2014 Kentucky Derby Horses: Ranking Every Contender at Churchill Downs

Michael Dempsey@turfnsportFeatured ColumnistMay 1, 2014

2014 Kentucky Derby Horses: Ranking Every Contender at Churchill Downs

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The post positions are drawn, the morning line is out, and the final morning workouts are in the books, so now it is time to rank every contender at Churchill Downs for the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby.

    The two most exciting minutes in sports are coming up on Saturday at 6:24 pm (ET) and will be televised on NBC.

    The rankings are based on speed, pace, race set up, connections, and post position. While the No. 1-ranked contender will have the best chance of winning the race, that runner may not end up offering the best betting value at post time.

    Let’s rank every contender at Churchill Downs for the Run for the Roses. 

20. Harry's Holiday

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    Garry Jones/Associated Press

    The Mike Maker trainee is another that has done his best work on Polytrack. He was beaten just a nose two back in the Spiral (G3) at Turfway Park behind We Miss Artie. 

    His final prep came in the Toyota Blue Grass (G1) and it was not pretty as the colt was stalking the early pace in good position and then backed up to finish 13th.

    On the bright side, the colt did break his maiden over the Churchill Downs main track. The bad news is he did it for a $30,000 claiming tag. The colt figures to be one of the biggest prices in the field.

19. Commanding Curve

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    Garry Jones/Associated Press

    One of the true longshots in the field at 50-1 on the morning line, this colt will be saddled by Dallas Stewart, who had another outsider in last year’s race. Golden Soul rallied in the slop to finish second behind Orb and at juicy odds of 34-1. 

    Can Stewart strike again with a longshot? His last effort will not give too many confidence, and his mare is by Orientate, who won the 2002 Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1), so his pedigree is not exactly long-winded.

    His third in the Louisiana Derby (G2) was decent. The colt was bumped coming out of the gate and made up some ground late behind a loose on the lead gate to wire winner. The colt will need a career-best effort to get a share.

18. We Miss Artie

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    Garry Jones/Associated Press

    If you are looking for a Todd Pletcher longshot, this is your guy. The colt won the Spiral Stakes (G3) at Turfway Park over Polytrack in his last prep. He has won on turf and synthetics, but his two starts on conventional dirt going a route of ground were not pretty. 

    The colt was seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) last fall and a well-beaten eighth in the Fountain of Youth (G2) in February.

    While going from Polytrack to dirt is a rather unconventional path to winning the Derby, don’t forget that is exactly what Animal Kingdom did in 2011 and Hard Spun used the Spiral as a prep for his runner-up finish in the 2007 Run for the Roses.  

17. Vinceremos

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    Garry Jones/Associated Press

    This Pletcher trainee seems headed to Louisville as a major player after winning the Sam F. Davis (G3) and then running second in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2). However, Pletcher elected to send this guy to Keeneland for the Toyota Blue Grass (G1) on Polytrack and the colt faded to finish 14th, beaten nearly 30 lengths. 

    The question horseplayers have to ask is whether it makes sense to toss his synthetic surface prep and look for a rebound.  If any one trainer can do it you would think a six-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer like Todd Pletcher could.

    However, Pletcher's success at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday of May has not been good, winning with just one of 36 starters, that win coming with Super Saver in 2010.

16. Uncle Sigh

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    Adam Coglianese/Associated Press

    One of two New York-breds in the field, this colt finished behind his fellow state bred Samraat in each of his last three starts. Samraat got the best of him in the Grade 3 Withers and Gotham, both highlighted by stirring stretch duels. Wicked Strong handled both in the Wood Memorial (G1), with Samraat running second and Uncle Sigh weakening to finish fifth.

    Breaking from post three the colt figures to be sent early and could be part what likely is going to be a solid early pace. By Indian Charlie out of a Pine Bluff mare, the colt has one of the stronger pedigrees among the early speed types in the race to be able to handle the 1 1/4 miles.

15. Vicar's in Trouble

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    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    After winning the Lecomte (G3) in January it looked as if trainer Mike Maker had a serious Derby contender. The colt came up short as the betting favorite in the Risen Star (G2) in his next start, weakening to finish third.

    In his final prep, credit jockey Rosie Napravnik with a heady ride as she realized there was not much early speed signed up in the Louisiana Derby (G2) and she put the colt on the lead where he was able to set moderate early fractions and take the field gate to wire.

    The water gets much deeper on Saturday as there will be no easy lead and breaking from the rail can be tricky.

14. Medal Count

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    This Dale Romans trainee has won on turf and on Polytrack but sports an 0-for-2 mark on conventional dirt, an 11th-place finish in last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) and a fifth-place finish in the Fountain of Youth (G2). 

    The colt showed he liked the Poly at Keeneland, winning the off-the-turf Transylvania (G3) and then running a good second in the Toyota Blue Grass (G1) in his last outing.

    However, without decent dirt form this colt appears up against it, although he has been handling the surface this week in the mornings.  Owner Barbara Banke of Stonestreet Thoroughbreds has been pleased with what she has seen.

    “He’s got plenty of room to go the distance and he’s fit,” she said. “I’m happy with the way he looks and I’m looking forward to the race.”

13. Dance with Fate

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    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    The colt made a good late run to win the Toyota Blue Grass (G1) at Keeneland over Polytrack and will be making just his third career start on conventional dirt. His trainer, Peter Eurton, said that the colt likes turf and synthetics best, but the conditioner caught a case of Derby Fever. 

    His first trip over dirt was a solid runner-up finish in the FrontRunner (G1) at Santa Anita as a juvenile, beaten by Bond Holder, who at the time was one of the early betting favorites for the Derby.

    His jockey, Corey Nakatani, is looking to win his first Derby. The veteran rider is 0-for-16 in the Run for the Roses.

12. Samraat

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    Chelsea Durand/Associated Press

    Undefeated in his first five starts, the colt tasted defeat for the first time in his last start, a runner-up finish to Wicked Strong in the Wood Memorial (G1). The colt trounced New York breds in his first three starts by a combined 25 lengths, and then showed his gameness with hard-fought wins over Uncle Sigh in the Withers and Gotham, a pair of Grade 3 races that serve as preps for the Wood. 

    The colt is by Noble Causeway, who was 14th in the 2005 Kentucky Derby. His mare has dropped three other stakes-caliber runners in Screen Legend, Original Fate and Kaddish.

    His pedigree is on the light side to handle 1 1/4 miles, but he has shown in his last three starts that he is as game as they come.

11. General A Rod

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    Uncredited/Associated Press

    The colt started off the new year with a bang by winning the Gulfstream Park Derby on Jan. 1, and then was a game second in the Fountain of Youth (G2), where he was beaten just a head by Wildcat Red. 

    His final prep came in the Florida Derby (G1) where he tracked the early pace and did not have enough punch left late, checking in third while beaten 1 1/2 lengths.

    Joel Rosario, who won the 2013 Kentucky Derby on Orb, is his rider. He will get a leg up from Mike Maker, one of the leading trainers in Kentucky who is seeking his first Derby win.

    He is flying under the radar and his price has not changed much, sitting at 25-1 dating back to early April, according to Oddsshark.com.

10. Chitu

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    The Sunland Derby was not even considered a prep for the Run for the Roses until Mine That Bird used the race (a fourth-place finish) as a prep to Derby upset lore to the tune of 50-1 in 2009. 

    Fast forward to 2014 and Chitu is coming off a smart looking win in that race for the Bob Baffert barn. Baffert is in the Hall of Fame and has won the Kentucky Derby three times, the last coming with War Emblem in 2002.

    Only two runners (California Chrome and Wicked Strong) earned higher last out Beyer Speed Figures, and this guy will be the highest price of the trio by far.

9. Tapiture

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    Danny Johnston/Associated Press

    The Steve Asmussen trainee is one of just three in the field that has a win over the Churchill Downs main track. The colt won the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) over the surface last November. 

    His Derby preps were in Hot Springs, winning the Southwest (G3), a second in the Rebel (G2) and then a fourth last out in the Arkansas Derby (G1).

    The Asmussen barn has been under siege this spring after an undercover video released by PETA went viral. Asmussen fired his longtime assistant, Scott Blasi, who was featured prominently in a rather unflattering light in the video.

    The colt certainly has talent, but he will not be a popular winner of the race based on the connections.

8. Candy Boy

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    Uncredited/Associated Press

    It took four tries for Candy Boy to break his maiden, but he followed earning his diploma with a solid runner-up finish in the CashCall Futurity (G1) which put him on the Derby radar among bettors. His price went down to 20-1 according to Oddshark.com after his win in the Robert B. Lewis (G2) at Santa Anita.

    His final prep came against California Chrome in the Santa Anita Derby (G1), and the colt was no match, checking in third and beaten 8 3/4 lengths.

    That is a lot of lengths to make up on the first Saturday of May, but the colt does have the pedigree to handle the extra ground. He is by Candy Ride, who was a Grade 1 winner at 1 1/4 miles and out of a mare that won going long.

7. Wildcat Red

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    Adam Coglianese/Associated Press

    Making all seven of his career starts in Florida at Gulfstream Park, this colt will come to Louisville with speed to spare. The colt figures to be right in the mix early as he was in his last two starts.

    He earned a Kentucky Derby berth with his win in the Fountain of Youth (G2) by a game head over General A Rod, and in his final prep the colt set the early fractions and battled on right to the wire, beaten just a neck.

    The question for this colt is whether he will be able to handle the extra ground. His sire, D’wildcat, was best sprinting, although his mare did win going long.

6. Ride On Curlin

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    Garry Jones/Associated Press

    Trained by relatively unknown William Gowan, this colt made five starts as a juvenile and four this year, a solid foundation that should have him fit and ready to go on Saturday. However, the colt has only won twice, his maiden score in his second career start and a win against first-level allowance foes in his 3-year-old debut.

    His path to the Kentucky Derby went through Hot Springs where he ran third in the Southwest (G3), third in the Rebel (G2) and in his final prep ran second in the Arkansas Derby (G1) behind upset winner Danza.

    He figures to get some betting attention due to the fact that jockey Calvin Borel will be aboard. Borel has won three of the last seven runnings of the Kentucky Derby.

    "I like him a lot," Borel said Wednesday morning of the Arkansas Derby (GI) runner-up. "I think he's coming up to the race at the best time, peaking a little bit."

5. Danza

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    Danny Johnston/Associated Press

    Trainer Todd Pletcher has a barn full of outstanding 3-year-olds and will start four in the Derby. This colt was late to join the party, relatively unknown until his last outing.

    The colt showed some promise as a juvenile with a close-up third in the Saratoga Special (G2), but after a third against first-level optional claimers in his 3-year-old debut, he was completely overlooked in the Arkansas Derby (G1) at Oaklawn Park.

    Under a good ride from jockey Joe Bravo, the colt managed to make his way through along a tight opening on the rail and pulled off the huge upset at betting odds of 41-1. His price in the Derby future betting took a tumble from 225-1 last November to 8-1 shortly after his upset win, according to Oddsshark.com.

4. Intense Holiday

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    Lou Hodges/Associated Press

    His runner-up finish in the Louisiana Derby (G2) at Fair Grounds was solid as Vicar’s in Trouble was able to shake loose early and had a relatively easy time on the front and went gate to wire.

    In his previous start he was a game winner of the Risen Star (G2) at Fair Grounds after a couple of fourths and a third in his first three tries in stakes company. The colt is one of four that will be saddled by trainer Todd Pletcher, who is 1-for-36 in the Kentucky Derby.

    The colt was purchased for $380,000, which is a hefty number for a son of Harlan’s Holiday, who was the beaten favorite in the 2002 Kentucky Derby where he finished seventh.

3. Wicked Strong

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    David Alcosser/Associated Press

    Named in honor of those affected by the Boston bombing, this colt burst on the Derby scene with a good late run to win the Wood Memorial (G1) at Aqueduct on April 5. The colt showed some promise as a juvenile with a close-up third in the Remsen (G2) last November.

    His first Derby prep this year did not go well as he checked in a well-beaten ninth in the Holy Bull (G2) at Gulfstream Park. After a decent fourth against a strong field of first-level optional claimers, he put it all together in the Wood.

    The son of Hard Spun, who was the runner-up in the 2007 Derby, this colt is one of just four that earned a triple-digit Beyer Speed Figure in his final prep.

2. Hoppertunity

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    Danny Johnston/Associated Press

    UPDATE: Hoppertunity is scratched with a minor foot bruise. 

    The second choice on the morning line announced by Churchill Downs on Wednesday afternoon, Hoppertunity will need to turn the tables on favorite California Chrome, who beat him by 5 1/4 lengths in the Santa Anita Derby (G1).

    The colt is well-traveled, making his stakes debut at Fair Grounds in a fourth-place finish in the Risen Star (G2) and then winning the Rebel (G2) at Oaklawn Park. Baffert elected to keep him in Southern California instead of heading back to Oaklawn Park for the Arkansas Derby (G1).

    While he did not win his final prep, that outing should set him up for a top effort on Saturday. It does not hurt to have the Hall of Famer Baffert calling the shots. Baffert has won the Kentucky Derby three times.

1. California Chrome

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    Uncredited/Associated Press

    There is no doubt this colt is going to be the betting favorite for this year’s running of the Kentucky Derby. The colt has won his last four starts by a combined 24 lengths and his last two Beyer Speed Figures are tops in the field.

    Favorites have won five times since 2000 including last year, as Orb was the lukewarm favorite at 5.40-1. The four previous years saw the betting favorite come up short including Friesan Fire, who was 18th at 3.80-1 back in 2009.

    The colt topped the 2014 Kentucky Derby Points Standings and has been the betting favorite for the race for nearly two months.

    The colt is the most talented in the field, but has to get a good trip and prove he can handle going 1 1/4 miles.