The Derby Pretenders, Maybes and Contenders
by Greg Melikov - 04/30/2009
There will be a full field of 20 horses racing in the Kentucky Derby for the sixth consecutive year. As usual, injuries during the year took their toll, most notably for probable favorite Quality Road because of quarter cracks on his right feet.
In addition, 3-year-olds that moved up and met the graded stake earnings prerequisite weren't deemed good enough by their interests to run.
The 20th qualifier's graded earnings was the lowest since '03 -- $110,000 less than Denis of Cork's $165,000 last year when he ran third to Big Brown.
Nowhere to Hide, who got in this week, is among six horses at 50-1 that comprise most of what I consider the Pretenders.
One-hit wonders with a single victory seldom capture the Kentucky Derby. And only three of the past 47 smelled the roses after finishing off the board in their final prep. Besides Nowhere to Hide that's two strikes against Atomic Run, Flying Private and Join the Dance.
Other Pretenders are single-race winners Mr. Hot Stuff, who never ran on dirt in seven outings, and Summer Bird, with all three starts this year, plus Mine That Bird, fourth in his final prep in his second trip on the dirt.
I bid goodbye to those that finished fifth in their only outing on dirt: Advice and Hold Me Back. Also off my betting list are Dubai-only horses that haven't hit the board since debuting on the Derby Trail in '99: Desert Party and Regal Ransom.
The five Maybes are fairly good horses that could surprise. But there's an "if" or two concerning them. Synthetic-only runners Pioneerof the Nile, early 4-1 co-second choice, and Chocolate Candy, 20-1, have five victories between them in routes, plus the latter losing to the former by a length in the Santa Anita Derby.
But neither West Coast horse has posted a triple-digit speed figure in their career. Pioneerof the Nile breaks from post 16, which produced three winners since '95. Chocolate Candy drew post 11, which has a long drought dating back to Brokers Tip in '33.
West Side Bernie hit the board in two '09 outings on the dirt and ran a big race to finish second in the Wood Memorial, but hasn't won since September at Turfway. He breaks from post 1, but comes from off the pace, unlike the last winning rail horse - wire-to-wire victor Winning Colors in '88.
A pair of 20-1 shots, Papa Clem and Musket Man, captured their final prep, but the opposition wasn't the strongest. Papa Clem drew post 7, from which Street Sense won in '07. Musket Man breaks from post 2, which hasn't been victorious since '78 Triple Crown champ Affirmed.
My four major Contenders are:
General Quarters, 20-1, who took two of his last three stakes this year impressively, staying close to the pace after a half-mile and exploding to the lead in the stretch. The hot Julien Leparoux climbs aboard for the first time. The son of Sky Mesa drew post 12, which hasn't scored since Canonero II in '71.
Dunkirk, 4-1, posted triple-digit speed figures in his last two starts, both routes on dirt. The son of Unbridled's Song didn't run as a two-year-old, but is considered the major threat by many experts off three starts. His post 15 accounted for two victories since '96. Edgar Prado, who was aboard Barbaro, gets the mount.
Larry Jones trainee Friesan Fire hasn't raced since taking the Louisiana Derby on March 14, defeating Papa Clem by 7 ¼ lengths. The son of A.P. Indy has been training well and zipped five furlongs in 57 4/5 on Monday.
That was a tick off Hard Spun's final work in '07 when he ran second to Street Sense. Jones also trained Hard Spun and rested him six weeks. Friesan Fire, 5-1, drew post 6, which last was successful in '93 when Sea Hero surprised.
The horse to beat: I Want Revenge. First, he has tactical speed. Secondly, he posted triple-digit speed figures in his impressive Gotham and Wood Memorial triumphs. The son of Stephen Got Even, whose granddad is A.P. Indy, can even regress a bit and come out on top.
Naturally, he's the favorite at 3-1. His post is 13, from which Smarty Jones won. I will use him mostly on top in the exotics.