Deepest Kentucky Derby field with lots of different opinions
May 05, 2018 9:22 AM
by Dave Valento
The 144th Kentucky Derby is scheduled to break from the gate at 3:50 p.m. PT this Saturday with the field of 20 horses one of the deepest and most contentious ever assembled.
Horseplayers have a myriad of betting options. Tuesday’s post-position draw could have a big impact on the race. One of the main contenders ending up on the rail could intensify the pace as he may be sent from the gate to avoid getting shuffled as the crush of runners cascade down on the first turn.
The most successful running style has been those with early tracking speed (or commonly called pace pressers). Those who can sit just off the contested pace have been the dominant style, having won 10 of the last 15 years (including four in a row). Deep closers have won just twice in the last 16 years when contested on a fast track (12%). They have finished 2nd or 3rd, usually at gigantic odds, in 17 of the last 25 years (68%).
Here’s a breakdown of every horse, in alphabetical order, with my projected final odds in parenthesis. (For six-page full card analysis sheets for Derby and Oaks days, visit www.trackphantom.com).
• AUDIBLE (7-1): Blowout wins in the Holy Bull and Florida Derby leading into this race. He’s 4 for 5 in his career, undefeated at a route and trained by one of the top three trainers in the country, Todd Pletcher. Will sit midpack and come running late. Pletcher has a poor overall record in the Derby (33 of his last 38 starters have been 6th or worse). Big win chance.
• BOLT D’ORO (9-1): Huge favorite as an undefeated two-year-old going into the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile but got an awful trip, traveling wide the entire race. Looks very similar to 1998 Derby winner Real Quiet. Both were 2nd by a head in the San Felipe and 2nd by 3 in the Santa Anita Derby. He is game, battle tested and talented. Major contender.
• BRAVAZO (48-1): Upset winner of the Risen Star two starts back but followed that up with a terrible run in the Louisiana Derby. Trainer D. Wayne Lukas has won this race four times but none since 1999. Doesn’t appear to be a serious win candidate.
• COMBATANT (29-1): Has only one win, in a maiden race, but has been no worse than 4th in any start and is always pretty close to the winner in the end. Trainer Steve Asmussen is one of the best. He finished 3rd in the Derby with Gun Runner in 2016. Will be coming from off the pace. Consider for underneath in exotics.
• ENTICED (26-1): Winner of the Kentucky Jockey Club here last November and that race turned out to be very strong. Won the Gotham two starts back wrapped up and then ran a solid 2nd in the Wood Memorial behind Vino Rosso. Dam won $1.6M for these connections. Projects a good trip from off the pace. Live longshot chance.
• FIRENZE FIRE (58-1): Very good as a two-year-old (won the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes over Good Magic and Enticed) but has underwhelmed this season. His 2018 starts have been far too slow to compete. Was 11 lengths behind Vino Rosso and Enticed in the Wood Memorial. Will not make an impact.
• FLAMEAWAY (40-1): Has speed and could easily be challenging for the early lead. He’s 5 for 9 in his career and has only run one poor race. That came on this track in the Iroquois in September. He was first twice and second twice in his four starts this year. Possible for the exotics if the pace is slow early.
• FREE DROP BILLY (38-1): He’s another colt who was a much better two-year-old than he has been as a 3. He won the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity over Bravazo and Lone Sailor at Keeneland in October but was beaten nearly 30 lengths to Good Magic in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Late runner has nibbled at the bit this year but would need major improvement to contend. Not likely.
• GOOD MAGIC (8-1): He won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at 12-1 and become the two-year-old champion. He was a disappointing third at 3-5 odds in the Fountain of Youth in his comeback race two back but rebounded to win the Blue Grass in strong fashion in his last start. He cost $1M and is in the hands of a top trainer, Chad Brown. One of the heavy-headed favorites.
• HOFBURG (18-1): Has just three starts but was a fast closing second to Audible in the Florida Derby last time out. Likely “buzz horse” from a betting standpoint given his connections, trainer Bill Mott and owner Juddmonte Farms. The Florida Derby pace was very fast and fell apart which set it up for his late run. Will be overbet here and his chances are much weaker than his odds will suggest.
• INSTILLED REGARD (54-1): After he won the Lecomte was a major consideration to win the Derby. But he has looked very pedestrian in 4th place finishes in the Risen Star and Santa Anita Derby since. Was outrun late in the Santa Anita Derby by a last out maiden winner when challenging for third. Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer was 3rd in this race last year at 40-1. Beautifully bred with Heavenly Prize in the female family. Just can’t get past his disinterest late in his last two starts.
• JUSTIFY (7-2): Likely post time favorite for super trainer Bob Baffert. He is undefeated and basically unchallenged. All three starts produced 101 or greater Beyer Speed Figures, something hard to ignore. Took $500K at the Keeneland 2016 September sale. All three wins were either on the lead or pressing. Has the right running style if he can rate slightly in third or fourth. Awfully imposing but lack of seasoning (did not race as a two-year-old) and facing more than six foes for the first time are difficult tasks to overcome. Would be no surprise but still has more to prove. Low odds dictate a peek elsewhere.
• LONE SAILOR (42-1): He’s better than his past performances might appear at first glance. He was a game second by a neck in the Louisiana Derby to Noble Moon in his last start. Pace was slow and he was simply prepping for later. Blinkers on was a disaster and trainer Tom Amoss removed them right away. Was 5th in the key running of the Kentucky Jockey Club last November. Has the late-running profile of many longshot Derby runners who hit the board in the past. Considered the most live longshot chance.
• MAGNUM MOON (13-1): Undefeated 4 for 4 for Todd Pletcher. He has a perfect pace pressing running style with kick in the late stages. He easily handled the likes of Solomini and Combatant in the Arkansas prep races. Four-time starter didn’t race as a two-year-old. If not for Pletcher’s terrible Derby record he would be near the top of the list of candidates to win. As it stands, he must be respected but maybe the 5th or 6th most likely winner.
• MENDELSSOHN (6-1): Nobody is bred better or cost more. This $3M purchase is a brother to the three-time champion and $6M winner Beholder. Other sibling is Into Mischief, a fantastic sire who produced one of the main foes in here, Audible. Won the UAE Derby by a staggering 18 lengths in track record time last out. Took the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile turf three starts back in a big effort. Trainer Aidan O’Brien is one of the top five in the world and will win this race at some point. His forwardly placed running style has been advantageous in this race. Checks all the boxes.
• MY BOY JACK (25-1): Late closer for the Desormeaux brothers who had a similar looker, Exaggerator, run 2nd in the 2016 Derby behind Nyquist. Won the Southwest at Oaklawn Park three back but he rode a golden rail to win on that muddy track. No excuse when 3rd in the Louisiana Derby win he made a huge move but flattened out in the lane. Took an all-out effort to win the Lexington to qualify for this race. Deep closers rarely win race outright. A consideration for the bottom of the exotic bets only.
• NOBLE INDY (27-1): Won three of his four starts for Pletcher (who has four in the race). Added blinkers in his last start and won the Louisiana Derby in a game effort over Lone Sailor and My Boy Jack. The Louisiana preps have rarely produced a Kentucky Derby challenger and I think this is one that will regress on Saturday. Does have the right running style and may carve out a great trip. Siding with others but can’t totally dismiss.
• PROMISES FULFILLED (30-1): He is the speed of the speed. The Derby is normally run too quickly for the controlling speed to hang on to win. Since 1991, there have been just two wire to wire winners (Go for Gin in 1994 and War Emblem in 2002). His win in the Fountain of Youth was a bit tainted as they went slow early, a big advantage for speed runners, and the main favorite, Good Magic, was not fully cranked for his comeback run. Just a $37K purchase, basically free compared to many in here. Would need a lot to go right early to have a chance late.
• SOLOMINI (20-1): Second of the two Baffert runners. He ran 2nd to Good Magic in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and won the Los Al Futurity to end his two-year-old campaign. In the money in both Oaklawn Park prep races but never got close to Magnum Moon in either. In his defense, he was steadied in the Rebel and lost all chance on the turn. Similar looking to two Baffert Derby runners of the past but looks closer to Mor Spirt (10th in 2016) than Real Quiet (winner in 1998). Could go either way.
• VINO ROSSO (15-1): He cost $410K as an offspring of 2007 Horse of the Year Curlin, who was third in this race in that season. Crushed Enticed by 3 in the Wood Memorial in his last start but did little in the Tampa Bay Derby when 4th in the race prior. Pletcher has brought a slew of similar looking runners to the Derby who have flopped. Rider Velazquez had options and wanted to stay here, a good sign. Comes in off a career-best race. Some things to like but others more likely for the top spot.
Best Value: Bolt D’Oro
Live Longshot: Lone Sailor