Welcome to the 7th Annual Casual Kentucky Derby Preview!
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.
Now, you're probably thinking "What does this doofus who runs a Georgetown Hoyas blog know about horse racing?" Well, let's take a look to see what has gone down since we started this Derby Preview thing, shall we?
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.
2011: 4 of top 6 finished in top 8, netting a Trifecta WIN that paid for numerous lunches both documented and non-documented alike.
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'. Whatever.
2013: 3 of the 6 ponies finished in the top 6 including the winning and show horse, resulting in a narrow Trifecta LOSS.
2014: 4 of the 6 ponies finished in top 6, missed out on place horse Commanding Curve which ruined everything.
2015: Triumphant Trifecta WIN and Superfecta WIN as 4 of 6 finished in top 4.
So to recap, over the past six years I have given the world THREE Trifecta WINS, a Superfecta WIN and the eventual creation of beer. When was the last time you created beer?
To make it even more simple, if you have followed my guidance over the past six years you would have spent $720 and won approximately $3,245, for net winnings of $2,525.
Before we get to the analysis of the ponies, some ground rules. In this space 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 favorites. 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, sprinkled 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 2016 Kentucky Derby field you will likely find anywhere else, from someone who has actually watched all of these horses run in all of their prep races. EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM. My life has very little meaning. Away we go...
The Analysis, in Order of Post Position:
1. Trojan Nation (50-1):
Likely to take a lot of money from USC grads and fans of condoms. Bold run to nearly snatch the Wood Memorial from Outwork:
Big jump from his usual 70s Beyer figure to a 93 in the Wood Memorial, and I'd expect a bounce to his former speed pattern in the Derby. 1 post = death.
2. Suddenbreakingnews (20-1):
A closer, Suddenbreakingnews should be flying at the end of this race. Had a 6 wide trip and nearly ran down Creator when asked to go a mile and an eighth for the 1st time in the Arkansas Derby. Sudden is related to Afleet Alex, one of my favorite horses of all-time. Problem with Sudden is that if you want to include a closer, he finished 2nd to Creator in the Arkansas and other than price it's tough to justify why you'd want to include him instead of Creator on your ticket. Will need a hot pace and the 2 post concerns me a bit as he'll have a lot of horses to sort through.
3. Creator (10-1):
Speaking of Creator, the Arkansas Derby champ and a dead closer will be running at the end of this race.
I don't know if he has the tactical speed or is fast enough to win it outright, but Creator has shown the ability to pass a ton of horses in the final furlongs and that has value in a race like the Derby. I don't love his value at 10-1, kind of wish he were higher.
4. Mo Tom (20-1):
A horse owned by Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson, Mo Tom has become the horse with tons of potential but always seems to run into trouble. After winning the Lecomte at the Fairgounds in New Orleans with a thundering run down the stretch, Mo Tom finished 3rd in the Risen Star and then 4th in the Louisiana Derby - with both trips involving poor decisions by his jockey resulting in the horse having to check after not finding any room to run. For a lead pack runner this might be less of an issue, but for a closer type in what will be a field of 20 horses, I don't see much changing for him. Middling speed figures don't entice.
5. Gun Runner (10-1):
Gun Runner's most impressive race was his most recent in the Louisiana Derby, winning going away after rallying from a rail post position.
The Louisiana was slow, however, and Gun's 91 Beyer speed figure is among the slowest of any of the prep champs. Gun Runner won the Risen Star in which he rated off the pace and turned it on down stretch, which is another example of this horse's 2nd gear. However, he was losing ground rapidly at the wire and another furlong might have spelled doom. In the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill, both Gun Runner and Mor Spirit had every chance to win that race and lost to unheralded Airoforce.
Plucky horse and improving, but is he fast enough to earn a share? I like that this horse wins races, could surprise.
6. My Man Sam (20-1):
A lightly raced horse, My Man Sam enters the Derby having run in only 4 career races. A closer, My Man's most impressive run came in the Blue Grass where he finished 2nd to Brody's Cause after a bold stretch run. With two career 90+ Beyers and an 88 in the Blue Grass, this horse won't win the Derby but if you want a closer that will go off at a high price, he could surprise. Like Brody's Cause, doesn't need blistering early fractions to grab a piece.
Verdict: Include, why the hell not.
7. Oscar Nominated (50-1):
This horse has no chance to win the Derby. None. Zero. Related, I still have no idea how Stallone lost Best Supporting Actor after what he did in CREED. What a film.
8. Lani (30-1):
The annual foreign import to the field, Lani is a Japanese bred horse that won the UAE Derby in come from behind fashion.
I suppose I like the gritty stretch run, but it wasn't the kind of bold, eye-opening run that makes Lani look like a contender to win the Kentucky Derby. I really liked Mubtaahij last year and he flopped at Churchill, so I'm just not sure when if ever one of these UAE Derby winners is going to contend.
Verdict: Possible include at price.
9. Destin (15-1):
Destin heads into the Derby as your Tampa Bay Derby champ, where he outworked Outwork down the stretch to win.
Destin ran an impressive 100 Beyer speed figure in that race, but the race itself was slow as molasses with opening fractions of 24 and nearly 48 seconds. The Derby will be faster, so it's tough to take much out of that prep. Destin also won the Sam F. Davis which was another slow race, so I'm not quite sure what to make of him other than that when he needed to run faster in the Lecomte he was off the board against Mo Tom and Tom's Ready. Has never run a mile and an eighth in his life and don't love his chances of getting the mile and a quarter on Saturday.
10. Whitmore (20-1):
Another closer, it's tough to love Whitmore's chances to hit the board here since I think there are better closers in the field. That said, Whitmore gets Victor Espinoza, the jockey on California Chrome and American Pharoah, which has to count for something. Decent speed figures make Whitmore tough to ignore.
Verdict: Include in exotics.
11. Exaggerator (8-1):
Exaggerator has rocketed to the top of the betting board based on his triumphant romp in the Santa Anita Derby, a race in which he displayed great closing speed and vanquished the rest of the field going away.
Impressive run no doubt, but there are a lot of question marks out there with this horse.
First, Santa Anita aside, Exaggerator hasn't been all that impressive in other preps. His connections took awhile to figure out his best running style and have finally landed on "closer" after a few duds as a horse that ran just off the pace. In the San Felipe, Exaggerator debuted as a closer for the 1st time and was able to gain on the leaders but faded badly down the stretch to finish 3rd to wire to wire winner Danzing Candy and Mor Spirit. Did he make his move too early?
In the Santa Anita, Danzing Candy set a blistering pace of 22 and 45 (San Felipe was 23 and 46), which allowed Exaggerator to make up tons of ground around the near turn as the leaders grew tired and he put away the rest of the field with ease. The Santa Anita was the most impressive race of Exaggerator's career, and whether it will translate to Derby success will largely depend on the early speed in the Derby. Will Danzing Candy again go all-out early knowing that that pace ruined him in the Sana Anita? Doubtful, and thus I'm not sure the early speed fractions that Exaggerator will need will be there in order to set up as a race that will work for him. It could, however, and that 103 Beyer in his last race can't be ignored.
Another horse owned by the owner of the Saints and Pelicans, which makes sense since he's mostly mediocre. Much like the Saints, Tom's Ready hasn't won anything in years and much like the Pelicans, he isn't particularly adept at running up-tempo. His career-best Beyer is an 85, which means he simply isn't fast enough to win this race. The only thing he has going for him is that he's trained by Dallas Stewart, who has a history of training horses that go off at high prices and hit the bottom of the board. I don't see that happening here.
13. Nyquist (3-1):
Nyquist is the well-deserved favorite in the Derby, carrying his impressive unbeaten record into the 1st Saturday in May. Wins aside, let's take a look at the types of races he has run which will give us a better sense of his chances come Saturday.
First, The Frontrunner Stakes.
What I like about this early race is that Nyquist doesn't need the lead. He rates off the pace nicely and his high cruising speed allows him to keep pace with the leaders but not gas himself while doing so. He turns on the jets a bit before the stretch yet still has enough in the tank to hold off a comer in the stretch and win at the wire.
Next, The Breeders Cup Juvenile.
For me this was one of the more impressive prep races for Nyquist as he needed to gut out a win in a boxed field of 13 horses. Most prep races have fields of 7 or 8, but this 13 horse field creates a similar havoc that the Derby will produce. Running from the same 13 post position that he has in the Derby, Nyquist had to run five-wide at the top of the stretch to find running room, then turned it on to put away everyone down the stretch. Worth noting this race also included fellow Derby contenders Exaggerator and Brody's Cause.
Next, the San Vicente.
Perhaps the most telling of what might transpire on Saturday, Nyquist maintained a high cruising speed at decent quarter and half-mile fractions and had plenty in the tank and didn't even need to be urged with a whip while dispatching the rest of the field, including a charging Exaggerator down the stretch.
Finally, the Florida Derby.
Hailed as a West Coast-East Coast battle between Nyquist (B.I.G.) and Mohaymen (Tupac), the Florida Derby was won by Nyquist going away in a race that cemented his spot as the Kentucky Derby favorite. Asked to go a mile and an eighth for the 1st time, Nyquist had plenty in the tank at the top of the stretch and pulled away from the rest of the field to win easily.
Nyquist has answered every challenge in his career thus far, and should be a contender at the wire to win the Derby.
Verdict: Must include, possible winner.
14. Mohaymen (10-1):
A stalker, after impressive wins in the Remsen, Holy Bull and Fountain of Youth over poor competition, Mohaymen was trounced by Nyquist and others in the Florida Derby above. Really had no excuse in the Florida either, ran his race and was neck and neck with Nyquist but just didn't fire. Was it the sloppy track? Maybe, but will need a big rebound to hit the board in the Derby. Might not want the distance.
15. Outwork (15-1):
Outwork is your Wood Memorial champ, wiring the field on a sloppy track:
The Wood Memorial winner has gone on to disappoint at Churchill in recent years, and I don't think Outwork's front-running style is going to net him a share come Saturday. I expect Outwork to be out near the front and then get run down in the stretch, just as Destin did to him in the Tampa Bay Derby.
16. Shagaf (20-1):
I had high hopes for Shagaf heading into the Wood but he just never fired, finishing a disappointing 5th in his 1st attempt at a mile and an eighth. With most Beyers in the high 80s, I don't see a path for him in the Derby to hit this board.
17. Mor Spirit (12-1):
A Baffert horse and ridden by Gary Stevens, Mor Spirit is a good looking horse and consistently fast. In the Robert B. Lewis, he rated off the pace and turned it on down the stretch.
Since that race, however, he finished 2nd to Danzing Candy in the San Felipe and 2nd again to Exaggerator in the Santa Anita. Has he regressed or is he sitting on something big?
18. Majesto (30-1):
Not much upside with Majesto, a pack runner who doesn't seem to have the burst when called upon. Finished 2nd to Nyquist in the Florida Derby but never really threatened, doesn't appear to have the credentials to be a contender here.
19. Brody's Cause (12-1):
A pure closer, Brody's Cause heads into the Derby as the winner of the Breeder's Futurity and the Blue Grass Stakes.
What intrigues me about Brody is that he doesn't need blistering early fractions to run down opponents, as his win in the Futurity (ran down Exaggerator) came in a race with 23 and 47, while his run in the Blue Grass had a similar pace. The big question here is what the hell happened with Brody in the Tampa Bay Derby, where he simply never fired. He had his rebound in the Blue Grass which is a good sign, but Kentucky Derby winners rarely have awful preps like that. That race may have just been too slow for him if that makes sense.
Verdict: Include, will be running at the end.
20. Danzing Candy (15-1):
Front-running horse that figures to set the early pace, Danzing Candy won the San Felipe in wire to wire fashion and then was trounced by Exaggerator in the Santa Anita. In the Santa Anita he ran slightly faster quarter and half mile fractions than in the San Felipe (blistering early fractions of 22 and 45), so it's possible that he was gassed in the stretch, didn't take to the sloppy track, didn't want the extra furlong - or perhaps a combination of all of three. In any case, I expect this horse to lead the field around the backstretch and fade around the near turn. 20 post is a tough ask for a horse that likes the lead.
That's the field! OK, so what do we have left:
My Man Sam
Yikes, 11 damn horses and need to get to 6. OK, here we go:
- Sayonara, Lani. Way too many questions surrounding this horse for my money.
- See ya, Whitmore. Espinoza obviously a plus, but this horse just doesn't win and isn't an elite closer. Better options at price.
- Peace out, Mohaymen. Good horse but didn't fire against top competition in Florida, I'll take my chances betting against.
- So long, Suddenbreakingnews. Reluctantly letting go of this horse, but prefer other closers.
- No more Mor Spirit. When it comes down to it, this horse just doesn't win. 2nd to Danzing Candy in the San Felipe, crushed by Exaggerator in the Santa Anita, just don't see how he turns it around against this field.
So there you have it, the final 6 are:
3. Creator (10-1)
5. Gun Runner (10-1)
6. My Man Sam (20-1)
11. Exaggerator (8-1)
13. Nyquist (3-1)
19. Brody's Cause (12-1)
How The Race 'Should' Play Out:
Last year's race was run at relatively slow early fractions with Dortmund leading the horses around the first half mile in 47+ seconds. That race played right into the hands of American Pharoah, the favorite heading into the race (AND OH WHO EVENTUALLY WON THE DAMN TRIPLE CROWN) who was able to sit off the lead and run his race without burning fuel early. As a comparison, in 2013, Palace Malice led the field in a 45 second half mile, a full two seconds faster. In that race, and as in any Derby that sees fast early fractions, a horse with closing speed benefits and the eventual winner was the closer Orb who had enough left in the tank to surge down the stretch and into the finish.
So what can we learn from last year's race? With this field, perhaps a lot.
Like last year, there isn't much early speed to worry about here. Though obviously everything will come down to how the horses break from the gate and the trips they get, Danzing Candy will likely zoom to the front from his 20 post where he'll be joined by Outwork around the 1st turn. Nyquist, Mor Spirit, and Mohaymen will stalk the early leaders, the mid-pack bunch will include Gun Runner, Shagaf, Destin among others while the closers (Exaggerator, Creator, Brody's Cause, Whitmore, Suddenbreakingnews, My Man Sam) fall to the back.
As the field approaches the top of the stretch, Nyquist should be near the lead and will turn on the jets. As the early speed horses (Danzing Candy, Outwork) fight to hold on and fade, Mor Spirit, Moyahmen, Gun Runner and Exaggerator will bid for shares as Suddenbreakingnews, Creator, Brody's Cause and My Man Sam make bold final surges down the stretch. At the wire, I think Nyquist holds on by a length, with some combo of the above rounding out the top 6. If I had to pick a top 6 in order, I'll roll:
WIN: 13. Nyquist (3-1)
PLACE: 19. Brody's Cause (12-1)
SHOW: 6. My Man Sam (20-1)
4th: 5. Gun Runner (10-1)
5th: 11. Exaggerator (8-1)
6th: 3. Creator (10-1)
It's too bad there isn't more speed at the beginning of this race because that would open the race up for one of the longer shot closers, of which this field has many. Nyquist, Mor Spirit and Mohaymen are the horses in this race with high cruising speed and shouldn't have bad trips given their posts. I think Mohaymen gets beaten and passed by horses in the stretch just like he did in the Florida Derby, and hopefully My Man Sam as a 20-1 shot or Brody's Cause can grab a share for the upside. Exaggerator is a wild-card as he could win this race by a ton or miss out completely. I don't like Mor Spirit as much as some do and I think if the Baffert-Stevens combo weren't behind him he'd be at least 20-1. My Man Sam or Suddenbreakingnews could easily pick up a share, but I'll use My Man Sam here since he seems more of a live horse that could love the distance.
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 couple of years ago and if you are ever in the fine city of Louisville, you must go. Documentation below.
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 and a bad day at the track is better than a good day at work.
Enjoy the race.