One would have to time-travel back to 1987, a Derby starting gate that included Alysheba, Gulch, Cryptoclearance and Bet Twice to find one comparable. Throw in Capote, a breeding-shed star, and you have an idea of how good this class could be. For starters, all the money finishers from the 2006 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile are having back at it, over the same racetrack.
Street Sense, Curlin, Nobiz Like Shobiz, Hard Spun and two from the Todd Pletcher quintet, Circular Quay and Scat Daddy, could easily match the talented class of ‘87. And, so, with great anticipation, an examination of the field for Derby 133, in alphabetical order, with post position and early-line odds in parentheses:
#11 Bwana Bull (50-1): Took a most unusual route to the Big Dance. He was scratched from the Derby Trial Stakes on Saturday due to lingering effects of antibiotics to treat an infection and winds up in the big one. From the prolific shed of Northern California ace Jerry Hollendorfer, he was fifth in Tiago’s Santa Anita Derby following a G3 win in the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields. Historically, that’s been a good Preakness prep. So what’s he doing here?
#16 Circular Quay (8-1): The knocks are well documented; no race in eight weeks and no race beyond a mile and-a-sixteenth. But note his qualities; His only defeat in three starts over the Churchill surface came courtesy of a track-biased placing to Street Sense in the Juvenile. He finishes explosively and did win the Grade 1 Hopeful at Saratoga off an eight-week layup last year. He is the colt first-call rider John Velazquez and agent Angel Cordero Jr. chose to partner. Along with Curlin, he may be the field’s best athlete despite his dawdling in the early stages of a race. A serious contender.
# 6 Cowtown Cat (20-1): The “now” colt of the Pletcher quints, he really blossomed in the Illinois Derby. Yes, he set a moderate early pace but exploded into a good final time, winning in full stride as if today’s added ground is what he wants badly. Versatile, he has proven he’s not a need-the-lead type. He’s worked brilliantly since the Hawthorne race and has a young rider that has stepped up his game to meet the biggest challenges. Name the last 19-year-old not named Fernando Jara to win the Belmont Stakes, Breeders’ Cup Classic and Dubai World Cup within a 10-month span? Live longshot.
#2 Curlin (7-2): Simply no telling how good this colt is. Undefeated in three lifetime starts, his winning margins total 28-˝ lengths and he does it with brilliant dominant speed, winning with some reserves in the equine tank. His gifts are his carriage and gait, a running style with no wasted motion and owning extreme push-button acceleration. His lack of racing foundation at 2 and a three-race campaign work against him in this extremely enervating test. He might be a great one. He would have to be to defeat this group given those qualifiers. Obvious contender, nonetheless.
#19 Dominican (20-1): Much has been made of the fact he’s undefeated on artificial surfaces and winless on traditional dirt. These are valid issues but he just might be developing at the right time, too. Three-year-olds in the spring grow from young boys into precocious older teenagers. He owns pedigree for the distance and is undefeated beneath the talented Rafael Bejarano. Grade 1 Blue Grass winner very likely to run his race, but a minor award remains the most optimistic call.
#20 Great Hunter (15-1): Showed much promise as a juvenile winning the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland but should have finished second in Street Sense’s Juvenile despite some first-turn troubles. Given a two-prep campaign by trainer Doug O’Neill, he was disappointingly flat in the Blue Gras before the stretch incident eliminated any chance he had to win. Comes into the Derby not as advanced as required for such a demanding test but has pedigree and body type for this arduous trip. On his very best, a money finish only from extreme outside.
#8 Hard Spun (15-1): Could be the value of Derby 133. If not for a flat effort in the Southwest Stakes over an Oaklawn Park surface that broke away under foot, he could be undefeated in six career starts. He has the same running style and gifted speed as Curlin and will be almost three times the price. He worked brilliantly at Churchill Downs following a previous one-mile workout designed to get him tired and attain the proper level of fitness. His talented trainer flies a bit under the radar and is bred, as racetrackers say, “to run up the side of a mountain.” His :57 3/5 work was the fastest Derby week work in 34 years, since Forego in 1973. A tricky read, but a serious racehorse.
#5 Imawildandcrazyguy (50-1): In recent starts he’s finished close to Scat Daddy, Circular Quay and Notional without threatening. To repeat, he’s finished close…. without threatening.
#9 Liquidity (30-1): Hopes were high for O’Neill trainee after two consecutive runner-up efforts behind G1 winning Stormello and very highly regarded Ravel in the G3 Sham Stakes. He can be forgiven for fading after chasing the pace in Circular Quay’s Arkansas Derby but not for his disappointing try as one of the Santa Anita Derby choices. Stalking style places him between rocks and hard places in this match-up. Note that recent equipment changes have helped to advance his training.
#12 Nobiz Like Shobiz (8-1): Talented colt has been somewhat victimized by his own early success. He made such a favorable impression at 2 that he was atop most everyone’s early Derby list, mine included. But he hasn’t developed much in terms of performance figures. The blinkers and cotton in his ears to muffle distractions did their job and he won the Wood Memorial. His Equiform figures did move forward in the Wood, portending another developmental move here. But was it and is it enough? With a high cruising speed, a strong Derby pace would help his focus and serve to make him more comfortable during the running. But will he revert to his drifting ways when confronted by the Derby’s “wall of noise” at headstretch? Still, a serious contender. Nicely drawn.
#13 Sam P. (20-1): Was out of his element finding himself on the lead in the Santa Anita Derby, not his preferred style, following a good-rally placing to Great Hunter in the Robert B. Lewis Memorial. He has an affinity for Churchill, having won there at 2, and retains the great Ramon Dominguez. Even with improvement, however, he remains a cut below top class.
#14 Scat Daddy (10-1): The most accomplished of the Pletcher runners, he is the field’s lone two-time Grade 1 winner. He had a great winter at Gulfstream Park, winning the Florida Derby, the race that launched Barbaro last year. His speed figures at not in the upper ranges here but all he does is win. In the Florida Derby, a review of the tape will show the very useful Notional made a strong, well-timed rally but that Scat Daddy remained in full stride right to the line and could have gone around again if needed. Showing a brilliant recent workout, he retains Edgar Prado, Barbaro’s partner. Karma, anyone? Yet another worthy contender despite training in a bar shoe. Perfect post.
#1 Sedgefield (50-1): Second to Hard Spun in the well-graded Lanes End, he must demonstrate he’s more than a Polytrack/Turf specialist. Say this about Turfway‘s Polytrack surface: it plays a lot more honestly than Keeneland’s. Might be better than generally rated and potentially offers much more value that Blue Grass winning mate but, still, a very tall order.
#4 Storm In May (30-1): Has shown nothing to indicate he wants to go 10 furlongs on dirt at this level. Should sit this dance out.
#17 Stormello (30-1): The quality speed of the Derby 133 speed. Winner of the Grade 2 Norfolk in his two-turn debut at Oak Tree-Santa Anita, he concluded his juvenile campaign with a Grade 1 Hollywood Futurity score. He ran Scat Daddy to a nose in the Fountain of Youth, his three-year-old debut, but did not have the same energy when he crossed the country a second time. Fresh now, he’s working great and is very fast. All he lacks is a true distance pedigree. He should run very well for as long as he can, especially if left alone on the lead. That’s a big if, the draw hurt.
#7 Street Sense (4-1): The two year-old champion and Derby-winning trainer Carl Nafzger need no introduction. He will have only two preps prior to the biggest race of his life, but what preps they were. He gave fast and fitter Any Given Saturday all he wanted in the Tampa Bay Derby before coming back to lose by a nose when Polytracked in the Blue Grass. We believe those two efforts and two excellent workouts will be enough to achieve the proper level of fitness to win Derby 133. No Derby colt loves the Churchill surface more than this one. And he has a better turn of foot and more athleticism than many observers think. Beat the fastest horse and you wear the roses.
#10 Teuflesberg (30-1): The “Iron Horse” of Derby 133, he is the first horse in 33 years to be heavily raced at 2 and still make it into the Derby starting gate. Part owner/trainer Jamie Sanders was Nick Zito’s former top exercise rider so she’s been around good horses and this scene for over a decade. Teuflesberg is a speed horse, and that doesn’t augur well given the presence of Stormello, not to mention the “heavy heads” of this group.
#15 Tiago (15-1): Fairytales can come true, it can happen to you, if you bet this long-winded late developer. We don’t believe this year’s Santa Anita Derby was anywhere near its best renewal but we’ll give props to the colt that can finish in front for the first time in its career in a Grade 1 event. From the owner, trainer and jockey that gave the world Giacomo, a Tiago win would be even more stunning considering the class of this crop. Equipment changes have helped and he has worked strongly since the SA Derby. But how many times can lightning strike? I expect that he’ll run well, just not well enough.
#3 Zanjero (30-1): Might be the most disrespected colt in the field. In his last four starts, he was beaten a total of 14 ˝ lengths over 34 ˝ furlongs by the likes of Nobiz Like Shobiz, Notional, Circular Quay and Dominican. Finished third by a head in the Blue Grass, the good news and bad news being that he saved all the ground at outside-favoring Keeneland. He can stalk from close range or come from the clouds only he hasn’t done it fast enough. On his very best, a puncher’s chance to complete the superfecta.
Most Probable Winner: Street Sense (fair odds 7-2).
Derby Dark Horse: Circular Quay (fair odds 10-1).
Best Value: Hard Spun (12-1 or greater).