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Kentucky Derby preview

It's America's big day of racing, where 90% of them will be there to be seen and most won't have a clue what difference Churchill Downs Inc's latest takeout hike does to shaft them on every bet placed. Throw in the standard arguments about race-day medication in the US and the recent New York Times/PETA expose on yesterday's Oaks-winning trainer Steve Asmussen, and racing in North America could be in better health.

Still, it's one of the elite races and great occasions of the world, and stepping up to the plate is Jon da Silva again, @creamontop, with his preview in a very American style. (No I don't understand Brisnet figures either...)

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The Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum Brands

They say you should avoid food additive E-numbers which you can’t with Yum Brands…

Yum! Brands, Inc. or Yum! is a United States-based Fortune 500 corporation. Yum! operates or licenses Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hut, and WingStreet restaurants worldwide.

There are dangerous E numbers in the race too, lots of em …. E means Early Pace horse - see Wildcat Red's write up and General a Rod's too for more on the subject. I worry that the best horse and 2/1 favourite in this race California Chrome may get hurt by them.

If the race is a burn up for the lead given the pronounced forward running styles it will take a really strong pace horse to win. It has happened and of course if all jockeys/public expect pace you often see one get loose on the front as everyone takes a pull. Last two runnings have seen a very fast early pace but Bodemeister nearly held on after blasting hard early two years ago. Last year despite the points system ensuring horses at least had run well in two turn routes to qualify Palace Malice lobbed in a 45 and change first four furlong bomb which led to about seven horses dying on the final turn and chaos ensuing with what turned out to be the best horse subsequently Will Take Charge being baulked by the retreating rump of latest Aiden O’Brien "he’s so much speed" horse Verrazano.

Can You Excuse A Bad Last Run?

I often like to excuse performances but a bad final trial in a series of races as horses work towards stepping up in trip and class and handling the chaos of a 20 runner Derby field probably should be seen as fatal to a horse’s chances. Partly due to the need to earn a place nothing comes here off less than 2 preps. Also most horses ran no more than 5 weeks ago so recovery is harder to imagine.

The Main Players for me

California Chrome Last three Brisnet speed ratings (most recent first) 106 102 94
The horse who has California dreaming (sorry) after straight wins. Has had 10 starts so is experienced in a way we in Europe will be surprised at. After putting seven lengths into a Grade 2 field he then pumped five into a solid Grade 1 field in the Santa Anita Derby. This is on what evidence we have the best horse in the race and deserved favourite. He has the pace to get on or near the lead whatever lines up here. I suspect he will see off the other pace and then can something run him down?

Vicar's in Trouble 104 92 88
Has had five runs and another with a progressive profile. Beaten two starts back in the Risen Star before bouncing back to win in the Gr2 Louisiana Derby. All three wins have come from on the pace, two with 11111 as the pace line and the other off 22111 - those being the position out of gate, 2F, 4F, Last Call (varies with distance) and at the finish. In his defeats 73333 and 76423. Danger is therefore he might get sucked into a likely hard pace, faster horses early or a slow break. Gets the 1 post to power to the lead I just think it’ll be too hot for him.

Wicked Strong 103 89 80
Stepped up big time in the Wood Memorial Gr1 after passing tired horses to grab fourth in an Optional Claimer to Constitution after a striping in the Holy Bull Gr2. The Wood and his 2yo run in the Remsen show a horse who entered the straight erratically before finishing hard. Will experience in what will his seventh race mean he will be running from further? Big thing looks set to relish the distance having taken five lengths from the last call most of it in the final ninth furlong of the Wood. Can he run outside New York? Draws Wide.

Samraat 99 99 99 99
I put four speed figures up for this horse to show a lack of progression. Went off favourite for the Wood before being run down late by Wicked Strong. Will be close to the pace but probably not on it.

Danza 104 87 96
Surprise winner of the Arkansas Derby Gr1 and it was said he was by a sprinter out of a sprinter. Nonetheless dismissed his field and leave out one run off a break and his record looks better albeit only four runs - like Wicked Strong another with a poor run in Florida where the constant refrain was the track favoured speed. Got a perfect trip in his win going shortest route and bursting up the rail. Hard to weigh up. The Marmite or Vegemite horse depending on your hemisphere. Drawn four so could get a nice sit behind Vicar’s in Trouble with California Chrome in gate five.

Intense Holiday 100 99 91
Closer who stayed on remorselessly to win Gr2 Risen Star. Well beaten in the Holy Bull where Wicked Strong was even worse. Fourth, one place behind Wicked Strong in the Remsen as a two year old. The type who if he won this would be worth opposing with your own money in the shorter smaller field Preakness. Beaten 3.5L in the Louisiana Derby by front running Vicar's in Trouble.

Chitu 103 96 89
Won three of four and captured the Gr 3 Sunland Derby last time. Prior beaten by Candy Boy who was later assassinated by California Chrome. Another who shows E/P8 (more below) which means he has outstanding early toe but can rate (press) just behind the pace.

Commanding Curve 98 89 91
Stone closer who made progress in the Louisana Derby off a wide trip. As said I think this sets up for a closer and he is a closer. Numbers just good enough to make the shortlist for me plus off two starts this year maybe can improve.

Also Running or Long Shots

Dance With Fate 99 89 88
Closer who has the third highest points by dint of winning the Bluegrass Stakes on Keeneland's Synthetic surface (Synthetic so much better a label than All Weather IMO). Two races on dirt include an eighth of 13 in the Breeders Cup juvenile. Needs to improve for dirt and that seems unlikely.

Wildcat Red 97 100 97
The Speed of the Speed. Gets an E8 from Brisnet which means Early Speed lead horse and the maximum speed is defined as E8 with E7 next. Has fought General A Rod three times finishing in front twice each beat the other by a head before both beaten by Constitution in the Florida Derby. The longer distance of that race at least providing separation of a 1.75L over General A Rod. Flat our speed unlikely to get the distance.

General A Rod 96 100 95
Like Wildcat Red as said above. He's an E/P8 which is an E8 who can press pace and does not have to be on the lead. These two should prevent California Chrome dominating and contribute to an on paper burn up.

We Miss Artie 94 80 93
Closer who just got up in the Spiral on synths. Speed figures shy. The 80 is a dirt score when beaten by Wildcat Red and General A Rod. The 93 a turf start. Seventh in the Breeders Cup Juvenile (ran to 88). Line through job frankly.

Ride On Curlin 99 98 87
Well beaten by Danza in the Arkansas Derby. Prior to that a length behind Hopportunity in the Rebel. Has been run away from late in his last three starts. Albeit some tough trips and by monster dirt horse Curlin. Only won a maiden and entry level allowance.

Tapiture 96 99 99
Second in the Rebel to Hopportunity before a no show in the Arkansas Derby. By Tapit which gives him a half chance of being madder than Angela Merkel when she found out Obama was listening to her phone calls and he reminded her of the videocall in her negligee with the cocker spaniel. A good winner of the Gr3 Southwest prior. Not progressing essentially and is better than many marginal contenders but no reason to see much more improvement.

Medal Count 97 94 89
Earned his place on Synths after a nine length loss in the Fountain of Youth behind Wildcat Red. Another who needs to improve again for Dirt and a big field. Come from behind type. Beaten 17L in the BC Juvenile. Two chances, none and just none, zero.

Candy Boy 96 97 94
Took on the monster California Chrome and got leathered hanging on for third which got him in here. On screen he looked a massive beast and negotiating 20 runners here might not be ideal if he was good enough. Prior had beaten Chitu in the Gr 2 R B Lewis. However has also been handed spankings by headcase Tap it Rich and Über but injured Shared Belief. In short Müllered by top performers so is not likely to turn into one here?

Uncle Sigh 94 99 98
Traded paint with Samraat in the Withers and Gotham coming out a narrow 2nd twice before being blown away by Wicked Strong in the Wood Memorial. Another whose run style is E, E5, but with no obvious reason for his slipping back for his first try at 9 furlongs (2 turns) hard to fancy to step forward.

Vinceremos 67 93 92
Flopped on Synths last start before that respectable but hardly in the context of this win threatening stuff on dirt at Tampa. Theoretical win odds in that a million Black Swan events can happen at once but they’re unlikely.

Harry’s Holiday 67 93 81
Another to flopperooney in the Bluegrass on synths. Last four runs on synths so connections will be taking the comp’ed day out as they do not seem so convinced either. He is another biggish E number E6.

Pablo Del Monte 95 89 91
The late addition with defection of Hopportunity. Adds an E6 to the mixture but has been beaten in Florida by General A Rod and Dance With Fate and since I don’t fancy them…

Conclusion

If you're brave, flood the exotics with closers and at least you'll know your fate quickly if something walks the dog in 47 and change to the 2nd call... Put the kettle on relax always next year.

The speed is all over this but again these are horses who have qualified over routes with no sprinter spoilers like Trinniberg who probably caused Bodemeister's loss forcing him through hard fractions. I'd love to see a true star here but suspect it sets up for the Grinders and will be looking very exotically at Intense Holiday and Commanding Curve but the best of the closers for me is Wicked Strong with his wide draw. I have doubts, such as his form away from NY, but last year for instance Orb had the widest trip in the race and it's not necessarily a huge disadvantage to a closer to be wide.

1pt Wicked Strong WHill 10/1
1/2 pt Commanding Curve general 40/1


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