The Kentucky Derby. The Run for the Roses. The First Saturday in May. The first leg of the Triple Crown. 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 at other times in America other 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 third straight year, I got some outside help. I consulted a good friend and sharp handicapper, Chris Hernandez. He can be found on Twitter, is a member of the WirePlayers’ “Derby Dozen” panel (Final ballot: here) 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 6:24 pm ET (race to be shown on NBC).
#1 VICAR’S IN TROUBLE (20-1)
C: As I predicted
, he would get stuck with the rail draw. I didn’t think he had much of a shot beforehand, and with that post, I can’t see him finishing higher than say… 12th.
P: Ken Ramsey shills his horses like Krusty The Clown shills his birth control products, (Hi Kids, buy my Kitten’s Joy horses!) But I see him in the caboose crew as he got a free lunch in the Louisiana Derby and was never challenged in the lane.
C: It’s ironic that Ramsey has two in here, yet neither are Kitten’s Joy progeny.
#2 HARRY’S HOLIDAY (50-1)
P: Felt this one hung in the Spiral Stakes when the Dusty Mason-Orientate dam line reared its head. He showed he’s not up to snuff when getting beaten like a drum at Keeneland. He will need the lead, he will not get it, and he is my click to pick to finish last.
C: I think he beats at least 8 or 9 horses. He can’t pass a parked car but at least he seems to be on his “good race” if the pattern holds. He and Vicar will be in a dogfight to get into the top 10. 10th beaten 20 lengths that is.
P: Ironic also: Maker has two in here and neither of them have Ramsey ownership.
C: Double-double irony?
P: I wonder if that’s on the In-N-Out menu.
C: On the Secret Menu next to animal-style fries.
#3 UNCLE SIGH (30-1)
C: He’s my pick to finish last.
C: He’s never shown he is super fast early, the ability to pass and finish the move and they are adding blinkers. This is a disaster waiting to happen.
P: Pedigree is a huge knock – Indian Charlie progeny at ten furlongs are a worse proposition than the Tapits. He has some gameness from his races at Aqueduct. But there are more negatives than positives, and I see him a solid 13th.
#4 DANZA (8/1)
C: He is the hardest horse to get a grasp on, because of the abrupt change in form last time out. Thinking the improvement was a combination of he wanting two turns and the atrocious group in that race. That group faded faster than Old Levi’s.
P: When they turn him back in the Kings’ Bishop he can find a brand new life, a brand new life, a brand new life around the bend. #obligatorywhosthebossreference
P: I do agree a lot of horses went backwards in the Arkansas Derby, but I don’t think he’s the horse who turned a corner. Pass.
C: I can see him finishing 3rd at best, I guess. That spot is going to be an absolute scrum.
P: I do think 3rd/4th are messy spots, for sure.
#5 CALIFORNIA CHROME (5-2)
C: He will be in front at the 1/8th pole, and probably the sixteenth pole. But I just cannot shake the thought that ten furlongs is just out of his scope. He’s either Twirling Candy (dominant up to 9f, just couldn’t finish as well as ten) or Smarty Jones (enough of a talent gap for it not to matter).
P: He’s been out running his pedigree the whole way as his sire’s claim to fame is winning an overnight turf sprint at Arlington. But he will have to fight for the lead. He needs an A-plus race to win, and I think the clock strikes midnight on this Cinderella story.
C: He’s only been near the lead out here because he has enough tactical speed to do so. He is very rateable and can go by horses when asked.
P: Given that the way Chitu wheezed home in Sunland and Midnight Hawk undid himself in the Illinois Derby, California Chrome is in no way a slam dunk.
C: He should get a very similar trip to what I’ll Have Another had in 2012.
P: I am trying to knock him off. If he beats me, I’ve got a long walk home.
C: Like a real good college football team in a mediocre conference, he has been doing the only thing he can to keep his spot in the polls: Crush them. Not his fault. He has too much of a talent gap on most of the rest not to hit the exacta.
P: Never been a fan of his pedigree, but he does have the gameness that you like to see in a twenty-horse scrum. He did lose ground in the Wood which turns me off. Perhaps he has plateaued.
C: Plus side: he can pass. Minus side: he looked all out to get by/hold off an exhausted Social Inclusion. The extra furlong will be of no help to him.
P: Think the Gotham winless gap grows to forty two years. Somewhere in the middle third.
C: I agree.
#7 WE MISS ARTIE (50-1)
C: Do the runners get a participant medal? Is that why he is in here? He has no shot.
P: For as much as I lambasted shill-so-hard Ken Ramsey’s rail-drawn runner, I think he has a chance in here. His dirt races aren’t so bad (carousel in the FOY, bad break in the BC Juv), his pedigree is fine for ten panels, and turf pedigrees are fine at Churchill.
C: A “Make Music For Me 4th” is the best outcome I could even imagine, and that’s if I squint super hard.
P: I can certainly see him in the third spot, making the trifecta/superfecta payout approach new car prices.
#8 GENERAL A ROD (30-1)
C: That Florida Derby was disappointing. He really had no excuse for his finish.
C: He will grind and he can handle some heat early on and keep trying. I could seem get 3rd easily, maybe 2nd if one of the top two does not fire.
P: Poor Joel Rosario. One year you ride the steam horse in Orb, the next year, you get a pretender. Think the figure in the Fountain of Youth makes him look better than he his.
C: Considering it was earned in the fakest type of race in North America (8.5f dirt races at Gulfstream Park), that could be true.
P: I see him as Samraat south: able to hang on for a dignified mid-pack finish.
#9 VINCEREMOS (30-1)
C: No. Just no. He’ll be lucky to get more than two calls by Colmus the entire race. Next horse please.
P: His claim to fame will be one of those tear-jerk stories you’ll remember in the hour and forty minutes between the Woodford Reserve and the Derby. Toss.
C: He had no excuse in the Florida Derby considering the group of hangers he was battling with. His routing capabilities will evaporate outside of Florida.
P: How he got beat by Constitution is one of the great mysteries of the world. He’s never been outside Gulfstream and sometimes that form goes sour when they go north. Also, he gets false bonus points for running on the inside in the Fountain of Youth.
#11 HOPPERTUNITY Scratched.
#12 DANCE WITH FATE (20-1)
P: To quote Craig Bernick, stable manager of Glen Hill Farm, “Dirt horses don’t like poly. Turf horses don’t like poly. Poly horses like poly!” Eye-select him as a poly horse who spins his wheels on the dirt.
C: I think he has a good shot to get 3rd. A better version of We Miss Artie. He looked worn down by the time the BC Juvenile came around last year. The coming back in 3 weeks isn’t ideal.
P: He’s 40% of the price and 40% of the ability of my synthetic horse bomber, in my book.
C: The former is true, but the latter is false.
C: Darn Baffert giving me an inch of false hope that the connections were going to run in the Derby Trial, keeping the dream of him beng in the Met Mile this year.
P: Do I have to talk about this one?
C: He’ll just sort of be there near the pace, try to make a move turning for home and watch as California Chrome kicks away from him. This will break his heart and he’ll back up into an non-descript 9th.
P: He who wheezes the least wheezes the best, and that was the case in New Mexico. Get the inhalers out for this one.
#14 MEDAL COUNT (20-1)
C: Gold in the Transylvania, silver in the Blue Grass, Bronze in the Derby?
P: Unlike Dance With Fate, whose three week break isn’t ideal, this one could have won the Blue Grass wheeling back in a week if he wasn’t marooned in post 13. Plus Dale Romans is trolling quietly, and he is dangerous when that’s happening.
C: He’s actually the one I favor the most for 3rd. If the 3 races in 4 weeks does not catch up to him, that could happen…
P: He’s one of a few I am looking hard and long at for the minor awards. His pedigree is fine for the distance, unlike a majority of others.
#15 TAPITURE (12-1)
P: He’s a Tapit. No. End Communication.
P: The only value to his victory is watching the media squirm when PETA subject Asmussen wins.
C: Still, no.
#16 INTENSE HOLIDAY (8-1)
C: Guess he is the “steam” horse with Hop out.
P: I could see this horse as the second choice in the wagering as this one’s bandwagon is filling fast. He bobbled away the Louisiana Derby but he beat mediocre milers in the Risen Star.
C: He STILL hasn’t closed the talent gap between him and Wicked Strong that existed before the Remsen. He could get 3rd, but I have him ranked much lower than many others.
P: I don’t see him in third at all as he is getting plus points for things he shouldn’t get, like being by Harlan’s Holiday (tanked at ten panels) or losing to a loose Vicar’s In Trouble that he dusted in the Risen Star.
#17 COMMANDING CURVE (50-1)
P: Lots of people say Golden Soul 2.0 based on his wide trip in the Risen Star and bad break in the LA Derby, especially given it’s the same trainer and same series of races.
C: He can easily finish 18th as he could pull a “Homer” and somehow garbage collect up for 3rd. As someone who liked Golden Soul a lot last year, I can say he is nowhere near as good as Golden Soul.
P: I too liked Golden Soul, and I ditto that this sequel isn’t as good as the original. I see him garbage collecting to fifth or sixth. The NOLA races were not as strong as last year, too.
#18 CANDY BOY (15-1)
P: Intense Holiday West in that he beat mediocre milers going beyond a mile and got dusted going nine panels. Plus the Candy Ride offspring seem to hit the wall beyond 1 1/8.
P: There are plenty of other mounts Gary Stevens is riding that have better chances. Please bet them.
#19 RIDE ON CURLIN(15-1)
P: Unlike so many others who went into reverse in Hot Springs, this one to me turned a corner by rating in the Arkansas Derby. He reminds me of Super Saver in that he learned to stalk/grind rather than be a speedball. Live.
C: He is 100% not on any of my tickets. His lack of acceleration will be his downfall. Toss.
P: I also think he comes out of what may be the best prep of the year, the Rebel which had a potential Haskell winner sandbag the Santa Anita Derby and a second place horse than won a G3 last out.
C: Nah. You’re wrong.
#20 WICKED STRONG (6-1)
C: A) He will be the CLEAR second choice at 4-1(!). B) He’s my pick.
P: I tipped him as the horse to root for on radio and see no reason not to. He’s my pick too. Even though he’s marooned in an outside post. He can pass and I liked his Wood much better than the California Chrome show on the same day.
C: His form is muddled by three completely fake races (8.5 furlongs on the dirt at Gulfstream Park provide some of the untruest results ever + whatever you want to call that sham of a race that was the Remsen)
P: He passed horses at the fraudulent mile and a sixteenth distance at Gulfstream and I get the feeling he hated that oval. He checks the pedigree box being out of a Charismatic mare, too.
C: He’ll have dead aim on California Chrome with an 1/8th to go. It will probably take all of that to catch Chrome too. Those two will be WELL clear of the rest. He is really the only one bred for ten furlongs in the entire race.
P: I don’t see California Chrome that close turning for home. But in a Derby where we disagree below we agree at the top.
#21 PABLO DEL MONTE (50-1) (AE)
C: Ah Del Monte. Enjoy being near the front early. It shall not last.
P: See also the comments on DANCE WITH FATE earlier how he’s a poly horse and exactly that. Plus his outside post means he sends and adds early pace. Pace factor at best, caboose crew at worst. Plus Sanchez is an aggressive rider, as seen from his Arlington days. Don’t be surprised if he leads going into the first turn.
Okay, moment of truth time. Your top three and a longshot.
#20 WICKED STRONG
#5 CALIFORNIA CHROME
#14 (3rd only) MEDAL COUNT
Longshot: #12 (3rd Only): DANCE WITH FATE
#20 WICKED STRONG
#19 RIDE ON CURLIN
#14 MEDAL COUNT
Longshot: #7 WE MISS ARTIE
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