2016 Kentucky Derby – Handicapping the Field
This year’s edition of the Kentucky Derby promises to be one of the most wide-open in recent memory, despite having the undefeated champion 2-yr-old, Breeders Cup Juvenile, and Florida Derby-winning Nyquist as the race favorite. Yet this favorite is not without question marks, and will likely go off as a higher price than either California Chrome or American Pharoah did in the last two editions of the race.
What makes this year particularly interesting is that no horse, including Nyquist, has established dominant form coming into the race. Only two horses, Gun Runner and Destin, can claim wins in 50+point prep races, and only the former may be single-digit odds. Last year, the 3 favorites – American Pharoah, Dortmund, and Carpe Diem – had swept their final two preps heading into the race. 3 of the 5 major US prep races were run on surfaces that were anything but FAST. All this is to say that every horse in this year’s Derby has question marks, and that makes for an interesting race. It’s not impossible that this year’s trifecta is made up of three horses that will not be among the top 3 favorites, and that should lead to some big payouts.
Nyquist (Estimated Post-Time Odds:7-2)
Uncle Mo x Seeking Gabrielle (Forestry), trained by Doug O’Neill
This fellow has done nothing wrong in winning all 7 of his starts and $3.3M to boot. He’s fast, he tracks the pace, and he’s beaten many contenders in here. His first-year sire Uncle Mo has placed 3 Derby starters this year, but was never a winner beyond a mile and a sixteenth. His dam was also more sprint-oriented, as was his damsire. I also note that his fastest races, based on BRIS Speed figs, were around one turn, not his routing wins. I recognize Nyquist as a horse I must use in exactas and trifectas, based on his record to date, but he’s not one I want to play much on top. He’s tier 2 for me, because I see his unbeaten record coming to an end.
Tier 1 (Prime win candidates and key exacta/trifecta horses)
Gun Runner (Est PT 8-1)
Candy Ride x Quiet Giant (Giant’s Causeway), trained by Steve Asmussen
This lightly raced colt has a running line that I really like to see:He has improved every race with increasing distance. He stalks the pace, which should allow him to avoid most trouble in the large pack. He has a pedigree stuffed with stamina influences and appears to be training forwardly. He’s a major contender and should get a square price.
Curlin x Dawn Raid (Vindication), trained by Keith Desormeaux
This is what most people are going to like when they see Exaggerator in PPsHe has been consistently fast, even in losing efforts. His victory in the sloppy Santa Anita Derby looks freaky, based on his win margin, but his performance was completely consistent with earlier efforts. His sire Curlin has consistently passed on his speed and stamina influence and Exaggerator’s dam side is solid enough. He does not need a muddy track to win, but if the Churchill dirt is anything other than fast, Exaggerator may get bet to favoritism.
Creator (12-1) – THE PICK
Tapit x Morena (Privately Held), trained by Steve Asmussen
Do these running lines look like the PPs of a Derby winner?There’s some slow races in there, and only two wins. What if we eliminate the first two turf races? Now, eliminate the two FG races that had really slow early paces. We are left with efforts of 91-93-95-100, the best being at his longest distance yet. He’s by super-sire Tapit, who has yet to place a Derby runner but has a Belmont winner (Tonalist) amongst his progeny. More intriguing is Creator’s dam, Morena, who was a champion in Peru. Many of the highest class races in Peru are 10f+ races, so stamina is highly prized. Creator likes to come from off the pace, and requires a swifter pace to set him up. The Derby pace is almost always above-average fast, so Creator should be running late. I rate him the equal of Gun Runner and Exaggerator, but his price should be much better. I’ll be playing Creator to win.
Tier 2 (Include with key horses in exactas/trifectas)
Nyquist (see above)
Tapit x Justwhistledixie (Dixie Union), trained by Kiaran McLaughlin
Mohaymen’s final prep, the Florida Derby, was a bit of a head-scratcher. He finished 4th on a GOOD surface that his trainer said he simply didn’t like. It was by far the slowest race of his career, and even finished behind previously unheralded horses Majesto and Fellowship. I’ve another theory: I don’t think McLaughlin trained him to win the Florida Derby. His previous race took something out of him and he backed off his training a bit, knowing Nyquist was coming to Florida to claim a $1M bonus for a win. Mohaymen gave his best effort that day, but he wasn’t peaking. He might be now – he certainly has the talent, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him turn the tables
Danzing Candy (25-1)
Twirling Candy x Talkin and Singing (Songandaprayer), trained by Clifford Sise, Jr.
Do you remember last year’s Derby, when the top 3 horses were all within a few lengths of one another the entire length of the track? Speed often holds up really well in the Derby, and DC is (in my opinion) the fastest of the speed horses (Outwork being his main pace competition). He certainly went out too fast in the Santa Anita Derby, but veteran jockey Mike Smith will know how to rein him in the Derby, and the forecast calls for a dry track. Holding on for a piece, even a win, is not impossible
Mineshaft x Uchitel (Afleet Alex), trained by Donnie K Von Hemel
There’s a lot to like from this late-running gelding, starting with his pedigree featuring a Breeder’s Cup Classic winning sire and dual classic winner Afleet Alex as a damsire. He’s another that looks like he’s improving with age and distance, and will be another closing from the back. He may not be best, but he’ll be an excellent exotic price if he hits the board.
Tom’s Ready (20-1)
More Than Ready x Goodbye Stranger (Broad Brush), trained by Dallas Stewart
Dallas Stewart runners have completed the Derby exacta at long odd 2 of the last 3 years, a fact that will not be lost on many Derby handicappers. More Than Ready is not really known as a distance sire – turf milers are what he seems to specialize in producing – but Tom’s Ready’s damside has considerable distance influence, including Broad Brush, Deputy Minister, and Sham. He’ll need to work out a trip, but are we really going to ignore Dallas Stewart in our trifectas another year? No we’re not.
Note: There are no Tier 5 horses this year (my T5 horses in 2015 finished 14th, 16th, and 17th), and there’s very little difference between Tier 3 and Tier 4 on ability. My preferences are based on expected price and my perceived differences in class.
Tier 3 (3-4 spots in minimum bet trifectas, superfectas)
Note: my Tier 3 plays this year are more price-based than a clear delineation of ability above Tier 4 horses
Mor Spirit (12-1)
Eskendereya x Im A Dixie Girl (Dixie Union), trained by Bob Baffert
It’s virtually impossible to leave out a Bob Baffert trainee, especially one that’s finished no worse than second in his seven starts. I’m not in love with his pedigree (the Storm Cat curse on the sire side remains) but it’s hard not to recognize his ability. The Baffert angle will keep the odds down on this one, so he’s unattractive to me relative to his competition, but I recognize that a top 2-4 position for him is not unlikely.
Tiznow x Unacloud (Unaccounted For), trained by Gustavo Delgado
It wasn’t until I read this article that I really considered Majesto for a top spot. He is a half-brother to Arkansas Derby winner (but Kentucky Derby also-ran) Overanalyze. The main point is that he has kept some classy company and will be long odds. He might be good to pair with Nyquist in some bets, if you think the Florida Derby was better than its speed figures indicate. Won’t ignore at a long price.
Trojan Nation (40-1)
Street Cry x Storm Song (Summer Squall), trained by Patrick Gallagher
So, why might I suggest betting a maiden – he’s never won – that ran 2nd in the Wood Memorial at 81-1 odds? Well, I think he may actually be good. The pedigree screams Derby – both sire and damsire have produced Derby winners (Street Sense and Charismatic, respectively) and he’s training forwardly. He’s been running on the left coast, which probably has this year’s strongest runners, and is likely to improve with distance. He should be a huge price. He’ll make any trifecta with him in it a huge score.
My Man Sam (25-1)
Trappe Shot x Lauren Byrd (Arch), trained by Chad Brown
Another closer in a race stacked with closers, in My Man Sam you have a solid runner with a reasonable pedigree (especially from his damside) that has a good jockey and will be twice the odds of the horse that beat him in the Bluegrass Stakes, Brody’s Cause. I think he’s as good as Brody’s Cause, but a better bet at the higher odds.
Mo Tom (25-1)
Uncle Mo x Caroni, Rubiano, trained by Tom Amoss
Mo Tom has these chart comments in his last three races: “hit gate, bumped early”, “Checked sharply 3/16”, “Checked badly 3/16”. And he still had 3 good races and speed figures. I’m not sold on Uncle Mo in the pedigree, but his damside has Rubiano, Caro, and Nijinsky. That’s geared for stamina. If he can work out a trip, he’s another that threatens the trifecta.
Tier 4 (Big budget players can include these on some tickets)
Giant’s Causeway x Dream of Summer (Siberian Summer), trained by Todd Pletcher
I really liked Destin’s full-brother Creative Cause in the 2012 Kentucky Derby but am less a fan of Destin. Having not run since the Tampa Bay Derby is a questionable decision to me and I’m not sure he’s beaten much in his wins. The odds won’t be there on this one
Tapit x Heavenly Romance (Sunday Silence), trained by Mitsio Makunaga
I want to like Lani and his stellar pedigree, but the UAE Derby route has just been so bad when it comes to Kentucky. But yes, what a pedigree with Derby Winner and Japanese super-sire Sunday Silence as damsire. I’ll have a little Lani in the mix, but prefer others.
Uncle Mo x Nonna Mia (Empire Maker), trained by Todd Pletcher
The Wood Memorial winner has some things going for him, including an excellent damside stamina pedigree and a early runstyle that many others do not have. I’m just uncertain that he’s a top contender, not sold on the strength of the East Coast horses this year. I’m not sure he’ll beat Danzing Candy on the front, or be able to repel pressure from his back.
Brody’s Cause (15-1)
Giant’s Causeway x Sweet Breanna (Sahm), trained by Dale Romans
The Bluegrass winner shook off a poor seasonal debut in the Tampa Bay Derby but didn’t exactly dazzle with his finishing time in his final prep. The Derby’s strange in that 15-1 is viewed as a short price, but I don’t see indications that he possesses any true standout qualities that would elevate him over other contenders.
Bernardini x Muhaawara (Unbridled’s Song), trained by Chad Brown
Lightly-raced runner has a strong enough pedigree but hasn’t run particularly fast in any win. His regular rider Irad Ortiz has chosen My Man Sam over him, and some social media chatter has the trainer favoring MMS over Shagaf. He’s as close to a toss for me as I come
Pleasantly Perfect x Melody’s Spirit (Scat Daddy), trained by Ron Moquett
Consistent closer has earned his way into Derby by being second- or third-best in Arkansas all season. He gets Victor Espinoza (winner of last two Derbies) as his jockey, but he may just be too slow to make a big splash. Pencil him into a top 10 finish, but I don’t have a lot of hope for his hitting the board.
Oscar Nominated (40-1)
Kitten’s Joy x Devine Actress (Theatrical), trained by Mike Maker
This horse has run on, and won on, solely turf or synthetic surfaces. But he’s never been fast. This isn’t an Animal Kingdom situation, where the pedigree and training really supported a move forward on dirt. This is a turf horse, and we’ll see him back on it sooner than later.