A 20-horse field Saturday means there’s plenty of money to be had if you can find the right combination of Kentucky Derby finishers, and there’ll be a whole lot more if you’re not a fan of undefeated favorite Nyquist.
Always a handicapping challenge, this Derby seems even more unpredictable than normal.
Nyquist has won every one of his races, but his speed figures aren’t anywhere close to the numbers that recent favorites have put up before they got to Louisville (And racing pundits have long questioned whether Nyquist will be able to handle the Derby distance).
Exaggerator, Creator, Gun Runner and Mohaymen are next on the morning line, and they all have their faults, too.
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No one in this field has been particularly freakish.
The only starters to earn Beyer Speed Figures of more than 100 are Exaggerator (103) and Nyquist (101). Last year’s race featured seven such horses.
And then there’s the pace scenario.
Danzing Candy is the clear speed, but how fast will he go, and who will go with him early?
Many of the top competitors in this year’s race love to come from way back in the pack, but that’s a daunting task in a 20-horse field, and some of those deep closers will surely have to deal with obstacles too tough to overcome, no matter their talent.
All that considered, here’s a closer look at each of the starters for Saturday’s race:
1—Trojan Nation (50-1)
Need to know: At 81-1 odds in the sloppy (and slow) Wood Memorial, he rode the rail from last place and nearly overtook Outwork for the victory, which would have been his first. Trojan Nation was 0-for-5 in California before the runner-up finish in the Wood, and he’ll look to become the first maiden to win the Kentucky Derby since Brokers Tip in 1933. Nine maidens have run in the Derby since 1937. None have finished higher than eighth.
A good bet? All common sense says no. He was gritty in the Wood, but it was a weak field. The No. 1 post is often a killer. And, as stated above, he’s never won a race.
Need to know: He came from 14th to win the Grade III Southwest Stakes in his 2016 debut, then finished fifth and second in the Rebel and Arkansas Derby, respectively. Still, there’s a lot to like. In a race full of talented closers, he might have the best kick. He’s used to racing wide and still finishing strong. And he should love the distance. Addition of a shadow roll Saturday could help him start that late move a tad earlier.
A good bet? Really like him at any price. Love him in this race at anything close to 20-1. Expect to see him running late, and wouldn’t be surprised at all if he wins it.
Need to know: He came from the very back of the pack to win the Arkansas Derby, shifting out in the stretch and maneuvering through traffic for the victory. He’ll probably see a lot more trouble in front of him Saturday. Creator does seem to be improving steadily, and his 96 Beyer in the Arkansas is actually the third-best, last-race Beyer of any competitor in this field (after Exaggerator and Destin).
A good bet? He won the race, sure, but Creator’s stretch run wasn’t as visually impressive as Suddenbreakingnews’ effort on that day. Think there are better choices among the late closers.
4—Mo Tom (20-1)
Need to know: If you’re looking for a hard-luck horse, you’ve found him. Mo Tom, who broke his maiden at Churchill last November, nearly got turned sideways early but still won the Grade III Lecomte in his 2016 debut, then had two horrid stretch trips in the Risen Star and the Louisiana Derby, costing him a shot at both races. He kept running anyway, and Churchill riding champ Corey Lanerie keeps the mount despite the troubled trips.
A good bet? If this guy can get anything close to a clean trip Saturday, he could be around at the end. His speed figures are pedestrian, but don’t leave him out of the exotics.
5—Gun Runner (10-1)
Need to know: He broke his maiden at Churchill in his career debut last September, and he’s 4-for-4 on fast tracks going into Saturday. (His only other race was a fourth on a sloppy Churchill track in November). Gun Runner won the Louisiana Derby by 4½ lengths, but his 91 Beyer in that race is his best speed figure yet, and far below Derby standards. He does have some tactical speed and potential to improve, though.
A good bet? Looked green in the Louisiana Derby stretch, the six-week layoff is a long one and his Beyers are so low. He’ll need his very best Saturday, and he doesn’t seem quite ready for that.
6—My Man Sam (20-1)
Need to know: One of four in this field who didn’t win as a 2-year-old (Creator, Majesto and Trojan Nation are the others), “Sam” came from 14th place, went way wide into the stretch and gobbled up ground to finish second in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland. His 88 Beyer in that race wasn’t special, but he did log a 95 speed figure in the one before it. Should like the added distance.
A good bet? His four career starts are the fewest in the field (along with Outwork and Shagaf), but he’s shown a lot in a short time. Could hit the board at a big number Saturday.
7—Oscar Nominated (50-1)
Need to know: Owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, this colt finished strong to win the Grade III Spiral Stakes at 23-1 odds and earn the points to make it into the Derby field. “Oscar” might have the points, but everything else says he doesn’t belong. His best Beyer is an 82 from the Spiral, which was run on Turfway’s Polytrack surface. His other six races came on the turf, so this will be his first dirt start.
A good bet? Ken Ramsey has long dreamed of a Kentucky Derby victory, and that’s the only reason this colt will be in the starting gate. Would be a shock if he’s in contention Saturday.
Need to know: The Japan-based winner of the UAE Derby in Dubai comes to Louisville with legendary jockey Yutaka Take, who has only his second Derby mount and first in 21 years. Lani’s estimated Beyer for the UAE victory was an 83 and that’s very low for this level of competition. He’s also turned in some head-scratching (in a bad way) workouts since arriving in the States. No UAE Derby runner has ever hit the board in the Kentucky Derby.
A good bet? Until someone comes over here from Dubai and shows something on Derby Day, it’ll be hard to take them seriously. And Lani doesn’t even seem to be among the most talented UAE shippers in recent years.
Need to know: He has the type of stalking running style that could be beneficial in this particular race, and he most recently showed it off by winning the Tampa Bay Derby with a 100 Beyer (the second-best, last-race speed figure in this field). The problem: That victory wasn’t all that recent. Destin will go into the starting gate Saturday coming off of an eight-week layoff, which would be a record for a modern Kentucky Derby winner.
A good bet? He’s clearly talented — and trainer Todd Pletcher knows how to bring his horses back from long layoffs — but this would be history-making stuff. It’s too big of a concern to spend much money on him.
Need to know: He had some early trouble in the Arkansas Derby and finished third behind Creator and Suddenbreakingnews after placing second in both of the two earlier preps in Arkansas. Hasn’t shown much late in any of his longer races, both of his wins have come at 6 furlongs and he might not like the extra distance Saturday. Victor Espinoza — winner of the last two Derbys and last year’s Triple Crown — will ride Whitmore for the first time.
A good bet? Wouldn’t be that surprised to see him around at the end, but there seem to be better choices — even at 20-1 or longer — to spice up your exotic tickets.
Need to know: His performance over a sloppy track to win the Santa Anita Derby from way back was the most visually impressive of the Derby prep season, though he was a deep closer running into a blazing pace on a surface that some of his fellow competitors clearly disliked. He’s improved a great deal since Nyquist beat him (in a 7-furlong race) in California three months ago. Another closer who should be fine with the added distance.
A good bet? If Exaggerator has room to unleash that big burst of speed, look for him to turn the tables on Nyquist, who has won their three previous meetings. Don’t think the Santa Anita was a sloppy fluke.
12—Tom’s Ready (30-1)
Need to know: He’s the only one in the field who hasn’t won a race this year, other than maiden Trojan Nation. Tom’s Ready finished a pretty distant second place to Gun Runner in the Louisiana Derby last time out while running a career-best 85 Beyer. His only career win came at Churchill Downs in September (though he’s lost twice there since then). He’ll likely look to race in the middle of the pack in the early stages.
A good bet? On paper, no. Except that his trainer is Dallas Stewart, who finished second in the 2013 and 2014 Derbys (and the 2015 Preakness) with major long shots. Those didn’t look like much on paper either.
Need to know: He’s undefeated in seven starts, he’s the defending 2-year-old champion and he has the same connections as 2012 Derby winner I’ll Have Another. While a bumpy start forced him to come from off the pace in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, he typically likes to go to the lead or sit right near it. The pace scenario could be beneficial (if he doesn’t chase Danzing Candy), but will he have enough at the end? That’s a major question.
A good bet? The visual of his Florida Derby victory didn’t scream “clear Kentucky Derby favorite,” and the 94 Beyer wasn’t all that great either. Look elsewhere and try to make some money on this race.
Need to know: Until his dud of a fourth-place finish in the Florida Derby, this gray colt was undefeated and on his way to being the clear morning-line favorite Saturday. Maybe he didn’t like the wet surface that day in Florida, but it was still a head-scratcher that resulted in his lowest Beyer (80) in six career starts. Not what you want to see heading into the Kentucky Derby. His previous three Beyers: 95, 95 and 95.
A good bet? What to make of his last race might be the biggest question of the day. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin remains confident, and it seems foolish to throw him out completely, especially against this group.
Need to know: He pressed the pace in the Wood Memorial, took over in the stretch and held off long-shot Trojan Nation for the victory, albeit with the slowest time in the history of the race. Outwork likes to be on or near the lead early and finished second (with a 98 Beyer) to Destin in the Tampa Bay Derby. Just four races under his belt, he went nearly 10 months between his first and second starts due to injuries.
A good bet? He’s progressing well, but that super slow time in the Wood and the possibility of getting caught in a speed duel give pause. Bright future, but won’t be playing him here.
Need to know: Shagaf went into the Wood Memorial with an undefeated record in three starts but never showed anything as the race favorite. He didn’t seem to like the muddy track, never contended and finished fifth. His best Beyer (88) came in his career debut in November. He’ll have 2013 Derby-winning jockey Joel Rosario aboard for the first time Saturday (Irad Ortiz Jr. rode Shagaf in all four previous starts and will be on My Man Sam).
A good bet? He’s impressed during his short time in Louisville preparing for the Derby, but not expecting much out of him during the race itself. Hasn’t shown anything to indicate he’ll be a contender.
17—Mor Spirit (12-1)
Need to know: Somehow, he’s flown under the radar despite the Bob Baffert and Gary Stevens connections and a record of seven races with nothing worse than a second-place finish (and five of those were graded-stakes races). He figures to sit a little off the pace and should be running at the end if he gets a decent trip. Mor Spirit finished second in each of the last two California preps, logging Beyers of 94 and 97.
A good bet? He’s always around at the end, even if he doesn’t always seem that interested to be there. A must play in the exotics and well worth considering for the top spot.
Need to know: The Florida Derby was supposed to be a two-horse showdown between Nyquist and Mohaymen, but it was Majesto who got up to finish second behind the Kentucky Derby favorite, despite running on what was apparently the wettest part of the track. It took him five tries to break his maiden before that. Conditioned by decorated Venezuelan trainer Gustavo Delgado, Majesto will be ridden by Emisael Jaramillo, the all-time winningest jockey in Venezuela.
A good bet? Majesto never looked like he was going to seriously challenge Nyquist in the Florida stretch, and it would be fairly surprising to see him on the board after Saturday’s race.
19—Brody’s Cause (12-1)
Need to know: He raced near the back of the pack in the Blue Grass Stakes before unleashing a furious rally around the final turn and pulling away in the stretch to win it. “Brody” definitely needed the win after a distant seventh-place finish to Destin a month earlier in the Tampa Bay Derby. He also finished third from off the pace in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last year and broke his maiden at Churchill in his only start there.
A good bet? The Blue Grass looked good, but he only earned a 91 Beyer (which is a career best) for his effort. Another closer in a field full of them, there will probably be better values from that group.
20—Danzing Candy (15-1)
Need to know: He went wire-to-wire and earned a 100 Beyer to win the Grade II San Felipe over Mor Spirit and Exaggerator before setting blazing-fast fractions on the front end of the Santa Anita Derby and fading to a distant fourth in his next start. He’s the clear speed in this race, and he’ll be featured prominently on your TV screen early barring a disastrous start. Not sure he has enough to hang around late.
A good bet? If he can settle down on the lead, no one chases him early and the distance is to his liking, maybe he can do it. But that’s asking for too perfect a scenario.