by Trevor Whenham - 05/01/2006
Most of the talk leading up to the Kentucky Derby on Saturday will be about the impressive favorites like Brother Derek, Lawyer Ron and Barbaro. We've learned time and again, though, that it's often not one of those favorites that will wear the Roses. While everyone was in love with Afleet Alex last year, it was Giacomo, a horse so little regarded that he went off at 50-1, that won it all, and keyed a $9,800 exacta to boot. Indeed, only twice in the last seven years has a horse won at odds below 10-1 (Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000 and Smarty Jones in 2004). War Emblem in 2002 paid 21-1 and a $1,300 exacta. Charismatic was even better in 1999, hitting the board at 31-1.
The trick, then, is to figure out which of the horses that no one is talking about deserves some attention, and a buck or two on its nose, of course. Which of the longshots is going to jump up and surprise? Who knows, but here are a few good guesses:
Point Determined - This is a good horse for someone who is only moderately adventurous, because his price won't be too high. It will be higher than the first tier of favorites, though. Bob Baffert trains this horse, and he is as hot as you can be right now. He won both the Wood Memorial and the Blue Grass, and opened the Churchill meet by winning the Derby Trial. Baffert also had a pretty good run with Point Determined's sire, Point Given. That horse had no problem with the distance (though he mysteriously struggled in Louisville) and his son shouldn't either. His owners, Beverly and the late Bob Lewis, are no strangers to Derby glory, having owned Silver Charm and Charismatic. In short, this horse has an embarrassment of impressive connections.
Beyond that, he is coming into the Derby well. He finished a solid second to probable Derby favorite Brother Derek in the Santa Anita Derby. Derek was untouched on the lead that day and was able to run his own race, making him unbeatable. There will be much more pace over the longer Derby distance, though, and that could favor Point Determined in their rematch. If you like Brother Derek, you can't ignore Point Determined.
Jazil - Sooner or later a member of the Dubai royal family is going to win the Kentucky Derby. Given the amount of money they spend on horses, it's inevitable. Shiek Hamdan bin Rashid al Maktoum hopes he is the one who will get it done with Jazil. The race couldn't be set up much better for the horse whose name means abundance. There will be an abundance of early speed with Sharp Humor and Sinister Minister both looking to set a quick pace from the front and others, like Brother Derek, needing to stay close to the leaders. That's a dream scenario for a closer like Jazil. His second place finish to Bob and John in the Wood Memorial was good, but what was truly impressive was how he passed seven horses in the stretch to nab that second position. He looked stronger than Bob and John at the end of that race and could benefit from the extra length in the Derby. Second in the Wood Memorial has been a lucky place to be recently, too. Both Funny Cide and Monarchos finished in place position at Aqueduct on their way to Kentucky.
Jazil's trainer, Kiaran McLaughlin is no stranger to success. He was an assistant to D. Wayne Lukas during the glory days of the 1980s and 90s, so he knows how to win. His Closing Argument finished second in the Derby last year at 71-1. Jazil's odds shouldn't be that high, but McLaughlin will hope his place of finish will be just a little bit higher. He's not the only one who is high on the horse, either. After riding him in his last work on Saturday, retired superstar Angel Cordero Jr. was so impressed he asked McLaughlin to save a rose for him.
Seaside Retreat - Take a trainer, jockey and horse that have spent more time in Canada than in the American racing hotspots and you have an entry that no one is paying any attention to at all. Especially when he is coming in off a sixth place finish in the Blue Grass. This wouldn't be the first horse that didn't like the surface at Keeneland, though. Of more interest to me is the bullet work that Seaside Retreat put in over the Churchill surface on Friday under Derby rider Patrick Husbands, who was positively giddy after the effort. The effortless: 59.40 was the fastest of 22 runners over 5 furlongs, showing he likes the surface. He's another horse that comes from off the pace, and he did at the Lane's End Futurity to grab second. He was way wide on that trip and that's likely to happen in the Derby, too. Winning might be a tall order for this horse, but he'll make anyone happy who has him in their exotics if he hits, because he'll certainly pay well.
Sunriver - Unfortunately, the biggest challenge this horse faces is getting into the starting gate. He currently sits 21st in the order of preference and only the top 20 get to run for the Roses. He'll need a defection from the field before the starting spots are drawn on Wednesday. If he get's in, though, he'll be worth watching. He is a full brother to Ashado, the incredible filly who was twice champion of her division. He's not yet in the same class as his sister, but he's improving rapidly. He got forced five wide on the last turn in the Florida Derby, but still moved up from 8th to finish a solid third behind Barbaro and Sharp Humor. His pedigree shows that the distance won't be any challenge. Since Florida, he has been working well and giving trainer Todd Pletcher more and more reasons to be optimistic. If he can make it into the race, that is.
The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of Doc's Kentucky Derby picks service.