Kentucky Derby Favorites: The Biggest Flaw of Each of the Top Contenders
Just like Achilles with his heel, each racehorse in every race they compete possesses one major flaw. The top contenders for this year's Kentucky Derby, no matter how talented, are no exception.
These weaknesses might manifest in numberless ways: optimum distance, favored position during a race, surface preferences. Even something as seemingly innocuous as the environment in the paddock before a race can have a profound effect on a horse's performance.
Then there's the indisputable leveler: talent.
While designed to sift the wheat from the chaff, the main Kentucky Derby trials aren't always the best indication of how a horse is going to handle the cauldron of that first Saturday in May. Few races can replicate the unique demands of Churchill Downs on Derby day.
One thing is for sure, however: In the helter-skelter of America's most famous race, the chinks in the armor of each and every runner is going to be thoroughly examined.
Todd Pletcher, trainer of Verrazano
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To a lot of people, Verrazano equates to a good thing. And this good-looking colt certainly deserves his position atop the Derby tree.
He's unbeaten in four starts. He's got the aesthetics and pedigree. His win in the Grade I Wood Memorial last time is as good a form as you're going to unearth from all of the Derby trials.
But in all four of his races, he's yet to experience the rough-and-tumble of a big field. In the NASCAR pace of the Derby, he's going to find it difficult to prevail if he sits near to the lead.
The question remains, therefore: If team Pletcher decides to ride him more conservatively, how is he going to handle the dirt in his face for the first time amongst a tightly packed field of 20?
Orb's jockey, John Velazquez, holds aloft the winning trophy after winning the 2012 Belmont Stakes
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Orb's Derby credentials were cemented with a fine win last time out in the Florida Derby when he trounced Itsmyluckyday in impressive fashion.
Trainer Shug McGaughey's bonny colt, however, is a bubbly, free-sweating sort—the sort of personality trait that can detract from a horse's very best performance.
It hasn't stopped him from winning. And in each of his races, he's shown that he's becoming progressively more settled, more mature.
There's a marked difference between Gulfstream Park in March and Churchill Downs in May, however. In the pressure-cooker environment of Derby Day, one wonders whether he might just boil over.
Doug O'Neill, trainer of Goldencents
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Goldencents is this year's top contender from the stable of Doug O'Neill—the conditioner of last year's Derby victor, I'll Have Another.
His win in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby when he gamely held on after a stirring duel with Flashback largely dispelled any stamina doubts.
The biggest question mark now hanging over him as the Derby approaches regards the true worth of his races thus far. With little comparative form to go on between the two coasts, the strongest Derby form seems to be found on the East Coast. With that in mind, one wonders whether Goldencents might just not be good enough to prevail this Saturday.
Todd Pletcher, trainer of Overanalyze
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If the Derby was a game of poker, trainer Todd Pletcher would be holding a royal flush. In Overanalyze, he has a formidable understudy to Verrazano.
Overanalyze staked his Derby claims with a fine win in the Grade I Arkansas Derby last time out—a win that scribbled a line through his defeat in the Gotham the time prior. But, like Goldencents, one cannot help but question the quality of the victory.
Frac Daddy, the runner-up, had been well-stuffed in the Florida Derby and the Holy Bull in his two races prior. Carve, the third home, had shown nothing in the Rebel Stakes in his only attempt in graded company.
Overanalyze is on the up—he's got to continue at pace his rapid improvement to be a factor at Churchill Downs. On top of that, he doesn't seem capable of running two races alike. More improvement and more consistency are what's needed from Overanalyze to see him be a factor.
Javier Castellano, Revolutionary's jockey
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Another top Derby contender, another Todd Pletcher runner.
Revolutionary showed that he possesses the qualities necessary to be a top Derby contender when he won the Grade II Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds last time out—a race in which he was all out to beat Mylute.
A neck defeat of Mylute is far from the hottest form to date. But more worrying than that is how Revolutionary has shown a certain aptitude for finding obstacles en route to victory.
In the Withers, he overcame a troubled trip to scrap out a narrow win. In the Louisiana Derby, he was angled wide around a relatively soft field. At Churchill Downs, luck in running is a necessity.
In the big one against tip-top competition, Revolutionary will need to show more tactical speed to overcome a troubled trip.
Runners in the 2012 Kentucky Derby
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Itsmyluckyday burst onto the scene early with a win over former Derby favorite Shanghai Bobby in the Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park back in January.
Since then, he was easily brushed aside by Orb in the Florida Derby. There don't appear to be any excuses for that day—he was simply silenced by a more formidable foe.
Then there's the question of Itsmyluckyday's improved form in Florida. If, for some reason, there were extenuating circumstances for his defeat at the hands of Orb, he has still to translate the same form at a Churchill track quite different from Gulfstream Park.
The Twin Spires of Churchill Downs on Derby Day
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Java's War stamped his Derby admissions form with a nice win in the Grade I Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland.
His performance that day showed tenacity—a vital component if you're looking to add a Derby to your resume. However, his tardy start is a point of concern.
In the big one amongst a tightly packed field of 20, everything has to go smoothly—even the stars need to align. Another slow start by Java's War is guaranteed to put paid to any chances of victory.
Rosie Napravnik, nearside, rider of Mylute
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Mylute, the mount of Rosie Napravnik, was the horse that Revolutionary wore down close to home in the Lousiana Derby.
It was an honorable performance that day—but he didn't have any excuses in defeat. He was given every possible opportunity to win and was simply out-battled by a tougher opponent. And in the Risen Star the time before, he folded a little too tamely.
One wonders, therefore, whether the added distance of the Kentucky Derby is going to bring out the best in Mylute.