In 1993 Prairie Bayou followed up his win in the Blue Grass Stakes by finishing second in the Kentucky Derby and then winning the Preakness. That was a long time ago. It's relevant, though, because in the 22 editions of the Blue Grass that have been run since, no winner of the race has gone on to win a Triple Crown race. Not one. The race had earlier been a champion factory - Strike the Gold, Summer Squall, Spectacular Bid and Riva Ridge had all won the race - but has since fallen on hard times.
Some of the issues were due to the years the race was run on a synthetic surface. That's only part of it, though. For whatever reason this race is just in a decade's long slump. Can this be the year that they shake it off? Will we see the Derby winner make the short trip from Lexington to Louisville? There certainly is no shortage of possibilities this year - 16 horses were entered, with 14 heading for the starting gate, and two more also-eligible. It's not the star-studded affair up top that the Florida Derby was - but that didn't exactly turn out as expected. Really, it feels like a collection of pretty good horses with a lot to prove that were actively avoiding a showdown with Nyquist and Mohaymen in Florida.
There are too many horses in the field to look at all of them, but here are the highlights of the deep field:
Zulu, Javier Castellano, 5/2: As is so often the case, we have a lightly raced but talented Todd Pletcher trainee to deal with. Zulu has run just three times. After winning his maiden race and an allowance outing he made his stakes debut at the end of February in the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream. He finished a well-beaten second in that race to Mohaymen - a result that looked better before Mohaymen laid an egg last weekend in the Florida Derby. He's a son of Bernardini out of a Summer Squall mare, so his breeding is excellent for the challenge. Castellano rides for the first time - John Velasquez has been aboard for all three starts, but he is riding Outwork in the Wood Memorial for Pletcher on Saturday instead. I like the horse but not enough to see any value at this price. I'll be looking elsewhere for value.
Brody's Cause, Luis Saez, 4/1: Trainer Dale Romans will have even more incentive to beat Pletcher than usual - he just lost Keen Ice, one of the top horses in his stable, to the Pletcher stable. After winning the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland at the beginning of October he was a respectable third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He likes this track a lot. He has run only once since then, though, and it didn't go well - he was seventh in the Tampa Bay Derby on March 12. He's been sharp in training since, though, and could be poised for a big day. Worth a look. Saez takes over from Corey Lanerie here.
Donegal Moon, Martin Garcia, 5/1: This is the second Pletcher horse in the field. The oddest thing to see is Garcia getting the mount. We usually see Garcia riding big races for Pletcher's rival Bob Baffert, but Baffert has only one in this week, and Pletcher needed and extra rider. Garcia and Baffert will be back together with Cupid in the Arkansas Derby next week. This horse has had an odd career. It took four tries to break his maiden, but he got it done finally at Keeneland. Then he tried three stakes at Aqueduct. He was a dismal fifth in two and lost his jockey after a stumble in the third. He was totally irrelevant on the Derby trail, but then he went to Parx in Philadelphia and won an allowance by 13 lengths. It was a dominant effort for a front-running horse, and it captured the imagination. I'm not jumping on the bandwagon, though.
My Man Sam, Julien Leparoux, 10/1: This Chad Brown runner is making his stakes debut in this, his fourth career start. He broke his maiden in his second try and then finished second last time out in a strong allowance field. This is his first time racing away from Aqueduct, but he fired a bullet on a busy work day at Belmont two weeks ago. He's sharp and talented and could offer some value if his odds stay close to this morning line.
Laoban, Jose Lezcano, 12/1: This horse is making his fifth career start and is looking for his first win. His two maiden tries and his stakes debut came in California, and then he headed across the country to Aqueduct for the Gotham. He finished second behind Shagaf there, leading all the way until getting caught at the line. He'll be looking for the lead here, but he won't be alone up front. The race doesn't set up well for frontrunners here. I'll pass.
Cherry Wine, Corey Lanerie, 12/1: After four unsuccessful tries in maiden races this horse finally got a win, and he did it in style winning by almost 10 lengths at Churchill. Then he came back in an allowance at Gulfstream and again won by a wide margin. That got him a ticket to stakes company. In the Rebel he was way back of the lead early, made his typical late charge, and came up short in a respectable effort - he was fourth in a race that Cupid won. It's something to build on. There should be early speed in this race, which sets things up well for closers. This horse will certainly be part of my exotic bets in this race.
Cards of Stone, Paco Lopez, 20/1: Here's one much like Donegal Moon but at a far more attractive price - and it's yet another Pletcher horse in this field. Pletcher took this horse over after his first two races. The first race for the new connections was underwhelming. A month ago, though, he came back in an allowance at Aqueduct and won by 13 lengths. At this price he'd be worth a shot.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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