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.
This piece focuses only on the Derby, but Picks & Ponderings hasn’t neglected other races. Picks & Ponderings also offers selections for the other stakes on the undercard as well. Both halves of the P&P duo have dissected the stakes on Friday and Saturday. The all stakes selections are done in conjunction with Hello Race Fans! as both Paul and Nicolle are on a panel to provide win-only selections for that site as well. We also have previews for the Kentucky Oaks and Woodford Reserve Turf Classic.
But the $2M Kentucky Derby presents a unique, if not messy challenge. You are presented with a field of twenty horses (which is rarely if ever seen at other times in America), all trying a distance they’ve never tried in front of 150,000 people in various states of drunkenness wearing hats with their own zip codes. With millions more watching on NBC.
Once again, Picks & Ponderings has a three-pronged approach to handling the Derby. One is Paul Mazur. Another is Nicolle Neulist, as both halves of P&P will break down the Derby for the second straight year. Lastly is Chris Hernandez. He can be found on Twitter, and has written for Thorofan in the past. We three attacked the Derby in a roundtable style below. 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 12 — G1 Kentucky Derby — One and one-quarter miles on Dirt — post time of 6:34 pm ET (race to be shown on NBC).
#1 TROJAN NATION (50/1)
NN – At least he made it easy. He was chasing OK horses out west, but he’s a maiden, he’s in the dreaded one-hole, and he’s still a toss. Plus he’s one of about a million closers.
CH – I doubt they’re playing “Conquest” after this race. Uninspiring.
PM – How fitting he does his work from the inside. I don’t think he pops the cherry in this race. He’s a closer in a field full of opportunistic closers.
#2 SUDDENBREAKINGNEWS (20/1)
CH – I don’t want him to win simply because of the bad puns. He ‘s run okay, but there’s a ton of closers. I might use him in third.
NN – This field has so many closers. He’s fine on a dry track or in the rain. Is he one of the better closers? Yes, but I don’t love him especially since DANZING CANDY is the only on-paper one-way speed.
PM – He’s a swing-wide closer who is hampered by post two. I think that draw forces him to swing wide and expend too much energy going from post two to being in the clear. Won’t finish last but will pass a few.
#3 CREATOR (10/1)
NN – Another Oaklawn closer. I feel similarly about him as I do about SUDDENBREAKINGNEWS. I might like him a little better than him, but the morning videos scream “your TAPIT is showing”
CH – I like him the most of the Oaklawn closers. It’s not a strong like and I might use him in the bottoms of exotics.
PM – I don’t like the Oaklawn bunch a lot, and gray Tapits are prone to misbehaving on race day. He’s okay but I like other closers more.
#4 MO TOM (20/1)
CH – I spent twenty minutes trying to figure out a palindrome for him. Which is about how long it will take him to finish this race.
NN – If he keeps finding trouble in smaller fields, I can’t trust him. There are so many closers, and others I like better, and he really finds trouble.
PM – He finds more trouble than an underage sorority on Bourbon Street. The Stuart Smalley campaign and the fact he’s had those trips are going to attract steam. No thanks.
#5 GUN RUNNER (10/1)
NN – I can’t talk myself of him. I liked his Risen Star, but he rolled in the Louisiana Derby. I know Asmussen has never won a Derby and I know the record of Fair Grounds is poor. I love him.
CH – He’s done nothing wrong, he’s tractable. I don’t buy the record of the Louisiana horses considering it’s only been six years that this race has been one prep away.
PM – I’m with Chris that the Fair Grounds record is hogwash: look at the pipeline of Fair Grounds Oaks winners (Rachel Alexandra, Believe You Can, Untapable) in the Kentucky Oaks. He ran on the inside when there was a dead rail present on Louisiana Derby Day and he’s hard to knock. A building block of my tickets.
#6 MY MAN SAM (20/1)
PM – This is a trappe play. He got exposed when Matt King Coal ran blah in the Wood. He’s another closer in a field of opportunistic closers and I like others better.
NN – His Blue Grass is fine, he can improve given he’s lighty raced. But that’s all I endorse.
CH – He’s a face in the pack of closers and others are better.
#7 OSCAR NOMINATED (50/1)
CH – Marisa Tomei would think this would be an upset.
NN – He’s bred to run all day, he looks to handle the Derby track well. He’s got to take a step forward, but he could crack the exotics.
PM – Most everyone’s chic click-to-pick to finish last isn’t mine. His race at Turfway saw him make his closing rally in a stiff headwind at Turfway. He’s bred to run all day and he’s going to be a price. But he’s worth using in the bottoms of exotics.
#8 LANI (30/1)
CH – Seeing Sunday Silence on the bottom is a huge plus point. I liked his UAE Derby. It’s a roll of the dice but I’m taking a shot with a Tapit to win the Derby.
NN – It’s hard to gauge. His connections have planned this Japan-Meydan-Louisville route very closely. I can’t get too excited about him. Howvever, he will be his quoted odds and more.
PM – The Sunday Silence pedigree argument doesn’t sell me. Take nothing away from him as a transformational sire for Japan, but I can’t get behind another closer who comes from a horrible pre-Derby path. I don’t think people where the local time is tomorrow are going to wake up at 4 AM to watch him run in midpack.
#9 DESTIN (15/1)
PM – You can’t mention him without mentioning the eight weeks. But how come there was steam in Future Pool 4 after the Eight Week Plan was announced? We know Pletcher can bring them off the bench, he’s tractable, he can accelerate and showed gameness over OUTWORK. I may be on island taking him, but I like my island. Top choice in this corner.
NN – I don’t have anything witty or funny for him. He’s in that second tier that I would sprinkle on my tickets. The eight weeks off doesn’t bother me at all, either. His Lecomte was okay but he redeemed himself over the beach sand of Tampa. I’m not quite as bullish as Paul is, but he’s on my tickets.
CH – It’s not the eight weeks. I worry he gets rated to death when he’s chasing a fast pace. As the year has gone, I’ve cooled on him a lot.
#10 WHITMORE (20/1)
CH – I like him more than MO TOM for horses that get into trouble.
NN – #anotherarkansascloser #ilikeothersbetter
PM – The sire line is fine, but I’m not a fan of moving to Espinoza. They tried to put him midpack in the Arkansas and got into gate trouble. Plus they crawled home in the Arkansas Derby and that’s one of the preps I really don’t like. No thanks.
#11 EXAGGERATOR (8/1)
NN – As much as I like #curlinbabies, I’m not enthusiastic on him at all. If he rains, he moves up a lot given his work in the mud. I can’t shake how bad his San Felipe was. Plus the Santa Anita Derby collapsed. He’s an underlay in my book that I’ll barely use defensively.
PM – It’s not the mud that moved him up – it was DANZING CANDY going too quick on the front end. He might get a flutter if it pours, but he’s not an appealing proposition at 8/1 and likely bet down to 6/1 or 7/1 when so many others have his style.
CH – I don’t like any of the California horses. He screams the type that will make his move on the turn too soon given he’s made rallies on tighter courses than Churchill. He doesn’t finish well.
#12 TOM’S READY (30/1)
NN – There’s one Tom on my tickets, and it’s this one. I think he likes the mile and a quarter. He has the Churchill form (a win, a second in three starts). I’ve watched him in the morning and feel he’s working like a closer. Plus he doesn’t have to come from the clouds like the Oaklawn gang.
PM – He typies how biased the Fair Grounds ovals were this year in the preps. There was a gold rail on Risen Star Day, and you couldn’t find him with a flashlight. He ran well on outside closers’ day in the Louisiana Derby. Plus the Dallas Stewart longshots don’t put two together at high odds back-to-back. He’ll pass a few tired horses but not much more.
CH – He gets his participation ribbon. He’ll make his move but that’s it.
#13 NYQUIST (3/1)
CH – I respect what he’s done, and I respect the fact he can inherit. I seriously question him getting ten furlongs. He could have the lead turning for home. I don’t hate him, but….
NN – He has some versatility, and I respect that all he’s done is win. The sickness in April and his 3-1 price don’t appeal on a horse for whom everything must be right. I can’t talk people off him but he’s a potential underlay.
PM – For as much as people as talk about Destin’s eight weeks, no one talks about him taking six weeks between the San Vicente and Florida Derby. The connections have danced this dance before, too. I agree with Chris he could have the lead turning for home. He’s ill-suited for ten furlongs, but so are a lot of others. I think he hangs on for a piece and works out a Firing Line-like outside pressing trip.
#14 MOHAYMEN (10/1)
PM – He may have “run the worst two minutes of his life” in the Florida Derby, but he flunked the acid test with a fast pace. His early-season preps had slow preps and shorter distances. I think he’s distance-challenged and over-the-top. This year’s Upstart and the click to pick to finish last.
NN – Let me join you on this caboose train. I watch the morning videos to look for those who aren’t coming to this race in falling form. He hasn’t looked good in the morning. I don’t think he’s coming in the right way.
CH – I don’t like him at all. I questioned him wanting nine furlongs in the Florida Derby. He’s part of the last-xacta.
#15 OUTWORK (15/1)
CH – I really want to like him, but I’m immensely worried he chases DANZING CANDY and then throws out the anchor. I see him as the same way as NYQUIST but with a lesser resume.
NN – I’ve mentioned that “second tier” that have a chance, and OUTWORK is one resident of this tier with DESTIN. He’s lightly raced, he showed good form at Tampa Bay. Is he going to be able to relax? There’s a chance. At his morning line it’s a fair price, but he could appear on a few tickets.
PM – I question his passing gear given it only goes up to inherit. It’s possible he could relax, but the Wood fell into his lap when Matt King Coal wilted. He scares me if he relaxes and settles, but the lack of a passing gear scares me.
#16 SHAGAF (20/1)
CH – It’s an awful pedigree, as opposed to what it says it on paper. A non-threatening seventeenth.
NN – I have a hard time trusting a Bernadini who hates the mud. He hasn’t done enough against better to get me interested in him.
PM – He was on a gold rail in the Gotham and found Fool’s Gold in the Wood Memorial. Not using.
#17 MOR SPIRIT (12/1)
PM – He’s a plodder who can’t pass. Toss. I wish his name was spelled “Moar Spirit” to attract the LOLcat money.
NN – He’s another I like in that second tier that could hit the board. He’s fast enough, consistent enough, and won’t be burned by DANZING CANDY. He could be the one who gets a Firing Line-type trip and hangs on for a piece.
CH – I don’t like horses have the acceleration of a truck going a 15% grade in the Derby. He doesn’t accelerate, and that’s a huge minus.
#18 MAJESTO (30/1)
CH – I know someone had to be second behind NYQUIST, but at least he has some kick and I think he could fly from the clouds and grab a piece.
NN – Can’t fault the ability to get the distance. He may the 84th closer in this field, but he is getting some steam and he could be used on the bottoms of tickets.
PM – He’s owned by Groupo 7c, and I think at Churchil’s gate 7C is where they give participation medals. Plus I question whether the Gulfstream form can travel.
#19 BRODY’S CAUSE (12/1)
NN – I’ve been alluding all night about the closer I want to bet. It’s BRODY’S CAUSE. I don’t like him in the nineteen post either. Tampa is a love-or-hate track, he has Churchill form where he broke his maiden nicely. Out of the closers, he’s the one I want in this bunch.
CH – You know how there’s the one horse you can’t get? I don’t like but I don’t know why. I can’t think of a good reason, but I am saying “no” to this one.
PM – He scares me but you can’t take them all. Throwing out a Dale Romans horse at odds is perilous, but he ran so badly at Tampa despite the solid Blue Grass. I think he might be an up-down type.
#20 DANZING CANDY (15/1)
NN – He’s the only true one-way speed in this field. That said, I don’t trust him as far as I can throw him. I don’t know if he can calm down. Post twenty is going to hurt him as he gets used up trying to clear the field.
CH – :22 2/5, :46 1/5, 1:10 1/5, and then he drops off the screen.
PM – He takes too much after TWIRLING CANDY – a headstrong forward miler, and it really showed in the Santa Anita Derby. Post twenty forces the hand that he goes to the front. He’s in the back half when all said and done.
#21 LAOBAN (50/1)
NN – If he draws in, he goes. But if he goes, he could give DANZING CANDY a fight on the front end. He could dig in and salvage a few places.
CH – There are better maidens and better horses sired by Uncle Mo.
PM – The pedigree is full of sprinters and distance-challenged types, but he was close to the fall-apart pace in the Blue Grass and hung on for fourth. He might get a look if he gets in and might hang on longer than people think.
#22 CHERRY WINE (30/1)
CH – Why does Steve Haskin love him so much? I don’t get it. You can’t get me drunk enough to pick him.
NN – If he draws in, he might get helped if LAOBAN is in the field. He’s the Romans “B””, which is a plus. He would be just another closer.
PM – He needs to draw in, and have DANZING CANDY get challenged on the front end. He needs a lot of help to make the field, let alone to make a good showing.
#5 GUN RUNNER
#19 BRODY’S CAUSE
#17 MOR SPIRIT
Longshot: #12 TOM’S READY
#5 GUN RUNNER
Longshot: #18 MAJESTO
#5 GUN RUNNER
Longshot: #7 OSCAR NOMINATED
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