The Skinny On the Derby Field: Posts 1-10
Mattress Mack has an awesome promo where if the Kentucky Derby favorite wins you get your furniture free. Check out the flyer below, then let’s look at Posts 1-10 of the Derby field:
The preps are done, the major works finished, and the draw has taken place for the May 6 Kentucky Derby (G1). All that is left for horsemen to do is to try their darndest to keep their 3-year-olds fit and happy on the backside of Churchill Downs for a few days before leading them over to the paddock late Saturday afternoon.
Twenty-three horses passed the entry box Monday, and 20 will start. Three remain on the outside looking in, awaiting their shot at glory should a horse or two scratch prior to 9 a.m. Friday. Last year Rich Strike’s trainer, Eric Reed, got the call right before the appointed hour, went to the post as an 80-1 longshot, and turned the Thoroughbred industry on its ear.
It’s possible, though improbable, that lightning will strike twice in back-to-back years. Last year’s champion, Forte, is the 3-1 morning-line favorite, and his two stablemates from Todd Pletcher’s barn also merit serious consideration. So, too, are there three runners from trainer Brad Cox that earned their way into the 1 ¼-mile Run for the Roses. As always, the race figures to be a grand show.
From top to bottom, we’ll run through the field giving good reasons why they are could win the Derby, and, on the flip side, why they won’t win the Derby. By post position, here are numbers 1-10 today. Posts 11-20, and the also-eligibles, will be covered Wednesday on GallerySports.com.
As the program reads, “Race 12, 1 ¼ MILES (1:59 2/5) THE KENTUCKY DERBY PRESENTED BY WOODFORD RESERVE. Grade I. Purse $3,000,000 For Three-year-olds, With An Entry Fee Of $25,000 Each And A Starting Fee Of $25,000 Each.
Post 1 – Hit Show – 30-1
(Candy Ride—Actress, by Tapit)
Why he can win: Brad Cox-trained colt is battle-tested, finishing his juvenile campaign with an optional claiming score at Oaklawn, then shipped to New York where he won the one-mile Withers Stakes (G3) by 5 ½ lengths, then just missed to longshot Lord Miles in the nine-furlong Wood Memorial Stakes (G2). He has earned the title of leader from the New York contingent of runners. The gray colt had a good work over the Churchill Downs surface April 29, getting five furlongs in :59 3/5. Manny Franco, a leading rider in New York is aboard.
Why he can’t win: Breaks from post 1, perhaps the toughest spot in all of racing. Post one has not produced a Derby winner since 1986. He was the beaten favorite in the Wood. He ran far behind Derby competitors Confidence Game and Rocket Can last fall in a two-turn optional claiming race over the local strip. He hasn’t had a break in his training since his debut last October.
Post 2 – Verifying – 15-1
(Justify—Diva Delite, by Repent)
Why he can win: Son of 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify is a half brother to Midnight Bisou, a top female runner from 2017-20, earning more than $7.4 million, so the pedigree is there. Verifying is also trained by Cox and has top jock Tyler Gaffalione aboard. A frontrunner, he should get good position from an inside post and just failed to hold on in Keeneland’s Blue Grass Stakes (G1) to morning-line second-choice Tapit Trice. Has tactical speed to avoid traffic and can get the lead with an alert beginning.
Why he can’t win: Post two has a longer losing drought than the rail. Triple Crown winner Affirmed was the last to win the Derby from this slot. Not a prerequisite, but he only has two wins from six starts. He was far behind morning-line choice Forte, beaten 12 lengths, in last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1).
Post 3 – Two Phil’s – 12-1
(Hard Spun—Mia Torri, by General Quarters)
Why he can win: Posts top last race out Beyer Speed Figure, notching a 101 while running off with Turfway Park’s Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) in Northern Kentucky. He has been kept at his Hawthorne (Illinois) base until early this week, keeping him out of the buzz and mayhem of the Derby week backstretch. Three starts prior to the Jeff Ruby all came in top-level graded stakes, and he notched one win, one second, and one third. Son of Hard Spun is a gamer.
Why he can’t win: Jeff Ruby Steaks race was over a synthetic surface … so, did he “freak” over the Poly while previously showing good, but not spectacular, form on dirt? His best dirt effort came on a sloppy track, something he probably won’t catch Saturday. He finished behind Angel of Empire and Sun Thunder at Fair Grounds in February. He’s the first Derby starter for trainer Larry Rivelli and jockey Jareth Loveberry.
Post 4 – Confidence Game – 20-1
(Candy Ride—Eblouissante, by Bernardini)
Why he can win: Stormed from off the pace to win the Feb. 25 Rebel Stakes (G2) at Oaklawn, defeating a solid cast. More recently, his :59 flat five-furlong work April 29 was the buzz of the backstretch last weekend, making quite an impression on the track. He’s made five of his seven starts around two turns, so he’s seasoned. Trainer Keith Desormeaux ran second in the 2017 Derby with Exaggerator, who later won the Preakness Stakes (G2). He’s shown some speed but has done his best while rating just off the pace. Has underrated rider in journeyman James Graham. Has a top sire, and his dam is a half-sister to mighty Zenyatta.
Why he can’t win: Seriously challenging the Derby Gods. He comes into the Run for the Roses off a 10-week layoff, which hasn’t been done since 1915. Tradition used to hold winners to come in off three- or four-week breaks. Barbaro in 2006 was the first to win off a five-week layoff, and now that is the norm … but 10? His overall Beyer Speed Figure profiles aren’t that strong, with only one above 90, last time out, on his resume.
Post 5 – Tapit Trice – 5-1
(Tapit—Danzatrice, by Dunkirk)
Why he can win: One of three runners for two-time Derby-winning trainer Todd Pletcher and he has Luis Saez up, one of New York’s best. He’s the most expensive runner in the Derby field, costing $1.3 million as a yearling in 2021. Was perhaps a little slow to come to hand but has improved with each start. Turned into a “Derby horse” with an eight-length win Feb. 4 at Gulfstream and followed that with a two-length victory in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2). Continued to improve, rallying from seventh early to win Keeneland’s Blue Grass over Verifying. He is a horse moving in the right direction at the right time of the year and is a gorgeous specimen of a horse. You like dapples (spots on a horse’s hide that signify they are in good health)? Take a look at his rump – he’s got dapples on dapples.
Why he can’t win: Closed from far back at Tampa Bay Downs and was seventh of 11 early at Keeneland. He’ll have a lot of work to do late in the game and may be in a tough spot breaking from post 5. His works since the Blue Grass have been maintenance moves to keep him fit but failed to show “wow” factor on the track. A gorgeous specimen, yes, but is a little thin and rangy when stationed beside his stablemate Forte. Like some others, hasn’t had a break in his racing since his debut in early November, and Pletcher’s MO is strike when a horse is making his third start off a break (see Forte tomorrow).
Post 6 – Kingsbarns – 12-1
(Uncle Mo—Lady Tapit, by Tapit)
Why he can win: He’s the “speed” of the field, having won the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby while “on the engine” in late March. He’s the third of three starters for Pletcher, so he’s in one of the sport’s top barns. He cost $800,000 as a sale 2-year-old last March and is three-for-three on the track. Son of Uncle Mo has a leading rider in Jose Ortiz (brother of Irad Ortiz Jr.). Like all of Pletcher’s Derby runners, his recent works have been solid. From a speed figure perspective, they have advanced with each start.
Why he can’t win: Relatively untested in just three starts; was not really challenged in the Louisiana Derby. While that has been a virtue in the last few Derbys, it’s not the case with this cast. He’s one of two in the field with only three outings … and his Louisiana Derby win came while putting his rivals to “sleep” while setting slow early splits of :24 3/5 and :49 3/5, which is a scenario unlikely in the Derby. Pletcher may have won the Derby twice but has sent out more runners than any other trainer—62—which makes for a 3.2% winning percentage.
Post 7 – Reincarnate – 50-1
(Good Magic—Allanah, by Scat Daddy)
Why he can win: The $775,000 sale yearling proved to be among the best runners from the West Coast with his victory in January’s one-mile Sham Stakes (G3) at Santa Anita. Moved to barn of trainer Tim Yakteen, he took the Oaklawn route to Louisville. He had a rough go in the Rebel, but still was third of 11, beaten just 2 ½ lengths. Was third again in the Arkansas Derby (G1). Has made seven starts and sports a 2-3-2 mark, so he’s a hard trier every time out. Has John Velazquez up, a three-time winner from 24 starters; won in 2020 with Authentic. Sharp pedigree … his sire was the 2-year-old champion of 2017 and ran second to Justify in the 2018 Derby. He fired a bullet half-mile work of :46 2/5 at Santa Anita before shipping east.
Why he can’t win: His last two Beyer Speed Figures have decreased from his Sham score. He moved barns from Bob Baffert, who is sitting out a two-year ban from Churchill Downs, so the colt lost consistency during training for the Derby run-up. Yakteen ran two horses in last year’s Derby that were Baffert protégés, and they finished 12th and 15th. He’ll have a long afternoon if he has the same type of trip he had in the Rebel.
Post 8 – Mage – 15-1
(Good Magic—Puca, by Big Brown)
Why he can win: Showed good speed in his first two starts, then came from last in the Florida Derby (G1) and over a traditionally speed-favorite strip, rallied to get the lead, only to relinquish it to Forte in the final strides. It was a gusty performance in just his third try. Has a nice pedigree, by a champion out of a stakes-winning mare by the 2008 Derby winner. Gets a seasoned rider in Javier Castellano, a Hall of Famer who has won four Eclipse Awards as outstanding rider. The horses in South Florida this year appear to be the best of the bunch, and he fits right in. With the right break and position heading into the first turn, he’ll be tough to get past down the stretch.
Why he can’t win: Like Kingsbarns, his lack of seasoning is his biggest chink in the armor. Broke poorly in the Florida Derby to spot the field a few lengths … can’t afford to do that in Louisville. Trainer Gustavo Delgato has had two previous Derby starters that finished 18th in 2016 and 13th in 2019. Last out Beyer Speed Figure, 94, needs a significant improvement to contend.
Post 9 – Skinner – 20-1
(Curlin—Winding Way, by Malibu Moon)
Why he can win: West Coast wonder has been wide in most of his outings, including his last out, a third-place try in the Santa Anita Derby … still only lost by a half-length. His trainer, John Shirreffs, won Derby in 2005 with longshot Giacomo. He’s proven worthy with the best of the SoCal contingent but required a little help getting in on points, getting help from a few defections. Sharp pedigree as a son of Curlin bred by Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings, which has perhaps the best broodmare band on the continent. Earned high 99 Beyer Speed Fig last time out.
Why he can’t win: As noted earlier, he needed some help getting into the body of the race with a skimpy point total, suggesting he didn’t run enough in top-level, high-point races. He’ll have to find a way to save some ground to be effective in the Derby. His lone victory, from six tries, came with the addition of bleeding medication Lasix. I’m not sold on the West Coast contingent being as strong as it usually is.
Post 10 – Practical Move – 10-1
(Practical Joke—Ack Naughty, by Afleet Alex)
Why he can win: Won Santa Anita Derby over Mandarin Hero (also-eligible) and Skinner (see post 9) last time out, earning a 100 Beyer Speed. Figure. He’s the only horse in the field with two triple-digit Beyer figs. Clearly the standout of the West Coast grouping, having won his last three starts: Dec. 17 Los Alamitos Futurity (G2), San Felipe Stakes (G2), and Santa Anita Derby. Has been trained by Tim Yakteen all along, so is not a Bob Baffert transfer. Has the tactical speed and experience of running along the rail inside of horses. He’s a live wire here.
Why he can‘t win: Some will knock pedigree – his sire was stellar up to a mile. Have a feeling West Coast grouping not as strong as years past. His last furlong of the SA Derby was :13, suggesting he’ll be tiring late with the additional eighth of a mile in the Kentucky Derby.
Tomorrow: Posts 11-20 (and also eligibles)