There are two ways to look at this year’s Derby: pick a favorite and just enjoy or try and dope out the exotics and cash a big ticket. This year Heather and I have gone back and forth for weeks and we can make a case for or against virtually every animal in the field. Even now as I recap my picks for Hello Race Fans I STILL don’t know what I’m going to write below when I get to the Derby! If it wasn't the Derby this race would be a pass for me, gambling wise.
As for the Hello Race Fans picks, I didn't embarrass myself, which is nice. I whiffed in the La Toienne and the Turf Sprint (although if I had listened to Heather I wouldn't have - she nailed them both!). Fiftyshadesofgold took the Eight Belles for me and, sadly, Will Take Charge looked like a very tired racehorse as he finished off the board. I rallied in the Oaks, as did many, with the very impressive win by Untapable so I finished with only two wins of the five races but finished tied for 3rd with the inimitable Derek Brown with $10.20 in earnings. We both trailed HRF's Laurie Ross (1 win but it was the pricey Moonshine Mullin at $15.80) and the winner, HRF co-founder Dana Byerly who had three wins and $18 in earnings.
On to Derby Day.
DISTAFF TURF MILE
Centre Court looks dominant and is cutting back to a distance where she has won two of three – and the one she didn’t win she had a very troubled trip. I’m going to try and beat her with a first time graded stakes participant, Ready Signal. She moved into stakes company for the first time two starts back in the Ten Palms at Gulfstream and she was able to get up at the wire to win by a nose. Next up was another Gulfstream stake that she won with a little more comfort at a bit longer than today’s mile distance. Now she’s taking on graded company for the first time. Sure, it’s a big step up, but they all had a first one and with a morning line of 12-1, I’ll be rewarded handsomely if she can make the transition.
PICK: Ready Signal
I’ve tried to go against Judy the Beauty several times and she’s kicked me in the teeth every time. There’s some speed in here, including the swift Midnight Lucky making her seasonal debut, as well as a couple of closers, but I love the way that Judy can stalk and I think, like She’s A Tiger on Friday, Lucky may need one before moving forward.
PICK: Judy the Beauty
THE AMERICAN TURF
Winner of the inaugural Shakopee Juvenile at my home track Canterbury Park, General Jack, is in here as is well regarded Iroquois winner Cleburne and fun named Big Bazinga. I’m looking at the Todd Pletcher trainee, PIcozza. Remarkably consistent at three, he finished a good second in the off-the-turf Transylvania last out though he had to hang on for dear life keep that place spot by neck. I’d like to see him move up from that effort, especially heading back on the turf for this one.
THE CHURCHILL DOWNS
There are a few I considered in here. Delauney capped a six race winning streak when he captured this race last year. Falling Sky easily captured the Grade 3 Gulfstream Park Sprint at this distance earlier I the year. Clearly Now beat older as a 3-year old in the Grade 3 Bold Ruler last fall. My choice in here is Sahara Sky. Great consistency and a just off the pace running style that should suit him well here, though I admit I would like to see a bit more early speed for him.
PICK: Sahara Sky
The question here is can 2-time horse of the year Wise Dan be beat? And if you think he can, who is going to do it? Kaigun is a possibility. Second to Dan last out, he was gaining sharply before the wire and this time he has another furlong to run. Seek Again, on the outside, is interesting to me. A European import, he came to the US the end of last year and promptly took the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby in her American debut. This is his first start of 2014. The only thing is that whatever Dan has had to do to win, he has done. The only time he hasn’t was in the off-the-turf Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland where he still managed to finish 2nd. He loves a mile, for sure, but the extra eighth of a mile in this race last year was also his largest victory.
PICK: Wise Dan
Well…here I am. I should take a strong stand. Puff out my chest and declare to the world why my choice will win. Is California Chrome the monster he has shown in California or will he wilt if things don’t go his way? Is there too much early speed in this race for anyone close to the pace to win? Will the pace just not be as hot as everyone thinks and a gutsy colt like Wildcat Red digs in and takes it?
I almost decided that what I was going to do is take my hometown hero, if you will, Wicked Strong. Cheer for him and hope for the best but if he can’t win, I wouldn't sweat it either. However I think that after Heather and I spent three hours trying to figure out the race, I had to do better than that. My methodology was first to eliminate who I figured the pretenders were and then eliminate the horses that want to be on or near the lead. That left me with four. I handicapped the four horse race and then there was one. My wager will be a four horse tri (12, 16, 18, 19) and see if I can catch boxcars at a minimal outlay.
PICK: Intense Holiday