The 2018 Kentucky Derby Preview

April 24, 2018

The 2018 Kentucky Derby is less than two weeks away. The most exciting two minutes in sports needs no introduction. This is the race and time of year we all wait for. It looks like we are in for a great and competitive Kentucky Derby this year. There are a few exciting prospects, and a few budding stars that will be going to post on the first Saturday in May. We also have some pretenders to sort through. The crop this year looks potentially strong, although it is too early to say that definitively.

Let’s take a look at some of the angles and the horses in this year’s running:


Not since the 8th running of the Kentucky Derby has a horse won it without the benefit of a start at two-years old. That horse was Apollo who came with a late rush to beat Runnymeade back in 1882. That is a long time ago. Granted there is not an abundance of live contenders in the Kentucky Derby’s history that did not race at two however there are some. You think of horses like Pulpit and Curlin who just couldn’t get it done. The run for the roses takes seasoning and the lack of it hurts your chances especially in the large fields we see today. This year we have not one but two horses looking to knock off the Apollo curse. Justify and Magnum Moon both come in with live looks and both are looking to put the whole Apollo thing to bed. I probably put less weight on Apollo than most. Yes it is a long standing stat that has validity as the lack of experience comes into play. That said, every year, crop, and race is different. Eventually all those stats go by the wayside. Apollo won’t be any different at some point. If you think this is the year and Justify or Magnum Moon are good enough, don’t let a stat stand in your way.

Dosage index. What dosage index? For years we heard how a horse had to have a certain dosage index to win the Kentucky Derby. Today as the game and commercial breeding has changed, it barely gets a mention. There is a reason for that. Different game, different rules. Horses outrun their pedigree in today’s game.

The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. While a great and lucrative race to win, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile has not exactly been a Kentucky Derby winner factory. Street Sense and Nyquist are the only two who won the Juvenile that also won on the first Saturday in May. Good Magic looks to add his name to that list. If he’s good enough and gets the trip, whatever race he won or didn’t win in his past won’t matter.

The UAE Derby, while run at a mile and three sixteenths (longer than any other major Kentucky Derby prep)and in the desert of Dubai with no Lasix, has never produced a Kentucky Derby winner. Mendelssohn looks to have the best chance of any horse yet to head to Louisville by way of Dubai. He handles dirt which should be no surprise being a half to Beholder and Into Mischief. He also is a Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner but on turf not dirt, so the dirt “negative” doesn’t really apply to him. Not that it matters anyway. Mendelssohn also has the distinction of being trained by Aidan O’Brien, who while excelling on the grass, has stats that fall way off on the dirt. That doesn’t matter to me either. You know he can train, and he pointed this horse for this race after a turf race at two years old. In the wake of his US dirt failures, he knows exactly what he’s doing.

Wood Memorial winners don’t win the Kentucky Derby. John Velazquez who has a pair of Derby wins, disagrees. He chose Wood Memorial winner Vino Rosso over Florida Derby winner Audible. It’s the horse not the prep that gets the roses. Do we even have to mention how the Blue Grass is irrelevant? I think not.

You have had to have run this figure or that figure at two-years old or in this prep or that prep. Nonsense. Again every race, crop, and field is different. In the Kentucky Derby and in horse racing, rules were made to be broken. If this is the year you like someone outside of any rule or trend, remember, eventually they all go down.

Coolmore and Godolphin continue to spend millions trying to win the Kentucky Derby in every way possible. Eventually they will. Coolmore is here with their best chance ever and Godolphin is here with a horse who did NOT prep in Dubai. The Coolmore horse did. Hmmm.

Jockeys and agents always make the right call. Shoemaker rode favored Hill Rise over Northern Dancer. Northern Dancer beat Hill Rise in the Kentucky Derby. Enough said on that.

If you are feeling unsatisfied, fear not. Basically nothing was given away in the angles because they are just that, angles that won’t affect the outcome of this year’s Kentucky Derby. One or more of these angles likely goes down. What will affect it is weather, post position, pace, trips, mistakes, and the quality of the horses. Odds won’t affect it either. The favorite has won the last 5 runnings of the Kentucky Derby. There is always value to be had Derby Day. It is our job to find or create it.

I am going to look at all the horses who look like they will be in the gate for the run for the roses. I’ll label each one a contender or pretender for winning this year’s Kentucky Derby. I wish I could give my selection now, but that has to wait until after the draw and final handicapping. You won’t get paid anymore for picking now, before they draw and we know the weather.


Magnum Moon

Malibu Moon out of Dazzling Song by Unbridled’s Song, Keeneland September 2016 $380K sale purchase, Trainer Todd Pletcher, Rider Luis Saez

He is 4 for 4 without a start at two. He took the Rebel and Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn. He will run in the Kentucky Derby off three weeks’ rest. He ran in the Arkansas Derby off 27 days rest and was bearing out significantly in that race. Trainer Todd Pletcher usually likes more time between starts and his relevant stats reflect that dropping considerably when he runs back in less that 30 days. Three hard races in a relatively short window is cause for concern, especially when you watch the replay of him bearing out in the Arkansas Derby. The added distance doesn’t figure to help him and he was getting out for a reason. He has kind of a zig zag pattern on Thoro-Graph which is another negative in my opinion. I expect him to be close up and prompting the pace if not on it. I also see him moving early. It’s tough to call an undefeated horse from the Pletcher barn, with a tough aggressive rider, a pretender, but the negatives outweigh the positives and we have to try and separate the men from the boys. PRETENDER

Good Magic

Curlin out of Glinda the Good by Hard Spun, Keeneland September 2016 $1 mil sale purchase, Trainer Chad Brown, Rider Jose Ortiz

He comes in off a nice, albeit workmanlike, win in the Blue Grass. His prior start was somewhat of a merry go around race at Gulfstream Park. You can toss that. He won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile as a maiden and just the fact Chad Brown started him there shows lofty expectations. He has trained great of late, and can sit off a projected fast and even contested pace and move into it when called on. His rider is winning everything in sight. He has a great steadily improving Thoro-Graph pattern that signals a peak effort is coming. Serious chance come the big dance. CONTENDER


Into Mischief out of Blue Devil Bel by Gilded Time, Fasig Tipton March 2017 sale purchase $500k, Trainer Todd Pletcher, Rider Javier Castellano

John Velazquez won the Florida Derby aboard this colt but jumped off to ride Vino Rosso. Javier Castellano is a capable replacement who chose this colt over Bolt d’ Oro. Johnny’s decision has to weigh on the mind if you like Audible. Javier did win the Holy Bull on him so he knows him. His pedigree doesn’t scream a mile and a quarter and his Florida Derby win was a little dressed up. He sat off a suicide hot pace and moved into it at the right time. He beat an inexperienced horse in Hofburg who had only broken his maiden in his previous start which was only the second of his career. He fits on Thoro-Graph with a nice pattern to boot. The runner-up covered a lot more ground last start and should like the added distance. That’s a knock on Audible. PRETENDER

Noble Indy

Take Charge Indy out of Noble Maz by Storm Boot, Winstar homebred, Trainer Todd Pletcher, Rider TBA

The Louisiana Derby winner was somewhat lucky to beat both Lone Sailor and My Boy Jack in that race. He will face both again along with a host of others. He has speed to be part of the pace or close to it. He doesn’t look like the distance will do him any favors. He may be in the mix longer than some think, but likely not at the finish. He has a hard pattern to read on  Thoro-Graph but I don’t necessarily see a forward move, especially with this pace scenario and distance. PRETENDER

Vino Rosso

Curlin out of Mythical Bride by Street Cry, Keeneland September 2016 $410k sale purchase, Trainer Todd Pletcher, Rider John Velazquez

He looks like a true distance horse and that is what he is bred to be. He ran a nice race in the Wood Memorial and it was good enough to lure John Velazquez off Audible. He can sit back and make one run into a contested and probably fast pace. He looks like he put it all together at the right time. The major knock on him is his Thoro-Graph pattern. he made a big enough forward move to suggest some regression here. He can’t win this race if he regresses. If he doesn’t he is right there. CONTENDER

Bolt D’ Oro

Medaglia d’ Oro out of Globe Trot by A.P. Indy, Fasig Tipton August 2016 $630k sale purchase, Trainer Mick Ruis, Rider Victor Espinoza

Fast, talented colt. Unfortunately he doesn’t seem to be as fast and talented as Justify, who he will have to beat amongst others on the first Saturday in May. He will need some help from his trip and his experience to turn those tables. Javier Castellano, in search of that elusive first Kentucky Derby win, jumped off this colt to ride Audible. His trainer Mick Ruis is new to the big stage. He had previously fired Corey Nakatani in favor of Javier but winds up with Victor Espinoza in the big show. He has a really strong pattern on Thoro-Graph despite not running faster than he did at two-years old. That is a little strange and rare. That and his pedigree keep me from calling him a pretender. CONTENDER


Medaglia d’Oro out of It’s Tricky by Mineshaft, Godolphin homebred, Trainer Kiaren McLaughlin, Rider Junior Alvarado

Didn’t look good in the stretch of the Wood Memorial when soundly beaten by Vino Rosso. He might be going the wrong way which is not what you want come Derby day. He has the right style, but would need to turn around that last effort when he was tiring as Vino Rosso put him away. The foul claim last out has no bearing here. Regressed a bit last out, and may regress again on Thoro-Graph. PRETENDER


Scat Daddy out of Leslie’s Lady by Tricky Creek, Keeneland September 2016 $3mil sale purchase, Trainer Aidan O’Brien, Rider Ryan Moore

It should have come as no surprise this horse can motor on dirt. He is a half brother to both Beholder and Into Mischief. His race in Dubai amounted to a public workout. Yes the track was kind to speed and the rail was good but he ran fast, went easily, and by no means needs the front. He’s won on turf, synthetic, and on dirt. He’s been a mile and 3 sixteenths, that’s further than anyone he will face in Louisville. He will likely go back on Lasix for the Derby and he won without it in the desert. Lasix may be the X-factor that prevents a bounce or regression off the last win. His last win is faster than any in here have run on Thoro-Graph, and if he repeats that or anything close to it he will be very tough to beat. The race stands out to the point it looks like avoiding a bounce is a concern. The scary part is he can actually bounce and still win. CONTENDER


Scat Daddy out of Stage Magic by Ghostzapper, Keeneland September 2016 $500k sales purchase, Trainer Bob Baffert, Rider Mike Smith

It is probably not possible for a colt to be in better hands coming up to the Derby than Justify is. That goes for trainer and rider. Bob Baffert knows how to get them ready and Mike Smith knows what to do with them. He’s three for three with no starts at two and none anywhere other than Santa Anita. That will make things very tough for this highly regarded colt. He will, in all likelihood, be the post time favorite at somewhere around 3-1 or 7-2. His game is speed and he has plenty of it but he doesn’t have to be right on the lead. He can stalk and pounce and I suspect that is what Mike will try and do. It is almost a given at some point in the race he will look like the winner and one to catch. He’s run fast every race, and his Thoro-Graph pattern, while fast, also looks like a forward move is coming. CONTENDER


Scat Daddy out of Vulcan Rose by Fusaichi Pegasus, Fasig Tipton August 2016 $400k sales purchase, Trainer Mark Casse, Rider Jose Lezcano

This speedy colt has some guts to go along with his speed but seems a cut below some of these. He would have to take a nice step forward to make a serious impact here, and with the pace scenario he’ll face and the distance, that will be a tall order. He is probably suited to shorter races and maybe even a slight step down. His Thoro-Graph pattern is nice and suggests he has upside, but not enough for me in this spot. PRETENDER


Curlin out of Surf Song by Storm Cat, Keeneland September 2016 $270k sales purchase, Trainer Bob Baffert, Rider Flavien Prat

This horse ran a huge second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile against the bias. The problem is he never really went forward off that race. His race at Los Alamitos was just as good but the progression you need seems to have stopped there. He is in the right barn to get it back but until I see a sign, I can’t back him in a race like this. I do think he will be further back than he has been, and I also think that will help a lot, maybe enough to get a piece. He’ll have to go forward on Thor0-Graph and also change leads on cue. PRETENDER


Awesome Again out of Tiz o’ Gold by Cee’s Tizzy, Calumet Farm homebred, Trainer D. Wayne Lukas, Rider Gary Stevens

Lukas makes a habit out of winning when you don’t expect him to, and on big days as well. It is almost the opposite of how things used to be when Lukas was a factor in practically every major race run in the country. If you are familiar with the dosage index, then you probably know exactly what I am talking about. The Lukas factor along with Gary Stevens may be the best thing this colt has going for him. The team did it in the Preakness not long ago with Oxbow when hardly anyone expected it and they have proven they are capable of surprises. He is too slow on paper, he looks a cut below many of these but they don’t run the race on paper. I can’t back him but have seen this movie before. I will not be shocked …..but PRETENDER

My Boy Jack

Creative Cause out of Gold N Shaft by Mineshaft, Keeneland September 2016 $20k sales purchase, Trainer Keith Desormeaux, Rider Kent Desormeaux

This horse is really intriguing here. First off you have to love his 20k price tag in comparison to some of the ones he will be loaded into the gate with. He is coming off 3 less than ideal trips starting with a win up the rail in the mud. Yes I know the rail was good that day and he obviously likes the mud, but young horses can be intimidated by the rail, he wasn’t. He came from far back and was very wide in the Louisiana Derby and then at Lexington he was between horses making right and left turns on cue. He is agile and brave. He also doesn’t quit. He has a three race super steady pattern on Thoro-Graph and looks like he is coming to a peak effort and lifetime best. He can capitalize on all the speed in here and won’t mind it wet one bit. He also has a lot of bottom to him. He is live, he will be coming late and he is a CONTENDER

Promises Fulfilled

Shackelford out of Marquee Delivery by Marquetry, Keeneland September 2016 $37k sales purchase, Trainer Dale Romans, Rider Robbie Albarado

Another bargain price in comparison to some of the others but horse racing is a game where you don’t always get what you pay for. Speed is his game and he likes it on top. He went after Strike Power early in the Florida Derby and it cost them both any chance and set it up perfectly for Audible. Similar tactics will probably lead to a similar result in him setting things up for another horse. Dale Romans is a master, and speed left alone can be dangerous, but he would need a career race on paper and Thoro-Graph to get home here. PRETENDER

Free Drop Billy

Union Rags out of Trensa by Giant’s Causeway, Keeneland September 2016 $200k sales purchase, Trainer Dale Romans, Rider TBA

This colt was very promising at two-years old and on a lot of people’s Derby radar. It appears as if he didn’t go forward from two to three but a closer look says that is not true. His Holy Bull was a decent race, the Gotham was disappointing but his Blue Grass was sneaky good. He ran a 1 on the Thoro-Graph that day after being bothered in the stretch and if he goes forward off that effort he can contend at least for some minor awards. I think  there are enough who are better than him to label him a contender, but he is not hopeless and can land a share. PRETENDER

Lone Sailor

Majestic Warrior out of Ambitious by Mr. Greely, Keeneland September 2016 $210k sales purchase, Trainer Tom Amoss, Rider TBA

He has the right style, had trouble in Louisiana and comes from a good barn but he just isn’t fast enough for me. He can go forward and his Thoro-Graph pattern suggests he may, but not enough to win here. PRETENDER


Tapit out of Soothing Touch by Touch Gold, Juddmonte homebred, Trainer Bill Mott, Rider Irad Ortiz

Another intriguing colt in here. He lacks seasoning but Bill Mott doesn’t run horses where they can’t win. He ran this colt in the Florida Derby off one start this year, a maiden special weight race. He was wide and green in the Florida Derby but never surrendered and kept coming against a much more seasoned and accomplished foe who also got the jump on him. He can easily turn those tables with the race behind him and with the added distance he should relish. He fits on Thoro-Graph and has a good pattern suggesting a forward move here. I was at his Florida Derby and immediately after the race I turned to Ramiro Restrepo and said the best horse just finished second. He didn’t argue.  It will take a lot of talent to overcome the lack of seasoning but he could be a really good one flying under the radar. Not mine. CONTENDER

Firenze Fire

Poseidon’s Warrior out of My Every Wish by Langfuhr, Mr Amore Stables homebred, Trainer Jason Serves, Rider Manny Franco

He will have his work cut out for him here with these and at this distance. Looks to be too slow and would need an big move forward to contend. In cagey hands I respect but can’t see him making much noise here. PRETENDER


Scat Daddy out of Border Dispute by Boundary, Keeneland September 2016 $320k sales purchase, Trainer Steve Asmussen, Rider Ricardo Santana

This horse was unlucky with wide draws in Arkansas. He is improving and a good draw and trip will help with that. He has a sneaky good Thoro-Graph pattern and a forward move looks like it is coming. He can rally from off the pace but not too far off if the rider chooses. He was lucky to get in the race and will be long odds but is a CONTENDER

Instilled Regard

Arch out of Enhancing by Foresty, Ocala Breeders 2017 $1.05 mil sales purchase, Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, Rider TBA

This pricey colt at Ocala failed to meet his reserve at Keeneland the year before. A lot can change apparently. He comes from one of the sharpest outfits but looks a cut below some of these and nothing jumps out in his form or on Thoro-Graph indicating a big enough forward move to contend here. PRETENDER


Pace makes the race, and the Kentucky Derby is no exception. It looks like there is enough early speed in this race to insure either a lively pace or possibly a contested one. It is impossible for me to get a read on who is going and where anyone will be sitting until at the least we see the draw. Post positions affect jockey strategies. Additionally some riders pay attention to how the early races are being run, and some don’t or are even oblivious to it. Once I watch some of the days races and even some of the races on Oaks day I will finalize my thoughts on where everyone will be and when. This is one of the reasons it makes no sense to me to have “your pick” in mind now. An idea is one thing, but a final selection is another. The Derby is a chance at a handsome payday so I’ll want every possible edge.

We can form an early opinion based on the information we have now. Fulfilled Promises will likely be the initial pacesetter provided he breaks well. The only other scenario I see at this point is a Mike Smith decision to go if Justify breaks well and gets the jump. I don’t think Mike wants the lead, but we know he is not afraid to take it and take it to them early. he may not be adverse to letting Justify roll as far as he can and that may negate some of his lack of experience. He won’t take as much dirt in front as he will coming from off it and he won’t get bounced around either. I think he will be close to Fulfilled Promises or possibly in front of him. The pace is the Derby is usually a fast one as the track is likely to be playing fast, and the crowd gets the horses as pumped up as we get. Once the front runners are established we are going to have a world of pace pressers up there. Magnum Moon, Enticed, Flameaway, Noble Indy and Firenze Fire all have enough speed to be close and none of those horses figure to be well back. A fast pace does not mean speed can’t win if someone is loose and gets brave but it will be hard for the speed to hold at a mile and a quarter if things get contested. Mendelssohn can probably be anywhere Ryan Moore wants him to be and he should have a nice burst. That may give him an edge on some or most of the stalkers.

An unexpected scenario can be if say a lightly regarded horse like Flameaway or Noble Indy go, then the other riders sit chilly thinking that horse will come back to them. They don’t always come back. Remember War Emblem?

We’ll know more race day, but it looks like a closers race on paper unless Justify is just that good and then some.

HIGH FIVE: So much is made of pedigree this time of year and rightly so. Good genes are applicable at every level of the game. To see that one has to look no further than a race a few Saturday evenings ago where the aptly named Good Genes under talented Luis Rodriquez, a five pound apprentice we featured right here at Past the Wire won a N3L at Charles Town. Luis won a N2L on this horse who obviously has “Good Genes” at his level. He is a half to Awesome Feather. Jacks Or Better farm bred both Awesome Feather and Good Genes. If you missed our story on agent Steven Paras and Luis Rodriquez you can read it here.

A Day in The Life……….

Remember in racing it’s all in the gene………Breeding NY style

LOW FIVE: It’s Derby time, everyone gets a pass this week, and there were quite a few of them.

Contributing Authors

Jon Stettin

Jonathan’s always had a deep love and respect for the Sport of Kings. Growing up around the game, he came about as close as anyone...

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