By Michael Patricks
The 145th renewal of the Greatest Two Minutes in Sport is set for Saturday, May 4th from Churchill Downs. That’s right, the Kentucky Derby is just around the corner and the Jockey Club at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds is your best bet to take in all the heart-pounding thrill and excitement for the Run for the Roses. The Jockey Club will open at 7:15 a.m. on Derby Day with post time for the Kentucky Derby set for 3:50 p.m. locally.
Let’s dive right in and take a look at all 20 horses to be sent post ward in racing’s most prestigious race.
1-War of Will 20/1- Fancied him in the Louisiana Derby coming off a run of three consecutive open-length victories once he transitioned from turf-to-dirt. Watching the Louisiana Derby live, it was clear to me a few jumps from the gate something had happened with War of Will’s loss of action. Despite the torrid pace, War of Will was unable to make up any ground and his jock basically wrapped up on him. He was 4/5 in the Louisiana Derby and now 20/1 on Derby Day. Huge problem drawing the inside for the Kentucky Derby and it’s entirely possible he’ll be 18th or 19th under the Twin Spires the first time around. Talented colt has questions to answer about his quality from this terrible post position and for that reason alone, I’ll pass and make him beat me.
2-Tax 20/1 ML- Like War of Will in the Louisiana Derby, I actually liked Tax in the Wood Memorial and had a Win and Place ticket on him. The Wood was a roughly run race with all kinds of traffic problems heading into the clubhouse turn, however since I had a bet on Tax, I can tell you he avoided a lot of the collateral damage all around him. Tax had a perfect trip in the Wood Memorial with Tacitus right behind him. When the real running began, Tacitus went by Tax without much difficulty, so the indelible image I have burned in my memory is the vision of Tax being unable to stick with Tacitus. Tax couldn’t capitalize there with a dream setup, so how is he supposed to get the best of Tacitus and 18 other horses in the process on Saturday? Leaving him on the cutting room floor.
3-By My Standards 20/1- Got the candy in the Louisiana Derby at 22/1 in order to get here. Had a very smooth trip in that race and benefitted from the aforementioned War of Will’s problems on race day. His 97 Beyer is a good number on paper but he’s out to prove the Louisiana Derby is no fluke and that he wasn’t simply beating up on Junior Varsity competition. Plenty of rest and he will be a healthy price but he’s drawn inside and could get caught in the firing line leaving the gate with his rider needing to establish position. Feels a bit dicey to me.
4-Gray Magician 50/1- Sporadically raced colt became eligible with his second-place finish in the UAE Derby which was won by Plus Que Parfait. His highest Beyer is an 80 and even though his trainer Peter Miller is as clever as there is in the game, this may be too big a hill to climb for this colt at this point in his racing career. Would be one jaw dropping magic trick indeed but I’m betting against that happening.
5-Improbable 6/1- One of three in here for five-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffert. His Rebel was very solid off the layoff, getting nailed on the wire by Long Range Toddy. He had a real meltdown at the gate in the Arkansas Derby and now the Blinkers will be taken off for his third start off the layoff. Give him credit for making Omaha Beach stretch his legs and run after having a fit himself before the race. However, the fact is you can’t use them all in a 20-horse field and the inescapable truth is that I’m not taking 6/1 on a horse who hasn’t won a race since December and is getting his third rider in as many starts after showing antics at the gate. How will he behave in front of 100,000 plus fans? He can win, but I feel like having the “Baffert” label on him hurts you in the value department as to what his true odds ought to be to win this race. Will use underneath.
6-Vekoma 20/1- Grinded into the Fountain of Youth trifecta off a five-month absence, most likely needing the race. He then came home with authority in the Blue Grass at Keeneland, opening up with authority to stamp himself as a Kentucky Derby starter. His Beyers appear a little light to that of other primary contenders but he’s not without a shot as a lightly-raced horse. Vekoma has an awkward way of traveling where he swings his left foot around like an egg-beater, making him one of the more unique horses in the race to watch perform. I wouldn’t talk you off taking a home run cut with him, but he will need to take a huge step forward to be heard from late; chance play.
7-Maximum Security 10/1- As we all know by now, he’s a former $16,000 maiden claimer who somehow escaped purchase and has found his way into the Kentucky Derby field as a real x-factor. He’s got plenty of speed from the gate and is most likely the quickest of the quick. No one has touched him in Florida, but the bottom line is he’s walked over to race from the comfort of his own stall in all four starts and he’ll have to show the same fondness of the Churchill Downs surface to win the Derby. Bodexpress was second to him in the Florida Derby at 1,000,000/1 and followed Maximum Security around in a merry-go-round affair, easily holding second. Does that mean Maximum Security isn’t a good horse? No. But it does give doubt as to the quality of competition he was facing, and he must prove he’s as good as he appears to be on paper.
8-Tacitus 10/1- Got a nice setup in the Wood. Tacitus spied Tax down the back stretch and went by that rival without must resistance. The fractions were pretty fast in that race and to Tacitus’ credit he overcame a bit of the bumper car problems that plagued so many of his rivals in the Gotham. But he’s a horse who seems to take a bit to wind up and appears to be a perfect Belmont Stakes kind of animal (long, grinding stride that just keeps coming). Tacitus might be good enough to get the Roses around his neck, but I feel like his turn of foot doesn’t rate with a few of the true heavyweights. Will look to catch up with him in five weeks.
9-Plus Que Parfait 30/1- Somewhat of a poor man’s Tacitus, Plus Que Parfait is the type of horse who likes to sit back and make a run from downtown when the rider says it’s time to go. Jose Ortiz, who ironically rode Plus Que Parfait in Dubai last time out, understandably opts to stay with Tacitus. His highest dirt Beyer on paper is an 84 at Churchill, but his running style is a real problem in this race and even if he gets a clean trip coming from the clouds, I still think others have more push and more quality through the lane than he possesses. Can’t see it.
10-Cutting Humor 30/1- Breakout performance came via the Sunland Derby, fending off Anothertwistafate who finished 21st in Kentucky Derby points to miss the cut for this race. Cutting Humor had a perfect trip outside Anothertwistafate who had to wait on a tiring horse and try and go around Cutting Humor who got the jump on him. Pletcher is always formidable this time of year but the sheer fact Johnny Velazquez rides neither of his horses on Derby Day is enough to get me off this bandwagon. Pletcher and Lanerie are 0-for-3 together. His Southwest was dismal with seemingly no excuse and I’m inclined to think that’s more of the horse we’ll be seeing on Saturday than the Sunland performance.
11-Haikal 30/1- Bet him in the Gotham and he benefitted from an extreme pace collapse, coming home like his hair was on fire in that one-turn event. Rajiv Maragh took him back in his first two-turn race but he was never really getting to Tacitus or Tax on that day and given the rush hour traffic he’ll see in front of him in this spot…and the fact I think he’s a one-turn horse who has missed a bit of training…I can’t back him in here.
12-Omaha Beach 4/1- Was my top selection, but is scratched due to an entrapped epiglottis.
13-Code of Honor 15/1- Zigzag type on paper appears to be cycling up to a good effort on game day. His Fountain of Youth was his signature performance while benefitting from a perfect trip and then in the Florida Derby he was wide while chasing soft, uncontested fractions and left helpless. So, which horse will we get on Saturday? Johnny V sticks with him over the two Pletcher horses which is a very positive sign and his work on Sunday was solid. McGaughey won this race with Orb in 2013. Nice draw and he can get a piece of this.
14-Win Win Win 15/1- Rider who had the two-year-old success with him gets back on him for the Kentucky Derby and maybe that will bolster his chances. He’s another who likes to close from the parking lot so traffic trouble could be in his forecast. Like Code of Honor, he also sports a good drill from Churchill last Sunday where he ended up joining the Mott trainees of Tacitus and Country House, collaring those two in the work. If he can stay out of trouble, this horse could flip the switch and come with a nice run to grab a piece. He’s been the Derby buzz horse this week, so caveat emptor.
15-Master Fencer 50/1- Automatically qualifies due to a “Win and You’re In” event, where he actually finished fourth in the race, and the other three in front of him denied the invitation to run in the Kentucky Derby. That kind of makes you wonder about the “Win and You’re In” concept. If you didn’t win (and Master Fencer certainly didn’t) then why is he in this race? Shouldn’t the winner of the qualifying race have the opportunity to come over to the Kentucky Derby, and if the connections decline, shouldn’t # 20 in earnings (Anothertwistafate) be allowed to run? Just throwing common sense out there… Anyway, the fact no rider from his homeland was willing to make the journey with him tells me everything I want to know. Pass.
16-Game Winner 5/1- Some have been disappointed with his 2019 campaign but I still have a lot of respect for the two-year-old champ. He got beat an eyelash by Omaha Beach in a race he had to have needed (and wasn’t planning on running in originally). Then he did all the heavy lifting on the front end while running his guts out in the Santa Anita Derby, covering extra ground in the process. He’s shown he likes Churchill Downs and Rosario will most likely keep him in striking distance down the backside. Love a horse who isn’t afraid to get in there and grind and I think that’s what it will take to win this installment of the Kentucky Derby. Banking on the professional attitude and mindset of Game Winner to pay dividends on racing’s biggest stage; the pick.
17-Roadster 6/1- Draws next to his stable mate while losing his customary rider to race-favorite but now-scratched Omaha Beach. Florent Geroux picks up the mount and he’s no stranger to Churchill Downs or the big moments that accompany big races. Roadster was thought to be the best of the barn in the summer of 2018, evidenced by his odds-on favoritism in the Del Mar Futurity when he was handled by Game Winner who then assumed the mantle as the top Baffert two-year-old. Roadster has done little wrong in his 2019 campaign but he’s been a little bit more workmanlike in victory than eye-popping and attention grabbing. He beat no one in particular in his first race off the shelf and then had a perfect set up under patient Mike Smith handling, saving every inch of ground into the stretch before finally going by the stubborn and softened up Game Winner. He’ll need to work out a trip dealing with extreme traffic (Roadster usually competes in five and six-horse races). I have my doubts about his ability to answer the bell in the big one; passing on him.
18-Long Range Toddy 30/1- He got trapped in the Southwest before getting through with a clean trip in the Rebel and earning his way to Kentucky, nailing Improbable on the line. His Arkansas Derby was dreadful but came from the 11-hole in a race that he didn’t need to have, so you’re best off probably tossing it out. Steve Asmussen will eventually win a Kentucky Derby but make no mistake it’s a big long shot with Long Range Toddy breaking from the 17th stall. Should have too much to do turning for home but I could see him getting his bucket out to mop up underneath in gimmicks.
19-Spinoff 30/1 ML- By My Standards ran him down in the Louisiana Derby after Spinoff made the lead inside the final furlong to just miss. As mentioned, Johnny V defects from him to Code of Honor so Manny Franco draws the riding engagement. He’s got a real outpost here from this position so expect Franco to shove on him leaving the gate and get him in the upper flight early. Spinoff is by Hard Spun who was really best when running in the 1-mile range and so it’s tough to see him sticking it out approaching the far turn with the type of six-furlong-effort he’ll be asked to give. The parachute will likely deploy reaching the ¼ pole; tough assignment for him having to go around the cape.
20-Country House 30/1 ML- Chestnut has major problems leaving the gate and needs to fix that in a hurry. He’s cobbled together points from the Risen Star, Louisiana Derby and Arkansas Derby and reached this event through purse nibbling. It appears that he’s still figuring this game out and it is understandable that Rosario sides with Game Winner over him. His best fastball is a 91 and that still leaves him with far too much to do when a Beyer approaching 100 is what it will take to win this race. Hope Country House enjoys listening to My Old Kentucky Home because that’s where the fun will likely stop for him. I’ll absolutely fall out of my chair if he gets there.
21-Bodexpress 30/1- If you like maidens breaking from the 20-hole in the Kentucky Derby, then he’s your guy. If you believe in Maximum Security, you probably take some stock in him due to the mere fact that he chased the Florida Derby-winner in vain in his final prep. His Beyers do stack up even though he doesn’t have his diploma in hand while hailing from a cagey Floridian outfit. He’s climbing a mountain, let’s face it. Big Brown won from the 20-hole, but Bodmeister is no Big Brown and I think that’s obvious. He’s got some ability but I would have preferred to see him come back in three weeks at Pimlico.
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