Friday, May 6, 2011

Sophomore Spotlight: Kentucky Derby Analysis

--Brian DiDonato

This is obviously a very difficult Derby to handicap--the advent of synthetic surfaces has brought another element into the equation in recent years, and there will be runners in this field who must be evaluated solely on performances that have come on surfaces other than conventional dirt. It is best to look for a horse who has shown the potential to peak on Derby day, and seeking out value is a must. I have a strong opinion as to who the most likely winner is, but there are a number of horses who fit the right Derby-winning profile, and I will hope to be alive to those runners in the Pick 4 and will link them up in exactas and/or trifectas. See below for my take on every runner in the field, ranked and grouped into five categories: top pick, must includes, back-ups, underneath only and tosses.

#19 NEHRO - There's no doubt that he has become a bit of a "wise guy" horse, and his 6-1 price on the morning line is far from juicy (not sure why I didn't back him earlier in future wagers before everyone else caught on), but Nehro has been high on my Derby list since he validated his impressive maiden-breaking performance with a troubled-trip second in the Louisiana Derby. He took another big step forward in the Arkansas Derby, and has the correct running style, (relatively) high Beyer figures with a nice progression and the pedigree to get the distance. His most recent work was not well-received by the clockers, but Steve Asmussen is not one to work horses quickly and I'm hoping that he didn't like the slop that morning. He might not be one to get rich on, but he's a good anchor for exotics and would offer fair win odds at around 8-1. He will be running late.

Kentucky Derby Winner Nehro                      (c) Reed Palmer

#13 MUCHO MACHO MAN - In a crop in which so many have disappointed, Mucho Macho Man always runs his race. He's not a lock to get the distance, but his highest Beyer figure was earned in the 1 1/8-mile Remsen last year. The bay appears to be doing very well coming into the race, and it's hard to dismiss such a dependable runner who should fly under the radar.

#1 ARCHARCHARCH - Nobody quite knows what to do with him after his dreaded rail draw, and for good reason. It's a significant drawback, but it's not as if a runner can't have a good trip from the one hole. Luck is so important in the Derby anyway that it would be an overreaction to toss him just because he's breaking from the inside--it'd probably be wise to demand a slightly higher price if looking to bet him to win, however. He's a very solid type coming out of the strongest prep, and there aren't many other knocks against him besides the post.

#15 MIDNIGHT INTERLUDE - People seem to be dismissing his Santa Anita Derby win for some reason, but he was hung wide throughout and recorded a very solid final time. His biggest positive is also his biggest negative--he's very lightly raced, which, historically, is a big knock. But at the same time, he hasn't yet been exposed, which isn't something you can say for a number of these. Midnight Interlude is giving up a lot in experience and seasoning, but he also has a lot of room for improvement and should be able to get the distance based on pedigree.

#14 SHACKLEFORD - He's up against it from the likely pace scenario, but his Florida Derby run has been misinterpreted--he set a very fast pace and still held well to almost beat the Derby favorite on a track that was not speed favoring, despite popular opinion. Forestry is not normally a producer of 1 1/4-mile types, but Shackleford's half-sister Lady Joanne overcame a similar paternal influence to win the GI Alabama at 10 furlongs. With a win over the track and room for improvement, he could surprise late if he somehow avoids getting cooked on the front end.

#8 DIALED IN - In a lot of ways, he's the prototypical Derby horse--and that's why he has to be used protectively--but his performance last time has been drastically overrated. He had a dream set-up on a fair track and probably should have won by more with the way things unfolded. His Holy Bull was excellent, but it seems like there's a decent chance that he will prove to be a one-turn closing miler.

#16 ANIMAL KINGDOM - He might be the horse I have the toughest time knowing what to do with. His Spiral win was visually impressive despite a very nice set-up, and he figures to get a similar trip here. He's bred to go as far as anyone, but he will have to prove that he can take to the dirt. His dam side pedigree is all turf and his sire was a turf horse, but Candy Stripes (his paternal grand sire) sired Invasor and the dam of Candy Ride. He has reportedly worked well over the Churchill Downs strip but, for whatever reason, many horses don't run on a surface the same way in the afternoon as they have in the mornings. I'm betting he's a no-show, but if he takes to the dirt, he can threaten for the top slot. For that reason I'll protect with him in some capacity.

#10 TWINSPIRED - There are a number of horses I list below this one who have a much better chance to win--he can't really win--but for some reason, I can see him getting up for third or fourth. He figures to get the distance--albeit slowly--and might clunk up to inflate the pay-offs when most of his competition is struggling with that final furlong.

#3 TWICE THE APPEAL - Jockeys are undoubtedly the most overrated factor in handicapping, but Calvin Borel's edge at Churchill Downs is legitimate and proven. His mount will be overbet because of his presence and he has no chance to win, but a ground saving trip and late run could be enough for a clunk-up third or fourth.

#17 SOLDAT - His form was dressed up coming into the Florida Derby, and he was exposed as the 3-2 favorite with a total non-effort. He has some talent and might make some noise down the line, but it is unlikely that he can rate effectively or be a part of the pace and have enough left to stick around late.

#12 SANTIVA - Pedigree and prior success over the strip are positives, but his soft campaign this term does not appear to be sufficient for preparing him for this race. How much could he really have gotten out of that ninth in the Blue Grass?

#2 BRILLIANT SPEED - I picked him to win the Blue Grass specifically because that race figured to favor turfers, and I do not expect him to reproduce that effort over conventional dirt. Dynaformer can get dirt horses, but Brilliant Speed's two main track efforts in New York to begin his career were extremely weak.

#7 PANTS ON FIRE - His Louisiana Derby win was the product of soft fractions and good race riding. Nothing in his previous races suggests he can contend, and his slow Beyers appear legit--Wilkinson came back the other day to run a similar figure.

#4 STAY THIRSTY - The two times he has been cast into the deep end are the two times he has finished off the board. His form is dressed up and he has not progressed at all from two to three--he might have been more precocious/less suited to classic distances than many believe. He worked on even terms with Uncle Mo the other day, which probably doesn't bode well.

#11 MASTER OF HOUNDS - Sure, Kingmambo can throw dirt horses, and he has run a few good races in his spotty career, but this spot feels like a total afterthought. The BC Juvenile Turf to UAE Derby route is not a legitimate path to the Kentucky Derby. This feels like a stab in the dark because of what is (correctly) perceived as a weak group of American 3-year-olds.

#6 COMMA TO THE TOP - This unsung gelding has not garnered the respect he deserves, but he is destined to be pace casualty--especially with a fairly inside draw and P Val in the irons.

#5 DECISIVE MOMENT - His second-place finish to Animal Kingdom in the Spiral came with an incredibly tough trip, but more ground and a faster pace aren't going to help move him up.

#9 DERBY KITTEN - The progeny of Kitten's Joy have proven to be much better on turf and synthetic and he was drubbed by 27 1/2 lengths in his only dirt start. The short turnaround and last-second inclusion into this field do not bode well.

#20 WATCH ME GO - The outside post does no favors for a horse who already had everything going against him.


Anonymous said...

Insightful comments...might just have to print this out and have it handy when I'm handicapping the race!

Anonymous said...

your insights this derby year helped me to hit the trifecta in the derby and the oaks woodforde pk3,

not to mention Brillant Speed a few weeks ago, if only St John's River could have gotten there

Thank you