For me, this weekend is the Superbowl, the Daytona 500 and the World Series all wrapped into one package. This weekend is the 135th Kentucky Derby. For as long as I can remember, my family gathered around and watched the Derby, we would analyze the race and determine which horse we liked. It is something we continued eve as we became more involved in the thoroughbred industry, sometimes foregoing our heads for our hearts given whether we knew anyone involved with one of the horses; trainer, owner, jockey or breeder. The Kentucky Derby has been and continues to be the pinnacle of horse racing. It is run early in the year, however which means that the horse who wins this one race may not be the best horse at the end of the year, but usually he has a pretty good shot. The road to the Derby is paved with many pretenders, but at the end of the day Saturday, we will know the champion.
I usually spend a lot of time watching the prep races to get a good handle on the different horses and where they are coming up to the Derby. I watch the trainers and the jockeys. I am a believer that Churchill Downs and the Derby in particular is a race for the closer. I therefore come into handicapping the Derby with an inherent bias towards a horse who can come from behind. I remained consistent this year with that theory. That does not mean that there hasn’t been winners on the lead, I just believe that the track favors a closer. In 1994, Go for Gin, a Nick Zito trained colt was 12 lengths off the lead at the top of the stretch and managed to win going away, and he was not the only closer.
My horse to beat, Quality Road, scratched last week due to the fact that a second crack was found in his hoof. Hopefully it will be patched and he will be around for the Preakness and or the Belmont. He looks to be an exciting horse and I look forward to watching him later in the year.
This year, I think that Friesan Fire, a horse trained by Larry Jones will be at or near the front of the pack. He will be the strongest contender of the front running style horse. If West Side Bernie is going to pull an upset of significant magnitude, he will have to do it on the lead; however I do not expect him to make the distance with this group. I also suspect Regal Ransom, the Godolphin representative to be near the front.
Those running at the middle of the pack will be led in stature by Pioneer of the Nile. I suspect Bob Baffert, who has won the Kentucky Derby three times will hold him a little off the pace meaning third through sixth for the first quarter mile to half mile when he will make his move. Many feel that this horse, who is the only one in the Derby from last year’s two year old campaign, is the one to beat. I think he will be live for exactas and trifectas but don’t think that he will give Baffert his fourth Derby trophy. Expect General Quarters to try to make a move from this group; however I think that the field outclasses this horse and he will find a place in different stakes company throughout the year.
Starting the Derby at the back of the thundering pack will be the morning line favorite, I Want Revenge. This horse, who exhibited a tremendous move in the Gotham, will come off the pace and close to be at or near the front at the wire. I think that this campaign may have taken a little out of him, crossing the country twice to run in New York from his California base. The positive is his move from Polytrack showed an affinity for the natural dirt surface which is similar to that found at Churchill Downs.
Bill Mott will have his Polytrack specialist Hold Me Back will be coming from off the pace as well. My concern about this colt centers around his success on Polytrack. I am not a believer that a horse who is successful on Polytrack automatically translates into a win on dirt. Clearly horses who do well on dirt do not automatically translate to wins on Polytrack. Should Hold Me Back handle the dirt, he might be in the mix for the trifecta.
Another vying for the lead from behind should be Dunkirk. Dunkirk is an interesting horse in that he has only had three starts before the Derby. Dunkirk is a fresh horse, not having a start since the Florida Derby, the same technique used by Big Brown’s trainer Rick Dutrow, last year. He does have three bullet workouts. Interestingly, he was a 3.7 million dollar purchase as a yearling. Now, I am one who believes that a horse does not know what he was sold for, so the purchase price of a yearling is of little value, except in certain circumstances. The Derby is one of those circumstances because breeding has so much to do with the stamina needed to win the Derby. I think Dunkirk, a horse by Unbridled Song, (a derby winner) out of a mare sired by AP Indy (a derby winner) has the breeding to handle this race.
My picks, for entertainment purposes only are:
2nd Friesan Fire
3rd Hold Me Back
4th Pioneer of the Nile
Sing My Old Kentucky Home, have a mint julep and enjoy the race, it should be a good one.