Kentucky Derby 141 has been handed over to American Pharoah by the public and the horse racing media, but when have either been correct on something they both agreed upon? If you said the 1977 Belmont Stakes, then you may be correct.
Here’s a little secret about this year’s Deby field: It may be the strongest since 1969 when Majestic Prince, Arts & Letters, Top Knight, and Dike chased away a lot of contenders. Those four quality horses represented half of what was a tiny eight-horse field.
With 19 probable starters now that El Kabeir is likely to scratch tomorrow morning after the deadline for another supplemental entry to make it into the field, there are upwards of seven or eight quality horses that could compete for the win at 10 furlongs.
The key to winning the Kentucky Derby as a fan is to pick a winner that will return you a good price. Betting the favorite and often the second best horse will not return a profit over time. Of course, selecting a 99-1 longshot is simply the same thing as donating your cash to the track.
The way to make money is to find a horse with odds of 5-1 or better and determine that he has a good chance of winning. If you have a game longshot in the 15-1 to 30-1 range, you might consider taking him to show or taking him across the board (win-place-show).
This year, we have many reasons to go against the favorite, but it is really hard to eliminate the next horse, because he looks like a real star. Let’s take a look at the horses in order of odds and tell you what we think. We do not recommend that you invest your money on what we have to say. For full disclosure, we will not lose a penny, because we will not wager a penny. For us, this is all about the race, no betting.
American Pharoah (5-2)
What’s to Like: With the exception of his first race, he has run away from the field every time, gaining in the stretch run without being asked to go by jockey Victor Espinoza. The Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby runs were similar to that of former Derby winner Smarty Jones.
He loves the Churchill Downs track as evidenced by his impressive five furlong workout in 58 and 2 earlier this week.
Ran the final 1/8 mile in 12-3 at the Arkansas Derby with Epsinoza not going to the whip.
Showed two different moves in a two-turn race.
Trainer Bob Baffert knows how to train Derby winners. Jockey Espinoza has two Derby wins, including last year aboard California Chrome.
What’s Not to Like: This horse has not been bred to run 10 furlongs on the first Saturday in May as a three year old with a high Dosage Index. Horses with his DI have won past Derbies, but at 5-2 odds, we do not like his pedigree.
Although he has not been asked to run full out in the stretch this year, his early and late pace are not among the best in this field.
Breaking from the 17-hole, he will have to use up a lot of energy to get to the first turn where he likes to be early in the race. It’s likely, he will use up too much energy if he gets up within a couple lengths of the leader at no more than four wide, and it’s unsure if he can win a race from well off the pace, especially when he will have to pass several horses.
His Beyer Speed Figures and Bris Speed Ratings are not as impressive as others, and his low odds make it easy to throw him out of our wagering strategy.
Analysis: He may prove to be another Smarty Jones and run away from the field, but American Pharoah is not our favorite or even a pick to finish in the top three.
What’s to Like: This horse is 17 hands tall and is undefeated, having won three races as a two year old and three more this year. The great Seattle Slew was 16 hands tall, and he too was an undefeated colt when he won the Triple Crown.
He has been a little faster in successive races this year, showing a propensity to love increasing distances, and with his pedigree, he is bred to have good speed at 10 furlongs. In fact, his Dosage profile is similar to the entire lot of past Triple Crown winners.
He has shown an ability to get to the lead and wire the field and to also win by coming from off the pace, and he has two definite kicks in his races–one early and one in the stretch.
Jockey Martin Garcia has won big races on Bob Baffert horses in the past, with Lookin’ at Lucky winning the Preakness and the Breeder’s Cup Classic.
He has consistently posted Beyer Speed Figures and Bris Speed Figures strong enough to win the Kentucky Derby.
He has won a race at Churchill Downs, somethng that bodes well for a Derby horse.
His father is Big Brown–‘nuf ced
What’s Not to Like: Very little is not to like about this horse except that his odds are still too low to make money given his chances of not winning against his probable payout.
Even though he has won his most recent races in stretch runs, his speed in the final 1/8 of those races have been slower than American Pharoah–13 seconds in the Santa Anita Derby.
Extremly slow late pace in the SA Derby may hide the fact that this horse may not be fast enough to beat late charging horses with much better late speed
Analysis: At 3-1, he is too expensive for our tastes even if he has the stats of a winner. There are other horses in this field with impressive stats that will return a better bang for the buck.
Carpe Diem (8-1)
What’s to Like: Jockey John Velazquez has a past Derby win on Animal Kingdom, and Trainer Todd Pletcher has numerous Triple Crown race wins including a Kentucky Derby win with Super Saver.
Two for two as a three year old, including the Bluegrass Stakes.
Ran the final 1/8 in 12-4 in the Bluegrass win.
Has the classic Derby racing style–coming from off a pace but not from so many lengths that he will have to pass the entire field.
What’s Not to Like: His wins have not been all that impressive, and he did not look like the best horse in the Bluegrass.
His Beyer and Bris Speed numbers are decent but not as strong as other contenders.
His pedigree is acceptable, but he comes from a line that has not produced a Derby winner in numerous attempts.
Analysis: He could hit the board, but we do not give him a strong shot of wearing the roses.
What’s to Like: He too is undefeated with an upset win over Upstart in the Florida Derby.
He has two 9 furlong wins this year.
He’s another Pletcher horse with a quality jockey in Javier Castellano, who has a past Preakness and Breeder’s Cup Classic Championship.
He owns the top Beyer Speed Figure with a 110 in the Florida Derby, and his 105 Bris Speed rating is among the three best.
What’s Not to Like: He did not race as a two-year old, and no horse since the 19th century has won this race without running as a two-year old. It is asking too much for a horse to train up to this race starting this late in his career.
Like Dortmund, the late pace in his key prep was much too slow, and this horse will have to win from near the front of the pack. It’s likely, he will lose ground in the stretch.
His final 3/8 in the last two races are typical of a horse that will be out of gas in the stretch, further strengthening the liability just listed.
Analysis: A horse without two year old experience may win the Derby one day, but it will not be one that has our investment wagered on him winning.
Firing Line (12-1)
What’s to Like: Gary Stevens is the top active jockey in the nation.
He’s twice finished less than a length behind Dortmund in stakes races.
Has improved his speed ratings with each race and appears ready to run his best race on Saturday.
What’s Not to Like: It has been since March 22, since he last raced, 41 days.
He has not won a major prep race, with his last win coming in the Sunland Derby in New Mexico.
Analysis: It’s hard to see him in the winner’s circle, but it would not surprise us to see Firing Line hit the board.
What’s to Like: Even though he was a beaten favorite in his last race, his speed figures and class place him among the contenders.
What’s Not to Like: Appears to be best suited for shorter than 10f races.
Trainer and jockey have no Triple Crown wins.
Ran a rather slow final 1/8 mile in his top prep.
Analysis: There are better investment opportunities.
What’s to Like: Jockey Joel Rosario has a past Derby win on Orb in 2013.
Ran one of the best key prep races of the group with his victory in the Wood Memorial.
He’s a short closer, meaning he will come from off the pace but not from the back of the field, which has been successful more times in the Derby than any other style.
Ran a final 1/8 of 12-3 in the Wood.
What’s Not to Like: Looks like a possible bounce candidate after running the race of his career and improving on his speed ratings by a large number.
Has a tendency to get bumped by other horses, which has prevented him from contending in other races.
Lost twice against Upstart by considerable lengths.
Analysis: If he can return to his Wood form, he might be dangerous if he does not get boxed in at the mile pole. Look for him to be streaking by the 1/8 pole, but whether he has enough left in the tank to pass them all is a guess. He might be worth a shot to show.
International Star (20-1)
Analysis: This horse lacks the speed or the class to win this race, so there is no need to discuss his assets. He will be flying late in the race but figures to have too much ground to make up and better horses with closing speed ahead of him.
Analysis: Until a horse shipping from the UAE wins this race, we will lay off him. However, he looked impressive winning two races at 9 1/2 furlongs.
What’s to Like: Showed improved speed in his last race, a game second to Frosted in the Wood.
What’s Not to Like: Everything else.
Analysis: Not worth the 30-1 odds in our opinion.
Danzig Moon (30-1)
Analysis: He doesn’t have the figures of a winner, but of the longshots in the race, he piques our interest based on his pedigree and his second place finish in the Bluegrass with a nightmare trip.
Analysis: Lacks the speed to compete.
Ocho Ocho Ocho (50-1)
Analysis: The race rabbit who will run the opening 1/4 in 22 and change and allow for a likely short closer to win this race unless the top two don’t bite and let him run away at the start.
Keen Ice (50-1)
Analysis: Although he won at Churchill Downs as a 2yo, that’s the only race he’s won.
War Story (50-1)
Analysis: Still eligible for one other than maiden races, which is only a tiny step better than Keen Ice.
Mr. Z (50-1)
Analysis: D. Wayne Lukas always finds a way to enter a horse, even if he might be slower than the pony that accompanies American Pharoah to the gate.
Analysis: Allowed into the race when Stanford scratched, he has just one career win, and he did not race well in his previous Chuchill start.
Our Pick to Win: This is the toughest Derby we have handicapped in more than a decade. We do not like the top two horses in this race, because they come from a pedigree with zero Kentucky Derby success. It may be a stretch, because of his lack of racing at age two, but we believe Materiality is the best horse in the field. At 12-1, he offers a lot of value, and he is our choice across the board (Win-Place-Show).
We do not like any of the exotic wagers in this race, because there are nine or 10 horses bunched together in the middle of the pack, and any could hit the board. It would require too many wagers.
If we had $100 to wager, we would go with $50 on Materiality to win and $25 to place and show.