Kentucky Derby: Handicapping "The Run for the Roses"

John MossSenior Analyst IMay 2, 2008

Saturday marks the 134th running of the Kentucky Derby, commonly referred to as the "most exciting two minutes in sports".

For those of you out there that do not follow the Sport of Kings, here is a breakdown of the field of 20, and what each horse will need to win the coveted blanket of roses.

1. Cool Coal Man (Jockey: J. Leparoux, Trainer: Nick Zito), Odds: 20-1

This Mineshaft colt comes into the Derby off of a disappointing effort in the Blue Grass at Keeneland, where he finished a distant 9th.  Cool Coal Man should be close to the lead, but will need to run back to his Fountain of Youth win to have a chance.

2. Tale of Ekati (Jockey: E. Coa, Trainer: Barclay Tagg), Odds: 15-1

Tale of Ekati comes into the Derby following an upset win over 2 Year Old champion War Pass in the Wood Memorial.  He has the perfect running style for the frantic Derby, as he likes to hang back towards the back of the pack and make a big, late run.  Upset possibility.

3. Anak Nakal (Jockey: R. Bejarano, Trainer: Nick Zito), Odds: 30-1

Anak Nakal is a late-running colt like his dad, Victory Gallop.  His most recent win came in November of 2007, making him the most unlikely winner in the field.  He'll need a complete speed meltdown to have a chance.

4. Court Vision (Jockey: G. Gomez, Trainer: Bill Mott), Odds: 20-1

Court Vision could not beat two others in this race his last two times out, Take of Ekati in the Wood Memorial and Cool Coal Man in the Fountain of Youth.  Another horse with a late-running style, Court Vision will need a speed battle the entire race to get to the wire first.

5. Eight Belles (Jockey: G. Saez, Trainer: Larry Jones), Odds: 20-1

A girl running against the boys, Eight Belles figures to get plenty of public support.  After her stable-mate Proud Spell ran off with the Kentucky Oaks on Friday, the support could be warranted.  She's worked well at Churchill Downs, and figures to get a perfect stalking trip.  It's her first time against the boys, though, in a race that's only produced three female winners.

6. Z Fortune (Jockey: R. Albarado, Trainer: Steve Assmussen), Odds: 15-1

Z's race in the Arkansas Derby was sneaky-good.  He was four-wide around both turns, and only lost to winner Gayego by 3/4 of a length.  Hasn't visited the winners circle since the LeComte Stakes in January, and hasn't worked out well over the Churchill surface since coming to Louisville.  Still, a horse to keep an eye on.

7. Big Truck (Jockey: J. Castellano, Trainer: Barclay Tagg), Odds: 50-1

Big Truck will deliver a semi-truck load of money if he crosses the wire first Saturday.  This colt has little done little to excite.  His lone Graded Stakes win came against questionable competition in the Tampa Derby.

8. Visionaire (Jockey: J. Lezcano, Trainer: Michael Matz), Odds: 20-1

After a stirring win in the Gotham by a nose over Texas Wildcatter, Visionaire disappointed in the Blue Grass, running 5th.  Trainer Matz, of Barbaro fame, will have Visionaire ready to run, and his running style should place him right behind the leaders.  If there is a speed duel up front, which is common in the Derby, look for Visionaire to be in the race late.

9. Pyro (Jockey: S. Bridgmohan, Trainer: Steve Assmussen), Odds: 6-1

This electrifying stretch runner didn't take to the Poly-track at Keeneland last time out in the Blue Grass, finishing 10th out of 12.  He finished second in the Breeders Cup Juvenile in the slop, and had one of the most impressive Derby prep wins at the Louisiana Derby.  Once the speed tires, he'll be coming late.  My choice to win.

10. Colonel John (Jockey: C. Nakatani, Trainer: Eoin Harty), Odds: 4-1

The best from out West looks to go off as the second choice behind Big Brown in Saturday's Derby.  Winner in three of his last four, and a good workout to boot at Churchill on April 27.  Why is he not the winner?  He's never raced on conventional dirt -- only on artificial surfaces at Del Mar, Santa Anita, and Hollywood Park.  Still, if he likes the real stuff, watch out.

11. Z Humor (Jockey: R Douglas, Trainer: Bill Mott), Odds: 30-1

The Distorted Humor colt's best race came back in the Delta Jackpot when he finished in a dead heat for the win against marginal competition.  When the going gets tough, Z Humor usually isn't there at the end.

12. Smooth Air (Jockey: M. Cruz, Trainer: Bennie Stutts), Odds: 20-1

His numbers match up with anyone in the race, other than Big Brown.  But can he get the distance?  His last race at a mile and an eighth saw him back up two lengths in the last furlong and a half.  He's got to go even longer on Saturday.

13. Bob Black Jack (Jockey: R. Migliore, Trainer: James Kasparoff),
Odds: 20-1

Speed, speed, speed.  The connections of BBJ made it no secret they were gunning for the lead when they elected to put blinkers on for the Derby.  This makes him the wild-card for the entire Derby -- not because he can win the race, but because if he guns for the lead... what will Big Brown have to do to secure good position from the outside post?

14. Monba (Jockey: R. Dominguez, Trainer: Todd Pletcher), Odds: 15-1

Before winning the Blue Grass, Monba had done nothing against Derby-caliber competition.  Was his big win a glimpse into his future?  Or a lightning-in-a-bottle moment?  I lean towards the latter.

15. Adriano (Jockey: E. Prado, Trainer: Graham Motion), Odds: 30-1

The A.P. Indy colt has the pedigree to win the roses, but does he have the talent?  Before his win in the Lanes End, his last big win came in an Allowance race at Gulfstream Park.  No thanks.

16. Denis of Cork (Jockey: C. Borel, Trainer: David Carroll), Odds: 20-1

Here's how quickly things change in horse racing: If Cork had won the Illinois Derby his last time out, he'd be one of the top two or three choices for Saturday's Derby.  But he didn't win -- he finished in 5th.  But three straight wins prior to that race has me thinking the Illinois Derby was a fluke.  My choice for best long-shot to spend $2 on.

17. Cowboy Cal (Jockey: J. Velaquez, Trainer: Todd Pletcher), Odds: 20-1

This hasn't been mentioned yet, but don't be surprised if Cowboy Cal is in this race primarily to be a rabbit.  By that I mean his sole purpose is to go as fast as he can early, to try and either wear out Big Brown, or keep him stuck out wide entering the first turn.  Cal's chances to actually win the race:  slim-to-none.

18. Recapturetheglory (Jockey: T. Baird, Trainer: Louie Roussel, III),
Odds: 20-1

Another speed horse stuck on the outside, Recapturetheglory looks to wire the field, which proved to be the winning formula for him in the Illinois Derby, upsetting favorite Denis of Cork.  Don't see that happening this time.

19. Gayego (Jockey: M. Smith, Trainer: Paulo Lobo), Odds: 15-1

Can't figure out how he's 15-1.  Five lifetime starts, three wins and two seconds.  Won over poly-track, and last time out over conventional dirt in the Arkansas Derby.  He's posted two Beyer Speed Figures over 100, including his 103 for the Ar. Derby.  Only drawback?  Post position 19, and not enough early speed to clear the others and get closer to the rail.  Look for him to either be stuck out wide, or have to drop back further than normal to save some ground.  Regardless, I like him to show up in the exotics.

20. Big Brown (Jockey: K. Desormeaux, Trainer: R. Dutrow), Odds: 3-1

Morning line favorite, and rightfully so.  Three for three lifetime, and the closest anyone has come to beating him is five lengths.  It's been over 75 years since a horse from from post position 20, and over 30 years since a horse has won with only three prior starts.  The speed inside of him looms a large problem -- will he be able to out-gun them to the first turn, and if so, how much energy will he expend doing so?  Still, Big Brown looks to be the best horse of the group, like Curlin was not too long ago.  But, like Curlin proved, that doesn't guarantee victory in the Derby.  Still, he's too good to leave out completely.

My Picks: Pyro charges late, picking off Gayego with a furlong to go, while Big Brown holds on for third over a late-charging Z Fortune.