Ask hardened handicappers who they like in the Kentucky Derby and you usually get a preface of, “Man, it’s a tough race.” This year’s edition, the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby is no different, and for this handicapper it is one of the toughest I’ve ever tried to decipher.
I’ve had good luck picking winners of the Kentucky Derby over the years, but when the field increased to 20 horses in the starting gate solving the Derby winner equation got infinitely tougher. But I do like a challenge, so let’s go through the field one by one and come up with a winner.
In post position order.
1. Vicar’s in Trouble: A familiar horse to us in Louisiana and a Louisiana bred. The rail is not the place to be in the Derby, and Rosie Napravnik is going to have to gun to the lead.
2. Harry’s Holiday: Won a 6.5-furlong stakes at Turfway Park. Not for us.
3. Uncle Sigh: Named after the Duck Dynasty character. Hails from New York and has finished first or second four out of five. A longshot possibility at 30-1.
4. Danza: Winner of the Arkansas Derby is rapidly improving. Trained by Todd Pletcher. Thriving in the mornings. A “medium” shot possibility at 10-1.
5. California Chrome: Deserving Derby favorite. King of California races dominated all foes out West. A bit light on pedigree and just too short a price. A win contender at less than optimal odds.
6. Samraat: Winner of five out of six in New York. Gutsy horse and nothing to really knock, but won’t be helped by pace scenario.
7. We Miss Artie: Not doing well in workouts on a dirt track he is bred not to like. Pass.
8. General A Rod: Sold this year to new owners. Prepped in Florida, losing two races this year. Talented, but not at mile and a quarter. Pass.
9. Vinceremos: One of the three Todd Pletcher-trained horses flopped in Blue Grass Stakes and should not improve here. Prefer others.
10. Wildcat Red: Gutsy horse will be involved early and fade late. Pass.
11. Hoppertunity: Finished fourth in Risen Star then scratched Thursday morning because of a foot issue. Tough game.
12. Dance With Fate: Winner of Blue Grass Stakes in nice fashion, but that was on a poly track. Can he win on turf, poly and dirt? Unlikely.
13. Chitu: Bob Baffert-trained horse won the Sunland Derby in New Mexico. Need I say more? Pass.
14. Medal Count: An old friend and our pick in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last year. Redeemed himself with a win and a second in April. Interesting longshot and win contender as a bomber at 20-1.
15. Tapiture: Steve Asmussen-trained horse loves Churchill Downs but ran a dud behind Danza in Arkansas Derby. Too many question marks.
16. Intense Holiday: Risen Star winner and Louisiana Derby second-place finisher should like the distance, and is training the best in the mornings at Churchill. Win contender at 12-1.
17. Commanding Curve: Third in Louisiana Derby after eventful trip. Got into the race after a defection early in the week. Training very well. Will be running at the end and is a longshot possibility at 50-1.
18. Candy Boy: Looked to be a star in the making last year, but just hasn’t developed in California. Doing well in the mornings and is ridden by 50-year-old Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens. Not today though.
19. Ride on Curlin: Trained by local Billy Gowan and ridden by Calvin “Boo Boo” Borel. Second in Arkansas Derby and can work out a trip. Maybe underneath in trifectas and exactas.
20. Wicked Strong: Named to honor the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, he won the Twinspires.com Wood Memorial in New York in racehorse fashion. Post position doesn’t help but is the fastest coming in the race and needs to work out a trip. Win contender at 8-1.
As you can tell by my comments, there are a lot of win contenders and I’m not sold on any of them as a strong selection. But, if you are a handicapper you have to bet on the Derby so here goes:
1. Intense Holiday: Training as well as anyone, has good connections and we liked him in the Risen Star.
2. Commanding Curve: Has been working well and Dallas Stewart knows how to get ’em ready for the Derby.
3. Wicked Strong: Hurt by post but will be running late for a piece.
4. Medal Count: Third race in four weeks, but he seems to be improving.
5. Danza: Winner of Arkansas Derby is simply getting good at right time.
I would box these in trifectas and exactas and bet top two choices to win.
Good luck, and may they all come home safely today.