Kentucky Derby Picks and Ponderings

The Kentucky Derby. The Run for the Roses.

Handicapping it though, is a mess. You are presented with a field of twenty horses (which is rarely seen other times than the Derby), all trying a distance they've never tried before on a surface that may be foreign to them and in front of 150,000 people in various states of drunkenness. With millions more watching on NBC.

So I got some outside help. I consulted a good friend and sharp handicapper, Chris Hernandez. He's the author of Giving My Ten Cents. He's also on twitter and is this week's spotlight writer for Thorofan. We attacked the Derby in "Point/Counterpoint" style (please note that C and P refer to our names).

Let's meet the field!

Churchill Downs--Race 11-- G1 Kentucky Derby-- 1 1/4 miles on dirt--post time of 5:24 pm  CT (on NBC).


  • C: I don't like him on dirt, I don't like him going this far, and don't like him having just one prep.
  • P: And if all that doesn't do him in, the travel and the dreaded one post will. Instant toss.


  • C: Optimizer is a classic garbage collector, but I still don't like him to hit the board.
  • P: I think he's in the wrong race, on the turf is where he should be.


  • P: A. P. Indy descendants are known to hate synthetics, and this one wins out of the box by six lengths at Arlington, then is second in the G3 Arlington-Washington Futurity. Credible allowance second to EL PADRINO, skipped Tampa Bay Derby due to the post, then led every step of the way in the Florida Derby.
  • C: His dam lost seven of the ten going nine furlongs or further, with many of those at low odds and/or to inferior animals. Dan Illman of DRF is my camp as well about his ability to get ten furlongs. With Borel on him, his prices will be well below his actual chances. He may be as low as 3rd choice.
  • P: I've been all in on TAKE CHARGE INDY, and I see no reason to stop yet.


  • C: Many like UNION RAGS, blaming his bad race on his jockey. I personally thought it was the distance that caused the problems, not his jock, who was the scapegoat. His pedigree says he wants no part of ten furlongs. He had a full brother who's best distance was six furlongs. I'm tossing the likely favorite with confidence from all spots.
  • P: Maybe (as Bruno DeJulio thinks) he can get 10F based on body type. Maybe he had a bad ride in the Florida Derby. Maybe his trainer won before. But, he was beaten soundly in the BC Juvenile and inherited  (inherit = to move faster than horses not moving)the Fountain of Youth. I could see maybe using him defensively, but I have been tossing him all year.
  • C: It's an awful lot of maybes.


  • P: Dullahan.
  • C: Lisa needs braces.
  • P: Dullahan.
  • C: Lisa needs braces.
  • P: Dullahan.
  • C: Dullahan has run much better on synth and turf than dirt.
  • P: While he's got ascending Beyers, I stand by my Derby Dozen 3 comment that if he wins a Grade 1 at 10F, it won't be until August. The cadence and performance all say grass or synthetic.


  • C: I can easily see him getting dragged along into chasing a fast pace, having nothing left in the end. At his depressed odds, I'm tossing him altogether.
  • P: I have questions over what was behind him in the Arkansas Derby. Secret Circle? Miler.  SABRECAT? Off form. He also got a free lunch on the front end. He sure looked good but the water gets deeper. Too deep.


  • C: Rousing Sermon is slow. I bet him in pool one of the Future Wager. I don't expect to cash on it.
  • P: Ouch.
  • C: He might even be too slow to be the garbage collector.
  • P: Hollendorfer is easy to root for, but he's brought better throw outs to the Derby than this one. I think the NOLA race exposed him to me as a closing miler. No.


  • C: He seems the sort that he will hang around late (Never been off the board), but gut feeling is that he will end up being bested late.
  • P: I know he sandbagged the San Vicente and the Santa Anita Derby, but he has yet to show me he can accelerate. The San Felipe was an inherit job. I think he's another Giant's Causeway offspring that does little more than plod, collect garbage, and burn tickets (paging Giant Oak....paging Giant Oak).


  • C: Does Trinniberg have a chance at all?
  • P: He has the ability to run well first time going two turns, but he's stepping way up in class and adding three furlongs. I toss him simply out of him not getting the lead.
  • C: I'm tossing him, but I feel fairly confident he won't finish last (barring an injury). I can see a realistic situation where he's leading in the far turn.


  • C: Daddy Nose Best has won twice at nine furlongs already, he can close but doesn't need to come from last, he is working well at Churchill.
  • P: Sunland Park has been productive in recent years, he certainly showed fight in the El Camino Real Derby, and yes, he's got the works. He's on my list of top contenders to make some noise.
  • C: He won't quit.
  • P: But he's the "steam" horse going into the Derby. Still like him?
  • C: He may be the steam horse, but I like him a lot.


  • P: I know that Wood day at Aqueduct played slow with respect to the clock, and he had that bumping. But I'm not buying him; I think Gemologist exposed him as a cut below. Hellllooo, Iowa Derby!
  • C: I agree. Even though he has seem like a changed horse now that he is on Lasix and has solved his gate woes, he still just doesn't seem top-tier. He does have some gameness, though.


  • C: Prospective is a Malibu Moon going ten furlongs. No.
  • P: You question the pedigree, I question what was in the Tampa Bay Derby. Waste Management on Line 1.


  • P: Now on to WENT THE DAY WELL. And I think he finishes last as while he's Animal Kingdom 2, he also doesn't look able on dirt.
  • C: His pedigree is fine for dirt. I know his father ran 2nd in the 2002 Derby, but I don't think of him [Proud Citizen]as sire of ten furlong horses.
  • P: Plus, I think he will be overbet by those who look at the connections and Spiral prep and think it could happen again.
  • C: I agree he will be overbet.


  • C: I know many like the Great White Hope, but I will never play a Tapit male going ten furlongs. While he can let someone get the lead in front of him, I'm not sure it is his best game.
  • P: In some cases, Tapits can win at ten panels (for example, Headache in last year's Hawthorne Gold Cup), but I think Dr. Hansen tipped his hand on Blue Grass Day. He wanted to test the crazy factor of the Derby then, and he reverted to his need-the-lead antics. I'm taking a stand and tossing HANSEN.


  • C: I don't like his paddling motion one bit, he won't make the lead, and he seems the one most likely to get tired chasing after the speed and running poorly. He does have some gameness in him.
  • P: I'm starting to warm up to him. The Wood was slow with respect to the clock, he's never lost, and he showed fight in beating Alpha. I think he runs his eyeballs out for a minor award.


  • C: It seems everyone and their mother has jumped off the El Padrino bandwagon. If he is a huge price, I might consider playing him underneath. Though as easily he can hit the board he can run last.
  • P: Totally see why he's losing followers, the Fair Grounds group was dreadful this year. But his Gulfstream races don't impress me a whole lot either. I would move him up if it's wet, but otherwise, I think he's best in the "B" Derbies.


  • C: If Done Talking starts now, he might not finish last. Toss.
  • P: Call me a homer because he ran in the Illinois Derby, but I gave him a chance. Yes, the Illinois Derby was historically slow for a final time but that was more due to bumping on the first turn and the speed dying on the backstretch. His come home times are not that bad. Every Derby has a "blow up your super" type, I think he might be it.


  • C: Another slow garbage collector, though he might be the fastest of that group. 3rd/4th at best.
  • P: While Sabrecat sandbagged the Rebel, he got beaten on the square in the Arkansas Derby. Sure, he'll get pace to chase but his biggest win from a front-end meltdown at Delta. I don't think he gets it a second time.


  • C: I'll Have Another has shown he can rate (most of the other speeds can't), but I am not in love with the prep schedule his connections have plotted out. I do like him though, and unlike some of the other speed he is bred to handle ten furlongs.
  • P: I don't know what to make of him. I don't like the schedule, but he beat CREATIVE CAUSE. The Lewis was a mess and he stood tall, but he hated it the time he shipped.
  • C: Saratoga was weird last summer, with many of the west coast shippers not firing. The slop could have had something to do with it too.
  • P: I know some people like him, but he hasn't fully sold me.


  • C: I don’t buy Baffert's excuse one bit. Not. One. Bit.
  • P: I was expecting him to win the San Felipe, then do a tank job in the Santa Anita Derby. But excuses or not, an Indian Charlie going 10F is going straight to the trash can.


If you're looking for some snark, I made a final Derby Dozen list for Wireplayers. Check out my final ballot and the Wireplayers final ballot. And while Chris gives his top picks at Thorofan, here are mine.




Longshot: #17 DONE TALKING


Good luck and happy Derby!


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  • Great work. I really enjoyed the "Dullahan- Lisa needs braces" reference. I hope no one dropped a pencil in your buttcrack to snap you out of your memory bubble, as befell Homer when he was thinking that.

  • So much for prognostications.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    I was wrong about the Kentucky Derby, Aquinas Wired.

    It happens.

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