2016 Kentucky Derby Preview

Note:  In the Kentucky Derby the Betting Number and the Barrier Draw are the SAME. It’s a 2000m race on dirt.

2016 Kentucky Derby Selections   
Top pick: 5 Gun Runner
Second pick: 11 Exaggerator
Third pick: 3 Creator

5 Gun Runner (estimated 7/1 odds/12.5% win probability)
Ticks almost all the boxes.  A winner at Churchill Downs (the host of the Kentucky Derby) as a two year old, he has gone from strength to strength to accumulate the most Kentucky Derby eligibility points to earn a ballot for the race.

His trainer Steve Asmussen, while yet to win a Kentucky Derby, was recently voted into the National Racing Hall of Fame and his stable has been in-form all winter and spring.

Jockey Florent Geroux has won three large-purse Breeders’ Cup races over the last two meetings (equivalent in prestige to the Melbourne Spring Carnival) and his judgement of pace is excellent.

This horse runs the turns very well and his best chance would be to tackle the leaders on the second turn and try to pinch a break 400m out.  The gallops I have seen this one put together in the last 14 days are very encouraging.  He rarely has a bad day out there and while there may be a few going better at the moment he appears to relish the mornings and enjoy his job.  I think he fared exceptionally well in the barrier draw getting barrier 5, with the main speeds drawing 13, 15 and widest of all in 20.  Surrounded in the starting gate by horses that lack early foot, he should be able to get a handy position while saving most of the ground.

Negatives:  Usually the Kentucky Derby preps run at the Fair Grounds have not predicted the winner of the Kentucky Derby, with the last horse accomplishing the Louisiana Derby/Kentucky Derby double was Grindstone in 1996.  The mitigating factor to this historical fact is I consider the overall field to be historically weak – the entire field looks four to five lengths slower than a typical Kentucky Derby field.  Gun Runner has good breeding for this kind of race but not exceptional breeding – it would be the first Classic success for his sire, Candy Ride, who is more a producer of milers.

11 Exaggerator (estimated 9/1 odds/10.0% win probability)
Honest horse that has faced some of the best competition in upstate New York (Saratoga), Louisiana (Delta Downs), Kentucky (Keeneland) and Southern California (Santa Anita), winning some.  It is noteworthy his two strongest wins were on extremely wet tracks, so he might be the horse to beat if the rains come.

Exaggerator has given me the impression of being more of a bridesmaid than a bride, but it’s quite possible his nemesis, the undefeated Nyquist, could be amiss (explained later) and that would put Exaggerator’s best races very close to the top of this field.  Nyquist’s jockey, Hall of Famer Kent Desormeaux, is currently in a white-hot streak of form and could be the X-factor of the Kentucky Derby.  Kent tends to take a lot of chances but when he’s “in the zone” he can really move horses up.  Also noteworthy is Kent’s brother Keith is the trainer and this is his first Kentucky Derby starter.

Negatives:  In a sense, the biggest knock on this horse is he has never beaten a top contender on fast, dry ground, and asking him to beat a well-matched field of 20 horses may be too much.  I will be using him in the win position of my pick 4 (quaddie), but not enthusiastically.

3 Creator (estimated 12/1 odds/7.7% win probability)
By quantifiable methods (speed figures) and qualitative observations (gallops, confidence, holding condition) is improving by the day.  On February 27th, 2016, this horse broke its maiden, then ran a close third in a Group 2 race.  Next out, he won the Group 1 Arkansas Derby fairly comfortably.  Unlike its poor cousin the Louisiana Derby, American Pharoah won this Arkansas Derby under a pull, then went on to win the Triple Crown in 2015.  Curlin (two time Horse Of the Year), Smarty Jones (won Kentucky Derby and won Preakness, 2nd in the Belmont), and Afleet Alex (3rd Kentucky Derby, won Preakness and won Belmont) have all come out the Arkansas Derby to be extremely successful racehorses in the last 15 years.  Will Creator reach this level of success?  Probably not, but this crop needs a star and at least this guy is moving the right way.  He has a chance to blow the race open if the speed is truly on and is incredibly well bred for a wet track.

Negatives:  This horse is a backmarker and backmarkers have not fared very well in the Kentucky Derby win position, which usually goes to a handier horse – but backmakers have done very well in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th finishing positions after the speed horses stop.

Solid Contenders

4 Mo Tom (estimated 15/1 odds/6.3% win probability)
Has been the hard luck horse in each of successive races in Louisiana the horse got into traffic trouble in the stretch run, costing all chance.  This was not a trivial development – by getting “stuck” the points and purse money for winning those races went to Gun Runner.  Mo Tom has an explosive kick – some would argue he could be a North American version of a Chautauqua.  An obvious adjustment would have been to change riders, but trainer Tom Amoss decided to keep using jockey Corey Lanerie for the Kentucky Derby anyway.  Another possible adjustment would be to take the horse widest of all coming in the stretch, like Tommy Berry does with Chautauqua – a wise decision because the inner paths of the Kentucky Derby are crowded with spent early speed types.
14 Moheymen (estimated 15/1 odds/6.3% win probability)
Was the leader of his crop until he got his doors blown off by Nyquist in a wet track matchup at Gulfstream Park in Florida.  It was a strange race because not only the track was very wet but Moheyman’s jockey must have been given instructions to stay “very, very” wide – so wide Moheyman traveled 7 lengths farther than Nyquist but only got beat 8.5 lengths.

Since coming to Churchill Downs, Moheyman has recorded the fastest workout of any of the competitors (46.80 for 800m), and yet managed to look very keen and uncoordinated in his gallops.  This horse has all the talent in the world but I am not sure where his head is at.  I expect him to make a good run outside horses at the 600m and he might even make the lead.  The question is can he sustain it to the wire?  He has the pedigree to adore a wet track, but as noted above a wet track did not help him in Florida.

13 Nyquist (estimated 15/1 Odds/6.3% win probability)
The defending 2 year old champ and he’s undefeated.  Easy money right?  Not so fast.

First off, only one 2yo champ has won the Kentucky Derby too – Street Sense (2007), in thirty-two years.  So that alone should give people pause about taking 7/2 or 3/1 on Nyquist.  But there are other factors.

When Nyquist was going for the Florida Derby there was a $1 million bonus to Nyquist if he won.  So in many ways that was “Nyquist’s Derby.”  After the Florida Derby Nyquist shipped into Keeneland.  Again, historically, the horses that are stabled at Churchill outperform the horses stabled at Keeneland in the Kentucky Derby.  On video from YouTube Nyquist did not seem to be training that strongly at Keeneland either, and once he got to Churchill Downs on May 1st he seemed fairly timid.  Of course those are just snapshots and maybe by the end of the week he’ll be “tearing the barn down.”  But not with my money.

19 Brody’s Cause (estimated 15/1 Odds/6.3% win probability)
Is basically a poor man’s Exaggerator, a very consistent horse that that seems unlikely to have a breakthrough performance.  While it is true Brody’s Cause beat Exaggerator at Keeneland last October, Exaggerator is consistently four lengths faster on speed figures now.  One edge Brody’s Cause does have is he loves Kentucky:  In four combined dirt track races at Keeneland and Churchill Downs he has won three of them (and ran third in the $2 million dollar Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in the other).  He would seem to be a good horse for the trifecta with his “backmarker” style.

With A Chance

16 Shagaf (estimated 20/1 Odds/4.8% win probability)
Incredibly well bred and Chad Brown is one of the top five trainers in the country.  But this horse looks hopeless.  What happened?  Even Chad Brown has admitted that Shagaf just hasn’t improved off his maiden race in November (in fact, the number of that maiden race would make him one the of the favorites, if he had run it in the Wood).  The problem is that his closing sectionals (late pace) in his three year old races have actually regressed and gotten slower.

If he can get back to his late pace of his maiden win he can actually win the Kentucky Derby, which would make me very happy.  By all accounts this horse has added condition and is training well.  Stranger things have happened.  Like Mohaymen, he is bred to adore a wet track but did not handle it in the Wood Memorial.

10 Whitmore (20/1 Odds/4.8% win probability)
Incredibly athletic and is really a nice horse.  Out of the 20 runners in this field I think he could be a champion sprinter – note two easy 1-turn wins and no wins around two turns.  Admittedly Whitmore has had some terrible luck in those two-turn races, sort of like Mo Tom.  I would be surprised if he could win the Kentucky Derby, but like I stated above he might be the “best athlete available” and probably deserves some respect at what figures to be huge odds.

9 Destin (20/1 odds/4.8% win probability)
Was really on the way up at Tampa, where he won two consecutive stakes, but in a controversial move his trainer Todd Pletcher put him on ice for 10 weeks going into the Kentucky Derby.  No horse has won the Kentucky Derby on longer than a 6-week break (most recently Animal Kingdom in 2011).  He will certainly will be fresh (too fresh maybe?) and the talent is there.  And if there is anything this crop lacks it is talent at the top.  For Todd Pletcher fans.

Race 1 of 14 (1600m, one turn mile, dirt, 7 entered)

Top pick:        3 Rocket Time (3/1)
Second pick:    5 Geothermal (4/1)
Third pick:        2 Rise Up (5/2)

ROCKET TIME seems a touch more progressive than the others in here and he has two strong wins over the “quirky” Churchill surface.  Low odds contender. GEOTHERMAL also has an enviable Churchill record and is one of the few in this race that can “switch off.”  RISE UP has good speed and is the lost likely leader at the 400m.

Race 2 of 14 (1700m, two turns, dirt 10 entered)

In this race two horses have the same owner.  Under American racing rules, the two horses in question are “coupled” and run as one betting interest (in very important races like the Kentucky Derby common ownership horses are NOT coupled, largely for increased betting turnover).

Top pick:        4 Pinson (10/1)
Second Pick:    7 Racer (12/1)
Third Pick:        8 Unexplained (4/1)

PINSON has shown some signs of being a good horse and his last two races have been acceptable.  RACER keeps getting better and his trainer has been in-form all spring. UNEXPLAINED has a good showing in stakes company and has an above average finishing kick.

Race 3 of 14 (1300m, one turn, dirt 11 entered)

Top pick:        11 Grand Candy (5/1)
Second pick:    5 Bodestar (15/1)
Third pick:        3 Sicarius (8/1)

GRAND CANDY and SICARIUS are fast sprinty types in a field lacking much early pace.  BODESTAR’s trainer has has a lot of success with second-time starters at good prices.

Race 4 of 14 (1600m, two turns, turf, 12 entered with 4 emergencies)

Top pick:        11 Love the Kitten (5/2)
Second pick:    1 Havana Dream (4/1)
Third pick:        2 Crafty’s Way (5/1)

LOVE THE KITTEN is a career maiden in a field devoid of any talent.  HAVANA DREAM and CRAFTY’S WAY have good parentage but at this point in their careers they haven’t run quickly.

Race 5 of 14 (1700m, two turns, dirt, 12 entered with one emergency)

Top pick:        3 Allied Air Raid (6/1)
Second pick:    2 Bold Conquest (9/2)
Third pick:        12 Gotham News (5/1)

With his good speed and good barrier I expect ALLIED AIR RAID to be extremely handy if not lead this paceless affair.  BOLD CONQUEST is another who drew well and has a great chance at a placing.  GOTHAM NEWS might be the best horse in this race but wide barriers are not preferred at this distance at Churchill Downs.

Race 6 of 14 (1600m, Group 2, two turns, turf, 9 entered)

Top pick:        1 Tepin (1/2)
Second pick:    4 Isabella Sings (3/1)
Third pick:        3 Cash Control (20/1)

TEPIN has been mentioned as a horse equal to Winx in talent.  Classy mare at a very short price.  ISABELLE SINGS nearly beat the top pick in Florida and she has a big stakes win over this surface.  She seems like the lone danger.  CASH CONTROL is bred extremely well for grass and I could see her getting a piece.

Race 7 of 14 (1400m, Group 2, one turn, dirt, 9 entered)

Top pick:        6 Speightster (6/1)
Second pick:    1 Kobe’s Back (4/1)
Third pick:        5 Limosine Liberal (9/2)

SPEIGHTSTER is undefeated in three starts.  He seems like the most progressive horse in the field.  KOBE’S BACK is a class act.  The rail draw at Churchill Downs is no treat at this distance but this one will fly from way behind.  LIMOSINE LIBERAL broke the 1300m track record at Keeneland, one of America’s highest-class tracks.

Race 8 of 14 (1400m, Group 1, one turn, dirt, 10 entered)

Top pick:        10 Wavell Avenue (3/1)
Second pick:    8 Taris (5/2)
Third pick:        2 Stonetastic (3/1)

WAVELL AVENUE might be the best female sprinter in the States.  Should be ready to go second up off a very promising return at Keeneland.  TARIS is inconsistent but figures to get a great trip and she will get the jump on Wavell Avenue.  STONETASTIC will try to control the pace from an inside barrier, a very difficult task at Churchill Downs at this distance.

Race 9 of 14 (1700m, Group 2, two turns, turf, 13 entered)

Top pick:        3 Converge (5/1)
Second pick:    10 American Patriot (15/1)
Third pick:        13 Azar (10/1)

CONVERGE just never fired last time, not sure why.  I am going to stick with him in this spot.  AMERICAN PATRIOT is a tough customer with a strong finish.  Since he’s a backmarker considering using him in all three spots in the trifecta.  AZAR has been competing against this level of competition, with some success.  In a largely paceless field I think he can get a handy position if he breaks well.

Race 10 of 14 (1600m, Group 3, one turn, dirt, 14 entered)

Top pick:        11 American Freedom (6/1)
Second pick:    5 Imperial Hint (15/1)
Third pick:        7 Forevamo (6/1)

AMERICAN FREEDOM looks like an extremely progressive colt.  He has the potential to win this on his ear.  IMPERIAL HINT has a lot of speed and will give his backers a shot turning for home.  FOREVAMO has been right there with Gun Runner (my top pick for the 2016 Kentucky Derby).  Not brilliant but has a great chance to hit the top four.

Race 11 of 14 (1800m, Group 1, two turns, turf, 13 entered)

Top pick:        12 Big Blue Kitten (5/2)
Second pick:    6 Slumber (3/1)
Third pick:        1 Grand Tito (12/1)

Usually BIG BLUE KITTEN and SLUMBER take turns beating each other.  The “Kitten” had a big comeback win in May, 2015, and gave Found and Golden Horn a sight in the Breeders’ Cup.  GRAND TITO appears to be the best of the second-tier horses.

Race 12 of 14 (Kentucky Derby, see full preview)

Top pick:        5 Gun Runner (10/1 Morning Line)
Second pick:    11 Exaggerator (8/1 Morning Line)
Third pick:        3 Creator (10/1 Morning Line)

Race 13 of 14 (1400m, one turn, dirt, 12 entered)

Top pick:        4 Mkubwa (4/1)
Second pick:    7 Uncle Walter (9/2)
Third pick:        8 Fish Trappe Road (6/1)

MKUBWA is a highly progressive colt.  The 1400m distance is a query but I think he is up to it.  UNCLE WALTER is trying to get his form back but he has raced well at Churchill Downs in the past.  FISH TRAPPE ROAD has a strong win at the distance (although on a sloppy track) back in 2015.

Race 14 of 14 (1800m, one turn, dirt, 12 entered)

Top pick:        3 Race Me Home (5/1)
Second pick:    7 Virtual Machine (4/1)
Third pick:        12 Goats Town (7/2)

RACE ME HOME should be very handy on the stretch out and switches to top speed rider Luis Saez.  VIRTUAL MACHINE is just OK, which might be enough for this group.  GOATS TOWN has the look of a career maiden.  Usually runs fast enough to contend but has no punch