Kentucky Derby 144 will run in 18 days. About a week ago a friend asked in an email “Haven’t there been any horse races leading up to this year’s Derby?” Well, yes, yes there have been; 35 in fact that offered the needed points to qualify to get one of the coveted spots in the 20-post field.
So what happened? In my opinion? Not a lot of anything. If you think I was lukewarm on last year’s Derby colts (Aside: As 2017 ground on, I was proven right about those colts, sadly, as many succumbed to injury and went onto lengthy layoffs, one, Irap, was euthanized following a racing injury, and others retired before the year was over), the 2018 runners have left me at least, if not more unenthusiastic than last year.
Let’s just cut to the chase. As of today the 20 three-year-old colts slated to run May 5 are:
- Magnum Moon–Winner of Arkansas Derby & Razorback Stakes
- Good Magic–Winner of Bluegrass Stakes & Breeders’ Cup Juvenile
- Audible–Winner of the Florida Derby
- Noble Indy–Winner of the Louisiana Derby
- Vino Rosso–Winner of the Wood Memorial Stakes
- Bolt d’Oro–Winner of the San Felipe Stakes*
- Enticed–Winner of the Gotham Stakes
- Mendelssohn–Winner of the UAE Derby & Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf
- Justify–Winner of Santa Anita Derby
- My Boy Jack
- Promises Fulfilled
- Free Drop Billy
- Lone Sailor
- Firenze Fire
The field is really a muddled mess with no clearcut standout. The top nine horses are, for the most part, better than the rest of the field, but each one will have to overcome some history to find themselves in the Derby winner’s circle.
Honestly, I really do think that there are two exceptional colts in the race–Justify and Mendelssohn.
Justify–In any other year I’d be over the moon excited about him. He IS an exceptional horse with unlimited potential. In only his third lifetime race he won the Santa Anita Derby in a convincing manner. And he HAD to win it to qualify for the Kentucky Derby as, going into the race, Justify had ZERO points! Therein lies the problem: for all his exceptional athletic ability, Justify will be asked to try and win the Derby in just the fourth race of his life. Personally, I hate to see him pressed into the Derby at this stage of his racing life; the strain of this demanding race could well ruin his racing future. But of course “The Run for the Roses” is a one-time opportunity… He did not race as a two year old and so, YES, carries the dreaded “Curse of Apollo”–No horse who hasn’t raced as a two year old has won the Kentucky Derby since 1882 when Apollo won. Don’t run off, you’re going to hear this again soon!
Mendelssohn–He was born in Kentucky, but was purchased by the Coolmore Syndicate and has done most of his racing in Europe on grass…except when he returned to America last fall to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, and last month when he went to run on the dirt for the first time in Dubai in the UAE Derby. Yeah, so what. Thunder Snow won the UAE Derby last year; YOU liked him and he only turned out to be a bucking bronco out of the Louisville gates and didn’t even contest the race. Yeah, well Thunder Snow is one of the few 2017 Derby horses still running and WINNING, including the 2018 Dubai World Cup! But I digress, what of Mendelssohn, the grass horse? Well, in his first start on dirt Mendelssohn ONLY won the UAE Derby (at 1 3/16th miles; Preakness Stakes distance) by 18 and a half lengths!! It is the most impressive run I’ve seen by a three year old this season outside of Justify. Mendelssohn is also a half brother to champion racemare Beholder, and young star stallion Into Mischief.
Of the other top nine colts, Good Magic is rounding into form with his Bluegrass win, his first since winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (dirt) in November. However, only one BC Juvenile winner has won the Kentucky Derby, Street Sense in 2007. Magnum Moon is four for four, but he too didn’t race as a two year old; Apollo Curse! Also in winning the Arkansas Derby Saturday, he ran increasingly wide down the lane while on the lead. Not a good look, but I think just showed how green he is. Audible, Noble Indy, Vino Rosso, and Enticed are all good horses, but I’m not convinced they have what it takes to win the roses. Bolt d’Oro was highly regarded as a two year old, but technically, hasn’t won a race since last September. *He was put up to first in this year’s San Felipe Stakes after a series of bumps down the stretch between him and McKenzie (I wouldn’t have taken McKenzie down; subsequently, he was injured in training and unable to continue on the Derby trail). Further, Bolt d’Oro contested the Santa Anita Derby, but was unable to catch Justify.
In my view, only one colt outside of the top nine, has a legitimate chance to, if not win, at least hit the board Derby Day and that’s My Boy Jack. Yet again, the brothers Desormeaux (Trainer Keith, jockey Kent, previously teamed on Preakness winner Exaggerator and BC Juvenile winner Texas Red) have a live colt. My Boy Jack runs and wins from well off the pace. He can handle both a muddy and fast track. The Derby could set up for him.
The other 10 colts, as my mom used to say: “You pay your money and you take your choice (in this case more like chance! 🙂 ).
Yet again this race is really wide open. Pick the horse, name, jockey, horse or silk color that most appeals to you; it’s likely to be as good as any handicapping advice you receive. Heck, at the pace this is all going, it wouldn’t surprise me if the 2018 edition of the Kentucky Derby is run in snow!
Good luck. I’ll be back to alert you of the dreaded or fortunate post position draw, May 1.