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 

1 comment: