Although a handful of Derby preps have already been run, around the country, there’s no denying that the heat gets turned up a few notches this weekend. Most eyes will be focused on Gulfstream Park late Saturday afternoon as the early favorite for the 2016 Run for the Roses, the undefeated Mohaymen, makes his three-year-old debut.
The Grade 2 Holy Bull is contested over Gulfstream’s mile and a sixteenth configuration, which features a short run to the first turn and an abbreviated stretch. Post position is usually of utmost importance in these races, but this year’s race drew a compact field of just six runners. There is a distinct lack of speed signed on, and the Pace Projector, unsurprisingly, is predicting a situation that will favor the runners on or near the lead. The leader is forecasted to be Mohaymen.
Let’s go through the field:
#1, Perfect Saint (20/1): This race essentially boils down to three main contenders and three fringe players, with Perfect Saint part of the latter group. This runner has by far the most experience racing around two turns on the dirt but was no match for the elite juveniles in the Kentucky Jockey Club last fall. His lone race over this track hardly inspires confidence, and the likely pace scenario may work against him.
#2, Mohaymen (6/5):
This undefeated colt seems to be the horse that racing fans are most excited about as we embark on the 2016 road to the Kentucky Derby. He seemingly has it all—a classy pedigree, a respected trainer, and a versatile running style that has allowed him to adapt to any race shape or distance that he’s encountered. In addition to all of that, he’s recorded some of the highest TimeformUS Speed Figures in his class, topped by a 117 for his win in the Remsen last time out. Until proven otherwise, Mohaymen has to be considered the most talented runner in this race, and his tactical speed gives him a distinct advantage in a largely paceless affair. Mohaymen is clearly the most likely winner, but the price is going to be very short, and it’s not as if there aren’t other legitimately talented horses lining up against him. We’re also aware that this race is not the end goal. It’s certainly possible that his connections may not even exploit his tactical advantage, instead using this as another learning experience, as was the case in the Remsen.
#3, Fellowship (20/1): He’s yet to run a race fast enough to suggest he can even crack the trifecta, and his deep-closing style does not suit the projected race shape. This barn has been cold so far at the meet, and they seem unlikely to turn things around in this ambitious spot.
#4, Conquest Big E (7/2):
This colt, by Tapit, is one of the two main threats to the favorite. After his two encouraging runs against maiden company in Kentucky this fall, his connections decided to strike while the iron was hot and give him a chance against the best two-year-olds in the country in the Breeders’ Cup. Given the hurdles he was facing, he actually put in a respectable effort to cross the wire eighth, essentially splitting the field. Expectations were tempered somewhat next time out as he stepped back down to allowance company, but he validated his connections’ faith in him with a powerful winning performance, earning an impressive 112 speed figure. We’re intrigued by the fact that Mike Smith climbs aboard for the first time, since he’s surely going to be aware of the lack of pace in this race. Conquest Big E has shown eagerness early in his races and may actually benefit from being sent to the lead here if his connections decide to seize the opportunity. With Mohaymen taking the bulk of the play, he may drift up in price off his 7/2 morning line odds. We wouldn’t be too quick to dismiss him.
#5, Greenpointcrusader (8/5): Your opinion of this colt essentially boils down to what you make of his win in the Champagne last fall. Greenpointcrusader hails from a female family of runners that have tended to move up significantly over wet tracks, so we’re concerned that the sloppy going contributed to his visually impressive performance in that Grade 1 victory. He was sent off as the lukewarm favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile off the perceived strength of that effort, but he could only manage to finish a disappointing seventh, just edging out today’s rival Conquest Big E at the wire. It’s not as if Greenpointcrusader got a terribly unlucky trip in the Breeders’ Cup—the top two finishers also received wide trips and lost just as much ground, if not more, than he did. Rather, he was just somewhat dull and couldn’t keep up when the real running began. Based on our speed figures, he’s by far the slowest of the top three contenders, having yet to earn a triple-digit speed figure. We doubt he’ll go off as short as his morning line price, but we prefer the colt drawn to his inside if we’re looking for an alternative to Mohaymen.
#6, Frontier Ranger (15/1): His lone dirt effort did not come back particularly fast, and he, like many others in this field, has the wrong running style for this race. A top three finish would be a surprise.
While we have no major knocks against Mohaymen (#2), we’re intrigued by the prospect of Mike Smith trying to outsmart his opponents by sending CONQUEST BIG E (#4) to the front. If there’s going to be an upset in this Holy Bull, we feel it will be accomplished by this fellow son of Tapit stealing the race on the front end, rather than by a late runner like Greenpointcrusader. Whereas Mohaymen has been the consummate professional since his first start, Conquest Big E is still learning the ropes, and we feel that we haven’t yet seen the best of him.
WIN bet on #4, Conquest Big E, at odds of 9/2 or higher
TRIFECTA using 2,4 with 2,4 with 5