The Kentucky Derby is a little different this year. No, it’s still the same distance (1 1/4 miles) at Churchill Downs. It’s still held on the first Saturday in May (May 4 this year) and it’s still called the “greatest two minutes in sports.”
But the qualifications to get into the race were changed from graded stakes earnings to a point system, meaning the best horses will actually compete. With 20 slots to fill, some trainers that have qualified horses choose not to run, leaving the hole open for a few horses that literally do not have a shot to win.
Instead of previewing every horse, like I have done in years’ past, lets break down this group of 20 into three categories — contenders, shots and the rest.
Television coverage begins Saturday morning at 10 a.m. on NBC Sports Network then at 3 p.m. on NBC. Race time is at 5:24 p.m.
Verrazano was the likely morning line favorite, but even then I didn’t like this horse to win. This Kentucky bred was a $250,000 purchase and is tied in the point standings with Orb at 150. He’s a perfect 4-4 for trainer Todd Pletcher, who will saddle a staggering five horses in this race. Verrazano gets jockey John Velazquez, who could have ridden Orb but chose this colt. He won the Tampa Derby by three lengths over Java’s War, who returned to win the Blue Grass. I just don’t think the “wow” factor is there. He’s done nothing wrong; Ijust don’t think he remains perfect after this race. The colt will be up close to the pace, so any other running style and he’s done.
Speaking of Orb, the actual morning-line favorite, I really like this Kentucky bred, even though morning line favorites usually don’t win the Derby. Orb should love the distance. Coming into the Derby, this colt has won four straight and pulled away from Itsmyluckyday in the Florida Derby. Joel Rosario has been the hottest rider in the country, and he is back aboard for trainer Shug McGaughey. I don’t know if he can win it, but if he stays mid pack, he surely will have a shot to make some noise.
Goldencents won the $1 million Delta Jackpot last year and is No. 3 on the points list with 129. Trainer Doug O’Neill, who won last year’s Derby with I’ll Have Another, is back with a horse that has won three of his last four starts. After cruising in the Jackpot and Sham Stakes, the horse struggled and finished fourth in the San Felipe but bounced back to win the Santa Anita Derby. First time Derby rider Kevin Krigger has been aboard all six starts, and this colt will be battling for the early lead. If the fractions are soft, this horse has a chance to steal it at the end.
I picked Itsmyluckyday to win the Delta Jackpot last year, but he finished sixth behind Goldencents. He then came into his own during his 3-year-old campaign and reeled off two easy wins, including a romp in the Holy Bully. But were those races tough?
Off nearly a two-month layoff, the colt took the lead in the Florida Derby but couldn’t hold on and finished second behind Orb. With Elvis Trujillo in the saddle for trainer Eddie Plesa, if this colt can stay near the front, this could be his race.
Normandy Invasion has been getting a ton of respect, though the colt has only won one race in five starts. He did finish second in the Remsem, ran fifth in the Risen Star despite losing by less than two lengths and comes into this race after a big effort, as the colt came flying late to finish second by less than a length behind Verrazano. Javier Castellano gets the call for trainer Chad Brown. But how many horses have won the Derby without winning a graded stakes first?
Revolutionary will get plenty of attention because of jockey Calvin Borel. This colt has won his last two but has a late running style, and that may cause problems in such as big field.
Mylute is another horse that will get plenty of money thrown at him because of female jockey Rosie Napravnik, who will try to become the first woman to win the big race. This gray colt for trainer Tom Amoss was second in the Jean Lafitte Stakes and third in the Delta Jackpot, both at Delta Downs last year. His two wins were in non-stakes races. If the track is muddy, it would serve this horse better.
Vyjack won his first four starts for trainer Rudy Rodriguez, then held his own in the Wood Memorial with a third by a neck behind Normandy Invasion, one length behind Verranzo. Never raced outside of Aqueduct in New York.
Overanalyze rallied and won big in the Arkansas Derby for trainer Todd Pletcher and Rafael Bejarano. This horse also won the Remsen, defeating Normandy Invasion by a nose, but was blasted by Vyjack in the Gotham. Did run third in a stakes race last year at Churchill Downs.
Charming Kitten should be a super long shot, and I plan to use him on my ticket. Probably can’t win, but could round out an exacta, trifecta or superfecta ticket. This colt is trained by Todd Pletcher and has never raced on a true dirt surface but has looked decent during workouts at Churchill Downs. Both of his wins have come on the turf, and he heads to the Derby with a third-place finish in the Blue Grass, losing by a half-length behind Java’s War.
Will Take Charge won the Rebel Stakes in Arkansas at 28-1 odds to get here. Will likely need a muddy track to get into the mix.
Java’s War won the Blue Grass, which I don’t put much stock into, but does have a good rider with Julien Leparoux and highly respected trainer Kenny McPeek.
Palace Malice gets the service of veteran Mike Smith in the saddle. Ran a good race last start with a second in the Blue Grass. Before that, had problems in the Louisiana Derby. Another Todd Pletcher trained horse, so look out.
Oxbow will have Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens aboard. This is a horse who has had plenty of trouble in his last few starts, but if Stevens can keep him out of trouble, he could cause some problems.
Goldencents, Charming Kitten, Orb, Revolutionary