OUTER LOUISVILLE, NY, May 1, 2008--Post time for the Kentucky Derby is 6:04 PM on May 3, the first Saturday of the month.
Is the indomitable Big Brown, who in an all too brief career vanquished 24 rivals by an aggregate 29 lengths, you know, domitable? He can’t be this good, can he?
Will Pyro Recapturetheglory? Do Blue Grass results mean anything anymore? Is Court Vision finally going to run fast? Does the filly really belong?
Is Colonel John more than a synthetic wunderkind? Is Adriano? Cowboy Cal? Will Gayego make it all the way from Southern California to Arkansas to post 19 to winner’s circle?
These and all questions relative to America’s greatest horseracing spectacle will be known with certitude at 6:06 and some change. Until then, consider the profile of the 20 equine athletes set to compete in Kentucky Derby 134.
1-Cool Coal Man:
Unfairly maligned when a perfect trip Fountain of Youth winner, colt has excellent turn of foot that gets him into contention quickly. He’ll need to from the pole position. Finished badly unplaced in the Blue Grass but at least did some running, tiring after chasing the pace, a common Polytrack occurrence. Best performance figure earned at two came at Churchill, thus he figures to run a much better Saturday. Nick Zito‘s horses often rebound off poor efforts; seems a cut below very top class. Bettable odds: 25-1.
2-Tale Of Ekati:
Deserves much credit for winning hot-paced Wood Memorial off limited conditioning. Loses winning jockey Edgar Prado to Adriano, but replacement Eibar Coa 2-for-3 lifetime on the colt. Five-furlong workout at Keeneland visually extraordinary; completely on his own while under a loose rein, galloping out energetically in full stride. Maintenance work over track was perfect. Will benefit from the Wood. A fighter in close quarters, won two races on the rail. With luck, inside draw might work quite well. Bettable odds: 12-1.
After declaring War Pass, Hall of Famer Nick Zito was due some good fortune, and might have gotten some with this colt’s bullet workout at Churchill Downs, where he won the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at two. After two terrible efforts, his third start was a better-than-it-looked fifth in the Wood Memorial, finally showing some kick with blinkers added; today they’re off. Gets very talented and Churchill-wise Rafael Bejarano, but his very best would not be enough. Bettable odds: 50-1.
Underscoring his preference for Churchill, the surface on which he earned his best performance figure at two, he’s had two excellent works locally after Hall of Famer Bill Mott added blinkers. Undeservedly criticized for a pair of strong-finish thirds in preps, he’s poised for a huge forward move. Garrett Gomez is in the conversation for “America’s best money rider.” Peaking at the right moment, he owns perhaps the best turn of foot among the late-rally types. Cannot be eliminated for longshot consideration on connections and pedigree. If only he were faster. Bettable odds: 20-1.
5-Eight Belles (f):
In a year when the majority of colts have earned only modest performance figures, she’s faster than more than half this field, is a strong finisher, and trainer Larry Jones believes she can run all day long. While she has good size for a filly, she’s not the athlete Genuine Risk was, nor a tom-boy like Winning Colors. Both those Derby-winning fillies were tested against males first, and she’s never run against more than seven career rivals. Not a judicious spot. Bettable odds: 40-1.
Consistent New York-bred with three victories and two seconds in six starts including wide-trip placing in rapidly run Arkansas Derby, he has impressed observers with his size, disposition and energy. His last was a lifetime top figure and that looms problematical. Returning on relatively short rest--always an issue off Herculean efforts--he does, however, benefit from Robbie Albarado’s gaining familiarity with him in Hot Springs. A money finish would take another huge effort. Bettable odds: 25-1.
Considered the lesser of Barclay Tagg’s entrants, he kicked on nicely to win the Tampa Bay Derby, but that prep doesn’t figure to help propel him to a Derby win, unlike Street Sense. He finished behind Pyro, and not too many 11th place Blue Grass finishers have come back to smell the roses. Tagg is a worthy 25% efficient in graded stakes but he doesn’t figure to pad that stat here. Bettable odds: 60-1.
What he lacks in classic pedigree he makes up for in ability and determination. Undeterred by poor post positions, he overcame that adversity to win the Gotham and acquitted himself well in the Blue Grass, beating more than half the field with a 10-wide rally. Trainer Michael Matz was here with Barbaro and young Jose Lezcano looks like a rising saddle star. He’s the energizer horse that keeps coming, has won on three different tracks and is a live longshot. Bettable odds: 30-1
From top contender to enigma, all in one race, his Blue Grass was that bad. He’s had two company works since the Keeneland debacle, indicating he got nothing from his final prep and only start at nine furlongs. Need to go back a century to find a winner who placed as far back as Pyro in a final prep. Despite two visually impressive victories this year, his performance figures indicate a lack of development from his juvenile season. On his very best, projects for only an in-the-money finish. Bettable odds: 15-1.
Eoin Harty has fastened the screws and is as fit as hands can make him, the racetrackers say. Scintillating :57.61 over the track last Sunday, reminiscent of Hard Spun, allows ample time to recharge the batteries. Santa Anita Derby winner has had perfect prep season with two nine furlong wins. Has Derby-winning style, is stretch-tested, and is suited to the always-lively Derby pace. Santa Anita horses have done well in the Midwest this spring. Has pedigree and logic on his side. Bettable odds: 4-1.
At this point, the lesser Mott trainee is not very accomplished, winning only a deservingly maligned Delta Jackpot at two. But this colt is coming at the right time, has experience and top connections. Was a good-finish third in the Illinois Derby despite some loss of ground and a hungry pace vs. a quality frontrunning opponent. Probably will be making up ground but to no avail. Bettable odds: 50-1.
Heartwarming story of 70-year-old trainer Bennie Stutts Jr. making his Derby debut. Horseman did an excellent job stretching out his sprint-meant colt to a gritty runnerup finish to Big Brown in year’s fastest prep. But a 10th furlong is another matter, and a slight temperature requiring antibiotic treatment that forced two days of missed training is devastating timing. Storybook ending extremely unlikely. Bettable odds: 50-1.
13-Bob Black Jack:
Game Santa Anita Derby runnerup got into field when Cowboy Larry’s other filly, Proud Spell, opted for the Oaks. Has quality based on his narrow loss to Colonel John and third-place finish to sidelined Georgie Boy. The bad news is that he will be part of the strong Derby pace and the average winning distance of his progeny’s offspring is 5.8 furlongs and 6.5 furlongs, respectively. Not the stuff of Derby dreams. Bettable odds: 50-1
With his back to the wall and his horse coming off a troubled season‘s debut with bumps and bruises, Todd Pletcher trained him up to a winning effort in the Grade 1 Blue Grass. Prado off this one, too, but the great Ramon Dominguez more than a capable replacement. Made a successful transition from Polytrack to Churchill at two, and repeats that pattern here. But the Derby waters are considerably deeper. Neutral post position for likely mid-pack racer. Bettable odds: 20-1.
New Hall of Famer Edgar Prado, in the conversation with Gomez for America’s best money rider, lands here, ultimately convincing trainer Graham Motion that his colt is more than a turf/synthetic phenom. Has developed very well at three and finishing nicely in workmanlike morning trials, Motion’s style, but his action is a little turfy. Visually impressive winning the Lane’s End handily, looking for more at the finish. Excellent pedigree for both dirt and distance. Has huge upside, but money finish more likely than brass ring. Bettable odds: 20-1.
16-Denis Of Cork:
Debut maiden over Derby track was an effort to behold. He subsequently showed class to win on a wet track he hated, then raised his game with a competitive-figure effort to win the Rebel stylishly. Then came two critical mistakes by his connections. Misreading the “bounce theory,” they altered the colt’s schedule, nearly forcing his exclusion here then, when given a choice, took the 16 post instead of the 2, begging the question; why choose Calvin Bo-rail? His sharp Derby blowout, talent and love for the surface make him a sensible longshot play. Bettable odds: 30-1.
Extremely game Blue Grass runnerup to stablemate Monba, he’s been a very consistent performer in a group that often has lacked that quality. Been performing at a relatively high level throughout his career, so we might have seen his best for now. Then there’s the matter of how he handles dirt, a huge question for him. His running style puts him close to the hottest pace he will have seen. Unlike Adriano, his future seems best limited to turf and synthetic tracks. Bettable odds: 25-1.
Literally and figuratively earned his way here with a comprehensive daylight victory in Obamaland. While the performance figure was excellent, it was earned in a race that more closely resembled a harness event: The Illinois Derby field virtually raced in single file and positions never changed. The pace will be a lot hotter, the competition tougher, and the wide draw, while inside two other speeds, still hurts. Nice colt lacks stout pedigree and local work was a little disappointing. Good story, bad spot. Bettable odds: 40-1.
One of the “now” horses, he was hurt by the draw. Earned a lifetime best performance figure winning the Arkansas Derby and distributed his energy efficiently, stalking a strong pace and finishing gamely. Obviously talented but with issues here: He will be tested in stronger fractions by better stock, and his close-up speed/presser style could find him between a rock and a hard pace. Has top connections and excellent Churchill workout but seriously lacking in 10-furlong pedigree. Bettable odds: 15-1.
With Florida Derby sensation’s foot problems behind him for now, his final serious work sent trainer Rick Dutrow over the moon. He‘s unbeaten and the fastest horse by far. What’s not to like is his well documented inexperience and how he might handle a head-to-head battle. But it’s not his fault that no one has gotten close yet. He’s a boom or bust colt at short odds. Won from the 12 at Gulfstream, why not the 20 here? The difference between Big Brown and Curlin is that BB raced at 2. If he runs his “A” race, as Dutrow has boasted, he’ll win. Bettable odds: 3-1.
Most Likely Winner: Big Brown
Best Win Value: Tale Of Ekati
Most Likely Money Finisher: Colonel John
Best Longshot: Denis Of Cork