|Larry Collmus, the voice of the Derby.|
Mine That Bird 2.0
20. Trojan Nation. It's not cheap to run a horse in the Kentucky Derby. Assuming your horse runs, the entry fee alone is $50,000. You have to get your horse to Kentucky, train him and secure a jockey, which yes you have to do even if you were running in some nondescript race in Pennsylvania, but is still a cost. Then there's the cost of attending - as the owner, assume you're on the hook for tickets, flights, and hotels for yourself, your family, and your entourage. That's easily another $20,000. (Seriously - check out hotel prices in Louisville this week if you're bored.) A trainer once remarked that if you run worse than 2nd in the Derby, you lose money on the weekend.
Given all this...what's the upside of running a maiden in the Kentucky Derby? Yeah, he ran 2nd in the Wood Memorial. And he actually has vaguely interesting breeding. But he has, literally, ZERO wins. The Kentucky Derby is not going to be his first win. And it's going to cost the owners a lot of money for what is a colossal ego trip.
What's even more amazing is that this horse probably isn't going to be 100-1. Given recent betting patterns in the Derby and the fact that two horses have won at 50-1 in the last dozen years, we think he'll be no longer than 50-1. Ignore him. And hope that he keeps out of everyone else's way.
Your Ambition is Admirable
19. Lani. It's this year's winner of the UAE Derby! The first 15 editions didn't produce a single horse that finished in the top 5 of the Kentucky Derby, and there's no reason to think this will be any different. What's equally notable is that it appears that even Godolphin has given up on hitting the Dubai-Derby Double. Back in 1998 when they purchased Worldly Manner for $5 million and trained him up to the Derby, people were predicting it was only a matter of time before Godolphin figured this out and stole the crown. Worldly Manner's experience went horribly - he was spent at the top of the lane and ran 7th, never to be heard from again. (He did a lot better than Comeonmom, a modestly bred horse that Godolphin paid $3 million for after he won the Remsen at 30-1 and never won again.) They didn't fare much better in the decade since then, as their best finish was China Visit's 6th in 2000. Heck, they haven't had a horse tried to pull this off since Regal Ransom in 2009.
As to Lani, look for him guy to retreat early and return to Japan for the rest of the year. And for us to go through this spiel again next year with some other non-factor.
18. Oscar Nominated. Everything about this horse screams grass runner. Literally everything - his breeding, his connections, his successes on the turf to date, and his solid closing kick. He did win on a non-turf race last out, but the Spiral is on a synthetic surface, which is not dirt. Yeah we know Animal Kingdom pulled this off in 2011, blah blah blah. We're not interested. We'll get curious once he's on the sod again.
17. Majesto. Woody Allen did say that 80% of life is just showing up. That's almost exactly true with this horse, who made about 80% of his career earnings in the Florida Derby where he clunked up for second when favored Mohaymen no-showed. If people ever wonder why seemingly hopeless longshots enter races with decent sized purses, this is why - all you need is one horse to have a bad day to stumble into a good paycheck. (This doesn't apply for Oscar Nominated, who needs 17 of his competitors to have a bad day to win.) Horses like Majesto - longshots who outrun their odds in the Derby prep race for an obvious reason that have nothing to do with their actual talent - are some of the worst bets in the Derby.
Wow That Prep Was Garbage
16. Danzing Candy. This horse has exactly one path to victory: go to the front, hope that he isn't challenged early, pray for a speed bias, and hold on for dear life. Given how badly he faded in his last, we're siding with "unlikely."
15. Shagaf. We like to note the line between no-hopers and possibilities; we think that it actually falls around here. We're not in love with Shagaf for reasons we'll get to in a second, but this year's Derby is full of horses that have flaws, some of which are almost identical to each other. Getting any of the next 15 horses into the trifecta isn't impossible, and we won't argue with anyone playing a multi-race wager whose stated goal is to get to the Derby alive to ten horses.
Shagaf won his first three races but all against suspect fields - he didn't beat a single horse running on Saturday (unless also eligible Adventist draws in). He went off as the favorite in the Wood Memorial and had absolutely nothing on the turn and into the stretch, finishing a lackluster 5th, beaten by, among others, Trojan Nation. Now there's a possible excuse: the track was muddy on Wood day, and maybe he just doesn't like the slop. But the history of horses winning the Derby off a bad prep race is abysmal; they're usually some of the easiest tosses. That's why we're against him, as well as...
13. Outwork. Pedigree doesn't matter as much as it used to in the Derby, but it's still a factor. Which brings us to Uncle Mo, who people may remember from our blog 5-6 years ago as the hotshot 2 year old that won the Breeders Cup Juvenile with ease, followed by a disappointing 3 year old season that was marred by injuries. Uncle Mo was retired to stud following his 3yo season and his first crop of horses debuted in 2015. It was a helluva debut crop: so far his progeny has won 10 graded stakes races, 5 Grade 1s, and a slew of other races. At auction, his offspring have been some of the most-sought after. He has been so successful in the stud barn that his sire fee more than doubled from $35,000 to $75,000, and nobody thought it was ridiculous.
All that said...we are completely unconvinced that Uncle Mo wanted any part of 10 furlongs - he never won beyond 8 1/2 furlongs - and that his progeny do either. His father, Indian Charlie, was a good horse but was a miler and his other top progeny (Indian Blessing) was a miler. The distance breeding is more likely to come from his mother's side (she was out of good distance sire Arch) but we're still unconvinced that this is a sire that's going to yield classic winners. We think he's much more likely to yield a bunch of outstanding sprinters and milers. And that's fine! But it doesn't help Outwork on Saturday, a talented developing horse who also has to overcome the fact that he won the Wood by a shortening head over the execrable Trojan Nation. And it also doesn't help...
12. Mo Tom. ...this dead closer who constantly seems to find traffic trouble. These horses are some of our least favorites: full of potential but also full of excuses in their past performance lines. Sure, he's got a chance to get a clean run and close for a piece. But in a race with several closers with better late kicks and stouter breeding, we're looking elsewhere.
Look, we were wrong about California Chrome two years ago. And we'll be okay with being wrong on this guy on Saturday - it would be neat for the two year old champ to win the Derby and enter the Preakness 8-for-8. It's about the only narrative that could try to match American Pharoah. But we're just not seeing it. We think he's a highly beatable favorite and won't be using him on any of our tickets Saturday.
Coming up tomorrow: The top half and our betting advice.