Finally, the Derby is here. The weather is shaky in the coming days for Derby 140, but seeing that track dry out at an unbelievable clip in the past I’ll blog with the assumption that we see fast dirt on Saturday. Though there are always casualties along the trail this year seems to have an unusually high amount, leaving a fairly closely matched bunch that may not end up being the cream of this crop. No one can deny the talent of California Chrome, Wicked Strong, etc. but it’ll be interesting to see them hit the summer classics when their injured foes return to action. That aside, there’s a big gateful of three year olds to examine, and money to be made. Though there’s great stories and pageantry that come along with the Run for the Roses, let us not forget how high this race/day ranks in the money-making spectrum of American racing. This, like the Breeders’ Cup, is one of the best opportunities to catch a perpetual odds-on colt at a decent price. Even if you can’t get past the favorite, the exotic possibilities are lucrative.
All Derby Discussion begins with California Chrome, and how does one pick apart what’s right there on paper? He’s got foundation, speed, tractability and class. The boy is at this point the total package. However, we all have a horse and he isn’t it for me. Hear me out: There is nothing much wrong with him and I will not be actively rooting AGAINST him or his likeable trainer, but 5-2 may be a little too close to what we see on him and for win betting (we all do it Derby Day, don’t kid yourself) that’s unacceptable. He’ll be in most of the exactas & tris for yours truly, but I’ll be looking in other directions for that play. His last two races (and Beyers) were at least aided by the tracks he ran on. Victor Espinoza recognized speedway that was Santa Anita on March 8th, and capitalized by sending his colt straight to the lead. Game On Dude busted the stakes record in the Santa Anita Handicap that day and the instant blame went on how BLAZING fast the track was….anyone else remember that? 12,500 N2L Claimers went sub 1:09 for six furlongs. It wasn’t necessarily a need the lead thing, but in route races that day passing was not easy. The track was not quite as quick on SA Derby Day, but that was probably his best race yet. These are not cars, they’re horses. Prior to those two races he beat absolutely NOTHING – His competition has ended up being largely turf/poly horses or sprinters. Anyone can get fat on a diet of cream puffs.
Danza is one that I’ll be including in everything as well, but with that 1-36 mark of one Mr. Pletcher gives cause for pause. He came right along in a hurry (as Pletcher horses tend to do) but with that rapid improvement in only his second try as a three year old it seems unlikely that there’s another gargantuan leap in there that he could need to face these again. Though he’s not in this echelon, Myositis Dan (runner up two back) came forth in the Derby Trial with an excellent effort and further flatters the form of this lightly raced entity. I won’t discredit Joe Bravo for a nice ride in slipping him up the rail in the Arkansas Derby, that was just plain smart. Too much is being made of an “Easy” trip as opposed to a heck of an effort over tough cookies. Going into his last race, the group he had to beat was deemed one of the deepest of any prep this spring. Exiting, they were given a rating of “eh”. How’d that happen again?
Here’s the other catch with Danza/Pletcher: Six colts have been brought into the Derby off their best lifetime beyer. Half went off under 10-1. One of them won–Super Saver–the rest toiled, finishing ninth at best. He may just be that good…..but a good chunk of those 35 also-rans looked that way as well.
So where will this fickle trail lead? Well, I go back and forth between Wicked Strong and Wildcat Red. I will gamble that the latter can take his show on the road and keep himself in good position throughout. Sure, he likes being close to the front but why shouldn’t that work with the way Churchill’s been playing lately? He was still giving Constitution his all at the end of the Florida Derby and the former certainly would have been one of the favorites were he among this field. There is a ton of pace in here but there’s also a ton of horses for Wicked Strong to get around. ‘Red has handled each challenge laid before him and he’s got a tiny bit of stamina help from his bottom side. He doesn’t need the lead either, and seems to be a pretty straightforward ride. Gulfsteam shippers are having a good go of it when they leave Florida (see Wicked Strong) and this one should be a nice price. There are plenty of speedy horses in here but with so many of them drawn far to his inside his trip could turn out ok. It’s all a guessing game but Wicked Strong already has that big 20 hurdle before he even steps on the track. He’s made a great impression at Churchill and Jerkens can keep a good horse going…however they usually don’t win after jumping up repeatedly on that Beyer scale. I was all set to put Hoppertunity in this spot but it’s all for not until Baffert skips the farrier and hires an in-house podiatrist for his three year olds. Good grief.
If I had to get the contender group together Jeff Maday style, it’d consist of Wildcat Red, Wicked Strong, California Chrome, Danza and Intense Holiday. I’ll probably change my mind a million and one times before they go in the gate but that’s half the fun with a field this size. Best of luck to you all this Saturday and get that bankroll started for live racing….we’re just a couple of weeks away! Get here early for the final week of Road to Kentucky, as races begin at 9:30 central time. Triple points come with selected the Derby winner and those will be well earned if you can figure this bunch out.