Wicked Strong Odds to Win the 2014 Kentucky Derby with Picks and Predictions
by Trevor Whenham - 4/9/2014
There's a joke here somewhere -- a horse with the most Boston of names won New York's biggest prep race. The Boston connection for Wicked Strong is no fluke in this case - 5 percent of the horse's winnings are being donated to support the Boston bombing victims. By winning the Wood Memorial, Wicked Strong not only earned more than enough points to secure his spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate, but he also established himself as a legitimate contender in the biggest of races for three year olds.Sportsbook.ag has established him as the co-third choice in their Kentucky Derby futures pool at +1200.
So, can Wicked Strong win the Kentucky Derby? Here are five factors for handicappers to consider:
The Wood Memorial effort: This was one impressive win. The field was solid, with horses like Samraat, Social Inclusion and Uncle Sigh all being legitimate Derby contenders. Wicked Strong settled nicely out of the gate, and he rated through the early stages - he was sixth out of 10 horses through six furlongs. When Social Inclusion and Samraat were charging hard down the stretch trying hard to make it a two-horse race, Wicked Strong launched a bid of his own. Initially he wavered and bounced around trying to find a lane as he shied away from the whip. Once his jockey settled him down under a hand ride, he exploded, chased down the top-two contenders convincingly, and ran away to win by more than three lengths. It was a very professional effort. The top two were definitely tiring down the stretch, but it didn't matter -- Wicked Strong was going to catch them anyway. The horse grew into himself in that stretch drive.
Lackluster earlier races: While the Wood was very impressive, nothing that had happened in the five earlier races in his career was particularly inspiring. It took two tries to break his maiden. He was third in his stakes debut at two. His first race at three was a disastrous ninth in the Fountain of Youth. He was just fourth in his next race out -- an allowance race that was supposed to mark his return to form. Given all that, it seemed like he was out of place heading into the Wood. It was only because his connections saw something more in him that he was given a chance at all. When you look closer, though, you see that his career really didn't reflect his true talent. In the Fountain of Youth he had all sorts of issues in the gate and never recovered. It was a wasted race. In the allowance race he was seven wide through the first turn, and four wide in the second. That was too much to overcome. In the Remsen as a two year old he really struggled early, but he was absolutely flying down the stretch -- much like he was in the final furlong of the Wood. It's concerning that he has encountered bad racing luck so often, but there is no doubt that he is dangerous when he is able to run his ideal race. The problem, of course, is that it is very challenging to run an ideal race in the chaos of Derby day.
Trainer: Jimmy Jerkens is the son of legendary hall of famer Allen Jerkens, so he knows all about success at a high level. This is not the first time he has had a serious Derby contender - he trained Quality Road to a Florida Derby win in 2009, though that horse was injured before the Triple Crown began. Assuming this horse makes the Derby field, then, this will be his first starter in the race. He has won two Breeders' Cup races, though, so the magnitude of the day will not be too much for him.
Jockey: You can always tell that a horse has not found his stride yet when he has a different jockey every time out. From his second to fifth race he had a different jockey each time. Last time out he went back to Rajiv Maragh, who had previously been aboard in the Remsen. It obviously was a better fit the second time around, and I would expect Maragh to stay aboard for the Derby. Maragh's best Derby showing was a third in 2011 aboard Mucho Macho Man. There are better jockeys, but Maragh clearly finally found a way to connect with the horse, and that is what matters.
Breeding: I like how this horse is bred. His sire, Hard Spun, was second to Street Sense in the 2007 Derby, so he could handle the distance. His damsire, Charismatic, won the Derby and Preakness in 1999. There is no major reason to believe that Wicked Strong will struggle with the brutal Derby distance.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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