Gentleman, start your ADW engines! We are going to blow up the Churchill Downs toteboard in Kentucky Derby 142! Odds players are overdue after 3 years of favorites muting the typical monster exotic payouts. In its illustrious history, the KY Derby produces about standard race percentages of winning favorites at 37%. But we've certainly seen wild swings of a near two decade gap of winning chalk in 80's and 90's to the recent three in succession. In looking back over some recent stats, I was shocked to see that California Chrome was a heavier favorite at 2.5 - 1 than American Pharoah at 2.9 -1 last year, compared to lukewarm selection Orb at 5.4 - 1. While I am grateful to have had all exotics keyed last year with AP, I'm ready to have another digit or two tacked on this year's W-2G. Let the handicapping begin...
In the last 23 years, there have been 5 KY Derby winners coming off 4th place last outs including three consecutive runnings from '93-'95 (Sea Hero, Go For Gin, Thunder Gulch) joined by bombers Giacomo in 2005 and Mine That Bird in 2009. Charismatic finished 4th in the Santa Anita Derby of '99 but wheeled back quickly to annex the Lexington Stakes. But when you focus on the place position of the KY Derby four horses in the last decade played second fiddle at big odds after running 3rd or 4th in their final prep -- Closing Argument, Bluegrass Cat (** beaten 21 lengths in Blue Grass which prompted me to jump off in Derby), Golden Soul and Commanding Curve from recent Louisiana Derbies). This year's prep races were flip-flop results for the most part which leaves many raised brows when constructing vertical exotic tickets and my guess is that the total handle will be larger than ever. In addition, having one pure and deserving favorite (Nyquist) will tilt the odds to gigantic proportions if you can beat the perceived second coming of American Pharoah (can you sense my skepticism?). I will be in the camp of trying to beat him for a life changing payout (think Keeneland yearlings instead of TX or LA auctions). Here are my updated top 5 win candidates following the Arkansas Derby -- a key race that including LA Derby could produce 3 runners finishing top 5 at The Downs in 3 weeks...
1) Mohaymen – After seeing him in person in the FOY, I made the comment "He has the appearance of a king among peasants." After 1:49 seconds of Florida's Derby at Gulfstream Park he quickly morphed into the emperor with no clothes. I still like his calm mental state and think there is no reason he can't regroup from one bad race (on a quirky and sticky Gulfstream track that day). He does have an adaptable running style -- usually forwardly placed in small fields but actually trailed and split horses in the FOY, which will come in handy at Louisville with the stampede into the first turn. Finally, I was partly to blame for putting a jinx on this horse using the revered phrase TRIPLE CROWN prior to his butt-whipping at the hooves of Nyquist.
2) Suddenbreakingnews (SBN) – Still love his masterful stamina breeding (Mineshaft over Afleet Alex mare). In his Southwest victory, Whitmore appeared to be home free in the last sixteenth of a mile but Luis Quinonez had this guy flying late on the outside. He is a tall and lanky horse and has won both sprinting (7 furlongs) and going long with a good foundation of five starts at age two. Reminds me a lot of his damsire Afleet Alex in that he had 6 starts at age 2 and also won sprinting, having that quick turn of foot that creates a winning move at any distance. I heard a quote yesterday that Luis Q/Donnie K. Von Hemel said he didn't handle the track too good for much of the race until he got clear on the outside and switched leads. If this is true, could he have been 2-3 lengths better? Will he be under the twin spires? The only thing that concerns me is that his jockey often runs into problems coming from the clouds, so for their sake I hope he lays mid-pack instead of having to get around 19 steed!
3) Brody’s Cause – BC laid an egg in first start of 2016 in the Tampa Bay Derby. But that is known to be a deep and taxing track and perhaps he simply needed the comeback race. Came back and crushed in the Keeneland Blue Grass (recall it's back to regular dirt there). There is always a late bloomer on the Derby trail that makes their presence felt at Churchill Downs and I think BC is this year's version. He is another resolute closer who likes to launch on the far turn, which never hurts in the KY Derby. Looking at the key race angle, Brody's Cause beat Exaggerator in last fall's Keeneland Breeders' Futurity with similar trips. Mor Spirit then finished just ahead of Mo Tom and Gun Runner the following month at Churchill Downs in the KY Jockey Club, so all about equal? Fast forward to Exaggerator crushing Mor Spirit recently in the SA Derby slop. So to me that moves Brody's Cause to the top of the pecking order on his best day, while I believe his odds will be higher than a couple of these common foes. Dale Romans has been close to taking the roses with primarily turf bred horses and is excited about this prospect.
4) Creator -- I swapped out Mor Spirit after his lethargic stretch attempt vs Exaggerator to no avail in the Santa Anita Derby. Most Derby winners have a nice turn of foot to swoop to the lead on the turn/head of stretch. I feel the west coast horses (sans Nyquist) are getting too much credit/high speed figures so they will be overbet as a group, especially one from the Bob Baffert barn. The "other" Tapit in Saturday's Kentucky Derby behind heralded Cupid (Baffert), this grey product by Tapit from a Peruvian champion mare hopes to follow Animal Kingdom's Derby with the foreign bloodstock. Further, this is the year of Hall of Fame coronation (deservedly so) for top Oaklawn conditioner Steve Asmussen. On multiple occasions this meet I cashed nice tickets by playing the larger odds horse of the Asmussen entries, so I would be hard on myself if I used Gun Runner instead of my big Ark Derby winner ($22 winner, cha-ching!).
5) Mo Tom – Repeat my previous comments after his troubled Risen Star trip, but add an asterisk*. His composure after being slammed into the rail evoked images of Afleet Alex touching his nose on the Pimlico track due to Scrappy T. boring out in the stretch to win going away late. Yet he still came running late and if a quick pace materializes on Derby Day he could be a major threat. With Nyquist, Destin and likely another from Pletcher barn ding-donging early, at least a fair pace is expected (or else Nyquist could seal the deal). Regarding my theme of "2nd chances" jockey Corey Lanerie may be getting a 3rd chance to redeem his poor rides of trapping Mo Tom on the rail rather than swinging wide, which he easily used winning the Lecomte, beating Tampa Bay Derby winner Destin 5 lengths in the process. Uncle Mo is the hottest sire going right now and they appear to be even better at two turns, much to my surprise. In previous foal crops top freshmen sires produced major Derby threats (i.e. sires Birdstone, Curlin, Into Mischief) so you've been warned!