As you all know, today is the Kentucky Derby, and a very competitive field of 19 is signed on to contest the 1 1/4 classic. Here’s my horse-by-horse analysis of the race:
Oxbow is the two horse, and after the scratch of Black Onyx he will be breaking closest to the rail, though the one post will be left open. His best bet is likely for jockey Gary Stevens to get him on or near the lead early and hope he’s good enough. He had a dull effort in the Arkansas Derby (G1) after being far back early, but if he returns to his prior form in the Rebel (G2), Risen Star (G2), and LeComte Stakes (G3), he fits with these. One thing that you need not worry about is the distance – he is by Awesome Again and out of a full sister to both Tiznow and the dam of Belmont Stakes (G1) runner-up Paynter, also by Awesome Again. Workout reports have not been great, and while I don’t see him winning, he would not be as shocking to me as his 30-1 morning line suggests.
Revolutionary gets Calvin Borel for the first time, and with only one horse between him and Calvin’s coveted rail, he figures to get the trip he wants. The colt has proven capable of overcoming traffic trouble, and is the most tenacious horse in the field. If he has the lead coming to the finish, I don’t think anyone will beat him in a head-to-head duel. Rain is expected for the race, and Revolutionary posted his career-best 102 Beyer on a good track at Aqueduct. He traces tail-female to La Troienne, whose tail-female descendants have already won two Derbies in the 21st century (Super Saver and Smarty Jones), and another from her line, Bluegrass Cat, ran second in 2006.
Golden Soul is 1-for-5 lifetime. He was fourth in the Louisiana Derby (G2) and second in the LeComte (G3), which earned him the points necessary to get in the race. I don’t see him being a factor.
Normandy Invasion is coming off a closing second to Verrazano in the Wood Memorial (G1). He will be closing late, and will have a much more favorable pace setup than he did in the Wood or in the Remsen Stakes (G2), where he was beaten a nose by Overanalyze. He’ll be running third off the layoff today and shouldn’t be adversely affected by a wet track. He has a chance, but I don’t see anything less than his 12-1 morning line as good value.
Mylute is the six horse, and gets Rosie Napravnik back on. He ran a very good second to Revolutionary in the Louisiana Derby (G2) after removing blinkers. He should continue to improve, and sire Midnight Lute has proven incredibly potent. Though Midnight Lute himself was a champion sprinter, that was due to breathing problems and not necessarily a lack of stamina. He was by 1998 Derby winner Real Quiet, so distance isn’t the primary concern here. The main question is whether he’s talented enough.
Giant Finish is another longshot, coming in off of a 3rd-place finish in Turfway’s Spiral Stakes (G3). Nothing about him suggests he will be a factor – both of his career victories came against New York breds and he has yet to face a horse nearly as talented as these.
Goldencents is California’s Derby hopeful for last year’s winning trainer Doug O’Neill. He is a major pace player, and while he proved his talent with an impressive Santa Anita Derby (G1) win last time out, the distance is a major question. He consistently runs well, and if he can get into a good groove early, he may be able to carry his speed farther than expected.
Overanalyze won the Arkansas Derby (G1) in his last start, and the Remsen (G2) and Futurity Stakes (G2) at two. He’s versatile enough that Rafael Bejarano can place him in a good spot, but a mile and a quarter may not be ideal for the son of Dixieland Band. However, he should improve third off the layoff and is not without a chance.
The ten horse is Palace Malice, and I think he has a legitimate longshot chance. He is coming off of a runner-up effort in the Bluegrass Stakes (G1) after a brutal trip led to a 7th-place finish in the Louisiana Derby (G2). This son of Curlin should handle an off track, and I like that he is coming from a synthetic track back to dirt. He has a good shot to hit the board at a reasonable price.
Lines of Battle ships from overseas off a victory in the UAE Derby (G2), a 1 3/16ths mile race, leaving little doubt that he can get the distance. Aidan O’Brien can get a horse ready to win in the US, but not sure that this horse is suited to a mile and a quarter on dirt.
Itsmyluckyday was the beaten favorite behind Orb in the Florida Derby (G1) after defeating juvenile champion Shanghai Bobby in the Holy Bull Stakes (G3). He won on a sloppy track in his debut, and while distance may be a slight concern, he is one of the most talented horses in the race and could be overlooked by many.
Falling Sky is another pace factor, though for how long remains to be seen. The Sam F Davis (G3) winner has since been well-beaten by Verrazano, Java’s War, Overanalyze, and Frac Daddy. Doesn’t seem likely.
Verrazano is undefeated in four career starts. The half-brother to G2 winner El Padrino has done nothing wrong, but I do not think the distance will suit him. After a 16+ length allowance win at a mile, where he earned a 105 Beyer, he came back with 101 and 95 Beyers in his next two starts, each a sixteenth of a mile longer than the last. This doesn’t bode well for the horse adding another furlong. He shouldn’t be far off the pace, and has proven that he has ability, but as one of the favorites I don’t think he is a wise bet.
Charming Kitten will be trying the dirt for the first time, and as a son of Kitten’s Joy that is a bit dubious. He is very consistent, however, and was beaten only half a length by Java’s War and Palace Malice in the Blue Grass (G1). He hasn’t beaten much in his other races, however, and doesn’t look like a likely winner.
Orb is the morning line favorite, and my selection in the race. I watch-listed this horse after his debut at Saratoga, where he was off slow but made up significant ground to finish third. He has been working well at Churchill, an off track should not bother him, and he gets the red-hot Joel Rosario aboard. He defeated Revolutionary when breaking his maiden, and has proven to be a very high-class horse. Distance is a slight concern, of course, as Malibu Moon isn’t the greatest stamina influence, but being out of an Unbridled mare from the family of Ruffian makes me think he’ll be just fine. He has overcome trouble to win, and I find nothing to fault. I expect him to be mid-pack early and make a big move to give Shug McGaughey, the Phippses, and the Janneys their first Derby win.
Will Take Charge is D. Wayne Lukas’ second horse in the field. He defeated stablemate Oxbow in the Rebel Stakes (G2), overcoming trouble to do so. A repeat of that effort could put him in the mix, if not at the top, but his poor effort in the Southwest Stakes (G3) was on a sloppy track and that could be his biggest flaw.
Frac Daddy was a distant second to Overanalyze in the Arkansas Derby (G1), and was well beaten in both the Florida Derby (G1) and Holy Bull (G3). He reportedly outworked stablemate Java’s War on April 27th, and Ken McPeek is quietly confident that he will run well. I don’t think he’s good enough, but if any horse is to blow up the tote board, it might be him.
Java’s War won the Blue Grass (G1) in a very impressive last-to-first effort. He hasn’t won on the dirt, but ran second to Verrazano in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2). While the pace should be fair, I don’t think he will get the best trip as a deep closer and he may bounce off of such a monstrous effort three weeks ago.
Vyjack gets the outside post. The gelding by Into Mischief suffered his first career loss when third to Verrazano and Normandy Invasion in the Wood Memorial (G1), but he came out of the race with a lung infection. Whether the infection affected his Wood performance or if the race induced the problem is uncertain. He has won on an off track, and in fact posted a career-best 96 Beyer when winning a stake at Aqueduct in the slop. Another son of Into Mischief, distance a serious question, and Garrett Gomez will have to be aggressive from the outside. The competition he defeated in his four career wins is questionable, and I don’t like him today.
In summation, my top pick is #16 Orb, with #3 Revolutionary and #12 Itsmyluckyday my second and third choices, respectively. I will likely be playing #10 Palace Malice to show, especially at 15-1 or better.