After an amazing Friday that saw the valiant victory of Blind Luck catching Evening Jewel in the final stride at the wire in the Kentucky Oaks, attention now turns to the “greatest 2 minutes in sports” with the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. Despite gorgeous weather on Friday storm clouds loom on the horizon for Saturday, prompting Churchill to already cancel morning workouts.
Obviously weather changes can cause havoc with handicapping selections posted a day in advance. I make no apologies for the effects that field decimating scratches may play with the picks that follow.
Before we begin though, let me just say this. Typically I have fairly strong opinions going into the Derby. This year, thanks to the injuries to horses like Odysseus, Endorsement, and of course Eskendereya – my opinions are nowhere near as strong as usual. Complicating matters further was the odd post position draw that saw the top two contenders on the morning line – Lookin at Lucky and Sidney’s Candy – bookended on the extreme inside and outside, respectively.
Still, there’s only one Derby day each year, so without further adieu, let’s jump into the action. We’ll pick things up with the G3 Eight Belles (Race 6).
Race 6 – Grade 3 Eight Belles – 7 1/2 Furlongs
The opening stakes race of the day looks like a spot many will use as a single with Hot Dixie Chick. There are a couple of horses capable of pulling the upset here, including the daughter of Indian Charlie breaking from the outside in the 7 hole, Visavis, and the horse drawn to her inside, Buckleupbuttercup. Additionally, you’ve got the wily D. Wayne Lukas with Decelerator and the sneaky Rick Dutrow with Sister Resistor, who sports the kind of darkened form that should assure a good price on the board. As much as I’d like a price to start off the day, I think this one turns out fairly obvious with Hot Dixie Chick getting the job done.
- #2 Hot Dixie Chick (1/1*)
- #7 Visavis (4/1)
- #1 Buckleupbuttercup (8/1)
Race 7: Grade 2 Churchill Distaff Turf Mile – 1 Mile (Turf)
A fairly contentious field awaits for the 7th. If you follow along here, you know that I’m a guy who has never met a Tiznow he didn’t like, and that makes Tizaqueena attractive here despite the short 5/2 price. Hot Cha Cha would be no surprise to see in the winner’s circle as she may be peaking at the right point in time for this. Perhaps the most intriguing entry is Fantasia, who competed against the likes of Stacelita and Rainbow View in Europe last year. Her tune up last out was quite impressive, and with Leparoux aboard I think she has to be respected. I’ll give Diamondrella a small shot here as well – as she may be setup well if the race comes up on soft turf as expected.
- #5 Tizaqueena (5/2*)
- #3 Fantasia (5/1)
- #6 Hot Cha Cha (3/1)
Race 8: Grade 1 Humana Distaff – 7 Furlongs
Informed Decision will likely attract much of the attention in the Humana Distaff, but count me among those concerned by the seasonal debut in which she was defeated by Dr. Zic and Dubai Majesty. She’s going to be a very short price, but I don’t think she’s anywhere near as bulletproof from an exotic betting standpoint as Hot Dixie Chick is in Race 6. I’m going to be playing Warbling here as my top play, who comes off three consecutive fairly strong performances and picks up the services of Ramon Dominguez. Warbling is listed at 8/1 compared to 2/1 on Informed Decision – so it’s a value play all the way. I may have loved Informed Decision in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint last fall, but I’m not feeling as confident here. You could honestly make a case for the entire field in the underneath positions of your exotics, even though I settled on likely pace player Dr. Zic, so “…bet on who you will.”
- #2 Warbling (8/1)
- #3 Informed Decision (2/1*)
- #1 Dr. Zic (9/2)
Race 9: Grade 2 Churchill Downs
Another interesting field awaits for the Churchill Downs Stakes. The theme for this race if your alive in the exotics is “Staying Alive.” Several of last year’s top male sprinters have returned, including Munnings, Musket Man, and Kensei along with “now horses” like Wall Street Wonder, Warrior’s Reward, and Atta Boy Roy. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised to see any of these win, so this looks like a race you’ve got to spread a bit on in the Pick 4 and Pick 6 sequences for some coverage. My gut tells me that Wall Street Wonder and Warrior’s Reward are in the best shape right now, but I wouldn’t advise leaving any of the previously mentioned contenders off your tickets. Accredit is another you have to keep an eye on – especially if the race comes up sloppy. I’ll be covering 3, 7, 9, 12, and 13 in my Pick 4 wager, if that’s any indication.
- #7 Warrior’s Reward (4/1)
- #3 Wall Street Wonder (12/1)
- #11 Kensei (10/1)
Race 10: Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic – 1 1/16 Miles (Turf)
Another race with an opportunity to select a martial sounding horse. I’ve already taken Warbling and Warrior’s Reward in the preceding races, so it’s probably no surprise that I’m on Battle of Hastings in the Woodford Reserve. The son of Royal Applause hasn’t found the winner’s circle since last July, but he’s a fighter who is making the ever-intriguing 3rd start since his last layoff. I’m also a Court Vision fan, so I’ve got to give him a chance as well. Blues Street is another one I think you have to consider coming off 4 straight victories. The x-factor of the race? How about Loup Breton? His form was darkened last out, but prior to that he seemed to be on his way to becoming fairly useful. As for fan favorite General Quarters? I’d use him underneath, but not on top.
- #5 Battle of Hastings (5/1)
- #3 Court Vision (9/5*)
- #7 Blues Street (6/1)
Race 11: Grade 1 Kentucky Derby - 1 1/4 Miles
Well, here we are folks. If you’re a racing fan, you think about this moment 365 days a year – and now it’s here once again. Twenty horses…$2 million on the line in purse earnings…a lifetime of fame, glory, and honor. In just a few short hours, a 3-year-old will stamp themselves firmly atop the division by winning the marquee race of the year. Who will it be?
Because of the anticipated forecast, I think you have to start with the horses in the lead. Most likely that will include Line of David and Conveyance. If these two hook up, they should cook each other – although in the slop speed horses seem to hang on just that little while longer to make them formidable. Perhaps the horses with the best chances will be those coming from the next flight back? There’s literally a half dozen horses you could anticipate being in such a position.
As for those with off-track pedigrees, many are focusing on Stately Victor, Awesome Act, and Mission Impazible. I think all 3 of those horses make a lot of sense. As long as Awesome Act can get the distance, he’d be my top play in the race. That being said, there’s two pairs any contender must deal with to earn the honor of wearing the roses.
The first pair is the two morning line favorites; Lookin at Lucky breaking from the rail and Sidney’s Candy breaking from the extreme outside in the 20 hole. I don’t think you can “toss” either of these safely, though many will do so in favor of a better price. Trainer Bob Baffert summed up Lucky’s chances best when he said they were “screwed” if they didn’t break well. I’m actually more concerned with Sidney’s post though, despite the fact that he should at least break cleanly without anyone to the outside.
The other pair are what I would term the x-factors; the filly Devil May Care and the horse who has seemingly stolen some of the Irish luck – Paddy O’ Prado.
We could go a million ways in this race. At the end of the day I do think Awesome Act will be a force on the sloppy track, should that condition arise as expected. Steve Haskin has noted the excellent off-track pedigree of Stately Victor, and by all accounts the colt has worked well enough to be considered in the mix. Lastly, despite his seemingly turf/synthetic preference in his profile, I’m going to take a shot with Paddy O’Prado, who has worked well in preparation for the big show.
Like I said, ultimately I think Lucky and Sidney are the most talented – so play against them at your own risk - but from those post positions you won’t hear me argue with anyone who plays against them. I’m leaving them out of my top selections below, but don’t think for a moment that I won’t have them in my picks somewhere.
Last but not least – you’ve got to to something with Super Saver, right? I mean, it is Calvin Bo-rail and from his post position draw he may well find himself in perfect position as the field begins the turn for home.
Drum roll, please…
- #16 Awesome Act (10/1)
- #6 Stately Victor (30/1)
- #11 Devil May Care (10/1)
Best of luck to everyone – and may all of your Derby wagers be signers! :)