We’ll start with the basics. The Kentucky Derby has been run every year without fail since 1875. Purses and distances have changed over the years but now are set at $2 million for the former and 1 ¼ miles for the latter. The race is limited to three-year-old horses, males and females are welcome and this is considered the first leg of the Triple Crown (TC) of horse racing (Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes are the second and third in the season). A series of prep races are run in the spring of each year so all potential runners can earn points towards the Derby starting gate, with the top 20 gaining entry. The race is run at Churchill Downs racetrack in Louisville, Kentucky on the first Saturday in May, rain or shine! Before the race, the University of Louisville Marching Band plays the horses onto the track with a rousing rendition of “My Old Kentucky Home”, and all attendees are expected to join in and sing-a-long! Along with the flowers, the small fortune and the trophy made by Cartier, the winner also gets a most revered place in horse racing history…to say he won the Kentucky Derby!
Now, unless you choose your Derby horse by picking a name out of a fabulous Derby hat or picking a name out of a stellar line-up of often funny, cute or meaningful names, you will no doubt spend more time reading about the Derby horses and deciding who to bet on than it takes to actually run the “most exciting two minutes in sports”! If this was the 18th “Run for the Roses” in 1892, you possibly could read every article on the horses in the race since only three entered the gate on May 11th of that year – Congrats to Azra! (that does not include the 31st Kentucky Derby in 1905 which would have had a field of five but for two late scratches, and only a field of three, but should have been five – Congrats to Agile!). This post will not be that short since there is a full field of 20 chosen thoroughbreds brought together in competition, sheer will and lots of luck. Whose withers will carry the blanket of roses? Whose nose will be touched with the greatest good luck kiss shared by 141 others? Whose feet will be sprinkled with the speed to cross the finish line first? Whose tail will the Derby gods brush into history? Whose destiny will be wrapped in the arms of the Goddess Tyche? Go grab a mint julep (the official Derby drink!) and let’s meet our equine entrants!
GUN RUNNER…Sitting atop the leaderboard with 151 points is Gun Runner. With four wins in five lifetime starts, it’s not surprising he is also sitting pretty on a bank of over $1.6 million! Coming off a six-week layoff, he should be well rested for this distance. His pedigree suggests he should get the distance, but as a stalker in the race, he will have to stay near the pace-setter (s) without getting into trouble and stay with the field the whole time. There are a lot of strong closers in this field so he cannot lose ground or speed anywhere in the race. His maiden win came on the Churchill track last September…interestingly, his lone loss came on the Churchill track last November – I guess we’ll see how that win-loss ratio at Churchill is broken this Saturday! His trainer said he’s getting better with each race – hopefully that amounts to his best race yet! Fun fact…his trainer was just elected into the Racing Hall of Fame! Good luck Gun Runner!
NYQUIST…Unbeaten in seven lifetime starts, Nyquist became the de-facto favorite for the Derby when he came home first last October in the Breeders’ Cup (BC) Juvenile. Installed as the current favorite, he will be starting from post 13 – how lucky can he make that number be? Since the last three Derby winners were also sent off as the favorite, this bodes well. But since the only horse to win the BC Juvenile and then go on to win the Derby was Street Sense back in 2007, that bodes not-so-well. He clearly is the most accomplished horse in the field with six of his seven wins coming in graded stakes company. He has tactical speed so he can be placed anywhere in the race seemingly at any time. A fast start doesn’t bother him and a late charge doesn’t bother him. His versatility will greatly help him as this is only his second two-turn race! His connections are the same as the 2012 Derby winner I’ll Have Another and he is the money leader of the field with almost $3.3 million of spending money! Fun fact…Nyquist is named after Swedish hockey player Gustav Nyquist, Right Wing for the Detroit Red Wings! Good luck Nyquist!
EXAGGERATOR…Weather-wise, a dry day awaits these contenders which is too bad for Exaggerator. He clearly loves a wet track and no further proof was needed after he won the Santa Anita Derby in April. He made a monster move in the stretch that showed his running style has matured throughout his 3-year-old campaign. While it remains to be seen how he will handle a fast, dry track (expected to be sunny and 85 on Saturday), his speed has been consistent in his last four starts. Due to the high number of closers in the field, it would not be wise to place him far back and then have to rough-and-tumble his way through traffic while keeping his speed up. He will need a perfect trip but without any further setbacks, I think he’s ready to fire on Saturday. I am going to toss out the fact that he has faced Nyquist three prior times and lost them all…pffft…maybe this fourth time will be the charm…and I’m not Exaggerator-in! Good luck Exaggerator!
OUTWORK…Say hello to one of the true speed horses in this incredibly balanced field. Breaking from post 15 may not be a problem for Outwork. Look for him to be at or near the lead coming out of the gate and making his move to get in front of the field before the first turn. His natural cruising speed should work well for him in a race like the Derby as the closers will hang back and he can get a grip on the race early on. He may or not be able to control the pace, but his fate will depend on how fast the other speed horses in the race are and whether or not he can come home fast enough and far enough in front of what will be a wall of closers entering the homestretch. This horse is all speed and even though he only has four races under his belt, here’s hoping he can stay in the fray this Saturday! Fun fact…the great champion sprint mare (1969 & 1970) Ta Wee (inducted into racing Hall of Fame in 1994 HOF) is the maternal great-great-great grandmother of Outwork. She had only five foals, all winners, four of which were stakes winners! Good luck Outwork!
BRODY’S CAUSE…A deep closer, Brody’s Cause will probably be doing his running late in the race, so getting post 19 should not hamper him at all. Note here…you have to run the whole race, not just the end (you’re not Rosie Ruiz and this is not the Boston Marathon)! He will have plenty of company at the top of the stretch so it’s to his advantage that he has an ability to move between horses in order to make his move on the far turn and out-close all the other closers! While he does seem to favor the Keeneland track, Brody’s Cause has won at Churchill and his pedigree suggests that the Derby distance will not be a problem for him. On sentiment alone, many people would like to see this horse win so his trainer can finally get his Kentucky Derby victory! Fun fact…his owners have said that if Brody’s Cause wins, they will donate the winnings to their alma mater, the Des Moines Area Community College in Iowa! Good luck Brody’s Cause!
CREATOR…♥Amo caballos grieses♥! Creator seems to be peaking at the right time and there is no better time than at the Kentucky Derby! He has shown that he can adapt to whatever race sets up for him – he can rally inside, rally outside, come between horses and continues to act as if he’s just waiting for the next race put in front of him. His bloodlines suggest he has the stamina to go the distance and seeing that all of his races have been two-turn, I think that as long as he can avoid as much traffic as possible, he will be right up there at the wire! He can be high-strung at times so let’s hope the huge crowd at Churchill doesn’t throw him off his game! Fun fact, while there is no relation, Group 1 winner Creator (1986-2015) from France was one of the first two horses repatriated back to the US from Asia to spend their retirement at Old Friends in Georgetown, KY – the gentlest place on earth! Good luck Creator!
LANI…♥私は灰色の馬を愛します♥! Without a doubt, Lani is the most traveled horse of the group this year. He won the UAE Derby in Dubai, and hopped on a plane for his 7,000-plus mile journey back to Kentucky via Chicago for quarantine! He has been at Churchill since April 3rd and has been stabled in a small stakes barn that was also home to his sire Tapit, who finished 9th behind winner Smarty Jones in 2004. He does have some gate issues that hopefully can be worked out…maybe someone should tell him that the last horse to win from post eight (where Lani is starting) was 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah – do I really need to say anymore? What to watch will be when he decides to make his move, as he has a temperament where he is sometimes not willing to run, he can pick off horses in rapid succession and keep going. He can run and threaten off the pace and run and threaten from far back…it’s just a matter of which Lani will show up! Fun fact…Lani is only the second horse ever to run in Derby who represents Japan…the first one was Ski Captain in 1995 and he came in 14th!…also, Lani has the same jockey as Ski Captain! Good luck Lani!
MOR SPIRIT…Never having finished worse than second in all seven of his starts, look for this big, long-striding horse shows up every time, runs every time and just when you think he’s not running, will put his head down and go! He comes into the Derby off of back-to-back losses, but he too seems to be peaking at the right time. He has plenty of natural speed and if the pace is slow I would expect him to be where he appears to be being trained – sitting mid-pack. Being such a big horse, he cannot afford to get stopped nor can he wait until deep in the stretch to make a move. I’m not sure he will have enough of a kick at the end to fend off the closing horses…I guess we’ll find out soon enough, right? He seems to be getting better and better and his jockey has said that “he seems to do just enough for what’s in front of him; he likes a target”…well then…a blanket of roses makes a nice target! Fun fact, Mor Spirit is named after the Denmark native owners mother – Mor means mom in Danish and his mom was feisty – hence the Spirit! Good luck Mor Spirit!
MOHAYMEN…♥J’aime les chevaux gris♥! Off all the luck – he just cannot escape Nyquist – the horse who beat him in the Florida Derby (along with Majesto (2nd) and Fellowship (3rd)) handing him his only defeat to date! They will be starting next to each other – probably trash-talking or pointing out the fabulous hats in the stands – and I’m happy that Mohaymen has a spot in the main gate. I am going to throw out the Florida Derby since every horse has a bad race and I would rather have that Derby be the bad race than this Derby! Mohaymen is a high energy horse who pins his ears when he races and when he works – some think of that as antics while other (maybe me!) think it’s his way of letting people know he feels good. He hasn’t raced in five weeks so he will be fresh and ready to roll – this is the same full of talent and class horse who, up until his Florida Derby loss, was being spoken of in terms in the next Triple Crown winner – if you were loyal to him before there is no need to abandon ship. Fun fact, campaigned by Shadwell Stable, Mohaymen means “dominant” or “protector” in Arabic! Good luck Mohaymen!
DANZING CANDY…You may not be able to see Danzing Candy coming out of the gate since he starting from way out in post 20, you’ll see him soon enough! A horse full of speed-speed-speed, I expect him and Outwork to set the early pace leading into the first turn. He is a speedball whose broodmare sire Songandaprayer set the fastest half-mile fraction in Derby history (finishing 13th out of 17th in the 2001 Kentucky Derby won by Monarchos) so as far as I can tell, his pedigree indicates that it will be hard to slow him down. The Derby distance of a mile-and-a-quarter is more often than not the first time a 3-year-old horse has run that far. He may not be around at the finish, but as with other horses, he has the points and so he’s in. Come on, if you owned a horse who was eligible to run in the Kentucky Derby, you would do it too…I know you would! Ok, maybe that’s just me! Fun fact, his original name was Ron’s Bitcoin, but his owners wanted more “zing” to his name…so they smooshed two of his family names together to get Danzing Candy! Good luck Danzing Candy!
DESTIN…♥I love gray horses♥! Destin is coming off an eight week layoff and while he is completely well rested, he also has never been farther than 1 1/16th miles. This could be a problem since the Derby is 1 ¼ miles – did someone tell Destin? The long layoff has worked well before for his trainer (the last horse trained by this trainer to run in the Derby off an eight week layoff was sixth-place finisher Circular Quay in the 2007 Derby won by Street Sense) and his owners have been pointing Destin to the Kentucky Derby since day one. Early on in his career, he needed a blinkers adjustment since he had a tendency to slow down and look around and wait for other horses. After that, a professional horse was born! His tactical speed should set him up well in the Derby and with what is expected to be a brisk, early pace, he can finish strongly! His pedigree suggests he has the stamina and class to be a factor in all of the Triple Crown races. He will be starting from post 9 – great draw! Fun fact, Destin is named after the northwest Florida city of Destin! Another fun fact, Destin’s great-great-great maternal grandmother is Shenanigans, dam of the 1976 Hall of Fame filly Ruffian! Good luck Destin!
SUDDENBREAKINGNEWS…Just like Destin, Suddenbreakingnews needed an equipment change before he truly got his act together. Like all the closers in the field, he will need luck on Saturday, so the addition of the shadow roll has helped him in his works and should enable to him concentrate on the task at hand – you know the one I’m talking about – winning the Kentucky Derby! Depending on how far back he is at the top of the stretch, or even on the far turn, this horse does have the ability to run down the cornucopia of closers and best them all! He will be starting from post 2 – not as bad as it would seem because, again, he’s a closer and will gladly cede the race to the first turn and sit back and wait to make his move. He cannot be asked to make his move late nor can he let horses pass him on the far turn. If he gets lucky, he can run down the whole field! Fun fact, his owners wanted the name to be Breaking News but the Jockey Club said no. Suddenbreakingnews passed the test! Good luck Suddenbreakingnews!
OSCAR NOMINATED…His owner has said of Oscar Nominated, “He can get a mile and a quarter; the problem is how long it takes him to get the mile and a quarter”…my guess is that it’s gonna take him about two minutes…give or take…just a hunch. In his first six starts he raced on the turf and then the next start was polytrack…so the Derby will be his first start on the dirt. It’s hard to assess how he will run on the dirt, if he likes or doesn’t like the dirt, if (ok when) dirt will get in his face – I am perplexed! He’s bred to go the distance and he’s starting from post 7 – right in the middle of the main gate. He may (ok he will) be a longshot, but this is one of those times that I support the notion – if a horse I own has enough points to enter the starting gate – were going to Louisville! Fun fact, this horse was not nominated for the Triple Crown races (initial nomination fee is a mere $600.00!) so after getting enough points for the race, his owners had to pony up (get it?) a cool $200,000.00 entry fee – ouch! Good luck Oscar Nominated!
SHAGAF…Lightly raced Shagaf has run only four times, winning his first three before fighting to finish fifth on a muddy track in the Wood Memorial in April. A big horse with an even bigger stride, Shagaf appears to be a one-run horse who will truly need the Derby gods on his side to win. When he gets going, he gets going and is difficult to stop. With this enormous field, he may be stopped early and then his momentum will be lost. He has trained well over the Churchill surface and his trainer has said that “Shagaf is just a bigger, stronger, more willing to work horse”…I like it! He’s peaking right now and you can’t ask for a better time for that! Shagaf will be ridden by the same jockey who rode Orb to victory in the 2013 Derby – nice to have that kind of experience in a race of this magnitude. Fun fact, campaigned by Shadwell Stable, Shagaf means “passion” in Arabic! Good luck Shagaf!
WHITMORE…His first career win, and his first race ever, was at Churchill Downs, so we know he can handle the track. He will need a clean trip and not lose any ground to be in there at the wire. Whitmore’s jockey is a familiar face…Victor Espinoza who won the Derby in 2002 on War Emblem, the 2014 Derby on California Chrome and the 2015 Derby on the 12th Triple Crown winner American Pharoah – will this be a three-peat for Victor Espinoza? He will be riding Whitmore for the first time and will have to make more decisions while up on a horse he’s never been on. It helps that he’s starts from post 10 and look for him to be sitting mid-pack. He is not a stakes winner yet, but he hasn’t had a decent trip in prior races and I think he’s sitting on a big race – most horses have them! Fun fact…Whitmore has 4 Triple Crown winners in his pedigree…1978 TC winner Affirmed, 1977 TC winner Seattle Slew, 1943 TC winner Count Fleet and 1937 TC winner War Admiral…no pressure though! Good luck Whitmore!
TOM’S READY…Tom’s Ready gained entrance to the Derby field with a second-place finish in the Louisiana Derby. He’s hard knocker and a deep closer who tends to conserve all his energy for one big, late run. Traffic will be an issue throughout the race, but he should have enough left as he comes off the far turn. While I always want every horse to win, Tom’s Ready may be one for a place bet since his trainer has had horses come in second in the Derby two of the past three years – Commanding Curve in 2014 behind Derby winner California Chrome and Golden Soul in 2013 behind Derby winner Orb. He would work well in exactas or trifectas if you want to put money on him! Fun fact, Tom’s Ready is named for owner Tom Benson, owner of the New Orleans Saints and New Orleans Pelicans and the colt’s sire, More Than Ready! Good luck Tom’s Ready!
MY MAN SAM…My Man Sam had zero Derby points before coming in second in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes – if second place gets him to Louisville, way to go! Another horse with only four lifetime starts, my guess is he will peak later on in the season, but really, who can tell? If the speed leaders come back and he has not lost too much ground trying to stay with them, I wouldn’t count him out. His trainer has said of him, “He’s a hard tryer, a brave horse, a strong-willed little horse“, “He’s not afraid of anything. You put him in any situation and he’s very willing.” He starts from post 6, again not bad for a closer, and if any of his other two turn races are an indication, look for him to come flying home! Fun fact, My Man Sam is named after one of the owners’ sons, Sam! Good luck My Man Sam!
MAJESTO…In his stakes debut, Majesto held on to finish second behind Nyquist in the Xpressbet.com Florida Derby…stamping his ticket to Louisville and making him a serious contender to wear the roses. Majesto will be placed in the middle to the back of the pack early on and will be running well into the homestretch – really it’s just a question of how fast? He has a huge gallop and no one knows how that will translate with a field this size and where he is placed before his Kentucky Derby rookie jockey asks him. Plus, I have a slight feeling that he is still trying to figure out what he’s supposed to be doing – probably something that by now he should know, especially on Derby Day. His pedigree is not an issue for the distance and his trainer has won the equivalent of the Venezuelan Triple Crown four times so I guess he knows what he’s doing. If Majesto wins, he will join Canonero II and the 2nd Kentucky Derby winner from Venezuela. Fun Fact…Majesto’s name is a combination of his owners’ first names – Marco, Jesus and Tony! Good luck Majesto!
TROJAN NATION…The dreaded rail (post 1) is where Trojan Nation will take his first steps towards immortality. The last horse to win the Derby from post 1 was Ferdinand in 1986. Since Trojan Nation is still a maiden (meaning he has not won even one single race yet – nada – zip – zilch – zero – goose egg), he’s got some work to do! As one of the other closers in the race, post 1 shouldn’t matter too too much for him as he has a tendency to break slow from the gate anyway. His trainer likes the post since “It’s probably better that he’s down there and not out on the far side, where he could possibly get completely disinterested”. I can imagine if a horse could talk he would say it’s just an honor to be here! A second place finish in the Wood Memorial got him enough points to be here so I say welcome! And I believe there is always a chance he can figure things out – this is horse racing where anything can happen, amiright? Fun fact…if he wins, Trojan Nation would be the first maiden to win the Derby since Brokers Tip in 1933. Another fun fact to sneak in…1919 Triple Crown winner Sir Barton was also a maiden when he won his Derby! Good luck Trojan Nation!
MO TOM…Another closer, Mo Tom has not had much racing luck in his seven lifetime starts. He made it into the Derby starting gate with the fewest points (32) and would not be here but for the defection of Cupid. But that doesn’t matter now. Mo Tom has talent but I’m not sure he has figured out just quite what to do with it. He has been great in training leading up to Saturday which is the best that can be expected. He has one graded stakes win and he ran into traffic in his other three stakes attempts. His trainer initially blamed his poor showings on his jockey, but fences were mended and the jockey was not taken off Mo Tom. His trainer said this is the “best 3-year-old I’ve ever had”…big praise and lots of confidence with his connections. Speaking of connections, Mo Tom has the same owner as Tom’s Ready! Another closer, while it hasn’t been fully showcased, Mo Tom apparently has a massive late kick…let’s see how he handles the field on Saturday! Fun fact…If you are reading this on May 6, say Happy Birthday to Mo Tom who officially turns 3 today! Good luck Mo Tom!
I have no more words except for the next 36! Every horse is special. Any horse can have a good day and any horse can have a bad day. Here’s hoping all of them come home safely. Have fun!
Safe trip to all and good luck!