The 5th Annual Casual Kentucky Derby Preview

Everything you need to know about The Greatest Two Minutes in Sports.

Welcome to the 5th Annual Casual Kentucky Derby Preview! Wow, Year Five! Today represents one of the more Casual days of the year as I get to drop knowledge in the form of thousands of words on the Kentucky Derby, the crown jewel of the Triple Crown season and the Greatest Two Minutes in Sports. Though moderately casual fans enjoy Derby Day for the mint juleps and women wearing sundresses and fancy hats, real casual fans anticipate the arrival of the first Saturday in May as an opportunity to make some coin. Don't believe me? Here are the Derby payouts from the years 2000-2013 courtesy of And Down The Stretch They Come, the majestic SBN site devoted to the Sport of Kings.

Now, you're probably thinking "What does this doofus who runs a Georgetown Hoyas blog know about horse racing?" Well, not very much! But let's take a look to see what has gone down since we started this Derby Preview thing, shall we?

First, in 2010, 4 of the 6 horses I picked finished in the top 7, netting a Trifecta WIN and the resulting funds that led to the eventual creation of CasuALE, the world's first blog beer. Then, in 2011, 4 of top 6 finished in top 8, netting a Trifecta WIN that paid for numerous lunches both documented and non-documented alike.  In 2012, 4 out of the 6 horses finished in the top 7, resulting in a horrific and embarrassing Trifecta LOSS as I completely whiffed on eventual winner ‘I'll Have Another'. But whatever! And finally, in 2013, 3 of the 6 ponies finished in the top 6, resulting in a narrow Trifecta LOSS.  So to recap, over the past four years I have narrowed a field of 80 horses to 24, and of those 24, 15 have finished in the top 8 including two Trifecta WINS, a couple of heartbreaking and soul-crushing Trifecta losses, and the eventual creation of beer.

To make it even more simple, if you have followed my guidance over the past four years you would have spent $480 and won $3,144.90, for net winnings of $2,664.90.  NOT SHITTY!  WHAT HAVE YOU DONE LATELY, JERKS? BALL DON'T LIE!

Before we get to the ponies, some ground rules. In this space I'm not going to predict the actual horses to win, place or show. Rather, just as in years past I'm going to narrow the 20 horse field down to a group of 6 for a real casual $1, 6-horse trifecta box ($120) of Casual Destiny and Hope and Freedom and America.  Remember - if you're looking to win some major coin on the Derby, you don't do it by wagering your hard earned money on all of the horses with low odds. LOOK MOMMY I WON BY BETTING ON THE FAVORITE AREN'T I AWESOME CAN I HAVE A COOKIE AND MAYBE CAN YOU FAVORITE MY TWEET? No, you make money by nailing the trifecta or even better the superfecta, loaded with value horses that have a chance to hit the board. With that in mind, below is likely the longest yet most casual analysis of the 2014 Derby field you will likely find anywhere else.  Away we go...

Note: The below has been updated to reflect the scratch of Hoppertunity. Hoppertunity's absence means everyone to the left of the 11 post moves in one post closer to the rail, so the 12 horse will race from the 11 post and so on.

In Order of Post Position (Odds to Win in parentheses):

1. Vicar's in Trouble (20-1):
Terrible post draw for a horse that has some kick to him.  Racing strictly on the dirt track of the Fair Grounds in New Orleans, Vicar won the Grade 3 Lecomte in convincing fashion by hanging up front and making his move at the top of the stretch, came back to finish a distant 3rd in the Risen Star deploying a middle of the pack racing style, but then rebounded to wire the field in the Louisiana Derby.


My guess is that Vicar is going to try to replicate its Lecomte-Louisiana Derby form and try to get out near the lead in the early going, and from the 1st post position he's going to have to.  

Verdict: Include in exotics.


2: Harry's Holiday (50-1)
:
Like Giacomo in 2005 and Mine That Bird in 2009, THIS HORSE HAS NO BUSINESS BEING IN THIS RACE. This horse has NO CHANCE to win the Derby.  NONE.  Harry will show early speed and then get run down.  Next.

Verdict: TOSS.


3:
Uncle Sigh (30-1):
He'll challenge the early pace, but like Harry's Holiday he won't be a factor in the end. 

Verdict: TOSS.


4: Danza (8-1):

I wish Jim Nantz were calling this race just for the ocean of possibilities of his call should Danza win this race.  HELLO, FRIENDS. WHO'S THE BOSS TODAY? IT'S DANZA TAKING THE KENTUCKY DERBY!  ROCK CHALK CHAMPIONSHIP! Danza won the Arkansas Derby as a 40-1 shot by getting a nice run along the rail, seized an opening that developed in front of him, and kicked it into overdrive to blow away the field down the stretch, a field that included fellow Derby contenders Ride on Curlin and Tapiture.

Danza is going off at 8-1 in the Derby as a result of the Arkansas win and that he's a Todd Pletcher horse which is killing him as a nice value play, but for me his Derby hopes depend on the kind of trip he gets.  If he can break well and sneak in another rail ride throughout, he just might save enough to grab a piece of the action at the wire and this 4 post sets up nicely for him with inside speed.  I worry about his ‘bouncing' off of that performance in Arkansas and reverting to his former speed figures, which frankly aren't good enough to win this race.   

Verdict: Include because of the WHO'S THE BOSS awesomeness and that Tony Danza is supposed to be at the race.


5. California Chrome (5-2):
5-2! Come on! Part of what you get from me in these here Derby Previews is FREE advice from someone who has taken the time to go back and watch every single Derby Prep race. Not one, not two, not a couple here and there to see what's up...ALL OF THEM.  I mention this because in all the years I've wasted my time doing this, I don't recall being as impressed with a horse as I have been with California Chrome.  OMG! THAT'S BOLD!  Just take a gander at this romp in the Santa Anita Derby:

The blowout aside, there are a few interesting things about this race that make it all the more impressive.  First, CC was pinched out of the gate and had to find his way between horses to get to the head of the field.  Didn't bother him and this is likely to happen in the Derby coming out of the same 5 post.  Second, after he gets to the leaders, he doesn't run wildly using all his energy to zoom to the front but rather is able to rate just behind the leader, stalking until he's asked to give more at the top of the stretch.  Third, and what had me slobbering on myself, is that he is able to pull away from this field at the top of the stretch without his jockey even using the whip on him.  Just look at it again, fucking CRUISE CONTROL as he blew away the field.  In the race prior to the Santa Anita in the San Felipe, it's more of the same, except the jockey does use the whip just a few times in the stretch (though he probably didn't need to):


It's tough to find many negatives with this horse and his prospects for hitting the board in the Derby, but if I'm grasping for something I'll go ahead and mention that he's never won outside of California and that I generally have a bias against Santa Anita winners.  Recall last year's Santa Anita winner Goldencents, the Rick Pitino (yes, that Rick Pitino) owned horse that came in as one of the faves, took all of your money and then promptly laid an egg.  Goldencents fell in line with other recent Santa Anita winners to do nothing in the Kentucky Derby, joining Brother Derek, Tiago, Colonel John, Pioneerof the Nile, Sidney's Candy and Midnight Interlude.  BUT Santa Anita has since switched back to a dirt track and 2012 Santa Anita winner I'll Have Another took home the Derby.  CC also hasn't been tested by another horse down the stretch and he's going to have to maneuver out of the 5 to get into prime stalking position, but it might be true that CC is simply classier than any of the horses he will run against in this Triple Crown season.  He's won races at a
mile, a mile and a 16th, and a mile and an 8th, has never lost with Victor Espinoza aboard and I see no reason why he won't like a mile and a quarter.

Verdict: Must include.


6: Samraat (15-1):
Samraat was undefeated heading into the Wood Memorial, had a nice trip in that race and then with every chance to win at the top of the stretch was run down convincingly by Wicked Strong in a race that had similar early speed fractions to what we'll likely see in the Derby.

He ran a similar race on dirt in his tune up to the Wood in the Gotham Stakes, and even though he won that one, he barely held off a couple of non-Derby contenders.  Consistent 99 speed figures and consistently hitting the board can't be ignored, but I think this horse is best suited to a mile and an 8th and I'm spending my money elsewhere.  Sue me.

Verdict: TOSS


7. We Miss Artie (50-1):
A closer, Artie is a Todd Pletcher horse that has won two career races.  Artie won the Breeder's Futurity, coming from the middle of the pack in a driving rain.  Artie had struggled against classier competition since that race, and it wasn't until he dropped down to a Grade 3 race that he won again, taking the Spiral Stakes with an impressive closing stretch run over a weak field.

With a very hot pace it's possible he could show up on the board towards the bottom of tickets, but I think Artie is overmatched here.

Verdict: TOSS


8: General a Rod (15-1):

A ROD! Insert the "this horse is going to need to be on the juice in order to hit the board in the Derby" jokes here!  Or how about the "this horse would pop up to 3rd base with the bases loaded in the 9th and two outs down the stretch" jokes here!  The General finished third in the Florida Derby in a race he was in prime position at the top of the stretch to win.  He battled Wildcat Red in a few preps but never beat him and has decent speed figures, but a lot will need to happen for him to be among the leaders down the stretch at Churchill.


Verdict: TOSS.


9: Vinceremos (30-1):

Vincerewhat? This horse finished 14th in the Blue Grass Stakes in his last race.  FOURTEENTH.  Sorry.

Verdict: TOSS.


10: Wildcat Red (15-1):

The Wildcat is another horse that likes to jump out front and he'll have some options out of the 10 spot.  In the Florida Derby, Wildcat was eventually run down by Constitution, and though Red hasn't beaten any other Derby contenders other than General A Rod, he has enough speed to be up with the leaders when it matters.  His run in the Florida was gutsy, and if he can rate in this race out of the 10 post he could show up at the bottom of the board.

Verdict: Include in exotics.


12: Dance with Fate (20-1):
Dance finished 2nd in the Grade 3 El Camino Real, running gamely but nipped by a length in a race in which he appeared to take the wrong lead in the stretch.



Dance with Fate then took out better competition in the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, flying down the middle of the track down the stretch to put away a fairly weak field.


In the Blue Grass he ran the fastest closing furlongs of any horse in this Derby field and his off the pace running style translates well to this race.  No prior real success on dirt is problematic, but it wasn't an issue for Animal Kingdom in 2011.  This horse could finish dead last or he could win the whole thing, no idea.

Verdict: Include in exotics.


13: Chitu (20-1):

A speed horse, Chitu followed up getting run down by Candy Boy down the stretch in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes to win the Grade 3 Sunland Derby in a race that only I and a bunch of other degenerates have seen.


The Sunland had a very weak field with no other Derby contenders and I just don't think this Baffert horse is going to do much of anything come Saturday at the distance and with his running style.  He tends to like the lead, and among the speed horses here I think he's outclassed.

Verdict: TOSS.


14: Medal Count (20-1):

Medal Count had every chance to win the Blue Grass but in a head to head battle against Dance with Fate simply got out-run down the stretch.  If you don't like Dance with Fate, it's tough to like Medal Count. 

Verdict: TOSS.


15: Tapiture (12-1):

After winning the Grade 3 Southwest, Tapiture stepped up to face stiffer competition in the Grade 2 Rebel and finished 2nd after bumping into Hoppertunity down the stretch.  After that, he jumped into a Grade 1 stakes race in the Arkansas and finished 4th, not showing much life down the stretch in his first run at the mile and an 8th.  It would take a lot for this horse to grab a share here.  His pops ‘Tapit' was also a Derby tease and one that I lost money on.  Fool me once...

Verdict: TOSS.


16: Intense Holiday (8-1):

One of the closers in the field, Holiday is also one of the tougher horses in the field for me to project.  In his run in the mile and a 16th Holy Bull at Gulfstream where he finished 3rd, he showed that he had a little bit left in the tank in the stretch and held off a couple of other horses to grab a share:

He then followed that up with a bold stretch run down the center of the track to steal the mile and a 16th Risen Star from Albano in a solid field that included Vicar's In Trouble and Hoppertunity.


Intense Holiday was then soundly beaten and finished 2nd to Vicar's In Trouble in the Louisiana Derby at a mile and an 8th (which I casually attended), but in so doing registered a career best Beyer figure of 100.  I'm really not sure what to make of this horse.  I love love love that run in the Risen Star but he just looked ordinary in the Louisiana at the greater distance and had an awkward turn toward the rail at the top of the stretch which likely doomed his chances.  If he has some room to run down the middle of the track he could hit the board here, especially if this race gets its projected early speed.  The 16 post helps his chances and he has reportedly looked good at Churchill this week.

Verdict: Include.


17: Commanding Curve (50-1)
:
The other ‘CC' in this field, Commanding Curve did well to gain a 3rd place finish in the Louisiana Derby after being pinched out of the gate.  A closer, Commanding Curve's chances in the Derby will depend on early speed of the race and the trip he gets.  If the pace is hot he's got a chance to hit the board, but my guess is the bottom of tickets is his ceiling and coming out of the 17 post he's going to have to make up some ground to get to the pack.  No horse has ever won the Derby out of 17, by the way.

Verdict: TOSS.


18: Candy Boy (15-1)
:
Ga-ry Stev-ens. Clap-clap-clapclapclap.  Ga-ry Stev-ens. Clap-clap-clapclapclap.  This horse finished a very distant 3rd to California Chrome in the Santa Anita but was running well at the end.  In the race prior to that took home the Robert B. Lewis in one of the more impressive prep runs of any horse in this field.


Trapped behind three horses on the rail at the top of the stretch, Candy Boy swung wide to find a clearing and rumbled down the track down the stretch to win at the wire.  Candy was wide at the top of the stretch in the Santa Anita and was still able to put away a couple of horses down the stretch to grab 3rd.  I don't love this horse speedwise, but he's a big horse being ridden by Hall of Famer Gary Stevens (who came out of retirement to lead Oxbow to a Preakness win last year) and appears game in stretch drives, all which can't be ignored when looking for horses at the bottom of your ticket. Good value at 15-1. 

Verdict: Include in exotics.


19: Ride on Curlin (15-1):
Those of you that are avid horseplayers will remember Curlin as one of the best thoroughbreds in recent memory, so you would think that this product of Curlin would have had a bit more success thus far.  Ride on Curlin is certainly battle tested but didn't win any prep races, has two 4ths, two 3rds, and in his most recent outing finished 2nd to 40-1 shot Danza. He could be sitting on a big race but only because he hasn't had one yet.  I don't think he has the speed to overcome the 19 post, especially since Calvin Borel will likely take him to the rail.

Verdict: TOSS.


20: Wicked Strong (6-1)

From ‘Bellamy Road' in 2005 straight through last year's ‘Verrazano', the Wood Memorial is rapidly becoming the Derby Prep that sends its winner to Churchill wrapped in a lot of hype only to have him lay an egg in the Derby.  Wicked Strong could reverse that string of poor performances.  Unlike many previous Wood winners that ran as stalkers, Wicked has a fierce closing kick that helped him win that race in a thrilling run down the middle of the track.  Even though he finished 3rd in the Remsen, he probably would have won the race if it were at a mile and an 8th or longer, as he grabbed 3rd after having to go three wide in the middle of the stretch from the inside.

Check it out:


The Remsen had a slow early pace but the Wood was fast, so if the first quarter mile here is similar, Wicked Strong should be in the mix down the stretch, even breaking from 20.

Verdict: Include.


21. Pablo Del Monte

Pablo gets into the field due to Hoppertunity's late defection and though it is nice that his owner now gets to tell everyone he has a horse that will run in the Derby, I can't see this horse making any noise in this race down the stretch.  He has early speed and will try to get out front, but from the outside post that's not a formula for success.

Verdict: TOSS.


That's the whole field! Let's see where we are. Out of the entire field we have narrowed it down to the following:

1. Vicar's in Trouble (20-1):
4. Danza (8-1)
5. California Chrome (5/2)
10. Wildcat Red (15-1)
12. Dance with Fate (20-1)
16. Intense Holiday (12-1)
18. Candy Boy (15-1)
20. Wicked Strong (6-1)


8 horses! Need to get to 6.

First to go is Wildcat Red.  I like the value of this horse at 15-1 and he is a fighter in the stretch, but his preferred front-running racing style doesn't usually translate to Derby success.  I think he, Vicar's in Trouble, Uncle Sigh, General a Rod and Chitu will all gas one another around the track and won't have enough left in the final furlongs to hit the board.  The fact that he has never won at a mile and an eighth doesn't exactly have me running to wager on him in a race at a mile and a quarter, and in the Florida Derby he was passed in the final furlong.


DOWN TO SEVEN!

Adios, Vicar's in Trouble.  Vicar's maintaining a 3 and a half length lead down the stretch of the Louisiana in his first attempt at a mile and an eighth was impressive and I like the value at 20-1 for a horse that usually hits the board and runs well over dirt, but even though he's probably the classiest speed horse in here that rail spot is a big problem for me.  It might be a bigger problem for me than it is for the horse, but whatever.

So there we have it, the $1, 6 horse trifecta box ($120) will include:

4. Danza (8-1)
5. California Chrome (5/2)
12. Dance with Fate (20-1)
16. Intense Holiday (12-1)
18. Candy Boy (15-1)
20. Wicked Strong (6-1)

Not bad.  A little chalky but I'm fine with that, especially if one or more of the double-digit value plays hit the board.


How The Race 'Should' Play Out:

Last year's race was run at blistering early fractions with Palace Malice leading the field in a 45 second half mile.  Some of the better horses in the Derby Preps (like Verrazano and Goldencents, for example) made the mistake of taking the speed bait and had nothing down the stretch, while other horses including the eventual winner Orb stayed towards the back of the pack and had enough left in the tank to surge down the stretch and into the finish.  Unfortunately, one of those horses was the previously unheralded Golden Soul, which finished 2nd ruined everything.


So what can we learn from last year's race? With this field, perhaps a lot.

Like last year, there are a few speed horses here that will try to turn this race into a sprint.  Though obviously everything will come down to how the horses break from the gate, if form holds with the speed (Vicar's in Trouble, Wildcat Red and Chitu being the better speedsters) up front, as the field approaches the top of the stretch horses like California Chrome, Candy Boy, Danza and Dances with Fate will be in the next group stalking the leaders, with the better closers in the field such as Wicked Strong and Intense Holiday making a move on the field from the back.  California Chrome should be near the lead in the 2nd group and will turn on the jets, catching the early speed and opening up on them.  As the speed horses fight to hold on, Candy Boy and Danza bid for shares as Dance with Fate, Wicked Strong and Intense Holiday make bold final surges down the stretch.  At the wire, I think California Chrome takes it by more than a couple lengths, with some combo of Candy's Boy, Danza, Intense Holiday, Dance with Fate, and Wicked Strong, taking 2nd through 4th


Note that I've included the two of the three finishers in the Santa Anita Derby in my Top 6 (and would have included all of them but for Hoppertunity's scratch).  It's easy to look at that race simply as California Chrome's crowning achievement (thus far, anyway), but both Hoppertunity and Candy Boy ran big races in that one at faster times at a mile and an eighth and over a dirt surface than any of the other horses in this Derby field by nearly a two second margin.  At 15-1 Candy's Boy is pretty good value here as a horse that could show up on the bottom.  I took Intense Holiday and Wicked Strong as the two preferred closers as the early speed should at least give them a chance, but of the two I probably like Intense Holiday better out of the 16 as Wicked Strong is going to have to expend more energy getting to where he needs to be out of the 20.  Dance with Fate is my wildcard here and is included as a value play at 20-1.  As I noted above, he could win the race or finish dead last, but he's worth a gamble based on his speedy final fractions in the Blue Grass in a race that I think will resemble this one based on its projected early speed.


As I have a tendency to go back and forth and talk myself out of my analysis as the prices change for these horses once the money starts pouring in, be sure to check right back here in the comments for entertaining schizophrenic updates right up until go time.

I had a chance to visit Churchill a few months ago and if you are ever in the fine city of Louisville, you must go. Documentation below.

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2009 Derby champion Mine That Bird!

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At the end of the day, wager how you wish but remember to wager, because life without gambling on ponies is a life not worth living.

Enjoy the race.

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