There is no better week of the year than Kentucky Derby Week. The Run for the Roses is just days away so its time to analyze the field as we search for who will come out on top under the Twin Spires of Churchill Downs.
All this week I will have analysis on the field, leading up to my selections for all the weekends big races on Friday morning. Today, we will look at the field now that the post positions have been drawn to find out a bit more about the field of 20.
(1) War Of Will (Tyler Gaffalione | Mark Casse)
The LeComte and Risen Star winner couldn’t get it done in the Louisiana Derby last out due to an injury suffered at the beginning of that race. Nonetheless, he came back just a few weeks later for workouts, which have been lights out since coming to Kentucky. His speed is nothing to take for granted, although he has mainly been ridden as a stalker. Drawing the rail will force Gaffalione to go to the front, which may help this one out. His figures are not nearly as high as you’d like from a contender, but the way he is training makes it hard to not want to use him.
(2) Tax (Junior Alvarado | Danny Gargan)
After starting off in Kentucky, this son of Arch headed to New York to take on Aqueduct’s Road to the Kentucky Derby. After a solid, but very green, Remsen, he went on to win the Withers sharply. He ran just about even with Tacitus in the Wood Memorial to finish second and plot himself a spot in the Derby field. While his win in the Withers was solid, he was running away from some tired horses, while he himself was tiring. He is still developing and lacks a strong late kick.
(3) By My Standards (Gabriel Saez | Bret Calhoun)
This son of Goldencents stole a spot in the starting gate with his closing finish to the lead in the Louisiana Derby. Running against lesser company in his maiden races at the Fair Grounds, it wasn’t until the races got longer that he got better. He has a very professional closing kick, with his ears pinned back and his eyes on the prize. His tactical speed can get him to the front when needed and he has been getting better with each start. Still a bit of a rookie compared to the top contenders, but a lot to like going into this Saturday.
(4) Gray Magician (Drayden Van Dyke | Peter Miller)
One of the few closers in this field, Gray Magician comes up steadily off the far turn to try and close in on the leaders. However, he lacks the authority to move past the leaders and just hangs once he finds horses to run against. He might be training well, but hard to look at a horse that has been trailing off as of late and hasn’t won since last November.
(5) Improbable (Irad Ortiz, Jr. | Bob Baffert)
The first of the Baffert trio, Improbable last won in December at Los Alamitos in the Cash Call Futurity. Since then, he has had two starts at Oaklawn Park, both runner up finishes. In neither of his starts did he seem like he wanted to go on by his foe, both times hanging. Even so, he is still one to watch from the Baffert barn as he has been looking better and gets the blinkers off on Saturday.
(6) Vekoma (Javier Castellano | George Weaver)
Winner of the Blue Grass, Vekoma gets traditional turf trainer George Weaver a spot in the starting gate for the Derby. A son of Candy Ride, Vekoma has two great finishes on his resume, the Nashua at 2 and the Keeneland feature last out. Lightly raced, he has been sharp in the mornings and all signs point to him giving a great performance come Saturday. He does have his faults – he struggles to change leads down the stretch, is very young, and is small compared to others in his class. But his quick speed and finishing ability has put this one on the right path at the right time.
(7) Maximum Security (Luis Saez | Jason Servis)
Basically the sprinter of this field, Maximum Security cemented his name as a Derby challenger when he ran away with the Florida Derby. In Servis-trainee fashion, he guns to the front and never looks back. His quick gate speed will help him tremendously this Saturday to get away from the 19 others – especially if the rain shows up like it may. Being one of the only speed horses in this field will only benefit him. There are still questions on whether this son of New Year’s Day can get the distance.
(8) Tacitus (Jose Ortiz | William Mott)
Somehow Hall of Famer Bill Mott is still looking for his first Kentucky Derby win, and he may have it with Tacitus. The easy winner of the Tampa Bay Derby came back and cruised home to a win in the Wood Memorial last out. While only making two starts this year, both came against top company, many of which he will see come Saturday. His ability to push on in the face of adversity may be what puts him over the top. He has some of the top figures in this field and continues to improve.
(9) Plus Que Parfait (Ricardo Santana, Jr. | Brendan Walsh)
After having no luck this side of the Atlantic, Plus Que Parfait traveled to Dubai to take on the UAE Derby. After finding some trouble throughout, Jose Ortiz zig-zagged his way to the front and cruised home. Maybe that changed this horse’s mindset? Hard to say, but other than his maiden breaking score at Keeneland last year, he hasn’t found himself in a spot to win in the States.
(10) Cutting Humor (Corey Lanerie | Todd Pletcher)
The first of two for Pletcher, Cutting Humor took down the Sunland Derby over Anothertwistoffate by a neck. He has been improving with each start and has good tactical speed, but struggles when there isn’t a lot of pace. While he does have a solid prep win under his belt, his experience and level of run is still a cut below what is necessary to win here.
(11) Haikal (Rajiv Maragh | Kiaran McLaughlin)
While many have a good late kick, few have one as good as Haikal. Coming from the clouds, he took home the Gotham easily in the end after being far back on the lightning fast pace. He got a similar pace scenario in the Wood Memorial which helped him find his way to 3rd. Hard to see him get the same pace structure this weekend though, which may be his downfall. Worth an exotics shot.
(12) Omaha Beach (Mike Smith | Richard Mandella)
A winner of three straight, including breaking his maiden over a next out winner by 9 lengths, Omaha Beach is a deserving favorite. After fighting off Game Winner in the Rebel, he turned away Improbable in the Arkansas Derby to cement himself at the top of this field. Mike Smith chose to stay on over Baffert’s Roadster, which may be the right choice. Omaha Beach has been training well over the Churchill Downs surface and all signs look for him to potentially give Rick Porter and Richard Mandella their first Derby wins.
(13) Code Of Honor (John Velazquez | Claude McGaughey)
After a complete mess of a Mucho Macho Man Stakes, Code Of Honor fought on to victory in the Fountain Of Youth over Bourbon War and Vekoma. He didn’t get an easy spot in the Florida Derby and just seemed to lack the late kick he had two back. There is a lot to like about him, the first Derby starter for Shug since Orb, who has been starting to figure everything out – good exotics chance.
(14) Win Win Win (Julian Pimentel | Michael Trombetta)
Just like Haikal, Win Win Win has a huge closing kick – a coiled machine. He very much impressed me with how easily he rocketed up around the far turn and down the stretch in the Blue Grass. Very professional and reminds me a lot of Animal Kingdom (2011). While he does need a bit of a quick pace up front to really get going, his late rally can pick off just about anyone and he isn’t afraid of traversing a big field. Lot’s of live upset potential.
(15) Master Fencer (Julien Leparoux | Koichi Tsunoda)
Japan invades Louisville once again, this time with Master Fencer. This Japanese-bred hasn’t been able to beat his foes back home, but his connections think that he has what it takes to win under the Twin Spires. I’m not quite sure this closer has the ability to contend here, but we shall see. So far he seems to be coping well with the journey and the track.
(16) Game Winner (Joel Rosario | Bob Baffert)
The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner has not had the easiest road to Louisville, with back to back runner up efforts, first to Omaha Beach, then to stablemate Roadster. Both times he looked like he could have taken home the race but both times he let his foe get by and hang on. Baffert is looking for him to peak at the right time, which could very well be at the same location as his biggest triumph.
(17) Roadster (Florent Geroux | Bob Baffert)
What was once regarded by Baffert as his next American Pharoah or Justify, Roadster sat out much of his 2yo year with a breathing issue. Making his return to the races in March, he was quick to show that he still has it, running clear to a win. Then, in a small but competitive Santa Anita Derby, he was able to run down both Game Winner and Instagram from the back of the pack to put himself in the starting gate. I don’t think we have seen his best, but with Mike Smith switching off, we might not get the chance to see it this weekend.
(18) Long Range Toddy (Jon Court | Steven Asmussen)
While probably best as a miler, Long Range Toddy put himself in the conversation when he shocked returning Improbable in the Rebel, before going on to be a fading 6th in the Arkansas Derby. He has a lot of experience on the track and has been improving all year, but will it be enough? His late kick is full of class and he has lots of confidence about him.
(19) Spinoff (Manuel Franco | Todd Pletcher)
The other Pletcher entry is far from a usual Pletcher horse. Spinoff is still very much improving and probably needs a start or two more to get to his peak spot. After an 11 length win in his season debut off a long layoff, Pletcher sent him to the Fair Grounds where he ran what could have been his best race of his career in a runner up effort to By My Standards. He stayed on well throughout. May be looking for more distance (perhaps the Belmont Stakes?) but is certain to be one of the freshest horses in the field.
(20) Country House (Flavien Prat | William Mott)
An absolute come from the clouds type, Country House came from far back in each of his last three starts (Risen Star, Louisiana Derby, Arkansas Derby) to finish well placed. He didn’t have too much pace to run in with any of those starts, which will bode well for him here. While probably little chance to win, he will definitely be coming strong late to pick up the pieces and possibly a piece of the exotics.
Now that we’ve looked through the field of 20, join me on Thursday as we find out who is a Contender and who is a Pretender.