My brother has a theory about my track selections. Frequently before going to the track, be it Belmont Day, a summer day in Saratoga, the Breeders Cup, or whatever else, I'll examine the card, come up with 2-5 horses I like that day, and note to bet them. As Matt has observed, 90% of the time, one or more of those picks will be scratched and I'll be annoyed. He thoroughly enjoys mocking me for picking horses that always scratch and how it ruins my day at the races. And if I'm being honest, he's right.
This year he has a point in spades, as in early February I kinda-sorta liked Eskendereya, enough to put a future bet on him. I really liked him after his Fountain of Youth romp. And after his Wood win, he was written in at the top of this countdown in the blogger's version of blue ink. The plan was to debate who to put in the other slots for triples and superfectas and weighing whether or not a hedge was a good idea.
As Woody Allen once said, if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.
So here we are with the annual Derby countdown. In addition to reeling from last year's horrible selections, where the horse we placed #20 of 20 won the race, the horse we've liked since January isn't running. And as everyone else who follows racing knows, after Eskendereya, there are no standouts in this class. Any number of horses could win this race and would be 1/1000th the surprise that Mine That Bird was last year. Which makes this countdown something of a handicapping challenge for the GRBG, which we simultaneously relish and hate. Let's get to it.
Hey, Mine That Bird Won Last Year!
20. Homeboykris. Since winning the Grade 1 Champagne stakes last year in slow time, he's had a pair of well-beaten 5th place finishes in stakes company, a 2nd place finish in an allowance race to a horse that flopped miserably in the Florida Derby, and a 9-week vacation. Still, some people will be rooting for him on the hope that Don Zimmer would be in the winner's circle.
19. Make Music For Me. Has been ambitiously spotted in his 8 career starts, which have included 4 Grade 1's, a Grade 2 and an overnight stakes. From all that plus two maiden starts, he's only mustered one victory (in the overnight stakes) and some clunk up seconds behind Lookin at Lucky last year. Has never won on a synthetic surface or a dirt surface, and the Derby's a tough place to try to break that schneid.
18. Paddy O'Prado. If the Kentucky Derby were run on grass, he'd be one of the favorites. Since they're continuing the 130+ year tradition of running on the dirt, we'll downgrade his chances to next-to-none.
17. Dean's Kitten. Owned by Ken Ramsey and his wife, he's one of about 90 horses they own sired by turf star Kitten's Joy named ______'s Kitten, which is either a stupid form of advertising or a way of honoring your zillion grandchildren. The fact that Ramsey was willing to run another horse he owns (Pleasant Prince) 3 times in 4 weeks so he could have a contender in the Derby tells you all you need to know about this guy's chances.
16. Backtalk. This guy started his career 3-for-3 with wins in a pair of old schools juvenile stakes races, then fell apart once we hit longer distances. And by longer we mean over 7 furlongs--since going to that distance and longer, he's won a meaningless stakes race at a Louisiana slots parlor and finished a well-beaten third in Illinois.
Too Many Question Marks
15. Noble's Promise. Normally we'd be all over this guy because a great way to find value on Derby day is to look for a horse that was highly regarded, ran poorly in his last prep race with an excuse, and now is back and training well. He flopped in the Arkansas Derby as the favorite but had a trip/ride from hell. Still, it's come out that he's lost time to a lung infection, and the Derby is not where you want to lose time training. On top of that, he's bred up and down to be a sprinter and we're unconvinced he wants 10 furlongs.
14. Devil May Care. Put aside that this is a filly in the Derby, this gal has one of the stranger PP lines in the race. After winning her maiden and a Grade 1 race, she ran 11th (next to last) in the Breeders Cup, then came back as a three year old and ran next to last against an uninspired field in Louisiana. She then rebounded to beat Oaks contender Amen Hallelujah in her last, and is now coming to the Derby off a 6-week layoff. We're suspicious of her fast Gowanus Speed Figure in her last race, don't like her lack of a recent prep race, and think she's more like Three Ring than Winning Colors--not a factor to worry about.
Can't Win the Battle and the War
13. Conveyance. We learned our lesson last year doubting horses that come off of losses in the Sunland Derby. Still, this guy's a committed front runner and couldn't handle mild pressure in New Mexico. How on earth can he hold up against 3-5 other horses breathing down his neck on Saturday?
12. Discreetly Mine. He doesn't need to be on the lead, but he's done his best running when on the lead. We love this guy's breeding and connections, but this horse has folded like a tent every time he's been challenged by a mediocre horse, let alone a good one; his only wins were when he waltzed through easy fractions in the Risen Star and a maiden race where he sported a big experience edge on his rivals. Can't see him being a factor at the quarter pole.
11. Line of David. The light bulb appears to have been turned on for the last three races and he appeared to like the dirt when wiring the Arkansas Derby, but watch the replay of that race. He was staggering in the stretch and won because Dublin and Super Saver wouldn't pass him. We like him to be a decent horse this year if he comes out of this race intaact (he might be a nice miler), but this is too much.
10. Sidney's Candy. People are trying to make the case that this guy isn't a committed front runner, will lay off the pace and get first run on the closers. We don't see it at all. He's been at the front of the pack all 3 races this year, and in two of them got absurdly easy fractions that allowed him to coast him. As a two year old, he wasn't always on the lead, but nonetheless never ran an opening quarter slower than 22 2/5 or a half mile 45 3/5. Those aren't fractions that will allow you to steal a race, those are fractions that will get you fried.
We recognize that he had a good come-home time in the Santa Anita Derby and that his breeding is sneakily good for the distance. But this guy appears to be in a damned if you do/damned if you don't position. Front runners almost always fail in the Derby: in the last 15 years, we've had a whopping 1 wire the field (War Emblem, 2002). If he goes that route, he'll get killed by battling the previous 3 horses (and possibly some others). If he tries to rate, then he has to take dirt in his face for the first time, has to navigate the correct trip behind tiring horses (not easy) and be okay with taking a new tact in the Derby. All this while shipping across the country and trying dirt for the first time. For all that, do you really want to take 9-2 odds on this guy?
Coming up tomorrow: the top 9, our selections and some betting advice.