Kentucky Derby 142: Post Position Matters
LAS VEGAS, May 5, 2016—America’s Race is a little more than 48 hours away and the draw for post positions didn’t make picking the winner any easier.
But maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be, a real Louisville lollapalooza. Let them all run and let the horseplayers and public in, too, especially the public.
On Saturday, anything that will work goes: names, colors, hat pins, lucky numbers. Or, to the event, jockeys, trainers, handicappers and “squares,” the casual bettors that built this town.
In the end, it’s the horses that will decide it, they always do. Brown horses, black ones, grays, and some the color of Trump’s hair; the orange kind, not the softer blond hue.
As a horse race, the Derby has it all. This year, it mostly has horses that want to do their best running at the end. But the usual factors need consideration; race dynamics, form cycles, recent local workouts, etc., etc.
The Derby is for dreamers of every stripe; the connections, horse fans, sport’s fans and gamblers, making it the world’s greatest racing spectacle, an aw-shucks equal of the Melbourne Cup, the Arc de Triomphe.
It is the stuff of legend, and one of 20 horses will emerge the answer to a trivia question by Sunday morning. Which of those own the attributes to become one of the ones? A handicapping sketch, listed in post order with early line odds:
1) TROJAN NATION 50-1 a.k.a. “the maiden,” Victory is impossible to fathom, but this does not make him a bad horse. He ran third behind subsequent Rebel-winning Cupid in SoCal made things interesting for Outwork in the Wood while in tight on the fence. The fence doesn't get any tighter than in a 20-horse Derby lineup. In the last 50 years, only Ferdinand (1986) succeeded.
2) SUDDENBREAKINGNEWS 20-1 is arguably the strongest late runner in a field loaded with them. But he’s no plodder. In winning the 7-furlong Clever Trevor Stakes at 2 he was 4-1/2 lengths behind a half-mile of 44 3/5. He will race in the Derby with a shadow roll, a nose-band that acts similarly to blinkers by promoting better focus. Intriguing colt wasn't helped by inside draw, but may not be hurt too given his style.
3) CREATOR 10-1 has become a revelation since he arrived in Hot Springs. His sweep-to-lead maiden breaker was breathtaking, a harbinger of finishes to come, including a needle-threading strong finish to take Oaklawn's signature event. The Tapit colt is at tops right now and inside draw may produce similar Arkansas Derby tactics.
4) MO TOM 20-1 sadly for his connections, has become the stuff of trip-handicapping legend, such were the nightmares he encountered in the Risen Star and Louisiana Derby. Those losses were a combination of deep closer style and pilot error, mostly the latter. Despite it, Tom Amoss has retained recent perennial Churchill leader Corey Lanerie. Perhaps he gets clear sailing Saturday but the question remains whether he can get there fast enough. Post neutral.
5) GUN RUNNER 10-1 is certain to raise his game once again. He’s never taken a backward step on anyone’s performance figures. He will go forward but not likely far enough to snag the brass ring. He has all the tactical tools but his slower figures may be easier to reconcile than his greenness tendencies. Draw suits his tactical style extremely well.
6) MY MAN SAM 20-1 is in the conversation with Creator, Suddenbreakingnews and Mo Tom as the field’s best deep closer. The difference is that he is not as accomplished yet—the key word being yet. His pattern is straight forward, fairly competitive, but his inexperience is glaring. There likely is a Grade 1 title in his future but it is unlikely that will happen today. Post neither helps nor hinders.
7) OSCAR NOMINATED 50-1 is a late nominee owing to rapid, late development and super-stout pedigree. A multiple winner on turf and hero of the Grade 3 Spiral Stakes over Turfway Park’s synthetic surface, he has yet to race on conventional dirt. This is a salty spot for a horse’s first encounter with stinging kick-back.
8) LANI 30-1 is the 12th horse since 2000 to prep for the Kentucky Derby in Dubai. The best finish any of his predecessors could muster was a fifth-place finish. From Dubai to Derby Also-Ran.
9) DESTIN 15-1 is a powerful finisher. Our own Energy Ratings tell us this much. On the Thoro-Graph scale, his Tampa Bay Derby qualifies as co-fastest in the race along with Exaggerator. The Tampa score was so fast that Todd Pletcher would dare not give him a third prep, opting instead to give him ample recovery time. In the modern era horses have not won off a six-week layoff, much less eight. But, seriously, does Todd ever suffer a bad draw?
10) WHITMORE 20-1 is puzzling. He has immense ability and justifiable trip excuses for not getting up to win any of his three Hot Springs preps. The switch to Derby-hot Victor Espinoza just might prove the difference for a gelding that is sending mixed messages. Must prove that he can finish up with the same midstretch intensity. Position can prove very beneficial given his style and dynamics.
11) EXAGGERATOR 8-1 has done more than enough to prove he’s not just a mud-lark, even his best figures were earned on wet tracks. Has been handled old school style, using his San Felipe middle move to sharpen him for his change-of-pace Santa Anita Derby tour de force. Always brings his game; a serious player. Draw gives Kent plenty of options.
12) TOM’S READY 30-1 is the kind of slower, sneaky longshot that has made trainer Dallas Stewart’s a money-factor darling and the colt’s preparation has mirrored that of his Derby predecessors. When finishing second in two of three Fair Grounds preps, he was unable to out-finish either Gun Runner or Mo Tom. This will be a whole lot tougher. Post neutral.
13) NYQUIST 3-1 is far from the “fastest” favorite in Derby history but is among the winningest. Consequently, he cannot be eliminated with certitude by any measure. He has done what he needed to do and merits extreme respect. Being handled brilliantly, his style suits Derby 142’s pace hungry dynamics. He may not be “the bet” but remains "the horse to beat.” Given the speed drawn to his outside, a sharp break may prove critical.
14) MOHAYMEN 10-1 in modern Arabic means dominance; in old Arabic closer to apologetic, submissive. So will we see the dominant Holy Bull/Fountain of Youth winner or submissive Florida Derby fourth? His only loss was contested on a greasy, wet track and he gave an uncharacteristically dull pre-race appearance. His attitude has improved big time in the bluegrass. Well drawn providing Junior Alvarado doesn't ride to beat one horse; he must beat them all.
15) OUTWORK 15-1 is ridiculed because his Wood triumph was accomplished in very slow time, including a godawful final furlong. When will all handicappers acknowledge he chased the fastest pace of all major preps, faster even than Danzing Candy’s Santa Anita Derby? It’s his relative inexperience, not talent, that’s the issue. Perfect draw as first horse in auxillary gate; Johnny has two favorites immediately to his left while drawing a bead on speedy Danzing Candy outside. Given dynamics, another excellent draw for Mr. Pletcher.
16) SHAGAF 20-1 has pleased the eye when he won his first three races. Deserves a pass for the Wood Memorial run on a wet surface he didn’t handle well, never showing his tactical ability and the long-striding colt had his momentum stopped on the far turn. He has trained over the Churchill surface like he owns it but performance figures are lacking. With tactical speed and a lengthy stride, outside draw is favorable.
17) MOR SPIRIT 12-1 has been brought along with an eerily similar profile to Silver Charm’s, the first of Bob Baffert’s four Derby wins. He enters this race off consecutive place finishes which were designed strictly as preps as was ridden that way. He’s has run fast enough to win this and is a likely trip-sitter, given preferred fast footing. Another tactical runner, Gary Stevens can watch the race develop before his eyes.
18) MAJESTO 30-1 has been unfairly maligned as a by-default second to Nyquist in the no-account Florida Derby. While both those aspects may prove to have merit, it doesn’t take into account this grand-looking individual has tremendous scope and legendary Venezuelan connections in trainer Gustavo Delgado and jockey Emisael Jaramillo, a legitimately elite rider. Superfecta price shot?
19) BRODY’S CAUSE 12-1 ran remarkably well to win the Blue Grass considering how remarkably bad he ran in Tampa. But once he returned to Keeneland he responded with a first rate Grade 1 score. Working very strongly at Churchill, where he broke maiden at 2 and goes third off the layup for Dale Romans, a profitable scenario. But his wide draw made his talk a whole lot tougher.
20) DANZING CANDY 15-1 has demonstrated his best game is on the engine speed and he seems incapable of doing it any other way. The Santa Anita Derby slop was deep and heavy. No horse could have withstood a 45 1/5 second half-mile and survived in that going. If he is to be a serious factor, all will know in a matter of strides away from the gate. Extreme outside may prove beneficial; his start potentially crucial to the dynamics of all.
21) LAOBAN—Also Eligible
22) CHERRY WINE—Also Eligible
See Friday's Feature Race Analysis for All Staff and Contributor selections
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