The Kentucky Derby is less than four weeks away and if you’ve watched any of the prep races, it has been hard to figure out a clear cut favorite for the Derby, which is, without dispute, “The Greatest Day of the Sports Year.”
When I watch the prep races, I look for certain things. One is time. How fast did the winning horse run? It is simple, yet it can tell us a lot. Second, is ease of victory. Did the horse run well? Did the horse seem to have a lot in the tank at the finish line? Did the horse gallop out well after crossing the finish line? Another is size of field. Did he beat 6 other horses, or 13?
Let’s look at time and specifically, the winning times of the six 170 point races. These races award 100 points to the winner, and 40, 20 and 10 for second, third and fourth.
Based on time alone, Always Dreaming’s performance in the Florida Derby was best. He cruised over the Gulfstream Park track in 1:47.47 for 1 1/8 miles. He looked free and easy and really outclassed the field. The Gulfstream Park track is usually made for running fast times and often favors speed horses and this was certainly evident on this day. Still, the colt did everything right in picking up 100 points.
The second fastest time came last Saturday when Classic Empire fought hard to win the Arkansas Derby covering 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.93 seconds. It was sweet revenge for the colt that appeared washed out before the Fountain of Youth Stakes and was refusing to finish workouts.
Girvin win the Louisiana Derby in 1:49.77 for trainer Joe Sharp, best known for being Rosie Napravnik’s husband. Girvin has done nothing wrong in his last two prep races and based on the easiness of his win at Fairgrounds, will be one of the favorites come Derby day.
Irap went off at 31-1 in the Bluegrass Stakes at Keeneland, yet was able to hold on and score the upset. He—and the others—struggled badly down the stretch and the winning time was considered slow with a 1:50.39 clocking. What does that say about Irap? Not too much if you’re asking me, which you probably aren’t.
The Wood Memorial at Aqueduct was an eight-horse field and like the Arkansas Derby was a redemption race for Irish War Cry. The son of Curlin stopped the clock in a pedestrian 1:50.91. On the surface that looks slow, but upon further examination, we saw jockey Rajiv Maragh look behind him not once but twice at the top of the stretch. He won going away and Maragh never moved and certainly never used the whip. The colt rambled down the stretch in straight-as-an-arrow fashion and galloped out well. He did everything well but run a fast time.
In contrast, Gormley’s win in the Santa Anita Derby was slow and unimpressive. The colt finished in 1:51.16, but struggled in doing so. A win is always a win, however and Gormley did his job and did it well, but it is tough to make a Derby-winning case based on this effort.
So, what do we make of all this? Is the Kentucky Derby going to come from one of these six? Perhaps, but based on odds, it isn’t likely. I base my Derby pick on feel, on what I see and what I think will happen. There are 20 horses that will be entered and the winner could be the third place from the UAE Derby. None of us know and that’s why the Derby race is special. Lots of options and lots of ways to make some money; and lose it.
Based on these six prep races, I believe that Always Dreaming will be the favorite when odds are set on Wednesday, May 3, but they won’t be short. In fact, they could be closer to 10 to 1 than 2 to 1. In 2006, Barbaro came to Churchill as the horse to beat, but came in at just 6-1.
Pedigree probably gets Classic Empire the second choice if not the first. He won the Juvenile at last year’s Breeder’s Cup and supporters will use the Arkansas Derby win to say that colt has matured and is now ready to be a champion.
The third choice is the tough one between Girvin and Irish War Cry. Girvin looked great when he won both the Risen Star and the Louisiana Derby and his LA Derby winning time is 2.14 seconds faster than what Irish War Cry did in the Wood. Does that really matter? We shall see when the odds come out.
All this said, if I can be Johnny Oddsmaker, this would be my morning line odds for these six horses.
Always Dreaming 7-1
Classic Empire 8-1
Irish War Cry 12-1
Mike Battaglia has the official task and he has hinted that Classic Empire will be the favorite, but in the end the bettors will determine this. My odds are designed to create movement and I already envision bettors jumping on Irish War Cry at 12-1; by post time, he could be the favorite.
They say that timing is everything, but in horse racing, that is not always the case.
Until next time.