’t going to be bothered by the 20 post. It won’t surprise me to see him pick up the pieces for a smaller check, and he could provide a nice jolt to the superfecta.
I think Vino Rosso has the perfect racing style, and is peaking at just the right time. The odds are going to be very nice in a field this deep, and the possibility of closing around 15-1 is very juicy. Justify is obviously very fast, and is the most likely to win if my top choice fails. Audible and Bolt d’Oro are also very strong win contenders, as well. My Boy Jack figures as the top longshot play for exotics leading to a rather nice pay day if the field falls this way:
1) Vino Rosso
3) My Boy Jack
4) Bolt d’Oro