Race Previews

Indiana Derby Preview: King Zachary Ships in as Heavy Favorite

King Zachary Winning the Grade 3 Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill Downs (Credit: Coady Photography)

The Grade 3, $500,000 Indiana Derby has drawn a field of nine, with the Dale Romans-trained King Zachary installed as the heavy 6-5 morning line favorite. The Derby is the highlight of the Indiana Grand meet each year and makes for a fun night of racing in the Hoosier State. Saturday will be the 24th running of the race, which has recently produced quality winners such as Irap, Cupid, and Lookin At Lucky.

King Zachary was a late-blooming 3-year-old but is starting to develop into a solid colt. After breaking his maiden at Gulfstream Park in March, Romans tried the Grade 2 Wood Memorial with his young prospect, but the race was too much too soon. King Zachary ran in an allowance event at Churhcill Downs right after the Kentucky Derby, which he won, and he then took home the Grade 3 Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill Downs by nearly 5 lengths while earning a very fast speed figure. Romans believes this horse will only get better.

“Tom and I talked about it (Sunday) night,” Romans said on Monday. “It just made a lot of sense. A half-million dollars is a lot of money, and the timing is good to try to make the (Grade 1) Travers at Saratoga with him. This is a really good horse. You know the (handicapping) number he ran in the Matt Winn is the same thing that (Triple Crown winner) Justify has been running.”

Owner Tom Conway has been high on his colt from day one, perhaps even higher than Dale Romans, which is really saying something. Conway’s ultimate goal is also the Travers, and the Indiana Derby makes perfect sense from a timing perspective to get this son of Curlin to the race. He believes that this colt will become a Grade 1 winner.

“Dale’s awful high on him, about half as high as I am,” Conway said with a laugh during a phone interview. “But we’re having fun with him, very fortunate to have a horse of this caliber. I think he’ll win some Grade 1 races before he’s through. I know he will if he doesn’t get hurt. That sound you hear is me pounding my fist on my head. That’s how I knock on wood.”

The full field from the rail out includes: Trigger Warning, Blame the Rider, Givemeaminit, Dark Vader, The Money Dance, Axelrod, Title Ready, King Zachary, and Funny Duck.

Top Choice

#8 King Zachary – His Matt Winn victory was eye-opening. He dominated the field to win by 4 3/4 lengths and earned a 98 Beyer speed figure for the win. That kind of figure will make him a winner once again here, and the race sets up fairly well for him on paper. He is drawn outside of all of the speed, so he should be able to sit a nice stalking trip while a few horses duke it out early in front of him. The only question is, can he show up with that Matt Winn-type of effort once again? The 98 Beyer is 19 points higher than any number that he has ever earned in the past. Was it a fluke, or is this colt for real and ready for a big second half? He sure looked for real, and this race is the perfect spot for him to continue the progression to elite company.

Horses to Use in Multi-Race Wagers

#4 Dark Vader – He has always been considered a horse that has a decent amount of talent, and he put it all together two races back when dominating optional claiming foes at Santa Anita. He then entered the $150,000 Easy Goer Stakes on the Belmont Stakes undercard and nearly won, finishing third while only being defeated by a neck. Those efforts will make him very competitive in this race, and if King Zachary doesn’t show up with the same effort he had in the Matt Winn, then Dark Vader is the most likely winner.

Exotic Plays

#7 Title Ready – This Steve Asmussen trainee continues to show that he can be competitive in these types of races, but he has yet to show that he can actually win one. His fourth-place finish in the Grade 3 Ohio Derby was a solid showing and he was only defeated by 1 1/2 lengths. He can be in the mix for the underneath positions once again in this spot, but it is questionable if he can elevate his game past that level.

#1 Trigger Warning – Last time out, he was third in the Ohio Derby at odds of 86-1. In fact, at one point, he had the lead in the stretch before Core Beliefs and Lone Sailor eventually passed him. The major question now will be how this field compares to the one in Ohio. It seems fairly similar, as two horses stick out from a number perspective and the rest of the field is a blur. That leaves Trigger Warning with another big shot to hit the board, but he’ll be much less than 86-1 this time.

#6 Axelrod – Out of nowhere, this horse jumped up and ran a big race to finish second in the Grade 3 Affirmed Stakes last time out at odds of 23-1 That effort at Santa Anita earned him a trip to Indiana, where he’ll face a field that is fairly similar to what he faced in California. A repeat effort could put him in the mix, but he will have to improve off of that effort even more to actually win.

Party Crashers

#2 Blame the Rider – You always must respect these connections. Trainer Doug O’Neill won this race last year with Irap, and jockey Julien Leparoux teamed up with O’Neill and Irap to win the Ohio Derby last year. This colt has done his best running on the turf at Santa Anita while going two turns, so it is clear he likes the distance, but how will he handle switching back to the dirt? If not for the O’Neill factor, then this horse would likely be a throw out, but he is interesting considering the connections.

Throw Outs

#9 Funny Duck – Everyone’s favorite horse is back for more in this spot. This horse ruined almost everyone’s tickets on Kentucky Derby Day when he won the Grade 3 Pat Day Mile, but that seems to have been a giant fluke. He came back to run a distant fourth last time out in the Matt Winn, which is more like what you can expect from him.

#3 Givemeaminit – One of these days, he will probably jump up and pull a big upset, but we will likely not see it coming. He is plenty classy enough to run in these types of spots, but he hasn’t made an impact in a race like this in a very long time.

#5 The Money Dance – This horse got hot during the spring with a couple of victories at Oaklawn and Belmont Park, but he has since fallen off of form. Two races back, he tried the turf and failed, so you can draw a line through that one, but last time out, he was on this track on the dirt in a race that he should have been able to handle and finished a well-beaten fourth.

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