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2016 Kentucky Derby Preview
- Updated: May 7, 2016
The first Saturday of May is upon us, and with it comes the Greatest Two Minutes in Sports: the 142nd running of the Kentucky Derby.
A year after American Pharoah captured the heart of the sport with its triumphant run to the first Triple Crown in 37 years, the stakes are back for a field of top-notch three-year-old thoroughbreds looking to begin a new era of Triple Crown winners. The Kentucky Derby, of course, being just the first of three legs in the daunting stretch of races that includes the Preakness Stakes, and concludes with the Belmont Stakes in June.
Right below the Twin Spires of the illustrious Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky the ‘Running of the Roses’ is one of the biggest days in the horse racing year. Not just by the size of the purse for the winner, but also for the fact that an astounding 20 horses run in it annually; A race that often times looks more like a cavalry charge than a horse race as the field breaks from the gate.
The purse (along with the title and honor that comes with victory) is the big attraction for many, as the winner will rake in an astounding $1.24 million through 1 1/4 miles, while 2nd takes in $400k, and 3rd $200k.
The weather is slated to largely be a perfect day for horse racing as it’s set to start around 60° as the races begin. It’ll progress up to about 75° by midday as clouds begin to roll in. The heat will continue to rise, as the high is marked for 82°, set to hit around 4 pm. The clouds will continue to move in as the afternoon progresses, and thunderstorms are supposed to begin at about 7 pm (sorry post-Derby races). Nature is a fickle thing, and the showers could easily creep up upon the big race’s 6:34 pm ET post time. Something to be mindful of, but until the weather proves otherwise, I wouldn’t let it impact the betting too much.
In rare form (at least so it seems from the last couple of years) there were no early scratches, and heading into Saturday, the field stands at its intended 20 horses. Of course, things can always change leading right up to post time.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at the field that will do battle on Saturday.
Owner: Julie Gilbert and Aaron Sones
Trainer: Patrick Gallagher
Jockey: Aaron T Gryder
Much is said about the difficulty of winning the Kentucky Derby from the 1st post. It’s crowded and easy to get pinched on the rail, eventually getting suffocated behind a dense pack of horses. Historically, the 1st gate is one of the best five gates at the derby, with a 9.3% win rate. If you can break clean and use the stable rail to defend the inside of the track, you’re free to operate without worrying about horses on one entire side of you. Easier said than done.
No maiden has won the Kentucky Derby since Brokers Tip in 1933. For the unadulterated, a maiden is a term in horse racing used to describe a horse which has never won a race before. The Kentucky Derby consists of the finest three-year-olds horses in the sport. It’s quite the time to claim one’s first win.
While Trojan Nation doesn’t have a win to its name, it exudes consistency between its six career races. Normally, Trojan Nation likes to stalk the pace, allowing the front runners to do their thing before the waning moments of the race. Not outright a closer, Trojan Nation capitalizes on tired horses and a steady running engine of its own that holds up across the distance.
After riding well in the Wood Memorial, where Trojan Nation ran a close 2nd as an 81-1 shot, Aaron Gryder gets the mount again. It’ll be Gryder’s first Derby appearance since mounting Songandprayer in 2001.
Owner: Samuel F Henderson
Trainer: Donnie K Von Hemel
Jockey: Luis S Quinonez
American Pharaoh might have snapped the 37-year drought for a Triple Crown winner, but there is a streak alive and dating back to Affirmed’s victory tour. No horse has won from the 2nd post since Affirmed ran the derby back in 1978, now stretching 38 years. We’ve had a Triple Crown winner, yet no horse has pulled a win from that post in that time span. And it doesn’t look like Suddenbreakingnews is out to create any flashy headlines this weekend. Although I’d imagine newspapers, telecasts, and websites alike could get pretty creative in the headline should it pull off a surprise victory.
Suddenbreakingnews is a four-time winner, but finished 1 1/4 lengths off the winner in its sole Grade 1 stakes race at the Arkansas Derby at the hands of fellow Derby runner Creator, who breaks from the gate next door.
Suddenbreakingnews is one of the three closers to keep an eye on, and oddly enough they all break from the first three gates. We’ve seen some solid distances closed by this horse, and if it’d have started its move a hair earlier, it might have had a chance at catching Creator. Keep an eye on this horse late.
Owner: WinStar Farm, LLC (Kenny Troutt)
Trainer: Steven M Asmussen
Jockey: Ricardo Santana, Jr
Creator, the big winner of the 2016 Arkansas Derby, earned its victory by way of an epic close. Creator was so far off the pace that he was entirely out of the shot as the race turned into the second turn. Riding 11th and 9 3/4 lengths off the pace, Creator began a leaping stride, cutting up the dead center of the pack before sliding outside to the right in the stretch, eventually winning by over a length.
This horse can handle the distance, and as long as it keeps its distance correctly guessed, and doesn’t pace based off a horse that will be lucky to see the 5th furlong in the lead, it’ll be in a spot to make some noise down the stretch. Whether it can find the room to operate and get by (the biggest peril to closers in the crowded field) is a whole other story.
Owner: G M B Racing (Gayle Benson)
Trainer: Thomas M Amoss
Jockey: Corey J Lanerie
Despite a brief hiatus in training from Amoss, Mo Tom has been consistent in all seven race appearances, collecting three wins en route, with the biggest being the LeComte Stakes. He showed a great engine in the final moments of that race, storming on the outside. It cleared fellow Derby runner Tom’s Ready, looking like it had plenty of energy to finish the extra 1/4 of a mile it’ll see Saturday.
In the two races after, Mo Tom was checked both times, finding itself unable to make up the gap created by it. Breaking from post four doesn’t afford a ton of room to work with, but if they can operate in the middle without issue, the horse has the stamina to make it interesting in the stretch.
Mo Tom is one of two horses in the big race owned by New Orlean Saints owners Tom and Gayle Benson.
Owner: Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC, Three Chimneys Farm LLC, and Besilu Stables
Trainer: Steven M Asmussen
Jockey: Florent Geroux
Gun Runner has been on a relative tear to start its career, winning four of five starts. Geroux has had the two most recent mounts, both coming with victory in hand. Coming off of wins at the Louisiana Derby and the Risen Star Stakes.
Geroux is a jockey on the rise, and is looking to break his Kentucky Derby cherry on his first ride. He enters the weekend sitting fifth in earnings this year, and win or not, will certainly take the big race experience in stride.
My Man Sam
Owner: Sheep Pond Partners, Newport Stables LLC, and Bligh, Jay W.
Trainer: Chad C Browns
Jockey: Irad Ortiz, Jr
My Man Sam made some impressive closing moves in the Blue Grass Stakes just a month ago, but still finished a close second to Brody’s Cause. This horse likes to stay wide and clear of the pack, so it’ll need to drop behind the initial break in order to have its desired room to operate. The pace could be uncomfortable, and without true closing ability, this horse might be left without a standout trait to take advantage of, leaving it adrift.
Owner: Kenneth L and Sarah K Ramsey
Trainer: Michael J Maker
Jockey: Julien R Leparoux
Oscar Nominated was almost a ‘could have been story.’ Qualified to compete in the race, owners Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey were short on the cash to enter, or at least the willingness to put it up. Neglecting to pay the entrance fee before the price skyrocketed, the Ramseys were left looking for somebody to front the $200k needed to run. Luckily for them, they found an investor (or poor schmuck depending on how the race ends up) on the promise of splitting the Derby winnings.
As a horse, Oscar Nominated leaves plenty to be desired. It’s had some good runnings, but hasn’t quite had the pedigree of races seen from the typical winners. A win in the Grade 3 Spiral Stakes as a 23-1 shot punched the ticket to Louisville, but there’s certainly a reason not even the owners were willing to buck up the $200k to get this horse entered. Crazier upsets have happened, but Oscar Nominated should be a big stage snub on Saturday.
Owner: Koji Maeda
Trainer: Mikio Matsunaga
Jockey: Yutaka Take
International superstars rarely make the travel to Kentucky and have much to show for it. The latest installment will be Japanese-based Lani. Winner of the UAE Derby, Lani is described as a temperamental horse that could run away with any competition handily, should it only care enough to.
An international competitor, there isn’t any side by side comparisons with any of the other horses running, but UAE Derby winners have never fared well in the Kentucky Derby; they’ve never placed higher than sixth as a matter of fact.
This horse should blow out its competition, but a wild race day, busy paddock, extended post parade, and insanely large crowd could leave this wild card of a horse overwhelmed and without a punch.
Owner: Twin Creeks Racing, LLC and Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners
Trainer: Todd A Pletcher
Jockey: Javier Castellano
Todd Pletcher hasn’t had much love running at the Kentucky Derby in recent years. Pletcher is just 1-for-43 at the Derby, and hopes to break that unfortunate run of results with Destin, the Tampa Bay Derby and Sam Davis Stakes winner.
It’s been eight weeks since Destin last ran, and no horse has won the Kentucky Derby with such an extended time off leading up to it. Needles won in 1956 with a 42-day layoff.
It’ll be Castellano’s fourth time riding Destin, and the pair has been nearly perfect, collecting two wins and a place. The two were bumped early in the Tampa Derby, but overcame with an impressive run to take it home.
If you’re a historical buff, nothing adds up for this horse to be a winner, but Destin is a strong runner that should hold its own.
Owner: Robert V LaPenta, Harry T Rosenblum, and Southern Springs Stables (Ron Moquett)
Trainer: Ron Moquett
Jockey: Victor Espinoza
Victor Espinoza looks to make history on Saturday, as he vies to become the first jockey to ride to a Kentucky Derby win in three consecutive years. He rode California Chrome to its near bid in 2014, before taking all three major races atop American Pharoah just last year. It’ll be his first mount with Whitmore as he vied for a Derby bid with other horses who ultimately fell short. But in a business where you might mount five different horses on a given Saturday, the challenge should be nothing new.
The strategy will be different for Espinoza than the past two years, as Whitmore is of the closer mold. Breaking in the dead middle of the pack, that’s a fortunate role to be aiming for, as things get dangerously tight out of the gate in this area.
The 10th gate is the golden gate, as it’s yielded the highest win percentage of any at the Kentucky Derby, at 11.4%.
Owner: Big Chief Racing LLC, Head of Plains Partners LLC, Rocker O Ranch LLC
Trainer: J Keith Desormeaux
Jockey: Kent J Desormeaux
Exaggerator has had the benefit of running with the expected top of this class multiple times. He’s never fared overly well, but at the very least you’ll know what to expect out of him. He’s run with Nyquist three times and finished no better than second behind him. Although he’s the one horse who might truly benefit from an earlier than hoped rain showers, as he ran away with a sloppy Santa Anita Derby.
It’s a family affair for team Exaggerator as the Desormeaux brothers team up to make some noise. Kent is a three-time Derby winner, most recently atop Big Brown in 2008.
This horse is drawing early action, but a lot of concern also hangs to as if this horse is a ‘wet track specialist.’ While it’s collected good finishes on clean tracks, the two wins, and a place in three wet day races have plenty leaning toward that being the case. Expect this horse to get a ton of late action if it looks like the rain is going to come in a little early.
Owner: G M B Racing (Gayle Benson)
Trainer: Dallas Stewart
Jockey: Brian J Hernandez, Jr
The second of Saints owners Tom and Gayle Benson’s, Tom’s Ready starts the day at 30-1 but will not see much action keep it anywhere near such by post time. There’s not much to like about this horse, but Dallas Stewart seems to have a knack of hitting the money at the Derby with longshots; he’s had a horse at the minimum show that was no better than 28-1 in each of the last three years. Something to be mindful of if you’re looking for some money to sweeten the pot on a trifecta box.
Owner: Reddam Racing, LLC (J Paul Reddam)
Trainer: Doug F O’Neil
Jockey: Mario Gutierrez
The race day favorite, aptly named after Detroit Red Wings winger Gustav Nyquist, hasn’t lost a race it’s run. A perfect 7-0, Nyquist, and die hard Wings fan & owner Paul Reddam are hoping to keep the streak alive on the biggest of stages, becoming the 8th undefeated horse to win the Derby.
The distance is the biggest concern for this horse, and while I have strong feelings this horse can gut out the win here on Saturday below the spires, I wouldn’t be holding my breath for a consecutive Triple Crown winner just yet.
The horse has a smooth efficient stride, and a calm collective stable persona; that of a horse destined for greatness. Its path to greatness wasn’t always so assured, however. Spotted a year ago at auction by Dennis O’Neil, brother to trainer Doug, the trio (Reddam) have combined to mold this horse into something special.
It’ll be quite tight breaking from post 13 as there isn’t a ton of room to immediately push in towards the rail, and still another seven horses to the outside looking to join the pack. It could put Nyquist in an uncomfortable position, either forcing a quick break to clear the stampede, or hold up just enough to let the outside horses gain their ground and work from the outside. Either way, it doesn’t scream success for the running style we’ve seen of this horse, but it’s got the pedigree to make lemonade out of lemons.
This won’t be Reddam’s first time in the owner’s box for the Kentucky Derby, he owned 2012 Derby and Preakness winner I’ll Have Another. I’ll Have Another unfortunately suffered an injury a day before the Belmont, never knowing if the full bid could have been complete.
Here’s to hoping for a brighter conclusion, and that Nyquist shows up with a little more fight than the Detroit Red Wings did in this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Owner: Shadwell Stable (Hamdan Al Maktoum)
Trainer: Kiaran P McLaughlin
Jockey: Junior Alvarado
Breaking just to the right of the heavy favorite Nyquist is one of the fellow contenders, Mohaymen. It’ll be a ‘who can break the best’ affair for Nyquist and Mohaymen, unless one unlikely decides to hold up and get to the outside with space. Both horses like to remain up front, and Mohaymen might be pressured to set the early pace.
What’ll hold this horse back is an ugly showing in the Florida Derby, where the 80 cent favorite Mohaymen was about as much of a no show a horse of this caliber can be. It ran a steady fourth, but finished eight whole lengths off the winner, Nyquist. Other than that this horse is a five-time winner.
Perhaps an ugly loss before the big race and a move from the main act to sideshow isn’t such a negative. Clearly they did not flourish in the limelight before the Florida Derby, and the media buzz prior to the Kentucky Derby is all the more crazy. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin is certainly relishing in the reduced madness outside of his stable.
Factor in the Florida Derby was a relatively sloppy race, a hot, humid, muggy day that left the horse and jockey both without kick, and maybe we’re all but destined for a bounce back win.
Owner: Repole Stable (Mike Repole)
Trainer: Todd A Pletcher
Jockey: John R Velazquez
The Wood Memorial winner has turned a couple of heads leading up to the Running of the Roses. The Wood Memorial’s pace was not something to be remembered, however. Running in a time of 1:52.92. The horse will break early, but will unlikely be around to make things interesting late. This horse just seems to be built better for smaller distances, and the long 1 1/4 mile run will showcase just about everything this horse is lacking.
Owner: Shadwell Stable (Hamdan Al Maktoum)
Trainer: Chad C Brown
Jockey: Joel Rosario
This horse struggling to the tune of a fifth place finish in what is largely being described as a subpar Wood Memorial is just about all you need to know. Horses that finish in the rear at the Kentucky Derby are seldom bad horses. It deserves its bid without a doubt, but like so many horses that make the gargantuan field, it’ll be outclassed by others. It’ll be a great finish for this horse to wind up within the top 10.
Owner: Michael Lund Peterson
Trainer: Bob Baffert
Jockey: Gary L Stevens
Since the Derby has implemented using a starting gate (1930) a winner has never emerged from the 17th post position. Mor Spirit is looking to change that bit of odd history.
Ridden by father time himself, Gary Stevens, Mor Spirit seems to have at least enough pizazz to find itself in the money, if not a shining moment in the winner circle.
It gutted out a respectable 2nd place finish in a sloppy Santa Anita, and has never finished worse than second.
This horse digs the pace, and seems to be the most well built for the distance. A pair of quick workouts at Churchill all add up to a lot of reasons to like this horse. Find a way to get it involved.
Owner: Grupo 7C Racing Stable (Alejandro Ceballos)
Trainer: Gustavo Delgado
Jockey: Emisael Jaramillo
A year after a big favorite ran away with the Triple Crown it’d be only fitting to see a big longshot upset. There’s buzz around Majesto, and it might not remain such a longshot if the sharks take the action they’re noise polluting.
Majesto has looked to improve on each of its outings minus a 6th place finish back in January. He ran a three-length second to Nyquist at the Florida Derby, and with improved weather and a longer distance, this colt might just have enough to be a big money winner.
I’ll advise against, playing devil’s advocate to what a seems to be a well talked about upset pick. This horse took advantage of a piss poor day from Mohaymen and still came nowhere near threatening Nyquist. There’s money to be had on a longshot, but just don’t blindly buy into the discussion on this horse.
Four of the past five winners have come from the secondary gates, yet the history behind gates 17 and 18 are not too kind. Only one winner has come from 18.
Owner: Albaugh Family Stable (Dennis Albaugh)
Trainer: Dale L Romans
Jockey: Luis Saez
The life of a closer breaking from the outside is that of a good one. Brody’s Cause won’t have to worry about pushing into a thick crowd of horses from break, and will instead settle in behind the group, eyeing it’s shrinking and expanding lanes, stalking, waiting for the perfect time to strike.
Brody’s Cause closed a great six lengths in the Blue Grass Stakes for a solid victory.
A Kentucky-bred horse that loves to run on home dirt, it’ll be a favorite of the locals in this race. All three of its wins have come in the state of Kentucky, and he’s a perfect 1-for-1 here at Churchill, where he broke his maiden September of last year.
Owner: Halo Farms (Theodore Aroney) and Jim and Dianne Bashor
Trainer: Clifford W Sise
Jockey: Mike E Smith
Breaking from the far gate for a speedster, adversely to Brody’s Cause’s perfect storm, is a nightmare. Danzing Candy would love to be no more than three wide and no less than two heads off the lead. The odds of making that happen from the far gate are not ideal, but possible.
Danzing Candy was a late disappointment in the messy Santa Anita Derby, after leading for much of the race. What could have been a moment of glory will quickly boil down to a ‘what if’ for this colt. Normally I condemn the middle gates, but they’d have been a blessing for this group.
Owner: McCormick Racing, LLC and Souther Equine Stable, LLC
Trainer: Eric J Guillot
Jockey: Cornelio H Velasquez
Laoban won’t likely be called upon, and in the event that he makes the field, should be avoided at all costs anyways.
Owner: William Pacella and Frank L Jones, Jr
Trainer: Dale L Romans
Jockey: Robby Albarado
Cherry Wine would be the more ideal of the two alternates that pose a chance to make it into this race. A two-time winner who’s shown some life against some sound horses in this field, Cherry Wine misses out on the chance to dash spirits.
My Race Predictions:
- Mor Spirit
- Brody’s Cause
- Mo Tom
- Gun Runner
- Danzing Candy
- Trojan Nation
- My Man Sam
- Tom’s Ready
- Oscar Nominated
I’ll be taking Mohaymen to win in everything I do, but will box in Mor Spirit, Creator, and Brody’s Cause in some combining facet. I can’t bring myself to take Nyquist, as the field is just far too open and I don’t love him running in these distances.
*In the event of rain, play heavy money into a box involving Exaggerator, Mor Spirit, and Suddenbreakingnews.
Who’s your pick? Best of luck on all wagers, and may the odds be ever in your favor.
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