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The 4th Annual Casual Kentucky Derby Preview

Matt Gardner

Welcome to the 4th Annual Casual Kentucky Derby Preview! Today represents one of the more Casual Fridays 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 2000-2012 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 Georgetown Hoyas doofus 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. 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. CasuALE, by the way, recently won 3rd place in the IPA category for the first Round of the National Homebrew Competition and will move on to the final round of the competition in June. 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. And finally, 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. But whatever! So to recap, over the past three years I have narrowed a field of 60 horses to 18, and of those 18, 12 have finished in the top 8 of all three races including two Trifecta WINS and the eventual creation of beer. 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 destiny. 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? 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 2013 Derby field you will likely find anywhere else. Away we go...

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

1: Black Onyx (50-1):
Ooh, Black Onyx. Tremendous name for a horse and that's not a shock being that he is the son of Rock Hard Ten, arguably the greatest name for a Triple Crown horse in recent years. Rock Hard Ten, as you all recall, was one of Smarty Jones' main competitors when Smarty missed out on the Triple Crown by a few lengths in that crushing Belmont stretch. BY THE WAY THANKS FOR RUINING EVERYTHING, BIRDSTONE! As far as Black Onyx goes, he hasn't raced against much class just yet though in the Spiral Stakes he showed enough kick to extend a half length lead to a length and a half win at the wire in his first attempt at a mile and an eighth.

Though that race wasn't fast, he had a good trip and took to the distance well, and as the son of Rock Hard Ten I don't have questions about the mile and a quarter. Though good value at 50-1, the problem is that he has no chance to win this race from the 1 post, as he'll either have to get out front and burn a lot of fuel early or hold back and get a bunch of dirt kicked in his face which he isn't used to.
Verdict: TOSS.
Update: Black Onyx has been scratched from the Derby and will not run, leaving the rail open.

2: Oxbow (30-1):
Oxbow was a game 2nd to Will Take Charge in the Rebel but then followed that up with a disappointing 5th in the Arkansas derby won by Overanalyze. The Ox has run three races in the low 90 Beyer speed figures but against better competition in this race I don't see him hitting the board.
Verdict: TOSS.

3: Revolutionary (10-1):
The Louisiana Derby winner can win from all over the track, showing some class in a tough 5-wide trip to win the Louisiana Derby after being stared in eye by fellow Derby contender Mylute down the stretch and coming from dead last at the top of the stretch and working his way through the entire field to win at the wire in the Grade III Withers Stakes. Check 'em out!

Though he clearly has a nose for the wire, the problem is that both of these races were relatively slow efforts, with Revolutionary running Beyer figures of 93 and 85, respectively. Reports are that he has had some good works at Churchill this week so in a race lacking in pure speed he's one to keep an eye on come Saturday, especially at his price. This horse is going to take a shitload of money with Calvin Borel on him and at a rail spot, so I like him but don't like him like him, ya know?
Verdict: Include in exotics.

4: Golden Soul (50-1):
A late entrant into the field with a pleasant name, Golden Soul hasn't shown anything on the prep trail to make me think he has a chance to hit the board in the Derby.
Verdict: TOSS.

5: Normandy Invasion (12-1):
Normandy seems to be the wiseguy pick of this year's crop, as his hard charge in the Remsen nearly took down Overanalyze and he wowed the crowd at the Wood with a fierce stretch run to grab 2nd to the vaunted Verrazano. Is he primed for a bigger run here? I don't think there's any doubt Normandy can hit the board in this race as he is fast enough (three consecutive races of 90+ Beyers) and he seems to like the distance. Whether he gets a clear enough trip coming out of the 5 post with room to run at the top of the stretch is a bigger issue, but that is the kind of crapshoot that makes the Derby awesome.
Verdict: Include in exotics.

6: Mylute (15-1):
This horse sounds like a donkey. "Hey Nan, Go hop on Mylute and fetch a pail of water!" With Rosie Napravnik aboard Mylute is going to take money on Saturday, just not mine. He hasn't beaten anyone impressive and when he had every chance to take the Louisiana Derby he was passed by Revolutionary in the final furlong.
Verdict: TOSS.

7: Giant Finish (50-1):
This horse that just entered the field on Tuesday made me re-watch the Spiral Stakes just to find him among the finishers and I will never forgive him for it. Ever.
Verdict: TOSS.

8: Goldencents (5-1):
Rick Pitino owns 5% of this horse! Rick Pitino is a Proven Winner! The Santa Anita champ is looking to become to 2nd Santa Anita champ in a row to win the Derby after 'I'll Have Another' last year. Just for shits and giggles and because as a Georgetown Hoyas and New York Mets fan I clearly love inflicting pain on myself, let's turn back the clock and see what I wrote last year about the eventual Derby Champion!

19. I'll Have Another (12-1):
This horse won the 2012 Santa Anita Derby and for the best analysis I can offer, below is what I wrote last year about Midnight Interlude, the winner of the 2011 Santa Anita Derby.

"Here's the thing - I hate horses that win the Santa Anita. Each year a horse comes out of the West Coast and lays a big fat egg at Churchill amidst a world of hype. Since 2006, Brother Derek, Tiago, Colonel John, Pioneerof the Nile, and Sidney's Candy have all won the Santa Anita only to fail to bring home the roses at Churchill. I don't find Midnight's past performances all that impressive either, running slow speed numbers in short distances and only running a mile and an eighth just once. I know what you're thinking. "Wait, Casual my main man, are you really about to toss a Baffert horse that won the Santa Anita Derby and has one of the higher speed figures of all the horses in the damn race?" Yes. Yes I am. I am going to let Midnight Interlude beat me tomorrow. Just don't see the value at 10-1 which will likely be closer to 8-1 at post time. Verdict: TOSS."

Midnight Interlude finished 17th in the 2011 Kentucky Derby, and coming out of the 19 post I expect similar from I'll Have Another.

Derp! Ok, now onto Goldencents. GC and Flashback dueled down the stretch both the 2013 San Felipe Stakes and in the Santa Anita, and if you watch both of the below you can see why horseplayers are high on Goldencents as he has learned to rate off the pace and adjust his running style to conserve his energy for the stretch run.

Unlike in the San Felipe where GC was beaten by the closer Hear The Ghost after being gassed in that battle with Flashback, in the Santa Anita he was able to hold off Flashback for the win after saving up some energy early and displaying a nice kick down the stretch. BUT, this was a poor field by usual Santa Anita standards, the winning time was slow, and I'm not sure GC's running style of getting out near the lead early is going to translate well to the mile and a quarter at Churchill. This horse is going to take a boatload of money on Saturday so I don't love him at his current price, but he's a must-include as he has the ability to win the whole thing. Also, now that I have your attention: f*ck Russ Smith, f*ck Peyton Siva, and Rick Pitino's tattoo is stupid.
Verdict: Include.

9: Overanalyze (15-1):
This horse won the Arkansas Derby over a less than stellar field but has a versatile running style that is a good sign heading into the Derby. In the below, check him out as he was bunched in with a group of other ponies at the top of the stretch before finding room and exploding down the stretch for a win going away.

In the Remsen he held off a storming Normandy Invasion for a win at the wire in a thrilling race in which he was passed by Normandy in the stretch but showed heart in taking back the lead and winning by a nose.

The Arkansas has been knocked for being a slow race, but it wouldn't surprise me if some of the early splits in the Derby are similar.
Verdict: Include in exotics.

10: Palace Malice (20-1):
Back in the day in the Alphabet City in NYC there was a bar called No Malice Palace, where you walked upstairs into the bar filled with beautiful hipster people and it was always a good time. That bar, which has since shut down, has a better chance of winning the Derby than this horse. When asked to go a mile and an eighth in the Blue Grass, Palace Malice was run down by Java's War and in the Louisiana Derby at the same distance he finished a disappointing 7th. If Palace Malice takes my money on Saturday, so be it. I see better value elsewhere.
Verdict: TOSS.

11: Lines of Battle (30-1):
Lines of Battle represents this year's foreign horse entry in the Run for the Roses, and other than the miles he'll gain on his frequent flyer account I don't see much upside for him even showing up on Saturday. His run to win the UAE Derby was impressive in that he was met mid-stretch but still surged to the wire, but he drifted to the middle of the track during the stretch drive and I think he's outclassed here by a number of horses that have all run more than just once this year. Verdict: TOSS.

12: Itsmyluckyday (15-1):
In his races in both the Gulfstream Derby and the Holy Bull, IMLD stalked the pace nicely before exploding at the top of the stretch for easy wins. However, in the Florida Derby (view below in the Orb blurb), he again ran a similar style race but was met and passed by Orb in the stretch. I like this horse's speed and think he could win a lot of races in the future, but I don't think he wanted that extra eighth of a mile in the Florida and that makes him a question mark for me in the Derby. Verdict: Reluctant Include in exotics.

13: Falling Sky (50-1):
Falling Sky represents early speed in this race and that doesn't say all that much as he's only registered one career Beyer figure in the low 90s and was a 4th place finisher in his last outing at the Arkansas Derby. In his lone win in 2013 in the Sam F. Davis Stakes he surged to the lead and barely held on at the wire, something he's simply not going to be able to do at the Derby distance in a classier field. He's either going to win this race wire to wire or get run down and finish in the bottom half of the field. I'll bet on the latter.
Verdict: TOSS.

14: Verrazano (4-1):
From ‘Bellamy Road' in 2005 straight through last year's ‘Gemologist', 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. Verrazano is undefeated and will enter the Derby as one of the betting favorites, but that Wood race wasn't the kind of performance that I like to see out of a fave as a final Prep heading into the Derby.

The pace was slow, Verrazano shot out to the front early (just as he did in the Tampa Bay Derby) and barely held off the hard-charging Normandy Invasion at the wire. To his credit Verrazano was met in the stretch by Vyjack, looked him right in the eye and then took off, but I have some doubt about the Derby distance for him especially at this price. This horse could be a superhorse or he could be a really good horse that doesn't want a mile and a quarter. The 14 spot is good for him as it will allow him to relax a bit heading into the first turn, so we'll find out what he's got tomorrow.
Verdict: Include.

15: Charming Kitten (20-1):
Like Mine That Bird in 2009 and Giacomo in 2005, this horse has NO CHANCE to win the Derby. NONE.
Verdict: TOSS.

16: Orb (7-2):
It's tough for me to get around such a bad name for a horse when evaluating its chances to win The Run for the Roses, but aside from the name there really isn't much to dislike about him. Orb has both the running style and the speed to win this race. His run to win the Fountain of Youth was nasty, as he came from way back to win after a punishing stretch run in a race that was very fast. Orb followed that up in the Florida Derby with another impressive run as he held back in 4th position until unloading on the decent field at the top of the stretch to run by Itsmyluckday and win going away at the wire.

Unbeaten in his last four races, he's looked good at Churchill this week and could be sitting on a big effort come Saturday. Verdict: Potential winner, include.

17. Will Take Charge (20-1):
Love this horse's run in the Rebel where he came from off the pace at the top of the stretch to run down fellow Derby contender Oxbow at the wire.

This horse reminds me a lot of Animal Kingdom who ran a final Prep race in similar style (and a lesser speed figure) before taking the Derby field by storm on the first Saturday in May and at his expected value I like this dude a lot. On the downside, he has never run a mile and an eighth which could be a big problem. Wait a minute! In fact, he's the ONLY horse in the entire field never to run a mile and an eighth. I take everything I said above back.
Verdict: My mind says TOSS but my heart says Include.

18. Frac Daddy (50-1):
Nope. Hasn't beaten anyone and isn't going to start doing so here.
Verdict: TOSS

19: Java's War (15-1):
Coffee's War! This little bugger is your classic closer, as evidenced by his dynamic move from last to first to win the Blue Grass and a similar run from last to grab 2nd in the Tampa Bay. What I loved about the Blue Grass is that he broke poorly and trailed the entire field before making his run at the top of the stretch to win after moving 7 wide in a full field of 14 horses in his first crack at the mile and an eighth distance.

Though in the Tampa Bay Derby he ran a similar race, there was no way he was catching the classier Verrazano at the mile and one sixteenth distance - and Verrazano was on cruise control throughout. Java is plucky and appears fast enough (Beyers of 96 and 89) to possibly grab a share.
Verdict: Include in exotics.

20: Vyjack (15-1):
The winner of The Gotham is a nice horse that has hit the board in all of his races. However, when asked to go an extra 1/8th of a mile in the Wood he faded in the final furlong and I suspect he doesn't have the distance or speed to win at a mile and a quarter against this field in the Derby, especially coming out of the 20 post. Byejack.
Verdict: TOSS.

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

3. Revolutionary (10-1)
5. Normandy Invasion (12-1)
8. Goldencents (5-1)
9. Overanalyze (15-1)
12. Itsmyluckyday (15-1)
14. Verrazano (4-1)
16. Orb (7-2)
17. Will Take Charge (20-1)
19. Java's War (15-1)

9 horses! DAMMIT. Need to get to 6.

OK, here goes. The way I see this race playing out is as follows:

Last year's race had a ton of early speed in horses like Bodemeister, Trinninberg and Hansen. When those gunners raced out to the lead and Bodemeister surprisingly pressed the pace throughout and tried to wire the field, it fatigued a lot of the well-decorated horses like the undefeated Gemologist and opened the race up for I'll Have Another (out of the 19 post) to remain in the middle of the pack and surge down the middle of the track for the win. So what can we learn from last year's race? Unfortunately, not much.

This race appears to be quite different, as the lack of blazing speed out of the gate means that horses that tend to stalk the pace should be able to do so while rating off lead and saving gas for the stretch run. While this is good news for favorites like Orb, Verrazano and Goldencents who all have good post positions and have run very fast stalking fractions in their Derby Preps, it's not such great news for spirited closers who rely on that hot pace to gas the leaders and give them a chance to run them down in the final furlong. It's also really bad news for horse gambling enthusiasts who want to win a bunch of money on this race, because to me at least this race appears to favor the classier horses who will all be at lower prices.

Nonetheless, the first to go from that list of 9 ponies is Will Take Charge. I loved WTC's run to win the Rebel but I can't bank on a horse that has never run at a mile and an eighth in his life to suddenly take to the mile and a quarter distance. DOWN TO EIGHT! The next horse to go is Itsmyluckday. People love this horse and I can see why given his speed and impressive win in the Holy Bull, but what I saw in the Florida Derby is a horse that wanted no part of the mile and an eighth and faded in the stretch to give way to Orb. I haven't seen anything in any of his preps to indicate he wants this mile and a quarter distance, so he's out. OH MY GOD WE'RE DOWN TO SEVEN HORSES. ONE TO GO! Finally, I'm reluctantly bidding a fond adieu to my main man Java's War, one of my favorite horses in the field but one that I think will have some difficulty grabbing a share as a closer coming out of that 19 post position against other closers like Normandy that are faster.

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

3. Revolutionary (10-1)
5. Normandy Invasion (12-1)
8. Goldencents (5-1)
9. Overanalyze (15-1)
14. Verrazano (4-1)
16. Orb (7/2)

Blech. I hate seeing all that chalk up there but as stated above, I don't see the pace of this race setting up for a longshot or a closer to win. I really like the value that Overanalyze presents at 15-1 as he's one of only two horses in the field (the other being the favorite Orb) to win TWICE at a mile and an eighth and his run in the Arkansas showed me he'll have no issue with the mile and a quarter. I would have loved to include a longer shot like Will Take Charge or Java's War in there but I can't find a reason to exclude either of the "Big Three" of Goldencents, Verrazano and Orb. I doubt all three will hit the board (that would really suck, by the way), but they're all so similar that I'd rather play it safe and include all of them on my ticket while rooting for two of them to run flat while a longer shot like Revolutionary, Normandy Invasion or Overanalyze comes on strong to grab pieces of the action and preferably at the top.

Rain is currently in the forecast tomorrow at Churchill so it's possible that weather will become a factor or other developments may occur as post time nears on Saturday that will impact the above wager. The prices for the horses will change and as I have a tendency to go back and forth and talk myself out of my analysis, be sure to check right back here in the comments for entertaining schizophrenic updates and gratuitous GIFs of Kate Upton right up until go time.

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.