The 144th running of the Kentucky Derby will be one of the most competitive renewals I can remember.
It causes me to flash way back to the 1957 Derby when a nine-horse field had at least five superstars in the race.
Gallant Man, Round Table, Bold Ruler, Federal Hill and Better Bee met at the starting gate and none of them won the race. The winner was Iron Liege from Calumet Farm in Lexington, Ky.
Gen. Duke did not make the race. He was the probable overwhelming favorite but was scratched Derby Week due to injury. He also was from Calumet Farm.
This year, I don’t see how anyone can bet any multiple wagers, such as trifectas or superfectas, with confidence. I think picking an exacta and even a winner is going to be very difficult.
There are probably nine horses that I could pick and maybe still not have the winner. The field is just that strong.
I may be wrong, but I think this is the first time that two winners of Breeders’ Cup races have appeared in the Derby.
The call is for rain today and Friday, but unless it comes later in the afternoon Saturday, the track should be fine. The Churchill Downs track crew is among the very best and the track dries well.
My only worry is that if it rains today and Friday and then dries out, the track will tend to favor speed horses.
After way too much studying of the race, here are my predictions in reverse order. (Blended Citizen is on the “also eligible” list and would need an early scratch to get in the field.)
21 – Bravazo: I think D. Wayne Lukas is just happy to be in the Derby again. If this horse wins, they should build a statue of Lukas at every track in the country because he would be a miracle worker.
20 – Promise Fulfilled: A horse with this much speed never stays the route in the Derby.
19 – Instilled Regard: Don’t see him doing much.
18 – Noble Indy: He doesn’t have as much class as some others.
17 – Combatant: He always seems to run a good race. He could hit the board.
16 – Solomini: He has been beaten by too many others in the field.
15 – Vino Rossi: Flameaway has beaten him twice.
14 – Magnum Moon: Undefeated but has a tendency to drift out in the stretch. Is he hurting or just losing focus?
13 – Enticed: Has been beaten by too many in the field. He had decent form in New York.
12 – Firenze Fire: At one time, he was near the top of the list. If he could regain his form from last year, he could be tough. Good play for exotics.
11 – Bolt d’Oro: He may not have the speed to contend with the others.
10 – Blended Citizen: If he gets in the field, he could make a late close.
9 – My Boy Jack: This horse could be closing on the leaders late. Jockey Kent Desormeaux can look like the top rider in the nation or he can stink up the place. Which Desormeaux are we going to get?
8 – Lone Sailor: This horse could be the real sleeper. If he gets his pace, he could be tough. I’ve heard many good reports on his works in Kentucky.
7 – Flameaway: Has as much grit as any horse you will see. He won’t give up easily. It would be nice to see Ocala’s Mark Casse in the winner’s circle.
6 – Free Drop Billy: He has run against all the good ones and could be helped by the speed of his entry-mate, Promises Fulfilled.
5 – Audible: He really hasn’t done anything wrong. Trainer Todd Pletcher doesn’t do well in the Derby. You have to expect one of his horses to finish close to the board and Audible seems to me to be his best shot. You can bet Pletcher is hoping for a hard track.
4 – Hofburg: He is this year’s “wise guy” horse. His name is on everybody’s tongue. It would be great for racing if trainer Billy Mott wins the Derby. He’s too good of a trainer to not win one. He’s very cagey and brought out an antique halter for Hofburg in workouts.
3 – Justify: This could be one of trainer Bob Baffert’s best Derby horses. The only drawback I see is that he has only run three times, and in those three starts, he has only beaten 14 horses and must now run in a 20-horse field. He’s a big, beautiful horse that could prove he doesn’t need the experience.
2 – Good Magic: Any other year and he would probably be the overwhelming favorite. I loved this horse as a 2-year-old and he fulfilled my confidence when he won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and was named 2-year-old of the year.
1 – Mendelssohn: He also won a Breeders’ Cup race, taking Juvenile Turf. I liked him in that race and I really was impressed when he won the UAE Derby in Dubai by 18 lengths in his first race on a dirt surface. He looked as if he could have won by more if the jockey wanted. This horse could be the real thing. The question is if he will go to the lead or sit back. The Europeans have wanted a Derby winner for a long time and trainer Aidan O’Brien knows what he is doing. Mendelssohn, whose sister is the champion Beholder, sold at auction for $3 million.
I look for sons of Scat Daddy to do well in the race. Scat Daddy, who died in 2015, is the sire of Flameaway, Justify, Mendelssohn and Combatant.
Good luck and let’s hope for a safe race.
Finally, here’s my Kentucky Oaks prediction for Friday race: Rayya, Midnight Bisou, Monomoy Girl, Eskimo Kisses, Kelly’s Humor.