2011 Kentucky Derby Pace Scenarios
by Trevor Whenham - 5/5/2011
One of the most important factors in determining who is going to win the Kentucky Derby is how the race is likely to set up. You can never determine the pace in advance with complete accuracy because of the chaos that 20 horses running in these conditions causes, but you can usually make a pretty good guess, and that can often help you rule out some horses and warm up to others. Here’s a look at how the pace sets up in this year’s edition of the race:
Kentucky Derby Pace Scenarios: On the Front
This is setting up to be a pretty fast race because there are a lot of speed horses who are likely to be looking for the lead. I count five runners that would prefer to be either on the lead or pressing it — Comma to the Top, Decisive Moment, Shackleford, Soldat, and Uncle Mo. I have concerns about any horse that wants the lead in the Derby unless they are likely to be unchallenged because it’s so easy for them to go out too fast and get burned out when they are being chased by a whole herd of other horses.
Beyond that I have concerns about most of these horses. Comma to the Top has Patrick Valenzuela, a masterful speed rider, on him, but he’s inside of all the other speed horses and that will make him easy to see and challenge. Uncle Mo scares me because of distance limitations, health, and his brutal outing last time. His price is well below what I would like it to be — even though he was brilliant last year. Soldat was brilliant for the early part of the year, but when he failed to get the lead at the start in the Florida Derby he just gave up, so I have to question his heart. Shackleford went out fast in the Florida Derby and then was practically walking by the last furlong, so I doubt his ability to handle this combination of speed and distance. Decisive Moment just isn’t good enough. I really don’t think the winner is coming from the front end this year.
There are seven horses that are likely to be looking to stalk the pace — either by pressing it and staying right in contact or by settling in between the speed and the closers and making a mid-race move forward. Those seven are Midnight Interlude, Mucho Macho Man, Pants on Fire, Santiva, Stay Thirsty, Twinspired, and Watch Me Go. Of that group I’m willing to say that Santiva, Twinspired, and Watch Me Go are all but irrelevant. Midnight Interlude is interesting, but he didn’t run at two and that’s a massive knock against him. Pants on Fire is interesting and is coming off his best race. Stay Thirsty is the second best Pletcher horse, but since there are only two that’s not much of an honor. Of the group Mucho Macho Man is the one I like most. He’s been tested a lot, and he has shown versatility and heart. He’s the youngest horse in the field, but all his experience has given him maturity beyond most of the group. He’s not going to get suckered in by the pace, and he won’t be bothered by traffic.
The rest of the field fits into the rally category — horses that will be coming from off the pace. Some of them are deep closers that will only really run the last half mile, while others will look to sit in contact with the rest of the field but save themselves for later on. What they all have in common is that they will be looking to make one big move to the front. This style of runner has had a very disproportionate amount of success in this race. That only makes sense — they can sit back and let the chaos happen up front before picking out the way to the lead late. The concern I have here, though, is that with so many speed and stalking horses this year it could be hard for the closers to find the room to the front.
Dialed In, the money line favorite, will be the closer everyone will be paying attention to. Twice the Appeal will get too much attention because Calvin Borel is on board, but you can’t rule out Borel any time he has a horse in this race. Nehro is a very popular choice right now, but I’d like him a whole lot better at 12/1 than I do at 6/1. Animal Kingdom and Master of Hounds are both huge question marks. They are bred to run forever, but neither had even trained on dirt until the last week or so, so how they handle it is a total mystery. Archarcharch is a live one, but the dreaded No. 1 hole won’t help him. Derby Kitten and Brialliant Speed are just here for the memories. History would suggest that the winner is going to come out of this group, and there are several horses here could be that winner.
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