Chitu Odds to Win the 2014 Kentucky Derby with Picks and Predictions
by Trevor Whenham - 4/24/2014
It has been a bit of a soap opera getting here, but it seems as if Chitu is finally headed for the spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate that he has earned. Bob Baffert has seemed unsure of what to do with this horse almost since he won the Sunland Derby last time out. First he was pointed at the Derby. Then that commitment seemed lukewarm at best. Then it was, rather strangely, announced that he was going to be run in the Derby Trial a week before the Derby, but that he would still come back for the Derby, though few seemed to believe that that was likely.
On the Wednesday before the Trial, though, Baffert reversed course again and announced that he would be scratched from the Trial and would be heading instead to the Derby. Again. So, after all the uncertainty, can Chitu win the Kentucky Derby? The oddsmakers at Sportsbook.ag are not overly optimistic - Chitu's odds to win the Kentucky Derby are set at +3500, which puts him in the bottom half of the likely Derby field.
When trying to determine if there is any value in that price, here are four factors to consider:
The Sunland Derby: This race will always have a role in Kentucky Derby mythology because it was the final prep race for Mine That Bird in 2009. He was, of course, one of the least likely winners in Derby history - so unlikely that he only finished fourth in the Sunland Derby. Bob Baffert has used this race as a Derby prep for his second-tier horses - Chitu is his third winner, his second in a row. Chitu's race was impressive. He contested a fairly aggressive early pace set by a no-hoper, made his move accompanied by stablemate Midnight Hawk, and pulled away for a business-like win. The field wasn't great, but he showed class and speed. I'd be happier if his final furlong had been faster than 13.30 seconds, but since he wasn't being pushed that is a minor concern. I'd also feel better about the performance if Midnight Hawk hadn't come back next time out and failed to win the Illinois Derby as heavy favorite. All in all, then, it was a decent performance, but it wasn't an awe-inspiring one.
Prior experience: Chitu would certainly qualify as lightly-raced. The Sunland Derby was just his fourth career start. He broke his maiden on a synthetic track, but he came back to win next time out on dirt to ease surface concerns. In his stakes debut he finished a respectable second behind fellow Derby entrant Candy Boy. That's three wins and a second overall - not too bad. There are a couple of obvious knocks, though. First, the only really elite horse he has faced is Candy Boy, and he lost. Second, and of far more concern, he has been very one-dimensional. He has been on or near the pace throughout every race he has run, and he seems very pace dependent as a result. If you need a particular style of race in the Derby, you are usually doomed. In this race there are a lot of other horses that like to be on or near the pace, too, so up front probably isn't the best place to need to be in this race.
Trainer: Bob Baffert. What else do you need to say? The guy has won the Derby three times and has added five Preakness victories and a Belmont. As impressive as that has been, he should have more. He has finished second in the Derby with Cavonnier in 1996 and third in 1998 and 2001. In 2012 he experienced incredible heartbreak when he finished second in all three Triple Crown races. It has been 12 years since Baffert's last Derby win, but his game certainly hasn't faded. That being said, this year has been frustrating. He won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last year and was fifth in the same race, but neither horse had staying power on the Triple Crown trail. Midnight Hawk disappointed. Bayern burned bright until his horrific last outing, and he is likely to find himself on the outside looking in. Hoppertunity is a nice horse, so Baffert will have at least two Derby starters. However, it's surely not all he was dreaming of this year.
Breeding: This is one of the most interesting pedigrees in the whole race because it is so oddly unbalanced. On the dam side there is stamina to burn. His damsire is A.P. Indy, and no horse in recent years has been better at passing on endless stamina. His dam, Sea Gift, is a really interesting story. She ran only once, winning in Britain at the same 10-furlong distance the horses face in the Kentucky Derby. Fillies basically never race that far in North America, never mind in their career debut. Needless to say, she took after her daddy when it came to ability to handle distance. Based on that, this horse would be very attractive. The problem, though, is his sire. Henny Hughes was an accomplished runner, but as a sprinter. For the most part he has passed on those short distance tendencies to his offspring, though daughter Beholder won the Breeders' Cup Distaff last year. He certainly does not amplify or complement the stamina on the bottom half of the pedigree. Overall, then, I feel like the horse could handle the distance, but it's no certainty.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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