By Brian Monzo
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Some people are calling the 2014 Kentucky Derby one of the worst fields in quite some time. I am not sure I entirely agree with that. I look at this Derby as a great wagering opportunity.
Say what you want about the field. There may not be an elite horse before the race. But I will guarantee you there will be one once the race is over. Either way, the Derby starts one of the best times of year for racing fans. The Triple Crown series is always fun and exciting.
Let’s not waste any time and get right into the field.
There has been one scratch thus far. Hoppertunity, trained by Bob Baffert, has been scratched due to a minor injury. He was the second choice on the ML on 6-1 His best running was done in the mud, so I am not sure he would have done too much here, but Baffert runners always seem to make an impact.
We start on the rail, and the unlucky horse Vicar’s in Trouble — trained by Michael Maker — drew the rail. Vicar will be ridden by Rosie Napravnik and has been a solid speed horse. I am not so sure distance is an issue, but the problem will be getting to the lead from the rail. This horse would have had a real shot anywhere else, but I don’t seem him being a factor.
Harry’s Holiday drew the two post, again for Maker, with Corey Lanerie on the mount. While he has some solid runs, his recent form is on the synthetic track. His few tries on the first last year were decent, including a claiming win, but not enough there for me to include anywhere.
Uncle Sigh sits in the third post for Gary Contessa with Irad Ortiz riding. This is a horse who’s only bad run was in the Wood Memorial, in which he broke poorly and never had a chance. Previously, he ran well in the Gotham and the Withers, and with the addition of blinkers, could be on or close to the lead. I am not sure I would totally rule him out. He could go off at 30-1 or more, and could pull the shocker if things work out for him.
Danza drew the four post for trainer Todd Pletcher, and is coming off a tremendous performance at long odds in the Arkansas Derby. This horse hasn’t been given much attention until winning the Arkansas Derby, and that being said I am not sure his win there is enough for me to trust him in this spot. That field was spotty and the horse that I thought would win that race didn’t seem to put much of an effort in. He gets Joe Bravo on the mount, and he has shown an ability to close pretty hard, but getting the trip is the question. I’m not ruling him out, but I am not wagering in the win column.
The ML favorite, California Chrome sits in the fifth post and has every right to be the favorite here. His last four races, including dominant wins in the Santa Anita Derby and the San Felipe, prove he is as good as offered. He has raced 10 times, which is quite a bit for a Derby contender. Trained by Art Sherman, and ridden by Victor Espinoza, he should be going off at 2-1, or perhaps even lower. The toughest part of the Derby is getting a clean trip, and if he does, it’s going to be tough to beat this guy. I will try to beat him, but won’t be shocked if I cannot.
Wood Memorial runner-up Samraat draws the six, and considering this horse has done very little wrong, I am shocked he was given ML odds of 15-1. Winner of the Gotham and Withers (5-for-6 overall), it’s tough for me to discount him. He definitely was second-best in the Wood Memorial, but he had to change his course and it cost him lengths. The 1 1/4 miles may be an issue, but it’s worth keeping him in mind with all bets. Jose Ortiz gets the ride.
We Miss Artie runs for Pletcher and gets the seventh post. Veteran jockey Javier Castellano rides him and his effort in the Spiral was admirable, but that was on the synthetic and it seems like this guy likes synthetic and turf racing more. I am looking elsewhere.
General a Rod is another Maker horse with the great Joel Rosario on board. Rosario is no stranger to this race, winning with Orb last year. He has a different type of runner this year. The General likes to be on, or close to the lead. Speed is always tricky in the Derby, and despite some solid efforts in the Florida Derby and the Fountain of Youth, I am not sure the distance will fit him here. But with Rosario on the mount, he will get the most the horse has to offer. If the pace is slow, he might have a chance to hit the board.
Vinceremos is another runner for Pletcher with Joe Rocco on the mount. His best form has come on the dirt and his place run in the Tampa Derby was a good run, but I don’t think he is good enough to win here. He may try to stay close, but I don’t think he will be close enough.
Wildcat Red runs for Jose Garoffalo, and to me is the best speed horse in the race. With Luis Saez on the mount, this horse has the best chance of the speed horses to wire everyone. In the Fountain of Youth he held off General a Rod and in the Florida Derby he rated with Constitution to lose by just a neck. I am not sure he can win this, but I am excited to see what he brings.
Dance with Fate is coming off a great performance in the Blue Grass Stakes for trainer Peter Eurton. A Cali runner, he gets Corey Nakatani, and my issue here is that all his best races are on the synthetic. It doesn’t often translate to winning in the Derby. I like this horse though, and if any of the horses who have run well on synthetic can translate it to a big run in the Derby, I think it’s this guy. He has a pretty solid closing kick and seems like he can run long forever when he wants. Nakatani is a gamer, too.
Chitu runs for Baffert and is coming off a Sunland Derby where he put up a 102 speed figure. Martin Garcia gets the call and I think he may try to sit right off the pace, but I don’t see him being able to hold on here.
Medal Count, for Dale Romans, has done his best running, again, off the dirt. His effort in the Fountain of Youth was poor, but his try in the Blue Grass was solid. Maybe he sits off a fast pace and closes hard, like Golden Soul did last year, but I don’t think the dirt at Churchill suits him.
Tapiture is next up for trainer Steve Asmussen with Ricardo Santana on the mount. This is a horse that will have high odds and has a big shot to pull off the win. I am willing to throw out the Arkansas Derby. He didn’t have his normal rider and he already had the points to enter the Derby. I am not convinced the trainer had this horse firing that day. In the Rebel, he was the victim of some bumping, and seemed to be the best horse but just missed. In the Southwest he has much the best, and minus the Arkansas, he has shown up in every race. The trip is always the trickiest part, but if he manages to stay two or three lengths off the lead and is able to find an opening down the stretch, he could have enough to hold off the cavalry. Tapiture is my top choice and is getting my win bet.
Intense Holiday is the last of the Pletcher runners and gets the great John Velazquez as a rider. Out of all the Pletcher runners, this is the only one that I think has the best chance. This horse is a pure closer, and his performance in the Risen Star gives me the confidence that if the setup is right, he has a huge shot to get this done. You’ll get a good price here, and I would not leave off any exotic plays.
Commanding Curve runs for Dallas Stewart and is coming off a troubled trip in the Louisiana Derby. My problem with him is that he hasn’t shown up when it has mattered. His two-year-old campaign was nice, but his speed isn’t where it needs to be and I am willing to dismiss from all tickets.
A few months ago, Candy Boy looked to be one of the favorites in this race. He goes out for California trainer John Sadler with legendary jockey Gary Stevens on the mount. I like the connections, and on his best day I think he can win this race. If he can sit a few lengths off and find some room, maybe. But I am not betting on the win. I definitely like him on exacta and trifecta bets.
Ride on Curlin, named after his sire, Curlin, gets Calvin Borel on the mount. His run in the Revel was solid, but that was in the mud. Normally I wouldn’t have an issue with that, but that was his best run before the Derby. He ran decently in the Arkansas Derby, but had no chance of winning. Last October, he ran a good one in the Champagne, but the competition here is deeper. I’m looking elsewhere.
Wicked Stong sits all the way on the outside and is getting a lot of attention off his solid performance in the Wood Memorial. He ran well in the Remsen, and after two bad runs in the Holy Bull and an OC race, he came into the Wood and blew the field out of the water. The post on the outside hurts, but if he can pick off horses on the backstretch with enough left down the stretch, he would pull this off. My issue is the rider, Rajiv Maragh. With the exception of Groupie Doll, Maragh never gets the trip you would expect, and for that reason I can’t play this horse to win. He could end up in the money for sure, but I am wagering him to win.
Pablo Del Monte would be the entry if the connections decide to run him with the scratch of Hoppertunity. Wesley Ward trains this guy, and this is another horse who has done his best running on the fake stuff. A major problem is he will be breaking from the 20th post, so if he were to try to get the lead, he’d be worn out down the stretch. I never say never, but it’s close to never here.
I am going to try to beat California Chrome, which will not be easy. He has the most talent, but certainly needs to get the perfect trip to win this race. The two horses I am playing to win are Tapiture and Samraat. I will be wagering more on Tapiture. I love the pedigree and I think the race might set up for him down the stretch if he can get the lead before California Chrome. He has to stay a few lengths from the speed and not fall too far back. If he gets the same trip he got in the Rebel (despite losing), I think he has a huge shot. Samraat is a gamer, and it will be hard for me to root against a New York horse.
W / P on Tapiture
W / P on Samraat
P / S on Uncle Sigh
– Exacta box with Tapiture, Samraat and California Chrome; Exacta with Tapiture, California Chrome
– Samraat over Uncle Sigh, General a Rod, Wicked Strong, Wildcat Red and Dance with Fate
Follow me on Twitter @BMonzoWFAN for picks throughout the day.
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