Perhaps rivaled only by Monday of Derby week, Wednesday is very popular in my household. There are two things that happen late every afternoon of this day each year - Post positions are drawn in a commercialized one hour process and that evening I stew my select batch of mint julep syrup. There is nothing simple about the equal parts water-sugar base. It begins with bountiful leaves of legitimate Bluegrass mint (complements of the Houston's who transported the original strand from Paducah, KY) which gives the base a nice hue of green after the syrup comes to a boil. After cooling for approximately one hour, the mixologist is allowed ONE mint julep sample before placing the seal of approval on Batch 139. The pewter julep chalice is cleaned with care in hopes that Derby Day will be here. The sampling is occurring precisely as I pen this handicapping commentary, so let's get on with it before I start missing my keys...
Nothing spectacular came out of the post positions and odds announcement and the only adverse impact for legitimate threats would be Vyjack (15-1) #20 far outside post and Oxbow (30-1) down in the #2 hole, which should prompt Gary Stevens to show more speed (which Lukas had intended to do regardless). The top contenders drew anywhere between the prime 8 to 16 posts with the exception of Revolutionary towards the rail in #3. But with his lagging running style and agile maneuvering, this will enable him to save ground early and weave through tiring horses on the far turn. So what about the speed scenario that I promised yesterday? Here goes...
My estimate of the likely pacesetters based on their recent preps split times (nothing at a mile or under would be relevant at this distance) are as follows, in order; Goldencents, Falling Sky, Giant Finish, Lines of Battle, Verrazano and Itsmyluckyday. This is a very rare year in that I can't point to a single "junk" speed horse - a horse that is wicked fast but only entered in The Derby because they were a legit sprinter and the owners had Derby fever (ala Breeders' Cup Sprint champion Trinniberg last year). This is likely due to the new point system created by Churchill Downs this season to ensure that legitimate two-turn horses in top form close to Derby day get in. What this means is that even though some horses will try to grab a few seconds of fame (perhaps Giant Finish and Falling Sky fall into this category), they have not shown the type of speed that would prompt the half mile time to be sub :47 flat. In contrast, last year when Trinniberg pushed the speedy Bodemeister early the half went in :45.39 and 6 panels in 1:09.80. I'll Have Another was about 8 lengths off this suicidal pace at the half mile point and the 3rd and 4th placer finishers were 13 and 18 lengths back.
This year I want to use more speed oriented horses in the top slots of my trifecta/superfecta bets and I will get odds since many of the top candidates are deep closers (i.e. Orb, Revolutionary, Java's War, Normandy Invasion, Mylute). Thus, my official WIN pick will be the horse some are doubting because of his natural speed, Verrazano (4-1). The misconception could be that he was only 2nd at the 4 furlong mark in the Wood Memorial due to the c-r-a-w-l-i-n-g pace of :49.62 seconds and he was still 2 lengths back, meaning he ran his first 4 furlongs in about 50 seconds. Does this sound like a speed only horse to you? Absolutely not!
Todd Pletcher has been brutally criticized by the media (namely Andrew Beyer of the Washington Post and of Beyer speed figure fame) for having only one winner in 30+ Derby starters and that was when Super Saver came further off the pace in 2010 to win than he had in previous races. Even if Todd Pletcher can't recall this simple fact I guarantee you that Johnny V. doesn't want to jeopardize his 10% cut of the $2MM purse by using up his horse early. Especially since his other mount option in this race was the actual morning line favorite and closer, Orb (7-2). Along with Itsmyluckyday (who I believe to have distance limitations), these two horses seem to have the best tactical speed and if they choose to rate off the pace on Saturday they can be wearing the blanket of Kroger roses (which they will begin tomorrow stitching together the 554 red roses).
Finally, while still trying to whittle down my large exotic tickets, one horse that I like more each time I scan the charts in #5 Normandy Invasion (12-1). Not only would this guy be the patriotic choice with that special name, how wild is it that both his dam and damsire carry the name "Boston" (Boston Lady and Boston Harbor) and we are just over one week removed from the tragedies of their marathon race?! Tapit is known more as a miler sire but his speed figures are higher in his two 9 furlong races and his running style could help him last in that final furlong. I know who you Red Sox fans will be rooting for on Saturday!