Kentucky Derby

Kentucky Derby Preview: Will the Curse be Lifted?

Justify after winning the G1 Santa Anita Derby (Credit: Benoit Photo)

After months of anticipation, it’s finally Kentucky Derby time!

The 1 1/4-mile event will kick off the Triple Crown series as the centerpiece of Saturday’s 14-race program and will go as the 12th race with a 6:46 p.m ET. First post time for Saturday is 10:30 a.m., and there will be plenty of action throughout the day’s amazing card.

Justify has been named the 3-1 morning line favorite and will attempt to become the first horse since 1882 to win the Kentucky Derby without starting at age 2. Trained by Bob Baffert, Justify has won his three career starts by a combined 19 lengths, with his most recent score coming in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, his stakes debut. Baffert is one of three trainers with four victories in the race, winning with Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998), War Emblem (2002), and American Pharoah (2015). He seemed fine with Justify drawing post 7, as well as his other horse, Solomini, breaking from post 17.

“That’s a good spot,” Baffert said of Justify’s draw. “We didn’t want to be in the one-hole and we didn’t want to be 20. Seven is fine, but he still has to break well. If he doesn’t break well, it doesn’t matter what hole he’s in. We only have one option. We have to break. He’s lightly-raced and he has to leave there running. I’m glad I got here late. I was still in the parking lot when it happened, so I didn’t get a chance to fret. I walked in and saw Justify seven and was like, ‘I’ll take that.’ Dale Romans has that really fast horse (Promises Fulfilled, post 3) and I would’ve hated for him to be outside of me, so that’s good. I think all the good horses are in good spots. It’s one of the toughest Derbys that I’ve ever seen and one of the best draws that I’ve ever seen. The most important horses got good draws. My excuses are really dwindling, so now I’ve got to come with the horse. He’s a horse that just going to fall away from there. I would’ve preferred to have seen him somewhere on the inside to save some ground, but I think everyone should be happy with their draw. I don’t see any advantage that I have or that anyone else has. I have Solomini in there to pick up the pieces in case things fall apart up front. It’s nice to have a couple more weapons.”

2018 Kentucky Oaks/Kentucky Derby Wagering Guide

Another major headliner will be e Five Racing Thoroughbreds and Stonestreet Stables’ Good Magic. Trained by Chad Brown, Good Magic broke his maiden in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last fall at Del Mar to earn the Eclipse Award as Champion 2-Year-Old Male. He comes into the Derby off of a victory in the Grade 2 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland. Jose Ortiz has the mount on Good Magic and will exit post position 6.

“I’m perfectly fine with the six,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t want to be any farther inside, but he’ll get to save some ground there, and he’s got a really good horse to his outside in Justify that will provide him with a horse to follow into the first turn.”

The field for the Kentucky Derby from the rail out: Firenze Fire, Free Drop Billy, Promises Fulfilled, Flameaway, Audible, Good Magic, Justify, Lone Sailor, Hofburg, My Boy Jack, Bolt d’Oro, Enticed, Bravazo, Mendelssohn, Instilled Regard, Magnum Moon, Solomini, Vino Rosso, Noble Indy, and Combatant.

Top Choice

#7 Justify – Yes, I’m willing to laugh in the face of 136 years of history. It’s not something that I thought I’d ever do again; after picking Curlin and Bodemeister in previous years, I swore off picking horses that had not started at the age of 2, but here I am once again. However, this year’s different. I’m extremely confident that it’s going to happen. It’s fairly simple: he’s easily the best horse in the race, and if he handles all of the distractions and the bigger field, then he will put on a show. I’ve never seen a horse with such hype, and it’s well-deserved. He’s earned three straight triple-digit Beyer figures to kick off his career, and he defeated the crop’s second-best horse with relative ease in the Santa Anita Derby. Oh yeah, and he also has the training of Bob Baffert on his side. This is it. If it doesn’t happen this year, I am OFFICIALLY never picking against the Curse of Apollo again.

Horses to Use in Multi-Race Wagers

#11 Bolt d’Oro – He’s had to battle hard in both of his 2018 starts, having already faced the best horses in the crop. If he’d started in any prep other than the Santa Anita Derby, then he would’ve won by multiple lengths. Not only is that a good reason to like him, but it’s also a good reason to like Justify. Some are worried about Bolt being a bit worn down from those two races, but not me. According to his morning workouts, he bounced back well out of both those starts, and he has a solid foundation under him, with plenty of experience under his belt. Look for him to show up with a big race. He’ll win it if Justify isn’t ready for the craziness of the 20-horse field.

#6 Good Magic – He’s winning the “He looks great!” award as we lead up to the big race. Not only is he stunning to look at right now, but he’s working out like a horse that’s ready to fire a huge race. That’s really no surprise, as Brown did the exact same thing with him in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, where he dominated a solid field. Two weeks ago, I wouldn’t have put him in this spot, but the way in which he’s coming into the race is very tempting. This horse is getting ready to run a big one.

#14 Mendelssohn – What do we make of this freak? History is against him, as the UAE Derby winner hasn’t performed well in the Kentucky Derby, but this colt’s a little different. First of all, he won the UAE Derby by over 18 lengths, so that speaks for itself. Next, he’s already proven that he can ship to the United States and win, doing so last November in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf over a classy field. The biggest question mark will likely be how much the track helped him in Dubai. It favored speed horses all meet long, and once he got to the lead out of the gate, he never looked back. You at least have to play him defensively just in case that performance is repeated; it was something to see.

Exotic Plays

#18 Vino Rosso – This is my Belmont Stakes horse, plain and simple. He can make an impact in this race as well, but I’m not convinced that he can actually win. It’s a fantastic sign that John Velazquez decided to ride him over his stablemate, Audible. This colt is starting to put it all together, and being by Curlin, he should get better and better as he gets older. He’s the only horse that I’m afraid of when it comes to upsetting my top four choices.

#5 Audible – I’ve never known what to make of this horse all year, and really, I still don’t. He’s a lazy horse in the mornings, so you have to ignore his workouts, but when he runs in the afternoon, he gets the job done. Although, he’s often lazy in his races, too, as Velazquez really had to get after him all the way around the track in his two prep wins, the Grade 1 Florida Derby and the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes. He’s had some problems with his hooves, which isn’t a great sign, and I just don’t fully trust him, but I will play him defensively.

#16 Magnum Moon – This is the “other” horse that will try to end the Curse of Apollo. He’s a perfect 4-for-4 coming into this race, and he’s never been close to losing any of them. Many people are making a big deal about him drifting out in the stretch in his Grade 1 Arkansas Derby romp, but I’m not so worried about that. More concerning is that he just doesn’t match up very well with the top horses in this group from a speed figure standpoint. He has a ton of talent, but I don’t know if he can raise his game to a high enough level.

Party Crashers

#10 My Boy Jack – There’s no doubt that My Boy Jack will have to improve from a speed figure standpoint, but there’s also no doubt that he’s the race’s best closer. At the very least, that makes him dangerous to hit the board. His turn of foot is really something special, but the one problem is that it doesn’t seem to last that long. Jockey Kent Desormeaux will have to time his ride perfectly, but there’s still no guarantee that he’ll be fast enough to get all the way up and win. As far as hitting the board at a big price, though, he’s the most logical candidate.

Throw Outs

#17 Solomini – It was hard to throw this horse out because I do believe that he’s talented, but the bottom line is that after looking at his races, he doesn’t have much of a shot. He’s still very green, often refusing to change leads, and hasn’t shown the turn of foot necessary to make an impact in this spot.

#15 Instilled Regard – This horse has gone in the wrong direction, and there’s no sign of him getting back to his old form heading into this race. He’ll have more pace to run at here, which is great, but he may just not be good enough.

#9 Hofburg – This has become the “Wise Guy” horse, which usually not a good thing. Those horses seldom end up making an impact, especially in this race, but you can see why Hofburg is becoming attractive. He’s working out well and has shown a lot of talent in a short amount of time, but this could be a little too much, too soon. He should be scarier down the road.

#19 Noble Indy – This Todd Pletcher trainee is improving, but will it be enough to win this race? It’s tough to think that he’ll be good enough unless he makes a rapid progression. I’m taking a wait-and-see approach with this colt.

#20 Combatant – He draws the far outside post, which is par for the course for a horse that hasn’t drawn a single good post position in his entire career. I’ve called him “Lookin At Lee Jr.” for months now, and I still believe that to be true. You know the drill… he’ll drop back and make one run.

#4 Flameaway – This is one tough horse that fights all the way to the finish. His inside post position draw won’t do him many favors, though, as he’ll likely be pressed every step of the way. Sticking around all the way to the end will be a tough challenge.

#12 Enticed – He’s no doubt a classy horse, and it’s not out of the question that he could pick up some pieces in this spot, because I don’t think that he’ll stop running. There’s a small chance that he could hit the board if the pace melts down, but he isn’t fast enough to win without a lot of help.

#8 Lone Sailor – This horse is getting some buzz from the local clockers because he seems to be putting his best foot forward at the right time. Trainer Tom Amoss has said a few times that this horse has had some mental issues in the past but could be special if he puts it all together. He’s a horse to keep an eye on later in 2018, but this spot will be too tough.

#2 Free Drop Billy – Fellow Racing Dude writer Dan Keener described Free Drop Billy best: “He’s just kind of there.” He’ll be just kind of there again in this tough spot and will drop to the back and try to make one run. You’ll likely see him passing tired horses, but not much else.

#3 Promises Fulfilled – There’s zero doubt that he’ll go to the lead and try to take this field wire to wire. That strategy worked well in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes when he was victorious, but it blew up in his face in the Florida Derby when he got involved in a pace duel and was basically eased in the stretch. He’ll play a factor in this race, but he’ll have a hard time staying around at the end.

#1 Firenze Fire – Early in the year, Firenze Fire enjoyed solid success at Aqueduct, but lately, he hasn’t done better than minor awards in races like the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes and the Grade 2 Wood Memorial. He looks more like a one-turn-mile horse, and this rail draw won’t do him any favors.

#13 Bravazo – The Kentucky Derby is always better when Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas is involved. Unfortunately, he doesn’t bring the greatest-looking horse to the race, but remember, Lukas is the king of pulling off an upset when you least expect it. Bravazo was fairly solid when winning the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes, but he was nuts in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby.

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