Saturday May 3 – Churchill Downs
Scheduled local post time 6:24pm
Handicapping the Kentucky Derby tends to be nasty, brutish, and long, and handicapping the 2014 edition was certainly no exception for us. There are so many approaches one can take, so many angles one can embrace, so many rumors one can listen to…there is so much…well…everything.
The TimeformUS Pace Projector projects that the 2014 Kentucky Derby will be run at a fast pace, and that Uncle Sigh will have the lead at the opening half.
Now let’s go over the field in post position order, with the morning line odds in parentheses:
Vicar’s in Trouble (30-1): Many handicappers consider this post position to be toxic. We disagree. We think it is a dangerous post position, but one that could well end up working in this colt’s favor if he breaks alertly. The Pace Projector shows him in fifth early. We think he could as easily be on the lead, for better or worse. His speed figures have been improving every start. He ran a 100 in winning the Louisiana Derby. He will need a new top to contend here, but off this pattern, he can get it, and he should be saving ground, too. His breeding for this distance is mixed, a question mark. We consider him a viable longshot.
Harry’s Holiday (50-1): Shows no dirt efforts that would make any sort of impact on this field. Has run two decent efforts on synthetic but could not follow up on either of them. We don’t see much to like here.
Uncle Sigh (30-1): Exits strong New York prep races (the Wood earned a powerful Race Rating of 112), where he ran solid speed figures, 105 104 106, while losing to Samraat and Wicked Strong. Adds blinkers, and the Pace Projector shows him on a clear early lead. Like Vicar’s in Trouble, he figures to be at the mercy of the pace. Has questionable distance breeding on the sire side. But he has put a string of nice efforts together and he figures to be a nice price. We will keep him in the exotic mix.
Danza (10-1): Pletcher colt saved all the ground in the Arkansas Derby, where he pulled off a 41-1 shocker. His speed figure of 106 is competitive in here but represents an 18-point top. He is exceedingly unlikely to get a trip that looks anything like his last one. His morning line odds are relatively low. We don’t like him in here.
California Chrome (5-2): We believe that this California-bred is the most talented horse in this field. Visually, we prefer his races over those of any of his opponents. He cruises at high speed, watches his opponents come undone from their efforts, and then steps into his own, laying waste to field after field with consummate style. But there are a lot of question marks here–so many, in fact, that we cannot justify taking odds near 5-2 on him winning this race. He has never raced outside of California. He has looked uncomfortable in traffic. On speed figures, he is slower than two of his opponents. He has reportedly been a bit uncomfortable during his time at Churchill Downs. A contender? To be sure. But to us, he is an underlay.
Samraat (15-1): This colt has a gorgeous pattern of speed figures: 85 91 106 107 113. His 113 is the second-fastest figure any horse in this field has ever run. He, too, exits strong preps. He is 5 for 6 lifetime. His best speed figure was earned at nine furlongs, which, his breeding notwithstanding, bodes well for his chances of handling an additional furlong. He has a pleasing, stalking style that might get him a reasonable trip in this crazy race. We consider him to be very playable in here. (Note: Samraat is the top selection of our chief figure maker, Craig Milkowski.)
We Miss Artie (50-1): His dirt top is a 94. His synthetic top is 98. He comes off an uninspiring victory in the Spiral. We don’t see a lot of reasons for optimism.
General a Rod (15-1): Ran a 101 when losing the Fountain of Youth by a head. Lost ground racing wide when finishing third in the Florida Derby. Frontrunner/presser type could be disadvantaged by the pace, but this is a lightly raced colt who is in excellent hands (Maker gets a 96 trainer rating overall), is admirably consistent, and might just have in him the jump he’ll need to compete with the best in here.
Vinceremos (30-1): Too slow on our figures and comes in off an awful effort in the Blue Grass.
Wildcat Red: (15-1): As consistent as they come. Has victories in a Grade 3 and a Grade 2 and was only a neck shy of winning the Florida Derby. But his top speed figure, a 101, leaves him in a position of probably needing to improve significantly to win this.
Hoppertunity (6-1): Scratched.
Dance With Fate (20-1): He was visually impressive as he blitzed the field in the Blue Grass after a wide trip, but his speed figure was only a 96. Returns to dirt now. His previous dirt figures fit well enough with his synthetic figures–this despite his receiving a difficult trip in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. His Late Pace rating of 88 is fairly strong in here. He should be running on late and could get into the trifecta, but we don’t love his chances of taking down the whole thing.
Chitu (20-1): Baffert speedster is another who has a nice pattern of speed figures: a 101 (on synthetic), followed by a troubled 94, then a 100 and a 104. There has been considerable speculation about what Baffert’s instructions to his rider will be. The Pace Projector shows Chitu in second-place early. He has proven himself capable of stalking the pace. His breeding for the 10 furlongs is a little light on the sire side, but strong on the dam side. Add him to the list of horses who would surprise us, but not shock us, if he won.
Medal Count (20-1): This colt is getting good at the right time. He lost an awful lot of ground racing wide in the Blue Grass, where he paired his top speed figure of 94. He will need a big new top as he returns to dirt. A tall order, though his breeding is conducive to the 10 furlongs.
Tapiture (15-1): Keeps grinding away on our speed figures, working his way up to paired 101s. But was no match for Danza in the Arkansas Derby and may have reached the end of the line for now.
Intense Holiday (12-1): Has reportedly been doing very well this week in Kentucky. He had a deceptively difficult trip in the Louisiana Derby, a race in which he made a nice run that is partially hidden in the running line and ran another 95. He is another who will need to jump to contend, and given his connections, we don’t like the chances that his closing odds will reflect the likelihood that he will produce this jump.
Commanding Curve (50-1): He is our favorite bomb in the 2014 Kentucky Derby. He has improved his speed figure in every start. He had a tough time of it at the start of the Louisiana Derby. He put in a big effort to finish third. A hot pace would very much work in his favor. He draws outside but figures to be taking back and angling over as soon as the gate opens. He has a powerful Late Pace rating of 93. He figures to be a huge price. We consider him a very interesting horse in this spot.
Candy Boy (20-1): Was no match for California Chrome in the Santa Anita Derby despite running a lifetime-top speed figure of 102. Is reportedly going to change tactics a bit this time–try coming from farther off the pace. His speed figures have been improving. They need to improve more.
Ride On Curlin (15-1): Has suffered truly awful trips in two of his last three starts, racing extremely wide and losing his chance despite putting in big efforts. For this reason, we do not think his recent speed figures do him justice. A threat to get on the board.
Wicked Strong (8-1): He is our pick to win the 2014 Kentucky Derby. We feel that he exits the strongest prep: the Wood, which received a formidable Race Rating of 112. He won it by uncorking a visually impressive run. His speed figure for that effort, a 116, is better than the best number his competition has ever run. His Late Pace rating, a 98, is the best in the field. Are we concerned that he will bounce off that huge effort? Yes, this possibility has crossed our mind, but we feel this possibility is outweighed by the chances that he will win the race if he proves capable of putting up a comparable effort today. Moreover, we like the fact that his two best efforts occurred in his two nine-furlong races. No, we don’t like his post position. But at morning line odds of 8-1, Wicked Strong has shown us enough to make him our selection.
Pablo Del Monte (50-1): Scratched.
Win bet on Wicked Strong.
Use Wicked Strong, Samraat, and Commanding Curve in multi-race wagers.
In exactas, trifectas, and superfectas, use Wicked Strong and Samraat on top, and include Commanding Curve, Vicar’s in Trouble, Uncle Sigh, California Chrome, General a Rod, Ride On Curlin, and Dance With Fate in lower holes.