All systems are go in Louisville for the big race. The weather has been good all week and should hold up right on through Saturday. This means a fast track to match all of the fast horses in the race. This seems like a good time to mention pace. Every year the experts say that they expect a HOT pace in the Derby. This is to be expected as many of the horses in the Kentucky Derby have won their prep races in wire-to-wire fashion. News flash: Developing 3-year old horses tend to be green. The Derby always has been, and always will be about pace and who can get the 1-1/4 mile distance. While the pace in this year's Derby will be hot, it should not be anything near the 2005 pace fiasco that resulted in Giacomo's victory.
So who are the speed horses in this year's Derby? Well, it is almost easier to tell which horses are not early runners. We think the horses that will be vying for the lead are:
- Sinister Minister
- Showing Up
- Sharp Humor
- Lawyer Ron
- Keyed Entry
- Deputy Glitters
- Brother Derek
This brings us to the horses that will be running mid-flight:
- Point Determined
- Bob and John
- A.P. Warrior
- Private Vow
- Bluegrass Cat
- Cause to Believe
- Flashy Bull
Now, without further delay, let's quickly rundown each of the 20 Derby contestants and quickly assess their chances in Saturday's race
1 - Jazil - One of the true closers in the race. What looks like a very impressive run in the Wood is actually very, very deceiving. Jazil simply took what was given to him when the leaders in that race collapsed in the stretch. Jazil owns only a Maiden Special Weight victory and cannot be considered a win contender on Saturday. We will consider him for the exotics based solely on his running style.
2 - Steppenwolfer - This one has been chasing Lawyer Ron around the track for the post couple of months. Steppenwolfer is a slightly better version of Jazil, but is also not a Derby contender. If anything, Steppenwolfer reminds us of Borrego, which is to say that he won't win. Exotics possibility due to running style.
3 - Keyed Entry - Another one from the awful Wood Memorial. Keyed ran the final furlong in 14 2/5 seconds in the Wood. That is not too good. Our guess is that this one has no hope of getting 1-1/4 miles. Toss.
4 - Sinister Minister - Beyer gave it a 116 for the Bluegrass. In a live Derby chat he expressed the difficulty in making this number and said that he made a judgment call. This sounds pretty subjective to us. Running a 116 while on an extremely speed favoring Keeneland surface, and while loose on the lead (7 lengths in front at the ½ mile) sets Sinister Minister up for a big bounce. Sorry, but this is a throwout.
5 - Point Determined - Somehow, Point D has become the darling of the racing media. This is a nice horse, but we can't quite understand how a horse that has been recently destroyed by Brother Derek can be the trendy Derby choice. Improvement is the buzzword, but how much will this one really improve off the Santa Anita where it ran a 103 Beyer? We don't think the improvement, if any, will be sufficient to take down this field. Point D is a good possibility to hit the board, but we doubt he will win.
6 - Showing Up - They say that 80 percent of life is showing up, but that won't be enough for this one to take down the Derby field. We will say this, this is a gutsy horse that could factor in the exotics, but don't look to be taking a picture of him in a blanket of roses.
7 - Bob and John - Bob and John has been a very consistent horse thus far in its young career. We are, however, dismayed by his Wood victory. It just wasn't that impressive. The reality is that he won that race because he was in a poor field. The sealed Aqueduct track saved him as he was severely paddling at the end of the race. We are going to take a big pass on Bob and John.
8 - Barbaro - Just how good is Barbaro? We think he is pretty good. The only knock on this one is the whole 5-week layoff thing. If he can move forward off of his Florida Derby performance he will be a solid contender on Saturday. This is a horse that cannot be ignored.
9 - Sharp Humor - If you like Barbaro then you really should like Sharp Humor too. If Sharp Humor has a problem it's his early running style and questions about getting the distance. This is one that you hate to throw out, but you have to make some tough decisions in a race like this. We say no to Sharp Humor, but only because we think he will be a casualty of the expected fast pace.
10 - A.P. Warrior - See Point Determined.
11 - Sweetnorthernsaint - The expected winner of the 2006 Kentucky Derby. Yes, you read it correctly. We'll explain this in more depth later, but suffice it to say, this guy can run, run, and then run some more. Once again, Beyer has cast a subjective speed figure on 'Sweet, having stating publicly that he reduced this one's number earned in the Illinois Derby. What!? Okay, whatever... We love 'Sweet's press and pounce style and believe that it will serve him well on Saturday.
12 - Private Vow - We will publicly state that we believe Private does not merit any type of consideration in the Derby.
13 - Bluegrass Cat - The wheels fell of when he ran against better horses in the BlueGrass. Pletcher would no doubt love to have Sunriver in the race rather than this one. Throw it out.
14 - Deputy Glitters - See Bluegrass Cat.
15 - Seaside Retreat - We have no idea why this horse is entered in the Derby. Its best race came on the AstroDirt at Turfway. It just does not stack up with this field. Even with it closing style, it will not have a chance if the pace collapses in front of it. Toss.
16 - Cause to Believe - This may be one of the more interesting longshots in the race and one that requires a decision. This one did not perform well in the Illinois Derby. We believe, however, that this is partly due to the less than blazing pace. This is a late running horse in a race with a pressured pace. We are going to find a way to work this one into the mix.
17 - Lawyer Ron - Get ready for some controversy. We are throwing Lawyer Ron out of consideration. Totally and completely O-U-T. Why? Because we don't believe he is that good. First, his early running style is extremely ill-suited for post number 17. Bro D faces the same problem, but is much more talented than this one. The Arkansas Derby performance looks impressive at first glance, but who did he really beat. The two that Bro D beat in the Santa Anita Derby are much more talented than Steppenwolfer or Private Vow. Bottom line: Lawyer Ron has already peaked and isn't good enough to win even without everything working against him. Save your money.
18 - Brother Derek - It's a shame that there may not be a Triple Crown winner this year because of the post draw. Bro D is the real deal. Many seem to want to punish this great horse because it is (a) fast and (b) hasn't beaten anybody. Of course, some of these same pundits then choose the same "nobodies" that he has crushed to win the Derby. Go figure. Bro D has a huge obstacle to overcome in post number 18. Is his speed good enough to get him into contention early? Probably, but this comes with a cost. Bro D is most definitely good enough to win the Derby, but will probably fail to do so because of the crummy post position. Pity that.
19 - Storm Treasure - Another one that shouldn't be entered. At least he won't get in anybodies way starting from the number 19 post. Toss.
20 - Flashy Bull - Okay, maybe Storm Treasure will get in this one's way, or vice versa. Another one with no chance on Saturday.
Okay, so we know that the pace will be hot and that Sports Betting Acumen loves Sweetnorthernsaint. So what does this all mean?
The Kentucky Derby boils down to running style, pace, and who can run a full 1-1/4 mile distance. This makes calling a winner a difficult task (ask the great Andy Beyer about that!). Can a front running horse win the Derby? Yes, it has happened. Can this happen even with a pressured pace? You bet it can. Generally speaking, however, horses don't wire the Derby field and they don't do it against a fast pace. Also, horses generally don't come from the clouds the way Giacomo did last year. Derby winners usually get the job done in the manner of Funny Cide and Smarty Jones, staying in contention and then pouncing at the right time. Afleet Alex actually tried valiantly to do this last year but faced an impossible task.
Sweetnorthernsaint exemplifies the type of runner we are looking for on Saturday. He is extremely talented and has been on a steady path of development leading up to this race. He has the ability to win the Derby even if, and it is a BIG if, he has peaked. We do not believe that he has peaked. On the surface it looks like 'Sweet has the wrong running style for the race having spent many pace calls on or very close to the lead. His critics point to the slow pace of the Illinois Derby. In closing reviewing his brief career, it has become evident to us that this guy's MO is to lay just off the pace and then pounce. He came up a little short in the Gotham, but has obviously improved since then. This horse is a finisher in a race that requires this skill. For those that follow Beyer numbers, note that he has run, in his last four races, 102-104-104-109. The 109 was actually higher, but Mr. Beyer saw fit to lower the number (see his Derby chat transcript at the Daily Racing Form site to confirm this.
Our Derby attack strategy is going to be to "key" 'Sweet in the trifecta with 7 other contenders: A.P. Warrior, Barbaro, Jazil, Steppenwolfer, Point Determined, Brother Derek, and Cause to Believe. By "key" we are referring to a strategy that involves using 'Sweet in each place in the trifecta. Think of it as three separate part wheels. We will, of course, also play Sweetnorthernsaint to WIN. Finally, we will play some exacta key box combinations with 'Sweet in the top and bottom positions with the other contenders previously noted.