- Hit Show: Well, I suppose he could, but I really doubt he will hit show. More like Hit 9th or Hit 10th, but those wouldn’t have been fun names! Seriously, he has a great trainer (Brad Cox), is an improving horse, but he drew a really crappy post position. It’s tough to overcome, and I doubt he will overcome it.
- Verifying: This is the son of a triple crown winner (Justify), also trained by Brad Cox. The fact that Cox trains both the 1 and the 2 pretty much insures he won’t scratch the 1, because it would really hurt the 2 (to move into the 1 post). Verifying is quite talented and will likely use his natural early foot to get away from the rail as quickly as equinely possible. There’s a great chance he will take the lead early, and cross the finish line first. Bad news for him is that there’s still a mile left to run at that point. Good news is, if the pace of the race is slow enough, and the track is favoring front runners, it’s not out of the question that he takes them wire-to-wire. He hung tough to be a close second in the Bluegrass where he battled gamely with Tapit Trice through the stretch at Keeneland. If he takes another step forward, he could become the first Justify baby to win a Triple Crown race. His two bad races were both on a sloppy track, so he needs dry conditions to be a serious win contender.
- Two Phils: Handicappers either love him or hate him. Last race, winning the Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway was a huge step forward, but it was over an artificial surface. They will be running on dirt come Saturday, and he hasn’t fared as well on that surface. It wouldn’t shock me if he jumped up and won, but I’m going to look elsewhere for my selection.
- Confidence Game: Seems to throw some klunker races from time to time, but has won 2 of his last 3, including the Rebel at Oaklawn Park. More impressively, his fastest-of-54 work on 4/29 was eye-popping. He was “moving like a winner” that day, and if he can carry that form to Saturday and get the distance (very questionable), he could surprise at a nice price. Both the trainer and the jockey are Derby maidens, but that didn’t stop Rich Strike last year. I don’t think any of his races have been Derby caliber, but he is showing improvement. Didn’t race at a distance more than 1-1/16, and hasn’t raced in ten weeks, so I really doubt he will have the stamina to get 10 furlongs. I will use him in my supporting cast for trifectas and superfectas.
- Tapit Trice: Trained by Todd Pletcher, a Derby veteran and past winning trainer, ridden by Luis Saez, a young and talented jockey. He had to modify his running style in the Bluegrass in order to keep an eye on Verifying, and it’s a good thing he did or he would have never been able to run him down. On Saturday he can go back to his relax-early/charge-late tactics, and will probably improve yet again off his last win. He doesn’t need a lightening fast pace to set up his run, but he will need someone to keep the pacesetter honest. With a decent trip and a fair pace, I believe he is the most likely winner. I will be using him in all positions of my exotic plays.
- Kingsbarns: Lightly raced, but undefeated, his preps have been solid. Also trained by Todd Pletcher, he could flash decent stalking speed early on, but will likely want to sit close as opposed to being in front early. I prefer the horses I back in classic-distance, graded stakes races to have a wee bit more experience, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see him run well. He didn’t compete as a 2 year-old, and no one has won the Derby like that since Justify in 2018. Personally, I’m going to use him in the 3-4-5 slots of my vertical bets.
- Reincarnate: Lost to Confidence Game in the Rebel, then to Angel of Empire in the AR Derby. Late fractions were on the slower side in the Rebel, but the track was sloppy. He got home slightly quicker in the AR Derby, but was no match for Angel of Empire late. I just don’t see him being a factor on Saturday.
- Mage: Interesting horse who also has raced only 3 times in his career; again, he didn’t compete as a 2 year-old. Times are very competitive, and he has shown a nice turn of foot when racing against the likes of race favorite, Forte. The latter took the worst of it in the FL Derby, and still blew by Mage late. I kind of feel like if he didn’t beat Forte in that situation, under those conditions, he might never be able to outdo him.
- Skinner: Has won only 1 race in 6 tries, and has been keeping house in CA, finishing a close third in the SA Derby. I’m not convinced the competition has been all that strong in CA, so I’m going to pass on Skinner.
10. Practical Move: Another CA-based horse who has won three straight graded stakes, including the SA Derby. If there’s a West Coast hopeful, this is the one, but I’m leaning elsewhere for the win. Here’s main problem with him: he ALWAYS encounters trouble at the start of his races. You simply can’t break poorly in the Derby and overcome it to win. For that reason, I’m tossing him. If somehow he breaks cleanly and grabs a early stalking position, he could win this thing. But generally, horses that break poorly in their preps, break even worse when there are 20 horses in the gate, and 160,000 screaming fans in the stands.
11. Disarm: Too much of a stretch for me. He just doesn’t seem to be quick enough to compete in here.
12. Jace’s Road: Ditto. See Disarm.
13. Sun Thunder: Double Ditto. See Disarm and Jace’s Road.
14. Angel of Empire: Ignore his turf outing and you’ll find that this horse has improved in each of his five races. He won the AR Derby by open lengths, and looks to be at the top of his game. His running style is late/sustained which should play well in here unless the pace is too slow early. He will likely have to deal with traffic and/or run wide at the top of the stretch in order to have a clear run. That may hurt his chances a bit, but he is a definite win contender.
15. Forte: The favorite, and deservedly so. He just wins. He started winning early, and has simply been a powerhouse in the preps. Had a rough trip in the FL Derby and overcame it to get the win. The knock is that he doesn’t like dirt kicked in his face, and he will certainly have to deal with that in a 20-horse field. If he sits a wide position throughout, he can avoid the kickback, but will lose valuable ground in the turns. He just might be tough enough to overcome all that, but at fairly low odds, I’m going to try and beat him. He is however, a “must use” in exactas/trifectas/superfectas.
16. Raise Cain: I just don’t think he’s quick enough. Pass.
17. Derma Sotogake: The Japan/Dubai connection hasn’t produced a contender yet, and I don’t expect this year to be any different. Everyone says that one day a Japanese horse will win the Derby. Okay, maybe. But I don’t believe this is the one.
18. Rocket Can: No. Rocket Can’t.
19. Lord Miles: Popped up and won the Wood Memorial at long odds. His speed figure jumped a ton that day, which usually indicates a bounce (negative) is forthcoming. I’ll make my investment elsewhere. I suppose he could sneak into the third or fourth spot, so I’ll put him in my superfectas if I can afford it.
20. Continuar: Another from Japan/Dubai. No thanks. Muri.
WIN CONTENDERS (in order of preference):
Angel of Empire
SECOND TIER (but not out of the question):