2012 Kentucky Derby Handicapping: Early Look
by Trevor Whenham - 4/30/2012
We’re still a few days away from entry day for the Run for the Roses. That means that the Kentucky Derby field could still change, and we have no idea how the all-important post position draw will turn out. There is also a surprising amount of jockey uncertainty at this point in the process.
Still, while we don’t know specific details we do know more than enough to get a first sense of how the field shapes up — the serious contenders, the interesting horses at longer odds, and the real longshots. Here is your Kentucky Derby early look:
The potential favorites
Part of what makes this field so interesting this year is how deep it is. There is no single standout horse, but several that you can easily get excited about. There are as many as six horses that have a chance to be the favorite if the late buzz tilts their way.
Bodemeister is the one I would tab if I was in charge. His Arkansas Derby win was by far the most impressive performance we have seen, and he has freakish speed and impressive maturity for a horse of his experience. That experience is the problem, though — no horse since 1882 has won without racing as a two year old. There are also pace issues — he’s one of several speed horses, so he’ll likely face a blistering early pace. Still, there is a chance that he is special.
Union Rags will likely be favored if Bodemeister isn’t. He was very impressive in the Fountain of Youth, but he had a bad trip in the Florida Derby and didn’t push hard late to finish third. My concern is that trips have been his excuse in the two biggest races of his career, and a bad trip is all but certain in the Derby.
Creative Cause is the most intriguing California horse. There is one concerning issue, though. He raced without blinkers for the first time in the Santa Anita Derby, and he didn’t handle it well. He looked distracted late, and he didn’t win a race that was his for the taking. Despite the obvious issues he will be without blinkers again in the Derby — the most distracting race imaginable.
Gemologist is undefeated. Almost a third of all undefeated horses in the Derby have gone on to win the race. That’s good news for this Todd Pletcher trainee. Only two of those wins have been in stakes, though, and his speed ratings are behind the top runners. Dullahan showed a lot in his Blue Grass win last time out, but his best races have been on a synthetic surface and that is more than enough to scare me off of any horse in this race. Hansen won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile — a phenomenally strong race that will produce as many as nine starters in this race. That race was at Churchill Downs, so he obviously likes the track. He likes the lead, though, and I’m not convinced he can get it. I fear he peaked six months ago.
The unlikely contenders
I was sitting in the Churchill stands the day that Mine That Bird won his Derby so I know better than to rule out any horse regardless of how unlikely a win seems. Still, there are several horses I am willing to mostly disregard in this field.
Trinniberg has never run more than seven furlongs, and he’s a speed horse who I’m not convinced can take the lead here, so I just don’t get why he is here. Sabercat has looked totally outclassed in both stakes races this year. Rousing Sermon has looked even worse in his tests. Prospective was very good at Tampa Bay Downs, but he has struggled at bigger tracks and was dead last in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. The only interesting factor is that, like Mine That Bird, he won the Grey Stakes at Woodbine as a two year old.
Liaison has shown no spark as a three year old, and he would have to be dramatically better to be any factor in this race. Done Talking won the Illinois Derby last time out, but the stretch drive in that one was so glacially slow that I’m not sure it’s over yet. He’s not of this caliber. Went the Day Well will get attention because he has the same connections as Animal Kingdom, and, like last year’s winner, he won the Spiral Stakes last time out. I just don’t see lightning striking twice, though, and I don’t think there is any value here.
Daddy Nose Best is being asked to take a massive step up in class, and to do it with a new jockey. I’m not confident. Daddy Long Legs won the UAE Derby last race. That was his only outing this year, though, and he was truly awful in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile — his only race on dirt. Until a horse proves that they can train outside of North America and come here to compete in the Derby I am a non-believer.
What we have left is the horses that aren’t the truly elite, but which are very interesting for one reason or another.
I’ll Have Another is scaring some people off because he has had a strange back treatment since his last race, and he has run only twice this year. He won both races, though, and he’s a fighter. I’m skeptical, but not skeptical enough to leave him out of my exotics.
Alpha was a tight second to Gemologist last time out. He could have won that race, and he did win two nicely before that. He needs to take a step forward here, but he’s likely to go off well over 10-1, and at that price he’s going to be attractive.
Take Charge Indy is a son of A.P. Indy. That makes him a grandson of Seattle Slew and a great grandson of Secretariat. The list of the greatest horses on the planet doesn’t have to be very long to include all three. I really liked his Florida Derby win, his breeding is flawless, and he has a secret weapon on board in Calvin Borel. He’s a serious contender in my eyes.
Before the Florida Derby I had a big crush on El Padrino. I was sure he was going to be the horse that I was going to tell people I was all over before anyone else. His performance in that race was really flat, though. Now the challenge is to figure out if that was a sign of things to come, or if his earlier showings were more indicative of his talent. I think that the Florida Derby is going to prove to have been a key race, so I’m still quite intrigued by this horse. The bright side is that his lousy outing last time served to inflate his price here.
Mark Valeski is my longshot contender here. There’s a chance he’ll go off in the 50-1 range. That would be fantastic. After his first three career starts he was seen as a potential Derby favorite. He has missed at low odds twice in a row, though, so now he is a totally forgotten runner. He was second in both the Risen Star and the Louisiana Derby, though, and he lost the two races by a combined margin of less than a length. He needs to improve here, but he’s talented, and at better than 20-1 he’d be a very attractive piece of any exotic bet.
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