Preview: Kentucky Derby

How time is flying, ’cause here we are yet again: first Saturday in May – it can only mean the run for the roses, the Kentucky Derby, is upon us! The first leg of The Triple Crown, the time where dreams are still alive and rumours and tales are all the talk. So who’s the next big thing; who can  follow into the massive footsteps of American Pharoah?

The Favourite

Favoured is the unbeaten Nyquist – named after  brilliant Detroit Red Wings star Gustav Nyquist (who himself does pretty well at the current Hockey World Championships – a good omen?). Seven starts, seven wins, including a most recent impressive success in the Florida Derby.

He could been backed throughout the week at prices in and around 7/2 – very fair, and he’s sure to be a good deal shorter come post time. And that puts myself a bit into a dilemma. I really like the price, think it’s slightly bigger than it should be given what we know so far about last seasons leading juvenile.

But what about the future? You got to have doubts about his stamina to last the Derby trip with his speedy pedigree. Start box 13 must not necessarily be the problem as Nyquist possesses gate speed. However over this new trip, with 19 other horses in the race, a rattling pace right from the start, he’ll need to use a lot of energy early on to get across.

That could inevitability cost him when it really matters and he may run out of steam eventually. Therefore I am inclined to take him today.

I want to look for something sure to appreciate the trip. No need to look all that far though as there are plenty of alternatives in the field – however there is an interesting fact attached to more than half of the field: many are closers, so likely to come from off the pace.

It’s highly likely that with three furlongs to go we could see some dramatic traffic congestion which inevitably will result in plenty of hard-luck stories. Interestingly that is one of the factors speaking in favour of Nyquist, given his gate speed and prominent racing style. But only if the bit of stamina, which can be found to some extend on his dam’s line, comes through to help him stretch out over the 10f trip.

The Contenders

Curlin son Exaggerator is thought to be Nyquist’s biggest danger. A runaway winner of the Santa Anita Derby, who has a chance to stay the trip, even though there is a fair bit of speed on his dam side. He shouldn’t be too far off the pace too, which I reckon is a plus. He can be backed at 9/1 – is a fair price in my book.

Mohaymen lost an unbeaten record when readily put into his place by Nyquist in the Florida Derby. A performance too bad to be true, still his overall profile doesn’t scream Kentucky Derby winner to me, though the trip might bring out a bit of improvement.

Louisiana Derby winner Gun Runner is one I do like a lot. Potentially somewhere settling in midfield, he’s a pedigree to do well over this trip and crucially won at Churchill in the past. He’s generally available at 12/1.

Blue Grass Stakes hero Brody’s Cause already tasted success at Churchill as well. He’s got to overcome a draw in the car park, though he’s more of a closer anyway, so this might not  be a problem. More so will be to find a clear passage through the field in the latter stages of the race.

Yet to prove himself in Grade 1 company, however an excellent winner of the Tampa Bay Derby, when beating in second another interesting Derby contender in Outwork, is Todd Pletcher’s Destin. He has some questions to answer in terms of stamina and class but a fair draw and prominent race tactics do give him every chance to run his race and show he belongs here.

Stable mate Outwork was a good runner-up at Tampa, which was his only defeat in four career starts as he went on to win the Wood Memorial subsequently. A wide draw and question marks over stamina aside, he’s an intriguing contender, given there might be more improvement to come with time.

Some wise men, who surely know more about US racing than I do, tipped Mor Spirit to win the Derby. You got to listen to the people in the know, and the horse can be backed at 25/1. Still, his record isn’t that impressive. Twice a runner-up this year in addition to a Group 3 success. He looks to be a notch below top class, had been dealt a wide draw and has stamina questions to answer. Very little chances in my book.

The Long-shots

The Japanese runner Lani can’t be trusted to run his race given the antics he’s shown in his work leading up to the big race. But if he doesn’t completely bottle the start and if he wants to run and if he has a bit of in-running luck then I can see him running on strongly to have a shot at some decent prize money. It’s some big “if’s” though.

The need for in-running luck applies also to the closers Trojan Nation and Suddenbreakingnews. Both should appreciate the trip and finished with plenty of promise in their last outings. But again, luck will be a determining factor for their chances today, given their extreme racing styles.

The same applies to Creator I’m affraid. The winner of the Arkansas Derby, beating Suddenbreakingnews there, got the run of the race whereas the runner-up had to go wide around the whole field. That makes Suddenbreakingnews a better prospect in the race, yet Creator is a shorter price. Make of that what you want.

Two I like from the bigger prices are two with wider draws, but a bit of gate speed and the not to distinct possibility of improvement coming from stepping up in trip: Shagaf (40/1) and Majesto (33/1) may not make too much appeal at the first glance but it’s worth to give them a second look.

Shagaf went off favourite in the Wood Memorial, unbeaten in three starts up until then. He only managed to finish a disappointing 5th that day, but had multiple excuses. On muddy ground, he got off to a fair start from box one but got hampered right before the first turn and that cost him a fair few lengths at a crucial stage when the pace really took of. He made a big move halfway through the race then, his jockey seemingly panicking, and that cost him dearly in the end. So it might be best to draw a line through this particular performance.

The son of Bernadini is usually ridden closer to the pace, so if he can overcome his wide draw and be in a good position, not too far off the speed, I believe he can be a big player here. He’s still had only four starts and there’s a fair chance Shagaf stays the Derby trip.

Majesto was a good runner-up – albeit fair and square beaten – behind Nyquist in the Florida Derby. But that proved he’s certainly a quality horse. He’s bred to improve with time, by multiple Breeders Cup Classic winner Tiznow, out of a Unaccounted For mare. Good chance he likes the 10f trip and despite already six career starts he’s still open to a bit of improvement I reckon.

So these two are indeed my selection against the favourite Nyquist. They may prove not to have the necessary class required to go close after all, but at this point in time I believe both offer value for money.

What Else? 

The gates crash open somewhere around half past eleven, UK time. At The Races starts their coverage at quarter to six. On Friday for the Kentucky Oaks they showed the original NBC feed throughout the night, which was all class. Here’s hoping the same applies to today, but I fear we get to see all the atmosphere soaked out by a dreary ATR studio panel.

There’ll be roughly 170.000 people in attendance at Churchill Downs today. It’s just so massive! I always wanted to be one of them. But checking the ticket prices I realized those tickets that enable you to enjoy the day without being crushed by the masses are slightly beyond my budget. For the same price you can attend the Melbourne Cup five times – mind you having good seats….

Super mare Tepin – Royal Ascot bound – will race in the Distaff Turf at 6:13pm. Shouldn’t be missed. She is really good and I believe we see here a strong contender for the Queen Anne.

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