2014 Kentucky Derby

Kentucky Derby 2014: 10 Bold Predictions for the Run for the Roses

Brendan O'MearaFeatured ColumnistApril 27, 2014

Kentucky Derby 2014: 10 Bold Predictions for the Run for the Roses

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    John Velazquez looks to reclaim the Derby glory he won in 2011.
    John Velazquez looks to reclaim the Derby glory he won in 2011.Garry Jones

    The third race at Aqueduct in the middle of January calls for lame predictions, but the Kentucky Derby? That calls for bold ones. There's nothing quite like it. The huge field, the mint juleps, Johnny Velazquez and Johnny Weir. A thousand times yes!

    The jockeys are marquee, but will there be more obscure jocks taking the crown? Will Calvin Borel win his fourth Derby? Will trainer Todd Pletcher run his not-so-bold Derby record to 1-40? Will the Curse of the Wood Memorial (patent pending) hold form?

    Go on, get on with your bad self, and see how bold the first Saturday in May can be. 

     

Four Marquee Jockeys Will Finish off the Board

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    Mike Smith rides Hoppertunity in the Kentucky Derby this week.
    Mike Smith rides Hoppertunity in the Kentucky Derby this week.Danny Johnston

    John Velazquez, Javier Castellano, Joel Rosario and Mike Smith, all coveted and revered jockeys, won't hit the board in this year's Kentucky Derby.

    Velazquez and Smith are Hall of Famers and have a Derby win to their credit. Rosario won the Derby a year ago aboard Orb, and Castellano set an earnings record in 2013

    Velazquez rides Intense Holiday. Smith rides Hoppertunity. Rosario booked General a Rod and Castellano rides We Miss Artie. Sadly for these four, they're going to come up far short of their goal.

Calvin Borel Will Win His Fourth Derby

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    Calvin Borel goes for Derby No. 4.
    Calvin Borel goes for Derby No. 4.Danny Johnston

    For all the talk about California Chrome being handed the Derby, it is an incredibly chaotic race that more often goes to the luckiest horse, not the fastest. One way to keep luck on your side is, at the very least, ensure the trip around the oval is the shortest one possible. Enter Calvin "Bo-Rail" Borel.

    He rides Ride On Curlin, a son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, who was once owned by the late Jess Jackson, who also owned Rachel Alexandra, a horse Borel rode to one of the most electric racing campaigns in recent memory. 

    Ride On Curlin has been steadily improving and is primed to run a good one with Borel in the irons. Can he make it No. 4? That remains to be seen. Crazier things have happened.

An Obscure Trainer Will Win the Derby

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    Who ever heard of Art Sherman before California Chrome? Not many.
    Who ever heard of Art Sherman before California Chrome? Not many.Uncredited

    There are many live horses in this field and many of them are trained by unrecognizable horsemen.

    Take California Chrome, winner of the Santa Anita Derby. He's trained by Art Sherman. Ride On Curlin? He's trained by William G. Gowan. Wildcat Red? Jose Garaffalo. Uncle Sigh? Gary Contessa. Samraat? Rick Violette.

    Point being is that even with Todd Pletcher, for all his potential with four starters, and Bob Baffert with possibly two starters, the winner may not be the one with the most loaded revolver, but the one with the best laser sight.

    As for California Chrome, who turned in a nice 48.20 half-mile breeze at Los Alamitos, he's primed and ready to ship. 

    "He’s doing great this morning," Sherman said, per kentuckyderby.com "He just walked this morning after coming out of that work real well. Everything is ice cold [meaning his limbs aren't sore/injured], he’s happy and we’re good to go. He ships tomorrow morning."

Danza Is Not the 'Boss'

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    Danza, winner of the Arkansas Derby, will be less Who's the Boss? and more The Tony Danza Show.

    Danza's winning time for the Arkansas Derby was a tepid 1:49.68 seconds, which doesn't exactly inspire the kind of confidence one wants in a Derby contender. Then again, he's the type of horse that will take a lot of money. So, if you're a betting man or woman, Danza will take a fair amount of cash, allowing you to spread your resources elsewhere.

    Danza may be in the top 10 horses or so, but beyond that, he's an underlay waiting to happen.

There Will Be a Blanket Finish

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    The above video, while not the Kentucky Derby, is how this year's renewal may actually play out. 

    There are plenty of classy speed horses like California Chrome and Wildcat Red. There are plenty of classy closers like General a Rod, Wicked Strong and Ride On Curlin. This is a recipe for an absolute melee as the wire nears. 

    Imagine seeing five horses come to the finish not knowing which one will strike the wire first. The Derby may not be as fast as it has been in years past, but it could be one of the most exciting races we'll see this year.

Pletcher Will Be off the Board

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    Todd Pletcher will again saddle more starters than anyone in the Derby.
    Todd Pletcher will again saddle more starters than anyone in the Derby.Seth Wenig

    It's lonely at the top. Todd Pletcher, trainer to a possible four Derby entrants, has done this several times. He's saddled five starters in the Derby, amassing 25 percent of the entire field himself. He's had monsters run poorly. And, thanks to Calvin Borel, one of his less talented horses actually won this race in 2010.

    Yet with horses like Danza, We Miss Artie, Intense Holiday and Vinceremos, he doesn't appear to have that one horse that can really pop off a good one. Some may argue Danza is that horse. 

    Pletcher is one of my the most gifted minds in horse racing, but the Derby remains the a tricky race for him. For all the starters he's had over the years (36), he only has one win to his credit. 

    If he saddles four more to give him 40 career starters, it's likely all four will finish off the board and out of the money. As he sees it, every year is different. So, in his mind, he has four Derby starters. That's it.

    "The thing about the Derby is everybody tries to analyze it all these different ways," Pletcher said, per Jennie Rees of USA Today. "Every year is going to be different."

The Derby Running Time Will Be Sub 2:02

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    California Chrome could run a blazing-fast time.
    California Chrome could run a blazing-fast time.Uncredited

    Let's assume there's a fast track at Churchill Downs on May 3. After watching California Chrome win the Santa Anita Derby in a swift time of 1:47.52, should he get the right trip, he could run a sub 2:02. It would be quite a challenge.

    The only two horses to run that fast in that last 10 runnings of the Derby were I'll Have Another in 2012 (2:01.83), Big Brown in 2008 (2:01 4/5s) and Barbaro in 2006 (2:01.36). 

    Two out of those three were alive for the Triple Crown. California Chrome could be the next threat to the Triple Crown and fast enough to flirt with a 2:01.

The Curse of the Wood Lives

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    At some point, you just have to feel bad for the Wood Memorial winner. It's such a prestigious race, yet you'd have to go back 14 years to find a horse that parlayed his Wood win with a garland of roses in Kentucky. That horse was Fusaichi Pegasus. 

    Since then, many horses have won this race then got injured in the weeks, days, and, in one case, the morning of the Kentucky Derby

    If you believe in curses, then perhaps it's best to steer clear of Wicked Strong, this year's winner of the Wood. If recent history has proven anything, it's that the Wood is cursed.

California Chrome Will Be the Heaviest Favorite Since Big Brown

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    The great thing about the Derby is that even if there's a heavy favorite, that heavy favorite usually goes off at 4-1. Smarty Jones was one of those horses, and he had a ton of public support based on his story. 

    The shortest price in the past 10 years has been Big Brown at 2.4-1. That was breaking from Post 20! That's how much of a monster he was and how he outclassed his peers that year.

    This year could be the same with California Chrome. His preps in the San Felipe and the Santa Anita Derby were so impressive, so demonstrably better than any other horses, he could go off as low as 2-1 or 5-2. 

    Childs Walker, of The Baltimore Sun, writes,

    He's certainly off to the right kind of start. There was already talk of Chrome as a possible Kentucky Derby favorite before he lined up in the Santa Anita Derby three weeks ago. He left no doubts, blowing away a field that included fellow Derby contenders Hoppertunity and Candy Boy.

    The fact that he'd be considered the favorite even before his Santa Anita Derby speaks to his talent. After that romp, bettors would see a very low price on this colt.

    Single him and have some fun underneath in exotics and multi-race tickets. 

Dance With Fate Will Validate Keeneland's Return to Dirt

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    Polytrack has been, from a racing and handicapping perspective, a disaster. When Keeneland changed its surface over from dirt to Poly in 2006, it effectively ruined a classic, traditional and historic prep race. 

    Dance With Fate could still run big off his win on the Poly. Horses are sometimes known to blow up on dirt after they run on synthetics, only to bounce harder than a tennis ball. 

    Since the change to Polytrack, only Dullahan in 2012 ran a respectable Kentucky Derby. That's not going to cut it for the Blue Grass. Dance With Fate will probably tank (he could be a nice synthetic/turf horse) in the Derby, further validating Keeneland's expensive move back to dirt.

Bonus Slide: Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir Will Kill It

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    Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski are going to rock the Derby broadcast.
    Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski are going to rock the Derby broadcast.Dan Steinberg

    The gut-punch reaction to this would be any of the following words: nauseating, terrifying, confusing. 

    America loves Olympic figure skating and, by extension, Johnny and Tara. The thing is, they will likely be unsettlingly entertaining and more tolerable than Michelle Beadle. Beadle seemed a bit too irreverent for NBC, who takes its Derby broadcasts seriously. NBC will gladly point you to its stunning array of Eclipse Awards.

    It's a ratings grab for the female viewers, and Johnny and Tara will, no doubt, bait some people into hearing what on earth they will possibly say. It's a day of horses and fashion. Guess what they'll be talking about?

    It just so happened that Weir once wore a fur-covered sombrero to the Kentucky Derby. Perhaps (awesome surname alert) Matt Bonesteel of The Washington Post said it best, "If [Weir] doesn’t break out that sombrero again, America loses."

    Indeed.

    The risk in horse racing is a fatal injury to a horse. Johnny and Tara may be inviting innocent eyes into the broadcast that aren't ready for such atrocity, real as it is in horse racing. 

    Here's hoping all the horses and jockeys for the entire day have safe trips and that Johnny and Tara bring some much-needed flair. Heck, put them next to Tom Hammond and see what happens. 

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