Today’s column is a bit long, so I recommend you go make yourself a mint julep to drink while you read this. Hopefully you know how to make one, although there is quite a bit of debate about the true recipe, a debate that I will not wade into at this time. Anyway, go get yourself a drink. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Alright, now that you’re back, it’s time for a little mood music:
Okay, now we can start!
Saturday marks the first jewel of the Triple Crown, the 138th running of the Kentucky Derby (PRESENTED BY YUM! BRANDS). Twenty horses will race one-and-a-quarter miles with a $2,000,000 purse on the line. For millions of Americans, this is the only horse race they watch each year, mostly because it’s a fun and tradition-rich occasion for eating, drinking, and gambling (if you live in a state where that kind of thing is legal). Want to be the smartest person at your Derby Party? Read on.
Let’s start with a quick look at the other three Grade 1 races that are a part of the Derby weekend:
Kentucky Oaks (Grade 1, Churchill Downs, 3 year old fillies, 1⅟8 miles , Friday 5:45 PM EST)
This is one of the premier races for three-year-old fillies each year, and produced 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra. This year’s field had a bit of drama this morning when jockey Robby Albarado was arrested on assault charges. Albarado has been replaced as rider of Hard Not to Like (15-1) by Rafael Bejarano. Bejarano is one of the top jockeys in the country, so I don’t expect this switch to have much impact in the race. The top two contenders start in the two innermost post positions. On Fire Baby (4-1), the first post position, has huge speed, earning 99 and 91 Beyer figures in her last two starts. She’ll set the early pace, but don’t be surprised if she goes wire to wire. The favorite in the race is Grace Hall (5-2), starting in the second slot. She’s 4-2-0 in six career starts, and won by a widening 6.5 lengths last time out. Other possible factors include Summer Applause (5-1), who could be helped by the longer distance, and Broadway’s Alibi (7-1), a speedster who needs to avoid running out of gas.
Prediction: On Fire Baby is going to set a punishing pace in this, and I think she’ll hold off a late challenge from Grace Hall.
Humana Distaff Stakes (Grade 1, Churchill Downs, 4 year old and up fillies and mares, 7 furlongs , Saturday 3:49 PM EST)
This one sets up as a 4-way race between Sassy Image (5-2), Groupie Doll (5-2), Switch (2-1), and Musical Romance (4-1). This is a very experienced group of group of mares, with Groupie Doll being the most lightly raced at 12 starts, and Musical Romance having a whopping 36 lifetime starts. Sassy Image has only one loss in six career starts at Churchill Downs, while Groupie Doll hasn’t finished out of the money since last year. Switch is an excellent horse, but she’s coming off a six-month layoff — will she be in top form? Musical Romance won last year’s Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint.
Prediction: Switch is getting a positive 5-pound weight swing from the BC Filly and Mare Sprint, in which she was second to Musical Romance. I think it will make all the difference here. Switch wins.
Woodford Reserve Turf Classic Stakes (Grade 1, Churchill Downs, 4 year old and up, 1⅟8 miles , Saturday 4:44 PM EST)
This is an excellent race sponsored by an excellent bourbon. There are many horses in the field that could take the winner’s share of the $500,000 purse, including Turallure (5-2), who’s put up some huge speed figures lately. Look for him to make a late charge. Get Stormy (6-1) is the defending champion of this race, and, other than a weird distant 12th in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, has looked great in the year since. If the pace is too hot early, it may prove too much for him, though. Doubles Partner (4-1) is a nice, consistent horse who has experience against some of this field. Data Link (4-1) has improved in each race he’s run, and may be peaking at the right time. Turbo Compressor (6-1) put up a really nice 105 Beyer last time out, which was his very first start on turf.
Prediction: Data Link is indeed peaking at the right time, and will be the winner.
And now, onto the main event:
Kentucky Derby (Grade 1, Churchill Downs, 3 year olds, 1⅟4 miles , Saturday 6:24 PM EST)
The twenty-horse field for the Derby is one of the largest in North American racing, and it means that anything can happen. As Mine That Bird showed us in 2009, you can’t underestimate any horse in the field, so I’m going to go through them one by one, by post position.
1. Daddy Long Legs (30-1): He had an impressive win in the Grade 2 UAE Derby on Dubai World Cup Day back in March, but that was a slowly run race over a synthetic surface. He had a terrible outing at Churchill Downs in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. The Kentucky Derby hasn’t been won from the first post since 1986. Still, trainer Aidan O’Brien is no dummy, and he must feel very confident in this horse to send him back to the States.
2. Optimizer (50-1): This D. Wayne Lukas trainee hasn’t won since breaking his maiden at Saratoga in August. He had a nice performance in the Rebel Stakes, finishing second and earning enough money to get the start here. This is the very definition of a longshot.
3. Take Charge Indy (15-1): Calvin Borel starting near the rail? Look out, people. He led wire-to-wire in the Florida Derby, but the pace will be much faster on Saturday. The presence of Borel will make this an overbet horse, but you can’t rule out the possibility of that Bo-rail magic prevailing again.
4. Union Rags (5-2): He’s coming off a weird trip in the Florida Derby. Jockey Julian Leparoux can’t get caught in traffic like that again. His recent workouts have been excellent. He has the speed to make his winning move before getting to the stretch, but will he be able to hold on?
5. Dullahan (8-1): This colt has never won on dirt, but Animal Kingdom demonstrated last year that that doesn’t necessarily matter. Strategy is going to be everything for jockey Kent Desormeaux: Dullahan is a late, deep closer and timing and position will be incredibly important in a field this large.
6. Bodemeister (4-1): Ostensibly the fastest horse in the field, Bodemeister is trying to defy history by becoming the first horse to win the Derby in 130 years without racing as a two-year-old. Jockey Mike Smith will need to get the colt to settle off the pace a bit, and only use his blazing speed once it’s necessary.
7. Rousing Sermon (50-1): California-bred horses don’t historically do that well in the Kentucky Derby, and Rousing Sermon doesn’t look like a colt that will break out of that mold. His best shot will be if a fast pace burns out the top contenders.
8. Creative Cause (12-1): This might be the most consistent, well-rounded horse in the field. He has all the tools necessary to win, but his chances rest with jockey Joel Rosario. Rosario will need to stalk the pace and keep out of traffic. The colt is decidedly not a deep closer, so the race could be over very quickly for him if he gets caught too far back.
9. Trinniberg (50-1): This colt is a sprinter who has never raced longer than seven furlongs. He will set the early pace, and may even be a few lengths out in front, but he’ll fade way before the stretch. In fact, if the other speed horses can resist chasing him, his presence may actually help preserve their stamina.
10. Daddy Nose Best (15-1): He’s a gritty colt who has shown the ability to hold off a challenge. He has one of the better distance resumes in the field, and I expect him to be a factor in the stretch.
11. Alpha (15-1): He has had some injury concerns lately, including a couple of lacerations. He also has a tendency to act up; he’ll be one of the first horses loaded, which is bad news for an ill-behaved horse. Jockey Rajiv Maragh has never impressed me with his handling of sassier horses, so this could be a storyline to watch. Ultimately, the colt has the physical attributes to win this, though.
12. Prospective (30-1): He just doesn’t seem to have the speed for this field, and looked pretty tired in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes last month. Previous losses to other horses in the field make this colt a long shot.
13. Went The Day Well (20-1): The team behind Animal Kingdom is trying to repeat with Went The Day Well, but this horse doesn’t seem as impressive as last year’s Derby winner. He’s consistent, though, and I’d expect him to finish somewhere in the top six.
14. Hansen (10-1): Hansen’s connections have to be thrilled with this post position, as it will force the colt to stalk the pace rather than set the pace. If he tries to set the pace from this far out, though, he’s done, so jockey Ramon Dominguez has his work cut out for him. With a perfect trip (which is hard to get in the Derby) he’s the one to beat.
15. Gemologist (6-1): I can’t find any flaws in the undefeated Gemologist’s game. He’s absolutely tenacious in the stretch, and won’t back down from anything. The only possible problem is the size and speed of the field, because of his front-running style.
16. El Padrino (20-1): The distance seems a bit too long for this colt. However, I think it’s just slightly too long, so he could fade at the end and still find himself finishing in the money. Use him in your exotic bets, if you live in a state where pari-mutuel betting is legal.
17. Done Talking (50-1): No horse has ever won the Kentucky Derby from the 17th post position, and that isn’t going to change this year. Done Talking simply hasn’t faced great competition in his career, and the breeding isn’t there either.
18. Sabercat (30-1): He didn’t look that impressive in his two real tests (the Rebel Stakes and the Arkansas Derby), and there aren’t many reasons to think he’ll do anything here. He has a late-closing style, so if the race goes oddly, he could be in a position to take advantage.
19. I’ll Have Another (12-1): The Kentucky Derby has never been won from the 19th spot either, but this colt actually has a shot. He’s been very sharp in his undefeated three-year-old season, and as long as the track is fast he’s going to be in this going into the stretch.
20. Liaison (50-1): This colt’s performance has been trending in the wrong direction, with no wins since last year. Still, this is another deep closer who could take advantage of a hot early pace. But probably not.
And now, predictions from the entire Sports Dump team:
Place: Went the Day Well
Show: Union Rags
Win: Union Rags
Place: Daddy Nose Best
Show: I’ll Have Another
Win: Union Rags
Show: El Padrino
Show: El Padrino
Place: Take Charge Indy
Show: Union Rags
This is a very tough field to pick, and I’d say fourteen of the twenty horse could conceivably end up draped with roses in the winner’s circle. There are many speed horses in this field, and I think they’re all going to burn themselves out. Ultimately, I’m looking for quality, not flash, and that’s what you get with Creative Cause.
Win: Creative Cause
Show: Union Rags
Are you smarter than the Sports Dump team? Try to out-pick us in the comments section. Have a great Derby Day, drink some bourbon, don’t drink and drive, and I’ll see you in two weeks for a preview of the Preakness.