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Kentucky Derby preview 2024

 KENTUCKY DERBY 2024


With the eternally rubbish weather in Britain this year, I've been paying more attention to US racing lately, especially with the advent of the excellent Racing App with all the race replays for free. So why not have a look at the Derby...



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The 150th Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve

Grade 1, US$5,000,000, for three-year-olds. 
One mile and a quarter (~2000m).
Sat 1857 local time, 2357 BST, Sun 0857 AEST


1. Dornoch - Trainer Danny Gargan, Jockey Luis Saez.

Brother to the winner of last year's race, Mage. Often leads so the inside gate should be an asset, however none of these horses have raced in a 20-runner field before. So there'll be a lot more pressure from the gates, missing the kick by half-a-length isn't an issue in a small field, it can be a curse from the inside rail in the Derby. Had run only first or second in his first five starts before being blown away by Sierra Leone in the G1 Blue Grass. 20/1 in the Morning Line sounds about right.

2. Sierra Leone - Chad Brown, Tyler Gaffalione.

A Coolmore-owned colt plus a few other shareholders - if you can't win one from Ireland, then buy local into a $2.3m yearling! A winner of three from four (beaten a nose in the Remsen at Aqueduct in December), he arrived at Keeneland for the G1 Blue Grass Stakes with a big reputation last month, but wasn't so keen on entering the gates on their biggest day of the season. A rare type for US racing, he drops out and flies home, rather than the traditional speed. The pre-race antics at Keeneland didn't bother him, he dropped out the back as usual, started moving forward entering the home turn and cruised past in the straight. That was mighty impressive but can he do it again at the biggest day of American racing? The buildup and crowd noise is one issue, but how about having to swoop past 19 rivals, rather than seven or eight in a normal US field? The pace will no doubt be on throughout, but how far back will he get? One of the two clear market leaders, the inside draw isn't ideal, Gaffalione will have be careful early not to get boxed in.

3. Mystik Dan - Kenneth McPeek, Brian J Hernandez Jr

Won his maiden here by nearly eight lengths after controlling the pace in November but hasn't had it quite as easy since. This year he has had three stakes runs on the leadup to the Derby, all at Oaklawn Park. He tired and faded in the Listed Smarty Jones and G1 Arkansas Derby, but in between, he bolted up in the G3 Southwest in February, when Hernandez gave him a dream run along the rails to power away by 8L. He'll need to do something similar to be competitive here, parking just behind the pace might be ideal for him. Hernandez rated Thorpedo Anna beautifully to win the Oaks on Friday.

4. Catching Freedom - Brad Cox, Flavien Prat.

Hasn't recorded the figures of the bigger names, but has the high-class trainer & jockey combination, to push him high in the market. After finishing third behind Sierra Leone in the G2 Risen Star (wobbled like a drunken sailor in the straight and the winner went straight past), he dropped out to last and rounded up the field (of 11) in the stretch to win the G1 Louisiana Derby. It wasn't a particularly fast time, and that tactic is much harder to succeed with in the Run for the Roses. Don't think he has the acceleration to come from deep, perhaps he sits closer and gets the jump on any closers - but still has to catch the leader.

5. Catalytic - Saffie Joseph Jr., Jose Ortiz.

Ran second in the Florida Derby but needed a telescope to see the winner Fierceness at the finish line. Has only raced three times so there's likely to be improvement in him, but just as likely is having his heart broken by the machine that is Fierceness. Not for me.

6. Just Steel - D.Wayne Lukas, Keith Asmussen.

From the least to the most experienced, I doubt many Derby winners in the past 40 years have had as many as 11 previous starts. Ran a huge race last time at 30/1, running second in the Arkansas Derby in a clear best on his Beyer figures. Has an Aussie angle, out of a G1-winning mare called Irish Lights, by the US Triple Crown winner Justify. Tough enough to still be there at the business end, at least for place money.

7. Honor Marie - D.Whitworth Beckman, Ben Curtis.

Won a G2 here in November, more recently has finished fifth in the Risen Star behind Sierra Leone (reportedly needed the run, 'not fit') and second in the Louisiana Derby behind Catching Freedom. He consistently shows no speed from the gates and drops to the back, which as mentioned with other runners, very difficult to overcome in a race like this. British Ben Curtis takes the ride, he's done very well for himself since abandoning the northern circuit in search of some sunshine. Has been catching the eye at morning trackwork apparently.

8. Just A Touch - Brad Cox, Florent Geroux.

One of the least experienced in the field, another Justify colt with only three runs under his belt. Was up on the pace in the Blue Grass but couldn't fight off Sierra Leone's late run, finishing a length and a half behind in second. More experience, a race better suited to sitting nearer the lead, he's got to have some sort of chance.

9. Encino - SCR

10. T O Password - Daisuke Takanayagi, Kazushi Kimura.

Unknown Japanese runner who has won a maiden and stakes race from two starts. Led from a wide gate last time, kicked clear at the top of the straight and just got home. Jockey goes very well on the California circuit, so will have some experience of Grade 1 racing in the US. Unlikely.

11. Forever Young - Yoshito Yagai, Ryusei Sakai.

We know a lot more about this Japanese colt, he is well travelled already, winning the Saudi and UAE Derbys amongst his five-race, 100% record. He sat wide and on the pace at Meydan, whereas he overcame a troubled run, back and wide, before claiming victory on the line in Riyadh. Hard to line up that form as the two American horses who were directly behind him in Saudi don't really have intertwining form with any of these, but you'd have to guess they are a rung or two below the favourites here, otherwise they'd have gone down this path. Not out of it.

12. Track Phantom - Steven Asmussen, Joel Rosario.

A $500k blue-blooded yearling, this son of Quality Road out of an Into Mischief mare is yet to miss a place in seven starts, never beaten more than 2.5 lengths. Won his maiden here in November, then won a couple of stakes races at Fair Grounds. He stepped up to face the big boys in his most recent two starts, also at New Orleans' home of racing, leading each time but caught late by Sierra Leone (0.5L second) and Catching Freedom (2.5L fourth). Goes forward, interesting to see how much competition he gets for that. 

13. West Saratoga - Larry Demeritte, Jesus L Castanon. 

Never heard of his connections, took five runs to break his maiden, and easily beaten in four starts this season. Gets the Grandmas' pick as the only grey in the race. Rank outsider.

14. Endlessly - Michael McCarthy, Umberto Rispoli.

Winner of five from six, his only failure was in the Breeders Cup Juvenile Turf last November, then he was switched to the dirt (two runs, two wins). Had to properly assess as the best US horses race on dirt, so the BC race wasn't as strong as the Dirt equivalent, and his two dirt wins have been against weaker opposition (West Saratoga was runner-up in most recent race). A win would surprise.

15. Domestic Product - Chad Brown, Irad Ortiz Jr.

Won the Tampa Derby at his last start, finished ahead of Fierceness (one of his shockers) the run before.  Figures are a bit weak compared to his main rivals but he does gain the services of the best jockey in the country. Unlikely but never underestimate Irad.

16. Grand Mo The First - Victor Barboza, Emisael Jaramillo.

Two wins and four thirds from six starts, he's been beaten by Endlessly, Domestic Product and Fierceness (16L) in recent starts. Not from out here.

17. Fierceness - Todd Pletcher, John Velazquez.

One thing all pundits agree on here is that he is clearly the best horse in the race. But, he can have a mind of his own. For his three wins by a total of 30L, he's also run two shockers where he has messed around at the start and been well beaten. No horse has ever won the Derby from gate 17 but that's just irrelevant statistical noise. The wide draw suits, he can take his time to work over to the front. He's not infallible, so this becomes all about the price - too short and you lay him, too high and just get on...

18. Stronghold - Philip D'Amato, Antonio Fresu.

Won his maiden here in October ahead of Resilience and Track Phantom, but hasn't met many of his rivals otherwise. As a California-trained colt, he's been winning at Del Mar, Los Alamitos and Santa Derby (won the SA Derby last time) but without recording high figures. Not sure that form is up to this.

19. Resilience - William Mott, Junior Alvarado.

Couldn't break his maiden in three 2yo starts but got that ought of the way on the first day of 2024, before heading into Graded company. Finished fourth behind Sierra Leone and others in the Risen Star, then won the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct last month. Eleven winners of that race have gone onto win the Derby but not since Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000. Can't see that drought breaking.

20. Society Man - Danny Gargan, Frankie Dettori.

A horse guaranteed to start under the odds in Britain is the ride of the immortal Frankie Dettori. He'll need to perform miracles on this one - from five starts, he's only won a maiden at Aqueduct. Did run second to Resilience in the Wood Memorial most recently.

21. Epic Ride - John Ennis, Adam Beschizza.

Gets a run due to the scratching of Encino. Beaten five lengths into third place at 50/1 by Sierra Leone in the Blue Grass, his first run on dirt rather than an all-weather surface. Likes to race up on the pace which won't be easy to achieve from the grandstand.


SUMMARY

Fierceness - yay or nay? At 3/1, I'm all over him, at 2/1 I'm a layer. His run to win the Florida Derby was simply phenomenal. I want to see brilliant horses like this go onto bigger and better things for the sake of the industry - he could be anything.

1.Fierceness, take no shorter than 5/2. Load up at 7/2.

2.Mystik Dan e/w

3.Just A Touch



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