Just three days out from the Run for the Roses, our resident racing expert Lauren Nethery weighs in on this year’s contenders.
For me, these are the final days of a two-month-long Monday filled with 2 Year-Old’s in Training, Keeneland, Rolex, and finally the Run for The Roses. Perhaps next week I will finally get some sleep and holy cow, I’m ready for it! The rest of the world (well, really just the American racing world), however, is on the edge of their seats watching the final works of 25 or so horses with keen interest, pouring of Daily Racing Forum’s and The Bloodhorse, and scraping together every last penny they can pinch for their FirstSaturdayInMay Betting Bankroll. I’m here to give you just a little bit of insight into the top contenders and help you spend your hard earned dollars wisely if you choose to bet. First and foremost, bookmark these two resources that are key for knowing all there is to know about every derby detail and putting that knowledge to good use: KENTUCKYDERBY.COM and XPRESSBET. Now, on to the horses (listed in order of points with my picks in bold):
Orb: Coming off two wins in the Fountain of Youth and the Florida Derby, this horse has settled into Churchill like he owns the place and has a jockey on board (Joel Rosario) that just set a single-meet wins record at Keeneland. Hard to look to any other horse to win but when it comes down to it, the Derby is really just about who gets the best trip.
Verrazano: Undefeated in four starts. Need I say more? (However, traditionally and statistically, he’s got nowhere to go but down.)
Goldencents: A Louisville favorite because of his part-owner Rick Pitino, this horse has really been laying down some nice efforts with wins recorded in three stakes this year already. I expect a solid run from this horse for at least a mile. It remains to be seen if he’ll relish the extra quarter mile.
Java’s War: I watched this horse win the Bluegrass Stakes at Keeneland in person and he really made an impression. He should tolerate dirt better than most other horses who record wins on polytrack and target the Derby as well. I expect a good showing from him.
Overanalyze: One of the favorites for a reason, this horse comes off to big wins at a mile and an eighth on dirt. A leading trainer, jockey, and owner combination virtually assure that this horse will be on the board but remember, it’s not about how nice the horse that wins the Derby is, it’s about how good his trip was.
Revolutionary: According to my super-secret inside sources, this horse is the only one of all of the workers so far that has still been pulling his rider around the gallop out and appears to be peaking. The vets say he’s sound and happy, he looks the part, and he’s coming off two graded stakes wins. I’m seeing dollar signs already.
Lines Of Battle: The only foreign contingent in the Derby, this horse is coming off a win on a synthetic surface, which works against him. He does, however, earn some points back for beating tough company in that race at a distance of 1-3/16th miles. Owners Magnier, Tabor, and Smith (Coolmore) always like to have a Derby player, regardless of their aptitude, though.
Vyjack: This horse would have to outrun his pedigree to do well on Saturday and is backing up with added distance. Fun factoid though: this horse galloped for much of his career in a hackmore after a few episodes of freezing up on the track.
Will Take Charge: My sentimental favorite, this horse goes to post with Jon Court up for D.Wayne Lucas, who holds more records than a Virgin store. He is improving with distance, likes the dirt, and will be a good price. Worth a $10 win-place-show bet for sure.
Itsmyluckyday: A winner at a mile and a sixteenth only to back up to second in the 1 – 1/8th mile Florida Derby, I don’t think the added distance will be to this horse’s liking.
Black Onxy: Won the Spiral Stakes at Turfway but that race, run of polytrack, has not consistently produced a legitimate Derby contender, aside from Animal Kingdom (2011). However, with a wide, even blaze and two tall socks (thought they are on the same side if I’m going to be picky), this horse may get the ‘pretty pony’ award.
Palace Malice: While this horse is bred for the distance, he’s bred to be a better four-year-old (Curlin/Royal Anthem). While he has improved from third at a mile and a sixteenth to second at a mile and an eighth, it may be that the switch from dirt to synthetic moved him up more than they extra 1/16th of a mile. Not a huge in-the-money contender in my opinion.
Normandy Invasion: Coming off of two second place efforts on dirt at a mile and an eighth in which he was really storming home, a mile and a quarter should but this horse very near to the front. A successful Derby jockey and an on-the-rise trainer also bode well.
Frac Daddy: Coming off of a second in the Arkansas Derby, this horse is almost got up to win at a a mile and an eighth so he should relish the 1 ¼ mile distance with a little more room to close.
Mylute: The opposite of Itsmyluckyday, this horse has improved from third at a mile and a sixteenth to second at a mile and an eighth. I expect the distance to help this horse’s chances, despite his pedigree that speaks to sprinting ability, and he has relished a surface at Fair Grounds that is similar to Churchill. With female jockey Rosie Napravnik up, this horse will be getting some of my money, especially if it rains.
Oxbow: The distance will likely not suit this horse, who has struggled at a mile and an eighth. While he does like dirt, he really just doesn’t stand out to me as a solid contender for an in-the-money placing.
Falling Sky: This horse is bred to be a star at distances shorter than a mile and after two well-beaten efforts in the Tampa Bay Derby (3rd) and Arkansas Derby (4th), there isn’t much to write home about.
Charming Kitten: Third in the Bluegrass Stakes at Keeneland on polytrack, this horse isn’t really bred to be a dirt runner (sire Kitten’s Joy excelled on the grass). I broke this horse’s full sibling, Queen’splatekitten, three winters ago and, as they are both out of a dam that failed to win in 11 tries, it’s astonishing they have run so well.
Golden Soul: Another horse bred for turf, this colt, out of an unraced dam, doesn’t seem to hold much promise at all and is backing up in his success with added distance.
Fear The Kitten: This horse is squeaking in with only SIX points (while the rest of the horses have between 20 and 150) and is really just looking like a spot-filler in the starting gate. I echo the comment from Charming Kitten that these Kitten’s Joy horses rarely take to dirt but, if anything is working for this horse, a little more distance might move him up.