I have been doing this handicapping gig for a very long time, and this 144th running of the Kentucky Derby (G1) has caused me a few sleepless nights as I try to make sense of this very competitive field.
In the “olden” days we would just toss out the contenders that did not have the correct dosage index (don’t ask, I don’t even remember what it is anymore), skip any contender without a race as a juvenile, draw an X through the cheap speed, and give a bonus point if the trainer had white hair or was called The Coach.
But then we had a New York bred win (Funny Cide), a horse based at Philadelphia Park (Smarty Jones), a winner that had run just three times (Big Brown, babe) one that vanned from New Mexico by a guy with a broken leg and later was later caught urinating on a slot machine (Mine That Bird), and a winner that prepped on the fake stuff at Turfway Park (Animal Kingdom, hey I picked him!).
Things were starting to go off the rails. Now the betting favorite has won the race five years in a row. Who wants to bet the darn favorite in the Derby? I’ll tell you who, nobody does.
Maybe the Racing Gods are just messing with us, but this year’s favorite has just three starts under his belt and is looking to end the you know what curse. Every Derby winner since 1882 has made at least one start as a two-year-old.
Justify (3-1) is trying to end that so-called curse and become just the third Derby winner in the last century to win off just three career starts.
Magnum Moon (6-1) also did not race as a juvie and has four starts. The two are both undefeated as well.
Then we have the second choice Mendelssohn (5-1) thinking he can come to the U.S. off a race in the desert and win the Run for the Roses. Those UAE Derby (G2) alum are 0 for 13 and none have even cracked the superfecta.
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The buzz horse this week in the mornings has been Hofburg. Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott is trying to win the Derby with a colt with just three starts and one stakes try, a runner up finish in the Florida Derby (G1). Mott does not bring horses to the Derby that don’t belong, he is quite conservative. Well, he is 0 for 7 with his Derby starters, the best finish an eighth with Favorite Trick in 1998. So maybe he does.
D. Wayne Lukas is seeking his fifth Derby win with Bravazo. Lukas last won the Derby with Charismatic in 1999 and is 0 for 14 since. Can he actually win the Derby at the grand old age of 82?
Despite having the two-time reigning Eclipse Award winning trainer Chad Brown calling the shots, horseplayers have jumped off the bandwagon of Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) winner Good Magic (12-1).
My Boy Jack (30-1) is looking to do the Charismatic double, running in the Lexington and then winning the Derby. Nobody does that anymore.
Audible (8-1) won the Florida Derby (G1), the prep that produced the last two winners of this race but may end up the third choice in odds among Pletcher’s quartet.
Pletcher was 1 for 45 going into last year’s Derby, went 1 for 3 and is now 2 for 48. Doesn’t that make him the Randi Persaud of Derby trainers?
I am not going to give you a spoiler alert on who I ended up selecting for this year’s Derby, but I am going to need some magic to make a score.