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Kentucky Derby preview


The first Saturday in May is synonymous with the Run for the Roses, the one day of the year that the majority of Americans hear of horse racing in mainstream news. This year takes on a special dimension with world champion trainer Aidan O'Brien pulling out all stops to land America's biggest race with leading chance Mendelssohn.
By popular demand after his winning debut on the Breeders' Cup, it's the return of Nathan Cripps, @hoodooguru81, with his detailed assessment of the classic. 
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On Saturday 5th May (Sunday AEST) we will witness the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby worth $2,000,000 US.
This year, unlike a few of the previous renewals, is a high quality contest. There are four or five outstanding colts that have looked dominant in their lead up races and recorded impressive ratings in doing so. Everything is in place for a brilliant spectacle and given the strength of the race, an exciting finish. We are in for a classic on Saturday! 
Post positions are important for these young horses as they are still inexperienced animals, untried at 2000m, facing a crowd of 150,000 people and racing against 19 other rivals. it is vital they remain relaxed and are able to take up their ideal racing position and get into a comfortable gait.
Favorites have ruled the Kentucky Derby since the implementation of the points-based qualifying system five years ago, winning every Run for the Roses during that time. In 2018 seven of the twenty runners are listed under 12-1 on the morning line, highlighting the competitiveness of this renewal.
RUNNER BY RUNNER ANALYSIS (Morning Line Quote)
1) Firenze Fire (50/1):
Surprise G1 winner at two (1600m) who tailed off disappointingly in the Breeders Cup Juvenile at the end of the two-yearold season. Good first up win at Aqueduct in Jan but hasn't really improved on the racetrack since then, particularly his last two where he's been beaten by a total of 20 lengths in G2 & G3 company. Doubtful he'll get a strong 2000m and his lack of early speed and barrier one spell trouble. He looks hopelessly out of his league here.
Settle in the run: Midfield/Back (13th - 17th)
Predicted Finish: 20th
2) Free Drop Billy (30/1):
Trotted up in the G1 Breeders Futurity at Keeneland last October at two but another who finished down the track in the Breeders Cup Juvenile at Del Mar. After a lovely run in transit he loomed to be a major player in the Holy Bull (1700m G2) but was comprehensively turned aside by Audible. His last two runs in the Gotham and Blue Grass have not been too bad after suffering slight bumps at key stages. He will be at the back of the field on the inside settling down and I think the task of circling or working through this field will prove too great for him here.
Settle in the run: Midfield/Back (13th - 17th)
Predicted Finish: 15th
3) Promises Fulfilled (30/1):
The second of Dale Romans' runners who is blessed with a terrific break and early speed. Will likely hold the top or take a sit just in behind Justify depending on the pace they're going and Mike Smith's (Justify's rider) tactics. Realistically he can't figure if he doesn't lead so figure he will hold the top and try to wire them. He scored a shock by taking the Fountain of Youth at his three-year old seasonal debut but followed up with a horrible tailed off last in the Florida Derby when he set a breakneck tempo. Hard to see him bouncing back off that shocker, and cannot see him going with Justify when the pressure heats up and holding off the closing midfield and backmarkers. Not for mine. 
Settle in the run: Lead (1st - 2nd)
Predicted Finish: 17th
4) Flameaway (30/1):
The son of super hot sire (yet unfortunately now deceased) Scat Daddy has had a really decent three-year old season scoring a G3 win (1700m) and following up with two seconds in G2 company. He's come on quite a bit from his two-year old season and looks to be relishing the longer trips. He's equipped with handy early toe and should be able to take up a forward position on the fence, tucked in behind the front pack. He needs to find a career best to figure in the finish and suspect he'll need some of the top colts to underperform. Can finish mid pack with a sweet run throughout.
Settle in the run: Front Pack/Midfield (3rd-10th)
Predicted Finish: 10th
5) Audible (8/1):
The son of Into Mischief takes his place in this line up trying to win back to back Kentucky Derby's for Todd Pletcher (won two in total previously) and attempts to provide Javier Castellano with his first Derby win. Improved with each of his three two-year old runs, culminating in a nine-length win in New York at his second run at a mile. Has certainly moved to new heights as a three-year old with two impressive wins at Gulfstream Park, a track his trainer has great success at. He reached a Beyer rating just shy of 100 both times, but in my opinion it was the way he earnt those wins that has taken my eye. It’s the way he finishes off his races that makes him so impressive, just as he appears to have perhaps run through all of his gears, he turns it up one more notch for the drive. After making his move from third up to second at the half way mark of the Holy Bull G2 1700m and then to the lead at the 600m mark, he quickly put away the front runners and when he was affronted by a strong travelling Free Drop Billy he left him in his wake and went onto win by 5 1/2 lengths. In the G1 Florida Derby, off a incredibly fast early pace, Audible tried to hold a handy position around the first turn before losing many lengths appearing to misplace his concentration. Suddenly he was wide and worse than midfield off the fast speed. He was forced to make a long, sustained run from the back of the pack, but reliably he was still driving to the winning post, putting even greater distance between himself and late closing Hofburg. It's true he doesn’t possess the classic pedigree of a Derby winner, but neither did recent winners American Pharoah or Nyquist and it just hasn’t mattered over the last decade. He gives every impression that more distance will not be a problem. Javier Castellano has chosen him over Bolt d'Oro which surely is a positive. Castellano knows this horse well, and is aware he may lose focus mid-race. If he’s able to keep Audible in a comfortable gait, concentrated and within a few lengths on straightening for the run to the roses, he poses a major threat. At the 8/1 ML he goes on top for me.
Settle in the run: Midfield (8th - 13th)
Predicted Finish: First
6) Good Magic (12/1):
The champion two-year old arrives here looking to defend his title in the 3yo championship. His three-year old season thus far has been mixed. The Fountain of Youth G2 third placing as a short priced favourite was plain. He really looked to have every hope in the run and was comfortably held at bay by pacemaker Promises Fulfilled. He did bounce back in the G2 Blue Grass at Keeneland, grinding out a tradesman-like win over Flameaway and Free Drop Billy - both horses not exactly leading contenders in the Kentucky Derby. His star trainer Chad Brown claims that he’s doing better than ever heading into the race and his morning workouts have been excellent, but that isn't exactly unusual for him. In the run he might find himself midfield some 8-10 lengths off the tempo, which will be a totally new experience for him. His 12/1 price is right given his career record, prizemoney earnt and being one of only three here that have achieved the magical 100 Beyer Rating, but on the other hand being double figures just re-inforces how strong this race is. I'm against him today as I feel there are other 3yos that have caught up and surpassed him. 
Settle in the run: Front Pack/Midfield (3rd-10th)
Predicted Finish: Ninth
7) Justify (3/1):
Just the unbeaten three career starts in one preparation for this son of Scat Daddy, but he has been utterly faultless in all three of his wins, clocking up 100+ Beyer ratings in all of them. He’s clocked figures that most elite horses don’t achieve until their four-year-old year, and he’s done it from his debut! Wowsers!!! Beastly type yes, but is priced accordingly? Is the 3/1 based on what we think he might be or what he has achieved so far? For some calming perspective he’s lined up in just one stakes race and now he's been priced as the clear outright #1 three year old in the land. He did get a perfect trip in the G1 Santa Anita Derby, setting a moderate pace while Bolt d'Oro was left at a disadvantage, attempting to chase him down. He'll race on the speed again today with Promised Fulfilled, but questions remain like will he sit on that horse's girth or will he punch for the lead and try to wire them? How much early work will he have to do? How much pressure will be coming down from the outside posts? What speed will they be travelling? Will he be able to sustain the speed when the closers loom to challenge? Are the answers clear enough to dive in at 3/1?
What he may lack in old fashioned "seasoning" he makes up for as an exceptionally gifted talent. He has the makings of one of the greats but it scares me that he is the clear-cut favourite in a field with so much depth and quality. Could not talk any living soul out of betting this guy, but I'll be saving on him, so I don't have recurring post race nightmares, as he is seriously frightening!
Settle in the run: Lead (1st - 2nd)
Predicted Finish: Second
8) Lone Sailor (50/1):
Put in a career best performance last start (Beyer Rating 95) when finishing second in the Louisiana Derby, after enjoying a favourable trip. He will settle in the back half of the field and can pass a few tired stragglers heading home. He doesn't look fast enough to compete with most of this field today.  
Settle in the run: Midfield/Back (13th - 17th)
Predicted Finish: 18th
9) Hofburg (20/1):
Lightly raced improving son of Tapit who did a good job in the G1 Florida Derby last start finishing three lengths adrift of Audible, but no doubt had a less taxing trip than the winner. He didn't get involved in the fast first quarter, whereas Audible had his own issues to deal with that day losing positions and sitting wide on a fast trip. Hofburg followed Audible from the halfway mark but was unable to get near him in the straight or in the run to the post. Hofburg seems to be on the incline however and appears to have plenty of stamina on his side. Likely he will need the race to fall apart at the end for him to get involved. Could be more of a player come Belmont Stakes time in five weeks, but just a fringe player today.
Settle in the run: Back (17th - 20th)
Predicted Finish: Eighth
10) My Boy Jack (30/1):
The most experienced runner in today's race and a down-and-out stayer. He will be lining up at the starter's gates for the third time in six weeks, which doesn't instill me with much confidence of him improving off his last few runs which are all in the low 90's (Beyer rating) He'll be a long way back as they pass the winning post for the first time and even further back at the half way mark. With the way he's been finishing off his races though, he will surely pass plenty of these in the run home and has a three time Derby winner on board in Kent Desormeaux. Looks a decent chance to finish top 10.
Settle in the run: Back (17th - 20th)
Predicted Finish: 11th
11) Bolt d'Oro (8/1):
The star 2yo who was ultra impressive at this first three starts for three dynamic wins (one of them in the G1 Front Runner at Santa Anita recording a 103 Beyer for a juvenile) Went in as a short priced favourite in the BC Juvenile and after making a mess of the start, was unable to recover beaten five lengths into third behind two of his rivals today, Good Magic and Solomini. He was beaten fair and square resuming as a three-year old but perhaps in hindsight he needed the run. Last time out he engaged with Derby favourite in Justify and was left in his wake at the quarter pole after doing everything in his power to get close to the colt. Certainly looks well prepared for his Grand Final and he is one of only three competitors that have reached the magical 100 Beyer rating in his career (and he's done it three times from six starts!) Given his racing style, he's likely to adapt to whatever pace scenario the Derby presents. Certainly ticks a lot of boxes and his fans will be licking their lips at the 8/1 ML, given the short prices he's gone around at. He's an intriguing runner being the champion two year old and opinion on him has divided many of the experts. I am personally against him given his two defeats this season and the choice of rider Javier Castellano to opt with Audible, in what would have most certainly been a difficult call.  
Settle in the run: Front Pack/Midfield (3rd-10th)
Predicted Finish: Fifth
12) Enticed (30/1):
The son of Medaglia d'Oro, Enticed's last two runs in New York have been his best, winning the Gotham (G3 1600m) and finishing runner up to Vino Rosso, beaten soundly over the G2 at 1800m. He didn't seem to finish off his race last time after having every hope and brings into question his ability to be able to cope with the 2000m at this elite level. Consistent type who is not the worst here but looks likely for a midfield or worse finish.
Settle in the run: Front Pack/Midfield (3rd-10th)
Predicted Finish: 14th
13) Bravazo (50/1):
Another who has form around the majority of longshots in this race. He was thrashed last time in a weak renewal of the Louisiana Derby behind Noble Indy, Lone Sailor and My Boy Jack. Before that he scored an upset win in a G2 at Fair Grounds defeating Noble Indy. But after his last effort I get the feeling the wheels have fallen off his Derby campaign, so he will be doing extra well not to finish in the last few.
Settle in the run: Front Pack/Midfield (3rd-10th)
Predicted Finish: 19th
14) Mendelssohn (5/1):
Potentially one of the most anticipated runners in the history of the Kentucky Derby. He hails from the world conquering barn of Aidan O'Brien and Ryan Moore will be aboard him, despite giving away seemingly excellent winning chances in the 2000 & 1000 Guineas at Newmarket. Incredibly he won the BC Juvenile Turf (1600m G1) at Del Mar in early November and here he is lining up as leading chance in the Kentucky Derby on Dirt six months later. It would have been easy to get swept away with his demolition job in the UAE Derby last start by 18 1/2 lengths. He had the field beat four furlongs from home and raced away to score the greatest win seen in the UAE Derby's smallish history. But objectively the Meydan dirt bias was in play on Dubai World Cup night, which in my opinion has exaggerated the performances of horses on speed and on the fence. And the horses he destroyed that night are not top tiered European 3yos. Plus can he come all the way back Dubai and win the Kentucky Derby six weeks later? This is a move Godolphin has tried it in the past with UAE Derby winners, and it has not worked. I can't be with him and his 5/1 ML I believe is gross unders. I do agree that it’s possible he may be that one in a million champion racehorse, but he'll need to be.
Settle in the run: Midfield (8th - 13th)
Predicted Finish: Sixth
15) Instilled Regard (50/1):
Comes out of the strong Santa Anita Derby finishing some 10 lengths into 4th behind Justify & Bolt d'Oro. Prior to this he finished 4th to Bravazo in a G2 at Fair Grounds and won the G3 Lecomte at that same track over 1600m. He's been soundly beaten by a quarter of this field in his last 4 runs and some of those runners are longshots here. He looks outclassed in this contest today.
Settle in the run: Midfield (8th - 13th)
Predicted Finish: 16th
16) Magnum Moon (6/1):
The second unbeaten horse in this line up after scoring in all 4 of his career starts in his 3 year old season, culminating in his 4 length romp in the G1 Arkansas Derby over 1800m. Has beaten Solomini twice (although a solid case can be made for that runner being unlucky both times) and Combatant. He did get a sof lead in his G1 win as his regular pilot Luis Saez was able to dictate the pace through the first 1000m. Although Magnum Moon kicked clear at the quarter pole he did drift badly through the stretch, which is always a slight worry. I do think that he is under the odds at 6/1 mainly due to the "aura" that surrounds an undefeated horse. He's had every hope afforded to him in each of thise 4 wins and today's task from Post 16 will be totally foreign to him (as with many others) I'm not denying him a winning chance, I just think he offers no value from a betting perspective, particularly that he's a shorter ML quote than his stablemate Audible, so I've got him finishing on the heels of the placegetters.
Settle in the run: Front Pack/Midfield (3rd-10th)
Predicted Finish: Fourth
17) Solomini (30/1):
Stabled in the mighty Baffert camp and the son of Curlin is not without a rough hope in this great race today either. Had a solid (and rather unlucky) 2 year old season with form close to Good Magic and Bolt d'Oro, including finishing 2nd in the Breeders Cup Juvenile in front of Bolt d'Oro. Lost the Group 1 Los Alamitos Futurity on disqualification after being first past the post. Has been decent in his two 3 year old runs at Oaklawn and now looks to be looking for the testing 2000m trip. Arguable to suggest he's been slightly stiff both times, where he was blocked for runs at vital stages and disadvantaged by muddling tempos. Will settle in the back half and his long grinding finish might suit the style of this race, particularly if it all breaks up before the turn. A live longshot.
Settle in the run: Midfield/Back (13th - 17th)
Predicted Finish: Third
18) Vino Rosso (12/1):
One of four Todd Pletcher hopefuls here and this guy will be piloted by two time Kentucky Derby winner in John Velazquez. He is one of a handful of horses in this year’s race who is bred to relish the 2000m distance of the Derby and you would have to believe he will be even more at home over the 2400m in the Belmont Stakes in June. Another galloper not blessed with much early speed, despite the fact that he sat close to the speed in a few slowly run races. His career best run was his last with an easy three-length romp of the G2 Wood Memorial (1800m) in New York where Velazquez was able to get him across from the deep and slot into an ideal position racing outside and clear of other runners. Before that he was handled twice by Flameaway but with his G2 Wood Mem victory, he surely came on for those defeats. He's yet another that I find hard to talk people away from, but I just doubt he's come through the "right" races and thus I feel his 12/1 quote is a little tight. Expect him to be running on soundly through the lane, but perhaps just into the minor money. Place claims only.
Settle in the run: Midfield (8th - 13th)
Predicted Finish: Seventh
19) Noble Indy (30/1):
The winner of three races from four starts, including the G2 Louisiana Derby (1800m) at his latest, surviving a fast pace and gripping on gamely from noted closers Lone Sailor and My Boy Jack. Based on that run he seems to have the better of those two runners. Concerned that his running style may not be suited to the configuration of this race. He’s not as fast as Promises Fulfilled and Justify early and he will need plenty of luck tucking in and settling behind the pace from Post 19. Although he continues to improve with each run, he looks to be the weakest of the four Todd Pletcher entrants and will need to step up more than I can see him doing.
Settle in the run: Front Pack/Midfield (3rd-10th)
Predicted Finish: 12th
20) Combatant (50/1):
Another Scat Daddy rep who is ideally suited up to the 2000m trip for the first time. Has had plenty of racing of late but continues to hold his form and has worked home in each of his runs in 2018, culminating in his G1 fourth in the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park off a slow speed. He will settle at the back of the field and his jock is best advised to ride for luck through the pack (similar to runner-up Lookin for Lee in 2017) Another entrant who seems a few cogs below the top colts and will need a great deal of fortune to make the frame.
Settle in the run: Back (17th - 20th)
Predicted Finish: 13th
Also eligible (emergency)
21) Blended Citizen (50/1)
Unlikely to start and hopelessly outclassed
SELECTIONS
1st 5 Audible
2nd 7 Justify
3rd 17 Solomini
4th 16 Magnum Moon
BETTING STRATEGY
Antepost markets have been up for many months so not much value around in the market if you're betting now. Prefer to wait til close to post time when market is most competitive, plus you can make any late calls if you see some uncharacteristic activity in the horses' pre- parade.
Audible to win - currently around 6/1, I think will start better than this on the day so look to bet through the US Totes or wait til just before post time. 
Justify @ 9/2 now
Solomini @ 33/1 now 

Best of luck to all players!
By Nathan Cripps @hoodooguru81
(Form provided through drf.com)

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