Uncle Mo and Stay Thirsty
The Kentucky Derby is only five days away. With all graded earnings sealed, the only movement in the field between now and the post position draw Wednesday afternoon will occur if a horse is withdrawn. As no one wants to wish ill on a horse, let's assume that the current top 20 will be the 20 going to the gate on Saturday.
While I don't usually focus so heavily on bloodlines, when it comes to the Kentucky Derby, it is essential. None of these horses have ever gone this far before (the longest prep race is 1-1/8 miles, while the Derby is 1-1/4), and the best estimation to how far a horse can go when he hasn't yet gone that far is its bloodlines.
I've included a video of each horse's best race. This means that for some horses, the same video will be posted.
With that said, here is my breakdown of the field with the anticipated betting line come Saturday:
(For updated odds that take into account the scratch of Toby's Corner, please click here.)
Although the Tampa Bay Derby has produced recent Kentucky Derby winners Street Sense and Super Saver, as well as a handful of fine horses over the past few years, this year's field was by far the weakest in modern memory. Brethren was the prohibitive favorite, but he faltered, finishing third behind two long-shots.
Watch Me Go won at 43-1 odds, but came back and ran a non-competitive sixth against an awful field in the Illinois Derby. His best Beyer Speed Figure is an 84, five points lower than any of the other 18 U.S.-based horses in the probable Derby field. There's as good a chance that Zippy Chippy, who retired 0 for 100 in his career, wins the 2011 Kentucky Derby as Watch Me Go.
Even at 99-1, Watch Me Go isn't worth a look. Then again, I said the same thing in 2009 about Mine That Bird.
I actually like Decisive Moment, but not in the Kentucky Derby. His pedigree says sprint, sprint, and more sprint, and the Kentucky Derby is most certainly not a sprint race.
His most impressive race was his runner-up at Turfway Park in the Spiral Stakes, but that was run over a synthetic surface. He was also runner-up in the Delta Jackpot Stakes in November behind the injured Gourmet Dinner, but that was over a 5/8-mile bullring track.
I do think Decisive Moment is worth a look if you like to play longshots, but don't expect miracles.
It's amazing how wide open this field is. You could make a good case for any 17 of these 20 horses, including Stay Thirsty (*one of the horses yet to be mentioned really isn't good enough, but he'll be bet heavily due to one major intangible*).
I'm wont to put a line through his Florida Derby. He just didn't fire. It was a huge drop off of his first five races, where he consistently scored Beyers in the mid-to-high 80s., and it was clear throughout the entire race that he just didn't feel like running.
In his previous race, he destroyed Toby's Corner, the horse who beat Uncle Mo in the Wood Memorial, and ran admirably last November in the Uncle Mo Coronation Stakes (also known as the Breeders' Cup Juvenile) over this very Churchill Downs main track.
Couple his previous form with his outstanding 1-1/4 mile breeding pedigree, this horse is absolutely worth a stab at long odds. Anything above 30-1 is worth a gamble, and he should go off well above that.
After six underwhelming starts to begin his career, the aptly-named Twinspired has improved remarkably in his last two starts. However, he has only raced once on dirt, and that was a disappointing eighth at Remington Park. Nonetheless, he is clearly coming into his own.
His bloodlines are somewhat of an atypical crossing. Harlan's Holiday is more of a sprinting sire, and El Prado and El Prado broodmares seem to match better with horses with Mr. Prospector or Damascus (cough*Medaglia d'Oro*cough) in their blood. Harlan's Holiday has neither.
Twinspired deserves to be a long-shot, but if he can take well to the dirt, there's no reason to doubt that he could make the next step up. I really don't know what to think about this colt.
However, I have one rule: never let Mike Smith beat me. Twinspired will be on my Derby exacta ticket only because after being burnt by not including Smith so many times, I cannot handle the pain if he beats me again.
Comma to the Top has the potential to be a great horse, and he'll be a great dirt horse at that, but he'll have to wait until later in the summer when he cuts back to a mile.
After leading the entire way (which you can expect him to do for a mile on Saturday), he drifted out in the final eighth of a mile twice in his runner-up performance in the Santa Anita Derby, clearly exhausted. There's no way he'll hold on for another extra eighth of a mile. His connections were correct when they were going to skip the Derby.
Look for Comma to the Top to bounce back and be a strong contender for the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile. He might win the darn thing. But he has absolutely no chance to win the Kentucky Derby. I'll be willing to bet that he runs last.
If you've been reading everything, you saw that on the Stay Thirsty page I said you could make a good argument for 17 of these 20 horses. There is no good argument for Decisive Moment or Watch Me Go. And there's no good argument for Twice The Appeal.
Four starts back, Twice The Appeal ran for a tag against non-winners over seven furlongs at Santa Anita. It was his seventh start. Two starts later, he lost the meaningless Turf Paradise Derby, finishing second before getting disqualified to fourth. Last start, he came from mid-pack after a wickedly fast pace to beat a very underwhelming field in the Sunland Derby.
The pace for the Kentucky Derby won't be anywhere near as quick. Other than Closing Argument, who ran second to Giacomo in the 2005 Derby, offspring of Successful Appeal haven't shown much. Twice The Appeal hasn't looked great in his workouts.
The only reason Twice The Appeal isn't 75-1 is Calvin Borel. On second thought, Calvin Borel is a good enough argument to bet on a horse.
Long-shots with previous victories at Churchill Downs always receive a little more action than they deserve. Santiva sort-of falls into this category. I originally had him at 40-1, but his win in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes last year will earn him a little extra mutuel money.
However, I love this horse. Of all the longer-priced entries, Santiva has the best chance to spring an upset. He ran poorly last out in the Bluegrass Stakes, but that came over the Keeneland Polytrack. In his previous start, he went very wide on both turns and still ran up to be second behind Mucho Macho Man at the Fair Grounds.
He'll be up near the pace, and with three-eighths of a mile before the first turn, there is no way Shaun Bridgmohan will get Santiva into the same trouble Mike Smith did. Santiva will clear over and take a nice position just off the rail, sit chilly until midway on the far turn, and then pounce. He'd love a 48-second half-mile, but I think it'll be a little faster.
Oh, and Santiva is regally bred. What can be said about Giant's Causeway that hasn't been said before? Smarten, his damsire, was the broodmare sire to the mare Dance Smartly, the Canadian Triple Crown champion and Breeders' Cup Distaff winner in 1991.
Santiva is worth a play at any odds, let alone the astronomical price he's likely to go off at. Unless he gets drawn to break just to the outside of the other speed horses, include him in every exotic wager.
Here is a textbook example of a horse that is peaking at the right time. His Beyer numbers have consistently creeped upwards, peaking at 93 in his triumph at Keeneland in the Bluegrass last start. That was his first start on synthetics after five consecutive starts on grass, and it was also the first time he came from dead-last.
Like Twinspired, the horse he beat, I don't know how to handicap this horse. He was disgustingly non-competitive in his first two starts, his only two on dirt, but he is improving rapidly. With his bloodlines, the distance shouldn't be a problem, and I actually really like him for the Belmont Stakes if Bind doesn't run.
But in the Run for the Roses? I just don't know. I'm really confused by both of the Bluegrass horses. I'll bet a Jefferson on him just out of curiosity.
Before we go over his Florida Derby, there is no way Shackleford should've been 68-1 in the Florida Derby. Okay, it looked like a brutally tough field on paper, but even still, his performance in the Fountain of Youth was well below what he had shown in his previous two starts. I thought he'd be 30-1 then. He should've been 30-1.
Now, Shackleford should be right there on the front end with Comma to the Top. But like Comma to the Top, I don't see a scenario where he'll have enough left in the tank to hold on the entire way. Forestry is not a distance sire. As game as he was in the Florida Derby, he couldn't hang on the entire way. Why would I think he can go 1-1/4?
Shackleford will be a non-factor in the Derby, bet down only because of how close he was to beating Dialed In. Don't waste your money.
Animal Kingdom is fresh off of a win in the Spiral Stakes, where he won going away from two other Derby longshots, Decisive Moment and Twinspired. But that was on a synthetic surface, a surface he should be good on.
Leroidesanimaux is a turf/synthetic sire who won an Eclipse Award as leading turf male in 2005. Animal Kingdom's damsire, Acatenango, was five times the leading sire in Germany, where they almost exclusively race on turf. And Animal Kingdom failed in his only start on dirt, running second in his debut in a race that came off the turf. He couldn't beat turf maidens on the dirt; why should I expect him to beat a field of graded stakes-winning dirt specialists on the dirt?
And none of that is touching on that Alan Garcia gave him a good ride against a bad field at Turfway. Twinspired ran back well, but that was also on a synthetic surface. Animal Kingdom is a good horse, but he's not great. And this just flat-out isn't his surface. Pass.
Here's a horse that some people won't bet because of the myth that you have to run as a two-year-old in order to win the Kentucky Derby. True, no horse that debuted at three has won the Derby in over a century, but no New York-bred had ever won the Kentucky Derby before Funny Cide. It wasn't that long ago that we were saying no horse could win the Derby off of a six-week layoff. What next? No horse with “Midnight” in his name has ever won the Derby?
This is what I know and like about Midnight Interlude: he's coming off a win in the Santa Anita Derby where he had to go wide, was cut off in the stretch by a tiring Comma to the Top, regained his rally, and caught up to and passed him anyway. He has improved in each start, and his 95-Beyer last out is one of the best in the field.
This is what I know and dislike about Midnight Interlude: he beat a weak field in the Santa Anita Derby. It took him three wins to break his maiden against small fields at Santa Anita. His sire, War Chant, was a turf miler whose top progeny, including Molto Grande and U.S. champion Chamberlain Bridge, are turf sprinters.
I'm going to say look elsewhere. California is not bringing its A-game this year.
Coming out of his breakthrough win against a talented Louisiana Derby field, Pants On Fire is more than just a hunch play (I mean, come on, you know you have to bet $2 on a horse named Pants On Fire). It was his first win on a fast dirt track after three seconds, including a tight defeat in the LeComte in January.
But his Louisiana Derby win requires an asterisk of sorts. Sure, he was impressive, but he was ridden by Rosie Napravnik, who absolutely dominated the Fair Grounds meet this winter. What Calvin Borel is considered to Churchill, Napravnik is and more at Fair Grounds. She could do no wrong, and it was only fitting that she won the Louisiana Derby.
The bloodlines are unconvincing, although Pants On Fire's sire, Jump Start, is fairly underrated. Cape Town, the damsire, generally produces sprinters, but with Bates Motel and Key To The Mint further back on the mare side, I don't think distance should be much of a problem (he actually has Key To The Mint twice on the mare line).
I'm curious to see how Pants On Fire develops out of the Louisiana Derby. The pace should set up nicely for him, but it's asking a lot for him to improve off of a perfect trip. I'm not likely to include him on any of my tickets, but I will be scared that he can beat me.
Solely because he was European, Master of Hounds went off as the post-time favorite for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf last November at Churchill Downs. He was never really in with a chance and finished sixth. His only start since then was a nose runner-up to Khawlah on the Tapeta track in the UAE Derby at Meydan.
Aidan O'Brien, Europe's preeminent trainer, must have figured this race is so wide open, why not send a mid-level turf horse and see what he can do on the dirt. Master of Hounds' sire, Kingmambo, has produced some good classic-distance horses, including 1999 Belmont winner Lemon Drop Kid.
He'll certainly be in there with a shot, but the worrying part of his form is that he has done his best running when he was rated nearer to the lead. European horses generally break slower from the gate and enter into a slower early tempo than the Derby will have. He'll need to be up in about sixth or seventh early on if he is to win.
One of the many Florida Derby flops that is trying to run back. He was more than impressive in his two-length victory in the Fountain of Youth, where he set the pace and was rated very mildly through a half-mile in 47.4 and three-quarters in 1:12.2.
But he must be first. When he doesn't set the pace, he's 1 for 6, with his only win coming in his maiden score in the With Anticipation last summer at Saratoga. In that race, he was second, a length off the lead. The two times he's had the lead he's won, against allowance runners three-back in addition to the Fountain of Youth.
The pace won't be as quick as the Florida Derby, but it should be quicker than Soldat wants. Comma to the Top and Shackleford want the lead, and unless they have trouble getting to the front before the first turn, I don't see Soldat getting where he needs to be. He'll likely have to settle just behind the leaders, right alongside Uncle Mo. Is he good enough to outrun Uncle Mo in the stretch? I doubt it.
I'm not going to make a prediction on Soldat just yet. His success depends greatly on the post position draw. But no matter what, I'm not that optimistic about his chances.
Mucho Macho Man is always right there in the end. He was a close third in the Louisiana Derby, won the Risen Star, was fourth after recovering from a difficult start in the Holy Bull, and has won or placed all but once in his career.
But he is a one-trick pony, performing his best out of races where there was no speed. The pace is going to be too rapid for Mucho Macho Man, and I don't think he'll even finish in the top half of the field.
I'd love to root for Mucho Macho Man. Kathy Ritvo, his trainer, is trying to be the first female trainer to win the Derby. He's a Florida-bred in a sport dominated by Kentucky-breds. He has a great name. But I just think he is vastly overrated. He's not worth a play at anything less than 40-1.
This is my horse. Archarcharch will be stalking from mid-pack throughout the race. The pace shouldn't be lethal, but it'll be healthy. He's used to healthy paces, and has performed his best behind half-miles in 46 and change. His worst performance, a fourth in the Smarty Jones Stakes on opening weekend at Oaklawn, came off of a slow 47.4 half-mile on a good track.
If Archarcharch gets the pace he wants, something around 47 seconds for a half-mile, he should be back in about eighth or ninth. Jon Court, his jockey, knows Churchill Downs well, and trainer William “Jinks” Fires only puts his horses in races he thinks they can win.
But the reason I love this horse goes beyond the belief that the race will set up perfectly for him and his connections. There isn't a horse in this field better bred to win at this distance and, more importantly, the 1.5 miles that make up the Belmont Stakes.
Arch, his sire, has sired numerous good stayers. But his damsire, Woodman, is the most underrated sire of his generation. Woodman fathered more than 100 stakes winners, including seven champions, and has quickly established himself as a broodmare sire. Wando, the 2003 Canadian Triple Crown champion, was out of a daughter to Woodman.
Even though Nehro was quickly closing at the wire in the Arkansas Derby, that was because Court sent Archarcharch a little too early. He only needed to get 1-1/8 that day, and that's exactly what he got. But he'll have no problem stretching out the extra eighth of a mile.
Bet Archarcharch at anything above 6-1 and consider him for use in all exotic wagers.
Toby's Corner's hopes rest squarely on a moderate pace. He'll be coming from the back half of the field and needs something to run at. Two starts ago, when he lost to Stay Thirsty while running third in the Gotham on the inner dirt at Aqueduct, he had to come four-wide after a half-mile in a glacial 49 seconds.
The Derby pace will not even be close to that slow.
However, of the so-called Derby contenders, he has by far the lowest top Beyer. Moreover, his breeding
does not scream of 1-1/4-miles stardom. Bellamy Road, his sire, was the post-time favorite for the Kentucky Derby in 2005, but he was a non-factor. His damsire, Mister Frisky, was the post-time favorite for the 1990 Kentucky Derby after starting his career 16 for 16. He too was a non-factor in the Run for the Roses.
Toby's Corner is a bona fide horse at 1-1/8. But he has no chance of making the Derby distance. He's getting played because he beat Uncle Mo, but that's it. I don't think he has much of a chance.
A month ago, Uncle Mo would have been even-money to win the Kentucky Derby and less than 6-1 to sweep the Triple Crown. Now? I might be overestimating him as joint second choice. Indian Charlie has not proven successful as the sire of distance horses, although Uncle Mo does have Arch on the mare side. Until Uncle Mo proves otherwise, that nagging question of breeding alone is a reason to steer clear.
On the other hand, his two-year-old year was the most hyped since Favorite Trick in 1997, and few horses since World War II have been as widely praised as a juvenile as Uncle Mo was. While Favorite Trick and Arazi before him didn't develop into champions at three, Secretariat and Native Dancer, two of the greatest juveniles ever, both became superstars at three. And in both cases, there were serious questions about handling longer distances.
Name recognition will bet Uncle Mo lower than he should be bet. His Wood Memorial performance really was that poor. He's certainly the best horse in the field, but can he get the distance? At 6-1, I'd include him in my exacta wager. But a win ticket? No way.
Here's a horse that has shot up in prominence recently despite never winning a race against winners. Nehro took three tries to break his maiden, and he was woeful in his first two starts. But all of a sudden, something clicked for the son of Mineshaft, and after breaking his maiden at 15-1 odds, he lost two close driving finishes, first to Pants On Fire in the Louisiana Derby, and then to Archarcharch in the Arkansas Derby.
All signs suggest that he's only getting better, and his bloodlines are riddled with horses that loved the distance. Afleet, despite being primarily a sprinter in his career, has seen his progeny go on to great things in the longer races, topped off with grandson Afleet Alex, the 2005 Preakness and Belmont winner.
But the reason for his hype goes beyond that. Everyone looks for the horse that finished the best in the prep races, none of which are more than 1-1/8. Nehro clearly had something left in the tank in both the Louisiana and Arkansas Derbies. Those performances, coupled with his breeding, will bet him down to second-choice, and he most certainly is a legitimate contender.
However, I am wary to bet him to win. He had every opportunity to get by Pants On Fire and could not. He certainly had enough time to catch Archarcharch. He could not. Nehro will factor in, but I don't think he has the nose for the wire that he needs. He may just have a severe case of seconditis.
It's hard to imagine Dialed In not being the favorite come post-time, although he'll be a very, very lukewarm one.
He beat a game and determined Shackleford in the Florida Derby, his first win around two turns after a surprise defeat in an allowance race in March. He is one of only two horses in this field to have won two graded stakes this year (Archarcharch is the other). He has never finished worse than second in four starts. He has the best jockey, Julien Leparoux, in the country. Those are the positives.
The negatives? No one fired in the Florida Derby with the exception of long-shot Shackleford. He lost a push-over allowance race two back. Sure, he was much the best against a strong Holy Bull field in January, but that was around one turn. And he's going to be coming from dead-last in a 20-horse field.
Yes, Mine That Bird won the Derby from dead-last, but it was in the slop and he got the perfect trip after the race set up perfectly for him. I can't see Dialed In getting the pace he needs. As a favorite, he is a must-avoid bet. It's just asking too much of him to win.
Obviously, it's early. So much can change between now and Saturday. We don't yet have a complete grasp on what the weather will be. The post-positions haven't been drawn. Heck, one horse scratching could change everything.
So these are my suggestions based on everything we know right now. For updated picks, listen to Obscure Sports Weekly this Wednesday at 10pm ET or view my live blog on Derby Day at BleacherReport.com.
Anyway, using a mythical $100 bankroll, betting $50 on win/place/show wagers and $50 on exactas or trifectas, here is what I'd bet:
$10wps Archarcharch ($30 total)
$6w Santiva ($6 total)
$5ps Santiva ($10 total)
$2w Brilliant Speed ($2 total)
$2w Twinspired ($2 total)
$1exacta box Archarcharch, Santiva, Brilliant Speed, Uncle Mo, Nehro, Dialed In ($30 total)
$1exacta box Aracharcharch, Santiva, Soldat, Master of Hounds ($12 total)
$1exacta box Archaracharch, Twinspired ($2 total)
$1exacta box Santiva, Twinspired ($2 total)
$1trifecta Archarcharach, Santiva / Archarcharch, Santiva / Nehro ($2 total)
$1trifecta Archarcharach, Santiva / Nehro / Archarcharach, Santiva ($2 total)