The world’s most famous horse race is already the world’s most difficult race to handicap, and a myriad of circumstances has made the 2010 Grade 1 $2,000,000 Kentucky Derby that much more challenging to figure out.
With Eskendereya ruled out of the race due to injury six days ago, the logical horse for everyone to pick as their overwhelming favorite was eliminated. It also makes the thought process different for those who were going to look to beat him.
Many of those people had turned their attention to trying to beat Lookin at Lucky, but with the already traffic prone horse drawing the inside post, he currently stands at 9-to-1 in the early wagering and has become more of a value play as an overlay, than a bet against as the chalk. However, come post time it’s likely his price will be much lower, as he is the heavy favorite paying just $22.60 to complete the Lookin at Blind Lucky Oaks/Derby double.
“Well, when I first heard it I thought, ‘This poor horse can’t catch a break. Maybe with all the bad luck we’ll get a decent post,’” said Lucky’s trainer Bob Baffert, who won the Kentucky Derby with Silver Charm in 1997, Real Quiet in 1998 and War Emblem in 2002. “There’s a long run to the quarter pole and it’s not like we have a speed horse. He can come from off of it. He just needs to break well. You still need a really good horse and that’s what he is. That’s more important than the post.”
As if losing the race favorite and then having the next logical favorite draw poorly wasn’t enough, Saturday’s weather forecast all but assures the race will be run over an off track. Multiple inches of rain are expected overnight and into the morning, with light rain likely to continue throughout the day.
The only thing an off track assures is that the field will be spread out over a massive distance of ground when they cross the wire. Some horses will relish the going, while others will abhor it and not run a step. There is no way to know how each individual will react to the surface, mostly because as three-year olds there is very little previous wet track form to go off of.
“With all the speed that they talk about, it actually favors speed when the track gets wet,” said trainer Nick Zito, who saddles closer Ice Box and Jackson Bend, who will likely be just off the early leaders. “The good thing is we’ve certainly had a lot of practice on it with both horses. I’ve been here since the first week of April and it’s been raining a lot and they’ve been training on it.”
Zito has two Derby wins to his credit, with Strike the Gold in 1991 and Go for Gin in 1994.
Ice Box enters the race off a six week layoff since his victory in the Grade 1 Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park, where he closed from dead last to win by a nose as a 20-to-1 long shot.
Jackson Bend has finished first or second in all nine career starts, including two distant seconds behind Eskendereya, but the rest of his accomplishments came against lesser competition in Florida.
The trainer with the most contenders in the race is Todd Pletcher, who will have four shots at getting his first Derby win. After his Eskendereya was ruled out of the race, he elected to enter Devil May Care, who will be the lone filly in the field.
“I think we made out really well with all four of them. I’m really happy to see Super Saver close to the rail because I know Calvin (Borel) likes to be down there,” said Pletcher, who also saddles Discreetly Mine and Mission Impazible.
Super Saver has emerged as the early betting favorite at 7-to-1 off his second place effort in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby, where he couldn’t get past pace setting Line of David, who will likely go off as one of the biggest long shots in the Derby. In Super Saver's first start of 2010 he finished third in the Tampa Bay Derby behind Odysseus and Schoolyard Dreams in a race that has turned out to be weak.
What Super Saver does have is Borel, who has become the darling of the Derby with wins aboard Mine That Bird and Street Sense over the last three years.
The second choice on the morning line at 5-to-1 is Sidney’s Candy, who has drifted up to double digit odds in the early wagering. Off three smashing wins at Santa Anita, his detractors are holding their hats on his inexperience over a dirt track, his 20-year old jockey Joe Talamo making his Derby debut and his draw on the far outside in post 20.
“When I heard 20, I felt like Santa put a lump of coal in my stocking,” said Sidney’s trainer John Sadler, who also trains Line of David, giving him his first two starters in the race since he made his Derby debut in 1993 with Corby, who finished sixth. “We’ve just got to deal with it. You can’t over worry about things you can’t change. We’re going to come up with a strategy before the race and then that all changes when they break from the gate.”
My contention all along, even with Eskendereya in the race, is that Lookin at Lucky is the best horse in the field with the most impressive credentials. His three Grade 1 victories are two more than any of his opponents, and his six victories overall also top the field.
Breaking from the inside post gives him the shortest way around the track, and with all the speed to his outside, jockey Garrett Gomez will maneuver a ground saving trip off of the speed before swinging out and charging to the lead down the stretch. Lucky has won both of his previous starts breaking from the rail, and he’s shown he can win even if he does run into some traffic.
If he goes off at 5-to-1 or higher, something that seemed unlikely earlier in the week, he will truly be the value of the race. Anything higher than that is gravy.
My pick to finish second is Stately Victor, winner of the Grade 1 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland by a widening four-and-a-half-lengths. Victor is another horse who was been victimized by inconceivable bad luck with his trips early in his career, having broken from the rail in four of his first five starts, and breaking from the outside post 14 in his other start.
Now that he has seen daylight, the son of Ghostzapper is exuding confidence and is dangerous coming from off the pace.
Rounding out my trifecta is Sidney’s Candy, who can see all the speed to his inside and sit just off it down the back stretch and get first run on the closers turning for home. While he has only had to pass one horse in his career, his composure during his front-running victory leads me to believe he can be successful without having the early lead.
Another horse to throw into your exotic wagers is the aforementioned Ice Box, who trained brilliantly over a sloppy track one week ago and has shown that he doesn’t have to be at the back of the pack early to be successful.
One more horse to consider is Conveyance, who enters the race as the “other” Baffert. Horse players in Southern California are well aware of the success that a higher priced Baffert horse can have in a race. While Conveyance seems to be a need the lead type, and there is other speed likely to go with him, he’s my pick to be the speed that lasts the longest. After winning his first four starts, he finished second in the Sunland Derby, and Baffert felt the high altitude of New Mexico may have compromised the horse from being at his best.
A brief look at the horses I’ve yet to mention:
Noble’s Promise – Ran valiantly behind Lookin at Lucky twice, but exited his prior start in the Arkansas Derby with a lung infection and his pedigree suggests he may not take to this longer distance.
American Lion – Got an ideal set up in his wire-to-wire score in the Illinois Derby, but had disappointed to that point. The son of Tiznow has a license to improve, but he still seems to be a notch below.
Dean’s Kitten – Broke a five-race losing steak with his win in the Grade 2 Lane’s End at Turfway Park, but seems to be better suited for turf. His only race on dirt, which was also an off track, was dismal.
Make Music for Me – The last horse to get in, his race in the Blue Grass Stakes was a huge disappointment and he hasn’t beaten any of the West Coast horses he faces again today.
Paddy O’Prado – He broke his maiden in the Grade 3 Palm Beach two races back and got a perfect trip in the Blue Grass before Stately Victor roared past him. He did look good training over a sloppy track a week ago and retains the services of jockey Kent Desormeaux, but he’s a play against for me without the foundation necessary to win the Derby.
Devil May Care – As mentioned earlier, the only filly in the race. She breaks from post 11, which means she’ll load early and have to wait a while before the gates open. She’s shown a tendency to be fractious before previous races, and she’s sure to take the brunt of a lot of bumping from horses to both sides. It’s all or nothing with her, having won three of her five starts and finishing far back in her two losses, and I think she’ll be up the track in the Derby.
Mission Impazible – His win in the Louisiana Derby is deceiving because Drosselmeyer was clearly the best horse in that race. His record is rather non-descript aside from that victory.
Discreetly Mine – In his two career victories he’s had things all his own way on the lead. He won’t get that here against much stiffer competition than he’s ever faced.
Awesome Act – He began his career with five races in Europe and only one win. He didn’t beat much in his score in the Grade 3 Gotham at Aqueduct and it’s tough to like a horse just because he had trouble in his last start. In that start in the Grade 1 Wood, he got counced around at the start and lost a shoe before finishing well behind Eskendereya.
Dublin – Hasn’t won since September of last year and had absolutely no excuse for not passing Line of David and Super Saver in the Arkansas Derby. He hasn’t seemed to be training well at Churchill, having been seen lugging out turning for home around the turn in the mornings.
Backtalk – After winning the first three starts of his career in 2009, he has really tailed off. His only win since then came in a non-graded stakes at Delta Downs when he was all out to beat three rivals. He then finished 14 lengths behind American Lion in the Illinois Derby.
Homeboykris – His two starts in 2010 leave a lot to be desired, including a second place finish in an allowance race at Gulfstream last time out.
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