After piling on the research, watching the workouts, and all but putting my ear to the ground, I am ready to declare the top five horses out of the twenty competing for my attention that I like to win the Kentucky Derby this year. I will keep my usual adage of trying to beat a favorite if I think it’s possible (and hell, it always is in the Derby!) while focusing on the horses with efficient movement, peaking race form, and overall ability.
For comparison’s sake, my top five last year did pretty alright, although I admit the race was a wee bit chalky: #1 pick Dortmund finished third, #2 pick Mubtaahij was eighth, #3 pick American Pharoah was first, #4 pick Upstart was twentieth (ouch!), and #5 Firing Line was second. “Exotics picks” horses Frosted and Danzig Moon also finished fourth and fifth for those superfecta players!
Here it goes, from fifth pick to first pick with some exotics suggestions listed at the bottom:
#5 Brody’s Cause – I’ve been reading a lot that this horse is too slow to win and will have some tough luck getting out of stall #19 with Danzing Candy next to him. Sure, maybe that’s concerning, but he’s a closer after all. As for the slowness thing, maybe it’s a concern when I’m looking at the sheet, but watching him run is another story. I loved his Blue Grass Stakes win– which by the way, is a historically huge prep race!– with his ears pointed forward, which is also the same way he breezes. Plus, he’s won Grade 1 status at both two and three-years-old– the mark of a good Derby horse. He’ll benefit from pace if it’s there, and I’ll be not-so-secretly happy that a Giant’s Causeway colt has a shot.
#4 Danzing Candy – I’ve really liked this horse for a while now– since January to be exact, long before his dominant San Felipe win– and I haven’t been presented just yet with a really legitimate reason to stop believing he’s special. He went a little crazy out on the lead in the Santa Anita Derby, which set things up perfectly for winner Exaggerator and not for him, and it’s been established once again that he will be out there on the lead. If he does the San Felipe thing again, he could be a wire-to-wire winner at awesome odds. I said in my profile of him he could probably do turf like stablemate Prospect Park (who I also really liked last year on dirt), but at no point was I really convinced that distance was a huge issue for him (his pedigree also agrees with me!). Dortmund was given a doubting glance last year, and still ran nicely out front to stick around for third. I’m staking my claim: I STILL REALLY LIKE DANZING CANDY!
#3 Suddenbreakingnews – The racing gods have it out for this gelding, I swear. He went wide and gained ground to be second in the Arkansas Derby to Creator and has been breezing beautifully at Churchill Downs all while improving his performances bit by bit. The #2 post draw does indeed worry me from a traffic standpoint, but again, he will making his move later than the rest. If I didn’t believe he was sitting on a big one, I wouldn’t bother to put him here. And no, obviously the shadow roll doesn’t bug me.
#2 Exaggerator – I went back and forth for a while on this guy. He’s good-looking, he’s by Curlin, and he ran by far the most impressive Kentucky Derby prep in the Santa Anita Derby. But! He got a dreamy setup, and has been wishy-washy in other starts. Considering all this, he’s still going to be the second-favorite at post time. Seems very iffy, and not that fun of a gamble. But! Imagine he does fire… Kent Desormeaux has actually been riding pretty good lately (better than you, Gary Stevens on Mor Spirit, just sayin’)… and there’s no way he’d hate extra ground. He has all the makings of a Derby winner if everything falls into place.
#1 Creator – This Tapit made me go “Wow!” when he won his maiden at Oaklawn, and I immediately hoped he was going to ship down to Fair Grounds so I could photograph him in the Louisiana Derby. My wish did not come true, but in a good way as Creator went from last to first in the upper-crust Arkansas Derby following a good third in the Rebel Stakes. Even more eye-catching than his stretch drive is the way he moves; if he wasn’t already an improving type of runner, I would peg him for his stride. Another horse who will benefit from some good pace, I wish Creator got a better post draw, but I’m not going to get hung up about it since he had to win the Arkansas Derby after being way out of it in the early stages of the race.
On favorite and undefeated champion Nyquist… I ached with this question for a while, and even more so after Nyquist drew a favorable post of #13. He has done nothing wrong as a racehorse, and does not appear to be one-dimensional as his Breeders’ Cup win showed. He has beaten many of these horses already, but he still has that question mark of stamina over his head as to whether he’d still be the better horse at ten furlongs as opposed to seven or eight. As a 3-1 prohibitive favorite, he should wow me, but nah. And you have to figure he’s gonna lose someday… why not at ten furlongs against nineteen other horses?
Exotics horses: Fill out the bottom of your trifectas and supers with these babies with preferred odds–
- Nyquist (3-1 or higher)
- Gun Runner (6-1 or higher)
- My Man Sam (12-1 or higher)
- Mor Spirit (8-1 or higher)