Kentucky Derby 2016: 10 Bold Predictions for the Run for the Roses
The Kentucky Derby is regarded as the greatest two minutes in sports. With so much excitement crammed into such a short amount of time, there is only one thing for certain—you have to go bold or go home.
Last year, American Pharoah set the bar exceedingly high and parlayed a win in the Kentucky Derby to a historic sweep of the Triple Crown. The undefeated Nyquist will put his perfect streak on the line and try to prove he is one of horse racing’s elite. Will an international star from Japan by way of Dubai steal the show?
Read on for 10 bold predictions for this year’s edition of the Kentucky Derby.
Nyquist Won’t Hit the Board
Nyquist has done everything right up to this point. He was the most dominant two-year-old in the land last year and capped off his season with an Eclipse Award worthy performance in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). While rarely flashy, he has passed every test and is a deserving favorite for the Kentucky Derby.
Even the best horses have a bad day. His effort in the Florida Derby (G1) was his most impressive performance to date, and that sort of race could set him up for a regression. He shipped from California to Florida and then to Kentucky and that kind of mileage can take its toll on even the most seasoned professional.
At likely the shortest price on the board, the Kentucky Derby may be an astute handicapper’s best shot to try to beat him.
Chad Brown's Shagaf Will Make an Impact
While he has not been impressive as the other Shadwell Stable colorbearer, Mohaymen, Shagaf is a long shot flying under the radar with some upside.
Getting the distance of 1 ¼ miles can be a grueling test for these young horses. None have ever raced that far in their short careers, and in that final eighth of a mile, a lot can be exposed. Shagaf, unlike several of his rivals, is bred to not only handle the distance but to excel the longer the races get.
His sire, Bernardini, was a proven 1 ¼-mile horse, and his offspring have shown to have inherited his stamina. The depth of Shagaf’s pedigree extends to his female family—his dam, Muhaawara, while largely an average racehorse herself, is a half-sister to Breeders’ Cup Marathon (G3) champion Eldaafer. He should be just getting rolling while some of the other horses are getting tired.
The Japanese Colt Will Challenge for a Spot in the Exotics
Lani is a colt with international credentials. Bred in the United States, he began his career in Japan and then stamped his ticket to the Kentucky Derby with a victory in the UAE Derby (G1) in the United Arab Emirates. A lot of intrigue has been surrounding him in the weeks leading up to the Derby, and recently, not much has been positive.
His workouts in the morning have bordered on bizarre. For a fit, testosterone-filled, young thoroughbred, he has looked dull and disinterested in his training. Couple that with the fact that he may have defeated a subpar field at Meydan, and he isn’t really looking like a worldbeater.
The Daily Racing Form's Mike Welsch was among those not impressed and tweeted that he was "a reluctant worker" and needed "severe prodding" to get through his workout.
But, he will have one of the greatest jockeys in the world aboard and could surprise and hit the board.
Todd Pletcher Will Challenge for the Oaks/Derby Double
With it was announced that champion Songbird would be forced to sit out the Kentucky Oaks, the race became exponentially more interesting. Songbird is the most dominant three-year-old (of either gender) in this crop, and her presence in the starting gate would have turned the race into a glorified public workout.
However, that is not to say that the three-year-old fillies this year are not talented in their own right. Land Over Sea won impressively once she got out from under the imposing shadow in Songbird, and Todd Pletcher’s filly, Rachel’s Valentina, has all of the tools to be a star. While she lost her last race, the Ashland Stakes (G1), it was her first start of the year and she should be a major contender in the Kentucky Oaks (G1).
Once she wins the Oaks, Todd Pletcher will have two contenders with a chance to win the Kentucky Derby: Destin and Outwork.
Mo Tom Will Have Yet Another Bad Trip
Corey Lanerie came under fire after a pair of troubled trips and questionable rides on Kentucky Derby contender Mo Tom. In both the Risen Star Stakes (G2) and the Louisiana Derby (G2), the colt found trouble on the rail and that traffic significantly impaired his performance.
After the Louisiana Derby (G2), trainer Tom Amoss gave him what was, according to NOLA.com writer Jeff Duncan, a "profanity-laced admonishment." Remarkably, he was still able to keep the mount on the colt.
While Lanerie is a consummate professional and has over 3,900 career victories, he has never won the Kentucky Derby. You have to wonder if the criticism he received for his recent efforts aboard Mo Tom will still be fresh in his mind.
In a field of 20 horses, it is very easy to get into traffic trouble, and with Mo Tom’s late kick, he will have a difficult time navigating a clear path.
Bob Baffert Will Have Jockey Drama
Bob Baffert has developed a reputation for his tumultuous reputation with jockeys. He has had more than one public falling-out with a rider only to smooth things over and be back to business quickly afterward.
Recently, Martin Garcia found himself on the receiving end of Baffert’s complaints. The stress is high surrounding the Kentucky Derby, and the pressure can be intense for all involved. According to Jay Privman of the Daily Racing Form, Baffert admitted to being Garcia's "biggest critic."
Baffert will saddle Mor Spirit in the Kentucky Derby and will have Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens in the irons. These two have enjoyed a long and successful relationship, but you never know if there could be a bump in the road.
Dallas Stewart Will Ruin the Exotic Wagers
Dallas Stewart has become part of the Kentucky Derby tradition—there are mint juleps, big hats and one of his long shots hitting the board and blowing up the exotic wagers.
In 2013, he sent out Golden Soul to run a gallant second behind Orb at mammoth odds of 34-1. The following year, Commanding Curve was the runner-up at odds of 37-1 behind California Chrome. He will be back underneath the Twin Spires this year to try again, this time with the inconsistent but talented Tom’s Ready.
Tom’s Ready, a disappointing seventh in the Risen Star Stakes (G2), rallied to run a big effort at even bigger odds to finish second to the highly regarded Gun Runner in the Louisiana Derby (G2). Can he repeat the feat?
The Closers Will Struggle
Several weeks ago, fans witnessed take the glory in the final round of major Kentucky Derby prep races. Exaggerator splashed home over a sloppy track in the Santa Anita Derby (G1), Brody’s Cause rallied in the Blue Grass Stakes (G1) and Creator pulled the upset in the Arkansas Derby (G1). These three colts are all very different but have one major thing in common—they are deep closers.
The deep closers may find themselves in hot water in this year’s Run for the Roses. While there are some tactical front-runners, the race lacks any true speedballs, and because of that, the early fractions may be moderate. This could play to the strengths of a more versatile, handy colt like Nyquist or Mohaymen.
The Kentucky Derby Winner Will Win the Preakness
A legitimate case can be made for several contenders in the Run for the Roses. Whether you are on Team Nyquist, Team Mohaymen or even pulling for a long shot, I think whoever comes out on top will be able to parlay that to a victory two weeks later in the Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico.
The time frame of only two weeks between the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes makes it easy for a trainer to keep a horse fit and happy. If it worked for the Derby, it is not rocket science to stay the course and maintain for the quick turnaround. Conversely, if you fell apart at the Derby, it can be even more difficult to regroup and fix the problems in only two weeks.
Now, will this horse go on to win the Triple Crown? Only time will tell.
Mohaymen Will Rebound from the Florida Derby and Win
Heading into the Florida Derby, the undefeated Mohaymen was the brightest star on the three-year-old scene. A brilliant gray son of Tapit, he had passed every test with flying colors and was at the top of many people’s Kentucky Derby list.
Then, he threw in a clunker. Nyquist kept his undefeated record intact while Mohaymen spun his wheels and wound up fourth. It was an uninspiring performance and left people wondering if he was as good as he appeared. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin never lost faith, however, and spoke to the Thoroughbred Daily News and excused his colt by saying, "He’s had two bad minutes in his whole life and it happened to be Florida Derby day."
With that poor performance behind him, he could be ready to peak when it counts—on Kentucky Derby day.