Jim Hurley Kentucky Derby 141 Preview
DEEP FIELD...TOUGH ANALYSIS
Jim Hurley's KENTUCKY DERBY 141 PREVIEW
The Why & Why Not!
Obviously, any Kentucky Derby is the ultimate challenge for even the best owners, conditioners and jockeys, not to mention the feature of it all, the horses.
For our purposes the challenge in 2015 appears to be more daunting than it has been in many years. There have been more multiple prep race winners, more improving runners and more uninterrupted work patterns than I can remember, which is why I can say that an average bettor, or even more established handicapper will, upon approaching this field realize that he or she is constantly reshuffling the deck as there can be valid arguments to place as many as half the field on top with a number of others added to the exotics pool.
That being said, from the rail out, let's take a look at each runner in the field with both a brief WHY and a brief WHY NOT as to their prospects.
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OCHO OCHO OCHO (50-1)
WHY - The son of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense developed quickly as a juvenile, winning all 3 races which concluded with a victory in the Delta Jackpot. His 3-year old debut fell flat at Santa Anita but he showed good speed when 4 wide throughout in a third place finish in the Blue Grass Stakes, won by Carpe Diem, who is likely the third favorite on Saturday.
WHY NOT - The "dreaded" one post is of course parroted over and over every year and is a detriment, especially for a horse that has never shown he likes to run from off the pace. If he goes early there are quicker ones to his outside.
CARPE DIEM (8-1)
WHY - The best of the three Pletcher runners which remain after the scratch of Stanford, the son of Giant's Causeway has done nothing wrong in winning his four races by significant margins with perfect stalking trips and daylight finishes. His lone loss came when he was second with a relatively compromised trip in the BC Juvenile in which he angled 6 wide to follow the freakish win by Texas Red. He continues to work forwardly, has Pletcher go to guy Velazquez and has the kind of tactical speed that should allow him to get position despite one of the inside posts as Ocho Ocho Ocho to his inside and Materiality to his outside figure to go while the four outside of those are all closers and the scratch of El Kabier means the inside gate will be left open and he'll be able to at least face the straight away out of the gate.
WHY NOT - The post is always a question mark. If indeed Velazquez cannot get good position early and is forced to circle the field, much is then up to the trip.
WHY - The improving and undefeated son of Afleet Alex should have little difficulty in moving forward again as the extra furlong is added to his dominant victory in the Florida Derby. The second of the three Pletcher entrants loses John Velazquez to Carpe Diem but gets equally competent Javier Castellano. His speed is genuine and his works have been consistent and in hand. If he moves forward yet again he could be a major factor.
WHY NOT - Lack of experience (only 3 career races) could catch up to him and the bounce off three straight improving figures is always a possibility. His career did not begin until January 11 of this year and the Apollo curse (no Derby runner unraced as a 2-year old has won the Derby since 1882) haunts him. His races have also been well spaced and the 5 weeks since the Florida Derby is actually the "closest" spaced of his races.
WHY - If he moves forward off his surprise second at 21-1 in the Wood Memorial he could be an interesting longshot to fill out the exotics. He turned in a good half mile work at Aqueduct following the Wood and was equally impressive in a 5 furlong breeze (BEST OF 67!) over the CD main track last Saturday.
WHY NOT - He will be running outside of Aqueduct for the first time in his career and his breeding suggests that 10 furlongs might be a stretch. One has to also believe that the improvement in the Wood and the works after indicate that the connections have abandoned the off-the-pace style in favor of contesting the pace, which puts him in a large contingent.
DANZIG MOON (30-1)
WHY - The long winded, well-bred son of Malibu Moon could be sitting on his best career race as he stalked in good position in the Blue Grass Stakes, had to swing out into the 6 path to commence his rally and ran on well to get second once Carpe Diem had cleared the field. He has good off-the-pace cruising speed and if the pace is hot enough and he improves even a few lengths he could be one of the late callers.
WHY NOT - He is only two races removed from the maiden ranks and is still eligible for non-winners of two races lifetime. This has historically been a tough hurdle to jump.
WHY - This is the only runner in the field to have proven it beyond a mile and an eighth as he dominated the prestigious U.A.E. Derby. His final time of 1:58 1/5 was one of the fastest in the history of the race and was 4 seconds faster than the last Desert to the Derby runner (Lines Of David, the U.A.E. winner in 2013.) Trainer Michael de Kock is not one to ship for the sake of it and he even brought the colt here early and stabled him at Arlington Park so he could work over the same synthetic surface he worked over before running his races on traditional dirt (won 4 of 5 stakes races) in Dubai. U.A.E. winning rider Christopher Soumillon will be aboard.
WHY NOT - The Desert to the Derby maneuver has failed quite dramatically in its history, although there have been considerably less attempts in recent years.
EL KABEIR (SCRATCHED)
WHY - Not much needs be said as to why you back a colt that despite being huge in size has also been spritely and light footed from the beginning of his undefeated 6 race career. In addition and even more important is the fact that has been sternly tested a number of times and prevailed. He might be considered the slightly lesser of the two Baffert champs but is clearly better bred for 10 panels than American Pharoah. Will be tough to deny.
WHY NOT - The only thing that can derail a great Derby run is traffic or a deadly speed duel.
WHY - At 30-1 odds, his competitive efforts against Dortmund in both the San Felipe and the Santa Anita Derby make him as a very live longshot. It is also a plus that he improved from race to race and that those two Santa Anita Stales were his only two career dirt races after beginning his career on the turf. One of many with good early tactical speed he could get a break or two from just off the early pace and get one of the first runs.
WHY NOT - As a son of Temple City his blood lines speak more to grass and mile dirt speed than they do to 10 furlongs and if he is to have a chance he'd need to be in the mix early with a number of what appear to be faster pace setters.
FIRING LINE (12-1)
WHY - Straight out of a MSW win this son of Line Of David gave Dortmund everything he wanted when beaten a head by that one in the Los Alamitos Futurity to end his juvenile campaign. The Simon Callaghan trainee went head to head with Dortmund again in the Robert Lewis and once again the two were separated by a head at the wire. The trainer then made a wise decision to avoid Dortmund a third time and made his final prep try a 14 length confidence building romp in the Sunland Derby. The colt has worked brilliantly in the 6 weeks since the Sunland win and is another with good tactical speed.
WHY NOT - As far as he has progressed and as much as he is flattered by Dortmund he is another with questionable stamina blood lines and given his resume it appears as though he will be caught up in what figures as a crowded and contentious speed duel that could catch up to him when they turn for home.
INTERNATIONAL STAR (20-1)
WHY - The consistent son of Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus really came to hand as a 3-year old as he swept all three of the Fair Grounds Derby preps with well-timed tracking trips and dogged stretch runs. The colt has been in Kentucky for the last three weeks and has worked forwardly in maintenance manner on both the training and main track and from a historical perspective exits the same Louisiana Derby that sent longshots Commanding Curve (37-1) and Golden Soul (35-1) to second place finishes in the last two Kentucky Derbies.
WHY NOT - Despite being three for three in 2015 his lone race over the CD surface (the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes) at the conclusion of his juvenile campaign was a distant 4th place finish behind El Kabeir. It is also possible to point to the softness of this year's Fair Grounds prep lineups.
WHY - The third of Todd Pletcher's trio of runners the son of Lemon Drop Kid should like the extra distance of the Derby and though lightly raced appeared on track in his first three career races, including a good second place finish that turned into a win in the Fountain of Youth Stakes after a DQ of Upstart. That made it 3-for-3 and his solid stalking style and measured splits seemed to point to plenty of promise before he failed to fire at all in the Florida Derby and was a distant 4th. He has worked well since; including a solid half mile over the track last Saturday and a return to his first three career races could create a surprise.
WHY NOT - His 4th place finish in the Florida Derby was without incident and he has also not raced anywhere else but at Gulfstream Park. Shipping to a new local for the first time and coming off a noticeably poor performance raise a number of questions.
KEEN ICE (50-1)
WHY - His connections remain high on this son of Curlin and his sire was a late developer who made a strong run in the Kentucky Derby in his best race to that point. He comes out of the same Fair Grounds series of preps that produced the aforementioned Golden Soul and Commanding Curve and though beaten by International Star it is worth noting that like this guy each of them had the same even run for a minor award in the Louisiana Derby before exploding in Louisville.
WHY NOT - The colt is still eligible for non-winners of two lifetime from 7 career starts and has yet to run a speed number that compares to numerous numbers run by most of the others he'll face on Saturday.
WHY - The son of Tapit is as well bred for the 10 furlong distance as any in the field and the ease by which he blew away his rivals under a virtual hand ride in the Wood Memorial shines a big light on him. In the only race in which he hasn't finished first or second with solid tracking or stalking trips which picked up ground late was in the Fountain of Youth Stakes two back, but in that race he was checked at the 5/16ths pole and bumped in the lane. Eliminate that race and the McLaughlin/Godolphin runner has progressed steadily throughout his preparations. Add in fact that Joel Rosario rides back after getting aboard for the first time in the Wood and directing this colt to his best race and he is live,
WHY NOT - Based on his resume the only thing that stands in his way besides a bad trip is the possibility of a bounce following his huge Wood number.
WAR STORY (50-1)
WHY - The Tom Amoss trainee has hit the board in all five career races and is another who was competitive and on the board closely behind International Star in the three Fair Grounds prep races. He has the kind of tracking an pounce style that could get him an early run off the far turn and if he improves could have a lot of conventional exotic players sweating a bit in mid stretch. Amoss will also remove the blinkers, claiming that his colt has been too keen to run on and been a handful so if he relaxes could step forward.
WHY NOT - The colt has been an also ran despite getting clean trips and has yet to show the late kick reserve that he'd need to surpass the higher performance speed numbers of too many opponents. His two works at CED have also been O.K. if mot overwhelming when compared with how quickly he worked prior to his FG races.
MR. Z (50-1)
WHY - Two words...Wayne Lukas. No one forgets how Take Charge Indy came to hand for Lukas late in his 3-year old campaign a few years ago so a step up is never out of the question. A 12 time career starter the son of Malibu Moon has danced every dance and was not totally disgraced when third behind American Pharoah in the Arkansas Derby. Bred to get the 10 furlongs he has hit the board in 9 of his 12 races so a minor award at a big price is not totally beyond reality.
WHY NOT - After those 12 career starts he is still eligible for non-winners of two races lifetime and was a distant third in the Arkansas Derby after a dismal ninth in the Louisiana Derby and was a beaten third behind Far Right in both the South West Stakes and Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn prior to that.
AMERICAN PHAROAH (5-2)
WHY - The brilliant son of Kentucky Derby runner-up Pioneerof the Nile has won four straight since losing his debut and done so in the easiest of fashion. After being laid off due to injury the week of the BC Juvenile last November trainer Bob Baffert waited patiently and brought him back to trounce the competition in the Grade II Rebel and Grade I Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park in his two three-year old starts. He also showed his versatility by wiring the field in the sloppy Rebel and settling off the early pace and sweeping to a 6 length triumph at will in the Arkansas Derby. Since shipping to CD he has worked brilliantly, including a BEST OF 33 five furlong drill in :58 2/5 last Sunday which a veteran clocker called the most impressive he had seen in 35 years. He is set to justify the accolades.
WHY NOT - From the outside post he could get hung wide if he hooks up with what figures to be a contested multi-runner early setup and if he is taken back by Victor Espinoza he won't find as few pieced of dead wood in his path as he did in the 9 horse soft field Arkansas Derby. For all his dominance, he has not faced the likes of some of the better winners from other preps that he will face on Saturday.
WHY - The Richard Violette trained son of Flatter has been nothing short of all hickory since breaking his maiden in his career debut. A three time stakes winner who was DQ'd from a fourth such win in the Fountain of Youth the colt brings a 7-3-3-1 mark to the Derby and was good enough to run second in the seminal Grade I Champagne and third (beaten a nose by Carpe Diem in the BC Juvenile. Since moving into two turn preps he has never been further back than a length and a half by first call and that should come in handy as Jose Ortiz breaks him from this outside post. Has the speed and heart to be in at when they hit mid-stretch.
WHY NOT - The colt has drifted a bit in his last two races and has a tendency to find trouble despite his sterling record. More the point, however, is the fact that after his second behind Materiality in the Florida Derby in which he could not match the speed of a colt he'll meet again on Saturday, he came up with a slight sickness and mucus problem and missed training for a few weeks before being hard pushed in his last two. Question is whether he stays on from out here.
FAR RIGHT (30-1)
WHY - The son of Notional is one of many in here who have been nothing but doggedly consistent throughout their 3-year old campaign. After wrapping up his juvenile campaign with a rallying third in his first two turn try in the Delta Jackpot he prepped for the Derby with back-to-back wins in the Smarty Jones Stakes and Southwest Stakes before finishing his three Oaklawn prep regimen with a runner-up performance behind American Pharoah in the Arkansas Derby. He only knows one way to race and that is to come after them late and if the pace collapses in front of him he could be a late caller, even from post 18. Also a big plus is that Mike Smith remained with him over other choices.
WHY NOT - Like a number of the Oaklawn immigrant group his speed numbers are a cut below some of the best in here, including a number of those that figure to run on late. Trainer Ron Moquett is a capable trainer on the mid-west circuit but has a very low Graded Stakes percentage from a considerable sample.
WHY - Probably the biggest plus for this son of Midshipman is his connection to long time trainer Nick Zito who has had more than a handful of huge upsets, none bigger than Birdstone's Belmont Stakes win in 2004 which cost Smarty Jones the Triple Crown. The colt is bred to get the distance and his 4th place finish in the Blue Grass Stakes behind Carpe Diem, Danzig Moon and Ocho, Ocho, Ocho was a bit better than it looks as he had to wait for room and moved up when he finally got clear.
WHY NOT - Like a number of those that have never come all that close to beating the preponderance of prep winners and repeat prep winners in this year's Derby his best speed numbers are much softer than the crowded top group and drawing in from the AE list when Stanford scratched gets his connections into the mix but hangs their colt in the far outside gate against 18 opponents when in his last two races he was part of a pair of 8 horse fields.
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