It’s Derby time again and for the 139th year in a row I will try and end my streak of futility. Of course it is not that long, but it sure feels like it has been. For expert selections (and mine) for the Derby and undercard visit the outstanding fan education site Hello Race Fans. Let’s take a brief look at the field:
Black Onyx (Breen/Bravo) – SCRATCH (escapes the jinx)
Oxbow (Lukas/Stevens): Hasn’t won since the Grade 3 LeComte early in the year and was beaten by several in here at the Arkansas Derby. Had traffic trouble there but don’t expect anything less in Louisville!
Revolutionary (Pletcher/Borel): Sporting a 3-race winning streak including wins in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby and the Grade 3 Withers. Should have some distance limitations but has been winning with each consecutive stretch out.
Golden Soul (Stewart/Albarado): Since Mine That Bird I’ve tried to make it a point of never counting any horse out, but it’s hard for me to envision a scenario where Golden Soul wins this race.
Normandy Invasion (Brown/Castellano): A hip pick after a rapidly closing 2nd to Verrazano in the Grade 1 Wood but has not had his nose on the wire first since his maiden score at 2.
My Lute (Amoss/Napravnik): Very game in battling Revolutionary to the wire at the Fairgrounds. Most impressive win was in an Optional Claimer but has fallen short against better.
Giant Finish (Dutrow/Espinoza): Only has run against state breds and over synthetic. Just don’t see it.
Goldencents (O’Neill/Krigger): Doug O’Neill brings in another relatively unknown jockey to the Derby aboard a colt that impressively won the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby. A mile and a quarter might be much for this guy and he’s going to want to be on or near the lead and it’ll be tough to slow down a 19 horse field. Mud may help this one.
Overanalyze (Pletcher/Bejarano): Something I am definitely doing after years of futility… Impressive winner of the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby after disappointing in the Gotham. Seems to have found a pilot he can bond with in Bejarano.
Palace Malice (Pletcher/Smith): Another trendy pick who hasn’t won since his maiden. Came very close in the Blue Grass, but that was over the synthetic surface. May be a better turfer than dirt.
Lines of Battle (O’Brien/Moore): Winner of the Group 2 UAE Derby, the distance won’t be an issue but the crowded field and the dirt surface may be.
Itsmyluckyday (Plesa/Trujillo): After impressive back to back wins in the Gulfstream Park Derby and Grade 3 Holy Bull, the colt was away for nearly 2 months before coming up short in the Grade 1 Florida Derby showcasing what could be some distance limitations.
Falling Sky (Terranova/Saez): After upsetting the field in the Sam Davis at Tampa, the colt was well beaten by many of these in the Tampa Bay Derby and the Arkansas Derby.
Verrazano (Pletcher/Velazquez): Undefeated frontrunner has really yet to be challenged. Seemed to have been nearly caught by Normandy Invasion in the Wood but remained unbeaten. Going to be tough to grab the lead from the 14 hole and may need to navigate some unfamiliar territory to win the race.
Charming Kitten (Pletcher/Prado): Yet another Pletcher entry, this one’s only win since its maiden was a score in the race named for his sire. Recipient of the Sandra Swan top choice and she has been scary with longshots – don’t overlook; even if it is his first time on dirt.
Orb (McGaughey/Rosario): Winner of four in a row in impressive fashion. Had to navigate traffic and charge from off the pace – all skills he will need Saturday afternoon. Should be able to run whether it’s wet or dry. Deserved ML favorite.
Will Take Charge (Lukas/Court): Won the Grade 2 Rebel at 28-1 to get into the field and has been off since that effort on March 16. Been working consistently but can’t say brilliantly.
Frac Daddy (McPeek/Lebron): Another eligible for a non-winners of one race other than maiden allowance. Hasn’t shown enough against this type to figure.
Java’s War (McPeek/Leparoux): Grade 1 Blue Grass winner appears to better on synthetic/grass.
Vyjack (Rodriguez/Gomez): Winner of four in a row until running into Verrazano in the Wood, a mile and a quarter doesn’t appear to be his best distance and it will be difficult to track the pace from post position 20.
Who gets Ted’s kiss of death this year? Depending upon who you talk to this is either a two horse race between Verrazano and Orb or a wide open affair with God knows who winning. I don’t think that this is as wide open as the Oaks appeared to be and I also feel that Orb and Verrazano are the class of this group. However, and this is a big however, there are 17 other horses in the race – all going further than they have ever gone before – and there will be traffic and there will be trouble. Who survives the trouble and can get the distance wins the race.
I am a fan of not betting a horse that is being asked to do something that it’s never done before. In this case we have 19 horses all being asked to go a mile and a quarter: level playing field. Loads of potential traffic issues: that narrows things down a bit. Despite all the trendy upset picks like Oxbow, Normandy Invasion and even Palace Malice, I really do think that Orb and Verrazano are the two most talented horses in the gate but only one of them has dealt with trouble, dug in and overcame it: My apologies, Heather...this year's choice is Orb
1. Orb 2. Verrazano 3. Charming Kitten 4. Revolutionary