We’ve been in Kentucky for the last week, and the most famous race in America is on tap Saturday. Here are our thoughts.
Let’s get the local UAE angle out of the way early – as much as we loved #11 LINES OF BATTLE in Dubai, we feel exactly the opposite about him in the big American race. The son of War Front is impeccably bred along classic Kentucky lines, and should relish the trip, but his UAE Derby performance was just so darn slow. There is much bluster over the speed of the Meydan course, with many intimating that it played slow all night. It just isn’t true. In the Godolphin Mile, run an hour before the UAE Derby, the first 400m and 800m sectionals were approximately one-fifth of a second off the record sectional at Meydan, and the horse that set those fractions, Alpha (a mid-pack finisher in last year’s Kentucky Derby), hung in to finish fifth. Every sectional of the UAE Derby was slow, and the final time made it the second-slowest race out of 50 at the distance of 1,900 meters (abt 1 3/16 miles) in the history of Meydan. He will surprise us significantly if he is in the top five.
Make no mistake, the most likely winner is the morning line favorite #16 ORB. He’s unbeaten in three starts as a 3-year-old, and the son of Malibu Moon is a steady grinder. Pace neutral, suggesting he can go closer if the pace is slow or farther back if it is faster, he makes one sustained, steady run over time and just passes horses. The final margins of his wins this year are between a half-length and just under three lengths, but if you account for the extra ground he covered, via Trakus, he’s been better than four to five lengths ahead of the second place finisher in all three races. Drawn wide is just to his style. How can he lose? Provided everything else goes according to plan, if a horse backs up into him (which shouldn’t happen given his draw), he could just get stopped and take too long to re-unfurl that plodding gallop that has run down his competition in Florida.
We also fail to see the enjoyment in the fact that EVERYONE is all about Orb. Three weeks ago, it was practically inconceivable that Orb would go postward at anything less than 9-2 or 5-1, and in the interim, his bandwagon has gotten significantly larger. He was made a 7-2 morning line favorite, and all indications suggest he could go off even shorter. Meanwhile, everyone is avoiding second-choice, and undefeated, #14 VERRAZANO, with many believing he might not get the distance (his races have gotten less impressive as the distances increased). In all of our on-course punts, Orb will be involved in “on-top” wagers, but have to look elsewhere for an official top selection.
#12 ITSMYLUCKYDAY could get some play based solely on his name and the number of amateur punters having a go in this race, but he is a legitimately fast, consistent, and improving horse. Aside from the fact that he has done nothing in the morning to turn anyone off of him, his pace-stalking style, well-drawn, should serve him suitably in this spot. He set a course record in the Holy Bull win from January, defeating a still-healthy champion in Shanghai Bobby, and before that endured wicked splits to take the Gulfstream Park Derby over a one-turn mile. His sire, Lawyer Ron, was a well-regarded Derby chance in his day, which doesn’t seem all that long ago. If you like Orb, you have to like this guy, who has also endured some wider-than-normal trips that give him added seasoning.
#8 GOLDENCENTS is probably the fastest horse in the race, at least from an early pace perspective. The new Kentucky Derby points qualifying system has kept any massive “sprinter hoping to wire the field (or for his connections to get decent Derby seats) from coming in and setting the pace ablaze. He was run into the ground in the San Felipe in early March, but assistant trainer Leandro Mora told us in Dubai, when he was with two horses shipped in for the occasion, that this colt by Into Mischief WOULD win the Santa Anita Derby. He’s improved, and has proven he can settle, but he will go forward barring something catastrophic.
#2 OXBOW is likely to go to the lead from an inside draw, especially now that #1 BLACK ONYX Is a non-runner. We question his ability to compete on this level, so his appearance is really just a tactical one to us. Being forwardly placed will help his chances, but we just don’t trust his ability to see it out.
#3 REVOLUTIONARY gets plenty of attention being ridden by Calvin Borel, a Hall of Fame inductee this August, and a three-time Derby winner. He’s done all his work in the Derby on the inside, and this guy has routinely had some troubled trips. Revolutionary does have a win on a non-fast dirt surface (one rated “good” – so with some moisture), something we are likely to see in the big race, it’s just likely all a question of whether or not he can find a way through. He’s a contender to us, we just wonder if Borel’s luck runs out one of these years.
Weather? It is almost a guarantee there will be rain on Saturday and should provide some moisture to the dirt, which notoriously is quick-to-dry, but has washed into a sloppy mess from time to time for the big race. Six horses in the race have endured wet dirt conditions in the past, with wins in the off-going coming from #12 ITSMYLUCKYDAY, #20 VYJACK, while #10 PALACE MALICE, #18 FRAC DADDY recording seconds. #7 GIANT FINISH and #17 WILL TAKE CHARGE did not have good performance in off conditions. Using the Daily Racing Form’s Tomlinson Ratings scale, which factors breeding into a rating as to whether or not a horse should prefer a particular surface. Typically, horses with Tomlinson Ratings over 400 stick out as being significantly well-bred to like grass, or an off-track. In this year’s Derby, #2 OXBOW, #3 REVOLUTIONARY, #5 NORMANDY INVASION, #13 FALLING SKY, #16 ORB, and #17 WILL TAKE CHARGE fit the bill. Many others aren’t far off that. Bottom line – there aren’t too many in the field likely to completely loathe an off-track.
In all of our on-course bets, we use #8 GOLDENCENTS, #12 ITSMYLUCKYDAY, and #16 ORB as the key potential winners, with #3 REVOLUTIONARY being used somewhat defensively given his likely affinity for an off-track. The superfecta (first four finishers) from the Derby is annually one of the most lucrative, rewarding plays in American racing. In the last seven years, the lowest superfecta return was 2007 when Street Sense bested Hard Spun, Curlin, and longshot Imawildandcrazyguy – returning $14,000 for a $1 stake. When favored Big Brown won in 2008 at 5-2, he keyed a $28,000 return in the superfecta. Super Saver, just 8-1, followed by 11-1 and 12-1 shots, led a ridiculous $101,000 superfecta in 2010 – it’s ridiculous considering that in 2011, Animal Kingdom was a 20-1 winner of the race and the superfecta returned just $24,000. Still – it’s a worthwhile play if you have access to the tote pools.
Here is our superfecta play, which would run $240:
3,8,12,16 with 3,8,12,16 with 3,5,6,8,12,16 with 3,4,5,6,8,12,15,16
A trifecta, with a base wager of $0.50, would run $60 with the following combinations:
3,8,12,16 with 3,8,12,16 with 3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,12,15,16,18
Overall, when forced to put the horses into definite spots, this is how we see it:
1st – #12 ITSMYLUCKYDAY
2nd – #16 ORB
3rd – #8 GOLDENCENTS
4th – #6 MYLUTE