Wednesday, April 29, 2015

141st Kentucky Derby In-Depth Horse by Horse analysis and selections

The 141st Kentucky Derby is slated to be the deepest and most contentious running of the 1 ¼ miles race in years.  The two favorites will be the superstar American Pharaoh and the undefeated Dortmund, both horses trained by Bob Baffert. Trainer Todd Pletcher starts four horses in this year’s Kentucky Derby led by leading contenders Carpe Diem and MaterialityHe also has outsiders Itsaknockout and Stanford. The race also draws international intrigue by way of the Irish bred Mubtaahij. Trained by the South African Mike De Kock and ridden by Belgium Jockey Christophe Soumillion, Mubtaahij comes off a dominating win in Dubai and has a major chance to contend.  Other top contenders include the talented colts coming off major prep race wins such as International Star, Frosted, and Firing Line. All of this makes this year’s Run for the Roses very intriguing as it runs deep with storylines as well as legitimate talent. Read below for my horse-by-horse analysis. At the very bottom are my top three selections along with my projected pace scenario and threatening long shots.  Good luck and enjoy the 141ST Kentucky Derby! 

1. Ocho Ocho Ocho (50-1)
Ocho Ocho Ocho, trained by Jim Cassidy and ridden by Elvis Trujillo is coming off of a third place finish behind Carpe Diem and Danzig Moon in the GI Toyota Bluegrass at Keeneland. In the Bluegrass Ocho Ocho Ocho, set the pace, pressed every step of the way by Carpe Diem before fading to third. From the rail postposition Ocho Ocho Ocho is expected to go straight to the lead. While Ocho Ocho Ocho is a hard trying colt, I believe this race is too tough for him, and while he may finish mid pack, I do not expect anything better than that.

2. Carpe Diem (8-1)
Carpe Diem, trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by Hall of Famer John Velasquez comes into the Kentucky off an impressive victory as the odds on favorite in the GI Toyota Bluegrass Stakes at Keeneland.  Prior to that win, Carpe Diem captured the GII Tampa Bay Derby, and was second in the Breeders Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita. Carpe Diem is likely to go off third betting choice off of his impressive record, having never finished worse than second in five career starts. This colt is coming into the race well and has a very adaptable running style. From the second postposition Carpe Diem will have to break well and get a good position behind the main group of leaders. Throughout his career though, Carpe Diem has yet to run a very fast race, and in this year’s Kentucky Derby, a very fast race is going to be required. I think Carpe Diem is a very talented horse and fully expect him to run in the top 5 but I will not have him in my top 3.

3. Materiality (12-1)
Materiality, trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by Javier Castellano comes into the Kentucky Derby off a win in the GI Florida Derby where in only his third career start he defeated the much more seasoned Upstart. Materiality, in only three starts has made a rapid ascension from having never started to one of the main contenders in the Run for the Roses.  History is against Materiality as he is attempting to become the first horse to win the Kentucky Derby having never made a start at 2 since Apollo captured the race in 1882. Materiality did not draw particularly well. From the third postposition Materiality will have to be hustled out of the gate to gain position. I believe Materiality is talented but his lack of season combined with being another one of the main speed horses in the race will be too much to overcome for this colt with a bright future.

4. Tencendur (30-1)
Tencendur, is trained by George Weaver and ridden by Manuel Franco. This colts comes off of a second place finish to Frosted in the GI Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. In the Wood, the New York bred colt opened up a three-length lead until Frosted inhaled him in the final sixteenth under mild urging. Tencendur is going to be a large long shot in this year’s Kentucky Derby and is another horse that will likely be close to the pace, and it would seem the task on Saturday is too tall for Tencendur.

5. Danzig Moon (30-1)
            Danzig Moon, trained by Mark Casse and ridden by Julien Leparoux comes into the Kentucky Derby off of a very good second to Carpe Diem in the GI Toyota Bluegrass Stakes at Keeneland. In the Bluegrass, Danzig Moon was wide into the first turn and ended up making a sustained rally around the clubhouse turn and through the stretch to power past Ocho Ocho Ocho and pull within a few lengths of Carpe Diem. Danzig Moon looks like a colt that should relish the added distance of the Kentucky Derby, and it seems Danzig Moon has really become the buzz horse at Churchill Downs this week. Reports from Louisville indicate that his gallops and workouts have been very strong. Danzig Moon could end up passing tired horses in the stretch and he has an outside chance to hit the board.

6. Mubtaahij  (20-1)
Mubtaahij, trained by Mike De Kock, and ridden by Christophe Soumillion comes into the Derby off of a spectacular win in the GII UAE Derby at Meydan in Dubai. Mubtaahij began his career in England before being taken to Dubai for the winter where he began to thrive. Since being moved to the dirt by De Kock, this colt has won four of his five starts and seems to be improving with every dirt start. Mubtaahij has already competed in one Triple Crown having danced every dance in the UAE Triple Crown, winning two of the three legs. In the UAE Derby, the final leg, Mubtaahij tracked the leaders, enduring plenty of kick back before exploding outside of rivals to register a dominating victory. The dirt surface at Meydan is supposedly very similar to that of Churchill Downs, which is positive since Mubtaahij was so successful over that surface. I expect Mubtaahij to be mid pack early, before unleashing his trademark kick in the end. The long traveling distance and improved competition are definite question marks regarding this colt, but given his impressive record of racing, he should have a sufficient base of conditioning. Mubtaahij will not only be carrying the hopes of South Africa, and Dubai, but mine as well. He is my top selection to win the 141st running of the Kentucky Derby.

7. El Kabeir (30-1)

8. Dortmund (3-1)
Dortmund, trained by Bob Baffert and ridden by Martin Garcia is undefeated in six career starts. The massive colt has defeated every rival that has run against him, but in his last two starts, the GI Santa Anita Derby and the GII San Felipe Stakes, Dortmund has demolished those that have tried. Dortmund will be the second choice in the betting behind his stable mate American Pharaoh, and deservingly so; but Dortmund will not be among my selections. Due to Dortmund’s incredible size, working out a trip capable of winning the Kentucky Derby seems doubtful. In both of his most recent wins Dortmund was given an easy lead. In the Derby, Dortmund will not be on the lead. Dortmund drew just fine and should be relatively close to the pace from his postposition if he breaks well. I still envision Dortmund briefly behind horses and getting dirt in his face, something he has never really done, and for that reason I am leaving Dortmund off of my top selections.

9. Bolo (30-1)
Bolo, trained by Carla Gaines and ridden by Rafael Bejarano comes into the Kentucky Derby off of a third place finish to Dortmund in the GI Santa Anita Derby. Bolo began his career on grass and was very impressive. Since being switched to dirt by Gaines, Bolo has performed well, finishing third in both the GII San Felipe and as mentioned above the Santa Anita Derby. Bolo had excuses as well in both races; coming off a layoff in the San Felipe he may not have fired his best effort, and he was very wide throughout the entirety of the Santa Anita Derby. The problem with Bolo is that his better surface is grass. Bolo will have to be well more than capable on dirt to contend in this year’s Kentucky Derby, and I don’t see that happening.

10. Firing Line (12-1)
Firing Line, trained by Simon Callaghan and ridden by Hall of Famer and multiple Kentucky Derby winning jockey Gary Stevens comes into the Derby off of a dominating performance in the GIII Sunland Derby at Sunland Derby. In the Sunland Derby, Firing Line was an extremely heavy favorite and ran like that, bolting on to an impressive victory. He came in having knocked heads twice, and losing both times narrowly to the undefeated Dortmund. In the GII Robert B. Lewis Stakes, Firing Line actually passed Dortmund in the stretch before Dortmund re-rallied to beat him. Firing Line drew great in the #10 post position as jockey Gary Stevens will be able to judge the pace around him on both sides. I don’t like Firing Line for two reasons, the first being the distance. He is not is bred to run a mile and quarter, and in a field this competitive that will hurt his chances. Secondly, Firing Line is another horse in this race with a lot of early pace, and could be caught in an early pace duel. These combined factors make Firing Line a toss for me on Saturday.

11. Stanford (30-1)

12. International Star (20-1)

13. Itsaknockout (30-1)
Itsaknockout, trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by Luis Saez comes into the Kentucky Derby off a dull fourth place finish in the GI Florida Derby.  Prior to that effort, Itsaknockout finished second behind Upstart but was placed first because Upstart interfered with him in the stretch.  Itsaknockout is lightly raced and will be a large long shot, but he clearly disliked the track Florida Derby day, and there should be improvement in this colt, but Saturday is not the day.  While the Derby should set up from him pace wise, I don’t believe he is talented enough to pose a serious threat, and out of the Pletcher quartet he is my third choice.

14. Keen Ice (50-1)
Keen Ice, trained by Dale Romans and ridden by Kent Desormeaux comes into the Kentucky Derby off of a fourth place finish in the GII Louisiana Derby. I believe the Louisiana Derby was the weakest of the major prep races. Keen Ice was not able to hit the board in that race, so I see very little chance that he will be able to make any sort of impact on the Kentucky Derby field. He is a deep closer in a race filled with speed, but there are closers such as Far Right who are more talented. I do not believe Keen Ice will be in contention on Saturday.

15. Frosted (15-1)
Frosted, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin and ridden by Joel Rosario comes in the Kentucky Derby off of an impressive victory at Aqueduct in the GI Wood Memorial. Prior to that, Frosted was a disappointing fourth in the GII Fountain of Youth, and second in GIII Holy Bull Stakes. Frosted, expected to be one of the top three year olds was slightly underwhelming in his first two starts of 2015, especially in the Fountain of Youth. Frosted turned for home with a lead when he did not finish as expected, stopping quickly and ran fourth. Following this effort trainer McLaughlin made changes including a slight throat surgery among other things coming into the Wood Memorial. In the Wood Memorial Frosted was kept out of trouble and under a confident ride, blew by long shot Tencendur.  Frosted was the best horse that day and was never thoroughly asked to run by Rosario. Frosted is extremely talented and if he runs his race will absolutely be right there at the wire. My only worry with Frosted is his mental toughness, and whether the 20-horse field will be intimidating, Frosted drew a great post, as he should be able to settle into a great rhythm.

16. War Story (50-1)
War Story, trained by Tom Amoss and ridden by Joe Talamo comes into the Kentucky Derby off of a disappointing third place effort in the GII Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds. His performance in Louisiana was against a much more inferior group of horses than he will face Saturday. If War Story could not make a legitimate impact in that race, he has very little shot of making one in the Run for the Roses. On top of this, multiple reports out of Churchill Downs indicate he is not training well coming into the race. I want no part of War Story on Saturday.

17. Mr. Z (50-1)
Mr. Z, trained by D. Wayne Lukas and ridden by Ramon Vasquez. Mr. Z enters the Kentucky Derby off of a third place finish to American Pharaoh and Far Right in the GI Arkansas Derby. Mr. Z is the most heavily raced horse in the field having raced 12 times, but he has only finished first one time, in fact he has lost 11 straight races. In all likelihood, Mr. Z will be one of the longest shots on the board. Mr. Z always tries hard but he is unpredictable and under talented in terms of this year’s Kentucky Derby.  He is another one of those long shots that will be contesting the early pace making it even faster. Hopefully Mr. Z doesn’t take a sharp right like he did in the Smarty Jones, but even if he doesn’t, it is unlikely his trip around Churchill Downs on Saturday is successful. All reports out of Churchill Downs indicate Mr. Z is not training well, and I believe that is an indicator of how he will run.

18. American Pharaoh (5-2)
American Pharaoh, trained by Bob Baffert, and ridden by two-time Kentucky Derby winning jockey Victor Espinoza, is a superstar. After being defeated in his career debut, American Pharaoh has been flawless. This colt has won four consecutive graded stakes races since that defeat, all with devastating ease. After being injured slightly towards the end of 2014, which forced him to miss a start in the Breeders Cup Juvenile, American Pharaoh returned in 2015 to dominate both of his starts at Oaklawn Park, the GII Rebel Stakes, and the Grade I Arkansas Derby.  The competition he faced in these races was not stellar, but, the ease and power in which he dominated them was impressive. American Pharaoh is the most talented and exciting horse in the race. From the #18 post American Pharaoh will stay clear of the traffic to his inside, but the possibility is there that he could go very wide into the first turn. Overall though, this is a good draw as he should be in the clear. In a race with a ton of early speed, American Pharaoh could get caught in an early pace battle, which could potentially soften him up in the closing strides of the race. If American Pharaoh is able to win the Derby with the fast at odds as short as 2-1 I will tip my hat to him, but until then I am picking against him to win.

19. Upstart (15-1)
Upstart, trained by Rick Violette and ridden by Jose Ortiz comes into the Derby off of a second place finish to Materiality in the GI Florida Derby at Gulfstream. Upstart, who has never finished worse than third in his career, crossed the wire first in two of his three prep races for the Kentucky Derby. In the GII Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park, Upstart defeated Itsaknockout but was disqualified for interference and placed second.  Upstart was extremely impressive when defeating Frosted in winning the GII Holy Bull Stakes, but was not as visually impressive in either of his next two races. The Gulfstream Park racetrack surface was allegedly very deep both days and Upstart did not seem to handle it as well. I will not have Upstart in my selections.  Although he always runs his race, I think he may be a slight cut below in terms of talent. He also may have peaked a little early when he dominated the Holy Bull. Upstart always tries hard and I expect him to in the Derby, but I don’t think he will have a major impact. The #19 postposition will not help Upstart as he will have to fight to get good position in mid-pack.

20. Far Right (30-1)
            Far Right, trained by Ron Moquett and ridden by hall of famer Mike Smith comes off of a distant second place finish behind American Pharaoh in the GI Arkansas Derby. Prior to that performance, Far Right captured both the Smarty Jones Stakes and the GIII Southwest Stakes.  In a race filled with pace a deep closer like Far Right becomes intriguing. Although he may not be the most talented horse in the race, Far Right will be trying hard late and could pass tired horses in the stretch. Far Right reminds me of Commanding Curve or Golden Soul, as both horses were long shots and rallied late to finish second in the Kentucky Derby in the last two years respectively. While this year’s field is much deeper than previous years, the abundance of speed could allow for Far Right to come charging down the stretch under the Twin spires. Far Right is not in my top three, but he should be highly respected in trifectas and superfectas.  From postposition #20 Far Right should not be affected as he will break and drop back.

Kentucky Derby Selections
1.   Mubtaahij (20- 1)
2. Frosted (15-1) 
3. American Pharaoh (5/2)

Kentucky Derby Pace Scenario

Ocho Ocho Ocho (1) Materiality (3) Tencendur (4) Dortmund (8) Firing Line (10)  Mr. Z (17) American Pharaoh (18)

Mid Pack
Carpe Diem (2) Mubtaahij (6) Bolo  (12) Frosted (15) Upstart (19)

Deep Closers
Danzig Moon (5) Itsaknockout (13) Keen Ice (14) War Story (16) Far Right (20)

Kentucky Derby Long Shot contendors
Far Right (30-1)
Danzig Moon (30-1)

Below are pictures I took of leading Kentucky Derby candidates from the Todd Pletcher barn Carpe Diem and Materiality. In these photos taken Tuesday, both horses are having their first school in the Churchill Downs paddock. Materiality is above while Carpe Diem is the second photo.

-Corbin Blumberg