Originally posted on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 5/3/13
The big day is finally upon us…I know I’ve said this before so if you’ve heard it already, I apologize in advance. With all do respects to the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, the Breeders Cup Classic, the Dubai World Cup, the Japan Cup, or any other horse race they run on this planet or any other, this Saturday marks Horse Racing’s best and biggest race in the world today, the 2013 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. This year’s field is, like always, deep and talented from morning line favorite Orb to the unbeaten Verrazano to the late running Revolutionary, there are no less than 8 or 10 horses entered that have a legitimate chance of winning this race. Before we get into the breakdown there are a few things I’d like to mention to you. Please keep in mind that the Derby, year in and year out, is like any other sport…the best team, or in this case horse, doesn’t always win. There are several notable obstacles a horse must get over in order to win. First and foremost the horse needs plain unadulterated racing luck. He needs to be in the right place at the right time. (See Super Saver, Mine That Bird, and Giacomo), he must avoid the serious traffic issues throughout the race (See Lookin’ at Lucky, who was wiped out at the start of his Derby) and he must survive…that’s right….survive that rodeo they call the first turn. I don’t know about you, but I hold my breath every year when 20 horses, at a full out sprint, try to negotiate that first turn. There are multiple bumping incidents, there are multiple “checks” going on and you know several horses will be hung out to dry like four or five wide as well. Also, let’s not forget that the Churchill Downs surface is a bit quirky. Some horses (See Point Given, Holy Bull etc) just don’t get over it very well. So, a good trip is imperative and the ability to handle the surface is also extremely important. If you have those two things in place, you have a chance to win. Of course, that’s assuming you can handle the mud too. (As of this writing, there is a 70% chance of rain in Louisville on Saturday. The crazy part about that is only about 6 or 7 horses, less than half the field, has any experience over a wet track) One more thing, and on a personal note, Not only is the Kentucky Derby the best and biggest horse race in the world from where I sit, it’s also the most difficult to handicap…. well….at least for me it is. This years running will be my 33rd Derby that I will be handicapping. Of the 32 previous Derbies I’ve handicapped, I’ve picked five correctly…..you heard me five…five of 32. That amounts to about a 16% success rate. I can name the five on literally on hand… I had Gato Del Sol in 1982 at 21-1. I cashed in big on that one, but I wound up giving it all back and then some because it would be 18 years before I’d pick another winner. (Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000). However, for the last decade, I’ve started to heat up quite a bit (of course, anything would be considered heating up after an 0 for 18 stretch). I had Smarty Jones in 2004, Barbaro in 2006 and Big Brown in 2008. Why am I telling all of this? I don’t know, just trying to give you a little background on my handicapping skills when it comes to the Derby and a little chuckle at the same time. A side from that, the Kentucky Derby needs no introduction.   Churchill Downs – Saturday, May 4, 2013 Race 11 – 6:24 PM     The Kentucky Derby (Grade I) Purse $2,000,000 For Three Year Olds One and One Quarter Miles   P# PP Horse A/S Med Jockey Wgt Trainer M/L 1 1 Black Onyx 3/C L J Bravo 126 K J Breen 50/1 2 2 Oxbow 3/C L G L Stevens 126 D W Lukas 30/1 3 3 Revolutionary 3/C L C H Borel 126 T A Pletcher 10/1 4 4 Golden Soul 3/C L R Albarado 126 D Stewart 50/1 5 5 Normandy Invasion 3/C L J Castellano 126 C C Brown 12/1 6 6 Mylute 3/C L R Napravnik 126 T M Amoss 15/1 7 7 Giant Finish 3/C L J L Espinoza 126 A W Dutrow 50/1 8 8 Goldencents 3/C L K Krigger 126 D F O’Neill 5/1 9 9 Overanalyze 3/C L R Bejarano 126 T A Pletcher 15/1 10 10 Palace Malice 3/C L M E Smith 126 T A Pletcher 20/1 11 11 Lines of Battle 3/C L R Moore 126 A P O’Brien 30/1 12 12 Itsmyluckyday 3/C L E Trujillo 126 E Plesa, Jr. 15/1 13 13 Falling Sky 3/C L L Saez 126 J P Terranova, II 50/1 14 14 Verrazano 3/C L J R Velazquez 126 T A Pletcher 4/1 15 15 Charming Kitten 3/C L E S Prado 126 T A Pletcher 20/1 16 16 Orb 3/C L J Rosario 126 C R McGaughey III 7/2 17 17 Will Take Charge 3/C L J K Court 126 D W Lukas 20/1 18 18 Frac Daddy 3/C L V Lebron 126 K G McPeek 50/1 19 19 Java’s War 3/C L J R Leparoux 126 K G McPeek 15/1 20 20 Vyjack 3/G L G K Gomez 126 R R Rodriguez 15/1 21 21 Fear the Kitten 3/C L A Garcia 126 M J Maker 50/1     Analysis: (By Post Position Order, Selections Below)     PP#1 –Black Onyx– used a beautiful five wide sweeping move to the lead to win the Spiral Stakes at Keeneland in his last race on March 23 and he comes into this race in career best form. (Even though his career is just five races old). Anyway, from what I can see, he’s got two things working against him. One, even at peak form, I’m not convinced (yet) he’s as good as some of the horses in here. Two, he draws the dreaded #1 post position, which can prove to be an absolute killer. Between those two things, he looks like he’ll have his work cut out for him to hit the board, none the less win it.   PP#2- Oxbow- this horse is a bit of an enigma to me. I mean, truth be told, by the statistics, he’s just as fast as any horse in this race yet he is just 2 for 9 in his career….what gives? Ok, in four of his last five races he has had some serious luck/traffic/getting caught wide issues…but still…also, in that one race (of his last five) where he did have a decent trip (The Rebel Stakes, March 16), he blew a clear lead to (stable-mate) Will Take Charge down the stretch. He is another who I just don’t think is good enough or, more importantly, lucky enough to win this race.   PP#3- Revolutionary- lots to like in this well bred, (War Pass-Runup the Colors) absolutely gorgeous colt. As I’ve been saying the last several weeks in my “Countdown to the Triple Crown” series, he appears to be the total package. The breeding, the looks, the fearlessness, the big closing kick he possesses and mental toughness as well. I still haven’t forgotten about that Wither Stakes win and he followed that up with a good Louisiana Derby win. Overall, he comes into this race riding a three race winning streak where each race was just as impressive as the next. The only concern I had left was how he would handle the aforementioned quirky Churchill Downs surface…so what does he do?….he works a half mile over it in :48.3 last week while getting the last furlong in :11.3 and galloped out powerfully afterwards. I’ll take those 10-1 morning line odds all day long and half the night. You’re going to hear me say this a lot in this article but…”if he stays out of trouble and gets a good trip”, I expect him to burst onto the scene in deep stretch.   PP#4- Golden Soul- has been within shouting distance of a couple of good horses in his last three starts and has worked very well over the track, but it’s that 1 for 5 career record thats deterring me….pass.     PP#5-Normandy Invasion- is another who possesses quite a closing kick and was coming to the unbeaten Verrazano at the end of the Wood Memorial in his last …that after being bumped at the break. What if this colt by Tapit out of the Chad Brown barn gets a clean break (which might prove difficult in the Kentucky Derby), an extra furlong to work with and a clean trip? Then what?…. Oh and if your not convinced he’s ready?… listen to this. After almost running off with his exercise rider yesterday (Thursday) morning , Brown said: “This horse is so sharp right now, you just have to hold him on the ground.”   PP#6- Mylute- gray colt by champion Midnight Lute, who might be the most well behaved horse out of all of them, was 2 for 8 in career before trainer Thomas Amoss took the blinkers off. He responded to that by closing like the proverbial freight-train (at 19-1) to just miss behind Revolutionary in the Louisiana Derby after being forced to go some six wide at the quarter pole. Did he turn the corner in his career (With the equipment change)? Or is he a “one hit wonder? He’s one of those horses that if he runs big I won’t be surprised or if he finishes 18th I wouldn’t be surprised either….your call from there.   PP#7- Giant Finish- was late entry into the race and you have to love the reason why. Last week, when one of his owners was asked why are you entering the race (so late), the owner replied “hey, you only live once”. Unfortunately that’s about the only thing I do love about this horse and, to me, he looks in way too deep.   PP#8- Goldecents- you have to respect everything about this horse. His talent (he’s won 3 of his last 4 with gaudy speed figures) his trainer Doug O’Neill (who won last years Derby with I’ll Have Another) and his rider Kevin Krigger (who, I promise, you’ll be hearing a lot more from as his career unfolds). Remember, that one defeat, sandwiched between three impressive wins was when Krigger, for so some inexplicable reason, engaged in a protracted speed dual with Flashback (in the San Felipe) and check in fourth. If you draw a line thru that anomaly, you would see a very impressive record of 4 win in 5 life-time starts a horse, who must be considered in any betting scenario. “It’s a great feeling (to be back),” O’Neill said. “We’ve got a nice horse this year as well. Goldencents has got the mind; he’s got the physical talents, so we’re pretty pumped.”   PP#9- Overanalyze- my goodness, what was that? After being perhaps the most inconsistent three year old this year (with the one up, one down pattern he’s been setting), he goes to Oaklawn Park for the Arkansas Derby where he broke towards the rear of the pack, circled the field (like 4 or 5 wide) on the outside and absolutely exploded down the stretch to win going away by over 4 lengths and was striding out as good or better than any three year I’ve seen this year or over the last several years for that matter. So, the question is….which Overanalyze shows up? The one who was masterful in his last race or does he keep to his pattern and mail it in come Saturday evening?…once again, that’s your call.   PP#10- Palace Malice- I like this horse a lot as he’s good looking and has hit the board 5 times in his first 6 races…I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he runs well. That being said, he only has but one win, he’s had a couple of unlucky races and, more importantly, he had a clear lead down the stretch in the Bluegrass Stakes but was simply outgunned by Java’s War late.   PP#11- Lines Of Battle- is this years official “Dark Horse” (there is always one…see Canonero II in 1971). Anyway, he’s batting .500 in his career (3 for 6) and was especially impressive in his last where he came from behind early to win “easily”. The only problem I see was that that race was on the other side of the world (Dubai) and I’m not a big fan of flying horses (especially young ones) all around the world (and back) and expect them to win the Kentucky Derby.   PP#12- Itsmyluckyday- was clearly a “short “(on conditioning) horse when Orb went zooming by him at mid-stretch in the Florida Derby on March 30. Here we are one or two days before the Derby and I’m still not sure if he peaked out in the month of January (he was terrific in two races in that same month) or was trainer Ed Plesa taking a conservative route to the Derby because he didn’t want to squeeze the lemon dry before the Derby sort of speak? “He’s got a lot of ability, he’s a happy horse, and he likes Kentucky,” Plesa said.   PP#13- Falling Sky- great TV series (which returns soon come to think of it) and this horse has been burning up this race track in the mornings (back to back 5 F :59.3’s). But the fact remains he’s been manhandled by not one but four different horses entered in this race (including Java’s War and Verranzano). 50-1 on the morning line?….yep, that sound about right.   PP#14- Verrazano- much talked about, big, muscular, fast and undefeated horse will take plenty of money at the windows and rightfully so. With the exception of the Wood Memorial, no one has been all that close to him in his 4 thus far races. That being said, there are two ways to look at this colt. One, he’s got the looks, speed and size to power his way to victory and continue his unbeaten steak or two, you see possible distance limitations with his margins of victory and, maybe more importantly, his speed figures drop as the distance get longer (105, 101 and 95). No doubt in my mind that if the Wood Memorial was 100 or so yards longer, he loses that race.  Obviously a top contender for this race but he is no mortal lock based on those dropping speed figures and his experience (or lack thereof). He’s one of the ones I’ll be watching very closely all day Saturday.   PP#15-Charming Kitten- showed charging from11th (in a 14 horse field) in the Bluegrass Stakes in his last at 22-1 and finished just a neck behind the highly regarded (in my mind) Java’s War. Brown colt by Kitten’s Joy has a 2-2-2 record from seven life-time starts but five if those seven starts were on the grass. I’m going to throw his out and hope he doesn’t drop a bnomb on me and run a big race.   PP#16- Orb- recorded, by far, the most impressive work over the Churchill Downs strip this past week when he went a half in :47.4 “I’m really excited about the whole thing,” said trainer Shug McGaughey “Since the Florida Derby, everything’s gone well for us … I’m as excited as I’ve been in a long time about a race, and I’m trying to have fun with this. I have not been like this in a long time, maybe ever, really. I think we’ve got a horse that’s going in the right direction, and we’re excited to have the opportunity to win the Kentucky Derby, which I consider America’s premier race.” The son of Malibu Moon comes into this off of four very impressive come from behind wins including his last when he was much the best in winning the Florida Derby. In that race, when rider John Velasquez gave him his cue, this horse simply ran past the field and won by almost 3 lengths. Getting back to that :47.4 work this week, he looked sensational. I saw video of it and he looked like he had ices skates on out there…I mean, he was just gliding over the track so effortlessly….it was visually noticeable. Yet another, since he is a late runner, who must avoid traffic issues and have clear sailing at the quarter pole to have a chance. If he gets that, he’ll be tough to beat.   PP#17- Will Take Charge- since Departing was declared from this race two weeks ago, he may now become my sleeper horse. He shows three very good outings(two wins and solid second) out his last four and I’ll forgive that one bad outing being it was over a sloppy track (which, of course, doesn’t bode well for him being there is a good chance for rain on Saturday). But he is versatile as he proved he can run well given just about any pace scenario and offers some value at 20-1 on the morning line.     PP#18 Frac Daddy- is just 1 for 6 in his career and has been beaten a grand total of 38 lengths by Itsmyluckyday, Orb and Overanalyze in his last three races….next.     PP#19- Java’s War- looks to be coming into this race in perfect form. He caught my attention for the first time when he closed from 9th position early to finish second to Verrazano in the Tampa Bay Derby and solidified his position as a top contender with an amazing run/win in the Bluegrass Stakes three weeks ago., In the Bluegrass, he hesitated at the break and quickly found himself in last place (of 14) and 14 lengths behind the early leaders. But from there, he calmly weaved his way around horses, went an unrealistic seven wide at the top of the stretch and yet got up to win by a neck in the one of the top 2 or 3 prep races I saw this year. 15-1 on the morning line?….wow…I was expecting 6 or 8-1…long-shot possibly for sure with this guy.     PP#20- Vyjack- suffered his first career defeat in the hands of Verrazano and Normandy Invasion in the Wood Memorial his last time out. He’s struggled a bit since then (he contracted a lung infection and missed some training) but trainer Rudy Rodriguez doesn’t sound all that concerned: “He’s been amazing over here, (at Churchill)” Rodriguez said after watching his gelding work three furlongs in (in my mind a slow) :37 flat. “To see him behave and act and train the way he’s training … I was expecting it to be a little more of a challenge, but he’s taking everything very good. He knows he’s coming to a race and he’s a lot more mature now.” Good looking horse and has talent as well as he does possess an explosive late move when he is right….I’m just wondering exactly how much that lung issues took out of him.   AE-Fear the Kitten- whether he makes it into the race or not, I don’t see him having a big say in the outcome. He won the first two races of his career and then promptly lost the next five in a row including being beaten fair and square by several horses in this race.   Final Selections 1) Revolutionary 2) Orb 3) Verrazano Honorable Mentions: (in no particular order)   Java’s War, Normandy Invasion, Goldencents   Good luck and thanks for reading… Record: 9-22 = 41% (pending Kentucky Oaks outcome) 2012: 24-74 = 32% To receive an email each time a new Horse Racing article is published, fill out the Email Notification Form  

This article first appeared on isportsweb.com and was syndicated with permission.

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