clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The 11th Annual Casual Kentucky Derby Preview

New, 25 comments

The Casual Derby Preview is back!

churchill

Welcome to the 11th Annual Casual Kentucky Derby Preview!

It’s great to be back with you previewing the Run for the Roses on the First Saturday in May.

In this column you will find the tried and true handicapping analysis of the Greatest Two Minutes in Sports that has netted its followers thousands of dollars over the last decade, so it’s up to you whether you want to pay attention to the below or simply continue perfecting that Tik Tok you are currently working on.

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. Win the trifecta, win the world, buy Dogecoin. To the moon!

With that in mind, below is the most casual analysis of the 2021 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. Indeed, my life has very little meaning.

Away we go!

1. Known Agenda (Todd Pletcher, Irad Ortiz Jr.) 6-1

I liked this Florida Derby champion to potentially hit the board as one of the best if not the best closers in the field but he drew the dreaded rail. The good news is that his 6-1 odds may rise to double digits by the time the race starts so he should be more attractive.

Verdict: Include.

2. Like the King (Wesley Ward, Drayden Van Dyke) 50-1

Won something called the JR Steaks prep race in order to qualify for the Derby. Takes a step up in class here and doesn’t appear to have the speed to contend with some of the more seasoned colts in this race. Not much to like here.

Verdict: TOSS

3. Brooklyn Strong (Danny Velázquez, Umberto Rispoli) 50-1

Brooklyn in the house! Unfortunately this horse is lucky to be here after a few qualifiers defected and I suspect a middle of the pack finish would be considered a win for his handlers. Finished 5th in the Wood Memorial which was slow slow slow.

Verdict: TOSS

4. Keepmeinmind (Robertino Diodoro, David Cohen) 50-1

This horse has failed to impress me in any aspect of horse racing. Even his name and the lack of capitalization bugs me. He won at Churchill in the Kentucky Juvenile 5 months ago but it’s been downhill since against better competition.

Verdict: TOSS

5. Sainthood (Todd Pletcher, Corey Lanerie) 50-1

One could argue that this was the better horse in the JR Steaks race that was won by Like the King. Sainthood moved from the rail, then spread 5 wide, then had to jump inside again and still had some juice to finish 2nd by a neck. Speed figures don’t impress but at the price I can’t toss him just yet.

Verdict: Include.

6. O Besos (Greg Foley, Marcelino Pedroza) 20-1

This horse seems to be the wiseguy pick this year as the horse with higher odds that can hit the board or perhaps win. I’m not completely sold on the win aspect of it, but he has improved his speed figures in every race of his life and if that happens again in the Derby it will put him right in the mix. Impressive 3rd in the Louisiana Derby where he boldly rallied from the back of the pack to hit the board. The Louisiana is an interesting prep race to take a look at since that field contained 20% of this Derby field (O Besos, Hot Rod Charlie, Mandaloun and Midnight Bourbon):

Verdict: Include.

7. Mandaloun (Brad Cox, Florent Géroux) 15-1

Laid an egg as the favorite in the Louisiana Derby, likely gets the 15-1 price here based on his past 100 speed figure in an impressive win in the Risen Star where he had a perfect trip and defeated a field that included fellow Derby hopeful Midnight Bourbon. I didn’t like that he essentially gave up in the Louisiana when asked to burn. No thanks at 15-1.

Verdict: TOSS

8. Medina Spirit (Bob Baffert, John Velázquez) 15-1

Baffert horse so will automatically and blindly take a bunch of money at the mutuels, Medina is good enough to hit the board in this race with speed figures consistently in the 90s but got worked by Rock Your World in the Santa Anita and to me looks like a reasonably fast horse that likes to get up front but doesn’t have much left in the tank when it counts. Pace speed could be good enough to get in the mix in this race, however.

Verdict: Include.

9. Hot Rod Charlie (Doug O’Neill, Flavien Prat) 8-1

Louisiana Derby champ is a popular pick and is priced as one of the favorites here at 8-1. Nothing jumps out at me on paper or watching his preps – good horse, held off all of the others in the field to win the Louisiana, but how good was that field? Could he hit the board here? Sure. At 8-1, however, I’m looking elsewhere. I think he gets forward placed out of the 9 and then loses steam down the stretch. Usual jockey will be riding Rock Your World instead, which is probably a sound business decision.

Verdict: TOSS.

10. Midnight Bourbon (Steve Asmussen, Mike Smith) 20-1

Best named horse in the field, Midnight Bourbon is going to be out front with a few others early and hopes to still be there when the dust settles. Has good speed figures and will be in the mix at the top of the stretch. Good enough to hang on?

Verdict: Include.

11. Dynamic One (Todd Pletcher, José Ortiz) 20-1

Dynamic One nearly took the Wood Memorial but was caught by a hard charging Bourbonic at the wire. There should be enough pace for him here to be passing horses down the stretch, but it may be tough for him to get where he needs to be to cash tickets. The pace in the Wood was plodding at best.

Verdict: TOSS.

12. Helium (Mark Casse, Julien Leparoux) 50-1

Undefeated but lightly raced, Helium takes a major leap forward in distance and class here. Has never run anything more than a mile and sixteenth in his life, hasn’t beaten anyone in this field other than fellow longshot Hidden Stash. A lot would need to go right.

Verdict: TOSS

13. Hidden Stash (Vicki Oliver, Rafael Bejarano) 50-1

Took a step up in class in the Blue Grass and finished 4th. Not much else to hang his hat on and doesn’t appear to be in the same class as many of his fellow horses in this race. Jim Boeheim has an ownership interest, so if you like horses owned by the devil incarnate, this is the one for you!

Verdict: TOSS.

14. Essential Quality (Brad Cox, Luis Sáez) 2-1

There’s no compelling reason to leave Essential Quality off of your tickets, but in my not so humble opinion he is a very vulnerable favorite and at 2-1 there is zero value here. Yes, he’s unbeaten and yes, he is likely to get a good stalking trip from the 14 post and be in the mix at the top of the stretch, but his numbers don’t jump out at me and he was nearly beaten by Highly Motivated in the Blue Grass. He won that race which is all that matters, but he doesn’t look to be the superhorse that should be at a price like this.

Verdict: Include.

15. Rock Your World (John Sadler, Joel Rosario) 5-1

The Santa Anita prep was very impressive, with Rock Your World shooting to the lead, holding it, and lengthening it down the stretch. It was the only prep race that I saw this year that reminded me of some of the preps for other Derby champs in recent years, horses that have natural gliding speed at a different level from their peers and that didn’t need much nudging from their jockeys to move even faster. There is zero reason to think Rock Your World won’t be in the mix here and has to be included on tickets as a threat to win the race outright.

Verdict: Include.

16. King Fury (Ken McPeek, Brian Hernandez Jr.) 20-1 (UPDATE: Scratched)

King Fury ran from the back of the pack to vanquish the field over a sloppy track in the Lexington, in what was a race that had very fast early fractions just as I would expect here. Visually impressive horse that should get a good trip out of 16. Problem is that other than the Lexington he’s been brutal. Has he figured it out? Intriguing value at 20-1 but everything would need to go right for him.

Verdict: TOSS.

17. Highly Motivated (Chad Brown, Javier Castellano) 10-1

Like this horse a lot. Was neck and neck with Essential Quality in the Blue Grass before getting caught close to the wire, should be able to save some gas around the track from the 17 in this race and battle him again. Not sure he wins but everything suggests he should be in the mix in the stretch. Excellent speed figures and good value.

Verdict: Include.

18. Super Stock (Steve Asmussen, Ricardo Santana Jr.) 30-1

Plucky horse that showed great tenacity in emerging through traffic to win the Arkansas Derby over a strong field that included the unbeaten Baffert horse Concert Tour and Caddo River. Had a real estate saving trip from the 1 post in that one so it will be way different here, but should be running strong in the end and could pick up some pieces if a hot pace vaporizes the early speed.

Verdict: Include.

19. Soup and Sandwich (Mark Casse, Tyler Gaffalione) 30-1

S&S is a striking gray horse and hey, everyone loves a nice soup and sandwich. Seemingly likes to get out to the front and he’ll have a long way to go from the 19 to get there out of the gate. Had every chance to win the Florida but was caught by Known Agenda, who is simply better. Could hit the board and good value at 30-1.

Verdict: Include.

20. Bourbonic (Todd Pletcher, Kendrick Carmouche) 30-1

Tough to ignore his striking rally from last to first to win the Wood, but I am tossing that race as it was slow (24/48) and that’s not going to happen in the Derby. Would need a pace meltdown to grab a piece, and again I don’t see that happening as there are plenty of other better horses here.

Verdict: TOSS.

OK, let’s see where we are:

1. Known Agenda (Todd Pletcher, Irad Ortiz Jr.) 6-1

5. Sainthood (Todd Pletcher, Corey Lanerie) 50-1

6. O Besos (Greg Foley, Marcelino Pedroza) 20-1

8. Medina Spirit (Bob Baffert, John Velázquez) 15-1

10. Midnight Bourbon (Steve Asmussen, Mike Smith) 20-1

14. Essential Quality (Brad Cox, Luis Sáez) 2-1

15. Rock Your World (John Sadler, Joel Rosario) 5-1

17. Highly Motivated (Chad Brown, Javier Castellano) 10-1

18. Super Stock (Steve Asmussen, Ricardo Santana Jr.) 30-1

19. Soup and Sandwich (Mark Casse, Tyler Gaffalione) 30-1

10 horses left, not great! OK, let’s make some cuts.

Ideally I’d like to have a ticket that includes some pace setters, some mid-packs dudes with some juice, and a couple of closers with long odds.

Must include these three as they are too good to risk leaving off. They are the chalk for a reason, don’t want to get caught trying to be too cute:

1. Known Agenda (Todd Pletcher, Irad Ortiz Jr.) 6-1
The rail is not helpful, but the new gate placements at Churchill are such that he won’t actually be against the rail. Could get a nice trip and save some ground along the way - very similar to his run to win the Florida against the early pace set by Soup and Sandwich.

14. Essential Quality (Brad Cox, Luis Sáez) 2-1
Again, for me he is a beatable favorite, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he still hits the board.

15. Rock Your World (John Sadler, Joel Rosario) 5-1
This horse is fast enough to wire the field, reminds me a lot of Maximum Security, the horse that “won” the 2019 Derby before being questionably disqualified.

Next tier (10-1 to 20-1), I like the below the best:

6. O Besos (Greg Foley, Marcelino Pedroza) 20-1
Didn’t win the Louisiana but loomed dangerously and was running the best at the end in a field that included Hot Rod Charlie and Midnight Bourbon. Will like the extra distance in the Derby.

17. Highly Motivated (Chad Brown, Javier Castellano) 10-1
Highly Motivated is the only horse in this field to run 3 consecutive 100+ speed figures - all in his last three races. I’ll take my chances with him over Midnight Bourbon (game horse but doesn’t win) and Medina Spirit (similar running style as Midnight Bourbon but a Baffert horse which is probably the only reason he’s at 15-1).

Longer shots:

Need to fill out the ticket with a higher priced upside horse, which is below:

18. Super Stock (Steve Asmussen, Ricardo Santana Jr.) 30-1
Good value here for the Arkansas Derby winner that has shown he can weave through traffic and still turn it on down the stretch - what you need to contend in the Derby. Will need a lot to go right, but the 18 post is a good start.

So there we have it! The 6-horses in the $1 trifecta box are:

1. Known Agenda (Todd Pletcher, Irad Ortiz Jr.) 6-1

6. O Besos (Greg Foley, Marcelino Pedroza) 20-1

14. Essential Quality (Brad Cox, Luis Sáez) 2-1

15. Rock Your World (John Sadler, Joel Rosario) 5-1

17. Highly Motivated (Chad Brown, Javier Castellano) 10-1

18. Super Stock (Steve Asmussen, Ricardo Santana Jr.) 30-1

RACE ANALYSIS

The usual thought with the Kentucky Derby is that swift early fractions (quarter mile in less than 23 seconds, half mile in the 46 second range) are bad news for horses with a front-running style as they will fade and get run down in the stretch by horses with better closing speed. Class horses, however, are able to hold off these closers which explains why the favorites have done very well in recent years.

This year’s Derby should have strong early pace. I’d expect Rock Your World, Medina Spirit, Midnight Bourbon and Soup and Sandwich to be out front early and take this group around the track.

If the visuals in the prep races hold true to form, at the top of the stretch those horses will be joined by stalkers Essential Quality, Highly Motivated, Hot Rod Charlie, O Besos, Super Stock and Dynamic One while closers like Known Agenda, Sainthood and Bourbonic make moves as well.

If I had to pick the top 6 in order (which I don’t), I’ll roll with:

WIN: 15. Rock Your World (5-1)

PLACE: 17. Highly Motivated (10-1)

SHOW: 1. Known Agenda (6-1)

4th: 14. Essential Quality (2-1)

5th: 6. O Besos (20-1)

6th: 18. Super Stock (30-1)

NOTES:

- Medina Spirit is the wildcard here, as he could either burn out Rock Your World early or settle just behind him just like in the Santa Anita. The latter strategy didn’t work, so if he zooms out to the front out of the 8 post to Rock Your World’s inside then Rock Your World is going to have to decide whether to press the pace or rate behind him. I hate not including a Baffert horse in the trifecta but I haven’t seen anything from Medina yet to think he’ll be a serious contender in the final furlong.

- Essential Quality will have every chance to win this race. The 14 post is perfect for him to establish a stalking position around the track. The Blue Grass was a bit worrisome for me as even though he won, it wasn’t visually compelling for a horse going off as a 2-1 favorite here.

- Rock Your World is an intriguing horse. He could wire the field or he could get run down in the stretch after running out of gas. I’m betting on a performance closer to the former given his run in the Santa Anita, and I’m intrigued to see what he does if/when threatened.

- Known Agenda is a grinder and if he can survive the break from the gate at the 1 post he should be able to save some ground along the way at the rail and have some gas in reserve for the stretch run.

- Highly Motivated is a threat to win this race. From the 17 post he should be placed beautifully outside Essential Quality and stalk him (rather than the other way around in the Blue Grass). Speed can’t be ignored in the Derby, and he’s faster than most.

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 (or the rain) starts pouring in, be sure to check right back here in the comments for updates right up until go time.

Casual Churchill Documentation below:

2009 Derby champion Mine That Bird!

Remember, a bad day at the track is better than a good day at work.

Enjoy the race.