Churchill Downs' 39-day racing session will have its opening night on Saturday, April 28, and the 88th running of the $200,000 The Cliff's Edge Derby Trial will be the feature event of that evening.
While this is officially the last Kentucky Derby prep race, hence the "Trial" on its name, nowadays it's more of a Preakness Stakes audition.
With three weeks to prepare for the second jewel of the Triple Crown, whomever wins this race is in a very good position to be readily fit and fresher than anyone emerging from the Kentucky Derby.
An 11-horse field will run at the one-mile distance under the lights at the famous track of the twin spires, where a week later "The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports" will take place.
No other trainer this year has been more successful with the three-year-old colts than Bob Baffert. And in a Derby prep race where two horses capture most of the attention, it's no wonder that he trains one of them.
Baffert trains Paynter, the morning line favorite at 2-1, and Kellyn Gorder's Bourbon Courage follows him closely at 5-2.
The standout above the rest of their competitors, but they will be facing on Saturday nine determined, and very capable contenders for the winner's purse.
Handicapping the pace in a race is almost an art form. Then you would understand when I say that this is not an easy race to handicap since there is virtually no true pace setter on it.
Expect slow fractions on the first calls and throughout. The only thing I can assure you for this race is that the winner will not be far behind the leaders from the start.
With all this in mind, I have to expect Saint of Saints to set the early pace from the inside, take the first call up front and be followed closely by Bourbon Courage and Paynter. I expect the winner to come from those three.
Let's take a look at my predictions for the entire field.
The Cliff's Edge Derby Trial | Grade III | Purse: $200,000 | Distance: One Mile | Post Time: 9:39 p.m. ET
|1||Tarpy's Goal||Leandro R. Goncalves||Dale Romans||20-1|
You have to scratch his Hutcheson's fifth-place finish beaten by over 24 lengths. He just didn't like the off track. He has shown tactical speed and has two wins over lesser competition around that loss and is 3-1-0-1 on Churchill Downs.
He seems to have some pointers for a good race here, but looks to be just a tad below the ones I have picked to finish before him. With some improvement he could hit the board once they pass the wire.
Predicted finish: Seventh
|2||The Black||Calvin H. Borel||Doug O'Neill||15-1|
Lifetime: 8-2-3-0. I like this horse a lot. Even though I love Calvin Borel aboard him, with all due respect to Mr. Churchill Downs, I can't get off my mind the fact that Garrett Gomez went on Nonios instead of him.
This horse has been steadily improving and is a different horse this year (3-2-1-0) with the second-place finish his last time out. I picture Borel bringing him from off the pace saving ground at the rail, but like i said, no one will win this race from the back of the pack.
Predicted finish: Fourth
|3||Saint of Saints||Kent J. Desormeaux||Dale Romans||8-1|
Lifetime: 2-1-1-0. This is the horse I believe will set the early pace. He has been a feisty competitor on his two races so far and showed grit wearing down Unbridled Fire on his last one.
With the lack of a true pace setter and Kent Desormeaux aboard, it wouldn't surprise me if this horse wires them and steals the race. I think he will bring the fight to the final furlong, but unfortunately for him, he will give in to my favorites.
Predicted finish: Fifth
|4||Nonios||Garrett K. Gomez||Jerry Hollendorfer||10-1|
Lifetime: 3-2-0-1. I like to play as my rule of thumb where the jockey goes. It has worked most of the times for me so I stick by it. Garrett Gomez is aboard this horse, and I am not puzzled by it, just acknowledge the fact that he is here and not aboard any of the others he could have chosen.
This is a very good horse that gets an upgrade in jockey and his trainer is hot with eight wins in his last 21 races. I just don't like two things. The fact that this is his dirt debut—of all places at Churchill Downs—and that on his last race he lost his unbeaten status when affected by a slow pace. Guess what pace he will face here.
Predicted finish: Show
|5||Hierro||Julien R. Leparoux||Steve M. Asmussen||6-1|
Lifetime: 5-1-1-0. He was promising as a two-year-old and won on his only attempt in Churchill Downs on his last race last year—Nov. 9. He returned on Jan. 9 for the Sham Stakes finishing a tiring fifth place behind Out of Bounds and Secret Circle.
Unfortunately, he has not been able to show the same form in two races this year but has faced some stiff competition. He has five workouts for this race—including 5F in 1:00 1/5 on Apr. 16—but to me he looks one race short. I'll wait to see this one before picking him for his next one.
Predicted finish: Sixth
|6||Quick Wit||Corey J. Lanerie||Dale Romans||12-1|
Lifetime: 5-1-1-1. After winning a maiden race on his third race, he has finished with even times—although over seven lengths behind—behind the Hutcheson and Swale winners. Although this is not the same company he faced on those two, he still has to improve to win here and it starts with his jump off the gate.
Predicted finish: Ninth
|7||Paynter||Martin Garcia||Bob Baffert||2-1|
Lifetime: 2-1-0-0. Just two races, but what a race on his last one. After winning his maiden debut hand-ridden, he was thrown to the lions at the G1 Santa Anita Derby on his next race where he bobbled at the start and ran four-wide around the first turn.
He ran well finishing in fourth place, just four lengths behind top Derby contenders I'll Have Another and Creative Cause. He made a great effort in defeat and seems to have bounced back with lights-out works for this race. With three pounds less today, this is your horse to beat and a possible early Preakness threat.
Predicted finish: Winner
|8||Seve||Jesus L. Castanon||Dale Romans||30-1|
Lifetime: 11-1-2-0. He has finished closer to the winner when he has not faced the top horses in the division. That seems to be the case here where none of the to three-year-olds will be present. But Leparoux and Desormeaux could have been aboard and they are not, so there is no reason to be on board betting on him.
Predicted finish: Last
|9||Stealcase||Shaun X. Bridgmohan||Mark Casse||15-1|
Comes from two disappointing finishes at the Gotham and Spiral Stakes. To his defense, he had some trouble on the start of both races but that wouldn't have threatened the winners and neither race. All that tells us is that he is better than what he showed there, but to me is still not good enough to win here.
Predicted finish: Eight
|10 ||Motor City||Brian J. Hernandez Jr||Ian R. Wilkes||15-1|
Lifetime: 6-2-1-1. Won the G3 Iraquois last Oct. 30 and returned to race Mar. 10 at the G3 Swale. He just couldn't keep up with the pace set by the winner, Derby runner Trinninberg, and finished a tiring eight.
He has one very good workout (5F - 1:00 4/5) among four for this race and should be in better shape for this one. Showed sprint speed on his first two races and could try to go for the lead here, but giving two pounds to everyone might not be the smartest way to go. I think he still needs one more racing before contending again.
Predicted finish: 10th
|11||Bourbon Courage||Miguel Mena||Kellyn Gorder||5-2|
Lifetime: 2-2-0-0. This horse is unbeaten and has scored eye-popping 103 and 101 Beyer figures on those two races at Fair Grounds. Distance doesn't seem to be a problem since he has won easily and running away, and here the one mile is one turn as well.
He will be tested in class here, but what I can't seem to overlook are his below-average workouts at Churchill Downs for this race. Are they maintenance or a reflection that the horse is not comfortable with the track? I will go for the first and expect a big race, just that he will be bested by my favorite.
Predicted finish: Place