Kentucky Derby 2013: Early Projections for Top Contenders at Churchill Downs

Brendan O'Meara@@BrendanOMearaFeatured ColumnistApril 29, 2013

Kentucky Derby 2013: Early Projections for Top Contenders at Churchill Downs

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    You watched the NFL Draft, right? You know, when teams and fans hinge their hopes on projecting human talent. Sounds tough, real tough—JaMarcus Russell tough.

    Now plug in people for horses. Twenty horses. Running in front of 100,000 mint-julep-chugging, big-hat- wearin', Porta-John-sprinting buffoons. Now you have about as good an idea how easy it is to pick a Derby winner.

    Fear not!

    I've had some success picking the winner of the Derby over the past few years. I had Barbaro, Street Sense, Big Brown and Super Saver.

    [sarcastic clap]

    But filling out the other three slots that compose a six-figure superfecta?

    I'd take Don Draper being faithful over hitting that bet. Yet that's why they run the race.

Orb: Winnah Winnah Lobstah Dinnah

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    He's the best.

    It's just that simple.

    You may go home now.

    No! Please stay, I beg you.

    Orb has the perfect balance of race experience and rest. His wins in the Fountain of Youth and the Florida Derby were clinics bestowed upon his brethren.

    He's proven to have a great late kick when asked down the lane. This is key, because 1 1/4 miles is a long time to be running. He'll be running a solid mile under the oxymoron "relaxed urging" before being asked to blow by this field of three-year-olds.

    He knows how to take dirt in his face and is immune to post position. Meaning he has the running style to crush it from wherever he is on the dirt.

    I love how this horse gets jacked up before a race. He's like Bruce Banner. Then, when it's game time, he turns into the Incredible Lou Ferrigno.

Goldencents: Bridesmaid to Be

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    Maybe Silvercents is the more appropriate name, because he's got second place locked up.

    This horse ran the fastest penultimate prep by nearly three full seconds over his rivals.

    Verrazano, Revolutionary and Overanalyze all ran far, far slower than Goldencents. The concerns are warranted: Can Goldencents get the distance? My feeling? None of these horses can "get the distance."

    Someone's got to win. His chances are solid.

    He's got classy speed. Think Bodemeister from a year ago. Bodemeister nearly carried the entire field around the oval under suicidal fractions. Finally, in the final strides, he was caught by I'll Have Another.

    Winner of the Santa Anita Derby. Trained by Doug O'Neill.

    Goldencents recent win: Santa Anita Derby.

    Goldencents trainer: Doug O'Neill.

    Still, I think the horse coming late, namely Orb, has a shot at rationing his speed better and clipping Goldencents under the shadow of the wire.

Java's War: Key Him in Third

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    Java's War's late kick is fierce, like, you know, Sasha Fierce. His late charge in the Blue Grass Stakes was art in motion. The Da Vinci Code is embedded somewhere in that kick.

    And here's the thing: After a big effort on Polytrack (as was the case with the Blue Grass), horses run HUGE on dirt in their next start.

    Here's the deal: Will there be enough pace? Will he find room to run while flying from the clouds? These are the perils of the deep closer.

    He's poised to finish second or third, but with Orb having a tactical advantage and Goldencents holding onto the lead for dear life, there may not be enough real estate for Java's War to collar them at the wire.

    Watch for him late, but, but, but, it will be too late.

Will Take Charge: Will Finish Fourth

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    Interesting horse. He's coming into this race off a seven-week layoff, which is another way of saying a long, long, long time.

    Will Take Charge has got guts, as evidenced by his win in the Rebel Stakes, and that's what it takes to hit the board. Will Take Charge may find trouble with his trip, but will overcome it because of his willingness to grind.

    If you told D. Wayne Lukas, Will Take Charge's four-time Derby-winning trainer, that he was bound to finish fourth, you better believe he'd pack him up and ship him back to the farm.

    But fourth place on a purse of $2 million?

    Hey, why not, right?

Revolutionary: It's All About the Jockey

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    Revolutionary is a nice, versatile horse capable of winning other races not named the Kentucky Derby, but when Calvin Borel was named to pilot this son of War Pass?

    Things changed, man—things got real.

    Revolutionary, with the benefit of Borel, is five lengths better than he is without Borel. This isn't an exact science, but let's remember one thing: Calvin Borel wastes no time getting to the fence and taking the shortest possible path around the oval.

    Revolutionary isn't going to win, but he's my fifth-place horse. Which means if things shake out in his favor, he can get up for a piece.

    And that means a fourth Derby in seven years for one Calvin Bo-Rail. Oh, yeah, Borel was just named to the Hall of Fame.

    You can't buy the confidence Borel brings into May 4th.

Verranzano: Off the Board

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    I always have a hard time discerning the difference between an "overlay" and an "underlay." The way I keep it straight: underlay = over bet; overlay = under bet.

    Verrazano is the likely betting favorite, and I have him off the board. That's right, he's not even going to grab a piece of the superfecta.

    Sometimes you have to go with your gut, and this horse just doesn't do it for me. Maybe it's the pedestrian running time of his win in the Wood Memorial (1:50-plus). Maybe it's the fact that he never raced as a two-year-old.

    I see him getting caught in a never-never land: neither too close to the pace nor far from it. I see him being pulled west and east at the same time. I see him going nowhere and along with it the hopes of many a bettor...a.k.a. bridge-jumpers.