As it seems every year in recent memory, the Kentucky Derby has a forecast of rain coming from the sky and chaos coming down the home stretch. Thunderstorms are forecasted over the next two days for Louisville. It has been estimated that out of 135 years of the Kentucky Derby, 61 days (45.2% of the time) have encountered precipitation in some form. Sloppy conditions will change the way the race is run. For those unfamiliar with horse racing, horses on the front are more successful on a wet track. Churchill Downs usually favors closing horses, so a wet track on Saturday is a game-changer.
In recent years there hasn't been an overwhelming favorite before the race and this year is no different. There are at least ten horses that deserve to be in the conversation when discussing who's going to win the Derby. That's a problem from a gambling standpoint. Put together with the fact that there's always chaos when 20 horses (more than any other race) race for the first time against so many competitors on a large stage in which not all of them are familiar. When betting the Derby, you need to take a stand for some horses and against the rest. Then you pray...
The prevailing theory is that Trinniberg was inserted into the race to act as a rabbit (a fast horse that will push a strong early pace and eventually tire out). While he will have to work hard coming from the outside to get the lead, his early speed will take a lot out of energy out of the horses nipping at his heels like Hansen, Bodemeister and Casual Cause. If it doesn't rain (or the track dries up after some early rain), this would set up for a big closing run from a horse further back. I'll Have Another, El Padrino, Daddy Knows Best, and Went The Day Well will be in the conversation if that's the case.
Here's a look at the field:
1 - Daddy Long Legs
Being on the rail in the derby would kill any good horse, but it will cripple one who’s very average.
2 – Optimizer
He’s a closer, but hasn’t been productive in four races this season, which included a 9th place finish in the Arkansas Derby that Bodemeister won.
3 - Take Charge Indy
The winner of the Florida Derby did it from the lead with slow fractions. He won’t be able to do that in a crowded race with a lot of top end speed. Take Charge Indy is one of the front runners sure to fail rain or shine. Fans of Calvin Borel will move to this horse because of Borel’s positive history at Churchill Downs. Hopefully the other jockeys are smart enough to stop giving him the inside lane.
4 - Union Rags
The second favorite has a little problem. He likes to run near the front, but Julien Leparoux, his jockey, is used to making a late charge. I'm not sure why ownership never switched jockeys. Rags is a pretty good horse is worthy of any conversation, but what does it say that he couldn't find his fifth gear in the Florida Derby despite a slow pace? Since you have to take a stand against some of the favorites, here's where I start my stand.
5 - Dullahan
The winner of the Blue Grass States has to overcome and shorter recovery time than most (3 weeks) other horses in this race. The bigger issue is that his wins are on turf and synthetic tracks and he's never won on a dirt track. (Churchill Downs is a dirt track.) I'll continue my stand here.
6 - Bodemeister
Bodemeister is the favorite because of his very impressive performance in the Arkansas Derby. While he wasn't up against strong competition, his Beyer speed figure (a number quantifying a horse's race performance into the most simple form possible) was the highest of any horse in the race. He's also the only horse in the race to post multiple Beyer numbers over 100. (He's got three.) But here's the problem. No horse without a start as a two-year-old has won the Kentucky Derby since 1882. That's quite an ominous statistic. He also didn't win either race in which he wasn't near the front. If jockey Mike Smith changes the horse's style to avoid Trinniberg, history would indicate Bodemeister will not perform well.
7 - Rousing Sermon
Here’s another horse to ignore. He hasn’t finished in the top three in any of his three races this year.
8 - Creative Cause
I’m intrigued by Creative Cause. He’s never finished worse than third and has the ability to stalk the leading pack before bursting with a late charge. He’s moving back to the dirt from the synthetic surface in California, which should help him based on his history. He didn’t have the best trip last time out. He should be a factor regardless of the weather.
9 – Trinniberg
The rabbit will hold the lead for the first six furlongs and then fall into obscurity.
10 - Daddy Nose Best
A few of the pundits are picking the Sunland Derby winner because of his late charging style. He recently switched over from the turf and won both races (one on synthetic and the other on dirt). He’s one of the horses to watch if the the track isn’t wet.
11 – Alpha
A leg infection impacted Alpha’s ability to train since the Wood Memorial, a race in which he received a terrible trip. He’s bred to run the distance, but as a smaller horse, will he suffer in a race where there’s lots of banging amongst the 20 horses? I think so.
12 – Prospective
After winning the Tampa Derby, Prospective laid a complete dud in the Blue Grass Stakes. That was on synthetic, so maybe he gets a pass as a possible late charging horse in nice weather? Historically he’s raced very well at Tampa, however, and nowhere else.
13 - Went The Day Well
The same group who brought you Animal Kingdom, last year’s Kentucky Derby winner, brings you the #13 horse. You know he’s going to get a great ride with John Velazquez on him. He should put himself in strong position to win regardless of the conditions.
14 – Hansen
The winner of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (a race to determine the best two-year-old horse) at Churchill Downs has had a slightly disappointing three-year-old season. He’s never finished worse than third, but will he burnt out with a hot pace? He also hasn’t improved his speed figures since last year. He’s probably the biggest challenge to Bodemeister if it rains.
15 – Gemologist
The winner of the Wood Memorial is undefeated in five career starts. This year’s Wood Memorial, however, lacked the class of previous years. He just seems to be a hint slower than the best horses in this race. I’ll be going against him.
16 - El Padrino
El Padrino is surprisingly the second best to Bodemeister on a lot of speed figures. His stalking style should keep him in the picture. He didn’t get the best trip in the Florida Derby, so he has to hope he can get through the traffic here. He’s definitely a lively long-shot.
17 - Done Talking
Like his name, he’s not worth the conversation.
18 - Sabercat
A late charge in the Arkansas Derby has given people hope that Sabercat can stretch things out over the longer distance of the Kentucky Derby. He might be worth a small play in nice weather, but I’m not sure I can take a horse seriously who finished so far behind Bodemeiseter last time out.
19 - I'll Have Another
If you’re looking for the best story in the race, this is probably it. I’ll Have Another was a 43/1 shot when he won two races out and found a way to beat Creative Cause in the Santa Anita Derby. He’s shown a nice finishing kick, so he’s probably best suited to stalk the pace.
20 – Liaison
After a really good two-year-old campaign, Liaison has really fallen off this year. He’s said to be working better now, but I’m not sure how you can take him seriously.
If it rains:
1st – Bodemeister
2nd – Hansen
3rd – Creative Cause
4th – I’ll Have Another
If it doesn’t rain:
1st – Creative Cause
2nd – Went The Day Well
3rd – Bodemeister
4th – El Padrino