The 136th Kentucky Derby lost some luster on Sunday when likely favorite Eskendereya pulled out of the race with a left front leg injury. At the same time, however, the Derby became even more delicious for those who like to hit the windows every now and then. A case can be made for more than 10 horses earning the blanket of roses on Saturday afternoon, as many of the contenders have produced similar performances speed-wise. Add in the fact that the top two morning line choices, Lookin At Lucky (3-1) and Sidney's Candy (5-1), drew the worst two posts -- Nos. 1 and 20, respectively -- and the strong likelihood for a sloppy track on Saturday, and racing fans have a handicapping challenge absent in most Derbies.
So then without much conviction, here are the top four selections, with morning-line odds, for the Run for the Roses.
After a very good two-year-old campaign, this
He has the best trainer in the country (albeit one who has never won the Derby). He has won at Churchill (by five lengths). He has won in the slop (by seven). He is bred to get the 1¼-mile distance. But best of all, he is ridden by
The main concern with Super Saver is the slow come-home time from his last race; horses usually don't crawl in their final quarter mile in their last Derby prep and then win the roses at 10 furlongs. But the guess here is that he has improved since arriving in Louisville and will get Pletcher his first Derby.
Not only does Pletcher win his first Derby, he runs 1-2. This filly's last race, a win in the Bonnie Miss, was as good as any of her competitors', and according to those who watch the workouts, she has trained beautifully in Louisville, particularly on the slop. Her post position sets up perfectly for her stalking running style, and assuming she's seasoned enough with just five lifetime races and two this year -- all against fillies -- she should stay right with the best of the boys.
This choice is based on one angle: No one has trained more sensationally on the slop than Paddy O'Prado. He has absolutely skipped over the surface at Churchill, and we all remember what happened last year with a longshot who loved the slop. Otherwise, there would be very little reason to like this
This chestnut son of Awesome Again looked brilliant in winning the Gotham in early March, but in the Wood Memorial four weeks later he stumbled out of the gate, lost a shoe, fought his jockey the whole way and finished 9¾ lengths behind Eskendereya, in third. If you can forgive him for his Wood performance because of all the trouble, then Awesome Act is a leading contender, especially considering that trainer
Morning line favorite Lookin At Lucky is working well, and trainer
Stately Victor's going-away, 4½-length win in the Blue Grass was either a synthetic surface aberration (he is 0-for-2 on conventional dirt) or the result of a three-year-old colt coming around at the right time. So he'll either win or finish out of the money. The guess here is the latter. ...Sidney's Candy would be the top choice if the track is fast, but the transition to not only dirt but also the slop is enough to make us look elsewhere. ...Florida Derby winner Ice Box could pick up the pieces and finish in the money if the speed collapses, which is a decent possibility. ...Conveyance should be in the lead after a mile, but 10 furlongs is a long way to carry that speed and fight off the top closers. ...American Lion is coming around at the right time, but also faces a tough task with the expected early fractions. ...Mission Impazible looks the part of a Grade I winner, but hasn't proven he's fast enough. ...Discreetly Mine is bred for the distance but did not show any late kick in the Louisiana Derby. ...Jackson Bend tries hard all the time but has shown nothing to suggest he'll excel at 10 furlongs. ...Noble's Promise has serious distance limitations. ...Dublin had a poor last work at Churchill and had no excuses in the Arkansas Derby. ...Line of David had a terrible workout on the slop and is a candidate to finish last. ...Backtalk, Dean's Kitten, Homeboykris and Make Music for Me -- all 50-1 shots -- should not even be in the field, but, then again, Mine That Bird was 50-1 last year. So who knows.