I love this time of year with all of the excitement of another Kentucky Derby. With another full field, there is bound to be a certain amount of racing luck, although recent Derbies have been quite formful, as California horses have dominated, winning the last 3 editions. It looks to me like the West Coast horses are not quite as strong this year, but there are several with solid credentials.
There seems to be a ton of early pace in the year’s event, which tends to favor the stretch runners; although I will mainly be looking for those can rate a bit, have solid Route breeding, and have been running late in their recent efforts. As always top speed Numbers and positive patterns are critical; and that extra furlong for the Derby Classic 1 ¼ Mile adds to the intrigue.
In Post Position Order:
1. 20-1 Lookin at Lee: 9.4 Best. Marching pattern. This guy closed nicely to finish a competitive 3rd in the Arkansas Derby 3 weeks ago. I like the steady improvement, and I think he will be passing horses late. Very good connections, and his breeding suits. Worth a look, especially in the exotics.
2. 20–1 Thunder Snow: No US races. He has some nice races overseas, including a win in the UAE Derby. Very good connections and he is well bred for the distance. It is just very tough for an overseas 3YO to compete in the Derby. As a note of reference, he beat Master Plan by a little over a length in the UAE Derby, and Master Plan has a Best of 13.2. Would surprise me.
3. 50-1 Fast and Accurate: 13.6 Best. Marching pattern. Nice win in the Spiral in March, as he has shown steady improvement and comes in fresh after 6 weeks off. At issue, though is that his Best is very slow for these. Solid connections and Route breeding on the dam side. Needs a huge step forward.
4. 30-1 Untrapped: 7.1 Best. Fading pattern. He has regressed in 2 straight since posting his 7.1 Best with a nice 2nd in the Risen Star at the Fairgrounds. I am not a fan of this kind of pattern. Decent connections, although I do note Mike Smith moves to Girvin. Solid Route breeding on the dam side. Needs a major turnaround.
5. 5-1 Always Dreaming: 8.7 Best. Marching pattern. He has come out running as a 3YO, with 3 daylight victories in a row, including a 5 length score in the Florida Derby. He figures to face a much hotter pace this time; still there is no telling how good this guy is. His Numbers are not impressive; however his dominating victories indicate that there is more in the tank. Breeding is at least OK, and his connections Pletcher and Velasquez are as good as it gets. Top threat!
6. 30–1 State of Honor: 7.8 Best. One race regression. He regressed from that modest 7.8 Best in a decent second behind Always Dreaming in the Florida Derby. He tends to push the early running and fade late, so the Derby distance does not appear in his favor. Decent breeding and solid connections; although Leparoux stays with Classic Empire. Would surprise me.
7. 15–1 Girvin : 7.4 Best. One race regression. Nice score from off the pace to take the Louisiana Derby in his latest. I am concerned that that was a regression in Numbers back to 9.0. Fairly well bred for the Route. Trainer Sharp has solid stats, and he does pick up the great Mike Smith as Hernandez stays on McCracken. Will need a big Numbers turnaround.
8. 15-1 Hence: 7.0 Best. Marching pattern. Dominating 4 length score in the Sunland Derby to post that 7.0 Best, as the 3rd place finisher was another 4 lengths back in a full field of 11. That is impressive, plus he comes in with 6 full weeks of freshening. Very good connections and solid Route breeding on the Dam side. Do not just dismiss this longshot!
9. 20-1 Irap: 7.2 Best. Marching pattern. Scored in the Blue Grass Stakes as a Maiden in his latest to post his 7.2 Best. That was a gutsy dueling win over several in here; however I expect the pace to be much hotter in the Derby. Solidly bred for the distance, and his connections are the same as I’ll Have Another who scored here a few years ago, and last year’s winner Nyquist. I love the forward moving pattern; however he will need another big step forward.
10. 15-1 Gunnevera: 5.1 Best. One race regression. He posted that 5.1 Best in a smashing come from behind win in the Fountain of Youth. He then regressed to 12.3 in a disappointing Florida Derby effort as he was a well beaten 3rd as even money favorite, although he did pass 7 other horses. So what happened? I am usually very reluctant to back a horse after a sharp bounce, unless I can see legitimate reasons. He did regress after a big step ahead to that 5.1 Best, so a bounce was likely, and like Irish War Cry’s Fountain of Youth, maybe he just had a headache. The Florida Derby was run with mediocre early fractions, so a quicker early pace will likely play to his advantage, and I do like the 5 weeks freshening. Trainer has decent stats and jockey Castellano is terrific. Very good Route breeding, especially on the Dam side. Very dangerous longshot!
11. 30-1 Battle of Midway: 9.4 (Route) Best. Fading pattern. He ran an incredibly game 2nd in the Santa Anita Derby, duking it out the whole with very fast splits before being caught late. In the Kentucky Derby, he will undoubtedly ensure a hot pace. Excellent connections and well bred for the distance. The likely Derby race shape and his mediocre pattern and Numbers do not appear to be to his advantage. Needs the race of his life.
12. 50-1 Sonneteer: 9.0 Best. Marching pattern. Has a similar pattern to Lookin at Lee, as he also came flying late in the Arkansas Derby. Solid connections and modest Route breeding. Exotics consideration.
13. 20-1 J Boys Echo: 8.5 Best. One race regression. Here is another who regressed off his Best in his latest. In his defense, he did have a rough trip in the Blue Grass. Still, his Numbers are not that fast and he returns in only 3 weeks. Connections have very good stats, and his breeding suits. Will need a big step forward.
14. 4-1 Classic Empire: 6.8 Best. Mild Marching pattern. Last year’s BC Juvenile hero and morning line favorite returned to the races in February to post a 7.0; albeit nearly 9 lengths in the wake of Irish War Cry. He was then given another 2 months off and returned to score in the Arkansas Derby while posting a mild new Best of 6.8, after a somewhat troubled trip. Connections Casse and Leparoux are excellent, and he is bred for the Route. Worth a long look!
15. 5-1 McCraken: 5.7 Best. One race regression. Like many others, he regressed in his most recent after posting his Best of 5.7. He appears well suited for the distance, while his connections have modest stats.Will need a big step forward.
16. 20-1 Tapwrit: 5.9 Best. One race regression. That 5.9 Best he earned one race back in a dominating come from behind score in the Tampa Derby warrants respect. Like many in here, he then bounced sharply in a dismal Blue Grass effort. He too, may have bounced from a top effort, and he also has the excuse of not having been prepared at the start. Well bred for the distance, I love the off the pace style, and connections Pletcher and Jose Ortiz are as good as it gets. Very playable longshot!
17. 6-1 Irish War Cry: 3.0 Best. Marching pattern. In 2 of his last 3 this guy has posted Numbers faster than any other horse in here, including a dominating performance in the Wood, where he sat just off a blistering pace and drew off in the lane. 2 back he was also impressive in the Holy Bull, before throwing a complete clanker in the Fountain of Youth in a race that trainer Motion found hard to explain, other than it was possibly a bounce. Well, maybe he had a headache that day, but his Wood performance indicates that he seems to have completely recovered. As a note, his two fastest Numbers are faster than last year’s winner Nyquist and runner up Exaggerator had posted coming into the Derby. His connections are very good, and his breeding is well suited for the distance. I am a bit concerned that he will sit too close to a hot pace; nevertheless, I consider him to be my top pick!
18. 15-1 Gormley: 7.4 Best. Fading pattern. He posted that 7.4 Best as a 2YO last year in winning a GR 1 in only his second career start. Since then his Numbers have steadily backed up. Even though he tallied nicely from off the pace to score in the Santa Anita Derby, his Number faded to 10.1. Recent California horses, especially winners of the SA Derby have done extremely well in the Kentucky Derby; however this year’s West Coast crop has been posting mediocre Numbers. Solid connections and decent breeding for the distance; He will also need a big Numbers turnaround.
19. 20-1 Practical Joke: 6.8 Best. Mild regression. He has been very competitive against several of these, including a close up second in the Blue Grass in his most recent. Breeding is at least OK for the Route and connections Chad Brown and Rosario are primo. In his third race off a layoff I expect another step ahead. Leave him out at your own risk!
20. 30-1 Patch: 10.1 Best. Marching pattern. Here is another very lightly raced Pletcher horse with a nice forward moving pattern. Breeding suits and jockey Gafflione has solid stats. His Numbers are slow in here; however he continues to improve. Do not overlook.
The Numbers and pattern of Irish War Cry stamp him as my top choice. After that the competition runs deep, and I would not be surprised by top efforts from longshots Gunnevera and Tapwrit and maybe even Practical Joke, along with the top morning line choices.