Carpe Diem Odds to Win the 2015 Kentucky Derby with Picks and Predictions
by Trevor Whenham - 4/9/2015
The early Kentucky Derby futures odds would suggest that there are three elite contenders in this year’s Run for the Roses. That would be the two Bob Baffert stars — Dortmund and American Pharoah — and Todd Pletcher’s Carpe Diem (11/2 odds). It’s hardly surprising that those two trainers — perhaps more obsessed with the Triple Crown than any other trainers active today — are atop the rankings. While I have a personal aversion to backing Pletcher in the Derby because of how consistently awful he has been on the first Saturday in May, there is no denying how good this horse has been.
Blue Grass Stakes: You can’t ask for much more than we got from Carpe Diem in the Blue Grass. He settled right behind the pace setter and looked very comfortable. Around the final turn he confidently moved to where he could find room — well off the rail in this case — and moved to the lead. He was in the lead entering the stretch, and he pulled away to win easily. He didn’t work particularly hard, he never looked threatened, he did whatever was asked of him, and he showed that there is a lot more in the tank than what we saw. Impressive, classy win. The only real concern about the race is the uncertainty of what it means as a prep race. The Blue Grass has been all but meaningless in recent years because form on the synthetic track did not translate to Churchill Downs even slightly. They returned to a dirt track last summer, though, and this is the first time that we have seen this new track used as a Derby prep. Will a strong performance here mean Carpe Diem will be capable of a strong performance down the road in Louisville? We’ll find out soon, I guess.
Prior experience: Carpe Diem has run five times in his career — more than we have seen from some Pletcher runners lately. Ideally I’d like to see a couple more — especially more than two this spring — but it definitely could be worse. You certainly can’t complain about the quality of the races. After breaking his maiden at Saratoga, he went out and dominated the Breeders’ Futurity, a Grade 1 race at Keeneland. From there it was off to Santa Anita for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He suffered his lone loss there, but the second-place finish was very respectable. The pace fell apart in the race, but he comfortably moved from deep in the field to second, looked strong, and just couldn’t catch the runaway winner. After a long layoff he came back to win the Tampa Bay Derby very easily. Remarkably, he has been favored in all five races — a trend that isn’t likely to continue in the Derby if the field shapes up as it looks now.
Trainer: Todd Pletcher has a single Kentucky Derby win — Super Saver in 2010. That’s more than a lot of trainers, but it’s less impressive when you consider that he has started about six million horses in the race. It’s actually 40 starters, but you get the idea. He brings several horses each year, and they all seem to find new and unique ways to disappoint and underwhelm. It’s hard to know why he struggles so badly. He obviously knows how to train, and he has his pick of horse flesh. For some reason, though, he just doesn’t shine in this race — the one he cares about more than any other. A lot of his horses aren’t of the caliber of this one, but he has disappointed with a lot of gems, too. I’m obviously not saying Pletcher can’t win. It’s just that you need to look much harder for value when he’s attached.
Jockey: John Velazquez has had the mount in all five races for this horse. That is no guarantee that he will be aboard here. Velazquez is the first-call rider for Pletcher, so he has the pick of his mounts from the stable and has ridden more than one of the potential Derby horses. I would be quite surprised if he didn’t pick Carpe Diem, but if he didn’t it would certainly cause me to take notice — and look closer at who he lands on. Riding for Pletcher so much means that he hasn’t had a lot of Derby success. In fact, his only Derby win came on a Graham Motion-trained horse — Animal Kingdom in 2011 — who he only landed on because a Pletcher runner, Uncle Mo, was hurt leading up to the race. He’s won pretty much every other race worth winning, though, so it’s not that he is incapable of running big on a big day.
Breeding: Nothing to worry about here. Sire Giant’s Causeway is a British super horse who could run forever, and he has passed that on to his offspring. No worries about the stamina here. This will be a chance for redemption of sorts — Giant’s Causeway sired Eskendereya, who was going to be very tough to beat in the 2010 Derby and would have likely been the solid favorite but was hurt just before the race. Carpe Diem’s damsire is Unbridled’s Song, the favorite in the 1996 Derby and the sire of 2013 champion three year old Will Take Charge.
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