It’s hard to believe that in just 24 hours we’ll be gearing up for the 134th running of the Kentucky Derby. Derby day is a special day for horse racing fans around the country, and the single day on the calendar where our sport takes center stage nationally.
I’ve blogged earlier in the week about the inherent difficulties of picking a Derby winner from a field of 20. It’s a tough, thankless job (except for the winning wagers, of course) that more often than not leaves you looking foolish publicly. Even the great Steven Crist, the nation’s premier pick 6 player and the chairman and publisher of the Daily Racing Form, went winless from 1992 to 2006 before correctly selecting Street Sense in the 2007.
As difficult as it may be, it’s time to step up to the plate and make some selections here. I’ll caveat these selections by stating that I tend to go a little crazy in the Derby and play multiple tickets. In other words, I won’t be restricting myself to only what I type here. Roughly 5 minutes before post time I’ll likely be feverishly entering a slew of trifecta combos. You only live once, right?
Let’s take one last look at the field, with jockey and morning line odds information:
- Cool Coal Man (Julien Leparoux) – 30/1
- Tale of Ekati (Eibar Coa) - 15/1
- Anak Nakal (Rafael Bejarano) – 30/1
- Court Vision (Garrett Gomez) - 20/1
- Eight Belles (Gabriel Saez) – 20/1
- Z Fortune (Robbie Albarado) – 15/1
- Big Truck (J. Castellano) – 50/1
- Visionaire (Jose Lezcano) – 20/1
- Pyro (Sean Bridgmohan) – 6/1
- Colonel John (Corey Nakatani) – 4/1
- Z Humor (Rene Douglas) – 30/1
- Smooth Air (M.R. Cruz) – 20/1
- Bob Black Jack (Richard Migliore) – 20/1
- Monba (Ramon Dominguez) – 15/1
- Adriano (Edgar Prado) – 30/1
- Denis of Cork (Calvin Borel) – 20/1
- Cowboy Cal (J.R. Velasquez) – 20/1
- Recpaturetheglory (E.T. Baird) – 20/1
- Gayego(M.E. Smith) – 15/1
- Big Brown (Kent Desormeaux) – 3/1*
Let’s begin by dispensing with the obvious. Big Brown is the best horse in this race. I think that’s pretty clear and in my mind is beyond debate. To win the Derby, someone’s going to have to defeat him and that will be no small challenge. I don’t really buy into the “knocks” against him. I think his feet are fine (despite the front bandages you’ll see on display on Saturday). I don’t mind that he’s “lightly raced” (Curlin, anyone?), or that he hasn’t faced the toughest of fields. I think we’ve seen his talent showcased and there simply isn’t another horse in the field that is on equal skill level as Dutrow’s colt.
The main competitors that have a real shot at upsetting Big Brown are: Colonel John, Pyro, Gayego, Eight Belles, Monba, and Z Fortune. I don’t really think anyone else in this race can be considered a win candidate. Obviously I can’t play all of these guys and Big Brown, so let’s see if we can take a stand somewhere.
Right out of the gate, I’m of the opinion that Big Brown will actually rocket for the lead, then try to cut over and save as much ground as he can heading for the first turn. While the 20 hole does mean he’ll be wide, it also assures him of a clean start and a chance to kick into high gear as soon as he desires.
The trouble for Big Brown right out of the gate is that potential speed duelers Cowboy Cal and Recapturetheglory are to his inside, along with the quick Gayego. Big Brown will have to clear them in order to collapse as much ground as he’d like to. Most likely, some combo of this grouping will get to the lead and then start angling inwards.
The next challenge for Big Brown will be the speedy Bob Black Jack breaking from the 13 hole. If he gets a good start, we could wind up with a pace setting duel that could tax the leaders and open things up for the off-the-pacers and closers. Big Brown should be good enough to get past Bob Black Jack, or he may decide to let Bob Black Jack have the lead (I think that would be wiser….why fight him for the lead when you don’t need to?).
If this goes as planned than Big Brown should be in a decidedly nice position to make one move and sprint away to win by a decent margin on Saturday. That being said, this is a lot to ask from any horse, let alone a lightly raced 3 year old breaking from the extreme outside, hence the reason he won’t be my top choice. Do I think he can win? Absolutely, no question about it. Do I think he should win? That’s where the picture gets a bit fuzzier.
If (and this may be a big “if” when all is said and done), Big Brown were to get hung wide, or encounter a speed duel, or god forbid something wrong were to happen – just who would the race setup for? Gayego could be close behind Big Brown, but I’m having trouble envisioning him getting the extra furlong comfortably from so wide. Eight Belles could be in a nice position from the inside of the pack, but she has a tendency to not break well and from the comments on her recent workouts was observed to be “lugging in” towards the rail. That could spell problems for her.
I think we’d have to look a bit deeper to the guys who should be putting in their runs as the field turns for home. It’s all going to come down to position, but two horses we know can fight through traffic are Colonel John and Pyro. Neither is as fast as Big Brown, but this is horse racing and the race doesn’t always go to the fastest horse of the field. They’ll need some burnout happening in front of them, but they may get just that. Of these two, while I’ve said for weeks that I don’t take anything away from Pyro just because of his dismal Bluegrass effort, I do prefer Colonel John. In fact, I’m anointing Colonel John as my official Derby selection.
Please don’t mistake that last sentence as meaning that I’m foolish enough to think Big Brown won’t win. He probably will. I’m just not the type of guy that can take the favorite in the Derby unless there’s no reason I can support anyone else. The 20 hole and the speed to his inside is enough for me to go with Colonel John, but you’d best believe there will be some tickets on Big Brown as well. He’s just too good to totally pass up. I made the mistake of picking against him in the Florida Derby, and I’ll be darned if he’s going to burn me twice, even if he is my “2nd choice.”
Colonel John has that fight in him that all the Tiznow colts seem to show. I know he hasn’t been over the dirt yet, but he started to look like he really took to it as the week wore on. He’s bred for this type of race and has to be considered a player. I’m worried that his odds may come down a bit too much due to his post position compared with Big Brown’s, but there’s nothing I can do about that as I type this over 24 hours in advance of the race. I think he may actually run his best race over dirt, despite how accomplished he has been over the synthetics. Also, while I definitely concede that he’s not as quick as some of the others, I’m not of the opinion that we can compare the Beyer figures of Santa Anita to other tracks this year as easily as we might assume. True, that track seemed to play to his running style, but as the meet wore on it also tended to reduce speed figures.
The other horses I really like here are Pyro, Monba, Z Fortune, and Eight Belles. Court Vision could be sitting on his best race with the addition of blinkers, but I still don’t think he’s a real win candidate. My wife is playing Z Fortune all the way – and actually boxing him up with Pyro for an Asmussen exacta. Boy, can you tell the kind of cumulative effect Curlin has had on my household?
Gayego is the horse I wanted to pick. I dreamt about him winning when I was in California a few weeks ago. I loved the way he transitioned to dirt in the Arkansas Derby and think he has a bright future ahead of him. I’m not incredibly fond of the extra furlong on Saturday or the post position in the 19 hole. It pains me to do so, but I’m passing on him as a win candidate. I’ll have a casual bet on him “just in case” - but I won’t be giving him out as a winner here.
The main trifecta I’ll play is a bit deeper than I usually advise, which is only to be expected with such a large field. I’ll use both Big Brown and Colonel John for the win. I’ll add in Pyro and Z Fortune for place, and will then add Eight Belles, Court Vision, and Monba for show. Total cost $30.
10, 20 with 6, 9, 10, 20 with 4, 5, 6, 9, 10, 14, 20
Best of luck to all of you. Here’s hoping we get a Derby to remember. It would be great to see Big Brown go for a Triple Crown. Can’t say I’d be disappointed to see any of the other horses mentioned here win (Pyro, Gayego, Colonel John, Monba, Z Fortune, or Eight Belles).