Wednesday, May 3, 2017

143rd Kentucky Derby In-Depth Horse by Horse Analysis and Selections


The 143rd Running of the Kentucky Derby 
Churchill Downs 
Post Time 6:46 PM ET
TV: NBC 2:30-7:20 PM ET 
May 6th, 2017

This year’s Kentucky Derby is a competitive race with plenty of intrigue. There are many stories; from Gunnevera’s courageous trainer Antonio Sano, to the one eyed Patch, and the return of jockey Rajiv Maragh from a horrific injury. The favorite will likely be Classic Empire, the two-year-old champion who comes off of a win in the GI Arkansas, but that came after an interrupted and eventful preparation.  The weather is another story line as rain is in the forecast for Saturday in Louisville, but how significant it will be remains a question.

For the second year in a row, I was honored to be asked to do a Kentucky Derby preview podcast with Fort Thomas Matters’ Mark Collier. The link is below. If you listen on Itunes and like what you hear please like and subscribe to Fort Thomas Matters!

or listen to it on Itunes at “Fort Thomas Matters”

Below is my horse-by-horse analysis of the 2017 running of the Kentucky Derby in post position order as well as my picks. Enjoy and good luck!

1. Lookin at Lee   Trainer: Steve Asmussen   Jockey: Corey Lanerie   Odds: 20-1

Lookin at Lee enters the Kentucky Derby off a tough trip to finish third in the GI Arkansas Derby. This horse comes from way off the pace and may find himself at the very back of the field early on in the race. He’ll hope to come running late, but will need a clean trip and an ideal pace scenario up front. Lookin at Lee likely won’t be good enough to win the Derby, but if everything falls his way he has an outside chance to get up for third or fourth.

2. Thunder Snow (Ire) Trainer: Saeed Bin Suroor Jockey: Christophe Soumillion Odds: 20-1

Thunder Snow comes to the Kentucky Derby off of a win in the GII UAE Derby on the dirt surface at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai. In the UAE Derby Thunder Snow was impressive; he was involved in the pace early and then was very game to run down the Japanese contender Epicharis in the final strides. Thunder Snow began his career in Europe where he became a GI winner on turf. This horse possesses quality and the ability to be successful on dirt. The questions regarding Thunder Snow are the quality of the horses he was defeating in Dubai and the amount of travel he has endured to come here. Thunder Snow deserves respect, but the combination of the step up in class, the quicker pace, and the amount of travel may prove to be too much.

3. Fast and Accurate   Trainer: Michael Maker   Jockey: Channing Hill  Odds: 50-1

Fast and Accurate comes into the Kentucky Derby off of a win in the GIII Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park on their synthetic surface. This horse is miles behind the top horses in the Derby on form and will be the longest shot in the field. In his one career start on conventional dirt in a maiden race at Parx in Philadelphia he finished fifth beaten eleven lengths. Fast and Accurate will need to take a gigantic step up to be a contender on Saturday.

4. Untrapped Trainer: Steve Asmussen Jockey: Ricardo Santana Jr. Odds: 30-1

Untrapped comes into the Kentucky Derby off of a sixth place finish in the GI Arkansas Derby behind morning line favorite, Classic Empire. He earned his points to qualify for the Derby by running third in the GII Rebel, second in the GII Risen Star Stakes, and second in the GIII Lecomte Stakes. Untrapped has not shown the talent to win any of his prep races, and will likely have trouble handling Saturday’s 10 furlong distance.

5. Always Dreaming Trainer: Todd Pletcher Jockey: John Velazquez Odds: 5-1

Always Dreaming comes into the Kentucky Derby off of a dominating score in the GI Florida Derby where he sat just off the lead before taking over and powering away to a decisive victory. In three starts this year, Always Dreaming has progressed from a maiden win to a Grade 1 win in his most recent start. Always Dreaming has been training extremely forward since his arrival at Churchill Downs and seems primed for a big effort. The biggest concern with him is that he will pull too hard in the race. Ten furlongs is a demanding distance and if he is too keen early and fighting too hard with John Velazquez it has the potential to sap his energy late in the race. Although Always Dreaming typically has not pulled in his races, he has been quite headstrong in the mornings at Churchill, and it remains to be seen how this will translate into his afternoon performance. Always Dreaming is maybe the most talented runner in the race, and if he behaves himself on race day he is one of the horses to beat.

6. State of Honor Trainer: Mark Casse Jockey: Jose Lezcano Odds: 30-1

State of Honor comes into the Kentucky Derby one of the most experienced horses in the field. He earned his way into the Kentucky Derby by running second in the GI Florida Derby, second in the GII Tampa Bay Derby and a third in the GIII Sam F. Davis. In his ten starts State of Honor has only one win. He should be part of the pace early, and may even be on the lead. It would be an absolute shock if State of Honor won the Kentucky Derby.

7. Girvin Trainer: Joe Sharp Jockey: Mike Smith   Odds: 15-1

Girvin enters the Kentucky Derby off of two straight wins in New Orleans at the Fair Grounds. He won both the GII Risen Star Stakes and last out took down the GII Louisiana Derby.  In both races Girvin sat off of the pace and closed nicely to win. This horse is an undefeated 3/3 on dirt with his only loss being a close second place finish on the turf. In the Derby he gets the riding services of Hall of Famer Mike Smith, which is a great addition. Girvin is consistent and tries hard but there are two knocks against him. The first problem is the quality of the fields he was beating at the Fair Grounds. The Risen Star and the Louisiana Derby were two of the weaker prep races, and although he was winning, it was not against the quality of three year olds he’ll have to face on Saturday. The second problem is that Girvin has had an interrupted preparation having missed time last week with a foot problem.  Girvin will likely find the waters much deeper on Saturday and will struggle to make an impact on the finish.

8.  Hence Trainer: Steve Asmussen Jockey: Florent Geroux  Odds: 15-1

Hence comes into the Kentucky Derby off of an impressive win in the GIII Sunland Derby in New Mexico. In the Sunland Derby Hence came from way off of the pace to inhale the field and win in very impressive fashion, drawing away from the rest of the field. The Sunland Derby is typically not the strongest prep race for the Kentucky Derby, but this year may be different. Hence beat what would become a very good field in the Sunland Derby. The problem with Hence is prior to his win, the rest of his form gives him very little chance in this race. He has also become a bit of a “wise guy horse” as the horses he defeated in the Sunland Derby continue to run well elsewhere. If Hence fails to duplicate his performance in the Sunland Derby and reverts back to his prior form, he likely won’t make an impact on Saturday.

9. Irap Trainer: Doug O’Neil Jockey: Mario Gutierrez  Odds: 20-1

Prior to winning the GII Toyota Bluegrass Stakes at 33-1 in his last start, Irap had never won a race of any kind. Hailing from the same barn as last year’s Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist, Irap is one of the most puzzling horses in the Kentucky Derby field. Any one of his seven prior career starts leading up to the Bluegrass would give him little to no chance in the Kentucky Derby.  The quandary is if Irap replicates the run at Keeneland he is a serious contender. If the Bluegrass was just an anomaly of a performance, Irap won’t be a factor on Saturday. However, Irap may be part of the early pace scenario, but probably will not be around at the wire.

10. Gunnevera Trainer: Antonio Sano Jockey: Javier Castellano  Odds: 15-1

Gunnevera enters the Kentucky Derby off a third place finish behind Always Dreaming in the GI Florida Derby. Gunnevera was the favorite that day following his winning performance in the GII Fountain of Youth. However, in the Florida Derby he never made a serious impact after breaking from a far outside post. He was dropped to the rail leaving the gate and was taken way off the pace. He did show late interest and closed ground very late to finish third. Most people will point to the GII Fountain of Youth when assessing Gunnevera’s chances on Saturday. Actually an advantageous pace scenario may have the more significant factor in Gunnevera’s victory. The stars aligned for this horse in        the Fountain of Youth with the combination of a hot pace and other horses having an off day including Irish War Cry. Gunnevera will be a fairly short price on Saturday, and because of a questionable last win, is not likely to hit the board on Saturday.

11. Battle of Midway Trainer: Jerry Hollendorfer Jockey: Flavien Prat  Odds: 30-1

Battle of Midway enters the Kentucky Derby off of a good second place finish in the GI Santa Anita Derby behind Gormley. Battle of Midway was right up on the pace before tiring in the last few strides. He is still lightly raced with four starts, two wins, a second, and a third. Battle of Midway should be right on the lead or close to the lead early on in the race, but whether he can hold on is another question. Battle of Midway is a talented horse, but just isn’t on the same level as some of the others in this field.

12. Sonneteer Trainer: Keith Desormeaux Jockey: Kent Desormeaux  Odds: 50-1

Sonneteer enters the Kentucky Derby still a maiden, which means he has never won a race. Sonneteer has had ten chances to get his nose down first but has yet to do so, and there is little chance that he will on Saturday. In his last start he was a closing fourth in the GI Arkansas Derby and prior to that he finished second in the GII Rebel. He is another horse who will be in the way back early on in the race and will need plenty of luck to pick through the field. It will take something close to a miracle for Sonneteer to win on Saturday.

13.  J Boys Echo Trainer: Dale Romans Jockey: Luis Saez  Odds: 20-1

J Boys Echo comes into the Derby off a lackluster performance in the GI Toyota Bluegrass Stakes. In the Bluegrass he sat off the pace prior to swinging out turning for home, but his kick was minimal as he ended up six lengths behind the winner Irap. Prior to his performance in the Bluegrass, J Boys Echo was an impressive winner of the GIII Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct. If he can return to his best performance he is a horse at a price that can hit the board. He should be mid-pack or farther back and if the pace is quicker than expected he should be running late. He is slightly a cut below the best horses talent wise, but as the Derby has shown in the past that does not mean he cannot run on late for second or third.

14. Classic Empire Trainer: Mark Casse Jockey: Julien Leparoux  Odds: 4-1

Classic Empire is the likely favorite in the Kentucky Derby. He enters the race off of a professional win in the GI Arkansas Derby. Professional though, is not a word typically used to describe Classic Empire. His entire career has been a roller coaster. From wheeling at the start of the G1 Hopeful at Saratoga, to impressively winning the G1 Breeders Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita, and then this winter after being defeated as the heavy favorite in the G3 Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park he often refused to train. The Casse team training him was able to right the ship enough to bring him back in time for the Derby. Classic Empire probably deserves to be the favorite on Saturday given his entire body of work. He could win and it would not be shocking but he remains unpredictable.

15. McCracken Trainer: Ian Wilkes Jockey: Brian Hernandez Jr.   Odds: 5-1

McCracken enters the Kentucky Derby with three previous wins at Churchill Downs. In his last start in the G1 Toyota Bluegrass Stakes at Keeneland, McCracken was closer to the pace than normal. That may have dulled his kick a little but he ran well in the end to finish third behind Irap and Practical Joke. Prior to the Bluegrass, McCracken won the GIII Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs in an impressive fashion. The plan for him was to follow up that win with a run in the GII Tampa Bay Derby, but he suffered a very minor injury prior to that race so trainer Ian Wilkes rerouted him straight to the Bluegrass. This could explain his first career defeat at Keeneland, it is possible that he was not at his best after the little layoff. McCracken should be at peak performance Saturday. Out of the twenty horses in the race, its most probable that McCracken will run in the top three. Combined with his love for Churchill Downs, and expected improvement off of his last race, McCracken will be a major factor in the Kentucky Derby.

16.  Tapwrit Trainer: Todd Pletcher Jockey: Jose Ortiz  Odds: 20-1

Tapwrit enters the Kentucky Derby off of a disappointing fifth place finish in the GI Toyota Bluegrass Stakes. In the Bluegrass, Tapwrit never picked up and finished well behind Irap, Practical Joke, McCracken, and J Boys Echo. A plausible excuse for his lackluster performance was that he did not take to the track and while the Bluegrass was an odd race, his lack of effort was disappointing. Prior to the Bluegrass Tapwrit won the GII Tampa Bay Derby with a decisive move on the far turn and extended in the stretch to win. The problem with the Tampa Bay Derby is the only other horse in the Kentucky Derby from the Tampa Bay Derby is State of Honor who is a big long shot. Over the winter Tapwrit really flourished on the surface at Tampa Bay and it moved him up. At Keeneland in the Bluegrass he found the competition much tougher, and will again find the competition too tough on Saturday.

17.  Irish War Cry Trainer: Graham Motion Jockey: Rajiv Maragh Odds: 6-1
Irish War Cry comes into the Kentucky Derby off of a very impressive win the GII Wood Memorial Stakes at Aqueduct. In the Wood, Irish War Cry stalked the speed of the talented Battalion Runner before taking over in the stretch. The best part of the race was the last eighth of a mile where this horse really extended his stride and pulled away. Irish War Cry won his first two races at Laurel Park in Maryland prior to heading down to Gulfstream Park and winning the GIII Holy Bull Stakes over Gunnevera and Classic Empire. In his next start, the GII Fountain of Youth Stakes Irish War Cry was an even money favorite to win, but he disappointed finishing seventh. This race complicates Irish War Cry’s profile. Take out the Fountain of Youth and he is the favorite for this race, but it is hard to forgive that performance. Irish War Cry’s best performance makes him the horse to beat on Saturday.

18. Gormley Trainer: John Shirrefs Jockey: Victor Espinoza  Odds: 15-1

Gormley come into the Kentucky Derby off a win in one of the historically most important prep races the GI Santa Anita Derby. In the Santa Anita Derby Gormley was able to show a new dimension, rating off the pace prior to closing down the pacesetters to win. This horse ran really well to begin his 2017 campaign in the GIII Sham Stakes, but then was disappointing when finishing fourth in the GII San Felipe Stakes. It also must be mentioned that Gormley’s jockey Victor Espinoza has won the Kentucky Derby 3 times and is extremely experienced in big races. On paper Gormley looks solid but there are concerns. His last race came back very slow on the speed figures, and the quality of the race was abnormally weak. In addition, Gormley has never raced outside of California and five of his six career starts have come at Santa Anita, so this is a move outside of his comfort zone. Gormley will likely struggle to produce an effort satisfactory enough to compete.

19. Practical Joke Trainer: Chad Brown Jockey: Joel Rosario  Odds: 15-1

Practical Joke is one of the most consistent horses in the Kentucky Derby field. In six career starts he has three wins, two seconds, and a third. Practical Joke comes into the race off a strong second place finish in the GI Bluegrass Stakes. In the race he looked the winner turning for home, before not being able to run down the winner, Irap. Practical Joke has run around two turns three times, and each time he has made a winning move before getting tired and fading to either second or third. This indicates a distance problem. This is the longest race he has ever run in and the combination of his breeding and his race record show the longer distance in the Kentucky Derby could be a problem. Practical Joke will almost surely run his race on Saturday and probably will be in with a chance turning for home, but the ten furlong distance will end up being too much. Practical Joke is a key contender to finish third or fourth given his consistent nature, but a victory would be a surprise.

20. Patch Trainer: Todd Pletcher Jockey: Tyler Gaffalione Odds: 30-1

Patch is the most inexperienced horse in the field, with only three career starts. What sets Patch apart from the field is that he has competed his entire career with only one eye. Patch comes into the race off of a second place finish behind Girvin in a weak renewal of the GII Louisiana Derby.  Patch will appreciate the extra distance in the Derby, and is probably one to keep an eye on in five weeks in the Belmont Stakes, but the Derby is going to be too tough.

Expected Pace Scenario

#3 Fast and Accurate
#6 State of Honor
#9 Irap
#11 Battle of Midway

#5 Always Dreaming
#14 Classic Empire
#17 Irish War Cry
#18 Gormley

Mid pack
#2 Thunder Snow
#4 Untrapped
#7 Girvin
#13 J Boys Echo
#15 McCracken
#16 Tapwrit
#19 Practical Joke

#1 Lookin at Lee
#8 Hence
#10 Gunnevera
#12 Sonneteer
#20 Patch

143RD Kentucky Derby Selections
1.    #17 Irish War Cry 5-1
2.    #15 McCracken 6-1
3.    #5 Always Dreaming 5-1
4.    #19 Practical Joke 15-1

Longshot- J Boy’s Echo 20-1 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

141st Running of the Preakness Stakes- Analysis and Selections

The 141ST Running of the Preakness Stakes
Pimlico Racecourse
Post Time: 6:45 PM ET
TV: NBC 5:00 -7:30 PM ET
May 21ST 2016

The 141st Preakness Stakes on Saturday is the second step in Nyquist’s quest to become the second consecutive Triple Crown champion. In the Kentucky Derby Nyquist was tremendous. He was part of a hot early pace and was able to hold off Exaggerator to win under jockey Mario Gutierrez. The Preakness this year features a field of eleven; three of them are coming out of the Kentucky Derby, and they are joined by eight new faces to the Triple Crown.

The top contenders in the race will be Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist, Derby runner up and Santa Anita Derby winner Exaggerator, and the lightly raced but talented Stradivari.

Unlike the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness is loaded with speed; Uncle Lino, Nyquist, Awesome Speed, Collected Laoban, Abiding Star and Stradivari all posses early speed.

Nyquist is the best horse in the race and is going to be very hard to beat on Saturday. If he runs the same race he ran two weeks ago he will win. He is a 3-5 favorite for a reason: he is undefeated and certainly the most likely winner. While I expect Nyquist to win, I am stilling willing to take a bit of a shot against him.

The race really should set up well for Exaggerator. Not only should the pace benefit Exaggerator but also considerable rain is in the forecast, and this horse has excelled on sloppy tracks in the past. Exaggerator will have every chance to turn the tables on Nyquist Saturday and it will be interesting to see if he is capable. 

Stradivari is the unknown commodity in the Preakness. Stradivari comes into the race off of a dominating performance in an allowance race at Keeneland. The race was a MUCH easier field than the field that he will line up against Saturday, but he was extremely impressive. Stradivari will only be making his fourth lifetime start in the Preakness, and gives away a lot of experience to his rivals, but Stradiavri has a lot of upside.  Stradivari could possibly still be improving and I love that about him.

There are a few closers in the race who could benefit from a hot pace including Cherry Wine, Lani, and Fellowship. All three of these horses winning the race would be shocking, but they could all finish in the top four.

Below is the field for the 141st running of the Preakness Stakes. My pace analysis and selections are below. Good luck!

#1 Cherry Wine Trainer: Dale Romans Jockey: Corey Lanerie Odds: 20-1

#2 Uncle Lino Trainer: Gary Sherlock Jockey: Fernando Perez Odds: 20-1

#3 Nyquist Trainer: Doug O’Neil Jockey: Mario Gutierrez Odds: 3-5

#4 Awesome Speed Trainer: Alan Goldberg Jockey: Jevian Toledo Odds: 30-1

#5 Exaggerator Trainer: Keith Desormeaux Jockey: Kent Desormeaux Odds: 3-1

#6 Lani Trainer: Mikio Matsunaga Jockey: Yutaka Take Odds: 30-1

#7 Collected Trainer: Bob Baffert Jockey: Javier Castellano Odds: 10-1

#8 Laoban Trainer: Eric Guillot Jockey: Florent Geroux Odds: 30-1

#9 Abiding Star Trainer: Edward Allard Jockey: JD Acosta Odds: 30-1

#10 Fellowship Trainer: Mark Casse Jockey: Jose Lezcano 30-1

#11 Stradivari Trainer: Todd Pletcher Jockey: John Velasquez 8-1

Early Speed
#2 Uncle Lino
#8 Laoban
#9 Abiding Star

#3 Nyquist
#4 Awesome Speed
#7 Collected

Mid Pack
#11 Stradivari
#10 Fellowship

#1 Cherry Wine
#5 Exaggerator
#6 Lani

1.  #11 Stradivari (8-1)
2. #5 Exaggerator (3-1)
3. #3 Nyquist (3-5)
4. #6 Lani (30-1)

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

142nd Kentucky Derby In-Depth Horse by Horse Analysis and Selections

The 142nd Running of the Kentucky Derby 
Churchill Downs 
Post Time 6:34 PM ET
TV: NBC 4:00-7:30 PM ET 
May 7th, 2016

This year’s Kentucky Derby features Nyquist’s quest to become the first undefeated horse to win the Kentucky Derby since Big Brown in 2008. 
The beauty of this year’s run for the roses is the vast impact it will have throughout the horse racing industry from the breeding shed to the racetrack. While Nyquist is the main story, his sire Uncle Mo is as well. This year is Uncle Mo’s first crop of three year olds and from that crop three of them will be in this year’s race: Nyquist, Mo Tom, and Outwork. Uncle Mo himself scratched the day prior to his attempt at the Kentucky Derby and it will be fascinating to see if his progeny will be able to avenge their sire's Kentucky Derby misfortune. 
The leading sire in the United States today is Tapit, and three colts in the race, Mohaymen, Creator and Lani, will represent him. 
This year's Kentucky Derby field is incredibly wide open behind the 3-1 favorite Nyquist, making it a very unpredictable and exciting renewal of the race. 

Below is my horse-by-horse analysis for the 142ND Kentucky Derby. My picks for the race are at the bottom. Enjoy the race!

*Indicates number of Kentucky Derby victories

#1 Trojan Nation Trainer: Patrick Gallagher Jockey: Aaron Gryder Odds: 50-1

Trojan Nation comes into the Kentucky Derby, still a maiden, meaning he has never won a race. Trojan Nation was able to qualify for the Kentucky Derby when he finished second by only a nose to Outwork in the GI Wood Memorial Stakes.  Trojan Nation will be another horse launching from far back in the Derby. It is difficult to read whether Trojan Nation improved because of the slop or the pace collapse in front of him but surely both helped. This horse will have to really step up his game to compete in the Derby. 

#2 Suddenbreakingnews Trainer: Donnie Von Hemel Jockey: Luis Quinonez Odds: 20-1

Suddenbreakingnews spent his entire Derby prep season by competing at Oaklawn Park, first winning the GIII Southwest in a dramatic rush from last place. Following that performance he was a troubled fifth in the GII Rebel Stakes, and finally he was a fast closing second in the GI Arkansas Derby behind Creator. Suddenbreakingnews is another late running horse in this year’s Kentucky Derby. He will be equipped with a shadow roll for the first time in an attempt to enhance his focus. Contrary to horses like Whitmore and Creator who make their big run on the turn and attempt to sustain it through the stretch, in all of his races Suddenbreakingnews did not make his late run until the stretch. If he is going to run a fast closing third or fourth in the Kentucky Derby a late stretch run is feasible, but if he is going to win the Derby, he needs to start his run earlier on to ensure he can get to the wire first. Suddenbreakingnews is certainly a horse people are talking about heading into Saturday.  Coupled with his explosive burst and a good workout leading up to the race, he has a legitimate chance to hit the board.

#3 Creator Trainer: Steve Asmussen Jockey: Ricardo Santana Jr. Odds: 10-1

Creator, a rapidly improving son of Tapit, comes into the Kentucky Derby off a victory in the GI Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park. Prior to his victory Creator also finished a fast closing third in the Rebel Stakes. There are plenty of things to like about Creator. In every start since he has turned three, Creator has improved, a positive sign heading into the Derby. Creator should relish the Derby distance. As the distance has lengthened this horse has just gotten better. While he has not won at Churchill Downs, he has been effective at the track with two-second place finishes. There are two negatives with Creator, the first being his running style. Like so many other horses in this year's race Creator is a deep closer, a hinderance if there is a slow pace. Second, since he was moved to Oaklawn Park he has really improved. Creator was 0/5 outside of Oaklawn and since moving to Oaklawn he has two wins and an impressive third. It remains to be seen if Creator can be as effective outside of Oaklawn Park. That being said, Creator has an explosive and sustained turn of foot so he must be respected as a major player in this year’s Kentucky Derby.

#4 Mo Tom Trainer: Thomas Amoss Jockey: Corey Lanerie 
Odds: 20-1

Mo Tom comes into the Kentucky Derby off of a disappointing fourth place finish in the Louisiana Derby. After winning the GIII LeComte Stakes at the Fair Grounds in January, Mo Tom was poised to become a star on the Derby trail. After two very tough trips in both the GII Veterans Ford Risen Star Stakes and the Louisiana Derby, Mo Tom will be a long shot on Saturday. Mo Tom is a tough read because of his two atrocious trips.  It is impossible to say where he would have finished with clean ones, but I am fairly certain he would not have defeated Gun Runner. Mo Tom is another horse in the race that makes his run from the back of the pack, which will not help his chances. If Mo Tom gets a clean trip, he is in with a shot to hit the board but that is a big if.

#5 Gun Runner Trainer: Steve Asmussen Jockey: Florent Geroux Odds: 10-1

It has been twenty years since Grindstone won the Kentucky Derby in 1996 using the Louisiana Derby as his final prep run for the Run for the Roses. This year Gun Runner will attempt to follow in Grindstone’s footsteps. Gun Runner comes into the Kentucky Derby with a very solid record of four wins from five career starts. After spending his two-year-old season racing in Kentucky, where he competed twice over the Churchill Downs surface, Gun Runner spent the winter in New Orleans at the Fair Grounds racetrack where he flourished. In two starts at the Fair Grounds Gun Runner won twice, taking the GII Veterans Ford Risen Stakes on February 20th, and the GII Louisiana Derby on March 26th.
Gun Runner was very impressive in the Louisiana Derby, sitting close to the pace, and then kicking away from the field in the stretch for a decisive win. Gun Runner has a high cruising speed, a positive weapon in a race like this year’s that lacks significant pace. There are concerns with Gun Runner though: mainly being the competition he beat this winter may be suspect.  Since the Louisiana Derby has only produced two Kentucky Derby winners in the past, the strength of the prep races Gun Runner has competed in must be questioned.  Although rain is not in the forecast, on the off chance it does rain, Gun Runner’s lone defeat came in the mud at Churchill Downs. I respect Gun Runner, and believe he has a major chance on Saturday.

#6 My Man Sam Trainer: Chad Brown Jockey: Irad Ortiz Jr. 
Odds: 20-1

My Man Sam comes into the Kentucky Derby off of a second place finish in his stakes debut in the GI Toyota Bluegrass Stakes at Keeneland. My Man Sam breaking from the outside in the race dropped into last in the field of fourteen before making a late run to finish second. My Man Sam joins the list of deep closers in this year’s Kentucky Derby and will need to step up his game to be competitive, but this is not impossible. The Derby will only be the fifth start of My Man Sam’s career and so improvement could in the cards. Even so, I just do not believe My Man will be quite good enough to hit the board on Saturday.

#7 Oscar Nominated Trainer: Mike Maker Jockey: Julien Leparoux Odds: 50-1

Oscar Nominated will be one of the longest shots in the Derby and for good reason. Oscar Nominated comes into the Derby by way of winning the GIII Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park on their synthetic racetrack. Oscar Nominated was able to wear down a weak field filled with turf horses to win at odds over 20-1. The Derby will be Oscar Nominated’s first career start on dirt, and I do not foresee him being able to handle it well. Oscar Nominated seems to be overmatched in this year’s Derby.

#8 Lani Trainer: Mikio Matsunaga Jockey: Yutaka Take 
Odds: 30-1

Lani comes into the Kentucky Derby as the biggest “unknown.” Lani is a US bred son of Tapit who made the first five starts of his career in Japan. In Japan Lani was able to win two of his five starts and showed enough promise for his connections to take him to Dubai for the GII UAE Derby. In the UAE Derby Lani was a bit erratic, refusing to enter the starting gate, then stumbling when leaving the gate. In the beginning of the race Lani showed little interest, dropping out to the back of the pack. Entering the backstretch Lani made a big wide move all the way up into second and eventually wore down the pacesetter to win. The UAE Derby was a very weak field and the favorite in the race had a terrible trip, but it did take quite the performance by Lani to win.  Lani’s training since arriving in Kentucky has been a roller coaster and it seems he has quite a bit of attitude. Lani has talent, but his mind and his global travel make him a very big long shot in this year’s race.

#9 Destin Trainer: Todd Pletcher* Jockey: Javier Castellano 
Odds: 15-1

Destin comes into the Kentucky Derby having not raced in eight weeks which is a long layoff for a Derby contender. Destin’s last race came in the GII Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs.  In that race he sat off the pace and closed stoutly to run down stable mate Outwork. Destin improved leaps and bounds this winter with two impressive wins both at Tampa Bay. Destin’s connections felt he ran so well in the Tampa Bay Derby they decided not to run him again before the Derby. While Destin has been preparing for the Derby both Outwork and Brody’s Cause, two horses he beat in the Tampa Bay Derby came back to win major GI preps. Destin is a key player in this year’s Kentucky Derby.

#10 Whitmore Trainer: Ron Moquett Jockey: Victor Espinoza *** Odds:  20-1

Whitmore comes into the Kentucky Derby off of three straight in the money finishes in the Southwest Stakes (2nd) Rebel Stakes (2nd) and the Arkansas Derby (3rd). In each race coming into the turn Whitmore looked poised to win, making a sweeping move, but each time he wasn’t able to close the deal in the stretch. I believe Whitmore is just not quite good enough to be a major factor in this race. He is a nice horse, and gets the services of Triple Crown winning jockey Victor Espinoza, but I believe on Saturday this task will prove too difficult for Whitmore and Espinoza.

#11 Exaggerator Trainer: Keith Desormeaux Jockey: Kent Desormeaux*** 
Odds:  8-1

Exaggerator comes into the Kentucky Derby off of a dominating performance in the GI Santa Anita Derby on April 9th. The major caveat regarding the Santa Anita Derby is that the race was run over a very sloppy track. Exaggerator relished the adverse conditions while main rivals Danzing Candy and Mor Spirit really were never able to grasp the track. Not only did Exaggerator take to the track significantly better than the others, the red-hot pace in front of him collapsed allowing for a perfect set up. If for some reason the weather forecast was incorrect and the Derby was run over a sloppy surface, Exaggerator would likely go off as the favorite.  I don’t believe Exaggerator will make a significant impact on this year’s Kentucky Derby.

#12 Tom’s Ready Trainer: Dallas Stewart Jockey: Brian Hernandez Jr.  
Odds: 30-1

Tom’s Ready comes into the Kentucky Derby off of a second place finish in the GII Louisiana Derby at the Fairgrounds behind Gun Runner. Tom’s Ready only has one win from nine starts and although he has finished second in two-graded stake race he seems a cut below the best in here. I expect him to be mid-pack throughout the race but I do not see him making a meaningful impact in the closing stages.

#13 Nyquist Trainer: Doug O’Neil* Jockey: Mario Gutierrez* Odds: 3-1

Nyquist is going to be the favorite come post time for the Derby, and deservedly so. In seven career starts Nyquist is unbeaten. He has won grade one races in California, Kentucky, and Florida and has won races between five and nine furlongs. Nyquist is versatile, he is able to go the front in races, but also come from behind as he did when winning the GI Breeders Cup Juvenile at Keeneland this past fall. In his two prep races for the Derby he has been flawless. Trainer Doug O’Neil began Nyquist's 2016 campaign in the seven-furlong GII San Vicente at Santa Anita. In this sprint race Nyquist was able to take command early and fight off the closers including fellow Derby starter Exaggerator.  Chasing a $1,000,000 bonus, Nyquist was shipped to Gulfstream Park for a showdown with Mohaymen in the GI Florida Derby. In the nine furlong test Nyquist was dominant, going straight to the lead and never looking back. Nyquist is tough, undefeated, and a deserving favorite, but there are still knocks against him. I still question whether or not he will be at his best going the Derby distance of ten furlongs. Second, I have not been impressed with his preparation. Nyquit has jogged an awful lot for a top Derby contender and his breezes at Keeneland did not impress me. If Nyquist is able to win he will become the fourth straight post time favorite, following Orb, California Chrome and American Pharoah, to capture the Run for the Roses.
In a Kentucky Derby that is as wide open even an unbeaten favorite is vulnerable, so while a Nyquist victory will not be surprising, I am picking against him.

#14 Mohaymen Trainer: Kiaran McLaughlin Jockey: Junior Alvarado 
Odds: 10-1

Prior to the GI Florida Derby, Mohaymen was the Kentucky Derby favorite. Undefeated in five prior starts, Mohaymen looked to be the total package, but in the Florida Derby, Mohaymen struggled, never fully getting into the bridle early and fading late to be fourth. One can take the Florida Derby as a true representation of form regarding Mohaymen or a fluke. I believe Mohaymen is a nice horse but the competition he faced throughout his entire career has been suspect. During Mohaymen’s five race win streak only one horse won a graded stakes race after being defeated by Mohaymen, Flexibility, who is no longer on the Triple Crown trail. Also only one other horse was able to run in the top three in a graded stakes race after losing to Mohaymen and that horse, Fellowship, ran third in the Florida Derby. The competition Mohaymen has defeated has not panned out in any way shape or form and for that reason I am not picking him in this year's Kentucky Derby. I still believe he is very talented and would not be shocked in any way if he proved me wrong. 

#15 Outwork Trainer: Todd Pletcher* Jockey: John Velasquez* Odds: 15-1

Outwork comes in to the Kentucky Derby off of a gutsy victory in the slop in the GI Wood Memorial Stakes at Aqueduct. In only his fourth career start, Outwork was involved in a hot early pace and then held off the late closing Trojan Nation to win by a nose. Outwork has come a long way in a short period of time. After beginning his career at Keeneland as a two year old, this son of Uncle Mo came off of a long layoff to win an allowance race at Tampa Bay Downs going six furlongs. In only his third career start, off of only a sprint race, Outwork set the pace in the GII Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, and ended up being caught late by his stablemate Destin. Outwork improved off that effort to win the slowly run Wood Memorial. I love Outwork. He seems to be an improving colt, with both heart and speed. Outwork will be close to the pace, which should be an advantage in this year’s race. In his last work coming up to the race he was breathtaking, showing his affinity for the Churchill Downs surface. I expect Outwork to take another major step forward off of his last race, and he is my pick to win this year’s Kentucky Derby.

#16 Shagaf Trainer: Chad Brown Jockey: Joel Rosario* 
Odds: 20-1

Shagaf enters the Kentucky Derby off a fifth place finish in the GI Wood Memorial Stakes at Aqueduct. Prior to this performance Shagaf won the GIII Gotham Stakes also at Aqueduct. There could be two explanations for Shagaf’s performance in the Wood Memorial:  he didn’t handle the slop and the other is the small amount of traffic he ran into turning for home. The second reason is far more concerning for me. Turning for home Shagaf looked like he was going to win the Wood Memorial easily when he encountered enough traffic to the point where he had to wait for a few strides, and when a hole opened up he was empty fading back to fifth. Shagaf is a big long striding horse, and in my opinion he cannot afford to be stopped in traffic, and then be able to kick into high gear again. In a field as big as the Kentucky Derby, traffic at some point in the race is almost inevitable and being able to handle it is key. I don’t believe Shagaf will be able to handle traffic trouble well enough to win or be factor in the Kentucky Derby.

#17 Mor Spirit Trainer: Bob Baffert**** Jockey: Gary Stevens*** Odds: 12-1

If he is good enough, Mor Spirit certainly has the right connections to win the Kentucky Derby. His trainer Bob Baffert has won the Kentucky Derby four times, including last year with Triple Crown winning American Pharoah.  His jockey Gary Stevens has won the Derby 3 times. In seven career starts Mor Spirit has never finished worse than second. He is a two time graded stakes winner and comes into the race off a distant second to Exaggerator in the GI Santa Anita Derby. Throughout his career Mor Spirit has been better over a fast dirt track which he should get on Saturday. I don’t love that he comes in off two straight defeats, and that he has struggled to win against top-level competition.  I expect Stevens to place Mor Spirit much closer to the pace and I think he is a player to hit the board on his best day. 

#18 Majesto Trainer: Gustavo Delgado Jockey: Emisael Jaramillo Odds: 30-1

Majesto comes into the Kentucky Derby off of a good second place finish in the GI Florida Derby behind Nyquist. Majesto spent all winter in Florida and seems like an improving horse that should love the added distance. My worry regarding Majesto is that he probably is not good enough to strike a serious blow Saturday. Majesto in many ways finished second by “default” in the Florida Derby as Nyquist blew away the field and Mohaymen failed to fire. Majesto grinded out a second place finish. In the Kentucky Derby the water gets much deeper for Majesto.

#19 Brody’s Cause Trainer: Dale Romans Jockey: Luis Saez Odds: 12-1

Brody’s Cause loves Keeneland, but unfortunately the Kentucky Derby is not run at Keeneland. In his two starts at Keeneland he has won two Grade 1 races including his last start, the GI Toyota Bluegrass Stakes. Brody’s Cause is another closer in a Derby field that is full of them. In his last race as with many of the Derby preps, the race-favored closers. The top three in the Bluegrass came from tenth, eleventh and fourteenth place as the speed collapsed in front of them. The problem with the Bluegrass Stakes was the field really lacked quality and Brody’s Cause was able to take advantage. In my estimation it is was the worst Derby prep in terms of quality and for that reason I don’t believe Brody’s Cause will be good enough to win this year’s Kentucky Derby.

#20 Danzing Candy Trainer: Clifford Sise Jr. Jockey: Mike Smith* Odds: 15-1

Danzing Candy will be on the lead early in the Kentucky Derby. In most years this is not necessarily the best place to be since the Derby typically is filled with speed, but this year is different. With what seems to be a Derby generally void of speed, Danzing Candy may manufacture a fairly good trip. In his last start in the GI Santa Anita Derby, he went to the lead and opened up a large lead setting aggressive fractions in the slop before fading badly to finish fourth behind Exaggerator. Prior to his effort in the Santa Anita Derby, Danzing Candy led all the way to win the GII San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita. Danzing Candy may have just despised the slop last out, and a dry track on Saturday makes him dangerous. Breaking from the outside post means jockey Mike Smith will have to use Danzing Candy to clear the field and get over to the rail. In doing so Smith runs the risk of invigorating Danzing Candy to the point where he runs off, much like he did in his last race. I also believe there are distance concerns with Danzing Candy but if he is able to dictate the pace and set relatively slow fractions he is one to watch.

Projected Pace

Early Speed
#13 Nyquist
#15 Outwork
#20 Danzing Candy

#5 Gun Runner
#9 Destin
#14 Mohaymen
#17 Mor Spirit

 Mid Pack
#6 My Man Sam 
#7 Oscar Nominated
#8 Lani
#12 Tom’s Ready
#16 Shagaf
#18 Majesto

#1 Trojan Nation
#2 Suddenbreakingnews
#3 Creator
#4 Mo Tom 
#11 Exaggerator
#10 Whitmore
#19 Brody’s Cause

Picks for the 142nd Kentucky Derby
1.  #15 Outwork 15-1
2.  #5 Gun Runner 10-1
3.  #3 Creator 10-1
4.  #2 Suddenbreakingnews 20-1

Longshot- #9 Destin 15-1