Kentucky Derby Preview
Daddy Long Legs
The mystery horse of this year's Kentucky Derby, Daddy Long Legs ships into Louisville for trainer Aidan O'Brien. The last time most States-side racing fans saw this son of Scat Daddy was in November's Breeders' Cup Juvenile, in which he finished 12th (out of 13), beaten almost 20 lengths. After almost five months off, he returned to win the United Arab Emirates Derby in Dubai, his only start of the year. His light racing schedule and overseas preparation would buck historical training methods for Derby winners.
The Tuesday defection of Mark Valeski allowed trainer D. Wayne Lukas to enter his record 44th starter in the Kentucky Derby in Optimizer. The 76-year-old Lukas, who has won the race four times, is trying to surpass Charlie Whittingham as the oldest trainer to saddle a Derby winner. Lukas will have to do so with one of the longest shots in the field, a late-running type who finished second in the Rebel Stakes in March but has not placed better than sixth in three other starts this year.
Take Charge Indy
One of the most impeccably bred horses in the starting gate, Take Charge Indy should receive backing at the windows by virtue of having three-time Derby-winning jock and Churchill favorite Calvin Borel in the irons. In taking the Florida Derby five weeks ago, the man nicknamed "Bo-rail" guided Take Charge Indy to the rail, where they were able to set slow fractions on a track favoring speed. They won't get that same favorable setup on Saturday, with Trinniberg, Hansen and Bodemeister in this race.
This strapping son of Dixie Union has been the consensus Kentucky Derby favorite since his trouble-filled second in November's Breeders' Cup Juvenile, and he's arguably the sentimental favorite as well. He's trained by Michael Matz (former Olympic medalist in equestrian, plane-crash survivor and trainer of 2006 Derby winner Barbaro) and owned by Phyllis Wyeth (who once sold the horse before buying him back out of affection for the horse). Few, if any, horses will have as good a shot as he will to bring home the roses.
His critics will say that he's winless in three starts on conventional dirt, including a fourth-place finish in November's Breeders' Cup Juvenile. His supporters will argue that Dullahan has improved significantly since those three dirt losses and has the best closing kick in a race that should favor late-runners. Either way, the Dale Romans-trained chestnut colt, who defeated Hansen in the Blue Grass Stakes last time out, will enter the starting gate as a legitimate contender for the win spot.
The morning-line favorite for the Kentucky Derby is trying to buck 130 years of history. Bodemeister, who didn't make his racing debut until Jan. 16, is trying to become the first horse to win the Derby without having raced as a two-year-old since Apollo in 1882. If he's able to repeat his effort in his last race, he has a big chance. That day Bodemeister, named after trainer Bob Baffert's son Bode, crushed the Arkansas Derby field by 9-plus lengths, in what was the most impressive performance of any three-year-old this year.
This Jerry Hollendorfer-trained chestnut is one of many Kentucky Derby entrants who seem to have done their best running as two-year-olds. In six starts last year, including five on artificial surfaces, Rousing Sermon had two wins, two seconds and two thirds. In three starts this year on conventional dirt, he has not finished better than third. Though his late-running style fits the expected shape of this race, he'll go off as one of the longest shots on the toteboard.
This gray colt has been considered the West Coast's best Kentucky Derby contender since winning the Best Pal last August. In eight races, he has never finished worse than third and has four wins, including a victory over Bodemeister in the San Felipe two races back. Nosed out in the Santa Anita Derby by I'll Have Another, Creative Cause enters the Churchill starting gate with a legitimate shot to bring trainer Mike Harrington his first Derby victory.
The connections of Trinniberg have been criticized heavily for entering the Kentucky Derby, given that this son of Teuflesberg has never raced beyond seven furlongs. Though he's two-for-two this year, both races have been sprints and nothing suggests that he'll be able to get the Derby's 10-furlong distance. The likely pacesetter, he'll be long gone once the real running gets started.
Daddy Nose Best
Since winning the Sunland Derby seven weeks ago, this Steve Asmussen trainee has become a popular wiseguy pick to win the blanket of roses. Raced mainly on the turf last year, Daddy Nose Best has looked like a different horse in his two starts in 2012, both wins, one on a synthetic surface and one on conventional dirt. He was one of the first Derby contenders to arrive in Louisville, and his training has turned the eyes of many observers. Asmussen will have a live shot to win his first Derby with this one.
No Derby horse has had a more eventful last month than this son of Bernardini. While finishing a close second to Gemologist in the Wood Memorial, Alpha sustained cuts to a leg that became infected, resulting in four lost days of training. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin was not certain whether the colt would be able to make the Derby starting gate, but Alpha recovered quickly and will be a live long shot on Saturday. He's a winner of two races this year and should thrive at the Derby distance.
The trackside reports from Louisville suggest that few Kentucky Derby contenders have looked as impressive training up to the race as this son of Malibu Moon. Though he's coming off a sixth-place finish in the Blue Grass Stakes, Prospective has two wins in three other starts this year, including an off-the-pace score in the Tampa Bay Derby two back. Bettors who can draw a line through his effort on the synthetic surface in the Blue Grass could find a price horse for the exotics.
Went the Day Well
He's trained by Graham Motion and owned by Team Valor, and in his last prep for the Kentucky Derby he won the Spiral Stakes coming from just off the pace. Sound familiar? The same could be said about last year's Derby winner, Animal Kingdom, and because of that, Went the Day Well is being touted as another possible Derby winner from Team Valor. The difference between the two horses is that Animal Kingdom put in a visually impressive work the week of the Derby whereas Went the Day Well has not.
This nearly white horse, who's named after his colorful owner, Dr. Kendall Hansen, has become a fan favorite since his game victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in the November. He likes to go straight to the front and try to hang on, and that style has produced four wins and two seconds in six career starts. That front-running style, however, may not fit the dynamics of this race, which is loaded with front-end speed.
He's the only undefeated horse in the race, having won all five of his starts, including two already at Churchill Downs, yet he's still not getting the buzz of others in this field. The more heralded of the two Todd Pletcher entries, Gemologist is coming off a neck win over Alpha in the Wood Memorial. He likes to be close to the pace, and if he's able to assume the lead down the stretch, he'll be difficult to pass--just like his sire, Tiznow, was back in his day.
The other Todd Pletcher trainee was one of the hottest horses on the Kentucky Derby trail earlier this year, having won his first two races of 2012 in fast times. Then five weeks ago he finished a dull fourth in the Florida Derby, won by Take Charge Indy. Because of that result, El Padrino enters the Kentucky Derby a bit under-the-radar, and if bettors can forgive his Florida performance, he'll be an attractive play at the windows at a big price.
This late runner from the Hamilton Smith barn was almost 13-1 when he rallied from 12th to beat a very weak field in the Illinois Derby on April 7, earning his spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate. The race before that he was 19-1 when finishing more than 20 lengths behind Hansen in the Gotham Stakes. What will his price be on Saturday? Though he opens at 50-1, it's likely that bettors will drive the price down as few horses have gone off at astronomical odds since Mine That Bird's 2009 shocker at 50-1.
The less-heralded of trainer Steve Asmussen's two Kentucky Derby entrants, Sabercat had his spot in the Derby starting gate sewed up in November after winning the lucrative Delta Jackpot. That has allowed Asmussen to take his time in getting the horse fit for the first Saturday in May, which may explain why Sabercat has been beaten by a combined 16 lengths in his two races this year. He's another whose off-the-pace running style may allow him to pass tiring runners down the stretch.
I'll Have Another
Owner Paul Reddam says that whenever his wife, Zillah, bakes a batch of cookies, he tells her, "I'll have another." That's how this horse got his name, and he has proved he has the game to go with the name. Aside from one poor start in the slop at Saratoga last September, I'll Have Another has always fired, with three wins and one second in four starts. His tactical speed should give him the ability to carve out a preferred trip and be ready to pounce on the leaders at the top of the stretch.
In addition to having the morning-line favorite in Bodemeister, trainer Bob Baffert also has one of the longest shots in the field in Liaison. This son of Indian Charlie was one of the top two-year-olds on the West Coast last year, but in three starts this spring--all at Santa Anita--he has lost his jockey in a race, lost by five-plus lengths and lost by nine-plus lengths. Baffert shrugs off those performances, saying that Liaison doesn't like the Santa Anita surface, and he's willing to gamble the horse can turn his fortunes around at Churchill.