Geo Sette deep dives and dissects the 148th running of the Kentucky Derby on Past the Wire
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We all know when it comes to dissecting a race, Geo Sette takes it very, and we do mean very seriously. He puts in the work, and he yields the results. This deep dive dissection of the 148th Kentucky Derby is no different. We have an exciting race on our hands, and Geo shares his expertise.
We’ve made it, the first Saturday in May, Kentucky Derby Day, and to those who passionately follow the Sport of Kings, in many ways it’s like Christmas.
Inaugurated back in 1875, we have reached the 148th running in what is arguably the most storied and embraced sports tradition
We are back to what will likely be a capacity crowd of 150,000+ people in attendance beneath the Twin Spires at Churchill Downs. We have moved greatly towards a sense of normalcy after 2 years of fluctuating dates and limited crowds due to the stringent Covid-19 restrictions.
In 2020, the Kentucky Derby was run after Labor Day in September and Churchill Downs mirrored a ghost town. Last year we had the Run for the Roses back for the first Saturday in May, but with limited capacity and continued restrictions.
After a Spring season with many dynamic three-year-old prep races, we’ll send 20 horses to the gate. Most come into the race with ample experience, but we have several entered who have just four or less races to their racing resume.
As always, the thoroughbred industry’s most recognizable faces will be in attendance. Many highly successful trainers have horses entered and the field is loaded with the best jockeys you will find in the sport.
The Kentucky Derby always presents the greatest challenge to the seasoned prognosticator. It’s complex in every sense of the word. There are numerous contributing factors: the 20-horse field make the post positions essential because most of these horses have raced in fields limited to eleven starters or less during their brief careers. It’s a wrestle and ‘dogfight’ they have never competed in before. Some haven’t had any dirt kicked in their faces.
Please trust that I have done my homework for you: extensive film study of race replays, and the arduous steps in breaking down each horse’s past performances, tossing the numbers around like a salad, in addition to a very detailed pedigree analysis for each starter. These are the best three-year-old horses in training, that’s why they are here. I look at the intangibles too, the numbers and the bloodlines are important, as are the connections. Much can be determined by recognizing the horse’s behavior in the races he has run, and how well he is training in the morning. Progress is essential and knowing who is sitting on a big race makes a significant difference when ultimately making your selections. Then it’s up to getting a great trip and having an abundance of racing luck.
Last year there was over 155 million dollars wagered on the Kentucky Derby, a number that is expected to be surpassed this year. Believe the hype!
Rain or shine Churchill Downs will be jam-packed, as will all the simulcasting facilities around the country.
To get everyone pumped up, I’m sharing this Kentucky Derby from 2005 when Giacomo closed from 17th to win. The call is simply exciting and the race unforgettable. Volume up, it’s a great example that on his best day, with others faltering, any horse can shock the world.
I have listed the entire field of 20 in my precise order of finish, showing the morning line and my projected odds at post time perhaps to help you recognize underlays and overlays. This was a very difficult handicap, especially separating my top 5, but you have to be decisive.
You can use my analysis as a guide for you to make an informed decision for yourself at the windows, My top eight I have listed are my very best contenders, you will also see who I list as a ‘pretender’, and those who have a “puncher’s chance”. Lastly I have listed the horses who I feel should be tossed from your consideration altogether. I don’t want you to burn money without having a fighting chance. Read and absorb all I have provided for you. Are you ready? Let’s Go!
# 6 Messier (ML 8-1, Projected at PT 6-1) Let me tell you, this handicap was hard, very hard especially when I had to be decisive and separate my top contenders. This colt simply checked all the boxes and he became my # 1 choice. He raced very well as a juvenile, with his only losses, both running a strong 2nd at Los Alamitos Racecourse where I believe he just didn’t take to the track. His three-year-old debut was nothing short of “absolutely sensational” devouring the field in the Grade 3 Robert B Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita. He won that race by 15 lengths without being touched by his jockey, for a rather imposing 103 Beyer.
With all the chaos and controversy surrounding the Bob Baffert stable, he was taken over by trainer Tim Yakteen. Make no mistake, even though it’s Yakteen making his first Kentucky Derby visit as a principal trainer, Baffert is responsible for developing this super-fast colt. Messier has a composed disposition, something that will be important during the post parade in front of the loud crowd circling the Churchill grounds.
Some handicappers showed some concern about his performance in the Santa Anita Derby. I believe he simply ran into a buzzsaw in stablemate Taiba. It was his first race in over 2 months and he worked very hard battling the speed from the gate, took the lead and was ultimately passed by Taiba. He still showed some heart and ran a 99 Beyer. This guy has two quality works for this race, working sharply and handily in 59.4 and 111.3 going 6 panels. I heard from various interviews that he took the trip from California to Churchill very well. In his 6 lifetime starts, he’s never been less than 2nd, winning 3 times. Although all of his fields have been small ( the most was a field of 6), with his highest PT odds at 7:5, I feel the field size won’t be an overwhelming burden if he’s up close to the front runners.
He draws the # 6 hole, with speed to his inside and just a little to his direct outside. I feel Johnny Velazquez with urge him with a solid break and with enough speed to allow for what could be perfect positioning for the first ¼ mile and around the first turn. That is precisely where I feel this colt wants to be. I feel he’s raced his best when he has a target in front of him. He’s likely to be sitting just behind his stablemate #12 Taiba, # 3 Epicenter and #13 Simplification and there’s a chance #17 Classic Causeway and #11 Pioneer of Medina may very well be tactical and up with the front runners too. That is why I trust the talent and experience of Johnny V (who has three Kentucky Derby Victories: 2011 Animal Kingdom, 2017 Always Dreaming and 2020 Authentic) to his credit.
Purchased for $470,000, this son of Empire Maker ( 2nd in his Kentucky Derby and came back to defeat Derby winner Funny Cide in the Test of Champions, the Belmont Stakes) is out of the dam Checkered Past who won 5 of her 15 lifetime starts. Make no mistake, the bloodlines are there for this guy to want the distance. Empire Maker was also the grandsire of Triple Crown winner American Pharaoh. Sadly, Empire Maker died in 2020 at the age of 20. I am convinced this colt will be in the mix as they are turning for home, and he may be on the lead at the top of the stretch. I am expecting a moderate to potentially fast early pace. If this guy reverts to the kind of explosiveness he exhibited in the Robert Lewis Stakes, he could very well be the horse they will have to catch in deep stretch. I would suggest watching the board to see how hot he is at the windows. I’m hoping many will stall at realizing his great talent and turn of foot, and I get a generous price. He’s my top contender and he will be used in all betting formats. I feel it will be very difficult to keep him off the board.
I’m confident he’ll go well, and convinced he’ll go forward in this, his 2nd start off his layoff. If it comes up wet, I’m not worried as his pedigree suggests he’ll handle it. His sire won the Belmont Stakes in the slop. If it is sloppy, Johnny V will have added urgency in making sure he’s up on the pace to avoid mud getting kicked in his face. If this guy wins, he’ll be the first Canadian bred to win the Run for the Roses since Sunny’s Halo in 1983 and only the 2nd since Northern Dancer in 1964. I feel it is important to remember Bob Baffert’s ( 6-Time winner) overall influence on this colt, and Tim Yakteen is a seasoned veteran who has worked under some highly respected conditioners, so do not overlook his overall experience either.
Lastly, to note, Johnny V is looking to be only the 4th Jockey to win 4 Kentucky Derbies. That will certainly add to his Hall of Fame career.
#10 Zandon (ML 3-1, projected at PT 5:2) This is one imposing colt who keeps getting better. All of my readers know that I loved him in the Blue Grass Stakes and he did not disappoint. A fabulous ride by Jockey Flavian Prat and you had to just love the acceleration he exhibited once he found the seam. He won the race getting clear, passing Smile Happy, with lots more in his tank. Saddled by Chad Brown who is seeking his first Kentucky Derby win, there’s a big chance he may do it. This son of Upstart has hit the board in all 4 career races, racing twice as a juvenile. His two starts this year have positioned him to be a major threat in this race. This guy has shown maturity and versatility and now with his Run for the Roses, he’s making his 5th start over his 5th different track. In his short career he’s already had 4 different jockeys on him. Going forward I’m convinced that Prat will be his rider. Purchased for $170,000, he has not disappointed his owner. Zandon won his debut at Belmont and was then then ambitiously entered in the Grade 2 Remsen at Aqueduct where he just lost by a nose to Mo Donegal. He ran 3rd to Epicenter and Smile Happy in the Grade 2 Risen Star, but blew the start and raced wide. All things considered he ran a big race. There are some folks that assume he is a pure closer, but he possesses tactical ability, and with his draw of the # 10 hole, I feel it will be advantageous to his chances. I am fully expecting Prat to make all the right moves to position him well during the first half mile. I firmly believe that this colt hasn’t shown us his very best, and it’s likely he’s sitting on a big race. I like his morning drill at Churchill going 5 panels in 1.00.2 breezing, an indication that he is sharp and fit. He’s my 2nd choice, but he’s capable of taking it all. There’s no way around it, he’s a major contender. The trip he gets is everything. I feel he’s a must use on all your multi race wagers. Lastly, if the track comes up wet, no worries with this guy as his best race (Blue Grass Stakes) was over an off track.
#3 Epicenter (ML 7:2, Projected at PT 5:2) Simply a beautiful colt and I challenge anyone to find a flaw in his overall body of work. He’s been the epitome of constant improvement, has the figures and what seems to be tremendous versatility. His connections of course are world class. Trained by the sports winningest conditioner, Steven Asmussen who oddly enough is still seeking his first Kentucky Derby win- he’s 0 for 23 but he’s saddled numerous Derby starters that hit the board (Gun Runner 2nd in 2016, Nehro 2nd in 2011, Curlin 3rd in 2007 and Lookin at Lee 2nd in 2017). With Joel Rosario back up, he’s got arguably the best rider in the business, one who has habitually won huge races. He’s strong armed, smart and very confident, all qualities very much needed in the Run for the Roses.
This guy is making his first Grade 1 start, but even still, his resume is loaded with quality starts. He’s won four of his 6 starts, and just missing by a head in another, but was super game in defeat. He’s drawn the # 3 hole, so I’m fully expecting Rosario to use his solid speed to be up there early past the stands and around the first turn. Keep in mind he rated wonderfully in the Louisiana Derby and finished full of run, confidently blasting the field of 9. Now he comes in with 6 weeks off and has a quality work over the Churchill oval, a nice breeze on a muddy surface, going 5 furlongs in 1:01 flat and on April 24th a solid breeze going 6 panels at Churchill in 1:12.1. He has certainly settled in well there.
There’s no doubt that he’s fresh, fit and very dangerous. Trust me, as I went through the progress of my handicapping, he really checked all the boxes. With me placing him 3rd, I’m doing so with great respect knowing that he will be tough to down. He’s one of two million dollar+ earners in the field and his last race 102 Beyer puts him right there gunning for the wire with a clean trip. Keep in mind, last year the best three-year-old in training, Essential Quality, had a very similar resume coming into the race, even more so as he was the juvenile champion, and because he raced wide most of the race, he had to settle for 4th. I don’t think Rosario will ever have him wide, but I’m not entirely sure he’ll get the same trip he had in the Louisiana Derby. He’s a must to include in most if not all your multi-race wagers, and to be used in all of your exotics. A strong contender for sure, but my top 2 listed above seem a little more appealing. Lastly, I will feel good for Asmussen if he finally wins the one race that has eluded him, but I’m getting a feeling he’ll come up short. One part of history to share: since 2000, over the last 22 years, none of the 11 Louisiana Derby winners whose next start was the Kentucky Derby, finished 1st or 2nd, with 3 of them running 3rd (Gun Runner, Revolutionary and Hot Rod Charlie) each of them were stud three-year-olds, Interesting, can the trend get reversed?
#9 Tiz The Bomb (ML 30-1, Projected at PT 27-1) This very attractive colt is one of the most experienced in the race and has proven to have a nose for the wire, winning 5 of his 8 starts, going over multiple surfaces. He, along with Epicenter, are the only million-dollar earners in the field, this is something that is being overlooked by many. Purchased for $330,000, this son of Hit It A Bomb (War Front) with Tiznow on the dam side, sports a pedigree which covers multiple surfaces. This has proven true as he has wins to his credit on the turf, synthetic and dirt tracks, and I believe he’s built to go this distance, if not longer. I have great respect for Ken McPeek and for Brian Hernandez his rider in all but one of his 8 starts. Hernandez knows the Churchill Oval, and has been gutty, consistent and reliable. I feel this will work in the horses favor, with his jockey being a solid inside/outside rider which will be important for a colt like this who can mount a powerful close.
If the pace of the race is moderate to fast, watch out because this guy has the raw ability to explode down the lane. He comes into the race with a series of nice breezes over the Churchill oval and seems to be very fit. He’s won his last two starts in rather dramatic fashion at Turfway Park over their synthetic surface, both times with the type of acceleration you like to see coming into this big race. The only concern I had as I went through my handicapping and film study on this guy was the totally unexplained poor effort in the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park. It was his first race off a layoff, but he had raced well off of a layoff before. In that race he was defeated soundly by three of his race rivals (White Abarrio, , Simplification and Mo Donegal) but I just put a line through the race. Was it the Florida heat? The track? I gave him a pass. I am convinced this colt is a runner. If he gets the right fractions and a solid trip, he may again close powerfully and light up the tote board. He needs to move forward Beyer wise but I feel he’s truly capable.
If it comes up wet, no worries as I mentioned he has proven to adapt and race well regardless of the surface in front of him. He’s a live longshot and I feel he should be used in many of your wagering gimmicks. A contender if he fires his very best and should not be ignored. I’m listing him as my 4th choice because I love a horse who has demonstrated to have a nose for the wire. He’s one of 3 horses in the field who have won multiple stakes races (Epicenter & Mo Donegal)
#16 Cyberknife (ML 20-1, Projected at PT 14-1) This colt’s daddy was a champ, sired by Gun Runner and purchased for $400,000. He began his career as a juvenile with a pair of sharp efforts on this same Churchill soil. He’s won 3 of his 6 starts and ran 1st in another but was disqualified and placed 2nd. As a youngster his Beyers were slower, but he has shown continuous improvement.
He’s got his regular rider, Florent Geroux in the silks, solid connections for sure. In his latest, the Arkansas Derby, he won going away with great confidence. In my opinion it wasn’t the best of fields for a Grade 1 event, but make no mistakes, it’s still a Grade 1 win. What is extremely impressive are his works while being barned at Churchill. His latest an outstanding breeze going 6 furlongs in 1:11.1 which added to his other breezes going 6 in 1:12.1 and 5 furlongs over an off going in a sharp 1:00 flat. His overall pedigree suggest that he’ll have no problem going the added distance and he seems to be sitting on a big race, so that makes him a big contender to me at what will be a very generous price.
My only concern was watching his lone poor race, in the Grade 3 Lecomte at The Fair Grounds. He uncharacteristically flattened out after racing wide. I will accept the fact that it just wasn’t his day as he had raced very well before and after on the same strip. He’s not as quick out of the gate as many are in the field, so he will have to run his best race, break alertly, and gain solid positioning to put him in the mix to fire his very best as they turn for home. He’ll need a perfect trip breaking from the 16th hole, but I’m confident it will work in his favor. Watch the board for the action he’s taking in at the windows. He’s my 5th choice and a contender if he runs his career best. I believe this is the best of the 3 Brad Cox starters.
#8 Charge It (ML 20-1, Projected at PT 14-1) This colt is blessed with lots of raw talent and is one of the better horses coming out of the Todd Pletcher barn. A big imposing colt, but I’m concerned as he never raced as a juvenile. He made his first start on January 8th of this year at Gulfstream Park, just missing in his debut in an absolute dogfight of a one-mile race. He then took a month off, again entered in a MSW one mile event at Gulfstream. He was odds-on at 1/5 blasting his competition by almost 9 lengths and posting a robust 93 Beyer in his 2nd start. He was then ambitiously entered in the Grade One Florida Derby. Once again took in lots of support at the windows and ran a huge race going two turns for the first time. He hit the gate that day at the start, and then went drunk driving throughout the stretch run. It was a huge effort, finishing 2nd to the winner White Abarrio. Yes, he was all over the track, but considering the circumstances, he ran a big race and I know for certain he can move forward from that effort. This is a strapping son of Tapit who rang in at a cost of $185,000. I feel he’ll have no problem making this Derby 10-furlong distance. To be honest with you, I’m not a big fan of horses coming to the Derby after only racing in Florida, but with this guy I’m making an exception. As I mentioned, trained by Todd Pletcher who I trust completely and who has won the Run for the Roses twice (2010 Super Saver and 2017 Always Dreaming) and Always Dreaming came out of the same Florida Derby prep race. Additionally, I trust Luis Saez entirely as he’s back up and has been this colt’s only rider. He’s been barned at Churchill and has adapted well, working twice over the track, going 47.2 and 5 furlongs in 100.2, both very productive breezes over the track. No doubt a solid indication that he’s fresh and fit. He’s my 6th choice, and very capable in running a big race, so he’s got a puncher’s chance if those I have listed above fail to fire. Without question I feel he should be used in many of your better gimmicks, especially those that ask you to go more than 4 deep, do not ignore him in your Superfecta and Triple wages. He drew the 8th hole, and I feel that will be to his advantage. I’m fully expecting his pilot Saez to ask him to be tactical early, especially since his race resume is limited to only 3 starts.
# 11 Pioneer of Medina (ML 30-1 Projected at PT 40-1) This is one of two horses who can easily be overlooked in the jam-packed Derby field. Instead of me overlooking him, I dug down even deeper, and I became more and more impressed with him. He is Todd Pletcher’s 3rd starter in the race, the reason he could easily be dismissed or ignored. Jersey Joe Bravo gets the mount, this colt’s 7th Jockey in as many races ( something you really don’t see too often at this level). This guy has hit the board in 5 of his 6 career races, and just missed the board running 4th in the Grade 2 Risen Star, a much improved effort jumping 13 points on the Beyer scale losing to ( Epicenter, Smile Happy and Zandon). He then went forward again going a longer distance in the Louisiana Derby posting a 96 Beyer, hitting the board racing 3rd to Epicenter. So now he comes into the race fresh off a 6-week layoff. He’s got a series of smart breezes, the last two over the Churchill oval, one being a sparkling 59.4 going 5 panels. His bloodlines suggest he’ll appreciate the distance (his granddaddy was Empire Maker who won the Belmont Stakes) . Pletcher has decided to take his blinkers off, an equipment change I really like. He’s breaking from the # 11 hole, and I believe his natural tactical ability will shine, so expect him to be forwardly placed as they make their way past the stands. This guy presents a very good opportunity for great value to potentially fill your deeper/bottom gimmicks, and even more so if the track comes up wet. I originally had this guy tabbed as my 10th choice, but I moved him up to my 7th position. Watch the board and don’t hesitate to use this guy on your superfecta tickets.
# 5 Smile Happy (ML 20-1, Projected at PT 16-1) This colt may very well be one of the Derby “Wildcards”. Purchased for $185,000 as a yearling, this son of Run Happy ran twice as a juvenile and twice again this year, so he’s limited with his starts, but he checks the boxes needed because he has progressed very well. This guy was considered a real hot shot last year after winning his debut (a convincing win at Keeneland). He then stepped up into a Grade 2 event over this same Churchill soil, and he closed powerfully and looked very impressive in winning going away. This is a 2nd entry for trainer Ken McPeek and he saddles his regular rider in Corey Lanerie (who is a solid rider, but I do not always trust him in large fields, especially if he’s forced to navigate through a bad situation). He has run 2nd to both Epicenter and Zandon and in those races he had every opportunity to win, but he failed to get the job done. I’m offering this guy the respect he deserves listing him as my 8th choice, and he’s likely to go off at a generous price, much higher odds than he’s ever seen ( 4-1 was his tops). He’s never run a poor race, so perhaps with a perfect trip he can hit the board late, but he’ll have to run his best race to do it.
# 1 Mo Donagel (ML 10-1, Projected at PT 9-1) This guy is a powerful looking son of Uncle Mo. Purchased as a yearling for $250,000. he is one of Todd Pletcher’s 3 entries in the race. He’s 5 for 5 in the money for his career, winning 3 races, all of which he mounted a steady, power close to emerge victorious. He’s also one of the few in the race that have won 2 Stakes races. There’s no doubt I feel he’ll take to the distance, and he should be ok if the track comes up wet, his pedigree suggests that he’ll have no problem with either circumstance. Irad Ortiz is back riding him (he was on him for his first 3 races) and you always gain value when Irad is riding your horse. Irad is aggressive and highly skilled and above all he’s seasoned, racing at the highest level, so the stage will never be too big for him.
There’s lots to like and appreciate with this horse, but I really feel he can be greatly challenged by drawing the rail, it’s inevitable that he’ll have a complicated journey. He’ll need a fast pace and a clear path to close through. He would love to save ground on the rail and then have it open for him, but don’t count on it. It’s likely he’ll need to have a near perfect trip. He makes my top 10 based on his overall talent, his Beyers are solid, and there’s no doubt he’ll have a successful career.
I wouldn’t fault anyone in using him with many betting formats, especially on the bottom of a deeper gimmick like a superfecta. If he gets the perfect pace and a perfect trip, he’s good enough to upset the field, but many of the horses I have listed above and their post positions are simply more appealing to me. Another thing, expect him to gain interest at the window but he should still be the biggest price that’s been ever given to him facing winners (he’s been 2-1 or less in all his starts after his maiden debut). Lastly, earlier this year in his only race at Gulfstream Park, he was beaten soundly by White Abarrio and Simplification after breaking slowly that day.
#20 Ethereal Road (ML 30-1, Projected at PT 38-1) This colt made it into the race as an also eligible, so perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise. Purchased for just $90,000 as a yearling, this son of Quality Road is quite a physical specimen, one of the largest horses in the field. Luis Contreras gets the mount for Legendary 86-year-old trainer D Wayne Lucas, who’s a 3-time winner of the Kentucky Derby (1995 Thunder Gulch, 1996 Grindstone and 1999 with Charismatic). What a story it would be if he pulled off a major upset to capture his 4th.
This guy was a slow starter as a juvenile, finally breaking his maiden in his 4th start. He’s been slowly improving, and I feel he’s due to fire his very best soon enough, so perhaps he’ll be a Golden Soul type and run big in the Kentucky Derby. I feel he’ll take to the distance and perhaps be one of the horses charging powerfully deep into the stretch, He’ll be a huge price for two reasons, his # 20 post position and the fact that his only win came when he broke his maiden. He rounds up my top 10 because I know he has a big race in him, and I haven’t seen it yet. I will be using him in some of my deeper superfectas .
#12 Taiba (ML 12-1, Projected at PT 7-1) Perhaps no other horse got as much buzz as this colt, another son of Gun Runner who was purchased for $1,700,000 as a yearling. Much has been said about him coming into this race after only two starts, so he’s got 136 years of history working against him. He began his racing career back on March 5th where he took all of the money while trouncing a small field of MSW horses at 6 panels. He then took a month off and was slated for the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby and of course stretching out to the 9-furlong distance. Facing a field of 5 others, he was just as dynamic, racing 4 wide and getting clear to win going away by 2+ lengths. He’s the stablemate of my top choice Messier, who also was inherited by trainer Tim Yakteen from Bob Baffert.
All the buzz was understood as he posted back-to-back triple Beyers at 103 and then 102 which gave him the auto-entry into the Kentucky Derby. Look, I get it, speed is a beautiful thing, and this guy has exhibited a world of talent, but now he is stepping into a whole new ballgame facing 19 rivals. He’ll be ridden again by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith for whom I have a world of respect. Mike is no stranger to the Kentucky Derby as he has raced in it numerous times over the years, winning twice. His thrilling 17th to first monster close with Giacomo ( Circa 2005) will never be forgotten, and neither will his Triple Crown march with Justify back in 2018.
Let’s go back to last year, when a similar scenario took place when Rock Your World went wire to wire in the Santa Anita Derby and he had been lightly raced as well. He also posted a triple digit Beyer and then drew the # 15 post in the big dance. The moment he broke his world changed, he was bumped around at the start, and found himself mid-pack and well off the lead, and then having nothing left when they were turning for home. That horse was 4-1 and burned millions of dollars. This is a scenario that can easily happen again.
So please allow me to make myself clear, there’s no doubt this horse possesses a world of talent, and if he can somehow burst out of the # 12 hole and get a clear lead, he could potentially be very dangerous, but that is a very tall order when considering the speed in the race that is to his left and his right. If he is successful at making the lead or actually a strong part of the group of front runners, his lack of racing experience will again be tested. There are just too many variables to have a great deal of confidence in him winning this race. I originally had him ranked higher as my 7th choice, but I bounced him all the way down to # 11 on my contender list. I just need to see much more from him, it will certainly be fun to watch. I’m thinking the curse of Leonatus will continue, winning this race after only two starts is simply insane.
#13 Simplification (ML 20-1, Projected at PT 15-1) This guy is another horse who is coming in from Florida and Gulfstream Park where he has run all 7 of his career races and all of his posted workouts were over the same soil at Gulfstream. I would have liked to see him have a workout at Churchill Downs, but that wasn’t the case. He’s a steady performer who is familiar with collecting checks as he has hit the board 6 times in his 7 starts, while earning over half a million dollars. Florida based trainer Antonio Sano saddles the great and extremely talented Jose Ortiz, so that alone adds to his appeal. I’m feeling that he’ll be a pace factor breaking from the #13 hole, and perhaps be some confusing trouble for #12 Tabia as they look for early positioning. This guy can be tactical and I believe he’ll adapt if the race comes up wet, but several horses in this race have already defeated him, so by default I must judge him more against those guys, I have him ranked 12 in this field of 20, he is capable of bettering my rating, but I’m not entirely sure he wants the distance or if he can win a dogfight if one develops in the stretch. He’s a nice racehorse, but I believe a cut below several of his rivals.
#19 Zozos (ML 30-1, Projected at PT 33-1) This is yet another colt with limited experience who did not race as a two-year-old. As I mentioned earlier in my column, my respect is there for trainer Brad Cox who saddles a very competent rider in Manny Franco. He ran big in his prep race, holding the lead in the Louisiana Derby until he was passed by Epicenter, but that day he broke from the # 2 hole, and on Derby Day he’s breaking from the # 19 hole. There’s no doubt based on his recent works at Churchill Downs that he’s fresh and fit for his first race in 6 weeks, but he will be greatly challenged by his post as there is a ton of speed to the inside of him. A nice horse with a future in the game, but I simply can’t see him winning this, he definitely falls under the pretenders radar. If you must, perhaps he can be used in your Triple and Superfecta wheels.
#15 White Abarrio (ML 10-1, Projected at PT 13-1) This colt is a true rags to riches story, as there are stories out there that he was purchased for only $7,500 prior to his maiden win. He raced well as a Juvenile, winning his first two starts rather easily at Gulfstream Park. He was then shipped to Churchill Downs to run in a Grade 2 event where he ran evenly for the most part, but instead of packing it in, he showed some heart and continued on. His two races this year as a three-year-old have both been fabulous, winning the Grade 3 Holy Bull and of course the Grade 1 Florida Derby which put him in this race. He’s raced 5 times and has hit the board in all 5, winning four. He has run back to back quality Beyers at 97 and 96 , and he does have the perfect running style for a race like the Kentucky Derby. I originally had this guy rated in my top 7, but have since dropped him way down to this spot, so I’m adding to him being under appreciated. I do respect his Trainer Saffie Joseph who runs a winning barn in Florida and he’s got Tyler Gaffalione ( a very solid rider) back in the saddle following his two huge victories. So why did I drop my overall rating on him? Well in watching the Florida Derby, I wasn’t impressed with how the race finished for him. The final quarter was slower than I would like to see and coming out of the race, I was much more impressed by Charge It whom he defeated that day. His running style suggests that even from his post, the # 15 hole, he should get some solid positioning by his very capable jockey. I just think as they turn from home, I’m not sure he wants to go the 10 furlongs, especially with a crowd of horses around him. I wouldn’t use him in my top 3, but I guess if I went deeper into my exotics, he could be used to potentially hit the board. As many are listing him as a contender to win, I am listing him as a pretender. He needs to move forward greatly, he’s got the heart, I’m just not convinced he’s talented enough.
Ok, that’s my top 14 in order. The following are my bottom 6, all of whom I consider outsiders and I will be tossing them from any wagering consideration. I will provide some added bullet points for each of them, so you can be informed to a greater extent. Any of these 6 pulling off an upset would be shocking to me. They need to prove their value on the track and each of them seem up against it, these outsides are listed in order of strength.
# 7 Crown Pride (ML 20-1, Projected at PT 33-1)
*Product of Japan, who possesses some closing punch
* Making his U.S Debut and has posted a quality bullet breeze at Churchill going 4 furlongs in a fast .46.2
* He’s won 3 of his 4 career races, including the UAE Derby which is a Grade 2, even still he appears overmatched in this Run for the Roses.
#14 Barber Road (ML 30-1, Projected at PT 40-1)
- One of the more experienced colts in the race, racing 8 times and hitting the board in 7 of them, winning 2 but they were his maiden win for a tag and a low caliber allowance race
- He does have 2 races over the Churchill strip, but his figures were nothing to write home about.
- Relu Gutierrez is up for Trainer John Ortiz, average at best for such a big stage.
#17 Classic Causeway (ML 30-1, Projected at PT 27-1)
- He’s got better than average speed, so there’s a chance he’ll break well from the #17 hole
- He won the Tampa Bay Derby on an off track, but I did not like the race as a whole.
- His chances for an improved race will increase if the track comes up wet.
- Julian Leparoux is up for the Brian Lynch barn
- Simply hard to recommend after being beaten so soundly by 4 horses in this race
#18 Tawny Port (ML 30-1, Projected at PT 43-1)
- This is actually a pretty nice colt, purchased for a robust $430,000 and has the bloodlines to suggest that he’ll make the distance.
- Very dependable rider Ricardo Santana Jr is up for Brad Cox, solid connections.
- He comes into the race after winning the Grade 3 Lexington Stakes, where he posted an 89 Beyer.
- Nice, productive colt, but he appears to be much slower than these, and perhaps more of a Grade 3 horse altogether.
#4 Summer Is Tomorrow (ML 30-1, Projected at PT 72-1)
- Set the pace and lasted through the stretch in the UAE Derby, but then gave way in the stretch to the charging Crown Prince.
- Making his U.S debut and looms to be a huge price
- Likely to get swallowed up prior to the top of the stretch. 100% Toss
# 2 Happy Jack (ML 30-1, Projected at PT 75-1)
- Rafeal Bejarano is up for Two-Time Kentucky Derby winner Doug O’Neil
- Has 4 races to his credit, all at Santa Anita.
- He won his debut at 24-1 coming off the pace, but hasn’t been anywhere close in his last 3 races, beaten significantly by both Messier and Taiba
- They are taking his blinkers off and I don’t like his mile long workout at Keeneland
- This colt has absolutely no chance of wining this race, it would be the shocker of all shocker
Photo: Courtney Snow, Courtney Snow Photography