When the sun comes up over Louisville on Saturday, shining down on the roses and through the twin spires, it will be time for the greatest two minutes in all of sports. Few moments in sports can capture so much history. Winners. Champions. Legends. They all come together in the heart of racing. It is neither the oldest, nor the longest Triple Crown race, yet it is the most important. It was 1875 when Aristides was the first to come down the famed Churchill Downs stretch and be named the winner of the Kentucky Derby. Yet it wasn’t until the 1890s when the race truly became what it is today, with the famed twin spires as the backdrop of a mile and a quarter test for the garland of roses. Ben Brush, the first to taste the roses, became an instrumental part of the pedigree of 48 of the past 50 Derby winners.
Just a year removed from a Triple Crown, our second this decade after a long, and at many times seemingly endless, drought, we begin again with a new set of three year olds, all with a chance to cement themselves in history. As the sun sets on Churchill Downs, a winner will be crowned, perhaps even a champion, and maybe, just like a year ago, a legend will be born. Twenty horses. Ten furlongs. Two minutes. One victor. 145 years of history – all down to 1.
Kentucky Derby weekend is unlike any other. While the Breeders’ Cup may have the champions, Royal Ascot the pageantry, Saratoga the unchanged history, and Dubai the riches, nothing shares the same feeling that is felt come the First Saturday in May. Moments after the Breeders’ Cup Classic wraps up, the focus of racing shifts away from the championship division and goes towards a bunch of then two year olds, all full of energy – and inexperience – that are gunning for one goal, be one of the twenty in the starting gate come 6:50pm on May 4th. As the months tick by, the list slims and the cream of the crop rises to the occasion. Races, in all corners of the world, name their representative to send to Kentucky. From California to Florida, Ireland to Japan, horses across the world compete for much more than putting their name on a local trophy. This weekend is another such occasion, when a culmination of months of work joins to one.
This weekend, champions of yesterday and today will arrive to the famed circle of Churchill Downs to compete for the ultimate prizes. While we will watch many greats race on the undercards on Friday and Saturday, the features are for the three year olds in the Kentucky Derby and the Kentucky Oaks. With that, let’s get into my selections for the weekend. I will note, these races were handicapped for a projected wet ground, as heavy rains are in the forecast for the weekend in Louisville.
Friday Card (Oaks Day):
(4) Break Even | (7) Lyrical Lady | (2) Proud Emma
The Oaklawn winner Break Even has been winning for fun in her last three enroute to this start. She is quick, tactical, and can win on just about any dirt surface. Lyrical Lady won last out and should improve in her second start off a layoff. Proud Emma will appreciate a return to sprinting and has the right running style to win here.
(1) Newspaperofrecord | (2) Cambier Parc | (5) Concrete Rose
Easily the best three year old running today, Newspaperofrecord towers over this field and should run away with it. Cambier Parc drove home to a win last out and looks to be improving. Concrete Rose has a lot of heart and a lot of talent; looked good in her return.
(1) McKinzie | (6) Instilled Regard | (8) Seeking the Soul
Hard to bet against McKinzie here in what is somewhat a drop in class. Instilled Regard ran well last year in the Derby and should appreciate the return to dirt. Seeking the Soul comes back quick after the World Cup; I don’t expect a Dubai bounce here and should relish this turf.
(2) Blue Prize| (1) She’s a Julie | (5) Mopotism
Blue Prize is full of class and will be tough to beat here on one of her favorite tracks. She’s a Julie looked impressive in her Bayakoa win and should improve in her second start against older. Mopotism will be coming from behind in a race with a lot of speed and could sneak up to grab a piece.
Twin Spires Turf Sprint:
(6) World of Trouble | (9) Will Call | (1) Bound for Nowhere
After spending the spring on the dirt, World of Trouble returns to the turf in even better form than when he impressed on the turf last year; tough to say no to. Will Call loves Churchill Downs and Bound for Nowhere is all speed and all talent on the turf for Wesley Ward.
(8) Motion Emotion | (1) Out for a Spin | (10) Champagne Anyone
Motion Emotion may be on the front in what could be a crowded pace, but she impressed me the most this spring and looks to be one that could go longer and relish an off track. Out for a Spin was an upset winner of the Ashland but has a great late kick that should keep her in contention. Champagne Anyone will be the strong stalker of the field and could put herself in a great position late to win the Lilies.
Saturday Card (Derby Day):
Amy’s Challenge | Marley’s Freedom | Mia Mischief
Just getting beat by a neck last out, Amy’s Challenge has looked the part this year and should be ready to run come Saturday. Returning to sprinting is what Marley’s Freedom likes to do and should improve here. Mia Mischief loves Churchill Downs and is in good form entering this.
Churchill Distaff Turf Mile:
Valedictorian | Precieuse | Raven’s Lady
I’ve loved the steps Valedictorian has made in her recent starts and really impressed me last out with her resilience down the stretch. Precieuse is eligible to improve in her second start off a layoff (and third in the US) for Chad Brown. Raven’s Lady is not one to sleep on in her second start in the US. She was talented overseas and should appreciate the turf on Saturday; should get a pace scenario much more to her liking.
Mitole | Whitmore
With Limousine Liberal’s scratch due to a career ending injury, this race has become a two horse race between the quick and dominant Mitole and the smart sprinter Whitmore. Both are full of talent and will come down to who gets to the front at the top of the stretch.
A Thread of Blue | Avie’s Flatter | Social Paranoia
My best bet of the day comes here with A Thread of Blue; a star in the making, he has put away classy horses in three straight and has been improving in every start. His resiliency and fighting kick late in his races puts him on top. Avie’s Flatter won well last time out at Keeneland in his first start of the season and should improve off of that. Social Paranoia was sharp last out breaking his maiden at Gulfstream; might be a step up here but one that he will fit well into and if he shows the kick he did last out – watch out!
Pat Day Mile:
Market King | Durkin’s Call | Last Judgment
Cutting back to a mile is exactly what Market King needs; he has shown talent around one turn and gets a much needed rest coming into this one. Durkin’s Call stole the show in his run at Aqueduct last out and looks to do the same here in a similar spot. Last Judgment is a sneaky horse for Pletcher who wouldn’t ship a horse into this spot if he didn’t think it would win.
Old Forester Turf Classic:
Markitoff | Bricks and Mortar | Breaking the Rules
Taking the top two in the Muniz Memorial but flipping them here. Markitoff took to the lead and nearly beat Pegasus Turf champion Bricks and Mortar – he won’t have as much pace pressure and the CD turf usually favors forward speed. Race sets up well for him but will still need to beat Bricks and Mortar. Breaking the Rules was second off a long layoff last out but still looked to be in solid form; should be better here at a distance he very much likes.
(8) Tacitus | (7) Maximum Security | (6) Vekoma
I have been a Tacitus fan since before his Tampa Bay Derby victory. His last two wins have been ultra impressive and professional. He has improved in his last three starts and is in a form pattern to like. With the defection of Omaha Beach, he has a bit less competition to face on the far turn, where he is likely to make his move. This race sets up well for his running style as he will sit off the pace setters and make a big run in the second half of the race. In the Wood Memorial, he looked the part of a winner since the beginning, and glided home with easy after putting away a game Tax. There is a lot to like about him and not a lot to dislike.
Maximum Security is very much like Tacitus, but with a bit more front end speed. While many (including myself) may question his stamina, his pedigree says otherwise and looks like he could just run for days. I would not be surprised if he was in a stalking spot or up front, though it seems like he has been training to sit just off the pace. His win in the Florida Derby was with such ease (just watch the horses behind him being urged heavily to keep up on the far turn while he just pins his ears back and runs with no asking). He has been looking very sharp in the mornings which is a great sign. Tough to not think he has a great shot in here.
Vekoma is a horse that I have had trouble with for a while. At first, I didn’t think he had what it will take to win, but looking back on his wins in the Nashua and the Blue Grass, he has really popped for me. While I do think he might have a tough time winning, unless he really matures up down the stretch, it is hard to see him not play a role in the finish of this race, and with how his form pattern is, he might be able to jump up and take the race at the end.
I will also be using a few horses underneath. Spinoff was one that I completed disregarded as a win contender days ago, but his past performances say a completely different story compared to the video; he has been improving in each start and has been playing the part of a well developing horse. He always finds himself in a good position in the end. While he may be more of a Belmont horse for me, I have to use him underneath. Code of Honor needed his last race and should jump up better here, if he can get a clean break. War of Will and Win Win Win have been working lights out in the mornings and should be ones to put in the bottom of the exotics.
There you have it, my selections for Derby Weekend. Now, grab yourself a Mint Julep, sit back, and watch two day of some of the best racing horse racing has to offer. Happy Kentucky Derby!