It's that time of year already—the first Saturday in May.
For many people it's just another day closer to summer. To me and many other horse racing fans, it's one of the greatest day's in all of sports.
This Saturday the 137th running of the Kentucky Derby takes place at Churchill Downs.
If you're in attendance or watching on TV, you'll see the celebrities who are dressed to be seen. You will also witness all the locals who mark this day on their calendar each year. That is part of the reason you watch the Derby. We would be fooling ourselves if we didn't mention the real reason we tune in.
It's the 20 thoroughbreds that will all be attempting to capture the first leg of the Triple Crown.
The past derbies have given us a number of upsets, which may very well be the case this year. Here is a list of my contenders for Saturday. Some may surprise you and some may not. Either way, it will be a fun Derby to watch.
Owner: Robert V. LaPenta
Trainer: Nicholas Zito
This Nick Zito trained contender should be the post time favorite, and rightfully so.
He won three times out of four career starts. His only loss came when he was a 1-5 favorite in an optional claiming race. In that race he lost by half a length while finishing second. He bounced back very nicely, winning the Holy Bull in January and followed that up with an equally impressive Florida Derby win about a month ago. He likes to run from the back of the pack and hopes for a fast early pace while relying on his late closing kick to run past the field.
Owner: Repole Stable
Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Mo was the sure bet, early Derby favorite before his performance in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 9th.
He appeared to be an easy winner in the stretch, but suddenly tired and finished a disappointing third, giving way to the eventual winner and Derby rival Toby's Corner. While the argument can be made that the Wood Memorial was his first true test, his previous races can't be discounted. Mo had a beyond impressive Beyer of 108 in last November's Breeders Cup Juvenile. It would be unfair to judge Mo on one poor race. He's one of the top contenders.
Owner: Zayat Stables, LLC
Trainer: Steven Asmussen
A horse who has surprised in his last few races. Like Dialed In, Nehro has a late kick and needs a fast pace to have a chance. He has improved to finish a strong second in the Arkansas and Louisiana Derby. He has opened up a lot of eyes these past few months, but he may be in over his head in this field. If there is a fast pace, he may have the ability to prove a lot of experts wrong.
Owner: Dianne D Cotter
Trainer: H. Graham Motion
The upset winner of the Wood Memorial, Toby has thrown himself right into the Derby contender conversation.
While the Wood was an impressive win, you have to wonder if the race just set up for him while Uncle Mo couldn't handle the stretch out in distance. This Graham Motion trainee is yet another closer in a field of many closers. If an early fast pace dictates this race, you can look for him—as well as Dialed In—to be a presence coming down the stretch.
Owner: Robert and Loval Yagos
Trainer: William Fires
He won the Arkansas Derby just over two weeks ago. While not taking anything away from the victory, the race did set up perfectly for him once the race's favorite couldn't get to the lead. That being said, this horse is coming into the race extremely sharp after impressive stakes performances. Tough call, but if it's my money i'll look elsewhere.
Owner: Tom R. Walters
Trainer: Eddie Kenneally
Santiva doesn't jump out at you when first looking at the field in this race.
If you look a little closer though, there is an argument to be made on how this horse can surprise and pull off the upset.
First of all, he had a very bad trip in the Bluegrass. Secondly, he did win the Kentucky Jockey Club on this same track last November and had an impressive three-year-old debut with a nice second place finish in the Risen Star at the Fair Grounds in February. I like the fact he is lightly raced coming into the Derby and has the ability to improve, which he will have to do to have a chance to win this race.
Here are my selections:
1st - Santiva - Banking that he will improve to the point where he can win this race. If so, it will be yet another surprise Derby winner at a big price.
2nd - Uncle Mo - Based on his prior starts, I am willing to throw out his disappointing Wood Memorial.
3rd - Dialed In - Will be closing down the stretch, but will come up short.
4th - Nehro - Will be closing along with Dialed In.
Win or lose, here's hoping everybody has a great Kentucky Derby Day!
(I will be starting a weekly article on Saturdays which will include selections and commentary for Belmont's Saturday entries beginning May 7th.)