Unlike most items (such as tax filings and house chores), I have taken the initiative to handicap The Derby two weeks in advance, leaving the final betting strategy until after the post position draw. I have removed horse 8, 9 and 10 from my last ranking; News Pending, Najjaar and Midnight Transfer since they failed to fire as long-shots in their last prep and won't be in The Derby 20 horse starting gate. The race is most assuredly going to get 20 actual starters this year with the four also eligible list in case of late scratches. So this is how I see things heading into Louisville...
1) Bodemeister: Not only adding this handsome son of Empire Maker in my final listing, but now he is my horse to beat for The Derby after seeing his smashing Arkansas Derby victory in person! I am the first to admit that field was one of the weakest in years, but horses seldom crush fields the way he did under Mike Smith. With such an evenly group of sophomores, he is the one that I can imagine taking another step forward on May 5th, like lightly raced Big Brown and Barbaro before him. I think his post position will be critical and would like to see him draw one of the outer third spots and sitting a couple lengths off the pace since he did not fare well against Creative Cause in the San Felipe when down towards the rail.
2) Creative Cause: I said before that a first or second placing in the Santa Anita Derby will have him moving forward into The Derby. Very confident that he will continue to run well with an honest pace and a clean trip, which he got in the SA Derby in running a coin toss finish to I'll Have Another. I've said all spring that the California contingent appears to be the cream of the crop and this has been validated with the final prep results. I think there is no dispute that this guy has the best resume heading into Louisville, but perhaps he has already proven all he can when others have a chance to "pop" a big one.
3) I'll Have Another: I started this guy out fairly high as a sleeper pick but he has stepped up to the plate and hit two HR's in his gutsy California victories (remember, SA has a dirt surface again in 2012). His sire Flower Alley registered well down the list of 2nd crop sires to close out 2011 at #13, but whenever a distance laden sire produces a horse with a turn of foot like this you'd better watch out. It's hard to sepaprate him with CC, but I expect at least one of these guys to be first or second at Churchill Downs.
4) Dullahan: This guy had no chance in the BC Juvenile when they were walking through slow mid-race fractions, but still managed a nice rally from 13th and last to get up for 4th. Had a solid second place finish two back at 9 furlongs on the Gulfstream lawn. Then, his Bluegrass Stakes win looked strong as he flourished in the last 1/16th of a mile to blow by Hansen, although his gallop out looked a bit stiff to me rather than encouraging that he is a true 10 furlong horse. But after last year seeing Shackleford's handling, I am very much a believer in Dale Romans ability to have a horse ready for the spring classics.
5) Went the Day Well: New York bred (ala '03 Derby winner Funny Cide) getting in on The Derby action with his 3YO campaign looking like Animal Kingdom thus far. Solid breeding by a KY Derby placed sire really coming into his own in Proud Citizen out of a Tiznow mare. Coming off a win in the Vinery Spiral on synthetic where he layed much closer to the lead from the 4 hole, handling the dirt kick-back and splitting horses very well, something that will come in handy in the 20 horse stampede that is The Derby! Will likely get much more respect at the windows since Team Valor and Graham Motion pulled it off last year with Animal Kingdom.
6) Union Rags: I actually think he will be more bettable after his 3rd place finish getting boxed in the entire race of the Florida Derby. I still feel that he may have distance limitations, but Matz has commented that his huge size and running style is much different than other Dixie Union offspring, so he could be the exception (ala Big Brown via Boundary). Certainly the one I like most coming out of Florida, although Take Charge Indy appears to be stepping up at the right time.
7) Alpha: Since as many Derby winners come off place finishes in their final prep, I prefer this one's style to that of the undefeated Gemologist out of the Wood Memorial, which speed numbers were one of the slower 9 furlong prep races. But his breeding is solid for this race and he could be sitting on his breakout race, which puts him right there at the wire.
8) Daddy Nose Best: Sire Scat Daddy is off to a surprisingly hot start and there seems to be more stamina to this horse being out of the classic winning damsire, Thunder Gulch. Has improved nicely in his only two starts as a 3YO after trying the turf late in his juvenile campaign. Perfect closing style and not too many of these can boast two wins under their belts in 9 furlong races. In my opinion, he may present the best betting action as the livest of deep long-shots.
9)El Padrino: Pretty sure he will make The Derby field even though currently on the earnings bubble, but totally disappointed with his flat stretch run at Gulfstream. Perhaps his jock was too pre-occupied with trying to pin Union Rags down on rail to actually run his race. I've been burned several times with tossing my early season picks in The Derby due to one bad race (Bluegrass Cat), so I'll hope a change in tactics or riders will get him back on his game at much nicer odds. But seems like 2nd/3rd could be the best this guy has to offer.
10) Prospective: Certainly did not run as I had hoped in the Blue Grass, but Keenland's polytrack is different than the synthetic surfaces on which he ran in Canada. He had been very consistent closing in his prior dirt starts at Tampa Bay Downs and I will likely put him on bottom in my exotics. Some years, a horse good enough to run third can possibly even steal the race (i.e., Giacomo, Mine That Bird). He is one of numerous Breeders' Cup Juvenile starters back to battle in the big dance!
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