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Kentucky Derby preview

The first weekend in May is always a cracker for international racing buffs - Guineas weekend at Newmarket and the one day racing really hits the mainstream in the US, for the Kentucky Derby. Avid US racing fan and blog regular, Jon da Silva, @creamontop, dons the magnifying glass and runs over the field...

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The Run For The Roses

After reading this guide check out www.kentuckyderby.com which puts to shame any online build up to any race in the UK.

To qualify for the Kentucky Derby you actually have to win or run close in graded races. Indeed some of the contenders start running in January. It is likely you will have seen all the runners have to race to an extent unlike say a Derby horse in England who had a maiden win followed by a jog sprint trial or two. Whilst the Kentucky Derby route is now down to two or three runs that year for many the need to get qualifying points means most horses must win an early trial or place in the top four in a later trial.

Race is on a dirt surface but not all the preps are on it to add some wild card to the equation. Churchill Downs has long straights and tight bends for a US course. In my experience it gives most running styles a chance but for closers I'd want bigger odds due to luck in a 20 runner affair. Like all races where there is a big field and unknown distance people fixate on staying. From an exotics point of view non stayers will beat most stayers by dint of track position but winner will likely be a true stayer not just a well positioned front runner who no one got a lick at. It's also a dirt track that seems to offer horses with Synth form and Turf form like Animal Kingdom (2011 winner) and Dullahan (3rd last year) a shot.

Horses in Post Position Order. Prices are DRF Morning Lines and not betting odds.
BTW Synths=Synthetics=All Weather

Black Onyx 50/1
Came 5 wide to win the Spiral on Synthetics in a Grade III. Beaten 19 lengths when on Dirt in January over 7F. Other two starts on dirt on off Turf races. Clearly improving but connections have been hedging their bets on surface.
Oxbow 30/1
Has the services of legend Gary Stevens. Progress stopped in last race when fifth in the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn. Prior to that just run down late in the Rebel over 1m and a sixteenth. Some bad luck in draws and runs but from the two draw will have to bob and weave in a bigger field. Pedigree suggests stamina but possibly too slow to be in position to challenge. Trained by D Wayne Lukas who apparently taught Gerard Butler, the trainer, all he knows.
Revolutionary 10/1
3 draw and the master of the clean inside trip Borel on board. Actually this was one I thought would be shorter with jockey and draw perfect but rejected by Castellano. Additionally well suited and placed for a wet track. The 3rd in his last race Departing won the Illinois Derby nicely. He's won his last three including a Grade II and III. Appears to stay well. My main doubt is he was five wide last time in 14 runner race and 12th at the first call (two furlongs in). May need luck but will likely have the shortest route if Borel riding him for the first time has his way.
Golden Soul 50/1
4th to Revolutionary. Beaten 11.5L by Oxbow. Come from behinder forced wide every time and DRF numbers suggest distance an issue. Good luck.
Normandy Invasion 12/1
Castellano apparently chose the Wood 2nd Normandy over the shorter Revolutionary. Looks like he will relish every yard of ten furlongs but may need every yard of 11F. The one who most impressed immediately impressed me closing down Verrazano late in the Wood albeit Goldencents was a sexier visual run. Wood seems a perfect prep but he's only won one of five.
Mylute 15/1
Neck behind Revolutionary in the Louisiana Derby after a poor un to start the year at the same track (Fair Grounds). Hard to know if he's holding the price of Revolutionary back or is being pulled in by Revolutionary. Think the other horse was good value for his neck personally on visual impression (which is never wrong!).
Giant Finish 50/1
Would be an absolute shocker. Beaten 2.5L by marginal contender Black Onyx last time
Goldencents 5/1
This one is 9s with some bookies. Not bred for the distance. Well beaten two starts ago. Nonetheless in his last start in the Santa Anita Derby he left the penultimate form behind absolutely blitzing home in 1.48.76 for the nine furlongs and a Beyer figure of 105 (quite good). Hard to imagine him with a 8 draw being anything but well positioned especially with closers inside him. Trained by the lovely Doug 'Drug' O'Neill. If you just saw the race and did no analysis post or prior would be your selection. Same route and trainer as last year's winner I'll Have Another.
Overanalyze 15/1
Now there is a name to conjure with in thoroughbred racing, computing and economics. Won a trial in the Arkansas Derby but dismissed by Vyjack in the Gotham. Last time win in the Arkansas Derby was slow time with a 39.37 second final 3f. As a two year old beat the closing Normandy Invasion over 9F in the Remsen. His form can be read as coming to a peak off two improving runs. Possibly an unsexy one to look at if he drifts.
Palace Malice 20/1
2nd on Synths in the Blue Grass. Prior 7th after a bad trip to Revolutionary in the Louisiana Derby on Dirt. By Curlin out of a Royal Anthem mare so I'd be shocked if the distance is an issue except in that he may want more. May be coming from the middle to back but failed to handle traffic in his last dirt start.
Lines of Battle 30/1
UAE Derby winner on sickly sticky synth Tapeta. AOB has had a fifth in the KD. RPR 111 for UAE when 125 likely needed here and on a different surface. Check PMU if you must 20s here although could be a sexy pick in USA.
Itsmyluckyday 15/1
Bust the Shanghai Bobby bubble two back in the Holy Bull and then outfinished by Orb in the Florida Derby after a break. Not obvious on that how he turns the form over but as a more prominent runner might be better placed in a race with traffic issues and a chance he was being prepped. Veteran of 10 races already.
Falling Sky 50/1
Has turned into a pumpkin when passing the mile marker last two starts. Has 7.25L to find on Verrazano, 5L on Overanalyze and 4.25L on Java's War. Still great day out for connections.
Verrazano 4/1
The cognoscenti were piling on after his second start when he won 16 wickets at Gulfstream over a mile with his best Beyer of 105. Yet as James Willoughby was saying a horse climbing the ratings will often see their ceiling come down. This certainly appears the case as two easy but not as spectacular wins in better company have made me a doubter (surely the lowest form of life according to sportsmen and women). Yet his form is hardly poor. Tampa victim Java's War won the Blue Grass and Wood Memorial victim Normandy Invasion is the closer being backed. I would if you are interested watch the Wood replay and decide was that a horse winning easily or hitting the end of his tether. Four from four so also inexperienced but unbeaten which feeds media narratives and over betting (under laying as the Septics call it).
Charming Kitten 20/1
3rd in the Bluegrass. Good Turf form prior. Turf bred. A wild card close behind Palace Malice and Java's War in the Bluegrass. Never started on dirt.
Orb 7/2
Won the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby. Claude 'Shug' McGaughey does not have many runners here and has a worthy favourite. An old school trainer who is not as free with the needle or Derby entries. Chance is obvious and whilst price is short hard to avoid in exotics. Times don't blow me away and Beyer's back that up. From a betting point of view I would not be rushing to back a come from behind-er as short.
Will Take Charge 20/1
One to avoid if it gets sloppy or muddy on his one shocking start on that surface. Beat longshot Oxbow narrowly last time. Not been further than 8.5 furlongs and breeding not great for more.
Frac Daddy 50/1
Another blown away by Overanalyze in the Arkansas Derby. Beaten 18L by Orb prior. 16.75L by Itsmyluckyday. Would be a shock and hard to spot what logic could predict this as a Black Swan candidate.
Java's War 15/1
Last to first in the Blue Grass on Synths. 2nd to Verrazano on dirt over 8.5F so one could see him get closer over further. Has won on turf. Has been last at some point will require luck if that is tried and wide draw suggests he'll tuck in at the back to me.
Vyjack 15/1
Starts in the car park. Beaten by Verrazano and Normandy Invasion in the Wood. Won the Gotham. Won four out of five. I felt the nine furlongs of the Wood as far as he wanted to go and will have a hard trip from here with stamina doubts. Given pressing style most disadvantaged by the draw.

Reserve Fear The Kitten 50/1 turfer bred well beaten on synths. Deep Closer.

Conclusion

Market pretty mature now and without a short favourite to like or hate one can guess at the US Tote and what will be backed and what will drift. Verrazano is the potential star but I am betting he runs short or is found out by experience. I think it's a race about odds with no other outstanding runner - Orb being very solid off two wins.

A good judge I know suspects Normandy Invasion will be over bet even though as potentially a deep closer (comes from a long way back) he may need luck I'd grab UK 10s if he's your cup of Tea - one I would consider at that price too. I will be looking for value in the two who maybe can step forward off their trials Overanalyze & Itsmyluckyday - it could be argued prepped last time and look progressive and dirt horses. For my exotics Revolutionary (Rain bet!), Goldencents, Java's War and Orb additionally.

If I had one at likely odds Itsmyluckyday. Sentimentally will be rooting for McGaughey's Orb.

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