By Brian Monzo
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The Kentucky Derby will run for the 138th time on Saturday at Churchill Downs in Louisville. I know the horse racing scene around here isn’t as dominant as it once was, but the Triple Crown is one of the greatest traditions in all of sports.
This year’s Derby is interesting because there are eight to 10 horses that can win without surprise, which makes this race a hard one to handicap. But, hey, I’m going to give it a shot anyway.
Union Rags, winner of the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream in February, hit a huge speed bump with a brutal trip in the Florida Derby, but he has two solid workouts though heading into the Derby. Given the fourth post position and ridden by the young and successful Julien Leparoux, Union Rags is built for this race and this distance, but his inability to win the big race is evident. He may go off at 9/2, which is an amazing price.
Bob Baffert’s speed horse Bodemeister will likely be the other favorite (morning line favorite of 4-1) with Union Rags. Bodemeister comes from the impressive Empire Maker, and could go off as high as 5-1. This horse is all about speed, and his victories prove that as he able to jump to a lead, and hold it. To his benefit he drew the sixth post, next to closers Dullahan and Rousing Sermon, which should allow him to break cleanly to his exact spot.
Hansen, another speed horse, will jump to the lead and try to go wire-to-wire. He drew the 14th post position, which is huge for his style of racing. In the Blue Grass Stakes, the speed was tough and he was beaten out late by Dullahan. Dullahan could be the fourth or fifth favorite on Saturday. Dullahan has a heck of a closing kick, but can’t get too far back if he wants to catch the group down the stretch.
The undefeated Gemologist is trained by top trainer Todd Pletcher and is currently 5-for-5 going into the Kentucky Derby. (Big Brown and Smarty Jones were also undefeated going into the race and came away with impressive wins.) Gemologist will sit close to the lead, and with the 15th position, should not have trouble getting there. His biggest challenge will be not getting into an early speed duel with Hansen, Bodemeister and Trinniberg. Trinniberg will be shooting out of the ninth post position, and at 50-1 is a huge longshot to win. He hasn’t run more than seven furlongs in his career and this distance bodes a huge challenge for him.
Alpha is my personal favorite in this race at the 11th position. He has a history of being temperamental in the gate, so the 11th position sounds good out of 20. Alpha isn’t the fastest horse, but he may be the grittiest, and he will go off over 10-1 with Rajiv Maragh on-board. Alpha should be sitting mid-pack and making his move on the far turn. It will take max effort and a perfect trip, but it’s not out of the question.
You can never rule out Calvin Borel in the Kentucky Derby. He took Street Sense from 19th to 1st in 2007 with an amazing ride. He won with Mine That Bird and Super Saver as well, and this year he will be on Take Charge Indy, the winner of the Florida Derby. Indy may try and get to the front, but I don’t see him being able to compete with the speed here.
El Padrino is another Pletcher horse, and will be somewhere in the 17-1 area. He is coming off a quiet workout, and a rough performance in the Florida Derby. He gets successful jockey Rafael Bejarano, but I don’t think he has the speed to get it done. He will need his best and more to win.
One horse growing on me is Creative Cause. He finished third in the Juvenile and lost by a nose to I’ll Have Another. I’ll Have Another drew the 19th post, but his history on dirt isn’t good. Creative Cause has been on the board for all eight of his races, including four wins. He will be sitting back and will be let loose by Joel Rosario. The mile and a quarter should help his chances, and with the eighth post position, a clean break should get him in the exact position Rosario wants. He’s a potential winner, a definite play in the exotics and is very appealing with a morning line of 12-1.
Daddy Nose Best could be making a move up the center of the track late. His closing kick worked out well in the Sunland Derby with Leparoux on board. He gets a jockey switch from Leparoux (on Union Rags) to Garrett Gomez. His early success came on the turf, not the dirt. He will definitely have a good price, but I prefer others.
Daddy Long Legs drew the first post position. The last horse to win the Derby from the rail was Ferdinand in 1986. His last win in Dubai was impressive, but I look elsewhere.
Bob Baffert’s Liason drew the 20th position, but has struggled as a three-year-old and should be out of the race early. Optimizer, coming out of the second post, didn’t show up for the Arkansas Derby, but there’s a chance he may be heard from late.
Went The Day Well is coming off two wins, and does have John Velazquez on him, however, he would have to run the race of his life to be heard from in his group.
Prospective no-showed in the Blue Grass Stakes and the Juvenile. I’m not sure Churchill Downs fits his style.
Rousing Sermon finished third in the Louisiana Derby. His speed numbers are not that bad, but his strength is closing a race and the other closers make much more sense in the race.
Sabercat will come shooting out the 18th post, and will likely finish 18th. He hasn’t done much since winning the Grade 3 Delta Jackpot in November.
Done Talking won the Illinois Derby, but his speed numbers were not impressive at all. He finished 10th in the Gotham Stakes, which was won by Hansen.
How The Derby Will Play Out
The early forecast calls for a chance of storms. At this point, I don’t think the weather will impact the race.
Right out of gate Hansen, Bodemeister, Trinniberg and Take Charge Indy head to the lead. They are chased by Gemologist right behind them. Union Rags, Alpha, Creative Cause chase a few lengths behind. Around the backstretch Dullahan hangs far behind. I’ll Have Another, Daddy Long Legs and Daddy Nose Best inch behind them. Around the far turn Trinniberg falls back. At the beginning of the stretch Union Rags, Alpha and Creative Cause make their moves to chase down the leaders. Daddy Long Legs and Daddy Nose Best falter. Take Charge Indy and I’ll Have Another dros from the pack. Dullahan is now seen in the picture but is running out of track. Gemologist gets the lead from Bodemeister and Hansen with one furlong left but Union Rags, Alpha and Creative Cause come charging.
Alpha noses out Creative Cause, with Union Rags behind him with a photo finish with Gemologist for 3rd.
Let me know your picks and comment on winners on Twitter @BMonzoWFAN
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