Breakdown of Six Kentucky Derby Favorites
by Robert Ferringo - 04/30/2008
"Total chaos, no way to see the race, not even the track...nobody cares. Big lines at the outdoor betting windows, then stand back to watch winning numbers flash on the big board, like a giant bingo game."
- H.S.T, "The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved"
We are just four short days away from the Fastest Two Minutes In Sports and one thing is clear: Churchill Downs is in total chaos. And it's going to get worse before it gets better.
The Kentucky Derby field has had its dosage upped this year, as roughly 30 horses jockeyed for a spot in the 20-horse lottery. Every trainer, jockey, and owner with a horse worth half a shoe has tried to weasel its way into the field. But in the end the Top 20 are to be determined the American Way: by how much money they've earned. The field was set Wednesday morning, the post positions Wednesday night, so the situation is beginning to work itself out. But we're still not even close.
We are still left with an inflated field. Too great is the number of horses, yet too small are the odds on the potential winners. We are involved in a high-stakes game of bingo right now. Only there are roughly 7,000 possible permutations and combinations that can present themselves over the next 96 hours and four corners just won't cut it.
And that's precisely why all of these owners are doing everything they can to squeeze their horse into the race. Besides the obvious ego-screw that these Republican sympathizers get from having Their Horse in the Derby, they realize that by muddling the field and crowding the board they are actually increasing the chance of some fluke win and reducing the odds for some Honest Joe to make a buck on the Run for the Roses. We have a field of 20 when there are really only about nine horses with any sporting chance of Fame and Glory. But with a set of 20 spots available these cretins have their eyes set on stacking the deck and enveloping every possible option.
Of course, my concerns are mere trifles in the face of the Derby crowd. These are the folks who invented book clubs and tax evasion. These are the folks who aren't feeling the crunch of our national gas crisis. No, this crowd is the walking dead. These folks are the polished and presentable. These are the ones that they warned us about. And trying to navigate their maze is a trial for those with true grit and a gambling spirit.
So with that in mind, here is a quick breakdown of the top six favorites headed into Wednesday's Kentucky Derby post position draw:
Big Brown - 3-to-1
I can't help but get flashbacks to Curlin, last year's consensus favorite heading into the Derby. Big Brown is a clean 3-for-3 in his only three lifetime starts and has posted an outstanding 106 Beyer Speed Rating at the Florida Derby, which he won in a rout. In fact, Big Brown has won all three of his races via a runaway. However, Regret back in 1915 was the last horse to win the Kentucky Derby with just three lifetime starts prior to the Run for the Roses. These odds are real short considering that enormous historical mountain. Also, I've heard several people talk about whether or not the track at Churchill Downs will be too firm for BB's fragile feet. That just doesn't sound good to me.
Colonel John - 9-to-2
The Colonel is a closer. He's won four of the six races that he's been in over the past year and finished in second place in both other races. That shows me that this horse just smells the money and finds its way into paydirt. Colonel John won a nail-biter at Santa Anita in early April, edging out Bob Black Jack to win by a half-length in 1:48.52. However, The Colonel's highest Beyer Rating is just 95, and that's about 10 points lower than we would like heading into The Race. However, Colonel John has pulled the best workouts of anyone this week, putting up a 57.80 time in five furlong's.
Pyro - 7-to-1
This is really the Mystery Horse of the group. Pyro has three wins and six top-three finishes in its seven career races. But then there was its huge Red Flag performance, a 10th place finish at the Toyota Blue Grass in its last time out. That has really cooled a lot of people on this slick horse. However, that race was Pyro's first on an artificial surface, and the horse's trainer insists that's the reason for the poor performance. Pyro has a sweet 105 Beyer to its name, posted at the Breeders' Cub Juvenile. This horse is another finisher. However, he is notorious for slow starts. In a packed Derby field there may not be enough margin for error to set up Pyro for a solid stretch run.
Z Fortune - 12-to-1
My gut tells me that this horse is benefiting from the Recency Effect. Z Fortune had a "career night" at the Arkansas Derby, finishing second at Oaklawn Park while posting a 102 Beyer. That race was just over two weeks ago, and I think that performance is a little too fresh in the minds of oddsmakers. In fact, the horse that actually won that race, Gayego, is just a 20-to-1 play at the moment. Z Fortune won its first three races but then went second, fifth, and second to close out its pre-Derby slate. That's still a solid resume, but Fortune was caught and beaten at the Risen Star by Pyro in early February. Z Fortune is more of a pace setter, as opposed to the favored closers.
Denis of Cork - 12-to-1
Apparently Corky is the "wiseguy" choice for this year's race. However, Denis of Cork was almost headed for the glue factory before the race even began. Because of poor graded earnings, Denis was 21st on the list of contenders for the 20-horse Derby field. It wasn't until another horse dropped out that Denis was inserted. But that makes perfect sense, considering this horse is all about big comebacks and defying the odds. Denis of Cork won its first three races before a ho-hum fifth-place finish at the Illinois Derby. But it closed from 18 lengths back at Oaklawn in February to win the Southwest and closed from last place in the Maiden Special Weight at Churchill Downs last November for its first ever win. Cork's best Beyer Rating is just a 96 but it has been a workout warrior in the week leading up to Wednesday's post draw.
Adriano - 16-to-1
Despite being posted in the top six favorites, all indications are that this horse is a sucker bet. Adriano hasn't run in six weeks and, historically, that's been bad news for Derby starters. Also, a career best Beyer of 92 just won't get it done in a field that has several triple-digit horses. Adriano does have three career wins to its credit, but there is also a pair of No. 4 finishes and a No. 9 finish in seven career starts. That said, plenty of eyebrows were raised last month when jockey Edgar Prado chose to stay on Adriano instead of taking Tale of Ekati to Churchill Downs.