At Wednesday’s post draw, Wood Memorial winner and early line favorite I Want Revenge drew a perfect post in slip number 13. Indeed, none of the Big Four, including Dunkirk, Friesan Fire and Pioneerof The Nile were compromised with their position, having drawn posts 15, 6 and 16, respectively, will have any built-in excuses.
Today we’ll analyze half the Derby entrants in post position order, with the remaining 10 on Friday, followed by a detailed betting profile of the event to be posted at 1:01 AM Derby morning. Here, then, a handicapping sketch of the first 10 horses to line up for the starter at 6:04 p.m. Saturday, early line odds in parentheses:
1-WEST SIDE BERNIE (30-1): A good wide-trip third in the Holy Bull, a dull return to the synthetics, then a strong-rally placing behind I Want Revenge in the Wood Memorial. He, too, has proven “faster” on conventional dirt, but has required time to rebound from top efforts and his Wood was a career top. Connections must be concerned, scheduling a final short work to keep whatever energy may be left in the tank. A very nice colt that appears heading the wrong way and the rail draw certainly didn’t help.
2-MUSKET MAN (20-1): There might be better colts in Derby 135 but not many that are better managed: A less than perfect trip third in the Sam F. Davis is the only blemish in a six-race career. After rebounding to win the Tampa Derby, he shipped to Hawthorne and became a man with a comprehensive Illinois Derby score. But that career-best effort sets him up for a regression. Churchill training indicates that might be the case.
3- MR. HOT STUFF (30-1): Altered course, weaving his way through traffic when third in the Santa Anita Derby, galloping out very strongly past the wire. Has two nine-furlong routes under his belt, is bred for the distance, and had crisp work Monday at his Santa Anita base. With Corey Nakatani opting for Square Eddie, a last minute defection, colt picks up hot-riding Johnny Velazquez, indicating that it might be better to be lucky than good. Live exotics price play.
5-HOLD ME BACK (15-1): Impossible to knock in two starts this year. Colt overcame a quirky Turfway Polytrack to win the Lane’s End coming from last then was an excellent second after General Quarters got the drop on him in the Blue Grass. Nagging flaw was a horrible outing in last year’s Remsen, his only dirt start. Sunday workout showed ability to handle the surface while maintaining his freshness and strength. Exotics player.
6-FRIESAN FIRE (5-1): The negatives are a seven week layoff and no races beyond a mile and a sixteenth. Trainer Larry Jones had Hard Spun ready off a six-week respite and has a good history in this race, the Eight Belles tragedy notwithstanding. The other issue is that his best performance figure came on a sloppy track he obviously loved. Jones took a page from his own playbook, working his fresh colt five furlongs in :57 4/5. In the fray throughout, he’s a difficult read at relatively short odds.
7-PAPA CLEM (20-1): Another “new horse” with the shift from synthetics to dirt. After catching Louisiana Derby slop, he shipped to Hot Springs and won the Arkansas Derby with a career best effort. But that performance very likely could take its toll if a recent disappointing workout is any measure. The Kentucky Derby leaves a very little margin for error. Possibly worth a flyer, but needing twice the early-line odds.
8-MINE THAT BIRD (50-1): A bargain basement yearling, he’s been from one barn to the next but accomplished enough to be voted 2008 Canadian juvenile champion. Had a workmanlike five-furlong work with a good gallop-out, but when given an opportunity beneath Richard Mandella’s shedrow proved that he wasn’t really a prime time player. After SoCal sojourn, was winless in two starts at Sunland Park. Way over his head here.
9-JOIN IN THE DANCE (50-1): Apparent one-dimensional speedster is nonetheless pretty game. The trick is knowing how well he’ll class up. Held extremely well making two-turn debut in his first start over Tampa’s demanding surface, missing by a neck to win-machine Musket Man. Showing speed in the Blue Grass but tiring on Polytrack is mulligan material. Even with different owners, his best utility, as far as trainer Pletcher is concerned, would be to insure an honest pace for Advice and Dunkirk.
10-REGAL RANSOM (30-1): The speedy member of the Godolphin duo arguably possesses stoutest pedigree among Derby 135’s 20 starters. Has a juvenile foundation, is tactical--as opposed to run-off speed--and has a partner (Alan Garcia) with a deserved reputation for effectiveness with his type. With Join In The Dance to his immediate inside, a stalking posture appears more likely than a frontrunning gambit.
Tomorrow: Posts 11 through 20