For those of you who follow horse racing one day a year, read what follows with the understanding that trainer Bob Baffert is being unjustly forced to sit this Kentucky Derby out, and two of his “former” horses are allegedly being trained by his former assistant, Tim Yakteen. I have no opinion about Tim Yakteen. I hear he’s a solid horseman and in no way is any of what follows to be considered a dig at him. But just realize that Bob Baffert is legally not allowed to be a part of this Kentucky Derby.
Let’s go horse-by-horse in post position order.
- Mo Donegal– I don’t think breaking from the inside is the death sentence that it once was now that we have the new starting gate which no longer forces horses breaking from Post 1 to move to their right at the start if they want to avoid running directly into a giant white rail. Having said that, being inside 19 other horses from the jump is not optimal. Mo Donegal is a top tier horse and he can win. But his come-from-behind style means he’ll have to make up a lot of ground late and avoid traffic. Always a tough task. But he’s definitely among the the win candidates. I won’t be using him prominently.
- Happy Jack– He’s likely going to be the longest shot on the board, and for good reason. He hasn’t had a sniff of the best of this bunch in three tries, but he definitely keeps on running and trying. I don’t think it’s impossible that this one could finish well and maybe crack the top 5.
- Epicenter- It’s between him and Zandon for the role of race favorite. He’s clearly among the most likely winners of the race and it will shock no one if he does so. Major win candidate. No value, and I think others are better bets.
- Summer Is Tomorrow– The probable early pacesetter. I see him hitting a brick wall with about 1/2 mile to go. A top 5 finish would be a big surprise.
- Smile Happy– Some very good handicappers that I know love this horse. I do not. In general, I am of the belief that it takes an elite racehorse to win the Kentucky Derby, and I do not consider Smile Happy to be elite. I think he’s got a useful career ahead of him winning stakes races that don’t register on the national stage, i.e. not the Kentucky Derby.
- Messier– Gun to my head, this is the winner. Now in the care of Tim Yakteen after being part of the Bob Baffert program. I think this one has the speed to be in perfect position turning for home and may just get to the wire first on overall talent. And he won’t be among the top two betting choices.
- Crown Pride– Due to the fact that Japanese horses have been winning all around the world in recent months, this guy is getting way more attention than he should be. He’s not on the same level as the big boys in here. If he wins, I lose.
- Charge It- I was very high on this horse’s chances until the last day or two when I just decided I liked others more. He’s very good and undoubtedly has a bright career ahead of him. I think he’s actually a great candidate to win the Belmont in five weeks. But for now, he’s dealing with a lack of experience in my opinion. It won’t totally shock me if he wins.
- Tiz the Bomb– A very talented turf horse. His trainer expressed concern this week with the effect the dirt kickback would have on Tiz the Bomb. That was enough for me to toss him. That said, if you think he’ll like the Churchill Downs dirt surface, he’s interesting.
- Zandon– Probably headed for favoritism based on his Blue Grass win and his appearance on the track this week. Like Mo Donegal, Zandon is going to have to avoid traffic and hope that several others start backing up late. That can certainly happen, but at a short price, I think you are supposed to look in another direction.
- Pioneer of Medina– He’s backed up in the final stages of both of his Kentucky Derby preps, but the foundation is definitely there and he’s improved on the Beyer Speed Figure scale in every start this year. Now they take the blinkers off which might signal he’s ready to relax and make his move late. I don’t think it’s crazy to use this horse in your trifecta and superfecta, although I won’t be using him prominently.
- Taiba– Another “former” Baffert horse now “with” Tim Yakteen. With only two career starts, a win in the Kentucky Derby would rank among the most impressive accomplishments I’ve seen from a racehorse in a long time. I think you’d have to put it up there with Arrogate’s four-race campaign starting with the Travers and ending with the Dubai World Cup (I may be guilty of a slight exaggeration here). All indications are that this horse is very good, and certainly good enough to win the Kentucky Derby. The question is, is he good enough to do it in only his third career start? I think he very possibly is. I’m using him in a big way.
- Simplification– One of several good horse in this field that I just don’t think fall into that “elite” category. But at expected odds of 20/1, he’s not the worst long shot to use.
- Barber Road– I was sure this would be the “wise guy horse” this year, but he seems to have fallen off the radar. In general, I think horses that habitually gain ground late in their preps but fail to win are sucker bets. And that’s how I feel about Barber Road.
- White Abarrio– If he can avoid losing too much ground early due to his wide post, I think he can make some noise late in the game. There is a lot of ability here and I think he’s definitely one to fear. Win candidate.
- Cyberknife- I have no idea what to do with this horse. I can see him taking one more forward move and winning, and I can see him finishing 14th. One of three for trainer Brad Cox, who “won” his first Kentucky Derby last year when Bob Baffert’s Medina Spirit was disqualified earlier this year. I think you have to consider him for all bets.
- Classic Causeway– I was never high on this horse, and I was even lower on him after his last race. I won’t be using him.
- Tawny Port– My long shot pick. Full disclosure: I already bet him at odds of 114 to 1, so I have an existing financial interest in his performance in the Kentucky Derby. That said, I legitimately think he can win. People are going to say his preferred surface is a synthetic track, but I disagree. His effort in the Lexington Stakes on dirt was his best race to date. He was wide the whole way and kicked on to the wire to win impressively over some accomplished horses. The Derby distance is going to be no issue. And we should see very big odds. I think you have to use this horse.
- Zozos– Pretty talented. Future stakes winner. Doubtful that stakes win will be in the Kentucky Derby. His regular jockey chose stablemate Cyberknife.
- Ethereal Road– Scratched
- Rich Strike– I honestly think he has a shot to beat half of this field. But that’s probably it.
- Rattle N Roll– Scratched
As for the wagering, here is how I’ll be approaching the Kentucky Derby:
Most Likely Winner: Messier
Best Long Shot: Tawny Port
Other Top Key Horses: Taiba, White Abarrio
Horses To Include Underneath: Zandon, Mo Donegal, Epicenter, and Cyberknife
Win Bet: I’ll likely let the Tawny Port wager stand.
Exacta Box: Messier, Tawny Port, Taiba, White Abarrio
Trifecta: Key Tawny Port in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd with Messier, Taiba, White Abarrio, Zandon, Mo Donegal, Epicenter, and Cyberknife
1st: Messier, Tawny Port, Taiba, White Abarrio
2nd: Add Epicenter and Zandon
3rd: Add Mo Donegal and Cyberknife
4th: Add Pioneer of Medina, Happy Jack, and Charge It
Ticket Cost: $960