With only two days until the field breaks from starting the gate in the 137th running of the Kentucky Derby, it’s time to begin finalizing your choices. We’ve been here before but if there is one thing about the Kentucky Derby it’s that each year is never quite the same. The wild ride in 2011 is proof that things can change quickly and while dreams do come true, the dream of winning the Kentucky Derby can be quite the challenge. Ask Todd Pletcher. Pletcher, entered 24 horses in the Run for the Roses before Super Saver got him over the hump last year. Though he became the all time leading trainer for entries without a derby win, I can testify that it wasn’t because he didn’t have the best horse, he just simply didn’t have the best horse on derby day.
There’s no doubt about, the 2011 prep season has been one of the strangest in recent memory. Left standing and set to run for the roses is a field that spells: Wide Open. One thing that seems to be missing the most in 2011 is speed. For the first time in over a decade, winners of the major prep races did not record a Beyer Speed Figure of at least 100, the standard sign of a quality contender or champion race horse. While the speed figures may be down, the competition is still thick. With this field seeming to be so evenly matched, the hard question to answer is still: Who will be the best horse on Saturday?
The Favorite: Dialed In — As expected after a brilliant come from behind win in the Florida Derby, Odds Maker Mike Bataglia, made this colt the morning line favorite at 9-2. Drawing a favorable Post 8, is good news for Trainer Nick Zito, who will be looking for his 3rd Kentucky Derby Win and Jockey Julien Leparoux is going for his first.
2nd Choice: Uncle Mo — Although the 2 yr old champion suffered a huge set back after finishing 3rd in the Wood Memorial and a gastrointestinal infection, his past success sets him in at 4-1. According to some, however, this colt went from potential Triple Crown Champion to a derby non-contender in just a few weeks. Though he’s still not been declared 100%, I still can’t ignore that if he enters the gate on Saturday he has the potential to return to form and claim his champion status. I’ve tried but I’m not ready to rule him out and disregard the chance that Todd Pletcher wins back to back.
Archarcharch drew the dreadful 1 post. Breaking from the inside in a 20 horse field isn’t easy but if anyone were up for the challenge it’s 50 yr old, first time Kentucky Derby jockey Jon Court and Trainer Jinks Fires. The post draw won’t fan the flame on their derby dreams as their colt looks to keep striding ahead following a win at the Arkansas Derby.
Nehro is still in search for his 1st graded stakes win after two 2nd place finishes in the Louisiana and Arkansas Derby. In order to win he will need to stay close to the pace before closing at the top of the lane.
Shackleford has been training beautifully most notably with 5 F work that clocked in at :58 and change. Looking to benefit from a slow pace, expect Shackleford to remain in front or just off the pace.
Soldat has also looked impressive in workouts since arriving at Churchill Downs. As a successful turf runner, if the track is listed as Wet or Sloppy it may play right into Soldat’s hand.
Mucho Macho Man is a good horse that enters off a Risen Star win followed by a 3rd place finish in the Louisiana Derby. Although, he’s coming off a 6 week layoff he’s looked sharp in the weeks leading up to Saturday.
Midnight Interlude is a young lightly raced colt that may peaking at just the right time. Not having broke his maiden until March he came back to win his first ever graded stakes race, the Santa Anita Derby. Bob Baffert is known for surprises so don’t take your eye off this one.
Sleepers: Brilliant Speed, Santiva, Master of Hounds, Stay Thirsty, Comma to the Top, Pants on Fire, Twice the Appeal. The derby will be their toughest test and I expect their odds to remain above 15-1. Of these colts it will be wise to give a good look at Brilliant Speed, Santiva and Twice the Appeal. Santiva returns to Churchill Downs with rider Shaun Bridgmohan who guided him to victory in the KY Jockey Club Stakes last November. Twice the Appeal gets a 2nd look simply because Calvin Borel will be riding. Winner of 3 of the last 4, Calvin “Bo-Rail” is breaking from a nice spot for this style, the 3 Post. Bluegrass Stakes winner Brilliant Speed has been charted as having the fastest closing fractions. So it may be tough to fend him off or get by him in the last furlong if he gets a great trip and a nice position coming out of the final turn.
Live Longshots: Watch Me Go, Animal Kingdom, Twinspired, Decisive Moment, Derby Kitten. If you were leaning towards these horses prior to the post draw and you see something that I don’t, forget about the morning line odds and take a shot on a nice winning ticket. In 2011, it won’t be too surprising to see a live longshot or horse at odds of 20-1 wearing the roses.
Picks: I may be in the majority but I’m sticking with Nick Zito and Dialed In. I’ve always liked Julien Leparoux at Churchill Downs and I think it’s time for Nicky Z to get his 3rd. I do expect his odds to come down considerably from 9-2 but it won’t sway my betting. Since this field is as weird and wild as any other that I can remember, I will definitely be playing a few others across the board. Depending on post time odds, the few that I choose may change a bit. A couple I am leaning towards though are Nehro and Archarcharch. It would be great to see Jon Court turn his first derby mount at age 50 into a Kentucky Derby victory so I’m definitely rooting for a stunner out of the dreadful 1 Post. In regards to my trifecta or exotic plays………..I’m still thinking.
Next stop: Churchill Downs! It’s been a wonderful Derby Prep Season for me, thanks to all our readers. Stay tuned as there is more to come over the next 2 days. In the meantime, good luck to all handicappers, horsemen, riders, trainers and owners. To all attending and watching, have a Happy Derby Day……….Bet wisely. Cheers.
Written by: Little Brink