analysis provided by Jerod Dinkin
#1-Cool Coal Man 20:1 (Leparoux/Zito): Veteran conditioner Nick Zito, no stranger to the Derby winner’s circle, trains this Mineshaft colt that is a perfect two for two at nine furlongs on dirt this year. His latest effort was a dull ninth over the much maligned Polytrack surface in the Blue Grass Stakes. A veteran of eight career races, he at least has some seasoning, solid two turn dirt form, and a win over the track.
Prognosis: It’s hard to get overly excited about this colt off his last, but I can’t fault those including his number in wider exotic tickets.
#2-Tale of Ekati 15:1 (Coa/Tagg): The Barclay Tagg (of Funny Cide fame) runner took the Grade II Wood Memorial by ½ length over War Pass. War Pass shot out like a cannon and blazed insane fractions for a nine furlong race. Despite the early heat and his pressing position, Tale of Ekati was closing at a crawling pace. His final quarter was run in 13.66 seconds, the final 3/8ths in 40.40. Generally, horses that run well in the Derby fire off stronger final fractions in their major prep races.
Prognosis: In his initial race as a three year old, Tale of Ekati was handily defeated by Pyro in the Louisiana Derby, finishing 4th by 17 lengths. He got the job done at Aqueduct earning a trip to Louisville by running the slowest Wood Memorial in the history of the nine furlong race. Despite a Grade I and Grade II win to his credit, he’ll be in tough to hit the board.
#3-Anak Nakal 30:1 (Bejarano/Zito): This colt out of Victory Gallop has been defeated by a combined 29 lengths in his three races in 2008. His Graded Stakes earnings as a two year old are affording his connections the opportunity to enter the starting gate.
Prognosis: His best effort this year was a fifth place finish in the ultra slow Wood Memorial. Not on my tickets for the Kentucky, Ohio, or Pennsylvania Derby.
#4-Court Vision 20:1 (Gomez/Mott): One of two entrants under the expert care of conditioner Bill Mott. This one is a stalking type of runner that prefers rating toward the back of the field. Despite an extremely favorable pace scenario in the Wood Memorial, Court Vision failed to get by War Pass and Tale of Ekati. Never worse than third in his career, the potential for a rather average early pace scenario should work against him.
Prognosis: Court Vision does boast a win from well off of the pace at Churchill from his two year old season. However, if you’re a speed figure disciple, he has yet to run a race fast enough to even catch a whiff of the Roses. Backers will need to hope for some fast fractions and racing luck.
#5-Eight Belles 15:1 (Saez/Jones): The lone filly in the field is tackling the boys for the first time. She is on a four race winning streak and is an honest and fast filly. However, I’m concerned that she was all out to defeat a suspect field at Oaklawn in the Grade II Fantasy in her last. Unlike the 1988 Derby Champ, Winning Colors, she is untested against better foes (Winning Colors won the Santa Anita Derby).
Prognosis: On speed figures alone, she is competitive against this bunch. Larry Jones is a master handler of fillies, but I believe she’ll be hard pressed to challenge for supremacy on top. Exotics threat.
#6-Z Fortune 15:1 (Albarado/Asmussen): Trainer Steve Asmussen sends the son of Siphon to the Derby off of an impressive second place effort in the Arkansas Derby despite a tough post and a bias against his running style on that day. Z Fortune is a consistent, but not spectacular performer that should love the added distance. He is also one of the few entrants with a “typical” three year old preparation schedule of four well spaced starts.
Prognosis: Z Fortune is one that could make some exotics noise and isn’t a bad choice for the win for those seeking a horse with a shot at a big number.
#7-Big Truck 50:1 (Castellano/Tagg): This colt’s lone Graded Stakes triumph was in the Tampa Bay Derby where War Pass completely quit, leaving Atoned as the only colt of suspect or greater quality in the race. All of Big Truck’s subsequent Graded Stakes efforts have resulted in off the board finishes. In his career, at varying distances, he is consistently slower than most of this field, which is of questionable overall quality from top to bottom.
Prognosis: Passing on all rungs of the exotics with this colt that appears overmatched.
#8-Visionaire 20:1 (Lezcano/Matz): Michael Matz of Barbaro fame aims for his second Kentucky Derby with this son of Grand Slam. Visionaire has shown some versatility; Churchill is his seventh different track in as many career starts. He definitely prefers an off the pace style to showcase his strong late kick. His fifth place finish in the Blue Grass was sneaky good, as he was flying in the final quarter, but to no avail.
Prognosis: He may not get a hot enough pace in this renewal of the Derby with only a handful of certified, speedy front runners drawn in the field. A dubious choice to win, but could make some noise underneath.
#9-Pyro 6:1 (Bridgmohan/Asmussen): This colt out of Pulpit was an exciting and accomplished two year old, twice running second to War Pass in top Grade I events. He started his three year old campaign in style, taking the Grade III Risen Star Stakes in dramatic fashion, flashing a turn of foot from the back of the pack rarely seen in racing despite crawling fractions from the front runners. He followed up that effort with an easy win in the Grade II Louisiana Derby. His latest race was a complete flop over the quirky Keeneland Polytrack surface, where he failed to run a step in the Bluegrass Stakes.
Prognosis: While visually impressive in Louisiana, he has yet to run speed figures anywhere near his solid two year old races. Some horses clearly dislike the Polytrack surface, but he completely gave up at Keeneland. His pedigree doesn’t exactly scream 1 1/4 miles, so the increase in distance is also an issue. A huge underlay at the ML number of 6:1, but a threat to crack the Superfecta despite countless knocks against.
#10-Colonel John 4:1 (Nakatani/Harty): This son of champion Tiznow is entering the Derby off of a campaign of west coast synthetic track successes, including a win in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby. Never worse than second in his career, Colonel John is a hard trying, honest racehorse with a strong closing kick. His late pace figures are consistently strong and he fires every race, much like his accomplished sire.
Prognosis: Naysayers are concerned that he has yet to run on a typical dirt track. However, two positives are in his corner: (1) Other west coast three year olds have fared very well in their dirt races this year (2) He is training lights out at Churchill Downs. With a solid two year old foundation and excellent three year old form, he is on the short list of contenders that can win the 134th Kentucky Derby.
#11-Z Humor 30:1 (Douglas/Mott): This Bill Mott trained colt was a promising two year old that has disappointed at age three. All three of his 2008 preps have resulted in sound beatings. The normally conservative and prudent Mott is likely running this horse in the Derby due to the occasional irrational behavior of owner Ahmed Zayat.
Prognosis: One positive of the son of Distorted Humor is his tepid Beyer Speed figure improvement as a three year old, but it’s tough to endorse this runner off his three year old form.
#12-Smooth Air 20:1 (Cruz/Stutts Jr.): This modestly bred little horse is a hard trying sort with a Grade II win and Grade I runner-up finish to his credit. His second place finish, beaten five lengths by likely Derby favorite Big Brown in the Florida Derby, was an under the radar type of strong effort. Never off the board in seven lifetime starts, this horse possesses the right running style for this Derby and is an intriguing customer.
Prognosis: Although his pedigree doesn’t exactly call out for 1 ¼ miles, Smooth Air is the type of colt that makes sense at a price for inclusion in exotic wagers. One real concern is the slight fever he spiked last weekend. He could be poised for a solid effort if he is 100%.
#13-Bob Black Jack 20:1 (Migliore/Kasparoff): A modestly bred speedy colt, Bob Black Jack is a courageous animal. This is a sprinter, and a darn good one, that has been admirable at longer distances. He gives his all each and every race and is outrunning his pedigree on pure guts. He is much better suited for six to eight furlong races, but just about pulled out the Santa Anita Derby at nine furlongs.
Prognosis: I believe the extra furlong will keep him from hitting the board despite the presence of just a handful of other speed horses.
#14-Monba 15:1 (Dominguez/Pletcher): The Todd Pletcher trained son of Maria’s Mon has only run one poor career race and sports a win over the Churchill Downs oval. Clearly adept over synthetic surfaces (Grade I Blue Grass winner at Keeneland), his lone career blemish was a last place showing on dirt in the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park.
Prognosis: Monba’s pedigree hints he’ll relish the Derby distance, he’s consistent, and features top connections. Those looking for a price on a longshot to win could do much worse than to punch his number. I’ll use him in exotic wagers.
#15-Adriano 30:1 (Prado/Motion): This colt is a quintessential example of the 21st century handicapping dilemma. On one hand, he only has one career start on dirt which resulted in a 9th place finish in the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream. On the other hand, he’s a Grade II winner on a synthetic surface, is out of A.P. Indy (and a Mr. Prospector Dam), and is trained by Graham Motion and ridden by Edgar Prado.
Prognosis: If the Kentucky Derby were at Keeneland or Turfway, he might go off as the post time favorite. However, there are too many question marks for him on good ol’ fashion dirt.
#16-Denis of Cork 20:1 (Borel/Carroll): The connections of Denis the Cork decided to skip the Arkansas Derby (a better spaced 3 yr old prep) in favor of the Illinois Derby. While the connections feared a slight regression, the poor performance of Denis of Cork was a huge disappointment as he finished fifth as the odds on choice in a weak field. He’s lightly raced, but seems to relish the Churchill surface and has a nice closing kick.
Prognosis: Moderate speed figures, a light career resume, and the poor effort at nine furlongs in Illinois outweigh his positives.
#17-Cowboy Cal 20:1 (Velazquez/Pletcher): The Todd Pletcher trained son of Giant’s Causeway is attempting dirt for the first time since his poor effort in his first career race at Saratoga. Clearly, this is a fine young horse over the grass, as his three career victories are courtesy of the sod. He stamped his ticket to Louisville with a strong second in the Blue Grass Stakes over a surface that is much more akin to a typical turf surface.
Prognosis: Strong connections aside, this horse is completely unproven on a dirt surface and will have tough time defeating the best of his generation in this spot.
#18-Recapturetheglory 20:1 (Baird/Roussel): Since War Emblem took the Roses in 2002, the winner of the Illinois Derby routinely enters the Derby as a “wiseguy” type of over hyped horse. Recapturetheglory led every step of the way without pace pressure as a 15:1 outsider in the 2008 Illinois Derby with just a lone Maiden win to his credit. After setting tame fractions, he was able to draw clear with a fairly impressive final time.
Prognosis: Out of champion sprinter Cherokee Run, the extra furlong will do him no favors and a regression off his lifetime effort in the Illinois Derby would be no surprise. Any repeat of his last puts him in the mix, but I’ll take a stand against him.
#19- Gayego 15:1 (Smith/Lobo): The Paulo Lobo trained son of Gilded Time is another of the west coast contingent with solid three year old form. Gayego narrowly defeated Z Fortune in the Grade II Arkansas Derby that has produced recent Classic winners in Curlin, Afleet Alex, and Smarty Jones. His early speed and pressing style should suit the Derby quite well, but his 1 ¼ mile pedigree is suspect.
Prognosis: Gayego will have plenty of backers based on his competitive speed figures, consistent form, and Arkansas Derby win. Like Colonel John, he has never finished worse than 2nd. However, his stamina may be an issue. The Arkansas Derby win occurred on a day where horses had a very tough time making up ground in the stretch, which might have artificially flattered this runner. I’m taking a stand against him for the win, but he is a logical contender underneath.
#20-Big Brown 3:1 (Desormeaux/Dutrow Jr.): Prevailing wisdom and historical context would dictate this horse is up against it entering the marquee race of the year with a mere three career races, but rarely are three career races this impressive. His debut at Saratoga was freakish in defeating Maiden Special Weight foes at a routing distance, on the grass, at first asking, by 11 lengths. After a long time off due to foot issues, he appeared in a main track allowance heat at Gulfstream Park originally carded for the lawn, which he won by a mere 12 lengths. The next stumbling block was the 1 1/8 Florida Derby breaking from Post #12, where routers win once in a blue moon. After firing off extremely swift fractions, he draws off to win by 5. The post isn’t ideal, but Kent D. can keep an eye on the other speed horses drawn just to his inside.
Prognosis: You’ll hear the statistic that no horse with as few as three lifetime starts has worn the Roses since Regret in 1915. However, the modern reality of lightly raced young horses will render this stat useless in short order. He possesses tremendous early speed with the necessary stamina to boot in a race without a ton of early lick. Big Brown posses absolutely no value in the win pools. With this evenly matched and highly unpredictable field, he’s a solid key in the upper rungs of the exotics where ample payouts are feasible even if Big Brown wins. The deserving and dangerous favorite.