MIAMI, May 3, 2013--The magic number turned out to be 10. That is all it took to sneak into the Derby through the back door. We've been speculating since last fall. Itâ€™s finally put up or shut up time for Kentucky Derby prognostication. I've liked Orb since the Florida Derby. Everything that's happened since, including a breath-taking final work at Churchill Downs has solidified this opinion.
Nevertheless a case can be made, pro and con, for almost everyone in the field. So here is the way I see the plusses and minuses, in my order of their likelihood of winning.
ORBâ€”Pro: Four-for-four at a mile or more. Beat Violence and Itsmyluckyday when they were the most accomplished 3-year-olds in Florida. Distance breeding, Shug McGaughey and Joel Rosario complete the whole package. The pick.
Con: Three-for-three at Gulfstream; one-for-four elsewhere. Has to prove his outstanding form travels.
VERRAZANOâ€”Pro: The most exciting Derby prospect since Curlin. Undefeated and has won over three distinct surfaces, so handling a fourth doesnâ€™t figure to be a problem.
Con: Curlin looked like a superstar going into the Derby and became one after the Derby. But he didnâ€™t win on the first Saturday in May. People like to make fun of the Apollo jinx but when something doesnâ€™t happen in 125 years, there has to be a reason.
REVOLUTIONARYâ€”Pro: Like Orb, he seems to have figured it out as a 3-year-old. Overcame a seemingly hopeless situation in the Withers and dug in courageously in the Louisiana Derby. That race was flattered when Departing, who ran third, romped in the Illinois Derby. Whoâ€™s better on a Derby closer than Calvin Borel?
Con: He has caused a lot of his own problems, not an encouraging tendency going into a 20-horse rodeo. Javier Castellano risked the wrath of main man Todd Pletcher to jump to Normandy Invasion.
GOLDENCENTSâ€”Pro: Demonstrated in the Santa Anita Derby that the San Felipe was an aberration. Take that race away and his form is stellar. Doug Oâ€™Neill showed last year he knows how to win the one race everyone wants.
Con: Ten furlongs is a question mark but that can be said of all of them. Oâ€™Neill got the roses with an unheralded jockey last year. He tries to do it again with Kevin Krieger.
ITSMYLUCKYDAYâ€”Pro: Plenty of foundation off 10 races, the most in the field. Until he ran into Orb in the Florida Derby, coming off a two-month layoff, he looked like the king of Floridaâ€™s hill. Take a look at how Gulfstream-based horses have done in the major preps.
Con: Orb ran right past him in the Florida Derby.
JAVAâ€™S WARâ€”Pro: His late-running score in the Blue Grass on Poly validated his stretch close at Verrazano on real dirt in the Tampa Bay Derby.
Con: Broke tardily in the Blue Grass and it wasnâ€™t the first time. He canâ€™t do that in a field with the quantity and quality heâ€™ll encounter. Blue Grass on Poly has regressed as a Derby indicator.
NORMANDY INVASIONâ€”Pro: Closed against the bias in the Wood and looked like he might have won if the race had been at the Derby distance. Castellano picked him over Revolutionary. Chad Brown is the next superstar trainer, if he isnâ€™t already.
Con: Still has only a maiden win. Looked like he was going to win the Remsen, too, but didnâ€™t. Might be one of those horses who constantly encourages â€śnext timeâ€ť hopes.
WILL TAKE CHARGEâ€”Pro: Looked good running down Oxbow in the Rebel. Has D. Wayne Lukas calling the shots.
Con: He goes into the Derby off a seven-week layoff and has never been beyond a mile and a sixteenth.
OVERANALYZEâ€”Pro: Showed grit and courage in winning the nine-furlong Remsen as a 2-year-old and the Arkansas Derby as a 3-year-old. Not many have two wins at mile and an eighth.
Con: In between the Remsen and Arkansas Derby, he was lackluster in the Gotham, which wasnâ€™t overloaded with stars.
LINES OF BATTLEâ€”Pro: Heâ€™s won at a mile and three sixteenths. None of the others can say that. One of these years, a Dubai shipper is going to get the job done. Aidan Oâ€™Brien knows how to get them ready.
Con: Only one prep and his winning time in Dubai might not have been fast enough to win the 1 ÂĽ Derby, which is about 110 yards longer. Two stakes wins came on kitty litter. Other win was on turf. Dubai shippers are zero-for-forever.
VYJACKâ€”Pro: Has won on the lead and from out of the clouds, which he might have to do again starting from the No. 20 post. Remember, Secretariat ran third in the Wood.
Con: This is his first race away from Aqueduct. Lung infection after the Wood necessitated a pit stop at Fair Hill. His trainer, Rudy Rodriguez, is being watched closer than Lindsay Lohan.
BLACK ONYXâ€”Pro: Has won on grass, real dirt and the Spiral on fake dirt. Last two scores were around two turns. Kelly Breen is one of Americaâ€™s most under-rated trainers.
Con: Spiral triumph over Uncaptured was more impressive before juvenile standout fizzled so badly in the Blue Grass that his connections took him off the Derby trail. No. 1 post is a killer.
PALACE MALICE â€“Pro: Five-for-six in the money, including a second in the Blue Grass and third in Risen Star.
Con: Still has only one win and couldnâ€™t hold late stretch lead at 9 furlongs in the Blue Grass.
FRAC DADDY--Pro: Arkansas Derby placing could be a sign heâ€™s returning to strong juvenile form. He's back on his favorite track.
Con: Buried twice at Gulfstream when facing divisionâ€™s leaders.
MYLUTEâ€”Pro: Solid second to Revolutionary in the Louisiana Derby. Rosie Napravnik rides. The last time they teamed, Mylute won, beating Lexington runnerup General Election.
Con: No excuse when out gamed at the Fair Grounds. Sire was only a sprinter, although Baffert said it was because of breathing issues, not pedigree.
OXBOWâ€”Pro: D. Wayne says this is one of the gutsiest horses he has ever trained. Heâ€™s due for a good trip after a succession of nightmares.
Con: Lukas talks up all his horses. It keeps owners invested. Might be over the top. No. 2 is only slightly less detrimental than the rail.
FALLING SKYâ€”Pro: Looked good winning Sam F. Davis.
Con: Beaten by four Kentucky Derby foes in last two without really menacing.
CHARMING KITTEN--Pro: Almost always fires. Squeaked into field with third in the Blue Grass.
Con: Has never run on dirt. Superior grass runner would probably be one of the favorites in American Turf but the Ramseys want a horse in the Derby.
GOLDEN SOULâ€”Pro: Mine That Bird won the Derby, so anything can happen.
Con: Has only maiden win.
Giant Finish: Pro:Second and third in Turfway stakes, which allowed him to be the last one to crash the party.
Con:This is all about serving the owners egos.