Of all the years I have followed the Kentucky Derby, I have never seen a field as wide open as the one we will see this year.
Frankly, there are 14 to 16 horses in this field that I wouldn't be surprised if they came out on top this Saturday, which makes this one of the toughest fields in the history of the Kentucky Derby to try to handicap.
Throughout the Kentucky Derby prep racing season, we have seen a number of upsets and long shots come out victorious. Some of these long shots have gone off at odds of 25:1 and upwards to even 43:1. Throw in long-shot winners in Giacomo and Mine That Bird in the last six years at the Kentucky Derby, and we could be looking at another horse going off at 20:1 (or greater) odds that rolls home to victory.
With the outlook for weather in Louisville looking to be cloudy with a solid chance of rain, we should fully expect a wet track to be a very big factor. While popular convention is that a sloppy track favors front runners, we only need to go back to Mine That Bird's incredible rail-skimming run in the 2009 Derby, as he came from dead last to win by a dominating six lengths.
Let's take a look at this year's field in its post position order.
1. ArchArchArch (10/1)
Who will win the 137th Kentucky Derby?
This steadily improving entry has drawn the dreaded one hole. Only a single winner of the previous 136 Kentucky Derbies has come out of this post position. However, ArchArchArch may not struggle as much with this post, as he doesn't need to get to the lead and can be rated toward the middle of the pack. The biggest fear is that he gets blocked in and can't find any running room before it is too late.
Well bred and more than capable of making the distance, he should be seriously considered for win honors. It was also nice to see that he trained magnificently at Churchill over the wet track this week.
2. Brilliant Speed (30/1)
A deep closer, Brilliant Speed will be looking for a hot pace up front to set up his closing style. He is getting better each and every time he races and looks to be very capable of popping a big one on Saturday. His final three furlongs in the Bluegrass were run in around 35 seconds with his final furlong in nearly 11 seconds. Of all the closers in this race, he looks to have the most speed of foot late and is simply begging for more distance, which he will get on Saturday.
At the attractive price of 30/1, Brilliant Speed has a solid trainer in Tom Albertrani, a solid jockey in Joel Rosario and the breeding lines of Dynaformer that instill confidence in his chances. Dynaformer is the sire of former Kentucky Derby champion Barbaro, as well as the widely respected Perfect Drift.
The biggest chinks in Brilliant Speed's armour are that he has not faced the greatest of competition and that he needed five races to break his maiden. He also has only two races on dirt in which he failed miserably in the first two starts of his career. He has been training well on the wet track at Churchill and looks like he may take well to the dirt/mud come Saturday.
3. Twice The Appeal (20/1)
Not sure why this colt is only 20/1. He should be around 40 or 50 to 1. It took him seven tries to break his maiden, and in those seven races there was more than enough possibility even for a slightly above-average horse to come out on top. While he is coming off a victory in the Sunland Derby, that was a rather weak field that crawled home in the final three furlongs in 40 seconds.
The only positive that you can find with this horse is that Calvin Borel will be in the irons. If we've learned anything, Calvin can make average horses become great (Mine That Bird). Not liking his chances even with Calvin on board.
4. Stay Thirsty (20/1)
Everything about this horse screams winner. Breeding out of Bernardini, A.P. Indy and Storm Bird. Trained by Todd Pletcher. Ramon Dominguez as the mount. However, this guy just hasn't seemed to put all his talent and positives together. At least not yet. You really get the feeling that this horse is about to explode. I'm just not sure it will be this weekend.
His two-year-old campaign was solid, as only the super two-year-olds in Uncle Mo and Boys At Toscanova were his better. His Gotham Stakes victory was very solid, but the clunker he put in at the Florida Derby is awfully tough to overlook. He has trained well at Churchill, and I fully expect a much better effort than the one he put forth at Gulfstream, but it is very difficult to see him come out on top.
5. Decisive Moment (30/1)
He really hasn't ever run a bad race in his eight starts. However, he has severe distance questions, as every race he has run that was longer than a mile he has faltered in the late stages of the race. He'll need to be close to the lead to have any chance, and I just don't see that happening. He'd need a good number of horses to come up flat in order for him to even hit the board.
6. Comma To The Top (30/1)
He had a brilliant two-year-old season on the West Coast last year in which he won five consecutive races. His six career wins and 13 career starts make him the senior in this group.
Unfortunately, distance looks like it will be a serious problem. While I respect his gutsy effort in the Santa Anita Derby, he was full out and nearly spent when Midnight Interlude passed him just before the wire. That may end up being his best career race, as I'm not sure he has anything more than what we saw in that one. Breeding out of Indian Charlie is also scary when looking to wager on a horse over 10 furlongs.
He could hang on and hit the bottom of some exotics, but that looks to be the top end of his potential.
7. Pants On Fire (20/1)
This one will likely get some tote action simply based on his name. You also have to look at the "girl power" factor with Anna Napravnik in the saddle. Hard to find much fault with the gutsy performance he put in at the Louisiana Derby.
However, in his last seven races he has only passed a single horse while being passed by five. Without any doubt, this horse has to have the lead or be well within a length or two at the half mile. Otherwise, it is extremely doubtful that he can even hit the board.
With that said, I'm not liking his chances of getting the lead, as he has never held a lead after four furlongs in a time under 47-and-two-fifths seconds, and 47 seconds won't be leading this race after four furlongs. Overpriced for a race that just won't set up well for him.
8. Dialed In (4/1)
The likely race-time favorite got a beautiful draw in his post position. This very lightly raced horse has done little wrong in his four previous outings, as he has won three times. I am concerned about his chances though.
The final three furlongs in the Florida Derby were run in a pedestrian 40 seconds, and Dialed In was barely able to pick up seven lengths even with that pace. The final furlong was barely under 14 seconds, and Dialed In was roughly around 13 seconds himself. Thus, though it may look impressive on the form that he came from last to first, he wasn't exactly blazing down the stretch to come away victorious.
He has the right connections and easily some of the best breeding in the field, and the mile-and-a-quarter distance should be right in his wheelhouse. I just question how big of a closer this guy really is and whether he'll get the right trip at such low odds. He is a scary proposition to leave off any exotic ticket, and while he would be no surprise if he won, I'm definitely looking elsewhere for the winner.
9. Derby Kitten (30/1)
The final entrant into the field is a steadily improving colt that could be sitting on a huge race. Yet another closer, Derby Kitten closed in some very solid fractions in the Lexington. The final two-and-a-half furlongs were in 30 seconds, and Derby Kitten gained four lengths in his impressive close. His back class is a concern, and also the fact that you could have claimed this horse in a maiden race back in January.
The biggest negative is that he has never raced on dirt and didn't do any legitimate work over the Churchill surface. Undoubtedly he will turn back to being a turf horse this summer, but he is a very intriguing entry that will be going off at huge odds. Distance is definitely not a problem, and if he can take to the surface he could be a very large part of this thing when all is said and done. Should be seriously considered.
10. Twinspired (30/1)
This Kentucky-bred horse bearing the nickname of Churchill Downs will undoubtedly be the sentimental favorite for the Louisville locals. Much like Derby Kitten, he has yet to prove he can run on dirt, as his only race on this surface was a dreadful eighth-place finish last year at Remington Park. He ran very well in his last out but simply didn't have enough to hold off the deep-closing Brilliant Speed.
His sire, Harlan's Holiday, was a good horse but never great and could do no better than a single second place at the classic mile-and-a-quarter distance. He will absolutely need to be within view of the lead in a stalking fashion to have any chance. Bottom end of exotics looks to be the best he can do.
Which Long Shot has the best chance to win?
11. Master of Hounds (30/1)
Undoubtedly this horse's connections looked at the weakness of the American three-year-olds and decided to take a shot. Clearly this horse will be a turf horse moving forward, but he does have the talent and ability to be a factor in this race. Kingmambo was a great thoroughbred and gives absolutely no concern that this colt can handle the distance. Soldat beat him in last year's Breeder's Cup Juvenile Turf, as he finished a disappointing sixth as the race-time favorite.
He has already run longer than any other horse in this race with his mile-and-three-sixteenths effort in the UAE Derby. He finished a solid second but was caught from behind late in the race and lost by a neck. 30/1 is probably about right, and he does provide good value at those odds.
Can he handle the dirt? For that matter, can he handle the mud? Hard to keep a horse with this much talent off your exotics, but I'll likely keep him off every ticket I wager.
12. Santiva (30/1)
You can go ahead and simply cross off that last race he ran. His previous two races before the Bluegrass, in which he was pinned in and bothered throughout, show the talent and ability of this guy. Even while running three, four and even five wide, Santiva was able to bring home a win and a second-place finish. You also have to respect any horse whose sire is Giant's Causeway.
He sets up well as a traditional Kentucky Derby winner with his stalking style. He has a picture-perfect post in which he can rate into traffic and make his final kick in the final furlongs.
There are two concerns with Santiva. 1) He has only 1 lifetime win, and 2) he hasn't trained all that great coming into this race. Either way, at the attractive 30/1 odds, this horse should get strong consideration not only for exotic wagers, but to actually pull out the win as well.
13. Mucho Macho Man (12/1)
One of the bigger horses in the race, Mucho Macho Man is still filling out his long and lengthy frame. I don't think we are even close to seeing the full potential of this horse that has shown solid tactical speed and has a solid pattern of being a stalker.
His biggest problem is that he simply doesn't win. He has put in solid efforts, but too many times he has simply come up short when it really mattered. While he has never run a bad race, there isn't one that really sticks out as being all that great either. His breeding and recent performances bring about some questions about making the Derby distance.
I don't see him winning, but he could easily hit the board to fill out your exotics. Of all the horses in the race, I'm most confident in Mucho Macho Man putting in a solid effort. Just not sure it will be good enough.
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14. Shackleford (12/1)
That was a gutsy effort in the Florida Derby in which he nearly pulled of the shocking 68/1 upset over Dialed In and a host of others in that race. He is lightly raced and has a pedigree that screams trouble with the Derby distance.
He set some solid fractions in the Florida Derby and will need every bit of that effort to get the lead in this one. We all saw him severely struggling to get a mile-and-an-eighth; thus it is very difficult to see him tackling another furlong. If he isn't on or very near the lead, he simply has no chance. Too big of a risk at too low a price.
15. Midnight Interlude (10/1)
As you are likely aware, this horse didn't run a single race as a two-year-old. Of his four lifetime starts, three of them have been in maiden races. Bob Baffert and his connections obviously saw the talent in this colt and gave him a shot in the Santa Anita Derby. They were rewarded handsomely, as Midnight Interlude closed from a stalking position to finally take down the solid effort from Comma To The Top.
He has trained brilliantly since that win and even took to the sloppy track at Churchill very well. A scary horse that is on the rise. However, his breeding out of War Chant is a huge red flag. This is a huge step up in class, as the Santa Anita Derby was an extremely watered-down field. Hard to see him pulling off the win, and to be honest, it is hard to see him being able to stalk and close if the fractions are as speedy as we should expect.
16. Animal Kingdom (30/1)
This guy is getting a lot of attention from the experts, and he looks like he may well be the wise guy horse this year. Lightly raced and solidly bred, he should have no problem making the distance. Yet another closer that has big questions about whether he'll be able to handle the dirt, as he has never raced on it before.
I also question just how big of a closer he really is, as his "closing" victory at Turfway Park in his last out ran the final three furlongs in a shade under 41 seconds. He'll be taking a huge step up in class, and he has to be much closer to the lead than any other closer in the field. While I wouldn't be completely floored if he won, I'll have a hard time putting him on any ticket.
17. Soldat (12/1)
Pretty simple. Soldat needs to be close to the lead in order to have a chance. With that said, he has the two most impressive races this year of anybody in the field. One of those races was a 10-length romp in the mud at Gulfstream. Distance is going to be his biggest question, but he handled a mile-and-an-eighth quite well in two races this year. A mile-and-an-eighth may be his best distance, but he could have enough staying power to be a huge factor in this one.
His biggest question is whether he can rate in behind the leaders and pass horses down the stretch. In the Florida Derby he didn't rate well at all, which is a scary sign if you are looking at making an across the board wager. The fact that he has run well on this track before and his best race in his career was on mud are factors that should be weighed heavily. He is a very serious contender for win honors.
18: Uncle Mo (9/2)
19. Nehro (6/1)
This horse is getting an awful lot of love for only having one career win. Sure, his back-to-back second-place finishes are solid, but I really have to question why he couldn't finish the deal while the races were falling apart at the end. Love the breeding out of Mineshaft, and Steve Asmussen and Corey Nakatani bring about a lot of confidence in investing in this colt.
While he has questions like everybody else in the race, he also has as good a chance to win as anybody as well. I definitely wouldn't suggest leaving him off any exotic tickets. I'm just not all that excited about such a short price for a horse that hasn't proven the ability to close the deal.
20. Watch Me Go (50/1)
Take away his 43/1 upset victory in the Tampa Bay Derby and there is literally nothing about this horse to get excited about. His clunker in the Illinois Derby in what was arguably the weakest field for a Derby prep race is extremely troubling. Even if he could repeat that Tampa Bay Derby performance, it simply won't be good enough. I like that he shows a solid pattern of stalking; I just don't see him being fast enough to be any kind of factor.
137th Kentucky Derby
As with nearly every Kentucky Derby in the past, we should expect an honest pace up front. While this year's crop of entrants lacks a true burner, there are enough front runners that a solid pace will develop. Comma To The Top and Shackleford should be vying for the early lead with Soldat looking to settle in comfortably behind them.
I'd look for fractions of at least 46 seconds at four furlongs and 1:10 or so at six furlongs. Even last year's slow time of 2:04-and-two-fifths had these kinds of fractions up front.
Comma To The Top will likely be the leader through six furlongs. From there, the stalkers will begin to be getting into position to pounce, and the deep closers will be looking to gear up for their final runs.
By the time the quarter pole comes around, Comma To The Top and Shackleford should start to get weary, and the stalkers will start to come into the picture. Horses such as ArchArchArch, Stay Thirsty, Pants On Fire, Twinspired, Santiva, Mucho Macho Man and Midnight Interlude will need to be in the top five or six horses at this point if they stand any chance to win.
Deep closers such as Brilliant Speed, Dialed In, Derby Kitten, Master Of Hounds, Animal Kingdom and Nehro should be revving up their engines to make their one huge final run.
The pace up front will collapse as Comma To The Top and Shackleford begin to fold. I'll go with Soldat having the lead close to midstretch, with ArchArchArch, Santiva and Mucho Macho Man breathing down his neck. Coming hard from back in the pack we have Dialed In, Brilliant Speed, Nehro and maybe even Derby Kitten looking to pick up the pieces.
WIN: Brilliant Speed and/or Soldat. Hoping to get 10 to 1 or upwards to 12 to 1 on Soldat. Brilliant Speed could move upwards to 35 or even 40 to 1 by post time.
EXACTA: Box Brilliant Speed, ArchArchArch, Soldat and Nehro ($2 Exacta Box on 1, 2, 17, and 19 is $24).
TRIFECTA: Brilliant Speed, Nehro, Soldat on top. Include ArchArchArch in the two hole, and round out the bottom with Dialed In, Mucho Macho Man, Derby Kitten and Santiva ($1 Trifecta Key: 2, 17, 19 with 1, 2, 17, 19, with 1,2, 8, 9, 12, 13, 17, and 19 = $54).
SUPERFECTA: Same horses as the Trifecta, and just repeat the bottom for the four hole ($1 Superfecta = $270, or $0.10 Superfecta = $27.00).
LONG SHOT(S): Brilliant Speed at 30/1, Derby Kitten at 30/1 or Santiva at 30/1.
My Order of Finish: Brilliant Speed, Nehro, Soldat, ArchArchArch