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Kentucky Derby preview

The first Saturday in May means Guineas action at Newmarket but even bigger action in the States. The international racing spotlight heads to Churchill Downs and the famous Run for the Roses. One of the world's great races and a day that needs to be on your bucket list.

On the mound with the preview is another fan of international racing, @brettfrompv.

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The 141st Kentucky Derby presented by Yum Brands
Churchill Downs
Group 1, 2000m, US$2,000,000
1834 local, 2334 BST, 0834 (Sunday) AEST
Market


Saturday sees the running of the 141st Kentucky Derby. The first leg of the American Triple Crown, the Derby is the most famous race in the US. Qualification is achieved through a tiered points system consisting of 35 races that was introduced in 2013, replacing the previous graded stakes system. Interestingly, since its introduction the two leading points earners, California Chrome and Orb, were both successful in the Derby. For those wishing to follow that lead this year’s leading points gatherer was International Star who accumulated one point more then Santa Anita Derby winner Dortmund.

18 of the 35 races in this year’s series were won by favourites with another seven favourites running second. Along with the fact the race will have five horses that have already crossed the million dollar prizemoney threshold and some, in my opinion, above average ratings for some non-traditional lead ups gives this year’s Derby tremendous depth. Of course beyond the great spectacle this also makes it a great challenge for punters. Here is a rundown on this year's runners, in order of points earned:

International Star - Only two horses have completed the Louisiana-Kentucky Derby with Grindstone most recently in 1996, before that you have to go back to 1924. An excellent performance in the Louisiana Derby registering some nice closing splits makes International Star a genuine threat. He is all heart and doesn’t have the speed of some of his rivals but will be as tough as any down the stretch. The one question being does he have the class to win the Derby. SCRATCHED.

Dortmund - The undefeated Dortmund will certainly have plenty of admirers come Derby day on the basis of his strong Santa Anita Derby win. The Santa Anita Derby, since reverting back to Dirt in 2011, has produced two Derby winners in I’ll Have Another and California Chrome. I think Dortmund rated slightly below these two performances. Strong wins in the Lewis and San Felipe stakes prior to the Santa Anita Derby over Derby rivals will make him one of the favoured runners. A horse with high cruising speed, Dortmund can settle in the lead or just off the speed and looks a big chance.

Carpe Diem - A last winner of the Blue Grass Stks which has been a poor Derby guide in recent years. Since Street Sense won the Derby off a second in the Blue Grass in 2007, 25 subsequent Derby runners coming through the Blue Grass have only managed two placings. I find him a bit hard to line up given the Blue Grass was back on Dirt for the first time since 2006 and the new Keeneland track therefore hasn’t provided meaningful measurable performances. On face value I think he would have to improve to win the Derby though a win wouldn’t surprise.

American Pharoah (Yes, they have spelt Pharaoh wrong) - Stablemate of Dortmund and American Champion two year old last year. After being defeated on debut , American Pharoah recorded back-to-back Group 1 victories before missing the Breeders Cup juvenile with an injury. Certainly has recovered from that, scoring two outstanding wins as a three year old in the Rebel Stakes and an easing up 8 length win in the Arkansas Derby. Clearly the best Arkansas Derby performance, in my view, since Afleet Alex in 2005 (who won the Preakness and Belmont after being desperately unlucky running third in Kentucky). An amazingly talented horse with a beautiful action and untapped potential, for mine he is clearly the horse to beat.

Frosted - Winner of the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct last start, Frosted, who runs under Godolphin ownership, came off an ordinary performance in the Fountain of Youth Stakes and a subsequent throat operation and some riding tactic changes to put in a strong performance to win the Wood. The Wood hasn’t produced a Derby placegetter since 2004, I do however feel this year’s running can be rated higher then in recent years. Is it going to be enough though, given the quality and depth of this year’s Derby field? Among the second tier of chances.

Mubtaahij - Trained by arguably the world's best trainer in Mike De Kock, Mubtaahij comes off a win in the UAE Derby on World Cup night in Dubai. Aided by a perfect run in transit he proved too strong for a field that included 3 well regarded Japanese horses and a couple of European group winners. Think it’s fair to say the UAE Derby certainly had greater depth than the collection of US lead up races. Brings a bit of the unknown to the race but is a genuine winning chance.

Materiality - Looking to become the fourth in ten years to complete the Florida-Kentucky Derby double, Materiality would also break one the races biggest hoodoos with no horse having won the Derby without having a start as a two year old since 1882. Having made his debut in January, Materiality has come a long way in a short time. The plus is he should still have improvement in him, the downside for me is that the track was noted as racing slow on Florida Derby day. I’m not convinced that his figures are good enough to be a Derby winner.

El Kabeir - Last start third in the Wood Memorial. El Kabeir continued his consistent three year old form which includes wins in the Group 2 Gotham and Jerome Stakes. In the Wood he was always well back and finished the race off ok. Though difficult seeing him improving enough to win, he has some notable things in his favour - he will appreciate the extra trip, has a Group win as a two year old at Churchill Downs and significantly has three time Derby winning jockey Calvin Borrel aboard, replacing CC Lopez who came in for some criticism after his ride in the Wood. Not the roughest. SCRATCHED.

Upstart - Ultra-consistent galloper who boasts three Group 1 placings, a Group 2 win and Group 2 second, albeit after being relegated after causing interference in the Fountain of Youth Stakes back in February. Runner up in the Florida Derby and as noted I’m slightly dubious over that race. However you certainly can’t knock his consistency.

Far Right - Runner-up to favourite American Pharoah in Arkansas. He sat back at the rear of the field a made a sustained run but still finished eight lengths behind American Pharoah. Prior to that scored nice wins in the Smarty Jones Stakes and Southwest Stakes. In his nine starts he has finished no further back then fourth. Has some experience also at Churchill Downs including a win. Hard to see him winning but another with an outside place chance.

Itsaknockout - Was second across the line in Fountain of Youth but was promoted to first after Upstart caused interference in the run home. Went to the Florida Derby undefeated but was beaten out of sight into fourth. Could not have him based on that performance.

Firing Line - After two close seconds to Derby rival Dortmund, including leading him in the home straight at Santa Anita only for Dortmund to kick back and overhaul him in the Lewis Stakes, Firing Line made short work of his Sunland Derby rivals last time out in brilliant fashion. A track record and margin of 14 lengths over his six rivals brings him into serious Derby contention. Though Sunland is not usually a guide to Kentucky (Mine that Bird who won the Derby at 50-1 after fourth in Sunland Derby being the only meaningful reference) and he beat six questionable rivals in terms of quality, there is a lot to like about Firing Line. An on speed runner with a strong finish his jockey, three time Derby winner Gary Stevens, seems to have a lot of confidence in this horse. A big player.

Danzig Moon - Chased home Carpe Diem at his last two starts with a fourth in the Tampa Bay Derby and a three length second in the Blue Grass. Finished off well his last two starts and should appreciate the extra distance of the Derby. Will get home hard and if the race produces a break neck speed. A sneaky chance to run into the placings at good odds.

War Story - Chased home International Star his last three starts including a third in the Louisiana Derby last start. Hard to see him turning the tables and appears to be a little bit off the best chances in the race.

Tencendur – The Derby will be the first run away from Aqueduct for the Wood Memorial runner up Tecendur. Was no match for Frosted over the concluding stages in the Wood where he started at 20-1. Did make a sustained run which Frosted was able to tag on to before pulling out and going past him. Was competitive without looking a winner before that in the Withers and Gotham Stks. Suspect he has a nice future but difficult to see him winning here.

Stanford - Made the pace in the Louisiana Derby and was overhauled by International Star. Did like the fight he showed in the straight. He previously had run second to subsequent Florida Derby winner Materiality in the Islamorada also after making the pace. Looks like a horse on the up and will race handy to the speed. He should give a good sight.

Mr Z - Has been placed to a number of his Derby rivals including Carpe Diem, Dortmund, Far Right and American Pharoah. Honest but would need to dramatically improve to turn the tables on his rivals here.

Ocho Ocho Ocho - A disappointing three year old debut finishing eighth in the San Felipe Stks behind Dortmund that was followed by a third in the Blue Grass Stakes where he was six lengths behind Carpe Diem. Would need a significant improvement to win here.

Bolo -Earns his shot at the race after running third to Dortmund in the San Felipe Stakes and the Santa Anita Derby. Was ok in the Santa Anita Derby after not having the best of runs. Is a stakes winner on grass and the thought seems to be that will be his best surface going forward. If he can handle the Dirt at Churchill Hill Downs though, I suspect he has the talent that could make him a good long shot.

Keen Ice - Makes the field having run fourth and third at his last two starts to International Star. Bred to not have any trouble with the distance but it’s difficult to get enthusiastic about his chances beyond that.

Summary
In what’s shaping as a classic Derby with tremendous depth and talent, it’s a difficult race to find the winner. I keep coming back to American Pharoah. Won’t be taking silly short odds about him though in such a strong field and after drawing barrier 18. We've seen in the past though horses can overcome wide draws in this race. Firing Line looks to be on the up and will be a nice each-way price currently quoted at 12s. Bolo and El Kabeir look the best longshots.

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