LOUISVILLE, Ky.—Most of the drama surrounding this year’s Kentucky Derby is centered on a trainer, not a horse. Racing publications and newspapers from here to New York have focused their coverage of the 136th Run for the Roses on horseman Todd Pletcher and his inability to get a horse into the winner’s circle at the Derby.
Pletcher has won four Eclipse Awards over the years as the nation’s leading trainer and he has started 24 horses in the big race here at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May without having won a single one. This year was supposed to have changed that. His barn was filled with talented three-year-olds, at least six of which had earned enough money in graded stakes races to qualify for the Derby.
The contingent was led by Eskendereya, a son of Giant’s Causeway who is bred to run all day. The 1-1/4 mile distance of the Derby was not supposed to be a problem, nor was the 1-1/2 mile Belmont Stakes, the third leg of the Triple Crown. Yes, Eskendereya had Pletcher thinking that far ahead.
The chestnut won the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth States at Gulfstream Park near Miami by more than eight lengths in February. He shipped to New York and took down the Grade 1 Wood Memorial in early April by almost 10 lengths, under a hand ride. So overwhelming were these victories, Mike Battaglia, who creates the morning line for the Derby, had Eskendereya an early short-priced favorite at odds of about 2-1.
Alas, it was not to be. The striking colt came out a workout last weekend with swelling in he left front leg between his ankle and his knee and was officially scratched from the Derby on Sunday. The 42-year-old Pletcher was disappointed, but not defeated.
“I’m fortunate that I’ve got other good horses and other opportunities at this race,” he was quoted as saying. “I’ve got to do my best with them.”
Unfortunately, Monday brought more trouble. Rule, a colt by Roman Ruler who has never been out of the money in seven starts, also was withdrawn from the Derby. Pletcher said the youngster was not injured, but the earner of $791,700 did not look good physically and was not working well in the morning. Rule’s withdrawal left Pletcher with five entries, including the filly, Devil May Care.
The attrition continued on Tuesday when Pletcher announced that Interactif, who is a better grass horse, would skip the Derby. The defection left Pletcher with four entries, but the question remains: will the trainer’s agony end early Saturday evening, or will he be 0-28 in the Derby before the sun goes down?
The Kentucky Derby is a 1-1/4 mile race run on the dirt here at Churchill Downs. It is limited to the 20 three-year-old thoroughbreds who have earned the most purse money in graded stakes, the top level of racing. Colts and gelding carry 126 pounds; fillies tote 121. ESPN will carry the entire undercard at the Downs beginning at 11 a.m. Saturday. NBC will take over at 4 p.m., and the Derby will go off at about 6:25 p.m. Once the gates flip open, it will take about two minutes to divide the $2 million-added purse.
In post position order, here is this year’s field. The horse’s name will be followed by its breeding, the morning line odds, and the name of its trainer.
- LOOKING AT LUCKY—Smart Strike-Private Feeling by Belong To Me. 3-1. Tr. Bob Baffert. The new morning line favorite, last year’s two-year-old champion has done most of his racing on artificial surfaces in California, but he shipped to Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas in March and won the Grade 2 Rebel States on dirt. If he takes to the track—and his workouts have been good—he could be the one. But he is trapped down inside with all the speed outside him. Baffert has won this thing three times, and he has the veteran Garrett Gomez in the saddle.
- ICE BOX—Pulpit-Spice Island by Tabasco Cat. 10-1. Nick Zito. This late bloomer has won three of his last four races, ending the string with a victory in the Grade 1 Florida Derby at odds of almost 21-1 in March. Colt is a closer in a race with a ton of early speed. If the speed falls apart up front, jockey Jose Lezcano could have him right there. And if it rains in Louisville on Saturday, look out! Zito has won this thing twice, once in the slop.
- NOBLE’S PROMISE—Cuvee-The Devil’s Trick by Clever Trick. 12-1. Kenneth G. McPeek. This colt has won a lot of money–$823,500—but since the Breeder’s Futurity on Keeneland Race Course’s artificial surface last October, he has run 3-2-2-5. Three of the horses in here today finished in front of him in the Arkansas Derby last out. McPeek is 0-3 in the Derby, as is journeyman jockey Willie Martinez.
- SUPER SAVER—Maria’s Mon-Supercharger by A. P. Indy. 15-1. Todd Pletcher. If Pletcher is going to break his jinx in the Derby this year, this is the horse that will do it. The last time he ran over this track under jockey Calvin Borel, he won the Grade 2 Kentucky Cup Juvenile by five lengths. He has had only two races this year, losing by ½ length and a neck. The third race back from a rest is usually the best in a horse’s form cycle, and he keeps Borel in the saddle. He can sit behind the speed and make his move late. This is your Pletcher bet.
- LINE OF DAVID—Lion Heart-Emma’s Dilemma by Capote. 30-1. John Sadler. Trainer ships in an artificial surface specialist from out west, but unlike Sidney’s Candy, this horse won the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby last out on the dirt at odds of more than 17-1. Jockey Rafael Bejarano has won twice with the horse, and Bejarano has won riding titles in the past at Churchill Downs. Live long shot.
- STATELY VICTOR—Ghostzapper-Collect the Cash by Dynaformer.30-1. Michael Maker. Colt broke his maiden on the turf at Saratoga Spring in upstate New York last September then ran 6-7-5-8-5 in his next five races. Except for the fact that one of his co-owners is the attorney general of Kentucky, there was no reason for Maker to enter this colt in the Grade 1 Bluegrass Stakes on Keeneland’s artificial surface three weeks ago. Sure he won at odds of 40-1, but the only two times the horse has been on dirt, he ran 7th and 5th, beaten a total of 15 lengths. Alan Garcia gets the return call.
- AMERICAN LION—Tiznow-Storm Tide by Storm Cat. 30-1. Eoin Harty. This West Coast colt’s first five starts were on artificial surfaces; however, he shipped east and won the Grade 2 Illinois Derby on dirt, beating Backtalk by 14 lengths. This colt has some things going for him. His sire won the Breeder’s Cup Classic two years in a row, so the distance should be no problem. Trainer Harty, a former assistant to Baffert, has handled Derby winners before, and the veteran David Flores has the ride. Live long shot.
- DEAN’S KITTEN—Kitten’s Joy-Summer Theatre by Ide. 50-1. Michael J. Maker. Racetrackers know owners Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey as one of the most delightful couples in thoroughbred racing, and it appears that the Ramseys entered this colt in the Derby as an excuse to have a big party. The horse’s sire was a grass specialist, and 10 of this colt’s 11 races have been on the grass or an artificial surface. The one time he ran on the dirt, Eskendereya beat him by almost 34 lengths. Robby Albarado is a top rider, but he can’t carry a horse around in his arms. Note the ML odds.
- MAKE MUSIC FOR ME—Bernstein-Miss Cheers by Carson City. 50-1. Alexis Barba. This colt got into the race late Wednesday when Endorsement was withdrawn. He has won only one race in his lifetime, he has never run on the dirt, and his young, West Coast trainer is making her first trip to the Derby. Those long ML odds seem about right. Joel Rosario is the jockey.
- PADDY O’PRADO—El Prado-Fun House by Prized. 20-1. Dale Romans. The last time this colt ran on Churchill’s dirt he finished seventh, beaten more than 11 lengths. His last five races were on turf or artificial surfaces. His only victory in six lifetime starts came in the Grade 3 Palm Beach Stakes on the grass. His last race was the Blue Grass at Keeneland, where he was beaten 4-1/2 lengths by the 40-1 shot Stately Victor. In his favor is his jockey; Kent Desormeaux has won this thing three times.
- DEVIL MAY CARE—Malibu Moon-Kelli’s Ransom by Red Ramsom. 10-1. Todd Pletcher. After withdrawing Eskendereya and Rule from the Derby, Pletcher entered this filly, the only girl in the race. She began her career like gangbusters, breaking her maiden at Saratoga last August then winning the Grade 1 Frizette Stakes at Belmont Park in October. Both races were on dirt. She ran next in the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile Fillies but disliked the artificial surface and finished 11th. She won the Grade 2 Bonnie Miss on the dirt in her last. With Eskendereya out, top jock John Valasquez took this ride. She gets five pounds from the boys. Will that be enough?
- CONVEYANCE—Indian Charlie-Emptythetill by Holy Bull. 12-1. Bob Bafftert. This is Looking at Lucky’s rabbit. Baffert is going to have jockey Martin Garcia send him right to the front and play “catch me if you can,” hoping to burn out the speed and set up Lucky’s final dash to the wire. There is a lot of speed in this year’s Derby, making it unlikely that any of the early runners can hold on for the win. When he turns for home on that long Churchill Downs stretch, this horse will fade like a pair of jeans.
- JACKSON BEND—Hear No Evil-Sexy Stockings by Tabasco Cat. 15-1. Nicholas Zito. This colt earned enough money to get into the Derby by running second in three straight graded races. Two back, he lost the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes by 8-1/2 lengths then the Grade 1 Wood Memorial by 9-3/4 lengths. Eskenderey beat him both times. If you believe Eskenderey was the best coming into the Derby, well, this is the horse that was chasing him. Zito has won this race twice, and he is bringing in veteran Mike Smith from the West Coast to ride.
- MISSION IMPAZIBLE—Unbridled’s Song-La Paz by Hold Your Peace. 20-1. Todd Pletcher. This is the trainer’s least likely winner. The horse broke his maiden on Keeneland’s artificial surface last April, ran second in an allowance race at this track then disappeared for almost nine months. That gap may indicate physical problems. Two of the horses in here today, Conveyance and Dublin, finished in front of him in the Southwest Stakes in February. He did win the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby last out, but he beat a suspect field that day. Rajiv Maragh has the ride.
- DISCRETELY MINE—Mineshaft-Pretty Discreet by Private Account. 30-1. Todd Pletcher. This colt amassed enough money to get into the Derby mainly by running in the money in graded stakes races. He has only two victories, a maiden win and a first place finish in the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes at the Fairgrounds in New Orleans. But he beat a weak bunch that day. When Pletcher stretched him out an additional 1/16th of a mile in the Louisiana Derby, he ran fourth. He’s stretching out another 1/8th today and figures to finish even further up the track. Javier Castellano has the ride.
- AWESOME ACT—Awesome Again-Houdini’s Honey by Mr. Prospector. 10-1. Jeremy Noseda. This colt was a British-based grass specialist until he came to the U.S. last November for the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile Turf, which he lost by just over a length. After the race, his connections decided that his future was on the dirt and left him on this side of the Atlantic. Sure enough, he came off the shelf this spring to win the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes. Next, he took on the big boys in the Wood Memorial and had a horrible trip. He stumbled out of the gate, lost a shoe and ran wide the whole way. He still finished third. The Derby is the third race back in his form cycle; this horse will have a say in the outcome under the steady handling of Julien Laparoux.
- DUBLIN—Afleet Alex-Classy Mirage by Storm Bird. 12-1. D. Wayne Lukas. In a long and storied career, the 74-year-old trainer has won this race four times. Just for good measure, he threw in a second and four thirds. Dublin’s sire won the Belmont Stakes at 1-1/2 miles, so the distance should not be an issue. The running line on his last three races read: “four wide,” “four wide,” and “three wide.” Unfortunately, he drew outside in Post 17 in the Derby, which could keep him wide again. Terry Thompson gets back in the saddle.
- BACKTALK—Smarty Jones-Apassionata Sonata by Affirmed. 50-1. Thomas M. Amoss. This colt’s sire won this thing in 2004, and his dam sire won it in 1977, but Backtalk has never won a race longer than a mile. In his last race, the 1-1/8 mile Illinois Derby, he was beaten 14 lengths by American Lion. But he has a couple of things going for him. This is the third race in his form cycle, and he has won twice on the Churchill Downs dirt. Amoss and rider Miguel Mena are old Kentucky hands.
- HOMEBOYKRIS—Roman Ruler-One Last Salute by Salutely. 50-1. Dick Dutrow. Co-owned by L.A. Dodger Manager Joe Torre, this horse has been shipped from barn to barn the way Torre switches relief pitchers. The colt broke his maiden for Pablo Andrade at Calder Race Course in south Florida last July then was sent to New York with Dutrow. He won the Grade 1 Champaign Stakes, and was switched to the barn of Juan Rodriguez. Over the winter, he came back to Dutrow. In his last, he lost an allowance race on the dirt at Gulfstream Park, hence the 50-1 odds. Ramon Dominguez rides.
- SIDNEY’S CANDY—Candy Ride-Fair Exchange by Storm Cat. 0-0. John Sadler. What a disaster! This is the best three-year-old on the West Coast, and he drew the far outside post. The colt is four for his last five, capping the string with a victory in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby on April 3rd. All his races have been on artificial surfaces in California, but his sire, the Argentine stallion Candy Ride, produces top dirt runners as well. If he takes to the surface, he may be a dangerous entry, but he has somehow got to overcome the post position. Sadler brings in the talented 20-year-old Joe Talamo to ride.
Those of you who live in the State of Georgia Power can bet on this race only if you know a bookmaker or own a computer. Wow! That eliminates just about everybody, doesn’t it? Anyway, The Dew does not encourage gambling. Drinking, yes! Gambling, no.
These are simply suggestions:
- Bet $10 across the board on #4 Super saver
- Bet a $1 trifecta box on #1 Looking at Lucky, #2 Ice Box, #4 Super Saver and #16 Awesome Act
- Bet a $2 exacta box on#11 Devil May Care and #16 Awesome Act.
That is a total of $58. Good luck!