Thursday, April 30, 2015

2015 Kentucky Derby Preview Part I: The Underclass

Post positions have been drawn, jockeys have been announced, and the morning line has been set.  It's Kentucky Derby week, which means it's time for our annual preview.  Let's start today off with a look at the bottom half of the field, the 10 horses that do not particularly enamor us.  We are ignoring also-eligibles Tale of Verve (who we literally never heard about until 12 noon Wednesday) and Frammento; we recommend you do likewise.  As always, we're assuming the track is fast and relatively unbiased.

Wow, Our Owners Got Great Seats!

20.  Ocho Ocho Ocho.  For the honor of Worst Name of a Kentucky Derby Winner, this guy would give Mine That Bird, Lil E. Tee and Burgoo King a run for their money.

19.  War Story.  His running lines from 4 of his 5 starts include the comments "off bit slow," "hesitated start" and "flattened".  These are not the sort of notes that portend greatness.

18.  Keen Ice.  The definition of a plodder, he has no tactical speed, no fast turn of foot, and no closing spurt.  Also, he's only finished better than third once in his career and has been thrashed by 7 other opponents in this race.  Other than those flaws, he looks stunning.

17.  Stanford.  His best strategy appears to be go for the early lead and try to hold on for dear life.  That hasn't worked in smaller fields against lesser competition at shorter distances, so sure, let's give it a go against 19 of the best three year olds in the country at the longest distance he'll ever run.

16.  Itsaknockout.  This horse is being oddly cross-promoted with the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight, giving people the chance to bet the rare double between sports that reached their peak of popularity 50 years ago.  As to his merits, he lost his last start by a mere 21 lengths on a track that he appeared to love, and did so against horses we don't particularly care for in the Derby.  We're still in Giacomo-territory here.

15.  Mr. Z.  In his 12(!) career starts, he's been beaten by 10 of the other 19 horses in this race, including this aforementioned Ocho Cubed.  Turning the tables on over half the field seems rather ambitious.

Oh, Why the Hell Not?

14.  Far Right.  Unlike the prior 6 horses, we can make arguments for this next group of horses catching a piece of the superfecta, but are against for a multitude of reasons. Let's start with this guy, who after breaking his maiden toiled around aimlessly in second-tier races. then dropped into third-tier races and found some success.  He tried the big boys in the Arkansas Derby where he second by default and was about a football field behind the winner.  He could clunk up for a piece late, but he's more likely to linger at the back of the pack and finish with the classic running line of "passed tiring horses."

Friend of the blog and Voice of the Derby, Larry Collmus
13.  El Kabeir. This guy would be a hoot and a half to own, because he runs regularly and generally turns in an honest effort, as evidenced by his 8 finishes in the money and banking nearly $800,000 to date.  But his breeding does nothing to suggest that he has any affinity for 10 furlongs, and his two starts in deepest waters (the Champagne last year and Wood Memorial in his last race) were his two worst efforts.  We suspect that this is a miler who's in a bit deep here, and that he'll be very competitive in the King's Bishop and Breeders Cup Dirt Mile later this year.  But not on Saturday.

12.  Danzig Moon. On the one hand, his breeding is good for the distance.  On the other hand, he hasn't been particularly competitive with contender Carpe Diem in their last two meetings.  Back on the first hand, he may be rounding into form and Julian Leparoux is overdue for a Derby win.  Back on the other hand, Mark Casse is consistently a bad bet in these types of races - he's astoundingly good in Canada and astoundingly below par in American graded stakes.  We lean against, but think this guy could be interesting come the summer.

11.  Tencendur. So what do we make of that huge last race speed figure?  It represents a sharp improvement from his prior 4 races, and let's remember that a 3yo horse is very eligible to improve markedly 5 starts into his career.  A repeat of the Wood won't win the Derby, so the question is can he can move forward again?  We're skeptical.  A huge jump in speed figures like his last race is a classic "bounce" pattern where a horse regresses afterwards.  Occasionally, that horse will take another step forward later on, but the regression generally comes first.  And we think that's exactly what happens here - a regression that's a non-threatening middle of the pack finish, while his trainer (the highly underrated George Weaver) scouts out Derbies in Ohio and Oklahoma for him to try this summer.

Coming Up Tomorrow: The Top 10 and our pick.

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