We are rounding the turn and heading for home with just a little over two weeks until the Kentucky Derby, and what a race this is shaping up to be.
With the major point races in the bag there are still two more stakes left for a trainer who has his back against the wall to grab a few more points to make the final list of 20. The Lexington at Keeneland this Saturday is worth 20 points to the winner, 8 for second, 4 for third and 2 for fourth.
Next week at Churchill we have the Derby Trial on Saturday, April 27, with the same points distribution awarded, so we could still have some spots up for grabs if someone wants to send their horse to the Derby with one or two weeks of rest.
We had two major Derby races this past Saturday with the Bluegrass Stakes won by Java’s War who stormed home from last to first for trainer Ken McPeek, nailing Palace Malice and Charming Kitten on the line.
Java’s War and Palace Malice will both be heading to the Kentucky Derby, with Charming Kitten sitting in 21st position on the 20-horse list looking for some defections, which we could have.
Super Ninety Nine and Dens Legacy, who sit at 18 and 20 on the list, should defer but we will wait and see if Charming Kitten gets in. He looks like a solid price play off of that huge effort in the Blue Grass as he was gaining with every stride at the end. Java’s War likes to break slow and will need a lot of luck to get the trip in the Derby if far back.
This past week in the Arkansas Derby, the Todd Pletcher-trained Overanalyze was an easy winner over a very suspect field. The favorite, Bob Baffert-trained War Academy, was pulled up at 9/5 but walked off and will not be heading to Churchill Downs. War Academy did not look right when being backed out of the gate and maybe should have been scratched but we don’t know exactly what was wrong.
Bottom line: At this point Pletcher looks to hold all the aces, but he has been in this position in the past. If the undefeated Verrazano (the likely favorite) goes, along with Revolutionary, Overanalyze and Palace Malice, he will have four aces. Wild card Charming Kitten (who needs some help) would give him five. It looks like Pletcher’s year but sometimes it just isn’t that easy.
Joel Rosario gets the mount on Orb who is moving forward with every race, and trainer McGaughey will have him primed for his top effort come that first Saturday in May with Rosario suiting him perfectly.
We also have the O’Brien colt Lines of Battle coming in form over the pond and really don’t know what to expect from him.
Vyjack who was a game third in the Wood behind Verrazano and Normandy Invasion is said to be doing great and will be set for his run in the Derby.
One long shot that keeps getting more interesting is the second place finisher of the Louisiana Derby, Mylute, who had a super work last week at Churchill Downs. Mylute went 6 furlongs in 112:1 and hit the 7 furlong pole in 1:25 and the mile in 1:39, showing his fondness for the course. He may be one to use in trifecta’s and superfecta’s
If we get some defections there are several horses with 20 points looking to draw in if it is a tie. Then we go to a tie breaker, which is Non-Restricted Stakes Earnings, and Den’s Legacy who has $329 would beat out Charming Kitten who has $206. But we still have two more 20 pointers so we may not know until April 29, the date of my Kentucky Derby column.
As we get closer to that first Saturday in May the tension builds not only for us bettors but for the owners, trainers and jockeys who keep bouncing from horse to horse seeking the one that will get the garland of roses.
With that said a must stop the week of the Derby will be at the Palace Station race book on Thursday, May 2, for our inaugural Vic Vivio Memorial Kentucky Derby Seminar at 6 p.m. The seminar is free, with cocktail service and food, so get there early for a good seat.
I will be there with my take on the race and I provide the color for the all-knowing and very wise Ralph Siraco from Race Day Las Vegas, the very popular radio show on 1400 AM. This year sitting in with us will be Paul Truitt, one very good handicapper who has been in horse racing all his life as a trainer and jockey agent.
Truitt was Mark Guidry’s agent when he won the Santa Anita Derby. This is must viewing, even if you are just a casual bettor who wants to jump in for that big payoff. Ralph and Paul will be looking for a nice price play along with a tri and super, so be there or be square.
If you live out of town you will be able to get our selections Friday morning on www.gamingtoday.com web site.
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].