Thursday, May 4, 2017

Blinkers On - 2017 Kentucky Derby Analysis

It has been an interesting year since I last posted my ill-fated Derby selections for 2016. Once I again, I kept my streak intact, having not picked the Kentucky Derby winner since Smarty Jones in 2004. I zigged when I should have zagged, I loved Nyquist and the way the race set up for him, but couldn’t help but think that Mor Spirit would rebound. I was wrong again. This year I am bucking that trend.

Smarty Jones was one heck of a horse. In 2003 I was providing daily racing selections for Parx during the Monmouth/Meadowlands off season. During those pre-children years, I often found my way to the track regularly. A two year old first time starter caught my eye. I watched him in the paddock before that debut and confirmed he was my choice that day. He was also my choice every day after that.

2004 was the last time I followed the Derby trail. That fall, my wife and I were expecting our first child who will appreciate that I didn’t try to sneak “Smarty” or “Jones” in as his middle name. We were also packing up and selling our house. No rest for the weary!

I’ll admit that work and life have been especially busy the last few months. A promotion at work coupled with driving the twins all over the great state of New Jersey for travel soccer has forced me to follow the Derby trail even less than I had in previous years. This is a good thing.

I enter this Kentucky Derby with my “Blinkers On”. I am not listening to the hype, watching endless videos of a contender gallop only to have everyone comment on what is positive or negative about the run. I downloaded and printed the contenders out a few days ago. This is the first time I am even looking back at the major preps and who did what.

My explanation of the probable pace scenario is featured at US Racing. Rather than regurgitate the probable pace scenarios here, please click and watch the graphics as I explain how the race will set up.

So let’s get down to business.

5 Always Dreaming (5-1) – He ran a huge race in the Florida Derby which has produced four Derby winners since 2000 (2006 Barbaro, 2008 Big Brown, 2013 Orb, and 2016 Nyquist). He has the top Pace Based Speed Rating (PBSR) that I have computed in this field with a figure of 99. While some may be deterred by Todd Pletchers 1-for-45 record in the Derby and John Velazquez’s 1-for-18 mark, these are two top horsemen that have both won this race (Pletcher with Super Saver in 2010 and Velazquez with Animal Kingdom in 2011). Always Dreaming was test in the Florida Derby and had to come from off the pace after two comfortable romps to break his maiden and take an allowance optional claimer at Tampa Bay Downs. The last horse to have a two-back prep that was an allowance optional claiming race that went on to win the Derby was Animal Kingdom.

14 Classic Empire (4-1) – The Breeder’s Cup Juvenile champion had a rough go of it in the Holy Bull being wide early and overcame some trouble and a quick pace to capture the Arkansas Derby. The last horse that had a two-back prep race in the Holy Bull that won the Derby was the great Barbaro in 2006. Neither Mark Casse or Julian Leparoux has had any success at this level, but they have a great shot here with this colt. He will need to stay a couple lengths off of the early pace but in front of the pack of runners that will sit looking for a late run.

19 Practical Joke (20-1) – He showed some good late run against a soft pace in the Blue Grass. It is tough to decipher how strong his late run can be since four of his six running lines show trouble. Steadied in the first turn of the Fountain of Youth two back, he made a wide move late, but couldn’t catch Gunnevera. A clean trip gets Joel Rosario his second Derby win (Orb 2013) and Trainer Chad Brown his first Derby win.

17 Irish War Cry (6-1) – He won both the Holy Bull and Wood Memorial, but threw in a clunker in the Fountain of Youth. I am assuming the real Irish War Cry shows up for this race and like Always Dreaming and Classic Empire, sitting a few lengths off the lead but ahead of the herd. Trainer Graham Motion did win the Derby in 2011 with Animal Kingdom but no horse has exited the Wood Memorial and won the Derby since Funny Cide in 2003. While a contender, it is interesting to note that since 2000, every Kentucky Derby winner has finished in the money in their two-back prep race (Irish War Cry finished seventh).

Potential for Value:  High
Confidence:  Low (My most probable pace scenario is only a 50% likelihood)

So what am I toying with playing?

Small Exacta 5, 14 / 5, 14, 17, 19
Small Trifecta 5, 14 / 5, 14, 17, 19 / 5, 7, 9, 14, 17, 19
Small Superfecta  Box  5, 14, 17, 19

We'll see what the weather looks like and if there are any scratches or changes first.

So sit back, enjoy a mint julep, and enjoy the most exciting two minutes in sports!

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