We never know for sure how good a crop of 3-year-olds is until the fall, when its members start to race against older horses. Sometimes we even have to wait until their 4-year-old season to get a true read. But the male foals of 2009, represented by 20 members in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, appear to be a deep bunch.
In fact, the same can be said for the fillies.
Translation: This is a hard year to handicap the Derby and today’s preceding Kentucky Oaks.
Well-matched fields, especially full fields, are good things for those who are wagering. In the case of this year’s Oaks and Derby, the favorites in both races will not be short prices, and there will be plenty of runners at attractive odds.
As an added bonus this year for Frankfort residents, the Derby undercard features Groupie Doll, the latest pride of the capital city. The grade I winner, bred and owned by Frankfort’s own Fred Bradley (and partners) and trained by his son, Buff Bradley, will run in the Humana Distaff Stakes about three hours before the world’s best known race.
Churchill Downs morning linemaker Mike Battaglia made Bodemeister the 4-1 Derby favorite. But this is still Union Rag’s Derby to lose. Had he won the Florida Derby, a race in which he had considerable trouble down the backstretch, Union Rags would have been the favorite. In fact, had he not had a wide trip and been narrowly beaten in last November’s Breeders Cup Juvenile and also won the Florida Derby, he would be unbeaten in six starts and a solid favorite.
There is usually a solid pace in the Derby and this year should be no different. What does make this running different, however, is the presence of Trinniberg, who has never raced beyond seven furlongs and figures to take an easy lead. The others that have early speed – like Bodemeister, Hansen and Take Charge Indy – merely need to break well (not as easy as it sounds), get position, and wait until the leader starts to back up.
I’ve rarely picked a front-runner in the Derby and I’m not going to this year, either. But I’m also not going to pick the horse I had been leaning toward for weeks.
I was ready to pick Creative Cause, who has never run a bad race in eight starts (four wins, two seconds, two thirds) and has the perfect stalking style I like in the Derby. But the signals this week are not all positive. He lost a shoe on the trip east, now is wearing glue-on shoes, and missed going to the track for two days. He hasn’t been galloping like a happy horse.
Creative Cause may win the race anyway, but as a handicapper you like to see as many positive signs as possible going into the Derby.
In post position order, here is one handicapper’s abbreviated comments:
Daddy Long Legs: Lone dirt race dreadful; only one race this year; rail can’t help; fan of the trainer but can’t see it.
Optimizer: Trainer D. Wayne Lukas likes to participate and he certainly knows how to win the race, but don’t think Optimizer belongs with this group.
Take Charge Indy: Like both his races this year; getting good at the right time; has Calvin Borel aboard; live longshot.
Union Rags: Would have preferred outside post; must break well and get position; one to beat.
Dullahan: If race was at Keeneland he would be pick, loves Polytrack; liked his Blue Grass and the way he closes, but not convinced he is fast enough.
Bodemeister: Like my horses to have races as 2-year-olds but this colt does appear the fastest of the field; expecting the experience factor to hinder his chances down the stretch.
Rousing Sermon: Like his trainer, Jerry Hollendorfer, but is another I just don’t think is good enough.
Creative Cause: Would have been my pick had things gone smoothly this week; still capable.
Trinniberg: Just hope when he runs out of gas that he doesn’t bang into a real contender.
Daddy Nose Best: His last two starts and the way he is training make him a live contender; beware.
Alpha: Was never going to get by Gemologist in the Wood Memorial and missed some training since; can’t use.
Prospective: Seems overmatched but said to be training well; will be running late.
Went The Day Well: What I’ve known for years was proven last year with Animal Kingdom ... trainer Graham Motion is top notch; tries to make it back-to-back; factor.
Hansen: See him taking the lead at some point in the race, but don’t see him liking any part of the final furlong.
Gemologist: Done nothing wrong yet; has two wins over the track; should get good spot with speed to his inside; major player.
El Padrino: Wanted to see more in Florida Derby; will be running late.
Done Talking: Race won’t set it up for his closing kick; not good enough.
Sabercat: Training well but another who doesn’t look quite good enough.
I’ll Have Another: Based on last two races and the way he is training, a contender.
Liaison: Give trainer Bob Baffert’s other starter a shot (Bodemeister), not this guy.
When you are all set to pick a horse and then factors force you to decide otherwise, it is hard to have a strong conviction. With that said, this decision came down to Gemologist, Daddy Nose Best, Went the Day Well, Union Rags and Take Charge Indy.
It seems too much to ask Motion two years in a row to win the Spiral Stakes and then the Kentucky Derby; I’m not sure Union Rags got enough out of his Florida Derby (though he has looked great the past two weeks) and Take Charge Indy may not get exactly the pace scenario he wants.
Make it Gemologist, Daddy Nose Best, Union Rags and Take Charge Indy in 2:01 3/5.
For the $100 mythical bankroll: $2 Oaks/Derby Daily Doubles, Believe You Can and Karlovy Vary with Gemologist and Daddy Nose Best; $4 Oaks/Derby Daily Doubles, Amie’s Dini with Gemologist and Daddy Nose Best; $10 exacta box, Gemologist and Daddy Nose Best; $2 trifecta box, Gemologist, Daddy Nose Best, Union Rags, Take Charge Indy; $40 to win Gemologist.