In last night’s Kentucky Oaks press conference, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert called this year’s Kentucky Derby the “I don’t know Derby,” which is an astute name for it. May in Kentucky can be unpredictable; one minute it’s sunny and the next it’s rainy, gloomy and cold. Three-year-olds can be unpredictable; one minute they overcome adversity and win, the next they lose a race having had a perfect trip. This year, for every reason there is to back a horse, there is also a serious reason not to back them. Which pretty much leaves us with a wide open field. The following is a list of my top 10 horses in order of preference:
Dialed in – Unbridled Rage (Unbridled)
Style: Deep Closer
I’m a huge fan of Gunnevera (15-1), he has been one of the more consistent colts when it comes to running style. He is a closer, meaning he likes to trail the field early only, letting the horses up front do the heavy lifting and then swoops in at the last minute when they are tiring and steals the show. Spent a lot of time with him in his barn this week and the one thing I have to mention is that this horse is built like a greyhound. He’s got legs for days and has a narrow build, but he is all lean muscle. Built very much like a long distance runner.
Always Dreaming #5
Bodemeister – Above Perfection (In Excess, IRE)
It’s not at all surprising that Always Dreaming is the 4-1 favorite. Regally bred, this son of Bodemeister put on one heck of a performance in his final work for the Derby. In fact, his work was so good that some handicappers are saying they have never seen anything like it before. The concern for me is his running style, and, more so, his attitude when approaching the first turn. Jockey John Velazquez expressed concern to me several days ago regarding the colt fighting the bit to get out to the lead. If he doesn’t leave his stubbornness at the gate, he will be expending energy fighting his rider — energy he is going to need in the final furlong. Recall the Derby of 2012. Bodemeister went out to the lead and what happened? I’ll Have Another stole the show at the very last second. In my opinion, this is a likely scenario for Always Dreaming.
Classic Empire #14
Pioneerof the Nile – Sambuca Classica (Cat Thief)
This son of Pioneerof the Nile has been the Derby favorite every since he won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita Park in November. With three graded one wins under his belt, he is certainly the most qualified in the Derby field and he has proven he can handle the elements: mud/slop, traffic, a poor start. The Arkansas Derby is the race where he got my respect. He stumbled leaving the gate, ran into traffic that forced jockey Julien Leparoux to steady him more than once, ran wide on the second turn, and somehow still managed to win by a half-length. I will not be singling him, but I count on him to hit the board and will use him in my exotics.
Malibu Moon – Race to Urga (Bernstein)
I think a lot of people are underestimating Gormley. To be honest, I wasn’t a fan of his until recently when he won the Gr.1 Santa Anita Derby. Victor Espinoza rode him beautifully, opting to position him in third behind the pacesetters. It was something we hadn’t seen him do before and it worked tremendously for him. Watch the replay of the race, Gormley really dug down deep to overcome the leader in the stretch. He showed a lot of grit, and to me, grit/heart is one of the most important qualities not just in horses, but in all athletes.
Tale of Ekati – Catch the Moon (Malibu Moon)
A late-developing hoof issue has made many people a little hesitant in backing this son of Tale of Ekati, but he wouldn’t be in the race if trainer Joe Sharp didn’t think he could handle it. Girvin has been one of the most consistent colts in this groug and I really liked his form in both the Risen Star and Louisiana Derby. He resembles Gun Runner at this time last year — gritty and good enough to finish in the top five.
Irish War Cry #17
Curlin – Irish Sovereign (Polish Numbers)
The Gr.2 Wood Memorial screams he wants to go further. He looked absolutely spectacular in that final prep and he showed he did not need the lead. Additionally, he is the only colt to score a three digit Beyer speed figure, getting a 101 in the Gr.2 Holy Bull and Gr.2 Wood Memorial, and he and jockey Rajiv Maragh have great chemistry — something way too many people undermine.
Ghostzapper – Ivory Empress (Seeking the Gold)
Aside from his dud in the Gr.2 Blue Grass, McCraken has done everything right. His versatile running style and experience over the track at Churchill Downs (three wins) makes it really hard to look past him.
Lookin At Lee #1
Lookin At Lucky – Langara Lass (Langfuhr)
It’s safe to say that this son of Lookin At Lucky (Smart Strike) has been extremely consistent when it comes to NOT winning. However, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have potential. Jockey Corey Lanerie will be in the irons, which is a huge bonus considering Lookin At Lee is a closer and Lanerie is brilliant on horses with late, unrelenting speed. The 1-hole is not going to affect him, so don’t let that steer you away; he doesn’t need the lead. At 20-1 on the morning line, taking a chance might just yield high dividends.
Union Rags – Windyindy (A.P. Indy)
The one-eyed Todd Pletcher-trainee has heart, and he is not afraid of traffic. He is a longshot, but do not count him out. Above, I mentioned that too many people undermine the importance of jockey-rider chemistry. Jockeys don’t just sit there, they play a very big role in the outcome of their horse’s race. Tyler Gaffalione is going to have to provide clear instructions and ride Patch with a whole lot of confidence. Breaking out of the 20-hole with no left eye means Patch will have absolutely no visual clue as to what is going on to left. But don’t blow that out of proportion; he can still hear and if he is as smart as I think, he will watch the horses load into the gate. Gaffalione will be his left eye.
10. Practical Joke
Into Mischief – Halo Humor (Distorted Humor)
The post is not ideal for this bay colt by Into Mischief, and it is the main reason he is so low on my list. He is not particularly fast out of the gate, so if he misses the break, he might just miss his chance of doing much of anything.
Follow Claudia L. Ruiz is the Editor-in-Chief of Thoroughbred Today magazine. Follow her on Twitter for up-to-date picks and news updates -> @Claudia_WMS