Without further ado, let’s take care of the main event:
I’m going to run through the major contenders and then give some insight into how I’ll bet the race.
Union Rags (#4) – I’ve made it no secret for quite some time that this is my Derby horse and I’ve seen absolutely nothing in the 5 weeks since the Florida Derby to dissuade me. I know that many people question whether or not he is fast enough, but I think he has had enough excuses in certain races to make the assumption he would have run much faster with a better trip. Imagine these scenarios: Let’s say he drew post 3 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and doesn’t lose all that ground on both turns. He probably wins by three lengths with a 100 Beyer. Let’s then say Leparoux hustled to keep his position going into the first turn of the Florida Derby and he had gotten the stalking trip that Reveron ended up receiving. He wins by two lengths with a 100 Beyer. I don’t think I’m reaching with either of those conjectures.
It’s also worth noting that a quick look through Union Rags’ workouts as a three-year-old reveals that Matz did not concern himself with cranking him up with fast works until after the Florida Derby. Still, he needs to work out a trip from an inside post position in a 20 horse field. Michael Matz has been saying that they might try to be a bit more aggressive with him early and I hope to see that. The pace is going to be fast and I don’t expect him to be up on it, but I think if he were in the top seven or eight early in the race, he’d be in position to make a strong move around the three-eighths pole to take control of the race.
Much like with Street Sense in 2007–my last correct Derby pick–I just feel like everything is falling into place for him to run a huge race and I hope I’m right. I would say 6-1 is a fair price on him.
Bodemeister (#6) is widely regarded as the most talented horse in this race and perhaps he is. But I think you need to keep in mind that his one huge Beyer–the 108 in the Arkansas Derby–was earned when he got loose on the lead early. I know the fractions were quick, but Bodemeister is a quick horse and he was unchallenged for most of the race. What he did down the stretch was truly exceptional, but also keep in mind he was running away from Secret Circle, who wants no part of 9 furlongs and after that, who else of any quality was in that race? Prior to that, Creative Cause had beaten him in the San Felipe and it’s not as if Bodemeister had some sort of excuse in that race. Yes, he was lightly raced going in, but he just got run down late. It’s also important to note that both of his losses have occurred when he wasn’t able to go wire-to-wire.
I do believe that eventually Bodemeister will win plenty of races from a stalking position, but in this year’s Derby he is going to probably have to sit third early behind Trinniberg and Hansen, both of whom break to his outside and will cross in front of him. He’s a very talented horse, but it’s a lot to ask. I’ll use him, but I won’t be keying on him.
Creative Cause (#8) – When did he lose his status as one of the top contenders for his race? All winter he was talked about as one of the top members of his class and he has showed up with a top effort every single time he was led over from the paddock. Yet it’s suddenly looking as if he is going to go off at somewhere in the 12-1 to 15-1 range. I can’t pick him on top because he does have a tendency to get close and not quite seal the deal, but I have immense respect for this horse and fully expect him to be around at the finish. He also drew a great post position and figures to work out a perfect trip from mid pack. I’ll be using him in multirace bets and exactas.
I’ll Have Another (#19) – The Santa Anita Derby proved that he is quite rateable and, when push comes to shove, every bit as good as a top horse like Creative Cause. I’ve been impressed by the workouts I’ve seen from him in California, but I’m not a huge fan of the two prep schedule with the big gap in between races after the Robert Lewis. I think the outside post position may work out well for him, but he will likely have to deal with being farther back in the pack than he’s ever been before and I’m just not quite sure he is battle-hardened enough for this. There is also a chance for rain in the forecast and he had a complete meltdown in the slop at Saratoga last summer. He’s got a shot and I’ll be using him, but there are one or two others I like a bit more.
Gemologist (#15) – I’ve just never really been able to get on this horse’s bandwagon. I know that visually, he gamely turned back Alpha in the stretch of the Wood Memorial and was pulling away from that rival late, but let’s be honest: that was the fifth perfect tip in a row for Gemologist. This horse has never had a straw in his path in any of his races and now he has to deal with 20 horses in the Kentucky Derby. His undefeated record takes away all of his value and I’m still not sure he’s quite this good. And, like I’ll Have Another, he’ll need to cope with being farther back in the pack early than he’s accustomed to. If he wins the Derby, I probably lose.
Alpha (#11) – If you just watch the Wood Memorial, you probably are wondering why I love this horse and won’t touch Gemologist. But the Derby is about much more than one prep race and I love the way Alpha is coming into this race. His Beyers are on the upswing and he’s making his second start off a two month layoff. Unlike I’ll Have Another, however, he’s had three starts as a three-year-old and has plenty of seasoning. Plus, I believe he has the best pedigree of any horse in the race for the distance and he drew a nice post position. You could even argue that Alpha was compromised by some slow paces earlier this year and he will finally get to be taken back and close into a fast pace. I see that he is 21-1 in the early wagering and I will be running to bet this horse at anywhere near that price.
Hansen (#14) – Let’s make this brief. Hansen has no shot to win the Derby. He was suspect before Trinniberg was entered and with that speedball now signed on, I can’t see how he relaxes well enough to get the distance. I respect Hansen and think he’s a good horse, but he cannot possibly work out the trip he needs to be successful.
Dullahan (#5) – This is a horse I’ve gone back and forth on. He projects to get a great setup with a quick early pace and I don’t think he’ll have any problem with the distance. Still, I question whether he is quite as good on dirt as on turf and synthetic. I know he passed a bunch of horses late in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, but he was running on after that race had been decided. From this inside post position he will have to take a lot of dirt in his face early and will need plenty of luck to pass 16 or 17 horses. I think he’s very good, but I’ll restrict his use to underneath in exotic wagers.
Take Charge Indy (#3) – Calvin Borel is a blessing and curse in the Derby. He no doubt enhances this horse’s chances of winning the race with his intimate knowledge of Churchill Downs, but he also kills any value on this horse. I’m sensing single digit odds and I just don’t see this horse as having that good of a chance to win. Perhaps I’ll back up with him in some multirace wagers, but I’ll probably pass.
Daddy Nose Best (#10) – It feels like he’s everyone’s wise guy horse, but I don’t get it. He ran in two of the weakest prep races and got great pace setups in both of them. I know his figure came back big last time, but the horse he beat moved way too soon and Daddy Nose Best will need to run a lot better than that to win the Derby. I prefer others.
El Padrino (#16) – Wait, who? He’s still in this race? Just a month ago, El Padrino was considered Todd Pletcher’s best hope for a Derby win and after one subpar performance he has been completely written off. But there are still some positives here. He has an excellent pedigree for the distance, he is probably going to be well off the pace early, and he proved early in the season that he’s certainly fast enough. I even think you can make excuses for his Florida Derby since he was wide the whole way and really missed his chance to break the race open around the half mile pole when Castellano was still concerned with keeping Union Rags boxed in. I actually think that with the right ride, El Padrino has a big chance to be charging late in this race. I’m using him at what should be a big price.
So, to sum up, my selections are as follows:
1. Union Rags
3. Creative Cause
4. El Padrino
I’ll use all four of these in my multi-race wagers and will key on Union Rags and Alpha on the win end and in exactas:
$5 Exacta Box 4-11
$2 Exacta Box 4 with 3-8-16-19
$1 Exacta Box 11 with 8-16
$5 Win 11