They've drawn the field, assigned post positions, make a morning line, and the field is set for the Kentucky Derby. (Mostly - there's an also-eligible that we're ignoring.) Let's jump right into this year's preview; as always, we're looking at the race under the assumption that it's being run over a fast track.
It's Been Real, It's Been Fun, But It Hasn't Been Real Fun.
20. Giant Finish. The first time we heard of this horse was when we checked the Racing Form's page Wednesday morning and saw that he had been entered from the Derby. The second time we'll hear of him is when he's announced by Larry Collmus entering the far turn at the Derby. The third time will be when he tries to rebound from his horrific Derby showing to compete in the Mike Lee Stakes.
19. Golden Soul. A stone closer with a turf pedigree that's never run fast. In the chart for the Louisiana Derby, where he finished a non-threatening 4th at 30-1, the commentary indicates that at various times he was carried 5- 7- and 8-wide, losing approximately 5000 yards of ground, and this happened while he had Calvin "Bo-Rail" in the irons. That type of running style in a race with little early speed and a lesser jockey does not bode well for Saturday.
18. Charming Kitten. The only reason to back this horse is because he's trained by Todd Pletcher, but he's clearly the 5th worst of Pletcher's 5 entrants. Like Golden Soul, he's also bred for the turf, but has even less success on the dirt, and appears to be a vanity entry made for the amusement of owner Ken Ramsey.
17. Falling Sky. If you were curious about which horses are going to provide the pace in this race, here's your first answer. Based on his last two starts, there's no indication he wants to run a foot beyond 9 furlongs, so the 10th furlong of the Derby should be problematic.
16. Frac Daddy. Every year there's a Derby entrant that had a good ordinal finish in his prior race that earned him the right to enter the race, but completely belies his actual chances of winning the race. Prior to his second place finish in a sloooooow Arkansas Derby, Frac Daddy finished a horrible 7th in the Florida Derby and a non-threatening 6th in the Holy Bull. His second in the Arkansas Derby was pretty clearly by default after favorite War Academy pulled up lame and every other horse in the race was terrible. So while his entry isn't offensive, the fact that he ran second in his last start is of little consequence.
We Find Your Resumes Lacking
15. Line of Battle. The 5 winners of the UAE Derby that have tried the Kentucky Derby have never finished better than 6th (China Visit, 2000) and have rarely been a pace factor. The first horse that exits the UAE Derby and finishes in the money will come at our expense. We're not exactly nervous here.
14. Oxbow. If you're unsure what's going to be the focus of NBC's soft-focus pre-race stories, we're pretty sure that jockey Gary Stevens' comeback from a long retirement to ride this guy in the Derby will be one of the stories. Regrettably, Stevens has not picked a particularly fast horse to ride in Louisville, as Oxbow's speed figures first stagnated this winter, then declined in the Arkansas Derby. We actually like his breeding a lot and would love to see trainer D. Wayne Lukas back in the Triple Crown picture, but we think the only way this guy wins is if he gets to set very slow fractions early in the race and can put the other 19 to sleep. Unlikely.
13. Mylute. We're not exactly sure what this horse is. In the Risen Star, he was close to the pace and faded badly. In the Louisiana Derby, he settled well behind the rest of the field and closed decently to finish second in an oddly run race (several that finished behind him had horrendous traffic trouble). What we can guarantee is that he'll be overbet simply because Rosie Napravnek is riding him. While Rosie's an excellent jockey, she'll be hard-pressed to get this sprint-bred colt into contention deploying either running style, and since he'll be 15-1 or so, this guy will not be a bargain.
12. Vyjack. We think the line between pretender and possibility falls here. This is actually a fairly talented horse that was undefeated going into the Wood Memorial where he finished third behind Verrazano and Normandy Invasion. While some are touting him as a sleeper, we see three big problems. First, both Normandy Invasion and Verrazano are in the Derby as well, and there's no reason to think they'll run worse than they did in the Wood or that Vyjack's trip was compromised. Second, his breeding does not indicate 10 furlongs is his bailiwick - his sire's success came at under a mile and he was from a sprinter's family, while his dam is out of turf sprinter Stravinsky. Third, his trainer, Rudy Rodriguez, has been in enough trouble with racing authorities that his stables are under 24/7 surveillance to make sure there are no shenanigans. We're not saying that this horse's success are the product of Rodriguez's alchemy, but we don't love the horse being subjected to such an enormous disruption in his routine. We see a back of the pack finish followed by some time off and a successful return to the races at shorter distances.
11. Will Take Charge. There are some things to like about this horse: his breeding is quite good (Unbridled's Song out of Grade 1 winner Take Charge Lady, who was the dam of last year's Florida Derby winner, Take Charge Indy), and two good efforts this year on a fast track. What we don't love is that Lukas decided to pass on the most recent round of prep races and train this horse up to the Derby off an 8-week layoff. Not only has that been a path to failure, it's completely antithetical to Lukas' modus operandi, which is to run horses early and often. We're guessing that there are some fitness or health issues with this horse and think the lack of recency leaves him well short of a top effort on Saturday.
Coming up on Friday morning: the top half and our Derby pick.