One of the very tough parts of handicapping the Kentucky Derby is that so often you have to make judgment calls about horses. J Boys Echo is a perfect example. He has run one really good race. Strong. And three other graded stakes that were less impressive. So, do you assume that the one race was him at his full potential and that he can replicate that in the Derby? Or do you just figure that he caught lightning in a bottle that one day and the other performances are closer to what we can expect.
Ultimately, when you pick your winner in the Derby you are taking a giant leap of faith in almost impossible circumstances. Horses like this one don't make that job any easier. And that's what makes handicapping this race the hardest there is all year.
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Last race: The Blue Grass Stakes was a very odd race. I thought that when I watched it live, and that opinion has only grown since. They started out slow, and no horse wanted to push the pace no matter how important that would have been. It led to a very strange stretch drive, and that opened it up for Irap , a maiden, to win at 31/1. It was a very strange prep race in a year full of them. It was also a very bad day for J Boys Echo. He was bumped hard out of the gate and looked like he was stepped on, too. That threw him right off his game, and he never really recovered. He ran the first half of the race at the back of the seven-horse field, which was further back than he wanted to be. That coupled with the slow pace wasn't helpful, and when he made his move into the stretch he could only move up to fourth. It wasn't a good day. Given how strange the race was, though, and that we are likely to see as many as five Blue Grass runners in the Derby, my inclination is just to toss the race out and pretend that it never happened.
Prior experience: The colt ran in two maiden races in October, winning the second one. Then it was a big jump up to the grade 1 Delta Downs Jackpot. It was an odd race for him. He pressed the pace early then fell back to near the back before rallying again. He wound up fourth, while Gunnevera, who he will see again in the Derby, was the winner. In the Withers he settled well off the pace early and then rallied late, but he didn't have enough to threaten the top two. Up to that point he looked like a pretty ordinary horse. Then came the Gotham. He again settled off the pace and fell as many as seven lengths back on the backstretch. But then he swept forward, gained the lead early in the stretch, and then cruised to a win by nearly four lengths. It was a dominant, professional win. If we could see that J Boys Echo again he'd be a threat.
Trainer: Dale Romans is an easy guy to like. He's a son of a trainer who grew up on the backstretch at Churchill Downs. He has never won the Derby at his home track, but did win the Preakness in 2011 with Shackleford. He also has won three Breeders' Cup races and a Dubai World Cup, so when he gets the right horse he knows what to do with it. He's had seven prior Derby starters, with a third-place showing in 2010 and 2012 being the best he has done. He's not the best trainer in the field, but he's more than competent and will have his horse ready.
Jockey: Robby Albarado has more than 5,000 career wins, so he knows a thing or two about winning. His greatest success came aboard Curlin, including a Preakness win - his lone classic victory. He has the third most wins all-time at Churchill Downs, so no one in the race knows the track better than him, either. He hasn't won a Derby, but he should have - he was the regular rider for Animal Kingdom but was injured and replaced the day before the race. He's no longer in his prime, but he still knows how to ride, and he's an asset.
Breeding: I like the breeding here. He is a son of Mineshaft, the 2003 Horse of the Year, who is a son of Belmont winner A.P. Indy and a grandson of Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew. There is lots of stamina to be had there. Mineshaft hasn't had the success in the breeding shed he had on the track, but he hasn't been a failure, either. J Boys Echo's damsire is Menifee, who was second to Charismatic in both the Derby and Preakness in 1999. His stud career is tough to judge because when he was reasonably young he was sold to a stud farm in Korea. There is again nice stamina influences there. It's not the most conventional combination for the Derby, but there is lots to like nonetheless. Much like his trainer, this isn't the best-bred horse in the race, but the breeding is more than acceptable.
Odds: At Bovada he sits at +2500 to win the Derby, which puts him in a large group of horses tied as the 13th choice to win the race. It's hard to argue too much with that positioning. In the final Kentucky Derby future wager, which was held by Churchill Downs the week before the Blue Grass, he went off at 21/1, so the flop in the Blue Grass only hurt him slightly.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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