Today’s Kentucky Derby is one of the most contentious in years. At least eight of the 19 3-year-olds (Black Onyx was scratched Friday morning) stepping into the starting gate at Churchill Downs are legitimate threats to win. We’re going with undefeated Verrazano, who could not have drawn a better post position than the 14, directly outside speedy Falling Sky. We’ve been going back and forth over the next three horses, finally settling on Normandy Invasion, Orb and Goldencents.
The Top Pick
Verrazano is attempting to become the first Derby winner since Apollo in 1882 who did not race as a 2-year-old. But this time, we’re really splitting hairs. Verrazano won his debut on January 1 at Gulfstream Park. If he’d raced 24 hours earlier, you wouldn’t be hearing about Apollo.
Now 4-for-4, Verrazano’s three-quarter length in the Wood Memorial was sneaky good because he got his final three furlongs in :36.3. That’s faster than all the other major contenders’ final three-eighths in their mile-and-an-eighth Derby preps except for Normandy Invasion, who finished in :36 to finish second in the Wood, then galloped out exceptionally well.
Verrazano’s tactical early speed is a huge advantage in a Derby lacking a lot of early speed.
The Next Three
Normandy Invasion — He has all the markings of the wise-guy horse in the Derby, and may be a bit of an underlay. Though only 1-for-5, he has two seconds, both at a mile and an eighth. In between those two races, he was a much-troubled, close fifth in the Risen Star. He’s worked sharply for today, and he will be running late. Javier Castellano’s decision to abandon Revolutionary to stick here says a lot.
Orb — He’s been cited as the most impressive Derby worker in the mornings, and comes into today’s race off four straight off-the-pace victories for Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey. Joel
Rosario regains the mount after John Velazquez, who won the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby on Orb, chose to remain on Verrazano for his main man, trainer Todd Pletcher. He’s bred to run long, and figures right there.
Goldencents — His win in the Santa Anita Derby was his third in his last four starts for trainer Doug O’Neill, who won last year’s Derby and Preakness with I’ll Have Another. Goldencents was rank two starts back when he finished fourth in the San Felipe, but was much more relaxed in the Santa Anita Derby. Jockey Kevin Krigger is talented, but inexperienced. Will that make a difference?
The Next Three
Revolutionary — We loved his career debut at Saratoga last summer. He was absolutely clobbered coming out of the starting gate, then closed a ton of ground while very wide to finish third. After breaking his maiden, he won the Withers and the Louisiana Derby by a neck. He’ll need a clean trip, and with Calvin Borel inheriting the mount, we know that if there’s an opening on the rail, he’ll find it.
Java’s War — This guy is a tough read. On dirt at Churchill Downs last year, he finished sixth in the Kentucky Jockey Club behind his stablemate in trainer Kenny McPeek’s barn, Frac Daddy, who is also in today’s Derby. This year on dirt, Java’s War ran a solid second by three lengths to Verrazano in the Tampa Bay Derby, and improved on that effort on synthetic, coming from way back to win the Blue Grass Stakes by a length. He may be overlooked today.
Itsmyluckyday — This intriguing contender should be taken very seriously. He won the Gulfstream Park Derby and Holy Bull stakes powerfully before finishing second by 23⁄4 lengths to Orb in the Florida Derby as the 8-5 favorite. He’s 5-for-8 on dirt with two seconds, and probably will be a more than fair price.
Three Other Contenders
Vyjack — His chances were severely impacted by drawing the 20 post. A winner of his first four starts, he was a solid third in the Wood Memorial, just a neck behind Normandy Invasion. He likes to rate close to the pace and finding that position with 19 horses inside of him today is a tremendous challenge. On the flip side, he will be a much higher price than originally thought.
Overanalyze — He beat Normandy Invasion by a nose in last year’s Remsen Stakes, but has raced just twice since. He finished fifth from the 11 post as the 8-5 favorite in the Gotham to Vyjack, then won the Arkansas Derby impressively by 41⁄4 lengths over Frac Daddy. He certainly has enough ability to contend off a good trip.
Mylute — Can Rosie Napravnik become the first female jockey to win the Derby? Probably not, but this guy ran a much-improved second by a neck from the 11 post in the Louisiana Derby off an equipment change, blinkers off. Still, he’s just one-for-seven on dirt.
Live Long shots
Palace Malice — He was a close third in the Risen Star, then seventh in the Louisiana Derby on dirt. He ran a much better second by a neck to Java’s War on synthetic in the Blue Grass. He’s adding blinkers today.
Oxbow — He seems to be going in the wrong direction. He was a close fourth in the Risen Star, than second by a head in the Rebel to stablemate Will Take Charge. Taken off the pace by Gary Stevens in the Arkansas Derby, he rallied modestly to be fifth. For Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas fans.
Frac Daddy — He showed enough talent at 2 to finish second by a neck in a stakes at Churchill Downs. This year, he was horrible in both the Holy Bull and the Arkansas Derby, but rebounded to finish second at 23-1 in the Arkansas Derby.
Will Take Charge — Lukas’ other colt narrowly won the Smarty Jones and the Rebel. In between, he was a distant sixth on a sloppy track in the Southwest. Throw that race out, and he looks better. But he hasn’t raced since March 16th.
You’re On Your Own
Giant Finish — This New York-bred was third on synthetic in the Spiral. Previously on dirt, he was 2-for-3, but the wins were in state-bred maiden and allowance races.
Falling Sky — He’s got speed, but he tired to fourth in the shorter Arkansas Derby.
Lines of Battle — He makes his dirt debut off a handy victory in the UAE Derby in Dubai.
Golden Soul — He rallied for fourth in the Louisiana Derby at 30-1. Good luck.
Charming Kitten — He’s hit the board in six of seven starts. None of them were on dirt.