Here is my annual horse-by-horse breakdown of the Kentucky Derby. I’ve watched replays (there isn’t much of one at Churchill right now), and pedigrees. I haven’t read anyone else’s opinion or analysis because I didn’t want to be convinced of something I didn’t see. Just a reminder, this is just my opinion, please don’t bet your life savings on the picks here and get mad at me when my horses finish in last place. Let’s get started:
by PAUL B
1) Trojan Nation – This horse doesn’t belong in the race and I wouldn’t be shocked if he scratches, he could very well be 100-1 at post time. The horse is a maiden and it’s very unlikely he will win his first race in the Kentucky Derby from the 1 post. Only three maidens have won the race, the last one in 1933. Ironically Sir Barton, the first Triple Crown champion, broke his maiden in the Kentucky Derby in 1919. This horse is an automatic throw out for me if he even ends up running.
2) Suddenbreakingnews – This horse ran a great race in the Arkansas Derby, he runs from way off the pace and ran very wide on the 2nd turn when making his move. Benefitted from a fast pace and nearly caught Creator once he opened up in deep stretch. Looks like a horse that’s trending up. In the Rebel he had a tough trip from the 12th post and couldn’t find any space to make move on the turn, was forced way out and by then it was too late to make a run. His only win this year came in the Southwest Stakes at a mile and 16th, but I don’t think distance is a problem, seems to be opening up late every race. He has had bad luck with post positions and traffic, but has looked good every race, if he has space, he could definitely make a late run.
3) Creator – The horse has looked clumsy in a couple races this year with poor lead changes, but has managed to finish in the money and win. He breaks very slow, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing on Derby day. A slow break might prevent him from being bumped around early as horses try to move inside on the first turn. He has big field experience and has been bumped around before and still finished well. If his footwork continues to be cleaned up, this horse has a good late kick and can run in traffic. From the 3 post, I like him to make a late run.
4) Mo Tom - It’s tough to get a good read on this horse because he had a tough trip in each of his last three races, having to check badly in two of them and had gate trouble three races back in a race he won. I’m also not impressed with the horses he raced against in Louisiana, I think Arkansas had the best preps for this Derby season. He has ran well at Churchill as a two year old and has looked pretty good in his workouts over the Churchill surface, but I don’t think I’m going to bet on a horse I’m not sure can get the distance and who is not as good as other deep closers in this field.
5) Gun Runner – Undefeated in 2016, but against pretty weak fields in Louisiana. Two races out in the Risen Star at a mile and 1/16 he tired badly in deep stretch, but held on to win. Changing leads seemed to be an issue in the Risen Star. As races get longer, a horse’s ability to change leads cleanly is very important. Horses should lead with their left foot on turns and switch to right foot on straightaways. This allows the horse to tire evenly, if they stay on one lead too long, they will tire too quickly and have nothing left for a stretch run. I’m not good enough to see lead changes in real time, but when looking for it in replays, you can pick out a clumsy horse who doesn’t switch well, this horse is one of them, which could be a big problem at a mile and a quarter. He looked better in the LA Derby when he drew off to finish, but was in general a slow race. Because of the lack of early speed in the Derby, Gun Runner, who usually runs close to the lead, may be able to get into a good stalking position early and make a run. The 5 post and his running style should help this horse, but fatigue in the stretch is my main concern.
6) My Man Sam - He ran a decent race in the Blue Grass from the way outside post 14 and came from way off the pace, but was never a threat to Brody’s Cause. It was the only stakes race he ran in and he lost in an allowance race as the favorite in March. He also hasn’t looked sharp in his works over the Churchill surface this week. I don’t think the horse is in the same class as many of the contenders this year, especially as a deep closer. I won’t be including him in my exotics.
7) Oscar Nominated – It’s hard to handicap a horse who has never run on dirt. He’s turf bred and ran all his races on turf with the exception of his last prep over the synthetic track at Turfway. He ran a good race, but won by a head against a field without nearly the class the Derby has. I dismissed Animal Kingdom in 2011 because he didn’t have any dirt experience and it was a mistake, but he won the Spiral by three lengths and it was another three lengths back to 3rd, he was much more dominant. I don’t think Oscar Nominated has the ability to put away the deep closers in the Derby, his other two races this year were turf sprints, and his speed figures don’t rate well versus the rest of the field so I’m going to throw him out.
8) Lani - Imports have never had success in the Derby and everything I know about this horse is he is very inconsistent and unpredictable. The Japanese and UAE horses are not in the same class as American 3 year olds. The only positive I see from this horse is that he has won at a mile and 3/16, farther than any other horse has raced, but against second-class competition. I’m throwing him out.
9) Destin – On film, this horse looks as good as any. Makes very clean changes and has showed good, late rally this year. Running out of Tampa, where generally the competition isn’t great, has dominated and beat Outwork in the Tampa Derby. Usually runs from a stalking position which I think will benefit him since there really isn’t much early speed in this field. The big question mark is his class and the layoff. He hasn’t raced in 8 weeks, most horses come into the Derby off a 4-6 week layoff, so I’m not sure if we are going to get a fresh horse or an unconditioned horse. I like this horse at a price because he has looked so smooth on tape, I think he’s worth a look as a potential longshot.
10) Whitmore – This horse had a troubled trip in the Arkansas Derby and still managed to finish 3rd behind Creator and Suddenbreakingnews. He was pinned early by two horses and was bumped in the stretch by Creator, which looked to me like interference that could have drawn a DQ. The bumping slowed him down a little and then was passed by Suddenbreakingnews. In the Rebel he was forced to race wide again and made a nice late run at the leader, but he was a little too far back and ran out of track to catch the leader. Had a very similar trip in the Southwest as well where he was too far back and tired a little after a bobble to finish 2nd. The horse gets a big break by getting Victor Espinoza and a good jockey might help him with footwork and avoiding the bumping and stumbles he’s had so far. Espinoza will be attempting to win his third Derby in a row, which has never been done before. The horse also has run a lot this year, four races, and seems to be training great over the Churchill surface. I think he has a chance to be a factor in this race. I think Arkansas had the most competitive fields this year for preps and he was in the mix every race.
11) Exaggerator – The most likely second choice, I think is flawed. The Santa Anita Derby, in which he won convincingly. was really a mirage. The race was in the slop and had an incredible pace, especially for a wet, muddy track. The fast pace and mud opened the door for a late closer and mudder like Exaggerator. On a fast track this year, he’s 0-3 and was beaten by both Mor Spirit and Danzing Candy in the San Felipe at a mile and 1/16, overtaken in deep stretch by Mor Spirit from off the pace. I can’t tell for sure if this horse is peaking at the right time or is simply the product of mud and pace. Since he’s a favorite, I’m looking to beat him and I don’t think he’s going to get the pace he needs to win from way back especially in a deep field of late closers. If it’s an off track, I’d bet this horse heavy, he loves the slop.
12) Tom’s Ready – The horse ran only in Louisiana this spring and didn’t win a race and hasn’t won since September. He also finished 7th this year and followed that up with a 4 length loss to Gun Runner. I think this horse is outclassed both in talent and pedigree in this race. He has a stalking/off the pace running style, but seems to lack the late run needed to win a route race. There is too much quality late speed in this race that I think Tom’s Ready is going to get lost in the wall of late running horses that will be coming down the stretch Saturday. I don’t plan on including him in anything I do.
13) Nyquist – The over whelming favorite in the race, I think it is worth a very hard look to try to beat him in this wide open field. Yes, the horse is undefeated, but only ran two races this year and one was a sprint. He dominated from the lead in the Florida Derby and put Mohaymen away easily, but I think that says more about Mohaymen being overrated than Nyquist being dominant, it was also over a good, but wet track. The Florida Derby field outside of Mohaymen was a very weak field. Nyquist hasn’t beaten real contenders as a 3 year old and has benefitted from some very easy trips this year. Going into the Derby I’d like to see how a horse handles traffic and bumping and so far Nyquist has seen none of it this year. It’s impossible to throw him out because he has done nothing wrong, but I definitely would not be shocked if he finished out of the money and has trouble with the distance. His father, Uncle Mo, never won a race over a mile, didn’t run in the Derby because of illness, and finished 10th in his only mile and quarter race. I’m going to include him, but I’m not betting him to win.
14) Mohaymen – The Florida Derby is a concerning race for Mohaymen since he didn’t run into any trouble, just lost and looked bad doing it. He was simply outworked by Nyquist and faded to fourth after making a move to catch Nyquist on the lead. His form does not look good to me and I think a mile and quarter is too far from him. His Fountain Youth win was against a small field and he was closer to a slow pace when he won the Holy Bull two races back. He was undefeated going into the Florida Derby, but he really only beat one horse of note, Flexibility, and that was as a two year old in NY. I think his wins were more of a product of him outclassing the other horses in the fields he ran against before getting worked in the Florida Derby. I think the other closers in the Derby are better horses that Mohaymen. He has been working well over the Churchill surface though and that is something to pay attention too. I may do some hedging with him if the price is right, but that’s about it.
15) Outwork – Another horse that ran his last prep on an off track. The Wood was an ugly, slow race, so I’m not going to make much of that win, he won by a head bob over an 81-1 shot on a wet track. I’m looking two races back to the Tampa Derby where Destin turned him away in late stretch and won handedly. Outwork will probably be on the lead or close to it with Danzing Candy. Unless he gets to set really slow fractions, he’ll be overtaken by some of the really good late runners in the field. Maybe he’s worth a look on the low end of exotics, but I have him out of the money against this field.
16) Shagaf – Finishing 5th in the Wood wasn’t a good sign, but given the wet track, I’m going to pay more attention to the Gotham which he won. In the Gotham he had an easy stalking trip and beat an unimpressive group as a 6/5 favorite by a length and didn’t take the lead until very deep stretch. Given the lack of talent in NY this year and the tough time he had to win the Gotham, I don’t expect Shagaf to be much of a serious factor in the Derby, I think he is a class below many of the horses running Saturday, and his speed figures show that.
17) Mor Spirit – This horse never took to the mud in the Santa Anita Derby and was too close to the hot pace to have much left to finish, I’m throwing that race out and focusing on what he can do on a fast track. In the San Felipe, I thought he ran and looked really good, just had too much ground to make up after an average pace to catch Danzing Candy. He passed a tiring Exaggerator along the way though to finish a very game second. I like that the horse can run in traffic and doesn’t need the rail to win or even gain ground. I think this horse has a great chance of finishing in the money and with the right pace and trip could win this race. I think the extra distance of the Derby will benefit this horse. I also love his pedigree, out of Eskendereya, who would have been the 2010 Derby favorite and I think winner if he had not gotten hurt and retired before the race. At 12-1 and with a seasoned Derby winning jockey in Gary Stevens, I like Mor Spirit a lot.
18) Majesto – He looked an ok 2nd in the Florida Derby, but was never a threat to Nyquist. He came into the Florida Derby off 5 mid-level maiden races, so he hasn’t really faced much top competition. I don’t think a decent second on an off track and a win in a maiden race is enough of a resume to include this horse anything I do. Maybe an off track bet, but other than that, I’m throwing him out.
19) Brody’s Cause – I really liked what this horse did in the Blue Grass. It was a big field and he ran off the pace and 6 wide, which is a place most Derby winners have to come from. Looked real good making a move at the second turn and endured some bumping and rubbing which is a sure thing with 20 horses running Saturday. Drew off in the stretch and closed into an average pace. As far as form goes, I think this horse looks really good and is taking well to the Churchill surface. He breaks late so I don’t think the 19th post will much of an issue early, its trying to find a space to run though late that might be a problem, but given the horses ability to run wide, I like his chances to make a move.
20) Danzing Candy – Another horse who ran in the awful Santa Anita Derby. He was responsible for the pace breakdown when he set quick fractions in the mud. He also ran the whole race on the rail, which was the wettest, deepest, most tiring part of the track, which further left him with nothing left for the stretch run. He was also the pacesetter in the San Felipe, but was able to hold on to beat Mor Spirit and Exaggerator. He never really opened up in the stretch though and I think if he’s the pace in the Derby, he’s going to be pressed and will not be able to win gate to wire. Because there isn’t much speed, maybe he can hold on for fourth or fifth, but I think he’s due to finish outside the money because of his running style and having to come all the way from the 20 post to try to get to the rail early. I think he’ll be gassed by the second turn.
Now that all the horses have been thoroughly looked at, here’s how I see the race playing out. I think there are four potential pace setters, Outwork, Gun Runner, Nyquist, and Danzing Candy. Since Danzing Candy will be coming all the way from 20, I don’t think he’s going to have a chance to get to the lead and I think Nyquist will be the early leader. By the first straight away, I think Danzing Candy will be really pressing the pace and I’m hoping he does to tire out Nyquist and open the door for some prices. By the second turn Gun Runner and Destin I think will be in a good position to make a run at the leaders since neither will be far from the pace and at this point will be pressed quite a bit. The fast middle part of the race should open things up for some of the late runners. Creator out the 3 post should be able to navigate a good trip and make a run. As he, Destin, and Gun Runner take the inner part of the track, I think Mor Spirit, Whitmore, and Exaggerator will be charging wide. Brody’s Cause lingering right behind them. I like Mor Spirit to get to the lead in deep stretch followed by Whitmore, Creator, Exaggerator, and Nyquist holds on for 5th.
So my play will be is: 17, 10, 3, 11, 13.
I’ll be hedging with Destin, Gun Runner, Mohaymen, and Suddenbreakingnews.
If the track is off, have to play Exaggerator. Nyquist, Suddenbreakingnews, Outwork, and Creator also seem to like the mud.
Good luck everyone, hope at least one of us wins big.