Making sense of Derby nonsense?
Real Writing on Racing 💯
I will admit that this is the most wide open Kentucky Derby that I can remember. Many will not agree, Scott Shapiro of Churchill Downs told me Thursday morning while we were waiting to go on the air with Steve Byk that he sees it as a two horse race, the two favorites. While they are clearly good horses it’s hard for me to ignore the question marks that I have about them and accept a relatively short price in a really difficult race. We have talked to the point of tears (😥almost) on the Big Monday show about how lightly credentialed literally everyone is coming into this race. What that has done has shown us the positives attributes about those who have made it this far but what more racing always exposes is the negatives and this year at least half of the field is going to have those exposed. That doesn’t only mean the horses that get beat 10+ lengths but perhaps one of the closers gets a less than ideal trip and finishes second or third and their lack of quickness or tactical speed is exposed. That said it’s still one of the great spectacles of American sports and racing’s biggest event so we are gonna try to figure it out below.
Kentucky Derby Grade I $3000000 10 furlongs
Mo Donegal - Drew the dreaded rail which DOES hamper his chances somewhat mostly because he’s had so much trouble leaving the gate. In 4 of his 5 starts he has had gate trouble and drawing the rail means that he will be standing in the gate a loooong time and if he does leave there sluggishly he is likely to be buried. Can you say that same thing if he drew post 2 or 3 or 4? Probably but the rail is immobile, you can’t duck inside of it when trying to get better early position and it’s not going to drift out and let you through. That said he is among those best suited for the distance and has improved in his last two starts to where he is now running figures that make him very competitive. Probably an underlay at anything less than 12-1 but he isn’t impossible. Still eerily feels like Known Agenda 2.0
Happy Jack - Unless you are named Jack or drink excessive amounts of Jack Daniels 🥃 do not use him on a ticket. He is slow and the only way he is remotely close is a fluke or someone does a Paco and takes out 3/4’s of the field.
Epicenter - In my mind he is the most accomplished of these Derby runners and really has a big chance to get the money in here. That being said I’m still a little skeptical about his 10 furlong ability especially with a less than ideal trip. It’s a little knit picky but it’s my one concern about him. Asmussen is in a deep Kentucky slump (Pauline’s Pearl won a Grade I on Oaks day to snap the long o’fer) but has been winning at other venues as he regularly does. The one to beat.
Summer is Tomorrow - One of the likely early pacesetters he doesn’t feel like a horse who is a real threat to go wire to wire in here.
Smile Happy - There isn’t much separating this Runhappy colt and the morning line favorite Zandon. The two colts traded decisions in the Risen Star at FG where Smile Happy was second behind Epicenter and Zandon was third; in the Bluegrass Zandon was the winner and Smile Happy was second. His TG pattern is 2 - 2.5 - 1.5 which also matches up favorably with Zandon 4.5 - 2.25 - 1.5. Yet one of them is 20-1 on the morning line and the other is 3-1 🤷🏼♂️. His last workout didn’t seem to go smooth but it was more of a rider error than anything. He seems to be as talented as the other top contenders and yes his pedigree on the sire side doesn’t scream 10 furlongs but at a long price you should include him.
Messier - This Canadian-bred 🇨🇦 has been one of the most polarizing contenders in this Derby and not just because of his former trainer. Some people are convinced that he is going to go wire to wire in here and others like Barry and I, don’t really like him at all. He crushed the Robert Lewis field at Santa Anita which really put him on the Derby map and he did run fast that day but the 4 “foes” he faced that day have not done a thing since that race. Three haven’t raced back, two haven’t even worked and Cabo Spirit who was a distant second has gotten trounced twice since. The two races that bookend that win were the Los Al Futurity where he got rundown by the decent Slow Down Andy and the Santa Anita Derby where he got passed in the lane by maiden breaker Taiba. Not bad efforts and his figs are good but I’m skeptical that he didn’t lose those two races more than the others won them. If he wins or is on the board, I lose.
Crown Pride - The intriguing stranger from Japan 🇯🇵 by way of Dubai 🇦🇪 has been the talk of the backside with his trainers aggressive training schedule (5 published works in 17 days!). My friend, the great author and handicapping legend Mark Cramer, is very high on Crown Pride’s chances and his opinion is to be ignored at your peril. I’m always skeptical about the Dubai shippers not just in the Derby where they have had zero success but also running back relatively quick after all the travel and this guy is on his third country in four months. I’m a huge fan of international competition and will applaud his connections for a major accomplishment if he wins but I am going to fade him in this race. Regardless the Japanese trainers are getting more and more bold about shipping off the island and they will get even more effective as they get more experience, Japanese horses will be a force to reckon with moving forward.
Charge It - If this was a 9 furlong race with a 10 horse field I’d probably love this Tapit colt. He has shown real talent, run fast numbers, has tactical speed and in his last showed the ability to pass horses as well. He also is very lightly raced, only has one two turn race, had issues leaving the gate and raced very greenly while tiring late in the Florida Derby. Can he win? I suppose he can but it’s a tough ask. I can see something similar to last time and perhaps an on the board finish but getting the Roses 🌹 is a gonna be tough.
Tiz the Bomb - Had one dirt Derby prep in the Holy Bull and he ran like someone dropped a bomb 💣 on him. The Turfway Derby route has had just one success story a decade ago (Animal Kingdom) and absolutely nothing since. McPeek might get his Derby this year but it won’t be with this one.
Zandon - He has improved in every start culminating with his sharp win in the Bluegrass which propelled him to morning line favoritism. The trouble is his running style as he isn’t all that handy and in a bulky field may wind up shuffled back further than you’d want to see a 3-1 shot in a 20 horse field. His pedigree doesn’t exactly ooze 10 furlongs and it’s interesting how that extra eighth of a mile has been so daunting for so many over the years. He looked spectacular in his last work and appears to be ready to shoot his best shot but in my mind he is more of a horse with 8-10% chance to win but he can win.
Pioneer of Medina - The under the radar Pletcher entrant wasn’t even assured of being in the gate before some late defections snuck him in. That said he is a pretty good horse with tactical speed and has run excellent numbers the last two. He ran third behind Epicenter and Zozos in the Louisiana Derby after having dumped his jockey prior to loading in the gate which hasn’t been noted in many places. I have thought that he might be better suited to stalking from the second tier and we might get to test that theory out Saturday. Worth a flyer at 50-1💵 💵💵💵
Taiba - Two starts under his belt and he is asked to deal with 19 rivals going 10 furlongs in front of 150k people. A LOT to ask as he hasn’t had a straw in his path in those two starts and he is more likely to regress than improve or even maintain his form. You want him at 6-1? Good luck.
Simplification - Did a lot of the dirty work in the Florida Derby, hounding Classic Causeway till that one stopped, immediately was himself hounded by Papacore, put him away and had White Abario breathing down his neck and just got a little leg weary late. He has a series of good races prior to that and is another one with tactical speed if Jose Ortiz needs it to get positioning which will be ultra important going into the clubhouse turn. I’m a bit skeptical about him at 10 furlongs but I’m also feeling that way about the majority of the field as well and he has a chance at a square price.
Barber Road - Consistent type for Derby rookies John Ortiz and Reylu Gutierrez, comes into this off a runner up showing in the Arkansas Derby. He doesn’t have much early speed and likely will get shuffled back early and needs sizzling early fractions with a race shape of a pace collapse to really have much of a chance to get on the board here as he is a few points slow on figures. It’s not the worst gambit to include him down the line in vertical tickets but he has a lot to do against much better horses than he has been facing.
White Abarrio - Has had two golden trips when winning the Holy Bull and Florida Derby and credit jockey Tyler Gafflione for those but this is an entirely different ballgame here. Not seeing a trip that doesn’t include him being wide and perhaps really wide and horses that run their last eighths in 14 seconds going 9 furlongs are rarely going to stretch out to 10, be wide yet still have enough closing kick to overtake the leaders or hold off the closers. The Kentucky Derby is the ultimate trip race and half the field wants the same trip as this guy does but he is already starting out wider than most.
Cyberknife - One huge obstacle that Kentucky Derby horses have to overcome is the unique mental challenge that the race, the atmosphere, the long starting gate loading process and the bulky field create. To be successful a young horse has to be able to handle all of those things before their physical ability comes into play. That’s why I am skeptical about his chances as he was unable to hold his concentration long enough in several prior races to avoid antics which he has displayed several times including before and during the running of his ticket into the field, the Arkansas Derby. In their great annual Derby report Kerry Thomas and Pete Denk write this about Cyberknife:
“We believe in his physical ability, his fighting spirit, and his depth of emotional energy, but Cyberknife is still a horse with gaps in his sensory interpretations, prone to inefficient physical movement. That makes him a big risk to underperform in the Kentucky Derby”
I’m with them as I think he may be his own undoing here and that’s not even taking into consideration his potential wide trip which didn’t work out so well for him in the Lecomte.
🏇🏻 Check out Herd Dynamics: Kentucky Derby Patterns of Motion Analysis report Here
Classic Causeway - I liked this horse enough coming into 2022 to back him in the first two Kentucky Derby futures pools at long prices but he never really developed as he couldn’t break through his best TG figure of 5 before totally bombing in the Florida Derby. He does have early speed and leaves the gate fast like a sprinter but after coming to a walk (literally) in his last start trainer Lynch prudently seemed inclined to pass this race. However his elderly owners had different ideas and in one of the most egregious cases of Derby fever we’ve seen recently, more or less forced their way into the race. He can impact the race from the outside in two ways, new jockey Leparoux can gun from the outside and almost assure that the first half will be run sub-47 or he can try to rate and be 7 wide throughout which seems like a plan that will eventually place him among the last place finishers.
Tawny Port - This will be his 3rd race in five weeks as he beat a very mediocre group in the Lexington on April 16 to earn his way into the field. He did jump up to a new top on TG which on paper gives him a chance to pick up a check but chances are that he regresses back to his prior form which isn’t good enough. A confirmed closer he will be in the back 25% of the field as they go down the backstretch and if they get a wicked pace and Santana can weave his way through he isn’t impossible to be third or fourth but I’d tread lightly.
Zozos - If he was running in the 7th race on Saturday I’d love him (Pat Day Mile) but alas he is in the 12th. He isn’t experienced enough, he has a tough post, not sure what kind of trip he can get and I’m very skeptical about his pedigree as well.
Rich Strike - He belongs in this race about as much as I belong in the starting lineup for the Milwaukee Bucks filling in for Khris Middleton.
Distaff Turf Mile (Gr. II) - Speak of the Devil has good form shipping in from France 🇫🇷 for the Brownie crew and might get the trip behind stablemate In Italian and Lady Speightspeare if those two speedy types hook up. It looks chalky but the one potential upsetter might be She Can’t Sing who just ran a monster figure but has never been the most consistent sort
Knicks Go Overnight Stakes - one of the toughest races on the card. Shared Sense just ran a huge lifetime top after being pulled up in his prior start 🤷🏼♂️. Dream Shake looked back in his season debut but he has always bounced off of big efforts. Gun It’s first start of the year could win this, his last start couldn’t. Injunction is interesting as he unlike most of the field is still improving but is still a few points behind the top contenders. Frosted Grace tries a mile after dominating at Delta but might be a touch slower than what’s needed. Same with Major Fed who has never broke through his 3 TG level. Necker Island is interesting as he is fast enough and likes CD. Endorsed is good enough but threw in clunker last out.
Pat Day Mile (Gr. II) - Jack Christopher is the headliner in here off of his two year old form. He was faster than most of these last October as a two year old and while he won’t offer much of a price, he looms the one to beat. Doppelgänger has one of the strangest running lines you will see last out and he is good enough to get a piece in here or even win if the favorite isn’t ready to fire off the layoff. My Prankster has the ability to beat these if he runs his A race. O Captain should be respected as my guy Ramiro Restrepo is in town for the reason not the season as evidenced by race 2 on Oaks day
Derby City Distaff (Gr. I) - Classic battle of speed vs closers in here as everyone tries to upend likely favorite Just One Time. Belles the One loves Churchill and will be closing late. Obligatory is who I may land on if her price is right but in any case this is a really compelling race
American Turf (Gr. II) - wildly competitive race with horses coming from all over the place and none of them appreciably faster than the others. He has a poor record at Churchill but Phil D’Amato’s Balnikhov should merit a look in here and Red Danger might be ready to break through finally but honestly you could make a pretty good case for almost all of them. Good luck 🍀
Churchill Downs S (Gr. I) - Perhaps the best race of the weekend. BC sprint champion Aloha West makes his 2022 debut from the rail, 2022 Sprint champ Jackie’s Warrior tries to build on his winning effort at OP in his first race as a four year old. Reinvestment Risk comes out of a good second against perhaps the best horse in training, Speakers Corner. Prevalence steps up to face the big boys after wining the Commonwealth and old pro’s Mind Control and Cezanne are always dangerous.
Turf Classic (Gr. I) - Not the greatest edition of this race but it is competitive group. I’m gonna take a stab with Mira Mission who might be good enough and should enjoy the extra distance coming out of the Makers Mark Mile
🏄🏼♂️ Monmouth Park opens today with fixed odds betting and a new whip rule more aligned with the rest of the mid-Atlantic regions rules
🤨 Belmont has three stakes carded today (off turf there except stakes) and 18 total entered. Santa Anita has a stake with 6. We need less stakes not more…
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🌹 We will have a rousing recap show on the Big Monday show and I will do a complete write up recapping this entire weekend sometime next week! Please spread the word about the podcast and this newsletter as every new person that we can reach, the better!