For the 140th consecutive year, the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby will be run at Churchill Downs in Louisville. While some of the more recent Derbies have featured wet or even downright nasty weather, that is not expected to be the case for this Saturday's renewal of the Run For The Roses. There has already been a scratch from the race, as Bob Baffert had to remove Hoppertunity from the lineup due to a bad foot. The 5-2 morning-line favorite has been established as California Chrome, winner of the Grade 2 San Felipe and Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby in his last two performances.
I have now taken a strong look at all of the contenders in this year's Kentucky Derby and I have come up with three candidates that I think can wear the garland of Roses on Saturday afternoon. From inside out in the starting gate, they are #13 Chitu, #15 Tapiture, and #18 Candy Boy. Let's take a look at these horses one at a time.
#13 Chitu- I was quite surprised as I handicapped the race that this horse stood out to me as much as he did. He had been considered Baffert's "other horse" for this Derby until Hoppertunity dropped out. Now, he is all the three-time Derby-winning trainer has left for Saturday. However, I don't think that this should detract from his chances in the Derby itself. Chitu has won three of four lifetime starts and was second in the other one. His Beyer speed figures have improved with each successive start: 92 in the first two tries, a 95 in running 2nd to Candy Boy in the Grade 2 Robert Lewis, and a 102 in the Grade 3 Sunland Derby. Jockey Martin Garcia has already teamed up with Bob Baffert to win a Triple Crown race, the 2010 Preakness with Lookin At Lucky. The two workouts Chitu has over the Churchill Downs track are solid. I don't think Chitu should be ignored on Saturday, especially at 20-1.
#15 Tapiture- I suppose the big story if this horse wins the Derby will be his trainer, Steve Asmussen, given the recent bad publicity he has received. I would hope that would not be the case because Asmussen is a very good trainer that has won his share of big races over the years, including a Triple Crown race, the 2007 Preakness with Curlin. I am now going to put that whole discussion behind us and discuss THIS horse, because I think he has a big chance in the Kentucky Derby. His Sire, Tapit, has been producing winning offspring for some time now and is considered one of the top Sires in the sport. Tapiture has a victory over the Churchill Downs oval, the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club, back in November. Since then, Tapiture acquitted himself quite nicely at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas, winning the Grade 3 Southwest, finishing 2nd in the Grade 2 Rebel after a rough trip. Yes, he was a well-beaten 4th in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby, but Danza was a powerhouse winner that day and it might have taken a really big effort to beat him. I don't want my Derby horse putting his biggest race up in the prep race. I want his biggest race to come on the First Saturday in May.
#18 Candy Boy- Gary Stevens has been on quite the "magic carpet ride" since coming out of retirement a couple of years ago. He won the Preakness last year with the D. Wayne Lukas-trained Oxbow, a horse I thought ended up having the best three races of any horse in the Triple Crown series last spring. Candy Boy won the Grade 2 Robert Lewis in February. He followed that up with a 3rd in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, behind California Chrome and Hoppertunity. I think California Chrome might get caught up in what promises to be a strong pace up front and Hoppertunity is no longer a threat to Candy Boy. This horse's style might fit the way this Derby is going to be run also. I think you might be looking at a carbon copy of the 2005 Derby. Bellamy Road was a huge favorite going in off a monster win (much like California Chrome is this year). Bellamy Road got caught in a heated pace battle up front and surrendered once the field turned for home, allowing the closers to race past and get a Derby win for Giacomo at 50-1. I'm not saying any of these horses will be 50-1 on Saturday, but they all stand a good chance of being there at the end of affairs.
So, which one factor will separate these three horses for me. I think it will be the men on their backs. Gary Stevens has won the Kentucky Derby three times in the past: 1988 with Winning Colors, 1995 with Thunder Gulch, and 1997 with Silver Charm. He knows how to win this race and as I referred to earlier, the "magic carpet ride" he is on doesn't seem to be ending. I have more faith in his ability to be a winner on Saturday than I do in Ricardo Santana Jr. or Martin Garcia, both of whom are still more than capable. That being said, here are my final selections for the 140th Kentucky Derby:
WIN- #18 Candy Boy
PLACE- #15 Tapiture
SHOW- #13 Chitu
I want to wish all of you the absolute best of luck with your wagers on the 140th Kentucky Derby on Saturday, whether you agree with me or not. Let's hope for a fun, safe race and let's also hope that this Derby lives up to the annual billing it has as the "Most Exciting Two Minutes In Sports".
I will return in two weeks with in-depth analysis of the 139th Preakness, to be run Saturday, May 17 at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. Be sure to check out my Twitter page: @They_Are_Off. For right now, I am Gone...GOODBYE!