The Kentucky Derby. The Run for the Roses. The finest two minutes in sport.
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, for the second straight year, I got some outside help. I consulted a good friend and sharp handicapper, Chris Hernandez. He can be found on 'Twitter and has written for Thorofan. We attacked the Derby in "Point/Counterpoint" style below. A reminder: the P and C do not stand for Point and Counterpoint, but they stand for our first names (Paul and Chris).
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).
1. BLACK ONYX (50/1)
- P: So we start with BLACK ONYX in that supposed post one of death.
- C: It's not as bad as people say it to be. Sedgefield (who was a big price in 2007) managed 5th from there. Still, it's definitely not optimal .
- P: If you're a dead one run closer, it's not the end of the world. Nonetheless I could see him in the Caboose Crew though because that Spiral was nasty bad.
- CH: Real bad. Even though Rock Hard Ten won at ten furlongs, his progeny always seem to run shorter than they should on paper. His chances could be summed up as "B.O. - Bad"
2. OXBOW (30/1)
- C: I already thought with Stevens up they might go for the lead, but with him drawing the 2 hole, I'm now sure that he is going to get sent hard to the front.
- P: I've heard that too. On paper he's reminding me of Shackelford in a way: probably a 8-9 furlong horse who may run his eyeballs out here for a piece.
- C: He could get left alone out there if they all decide to take back. He's bred almost exactly the same as Paynter, who was second in last year's Belmont Stakes (same sire out of full sister of Paynter's dam)
- P: I don't think he gets a free lunch on the front end, but I do see him leading at some point on the 2nd turn. But he's not very game, and that could undo him.
- C: Well considering that an Oxbow is the part of river that eventually gets stranded and left behind, he might be aptly named.
- P: You seem conflicted.
- C: I am. He is one of the few who would help me avoid eating a mile-high pile of crow, but I think he may be in deep trouble.
3. REVOLUTIONARY (10/1)
- P: I know you are not high on REVOLUTIONARY. So go on, talk me off him.
- C: You first. Try me. Try to convince me.
- P: He answered the gameness question in spades in the Withers, he won the Louisiana Derby with a good move on the turn. And the NOLA race was flattered when Departing won with panache in the Illinois Derby. Dam won the mile and a quarter Alabama, acquires Borel to ride--who has won three Derbies--and the three spot which means a nice inside-outside trip.
- C: Are you seriously picking a son of WAR PASS? War Pass was the best of a miserable lot of two-year olds in 2007, took advantage of the subpar lot until they caught him in spades at 8.5 furlongs in the spring. I would not care if the dam were the female equivalent of YATES (multiple winner of the 2.5 mile Ascot Gold Cup), his dear departed soul will not sire a ten furlong winner. And I didn't like the way he was almost beat by Mylute in a race I really didn't like. If you want to take those Borel-depressed odds, good luck to you.
- P: I know War Pass did squat as a three year old. But he's one of my ones.
4. GOLDEN SOUL (50/1)
- C: I know I just said that I didn't like the Louisiana Derby but I really liked his race in there. Unlike some of the other longshots, he's been pointing here all along.
- P: The Risen Star isn't as horrible as most everyone thinks, and GOLDEN SOUL gets away from wide posts. Moving to Hernandez doesn't hurt. I think he could be the garbage collector that passes tired runners, sneaks into third or fourth and sends the Derby payoffs into the clouds.
- C: I agree 100% with that. Must use underneath.
5. NORMANDY INVASION (12/1)
- P: Post 5 has NORMANDY INVASION, who is another garbage collector type. Being by Tapit doesn't help his ten furlong chances at all. Getting Castellano is fine, but he's got 1/4 the odds of GOLDEN SOUL and 1/4 the pedigree.
- C: What do I think of a son of Tapit out of Boston Harbor mare going ten furlongs? Ack! I have never been a fan of his. Think he makes his charge but flattens out into midpack by the wire.
- P: I liked his Wood, and he wouldn't surprise me in 3rd or 4th. But I think the Tapit breeding kicks in and he goes to my trash can.
6. MYLUTE (15/1)
- C: How much does Rosie hurt his price? 50%? Battaglia already has him at 15-1 when his PPs says double that.
- P: Either you think he's game as heck for battling REVOLUTIONARY or you think he hung like a Picasso. But it seems really really late in the year for Tom Amoss to have a Derby contender. His Derby charges usually go to claimer-land by March.
- C: I don't think he did either. I think he realized he's out of a Valid Expectations mare and hit the wall. The extra furlong does not help him at all. A solid 11th.
- P: Yeah, Valid Expectations as your broodmare sire is no help either. I see MYLUTE in my Caboose Crew.
7. GIANT FINISH (50/1)
- C: If his connections had pointed him to this race the entire time, I actually would have given him a shot. But the only reason he's in here is because the owners decided that "YOLO" was an appropriate way of deciding where to run your horses. The only "giant" part of his finish is the final placing: 17th.
- P: Too bad Arlington doesn't run the Round Table anymore for B-level polytrack three-year-olds. He'd be perfect for that.
- C: He'll have plenty of chances to make money against NY-breds.
- P: I expect Tony Dutrow to return to the mid Atlantic with his tail between his legs after the Derby. Instatoss.
8. GOLDENCENTS (5/1)
- P: You're a west coast guy, and GOLDENCENTS is your flag bearer.
- C: He's going to finish last. The pedigree says ten furlongs is too far. The price will be way too low. He was an 8 1/2 furlong horse who happened to win a 9 furlong race because no one else wanted to go that far either.
- P: I give O'Neill and Krigger the benefit of the doubt. Which puts him somewhere in the low teens. The Santa Anita Derby had a puffed up speed figure, beating Flashback is no notch in the belt when going a mile and a quarter, and he likes being on the engine but won't get a free pass on the front end.
- C: I repeat: He will finish LAST. Even Falling Sky will beat him.
- P: Low teens not enough a toss? Man.....
9. OVERANALYZE (15/1)
- C: Overanalyze is the Pletcher I like the least. That Arkansas Derby looked bad on paper and they ran slow. He did win the race nicely, but I don't like him at all. Since Pletcher does have a penchant for finishing last in the Derby, Overanalyze would probably be my pick to continue that legacy.
- P: I agree 100% the Arkansas Derby flunked the eye test. If Union Rags hadn't won the Belmont last year in a final time of slow as molasses in January in Chicago, he'd be hearing "can he get the distance" questions.
- C: So true. Don't need to think too hard to toss him.
- P: Moving on.
10. PALICE MALICE (15/1)
- P: On to PALICE MALICE, also from the Todd Squad.
- C: I would like him if he didn't need to run in both the Louisiana Derby and the Blue Grass. It was a very un-Pletcher thing to do and I think it will come back to bite them here.
- P: I think he carries the torch of the Giant Oak/Drosselmeyer gang of acceleration-impaired #plodsohard types. His best chance is the Belmont.
- C: It wouldn't shock me one bit if he won a G1 going ten furlongs...on the grass. And Code West is a better #plodsohard and is beating him in the Belmont. But that's another topic for another day.
- P: I think he'll stink on the grass, he can't accelerate. But acceleration is a necessity in the Derby, so NO.
11. LINES OF BATTLE (30/1)
- P: Post eleven has LINES OF BATTLE, and I figure the slingshot is out to toss him to Cincinnati.
- C: Dubai to Derby doesn't work. If Godolphin gave up on it, so will I. Plus dirt is a huge question mark (even if he is bred to handle it).
- P: The runner up from the UAE Derby is pointing to the Secretariat at Arlington. Join him. The best Derby for him is at Colonial, not Churchill.
12. ITSMYLUCKYDAY (15/1)
- C: They had room for the apostrophe and chose not to use it. On grammatical grounds alone I don't like him.
- P: I know Ed DeRosa is giddy on him, but Lawyer Ron tanked time and time again at ten furlongs. Add in that I think he might be over the top. The Florida Derby was also extremely predictable: he inherited all the cheap speed but couldn't outfight ORB. And you knew that he'd inherit all the cheap speed and filler horses in the Florida Derby.
- C: I also think he really doesn't want ten furlongs and that the designed break between the Holy Bull and Florida Derby will backfire.
13. FALLING SKY (50/1)
- P: On to FALLING SKY.
- C: He will finish 19th. Collmus will call his name twice. That is all.
- P: He had one shot: go to the lead and hang on for dear life. Then OXBOW drew the two. OXBOW is faster from the gate and out guns him. Instatoss.
14. VERRAZANO (4/1)
- P: Another from the Todd Squad is VERRAZANO.
- C: Amazing how many people jumped off the bandwagon because he had to work for a victory for once. They are making the right move, but it's still surprising. Verrazano feels like one of those classic Pletcher Derby horses who wins at nine furlongs but hits the wall at ten furlongs.
- P: Yeah, that bandwagon emptied out real quick after the Wood. But I second that he's the latest Pletcher to win at nine and then hit the wall at ten. His Tampa race was more Any Given Saturday than Street Sense.
15. CHARMING KITTEN (20/1)
- C: He has plenty of dirt pedigree on the dam's side, with Breeders' Cup Classic winner Wild Again . He comes out of arguably the best prep.Plus plenty of Kitten's Joy have handled the dirt, especially at Churchill. He doesn't need to come from way out of it either. Plus the Ramseys are on fire right now.
- P: He's not the worst longshot to take, in that he has the pedigree to run all day and dirt is possible. And the Ramseys are white hot. He does pose a danger as the "other" Pletcher.
- C: He's probably the "other other other" Pletcher.
- P: I think he's a lot more dangerous than people give him credit for.
16. ORB (7/2)
- P: I'm curious what you think of ORB, who is taking more steam than a Japanese noodle shop.
- C: I respect what he has done so far and I believe he will be the lowest price horse in the trifecta (by far). If Nehro can hit the exacta while having enough steam to travel all the way up the Mississippi, so can Orb. <Wipes steamed glasses>
- P: Rosario dominated Keeneland and no one is riding better than him right now. But Being by Malibu Moon doesn't exactly give me happy feelings in the Derby. I see him as a "must use" but not as the best win candidate. Can't fault the Florida resume, but he's not a lead pipe cinch to win it like a lot of people think.
- C: He has a lot going for him. But I think he might have peaked a bit too soon, leaving him vulnerable in the final strides.
- P: Maybe the Malibu Moon breeding gets him, too.
17. WILL TAKE CHARGE (20/1)
- C: See my comments last year about his half-bro TAKE CHARGE INDY, and double the doubt about his ability to go this far. also don't like how Lukas decided to skip a final prep for no good reason. TOSS.
- P: When Lukas skipped an April prep after winning the Rebel...skipping even a throwaway race like the Calder Derby, that was a sign that something is up. Lukas tipped his hand. The word "Not" needs to be added to his name, before the "TAKE" to properly assess his chances.
- C: CHUCK HIM OUT!!!!!!
18. FRAC DADDY (50/1)
- C: He has run well here. That is the only positive thing I can say about him. He has seem slow this year, not sure he wants to go this far, this is a bad post, he comes out arguably the worst prep and he has been blitzed by several of these in here. No thank you.
- P: You had post two going 1 1/16 miles at Gulfstream where inside draws are golden and were three wide into the stretch? That's bad. Plus he's by Scat Daddy and they tend to hit the wall after furlong nine. No way.
19. JAVA'S WAR (15/1)
- C: He has a nasty habit of bad/slow breaks which he really can't afford to do against a field this big that has several with similar talent abilities. Also the whole War Pass stance explained with REVOLUTIONARY. Think he end up too far back and never is a factor.
- P: I think he finishes last. Somebody had to be second in Tampa. His gate behavior isn't that good, and he'll probably lose contract with the field . He also didn't run well in the Kentucky Jockey Club at two, so perhaps he can't handle Churchill. The closer that never fires.
20. VYJACK (15/1)
- C: Alas, he will lay way back but never come.
- P: As for VYJACK, I think the post took him out. He didn't get a middle post and be able to take back--he's forced to the front from the 20 hole and he won't be able to clear. And if he does take back, he's going to likely be crazy wide. Toss.
21. FEAR THE KITTEN (50/1) (AE)
- C: Poor FEAR THE KITTEN. Thought he could sneak into super if he had drawn decently. Even if he gets in, he'll be marooned out here. Oh well, at least there's the Springfield Derby, the 5th & penultimate jewel of the Triple Crown. #SimpsonsReference
- P: His dirt races aren't that horrible and Kitten's Joy progeny can take to Churchill dirt. But he's going to need help to make the Derby, let alone crash the super . If he drew well, I'd make him a long-shot to watch.
Okay. Fess up. Whoyagot?
#15 CHARMING KITTEN
#4 GOLDEN SOUL
Longshot: #2 OXBOW
#4 GOLDEN SOUL
Longshot: #15 CHARMING KITTEN