Wow, it’s been a long time since I posted here. Someday I’ll post more.
The interesting thing about wagering on the Kentucky Derby is that you have no choice but to exclude horses that you acknowledge have a really good chance to win. Even if you can dismiss half the field with confidence, you’re still forced to make decisions that even the most seasoned horseplayer isn’t totally comfortable with. You have to draw lines and make decisions. This year, kicking horses off my tickets felt easier than it has in past years. But that certainly does not make me correct. Let’s take a look at the field.
- Hit Show– He really hasn’t done anything “wrong” in his career, and if you told me six months from now he’d be the best horse in this crop, I’d find that believable. On raw talent, he’s probably better than the majority of this field. I think a win would be a surprise but I wouldn’t fault anyone for including him in their wagers.
- Verifying– I think he’s among the two or three most likely winners of the race. And given his ability to be up close early, he might have a tactical advantage over the other main players. He’s won just one of three this year, and the first loss came over a wet track and with bad traffic problems. He was impressive in defeat that day and I loved the solid 2nd in the Blue Grass. He was the only one of the top five finishers to be up close early, and he fought on gamely when Tapit Trice engaged him. Big, big chance. Maybe the most likely winner. Maybe.
- Two Phil’s– I hate the grammatical incorrectness of his name, but other than that, he’s hard to knock. Was his massive speed figure jump the result of an affinity for the Turfway surface, or is he just getting good at the right time? I think he has to be taken seriously, although I wonder if he’s going to be overbet because of the numbers.
- Confidence Game– The long layoff isn’t ideal, and when you combine that with the probability that his win at Oaklawn was the result of the sloppy track, there are just too many valid reasons to rate him below the majority of this field. That said, if you trust the trainer and think he can withstand the early pace pressure, I guess you can make a case for him. Not for me.
- Tapit Trice– He’ll certainly be among the favorites, but if he wins the Derby, I will likely lose every bet I make. I didn’t like the way he was moving at the end of the Blue Grass, although I have to admit that I was impressed by the early move down the backstretch and then the patient stalking tactic before wearing down Verifying, who was closer early. Obviously, this is a serious racehorse and he can win. But you can’t use all 20 and I like others more.
- Kingsbarns– Every year, there is a horse that scares the shit out of me in the Kentucky Derby that I end up dismissing. Kingsbarns is that horse this year. I’ve been very lucky in my Derby betting career, as none of these scary horses has ever beaten me. But I honestly hope Kingsbarns scratches so I don’t have to live in fear. Two handicappers that I respect a great deal, Frank Mustari and Nick Tammaro, both tell me he has no shot. I am praying to God there are correct. And there is no way I will try to talk anyone off this horse. My God he scares me to death.
- Reincarnate– At no point in the last month have I, at any time, considered using this horse in any of my wagers. He’s by Good Magic, and since Good Magic wanted zero part of 1 1/4 miles, I am not using Reincarnate. I also didn’t love his effort in the Arkansas Derby. It felt like he had nothing to offer in the late stages. Pass.
- Mage- Another son of Good Magic. I give this one a better shot than Reincarnate but when you toss in the fact that Mage didn’t race at age 2, I can’t include this one with any degree of confidence. Another pass.
- Skinner- Scratched
- Practical Move-Scratched
- Disarm- This was my Derby pick for about 45 minutes immediately after the Louisiana Derby. And my logic here might be flimsy, but if Steve Asmussen couldn’t win the Kentucky Derby with Gun Runner or Epicenter, is it likely he’ll do it with Disarm? I’m passing.
- Jace’s Road- Admittedly I have not taken the time to study up on the Derby Points System, but at first glance isn’t it somewhat surprising that the 2nd place finisher in the Santa Anita Derby didn’t earn his way into the Kentucky Derby, but the 3rd place finisher in the Louisiana Derby did? Was the Gun Runner Stakes a Derby points race? Or maybe the Iroquois was I guess. Whatever. I’d rate Jace’s Road as among the least likely winners of the Derby. Next.
- Sun Thunder– Fans of LoneSpeed have heard this before. Go back and look at the past performances of Golden Soul (2nd in the 2013 KY Derby), Commanding Curve (2nd in the 2014 Kentucky Derby), Country House (2nd in the 2019 Kentucky Derby before getting the win via DQ), Keen Ice (bad trip in the Kentucky Derby but won the Travers at 1 1/4 miles over American Pharaoh), and Rich Strike (won the 2022 Kentucky Derby). They all have the same thing in common. In their Kentucky Derby preps, they were usually passing horses late but LOSING ground at the finish to the eventual winner of the race in question. It is my belief that this indicates an affinity for the Kentucky Derby distance. You may ask, why is losing ground to the winner at the end of a prep somehow indicative of an affinity for a longer distance? And that is a fair question that I admit I’ve struggled with myself. I wonder if perhaps what that shows is that the winners of those preps were running at the right distance for them on that day, while the horse that’s passing horses behind the winner but losing ground is demonstrating that he isn’t slowing down as rapidly as the majority of the field and is more of a “grind-it-out” type that needs more ground as well as competition that can’t handle going much longer. We all know that in dirt racing, horse are slowing down pretty much throughout the entire running of the race. In the Kentucky Derby specifically, the vast majority of the horses have completely quit after a mile and the race becomes a staggerfest. The horses that have those extra few drops of gas in the tank are the ones that make it to the trifecta, often unexpectedly. I think Sun Thunder fits that profile perfectly. I also think the traffic issues he faced in his last two races make those efforts better than they appear on paper. He’s my key horse in the Derby, and he’ll be a massive price.
- Angel of Empire- Obviously a major threat to win, although I do wonder if perhaps he has less upside than a horse like Sun Thunder, while being less accomplished than Verifying and Forte. I’m using him in most of my wagers for sure.
- Forte– The deserved favorite. If there is a knock against him, it’s that he hasn’t shown major progression from last year. But for the most part, I feel like those dismissing him are the same people that say U2 isn’t one of the greatest bands of all time. They’re just being contrarian for the sake of being contrarian. Right there with Verifying in terms of chances. Maybe slightly more likely.
- Raise Cain- This one just seems a couple notches below many of the other runners.
- Derma Sotogake- I am well aware that everyone is madly in love with Japanese runners because they’ve been dominating all the major races all over the world for a couple of years now. But my gut tells me that his win in Dubai was aided by the racetrack and I am not going to play a horse based on a win there. Pass.
- Rocket Can– I just don’t see much to like at all. He had every chance to step up in the Arkansas Derby and simply didn’t.
- Lord Miles– Scratched
- Continuar– Scratched
- Cyclone Mischief– Cyclone Mischief has had many chances to show that he’s a top horse, and in my opinion he hasn’t done so. This one would be a massive shock.
- Mandarin Hero– Now THIS is a Japanese runner I can get behind, now that he’s in the race due to scratches. I liked him most coming out of the Santa Anita Derby because it was his US debut and he ran huge. If you liked Practical Move and Skinner, who are both now scratched, I don’t see how you can dismiss this horse. Now, to be fair, I didn’t like either of those two. But still, Mandarin Hero is live in the Derby.
- King Russell- I’ll admit that there are one or two things to like about this horse, but he just seems so far behind so many others that I can’t endorse him.
Win/Place Bet: Sun Thunder
Exacta Box: Verifying, Forte, Sun Thunder
Other Trifecta and Superfecta Horses: Angel of Empire, Two Phil’s, Mandarin Hero, Tapit Trice