How do you feel about using your money to take a leap of faith when betting on the Kentucky Derby? You'll have to if you want to bet on Stanford. He might draw you in with dreams of a big payoff - he's at 40/1 in early futures betting. There are good reasons for that price, though.
Most significantly, while he does have two wins in his five starts, they have come in the two starts he has had that aren't in stakes races. What he lacks in accomplishments, though, he more than makes up for in regal ownership. He is owned by a partnership. Stonestreet Stables has raced many horses, most notably two greats - Curlin and Rachel Alexandra. The Coolmore Stud-based partnership of Magnier and Tabor and Smith, meanwhile are major European-based owners. Starting with Derby and Preakness winner Thunder Gulch, they have owned winners of major races around the world. Stanford doesn't seem to be among the best that either partner has raced, but that could change with a win on the first Saturday in May.
Louisiana Derby: I've been negative about this horse, but I do have to give him credit for a pretty solid race last time out. He took the lead early on and held it around the track. He showed a lot of maturity, though, by staying within himself and setting reasonable fractions instead of running away on the whole track that was in front of him. He saved ground around the final turn and led into the stretch. That's when eventual winner International Star caught him, coming from near the back of the field. Stanford didn't give up, though, He kept on fighting, made the winner work, and wound up just a neck back in second. It was a game effort. My big concern, though, would be that the jockey had to work very hard on the whip starting around the final turn and all the way down the stretch. If it took that much urging to get to this finish line then it's concerning to think about what happens in the longer Derby.
Prior experience: He broke his maiden way back in June at Monmouth but then bombed in his first try in stakes company in August at Saratoga. It was back to the drawing board, and the horse was given a long rest. He returned in February, winning an allowance race before two seconds - behind Florida Derby winner Materiality in a minor stakes race at Gulfstream Park and then in the Louisiana Derby. What stands out in the past performances is a change in running style. After sitting well off the pace in his first three starts, he was sent to the lead early on in his two latest tries. Those two races have been solid, and the style seems to suit him. That's a concern, though, because the front can be a tough place to be in the Kentucky Derby - especially in this race because it is setting up to have a lot of early pace. In a crazy race like the Derby, these young horses on the lead often go too fast and burn their chances of success at the wire.
Trainer: I respect what Todd Pletcher does immensely - 364 days of the year. On Derby day, though, he is just a disaster. It doesn't make sense why exactly, but in an amazing 40 career starts in the race he has won just once. Just based on basic math, that shouldn't be possible. It certainly isn't due to a lack of talent - his stable is always loaded. He just can't quite seem to get his horses ready for their best on Derby day. The irony is that his entire massive operation is focused on this one day above all others. In this race having Pletcher in charge of a horse isn't a particular asset.
Jockey: Your guess is as good as mine at this point. Pletcher likely won't make final decisions on his riders until he knows for sure what he will have in the race. Florent Geroux rode him last time out, but Javier Castellano and Joe Bravo have each ridden him twice before that. All three are possible riders in this race, or Pletcher could go another direction. Either way, we can be confident that the horse will have a decent rider on board.
Breeding: We know without even looking that this horse is well-bred - these owners don't own mutts. Stanford was sired by Malibu Moon. That horse also sired 2013 Kentucky Derby winner Orb, so we can be very confident that his offspring can handle the Derby distance. Stanford's damsire is Distorted Humor. That great horse sired 2003 Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide and 2010 Belmont and 2011 Breeders' Cup Classic winner Drosselmeyer among countless others. He also sired Flower Alley, the sire of Derby and Preakness winner I'll Have Another. If and when Stanford doesn't win the Kentucky Derby, his bloodlines will not be to blame.
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