Firing Line Odds to Win the 2015 Kentucky Derby with Picks and Predictions
by Trevor Whenham - 4/7/2015
There is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to top three year olds in California this year. So much so that horses like Firing Line and American Pharoah have left the state to avoid the crowds as they prep. With these two along with Dortmund, One Lucky Dane and others, bettors will have no choice but to factor that state heavily into their betting decisions. Dortmund and American Pharoah will get the bulk of the attention, but it would be a mistake to rule out this horse. Just the ninth choice at +1800 to win the Derby according to Sportsbook.ag, this horse represents some nice value. Heck, if he were to go off at close to that price on race day it would be a gift.
Sunland Derby: Firing Line headed to New Mexico last time out for the Sunland Derby. That race is best known for the 2009 edition - Mine That Bird finished an underwhelming fourth before his stunning Kentucky Derby win. The fields in the race are traditionally solid - perhaps a touch behind the biggest prep races but very legitimate nonetheless. It doesn't matter who Firing Line was racing - when you win like this horse did, it's impressive. He was on or near the lead throughout. Coming around the second turn, though, it was like he was fired out of a cannon. He exploded off the front and wound up winning by more than 14 lengths. Most impressively, he was not touched by a whip at all during the race. He did this on instinct and desire. He did it after setting pretty decent early fractions, too - this was not a result of a plodding early pace. Interestingly, it was the first time that the horse had set the pace in a race - though he had been right on the lead before. It was also his most impressive race. He should be looking to be up front in the Kentucky Derby, but at least we know that he doesn't absolutely need the lead to have a chance. Horses that have to lead in the Derby are hard to like because of how aggressive the race can be up front early on.
Prior experience: Remember how impressive Dortmund was in winning the Santa Anita Derby? It was the top prep race I have seen to date given the effort and the competition. Well, in the two races before Dortmund dominated the Santa Anita Derby, he won by narrow margins of just a neck both times. Both times the horse that tested him was none other than Firing Line. Dortmund makes this horse look better. Before the three stakes races this year he had run twice last year. Both were in maiden races. He was second the first time before winning handily in his second try. Ideally I'd like to have seen a couple more races, but these days we certainly can't complain about five races.
Trainer: Simon Callaghan was born in the British racing mecca of Newmarket and started his career there before coming over here. He worked for Todd Pletcher but now trains on his own in California. He is a solid trainer and has won a good handful of Grade 1 races. He doesn't typically play at this level with three year olds, though, so this is unfamiliar territory for him. He's more than competent, though, and the Pletcher experience will help guide him here. He's not the biggest asset a horse will have heading into the Derby, but he's far from a liability.
Jockey: I can't pretend to be objective here - Gary Stevens is my favorite jockey, and it's not even close. He has won each Triple Crown race three times and would have won more if he weren't forced into retirement for several years with bad knees. He's as much of a big race rider as we have seen, and after winning the Preakness, the Breeders' Cup Distaff and the Breeders' Cup Classic in 2013 we know that his best days are not long past him despite having just turned 52, either. He has picked up this mount for the last two races, and there is no doubt that he and the horse understand each other and are comfortable. Stevens is a master of managing pace and is a great fit for a horse that likes to be close to the action early but needs to relax.
Breeding: Firing Line doesn't have the fanciest pedigree in the field, but there are enough reasons to be confident that he can handle the distance from his sire line. Sire Line of David beat 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver in the Arkansas Derby but had a disastrous Kentucky Derby and never ran again. This is his first crop of offspring. Line of David's sire, Lion Heart, was second to Smarty Jones in the 2004 Derby. They all come from the Smart Cat line, so there is class and stamina to be had here. I could certainly hope for a bit more class from the female side, but I am not ruling this horse out because of his breeding.
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