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 once again, I got some outside help. I made sure to share my forms with Nicolle Neulist, and she joins the discussion this year. 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 and has written for Thorofan in the past. We three attacked the Derby in a roundtable style below, using the same format of “Point/Counterpoint” of the past. However, it’s not called that this year on account of that format better suited for two people.
A reminder: the thoughts of the panelists are tagged by their initials: PM for Paul, NN for Nicolle, CH for Chris.
Let’s meet the field!
Churchill Downs — Race 11 — G1 Kentucky Derby — 1 1/4 miles on dirt — post time of 6:34 pm ET (race to be shown on NBC).
1. OCHO OCHO OCHO (50/1)
NN: No interest in him. I tried to give him a chance in the Blue Grass, and he was coming in off a freshening. I wouldn’t say he woke up off the lay-off and he looks a cut below despite the below.
CH: If he goes for the lead things becoming interesting in terms of pace, but if he doesn’t go for the lead it ends poorly. He makes the race interesting, but he doesn’t seem to be a winner.
PM: I’d love to see him in the Kings’ Bishop. Unfortunately in this event – and with the one post – I can’t endorse.
2. CARPE DIEM (8/1)
NN: The reason I’m annoyed is he’s going to take a lot less money. I was hoping he would a draw a nice post to inflate other pieces. I think he has the talent. But as he’s untested at three and I’ll let him beat me.
CH: No one is talking about him, which is odd. He can grind along, but I can’t toss him.
PM: Post two gives him all the excuse to run a bad race here and come back and shock later in the Belmont. Defensively use and underneath as better Pletchers seem to be away from Gulfstream.
3. MATERIALITY (12/1)
NN: I know there’s a lot of of reasons to not like him, and I shouldn’t like him for losing Velazquez to CARPE DIEM. But I like him. He beat STANFORD on the square and showed adversity. He showed fight. He’ll dislike ten furlongs less than other.
CH: I don’t like him at all. He has to take dirt in his face and taking that risk on a Pletcher with a lot of hype is something I won’t take.
PM: Pletcher + prepping at Gulfstream = No way. Plus the Curse of Apollo took down Bodemeister and Apollo, and those were very capable horses.
4. TENCUNDUR (30/1)
NN: He ran his eyeballs out in the Wood and screams bounce risk.
CH: I honestly don’t think he’ll get mentioned more than two times.
PM: His pedigree on paper indicates he’ll need an inhaler at the quarter mile. And when Collmus said you ran your guts in the Wood, it doesn’t look good. Toss.
5. DANZIG MOON (30/1)
NN: Can we say “steam horse”? He’s going to be a longer price than DORTMUND, but he’s overhyped. He could get ten panels but I don’t understand the steam on him. I don’t see what others see.
CH: It’s more simple for me: he hasn’t run a two-turn race I’ve liked. Toss.
PM: Someone had to be second in the Blue Grass and he didn’t run all that well at Tampa Bay. The closer that never fires and my pick to finish last.
6. MUBTAAHIJ (20/1)
NN: I’m a little gunshy about the class of competition, but he’s going in my exotics. But there are some things to like and he handled his ship to Arlington and Churchill well. Furthermore, de Kock shippers are no joke.
CH: He’s my top pick. I don’t think he has a problem going ten furlongs, and he didn’t run a bad race in his Dubai efforts. I didn’t like his ride in the UAE 2000 Guiness and his only loss. If Soumillion goes too early, it will work.
PM: I respect him as a trainer but I’m going to let him beat me. In the dirt days before synthetic, Dubai to Derby was a death trap and it’s really hard to trust that against the talents of de Kock.
7. EL KABEIR (30/1)
NN: Could he win? No. But he’s game enough and moved well in the Wood to merit a spot in the lower spots of exotics
CH: He could run second. He’ll take back as his stablemate(s) will go to the front. He could garbage collect, pick off runners, and get on the podium.
PM: This year’s Samraat. He’s gritty and game but he’s incredibly ill-suited to ten furlongs. Some B-Derby like the West Virginia Derby will hit him right between the bridle. Not today.
8. DORTMUND (3/1)
NN: Love, love, love DORTMUND. He’s six-for-six and he’s got a win over the Churchill course. He’s fast enough, big enough, and gosh darn it good enough.
CH: I wish he drew better. His size hill haunt him and he won’t get the trip he wants. I picture him getting hemmed in and getting shuffled around. I’m going to take a stand and not use him.
PM: I’m using him defensively. For him to stay in form this long surely impressed me and he whistled in the Santa Anita Derby. I’m not in love with him – I never have been. But he’s won my respect and inclusion on tickets.
9. BOLO (30/1)
NN: I wish I had something interesting to say. But I don’t. And I’m not using him. Midpack and meh.
CH: I’ve been hearing steam for six months. That third in the San Felipe was off two weeks of missing training. Putting Bejerano was the best decision as it made him a toss.
PM: I’m with Chris that Bejerano climbing aboard is a downgrade. Plus he was exposed by DORTMUND as second-tier.
10. FIRING LINE (12/1)
NN: He kept DORTMUND honest, but I’m torn. He’s a good horse but he seems up against it on pace. Either he’s too far out of it on to chase after who starts backpedaling or too close to the upfront speed.
CH: Will he finish better than his sire, Line of David (17th)? No.
PM: I took a lot of public flack for using the “not impressed” picture on him. Even though he won the Sunland Derby by a zip code, his pedigree and running style put him behind the eight ball. Toss.
11. STANFORD (30/1)
NN: Do Not Want. Caboose Crew. He’ll be a part of the speed and then he’ll fade. I love Florent Geroux but I wish he had a better Derby mount.
CH: The band is on the track, and they’re playing him off. Toss.
PM: I think he gets sacrificed to set up CARPE DIEM or to annoy DORTMUND, and we find his carcass at the top of the stretch.
12. INTERNATIONAL STAR (30/1) SCRATCHED
NN: He’s not my pick but I can’t knock him. He’s been as solid as they come and I’m using him underneath.
CH: I can’t say anything negative. If he wins he’ll screw up my tickets but I can’t knock him. Underneath.
PM: He’s checked off all the boxes and the New Orleans to Louisville connection isn’t that bad – look at the Fair Grounds Oaks to Kentucky Oaks runners. Pedigree and running style all are there. All aboard the click to pick.
13. ITSAKNOCKOUT (30/1)
NN: He’s doing a lot more to promote the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight than to promote his Derby chances.
CH: What will there be more of: number of horses he beats or number of rounds in the fight?
PM: He runs badly evenly, or evenly badly. Somewhere in the bottom quarter of the field as his pedigree says the tenth furlong will be an issue, and the Pletchers-at-Gulfstream prep angle often run awful.
14. KEEN ICE (50/1)
NN: I’m glad he’s in the field. He still just has that maiden win, but I still see him as a horse who wakes up going ten panels with pace in front of him. Love his breeding. He’s got a win over the Churchill dirt. With speed from AMERICAN PHAROAH and STANFORD he’ll get his target. He gets a beautiful set-up. Top choice.
CH: Pick for third. He reminds me of Golden Soul and Commanding Curve. The goal has been the Derby for these folks from Day One and now they’re in the gate. Plus he’s got the ten-furlong breeding.
PM: Dale Romans has done well in the Derby with horses of inferior breeding. I don’t think he wins but I can easily see him screwing up trifecta tickets and superfecta tickets in the vein of Golden Soul. It’s worth noting that Fair Grounds has yielded the longshot upsetter the last two years and there’s a good chance they do it again. Underneath.
15. FROSTED (15/1)
NN: I see the arguments for and against him, but I don’t trust him after he went in reverse in the Fountain of Youth. Too many questions exist after his Wood and there are other horses in the field I feel more confident about.
CH: It’s a Tapit going ten furlongs. Toss. One negative stain in the Fountain of Youth still lingers and I’m not using him.
PM: I question what he beat in the Wood and I’m still trying to scrape off the bad feeling of the Fountain of Youth. McLaughlin is due for a winner but this isn’t his winner. Middle third.
16. WAR STORY (50/1)
NN: I question his training and his works have been underwhelming.
CH: Last. I don’t like his two-turn races, I don’t like his training, and I think he gets taken out of his element.
PM: I’ve heard and seen better war stories about Shelbyville and putting onions in belts. Plus Tom Amoss horses in the Derby are usually not to be trusted this time of the year. No bueno.
17. MR. Z (50/1)
NN: I wish that MR. Z were not owned by the same folks as AMERICAN PHAROAH. If the ownership were different he might be more forwardly-placed. But now he’ll be taken off to not compromise AMERICAN PHAROAH. With his history of finishing underneath it’s a tough act to pull off.
CH: I forgot he was in the race. I don’t see him running well or running badly. Just…there. I’d rather have EL KABEIR as a forward style-turned clunk up type.
PM: MR. Z was an Arkansas horse. Arkansas horses were bad this year. He’ll fight hard to be in the middle third.
18. AMERICAN PHAROAH (5/2)
NN: I don’t think he’s been tested. There are too many questions to take him as the favorite in the field. I can’t take him at a short price, but I’m torn on how to use him. I might use him underneath.
CH: I don’t think he wants ten furlongs and I don’t think he’s been tested. But when they get on the outside – like in their team drills in the mornings- they tend to do their best work. And he’ll be outside. I’m using him defensively.
PM: I think he’s getting too much credit for doing too little. He looked real good in the Arkansas Derby, but he was the best of a weak region of prep races. He’s also bred too similarly to Vinceremos and Cairo Prince – runners not well equipped to handle ten furlongs. I’m taking a stand and throwing him out.
19. UPSTART (15/1)
NN: I really liked UPSTART’s Holy Bull and his racing at two. Then the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby come around. I appreciate his consistency and he could clunk up, but that’s about the best I can see. I think he peaked in January.
CH: No! I’ve been firm againstly on him and his pedigree gives no indications of wanting ten furlongs.
PM:I think he ran his best prep one prep too soon. In the Kentucky Derby, you want to be the ticka-ticka-ticka sound on the roller coaster and not the weeeeeeeeeee. Unfortunately, he’s the latter and not the former.
20. FAR RIGHT (30/1)
NN: I can’t get excited over FAR RIGHT. He’s reliable enough and he could finish in the top half. How far he goes in to that top half is murky. He’s run okay at Churchill. He joins Bolo on the Meh train.
CH: Who was the last clunk-up type to come back on three weeks rest? They usually have more rest than that. I fancy others more.
PM: He’s not even the best garbage collecting clunk up type on his own circuit. I’d rather use Bold Conquest, and he’s not in the field. Not interested and was exposed as part of a second-tier circuit.
21. FRAMMENTO (AE) 50/1
NN: Another clunk up type. Not a fan of him at a mile and quarter, but at least he’s reliable enough.
CH: If he gets in, he gets his participation ribbon. He hasn’t shown the talent.
PM: Only if he gets in and only if he replaces another closer would I think of using him. Both need to happen but neither are lucky.
22. TALE OF VERVE (AE) 50/1
NN: For the life of me I can’t understand why he’s here.
CH: I’d rather have Unbridled Forever in the Derby. Oh wait, she’s in the Oaks.
PM: Did the Pat Day Mile overfill? I’d rather see the zero-points winner of Illinois Derby instead.
Moment of Truth time. Who’s your pick?
#14 KEEN ICE
Longshot: #6 MUBTAAHIJ
#12 INTERNATIONAL STAR #7 EL KABEIR
Longshot: #14 KEEN ICE
#2 CARPE DIEM
Longshot: #14 KEEN ICE
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