Saturday's Kentucky Derby Trial Stakes is a Grade III race, but it has significant ramifications for the Triple Crown season and takes place at the hallowed grounds of Churchill Downs.
Headlining the list of nine entrants is Bayern, who entered the Arkansas Derby as a trendy pick to win but settled for third place, not netting enough points to qualify for the Kentucky Derby automatically. Bayern is trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert and figures to have a great chance to win this one as the No. 1 morning-line favorite.
Below is an overview of the field, along with odds, projected finishes for every horse and more detailed analysis on those predicted to finish in the money.
|Post||Horse||Jockey||Trainer||M/L Odds||Predicted Finish|
|1||Bayern||Rosie Napravnik||Bob Baffert||2/1||1|
|3||Big Sugar Soda||Ricardo Santana, Jr.||S M Asmussen||15/1||8|
|4||Friendswith K Mill||Kent Desormeaux||Doug O’Neill||5/1||5|
|5||Matador||Julien Leparoux||Mark E. Casse||9/2||3|
|6||Embellishing Bob||Brian Hernandez, Jr.||Steve Margolis||8/1||4|
|7||Laddie Boy||Stewart Elliott||Chuck Peery||20/1||7|
|8||Bitters 'n Bourbon||Corey J. Lanerie||Ronald Moquett||30/1||9|
|9||Spot||John Velazquez||Nick Zito||4/1||2|
|10||Myositis Dan||Joseph Rocco, Jr.||Tom Proctor||5/1||6|
Source: HorseRacingNation.com. Chitu scratched from post No. 2
At this one-mile dirt track, Bayern figures to thrive with one less furlong than he had to travel at the Arkansas Derby. Without a strong enough result, though, he won't be able to enter the Kentucky Derby unless a number of entrants pull out.
Baffert discussed his strategy and how he plans to run Bayern in the Preakness Stakes if he doesn't manage to enter in the first leg of the Triple Crown.
"Bayern likes this track, so I am going to enter him in the Trial and watch for defections (from the Derby field)," said Baffert, per the New York Daily News' Jerry Bossert. "I think the Trial would set him up for the Preakness well."
Chitu was thought to be a strong contender in the Trial Stakes, but he already has enough points for the Run for the Roses and was scratched, per Bossert's report. Bossert also observes how Bayern can still qualify for the Kentucky Derby with a win:
Baffert entered both Chitu and Bayern in the Derby Trial. If Bayern wins he can start in the @KentuckyDerby— Jerry Bossert (@JBossertNYDN) April 23, 2014
Since Danza came relatively out of nowhere to blow the field away in Arkansas, it stands to reason that Bayern should be back in full force against a non-Grade 1 field. Rosie Napravnik will get the mount, and she is experienced enough to get the job done.
Starting against the rail shouldn't be too much of a detriment since Bayern is strong enough and is the class of this field. Napravnik should be able to have enough room to steer him clear and into the winner's circle.
Having a veteran jockey like John Velazquez in the saddle will help Spot's cause to be a prominent contender. A seventh-place finish in the Grade 1 Florida Derby should be improved upon vastly with Velazquez replacing Corey J. Lanerie.
Trainer Nick Zito has had two Kentucky Derby winners in his storied career, so he knows what it takes to be successful at this historic venue. Spot won the Grade II Swale Stakes in March before coming up short at Gulfstream Park, so he has some success to suggest he can be in the hunt down the stretch of this race.
Velazquez has won just about every prestigious race imaginable, including the 2011 Kentucky Derby and two Belmont Stakes races.
Having a Hall of Fame trainer-jockey tandem of that magnitude is going to be hard for anyone to top, and the 4-1 morning-line odds prove that Spot is highly thought of by the oddsmakers.
Spot is starting at post No. 9 and should have no trouble making his initial move to the inside toward the prospective leaders. Bitters 'n Bourbon, a 30-1 shot, is in the eighth post and won't likely hamper Spot's ability to push closer to the rail.
Placing one spot better than Spot in the Florida Derby in sixth place, Matador just doesn't have quite the connections that the other two top horses do.
But Mark E. Casse has made a name for himself north of the border in Canada, and jockey Julien Leparoux is strong enough to ride Matador to a respectable third-place finish.
Who will win the Kentucky Derby Trial Stakes?
With some Grade I experience under his belt, perhaps Matador is in for a triumph at Churchill Downs. If the previous records of Bayern and Spot are any indication, though, it isn't likely Matador will live up to his billing as a 9-2 favorite.
Chitu is already in the Kentucky Derby, but that shouldn't stop Baffert from focusing hard on this race, since he has a golden opportunity to get another entrant into the most exciting two minutes in sports. With how unpredictable horse racing tends to be, Baffert can hedge his bets for his fourth Kentucky Derby win and first since 2002 by getting Bayern in top form and running well enough to claim victory while still being fit enough to run at Churchill Downs on May 3.
The competitor in Velazquez won't go down easily, so this 2014 Kentucky Derby Trial Stakes showcase should offer a compelling precursor to the forthcoming grand spectacle in Louisville.
Note: All statistics and race history are courtesy of Equibase.com unless otherwise indicated.