By Brian Monzo
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Saturday marks one of most celebrated events of the year: the running of the 139th Kentucky Derby. Nineteen horses will give it their all to bring home the roses and potentially put themselves in an elite class of Triple Crown winners.
My favorite part of the Kentucky Derby? The prices. Chances are the favorite could be 4-1, which is a great betting price. It’s a great race for wagering, as well as the hardest one to handicap in the Triple Crown series. This year will start the Kentucky Derby points system, in which certain qualifying races have a fixed number for winning as well as placing and beyond.
Nineteen horses. The field is deep, and the best horse doesn’t always win. In fact, more often it loses. The keys to the Derby are post position, being able to manage traffic, and having enough down the stretch to come away with the win.
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Obviously any horse has a shot in theory. But no matter how good, getting the first or last post position makes it nearly impossible to have the perfect trip.
Look at last year. Few will argue that Bodemeister ran the best race. Shoot, some would say Went The Day Well had the best run. But I’ll Have Another got a perfect trip from jockey Mario Gutierrez and found himself in a great spot to chase down Bodemeister down the stretch.
This field makes it even harder. In looking at each of these horses, there’s not one clearly above the rest of the pack. Honestly, I can look at the field and find a reason for 15 of the 20 horses to win.
Let’s break down the entire field and paint a picture of how I see the race unfolding. I was lucky enough to speak to several of the best handicappers and analysts in the business and got some thoughts about a few of the top contenders in the race.
Black Onyx was a late scratch from the Derby on Friday. He was scratched after the 9 a.m. cutoff, which means no horses can be added to the race. His No. 1 post position will be left empty.
Oxbow is one of two horses in this field trained by D. Wayne Lukas. He gets legendary jockey Gary Stevens. Oxbow has shown the ability to come from behind and win from the front of the pack. He has been a victim of bad positions and had a brutal trip in the Arkansas Derby last month. I don’t think he has the quicks to catch this group. If he does anything, it’s because of his jockey. Look elsewhere.
The third post position isn’t a favorable one, but if anyone from this group could pull it off, it’d be Revolutionary. He has solid connections, and with three-time Derby winner Calvin Borel (and trained by Todd Pletcher) on his mount, I think he has a great shot. Revolutionary is three for six in his career and has hit the board in all his races. His last two wins in the G3 Withers and G3 Louisiana Derby made him a logical contender. His Louisiana Derby run was impressive to me mostly because of the late challenge. I was fortunate enough to speak to Gino Buccola of TVG, who said Revolutionary “showed in the Withers he can overcome a ton of trouble and win, and to me that was the most impressive prep race that any Derby horse ran.” He has the ability to close with a ton of speed, and if he can manage to stay in a position where he can strike, I expect him to be there in the end. I think his price will be a good one, possibly 7-1. Revolutionary is my top choice.
Golden Soul draws the fourth post and will have Robbie Albarado on his mount. He is one for five in his career, with his lone winning coming in a MS race in December. He showed some late speed the Louisiana Derby, but still lost by over four lengths. Not expecting much.
Normandy Invasion seems to be a trendy pick in the Derby. His morning line is 12-1, which is an outstanding price. He is trained by stud Chad Brown and Javier Castellano will get the ride. Top-notch connections. His late surge in the G1 Wood Memorial last month got everyone’s attention. Some would say that if the race was another 100 yards, he would have caught Verrazano in his late strides. That said, he is also one for five in his career. The fifth post position is not brutal, and if he gets the trip, I see Normandy Invasion hitting in the money. WFAN’s own Marc Malusis is a backer of Normandy Invasion: “He’s a proven closer that I think is going to peak Derby Day. Great trainer-jockey combo with Brown-Castellano. He ran a solid second on the Wood. He is training well and should get a good pace to run at.” Gets a big look here.
Mylute draws the sixth post and gets Rosie Napravnik on the mount for veteran trainer Tom Amoss. I would have dismissed completely if it wasn’t for the big run the Louisiana Derby. Of his nine career starts, most were good, but in his last outing against Revolutionary, he had a chance to pass and didn’t. Didn’t show me the fighting spirit. Don’t think he will run an awful race, but I don’t expect too much.
Giant Finish closed well in the Spiral, but was fought off by Black Onyx. Trained by Anthony Dutrow, this horse has the talent to kick late, but I don’t think he matches well here.
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Goldencents is an interesting choice. He’s trained by Doug O’Neill and jockeyed by Kevin Krigger. O’Neill trained I’ll Have Another last year to glory. I was skeptical about Goldencents based on how he ran in the G2 San Felipe. It was a speed dual with Flashback, and he caved and lost. Traditionally, he sat on or close to the lead and held for his four wins. In the Santa Anita Derby he opened my eyes by sitting off the pace and letting loose down the stretch to an impressive win, and seemed to turn it up to a notch I hadn’t seen before. Jerry Bossert of the New York Daily News told me,”Leaving from post eight will allow Krigger to see how the race is unfolding and with the colt’s natural speed, he can place Goldencents where he wants early on, avoiding any crowding that could occur entering the first turn. The colt earned the top speed figure in his last start when taking the Santa Anita Derby in driving fashion, and should handle the mile-and-a-quarter distance of the Derby.” I think he goes off at 5-1 and could easily be there when the race is over.
Overanalyze is another Todd Pletcher horse and will have Rafael Bejarano on his mount. He won two of his last three, including the Arkansas Derby and Grade 2 Remsen at the Big A. I don’t know if he can handle the distance, but he got a perfect post in the nine. He could be heard from late, and is definitely worth putting on deep exotic tickets.
Palace Malice is trained by Todd Pletcher as well and will have legendary jockey Mike Smith aboard. Throw out the Louisiana Derby where he got an awful trip. He is only one for six, but has hit the board in five races. If he can stay two or three lengths from the lead, he has a shot. If he gets too far back, he doesn’t have the speed to reach the leaders. This is a coin toss. I would see how live he is on the board before wagering. I don’t see him winning.
Lines of Battle comes over from Europe. He won the UAE Derby in Meydan and looked good doing so. He has tactical speed, but his best runs have come on a synthetic track. I normally just pass on European horses in this race.
Itsmyluckyday has Elvis Trujillo on board, who is one of my favorite jockeys. He has a ton of racing experience, already running in 10 and winning five. He ran second-best in the Florida Derby and his run in the Grade 3 Holy Bull was super impressive. His speed numbers are really impressive, but I am just getting the feel that he has already run his best race. I expect him to be close to leaders when they turn for home, but gets lost from there.
Falling Sky comes from Lion Heart, one of the coolest horses ever. He has the early speed to be a sprint champion. If this was six furlongs, I would give him a look. This is a mile and a quarter. Don’t expect him to finish in the top 15.
Verrazano has been a beast since he started racing on January 13. Thus far, this Pletcher-Velazquez horse is undefeated in four races. His work in the Tampa Derby and the Wood Memorial will earn him plenty of people buying into the hype. He is very talented and when he was asked to go in the Wood, he went. However, I worry the distance is a huge factor. And if the pace is fast early on, he could be in big trouble. The talent is there, and he will be one of the three favorites. Darin Zoccali of TVG and the Meadowlands is staying away from him: “He is not bred to go 1 1/4 miles. His sire, More Than Ready was at his best up to 1 mile and most of his offspring excel at 1 mile. Also, while he was tested more in the Wood, every race has been the same. Stalk the speed, move to the lead, race over. This will be much more demanding.” I tend to agree. I will leave him on my exotic tickets, but not a winner.
Charming Kitten is yet another Pletcher horse. Edgar Prado gets the mount, but this horse is more comfortable on the turf. He also closed well on the synthetic turf. Has talent, but not here.
Orb has been made the morning line favorite at 7-2. Hot rider Joel Rosario gets the mount with legendary trainer Shug McGaughey. Orb is four for seven, including a solid win in the Florida Derby. To me, the Florida Derby was a slow race, and while he had to turn it on late, I didn’t come away from it blown away. That said, this horse likes to win, coming away with four in a row. His speed numbers are consistently good and while I am not sure this will be the winner, I expect him to be close. Rosario is easy to bet because he wins. Too good to ignore.
Will Take Charge is my value horse. Trained by D. Wayne Lukas with veteran jockey Jon Court on the mount, Will Take Charge has the winning instinct to pull off an upset here. He won the Rebel in March and Smarty Jones in January, as well as his maiden race in October at Keeneland. To me, the win in the Rebel showed this horse’s ability to have enough left in the tank late to chase down leaders. I don’t think he has the talent to come back from 16 lengths to win, but if he can stay four to five lengths wide throughout the race, and can find a way to be two lengths off with 200 yards to go, he’ll have a fighting chance. Should carry a huge price tag, too. Maybe close to 30-1. Huge value play.
Frac Daddy is just one for six and has had some brutal rides. Kenneth McPeek trains this one, but I just haven’t seen enough good things to even consider here. He made up some distance in the Arkansas, but never really had a shot. His Florida Derby run was non-resistant. Throw in the 18th post position and then throw out this horse.
Java’s War ran a tremendous Blue Grass on April 13. He broke awfully and was able to get up in the final strides to catch the leaders. He is jockeyed by Julian Leparoux, who is the master of closing in a long race, but I just think there are too many good horses. Also, his dirt runs haven’t been all that great. I don’t like here.
Vyjack rounds out the group. Vyjack has been super impressive, winning four of five and coming close in the Wood Memorial. I like Garrett Gomez taking the mount, especially with the 20th post, where he will have to be very aggressive to have any shot. This horse has shown the ability to win from the lead and off it. I would especially like this horse if it rains, as he won in December in the slop. My main problem here is I think the jockey will try to get to lead (he almost has to) but won’t have enough in the tank to hold it. Check the tote board for betting tips. I stay clear if it’s nice out.
Now that we’ve looked at each horse, let’s play out the Derby:
Out of the gate Falling Sky, Verrazano and Itsmyluckyday get to the lead. Vyjack tries to get close but is a few lengths off. Orb, Goldecents, Normandy Invasion nd Overanalyze are four lengths off the lead with Will Take Charge and Revolutionary trailing. Falling Sky drops back, as does Vyjack. Down the backstretch, Itmyluckyday and Verrazano are holding the lead. Will Take Charge and Revolutionary get closer. As they make the turn, all the horses get closer, and Itsmyluckyday drops back. Goldencents will make the first move to lead followed by Orb. Overanalyze falls out of it at the beginning of the stretch. Revolutionary now finds himself on the rail about three lengths off the lead and Verrazano is losing ground. Normandy Invasion now appears closing in. Will Take Charge tries to get close but the other horses are too fast. Orb now is being left behind with Goldencents. Normandy Invasion and Revolutionary are battling for first while Verrazano is settled in at third. Revolutionary pulls ahead by a nose to give Calvin Borel his fourth Kentucky Derby win.
That — or Golden Soul wins by six. Anything is possible!
Top pick: Revolutionary
Second pick: Normandy Invasion
Value play: Will Take Charge
Good luck to everyone!
Follow Brian Monzo on Twitter @BMonzoWFAN.
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