The wait is over and Kentucky Derby # 144 has finally arrived. Unlike many recent installments of this race, this year’s “Run for the Roses” features a bevy of heavyweights with coveted grit and grunt that’s required in order to produce a worthwhile Derby winner. Which horse will step into his calling as the 144th Kentucky Derby winner and be adorned with a bed of roses as the sun sets deep into the Kentucky bluegrass? The answer to that central question delivered in tandem with many other nebulous Kentucky Derby thoughts which have been protruding my mind for days are provided for you below.
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1-Firenze Fire 50/1 ML- Someone had to draw the short straw with the horrific inside post assignment and thus snake eyes were rolled at his hooves. He was already up against it before the draw took place (18th in Derby points), and now he’ll be something less than an afterthought heading into the starting gate, whatever that is? The last horse to win from the inside was the ill-fated Ferdinand in 1986, ridden by then-56-year-old Willie Shoemaker who was the oldest jockey to win a Kentucky Derby. Lookin at Lee rode a profound rail bias in last year’s race to a second place effort behind Always Dreaming, but has only hit the board one time in seven starts since the Kentucky Derby, so tread lightly on that angle. Lookin at Lee’s sire (Lookin at Lucky) drew the rail and never got into the race of the 2010 Kentucky Derby as a 6/1 favorite. Bottom line: Firenze Fire was better at two than he has been at three, and given that an 83 is his best fast track Beyer this year, trust me when I say that he isn’t winning, unless you consider leading them out onto the track to “My Old Kentucky Home” a moral victory; eighteenth on points and eighteenth at the finish line, you heard it here first!
2-Free Drop Billy 30/1 ML– Like the rival to his inside, 2018 has not been as kind to Free Drop Billy has 2017 was. The handsome chestnut son of Union Rags came out like a good thing early in his career and even captured a Grade I going two turns at Keeneland. He was well-regarded against Good Magic and Bolt d’Oro and sent off at just 7/1 in the BC Juvenile, but he performed dismally and was subsequently put on the shelf. His return to the races in the Holy Bull was respectable given he probably needed the race, but he was nowhere to be found in the Gotham at 8/5 against a real suspect cast and last time had traffic problems in the Blue Grass when turning for home. This will be ‘Billy’s fourth rider in as many starts this year and given the inside post and throng of horses who will be coming over on him early in this race, he’s clearly up against it and will likely be staring at a ton of rump roast on Saturday; Affirmed is the last winner from post two in 1978 and at that time I was merely a fetus in gestation. Rest assured that after Saturday that streak will remain in-tact some 40 years later; I’ll pass.
3-Promises Fulfilled 30/1 ML- Along with Villanova, somewhat fittingly he had his “Luther Vandross–One Shining Moment” back in March when he wired the field in the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park at 18/1. His most recent start was a burning inferno on the side of the road when he and Strike Power dueled themselves into the ground with conspiratorial fractions: :21.4 and :46.1 to the half-mile pole, ¾’s in 1:11.3 and the two were inhaled like a couple of guppies by the rest of the fish in the pond of the Florida Derby. Long story short: I don’t think Promises Fulfilled is as bad as he looked that day and I don’t think Audible is as impressive in reality as he looks on paper from that race (more on him below). Strategically, Promises Fulfilled will be sent to the lead and Flameaway and Justify should be close in tow. Expect midway up the back stretch it will certainly look like Justify (the big fish) set to feast on the little fish (Promises Fulfilled). Office pool players: I don’t believe Promises Fulfilled will finish last, but he could certainly be part of your back end verticals when it’s said and done. And lastly, speaking of fish, Real Quiet who was nicknamed “The Fish” for being so narrow up front is the last horse to win from post position # 3 in 1998. Suffice to say that streak will remain in-tact some 20 years later as well; I’ll give you 60/1.
4-Flameaway 30/1 ML- Alas we come upon an entrant who does have a few teeth that he can put into this. Flameaway is the first of four horses to enter the starting gate who were sired by Scat Daddy (2004-2015), including the morning line favorite Justify and second choice, Mendelssohn. For a brief vignette on the magic of Scat Daddy, simply click on this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PkHrX__D-vo or cut and paste it into your web browser.
Flameaway has an extended nine-race foundation heading into the Kentucky Derby and out of a Fusaichi Pegasus mare, he should have no limitations in getting the 10 furlongs. Tactically, Flameaway does his best racing when he’s able to stay close to the pace before bearing down in the lane. On Beyers, he appears to stack up a bit light with a string of Low-mid 90’s lining his past performances. I admire his heart and consistency and he could conceivably round out some verticals, but the fact he chased Quip home in vain and then yielded to Good Magic late in the Blue Grass are considerable daggers of impeachment. As Flameaway discovered in the Blue Grass, genius is (Good) Magical–not material. If you don’t have the magic, no amount of wishing will make it so. I’ll be casting my lot with others on Saturday.
5-Audible 8/1 ML- The first of four for team Pletcher, Audible has done little wrong in his five-race career, having won four of his starts, including his last four races which have all been at one mile or over. Audible is following last year’s winner Always Dreaming’s path by heading into the Kentucky Derby for trainer Todd Pletcher with five weeks of rest and he too will be wearing the number five saddle cloth as Always Dreaming did. Audible has a slew of steady maintenance drills heading into Saturday and he will be heard from through the stretch without question if he can get a decent trip. Audible and Justify are owned in partnership by the same ownership group, giving them an ultra-strong hand in this year’s Run for the Roses. If Justify has any issues in confronting his tenth and final furlong, there is no doubt that Audible will be set to pounce inside the last eighth with any racing luck. He’s a huge player and it would be no surprise to see him follow in Always Dreaming’s footsteps thus giving Todd Pletcher back-to-back victories in the Derby; Jockey Javier Castellano chooses him over Bolt d’Oro; NYRA-bred could prove quite tough to handle in the lane.
6-Good Magic 12/1 ML- The 2017 Eclipse Award winner as two-year-old male and first of three to enter the starting gate sired by Curlin, Good Magic offers great value at 12/1 and speaks to the quality and depth of this race. After showing up as one-paced through the lane as you could possibly imagine in the Fountain of Youth, Good Magic bounced back resplendently in the Toyota Blue Grass, drawing away to a convincing win over what appeared to be a deep and tiring surface. His trainer Chad Brown wins at a jaw-dropping 32 per cent clip and Jose Ortiz sticks with him over the fast-closing Hofburg coming out of the Florida Derby. This will be Good Magic’s sixth surface he’s competed on in as many races and you have to admire the workmanlike nature that he brings on race day. His top fastball on the Beyer scale was a 100 in last year’s BC Juvenile and that took place in his third start of 2017. This is his third start of 2018 and so it’s more than fair to say that he’s sitting on a big race third off the layoff once again. Chad Brown is on the record saying that Good Magic has never been better and you can expect he is going to come with a big effort; respect.
7-Justify 3/1 ML- Morning line favorite arrives in Louisville unblemished in his three-race career and along with Magnum Moon is looking to become the first horse since Apollo in 1882 to win the Kentucky Derby without having raced at two. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve been on his band wagon since his debut and thought I saw what visually appeared to be this year’s Kentucky Derby winner in just his first race. The last time I was left speechless in a maiden breaker was Curlin’s debut in 2007. For those who wish to relive that freak of nature performance, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=womObHwzLLY
Justify has the tactical early speed similar in nature to what American Pharoah possessed. He is by the aforementioned Scat Daddy and has a huge bottom side on his foundation with Ghostzapper. Bob Baffert says Justify reminds him of Point Given; Mike Smith says he reminds him of Easy Goer; and I say he reminds me of Congaree on looks, but has another level of elusive brilliance that very few possess. He cannot afford a misstep as this race is stockpiled with quality. I’m keeping my seat on the band wagon and thus Justify will be my choice in an attempt to become the sixth straight favorite to win the Kentucky Derby.
8-Lone Sailor 50/1 ML- Stone-cold closer got a swift tempo and made a monstrous move on the far turn of the Louisiana Derby before getting to the lead and hanging terribly, allowing Noble Indy to somehow re-rally on the inside and grab the victory. His best chance is to drop anchor, hope for the race to fall apart due to blistering fractions, and pass tiring rivals in a stagger-fest to the wire. There are multiple problems with that approach, however. First of all, the speed in this race shouldn’t be as ballistic as he likes. Secondly, he is most likely going to be buried behind a ton of rush hour traffic. Mine that Bird won with a serendipitous rail-skimming journey carrying the #8 saddle cloth in 2009 Kentucky Derby. It will take a similar reenactment to see him emerge from the pack in the dying stages, and even then, what guarantee do you have that he won’t have a good think about it once he nears the front like he did last time? Lost at sea.
9-Hofburg 20/1 ML- Juddmonte homebred enters the starting gate along with Justify as the least experienced horses in the race with just three starts. Hofburg picked up all of his Derby points by following Audible through the stretch of the Florida Derby after a blistering set up where the embattled pace setters folded up like cheap suitcases to his benefit. Being a lightly-raced horse means Hofburg is less experienced than his brethren and typically that comes with growing pains of great cost. Justify is in a similar boat, but given his running style he figures to have less of an uphill climb racing close up than Hofburg who could very well be stuck in rush hour traffic and taking a ton of dirt in the process. Hofburg is trained by Hall-of-Famer Bill Mott, but Jose Ortiz opts for Good Magic and that makes sense to me. You should hear more from this colt during the summer campaign at Saratoga. I know some fancy him as a bit of spice in their exotic salsa but he’s in a bit deep to me on Saturday; leaving him out.
10-My Boy Jack 30/1 ML- Yet another horse drawn in the middle of the line with little to no speed from the gate. My Boy Jack has the largest foundation in the field with 10 races under his belt and he is a multiple Grade III winner. His win in the Southwest was impressive but came on an off track. Like Lone Sailor, he too hung terribly in the Louisiana Derby and then needing the points his connections opted to run him three weeks ago in the Lexington where he got the job done late. In short, he’s taken advantage of B-listers in large part to find his way into the starting gate. Also, the fact he is stabled in southern California and was kept away from Bolt d’Oro, Justify, McKinzie and the like is a big deal in my eyes. His best chance is to hope and pray for rain and that the race falls apart, but that seems unlikely with a few showers in the forecast Friday but clearing skies through the night and into Saturday; the three week wheel-back likely won’t do him any favors either, can’t see it.
11-Bolt d’Oro 8/1 ML- Co-fourth choice in the wagering along with Audible, Bolt d’Oro was the big man on campus early on as a two-year-old and sent off as the odds-on favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile when defeated by Good Magic and Solomini. ‘Bolt is a beautifully bred son of Medaglia d’Oro with A.P. Indy on the bottom side and drips with blue-blood pedigree. His San Felipe effort off the layoff was extremely game, and then on a tiring main track surface last time he chased Justify home in vain in a race he may have not been fully cranked for. This will be ‘Bolt’s first time racing outside of California but the long stretch at Churchill Downs combined with the added furlong of real estate should be something this impressive physical specimen will undoubtedly crave. Javier Castellano defects for Audible but ‘Bolt picks up a guy who knows a thing or two about winning this race in Victor Espinoza (2002 War Emblem, 2014 California Chrome and 2015 American Pharoah). If you’re in the Justify camp, then you no doubt have respect for this horse; contender.
12-Enticed 30/1 ML- Had a productive campaign at two which included taking down the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club over this surface. Enticed prevailed in a glacial Gotham but really didn’t beat anyone of note in the process, unless you consider Free Drop Billy to be some sort of benchmark. Enticed chased Vino Rosso home futilely in the Wood Memorial as the favorite; it’s also worth noting that Vino Rosso was moving away from him with ease at the finish and he’s considered in many prognosticator’s second tier for this race. I’m not trying to disparage this one, but make no mistake about it, it’s going to take a manly man on a ship of manly men to win this race and he lacks the requisite form to really make an impression coming in from New York; anything but enticed so I’m pitching him.
13-Bravazo 50/1 ML- Earned his way here in large part by pulling off a front running caper in the Risen Star at 21/1 and getting his nose down on the wire in front of Snapper Sinclair (not pictured) and Noble Indy (least fancied of Pletcher’s quartet). Bravazo came back to get absolutely manhandled at 5/2 in the Louisiana Derby while lugging out and backed up the truck to finish eighth beaten better than twenty. It’s a nice story to see D. Wayne Lukas head to Churchill with one more Kentucky Derby starter since “Coach” is everything that is horse racing. It’s disappointing that the rider who had success with him in the Risen Star is not on top of his back and that even Hall-of-Famer Gary Stevens who rode him last time apparently made other plans instead of joining him in the starting gate. His prospects on Saturday are as bleak as a gerbil who is stuck in a bat house. Office pool players: Bravazo is going to get smoked like salmon and pounded like veal… HE is your horse who will finish last in the Kentucky Derby–mark it down, you’re welcome.
14-Mendelssohn 4/1 ML- The final horse to be loaded in the main gate, Mendelssohn walks into his stall as the second choice on the morning line as a winner of three straight races on three different surfaces. His BC Juvenile Turf at Del Mar showed a precocious colt with a very professional effort. His Patton Stakes win at Dundalk over synthetic marked his versatility and last time in the UAE Derby at Meydan Race Course in Dubai we all witnessed a unity of his oozing talent with his sparkling bloodlines (half-brother to Beholder), blistering the field by better over 18 lengths. For those who are relatively unfamiliar with the “other” immensely-talented Scat Daddy colt, here’s a round table discussion breaking down his chances on Saturday:
Jockey Ryan Moore opts to ride Mendelssohn in the Kentucky Derby instead of taking part in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket, which says quite a lot. He’s shipped and won over three different continents so unlike in years past, the trek here for him is much less of a concern than it has been for many UAE Derby winners. Handicappers either love him or hate him—I respect him and thus will include him on my ticket.
15-Instilled Regard 50/1 ML- He gets a nice post assignment in stall one of the auxiliary gate but that’s about where the positives end. He’s cobbled together the requisite points to enter the starting gate by garnering minor awards in purse-nibbling efforts of graded-stakes races. Instilled Regard couldn’t make any headway on Bravazo when sent off at 7/5 in the Risen Star and that by itself makes me blow the whistle on him. While no match for Justify and Bolt d’Oro last time out in the Santa Anita Derby he was still out finished to the wire by Core Beliefs and they were six lengths off the top two. The Low-90’s Beyers all but seal his fate and it also conclude this summation ladies and gentlemen of the jury.
16-Magnum Moon 6/1 ML– Like Justify, Magnum Moon will attempt to become the first horse since Apollo in 1882 to win the Kentucky Derby without having competed first as a two-year-old. Magnum Moon has strong credentials to make Saturday his ultimate day of glory. He’s an undefeated 4-for-4 and undoubtedly has an explosive turn of foot into the lane that very few individuals possess. He’s trained by Todd Pletcher who gears his entire operation for this race and on the Beyer scale he seems to be heading in the right direction. Magnum Moon should have a good spot somewhere in the vicinity of Justify (or vice versa) and approaching the ¼ pole you can expect to see both their faces squarely in the picture. As for Magnum Moon, he was drifting out noticeably in the Arkansas Derby and given that he’s biting off an extra furlong of real estate this time around, he will not be able to get away with that on Saturday. He’s also coming back in just three weeks and unlike recent years, I don’t believe the path through Arkansas was very strong this season. He’s unblemished to this point, but you can’t bet on them all. Of all the favorites, he appears to have the most question marks and for that reason I’m leaving him out.
17-Solomini 30/1 ML- Baffert’s other entrant, Solomini is a hulking price on the morning line and will be led over to the paddock deep in the shadow of his stable mate, Justify. You kind of know what you’re getting with Solomini: he’s a steady-goer, grinds along, competes, and usually finishes the race with decent steam. His main fault is that he lacks the explosive turn of foot that many others possess in order to really compete on this stage. He’s chased Magnum Moon home in his last two and will probably be rolling his eyes a little bit when he walks into the starting gate and looks to his left. Like Instilled Regard, his string of Low-to-Mid 90’s Beyers isn’t going to make the rest of his competitors sweat when they see him out on the track. Would need to take a huge step forward.
18-Vino Rosso 12/1 ML– I’ve been in and out of love with this mercurial son of Curlin a couple of times now. I picked him to win the Tampa Bay Derby after an even race in the Sam F. Davis where I was of the impression he had to need the race. Unfortunately, he was unable to get out of his own way in the Tampa Bay Derby but it was his first time wearing Blinkers and perhaps he needed a start to get used to the head gear. In any event, Vino Rosso put it all together last time out in the Wood Memorial, swooping past his rivals in a very nice score. The 98 Beyer is a big step up on paper from his past efforts and Pletcher and Johnny V hooked up last year with Always Dreaming. If he has turned the corner mentally, then in all honesty, look out; Velasquez is quite high on him and so here I am finding myself seductively being lured back into his clutches for one more dance with the devil.
19-Noble Indy 30/1 ML- Of all the horses who were perhaps hit the hardest in the post-position draw, his name would be on top of my list. His Beyers are steadily improving and he’s got the right connections behind him, but he’s been facing the B-listers in his prior starts and that will be anything but the case for him on Saturday. Being drawn so wide, ‘Indy has no choice but to gun out there and avoid losing valuable ground into the first turn, but he’s going to be trying to match strides with some really polished horses heading up the back stretch. In my opinion, he only got the chocolates last time because Lone Sailor and My Boy Jack let him have it. Velasquez bails for the horse to his inside to boot and so the only question I have is whether he’ll fold like a deck of cards at the 5/8ths or best case scenario at the 3/8ths.
20-Combatant 50/1 ML- Possesses an unremarkable grinding style that is reminiscent to the Steve Asmussen-trained Lookin at Lee (2nd in last year’s Derby). Breaking from essentially the grandstand, you can bank on Combatant dropping anchor and being guided over to the rail by Santana in an attempt to save ground and make one run through the stretch. Combatant has just the maiden win to his credit and has clunked along in Arkansas in his graded-stakes appearances, serving as a poster boy for Triple Crown-prep exotics players. He looks a cut below at best and is completely pace dependent for any measure of success. To make matters worse, with all the casual dollars bet on the Derby, he will be near his morning line price instead of the 100 to 200/1 you would get overseas. Combatant is looking at a standing eight count at the top of the lane.
By Michael Patricks