Early look at Kentucky Derby contenders

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I have two big questions to ask: Will there ever be another Triple Crown winner and will we be able to bet on this year’s Kentucky Derby here in Las Vegas?

Greedy Churchill Downs and the Nevada pari-mutuel association are at an impasse right now. Churchill Downs just raised their takeout to its highest possible level and wants a bigger piece of the pie again.

If it were me in charge I would take a stand and tell them to shove it and “see if you need us when your two big days are in the history books.” Let’s just hope we get this solved in the very near future.

If not, I’m sure we will be able to make bets on the Derby but we won’t be able to make the big payoff wagers like the pick six, pick four or supers and trifectas. We are hoping for the best.

I was lucky enough to attend the 1973 Kentucky Derby when the great Secretariat rolled home winning by 2-1/2 lengths on his way to the Triple Crown. I was also at the 103rd running when undefeated Seattle Slew won at 50 cents on the dollar on his way to winning the Triple Crown.

And I was in Louisville the following year when Affirmed got the best of Alydar on his way to winning the Triple Crown in epic matchups. Alydar would have won it himself if there was no Affirmed.

That was then and this is now. Since 1978 we have seen some gutty tries but they have all come up short. It’s my belief that the way things are we will never see another Triple Crown winner unless…

Here’s a quick look at this year’s Derby contenders before the post position draw this Wednesday and not knowing the weather.

Todd Pletcher has 1/5 of the runners. He has had all the numbers the past few years but only been able to win once out of sending over 40 to the post. He had his most success with runners that were coming back in just three weeks. His worst runners were coming back with five or more weeks of rest.

Danza: Ran a spectacular race at 41-1 winning the Arkansas Derby field of eight and fits the three week turnaround, but can this lightly raced horse repeat that effort in a field of 20?

Intense Holiday: Won the Risen Star at the Fairgrounds when beating Vicar’s in Trouble, who came back and beat him in the Louisiana Derby. He will be coming back in five weeks, which makes him a toss out for me. And I don’t like that Mike Smith, who rode him the last two races, ops for another.

We Miss Artie: He will be coming back in six weeks. Artie has three wins, two on synthetic and one on the grass. We will pass.

Vinceremos: He’s just a horse that should be looking somewhere else for a race. Was far back in the Bluegrass Stakes but does come back in three weeks, which is good but not enough for this bettor to be using. Pass.

Here are the rest of the runners, starting with the probable favorite.

California Chrome: The talk of horse nation this Cal bred has been nothing but spectacular in his last four starts. I would probably give him two thumbs up if he would have gone to Churchill and had a work over the track, opting instead to stay at his home base Los Alamitos where he is super comfortable. Del Mar is the furthest he has been from L.A. A big talent, but at a short price. We will be using him in our exotics but just don’t see him getting the job done in a 20 horse field. Just love the connections.

Dance With Fate: Closer just won the Blue Grass Stakes with a sweeping move that was somewhat beautiful. He had a very troubled trip in the BC Juvenile. Did run second at Santa Anita in the Grade 1 Front Runner and beat California Chrome in the Del Mar Futurity. Definitely on our tickets.

General A Rod: Had a bad work over the Churchill strip. Adds some early speed but will get chewed up if he gets into a pace battle. I don’t think he can get a 1-1/4. Will pass.

Medal Count: Trainer Dale Romans really likes this colt, who just finished second behind Dance With Fate. He is on a nice “win every other race” pattern but will need a perfect, patient trip behind the speed. May use in the back of the trifecta and supers.

Candy Boy: Came off the layoff to finish a lackluster third behind California Chrome and Hoppertunity in the Santa Anita Derby. Talented, but is he ready? We will be using him with big race Gary Stevens riding.

Uncle Sigh: New York bred has done all of his running at Aqueduct, mostly getting beat by Samraat. We say no!

Ride On Curlin: Little known trainer “Bronco” Billy Gowan barely had a stable this time last year with just one or two horses. This is his big chance for some great owners. Biggest asset is Calvin Borel riding. That said, may use in our exotics depending on his post draw.

Chitu: One of two runners for Bob Baffert. This lightly raced colt has three wins and a second from his four starts. Can stand the heat and had a big 6 furlong work at Churchill from the gate going 1:13.1 galloping out 7 furlongs in 1:27.1. We really like that and will be part of the early pace with the very fast Wildcat Red in what could be a terrific early duel.

Tapiture: Ran poorly in the Arkansas Derby. Looks to be on or near the front end and just doesn’t seem right at this point. We will do an El Paso.

Ring Weekend: Just adds more early speed to the lineup. Will toss right away.

Wildcat Red: This speedy colt has done little wrong in his battles at Gulfstream Park. Has run all seven of his races there with four wins and three seconds. He will have Chitu to deal with and that could cook both of them.

Wicked Strong: Very Impressive winner of the Wood but got the perfect setup, like James Jerkins. He will again be running late into some tiring speed. A must use in the exotics.

Samraat: Another New York bred who has done most of his running at Aqueduct vs Uncle Sigh. Also adds early speed to the lineup. We will pass even though he has won five of his six lifetime starts.

Hoppertunity: Baffert knows what it takes to win this race and has this colt set up for a huge effort. He has a very good work over the strip and looking super. And Mike Smith says yes! He is bred for this trip, can handle an off track and is battle tested. Will need to break the curse of Apollo not having raced as 2yo but we think he was fit enough to run. He has five tough races under his belt and will be our key player first and second in all bets. His sir Any Given Saturday and Ride On Curlin’s sire Curlin and Wicked Strong’s sire Hard Spun finished 1-2-3 in the 2007 Haskel. Could they run 1-2-3?

Harry’s Holliday: Would be ok if your name was Harry and wanted to through away two bucks.

Projected order of finish:

1-Hoppertunity $$$$$

2-California Chrome

3-Dance With Fate

Followed by: Wicked Strong, Danza, Chitu, Medal Count, Candy Boy.

Have a fun Kentucky Derby and enjoy all the parties around town.

Richard Saber, a former director of race and sports at the famed Stardust book, is GamingToday’s horse racing and sports handicapper.  Follow Richard on Twitter @SabesBet. Contact Richard at [email protected].

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