Handicapping the Kentucky Derby is an impossibly difficult, sleep-depriving, hair-pulling exercise. And that's in an "easy" year. This year's Run for the Roses poses even more of a challenge because of the quality of the field. A case could be made for at least 12 horses to enter the Churchill Downs winner's circle around 6:30 p.m. ET Saturday, which makes a trifecta box a bit, shall we say, cost-prohibitive.
Trying to pick the winner of the Derby begins by analyzing how much speed is in the race. This year features an abundance of front-runners (Bodemeister, Hansen and Trinniberg) and pace-pressers (Daddy Long Legs, Gemologist, I'll Have Another and Take Charge Indy) who should be cooking on the front. That would seem to favor those coming from off the pace, and for that reason, the classiest closer in the Derby is the pick.
The selections, in order:
Don't try to find him early because he won't make his presence felt until late. That's how he
A horse who has improved greatly from 2 to 3 and has the best closing kick in the race, Dullahan is the top choice.
He was atop many early Kentucky Derby contenders lists until his last race, when he
His Best Beyer Speed Figure (95) is still on the light side compared with others in the field, and an outside post would have been preferred. But he'll be a major factor down the stretch.
While in Las Vegas in mid-February, I placed one modest bet for the Kentucky Derby, on a lightly raced Baffert trainee who had just broken his maiden with a nine-plus-length win and a 101 Beyer. His name was Bodemeister, and his odds were 75-1.
Two and a half months later, Bodemeister enters the Derby as the morning-line favorite at 4-1, coming off a
He could very well be the best 3-year-old in the crop and turn Saturday into the Romp for the Roses. Three factors are working against him, however: 1) the abundance of speed in the race; 2) the difficult task of at least trying to repeat his last performance off just three weeks of rest; and 3) having to start inside the other speed, Hansen and Trinniberg. Major contender.
This Asmussen trainee arrived in Louisville to little fanfare, after defeating a ho-hum field in
Raced mainly on the grass last year, Daddy Nose Best has shown great improvement as a 3-year-old and seems to be peaking at the right time. His mid-pack running style should suit the shape of the race, and he couldn't have drawn any better. He has a big chance, but it's unlikely he'll go off at 15-1.
The winner of
He drew well, being on the outside, and he's another horse who has turned heads since arriving in Louisville. There's little not to like here, but detractors could point to his slow last furlong in the Wood (13-plus seconds) and his awkward "paddling" leg motion. Must consider.
He's coming off a trouble-trip second in the Wood in which he suffered cuts to a leg that became infected after the race. That he missed four days of training is a concern, but he has made a favorable impression at Churchill and should benefit from the added furlong in the Derby. A sneaky play at a price.
Indy may have received a perfect trip last time out in the Florida Derby, but this is still a colt improving at the right time. Expect Borel to go right to the rail, behind the speed, and try to skim the wood all the way to the finish.
The other Asmussen trainee is training almost as well as Daddy Nose Best and is coming into form at the right time. If the pace melts down as expected, Sabercat could pick off enough tiring runners to hit the bottom of the exotics.
Highly regarded because of his consistent record (he has never lost by more than a length), Creative Cause raised a red flag this week by walking two straight days instead of going to the track. In a race in which any hiccup can kill a horse's chances, this is not ideal.
There are major questions whether
Many will make the comparison to last year's Kentucky Derby winner, Animal Kingdom, who also was owned by Team Valor, trained by Graham Motion, ridden by John Velazquez and prepped for the Derby by
His recent dull work of 53 seconds and change is another reason to think that this one-time rising star hasn't been the same horse since
Every time a runner from the UAE Derby has shipped in from overseas for the Kentucky Derby, that runner has failed to hit the board. This year that's Daddy Long Legs, who has run only that one race this year, which he won on March 31. The No. 1 post will not help his stalking style.
An off-the-pace type who has not won since last October, Rousing Sermon will need a complete pace meltdown in order to threaten the bottom of the board.
If Lukas, at age 76, somehow wins his fifth Kentucky Derby, he'll do so with a horse who has lost his four races this year by a combined 41 lengths. No thanks.
This deep closer came home slowly
Baffert defends the entry of Liaison, saying the horse did not like the track at Santa Anita. Even if true, there's little to like in a horse who has three ugly defeats this year in three starts.
Last-minute entry Trinniberg is one of the fastest horses in the country -- at seven furlongs. The Derby is 10 furlongs. The possible pace-setter, Trinniberg is the 1-9 favorite to finish last.