As always, choosing a Kentucky Derby winner is a daunting task. With this year’s talent-rich field, deciding on a horse is even more difficult. Literally any of a half-dozen horses in the field could win the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby without the result being a surprise. Narrowing it down to a reasonable number for wagering purposes will require some work.
Going into Wednesday’s post-position draw, two names were being tossed around as the likely morning-line favorite. Claude “Shug” McGaughey’s Orb won out when he was installed as the morning-line favorite, at odds of 7-2. This son of Malibu Moon has been the buzz horse since winning the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Fla. Feb 23. A month later, he returned to take the Grade 1 Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park over Itsmyluckyday.
Earlier this week when Orb hit the track for his first work at Churchill Downs, the buzz grew louder and included comparisons to the sharp works Barbaro and Street Sense turned in just before their Kentucky Derby wins. Jockey Joel Rosario, who’s been on a sizzling hot streak, will be reunited with Orb for the ride. The pair will break from post 16.
Orb will face Todd Pletcher’s Verrazano, who was rated as the second choice in the field with a morning line of 4-1 and assigned to gate 14. Verrazano is undefeated in four career starts, including the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby and the Grade 1 Wood Memorial. Jockey John Velazquez, who rode Orb to victory in the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby, chose to ride Verrazano over Orb in the Kentucky Derby.
Velazquez has been out with an injury the past month and was cleared to return to riding May 1. He was slated to ride one horse at Belmont Park that day, but it scratched. He had one mount on Thursday at Belmont and finished seventh. He’ll ride one on the Oaks undercard and Dreaming of Julia in the Kentucky Oaks. By the time the Derby runs, he will have ridden in six races since returning to the track, so the question becomes ‘Is Velazquez fit enough and strong enough to handle the demands of the Kentucky Derby?’
In addition, reports from the backside about Verrazano’s presence on the track in the mornings have not been complimentary. Those witnessing his gallops have said that he’s been audibly breathing hard and visually looks tired, hanging his head through much of his time on the track. I saw the same thing when I visited the backside Thursday morning. I’ve been a fan of Verrazano’s all year, but if horse and jockey are ailing, there’s no way Verrazano can keep his undefeated record in a demanding race such as the Kentucky Derby.
Orb and Verrazano are easy picks with potential to win the Kentucky Derby. But this is the Kentucky Derby and the best horse doesn’t always win. With rain forecast for Friday, maybe it’s better to look for a horse with experience on a wet track or on the turf, or a pedigree that suggests he’ll fair well on a wet surface. I’m including turf form here because turf runners tend to handle a wet track well. There’s actually severally horses that fit this bill, either having finished in the money over the turf or a wet track, or having a sire that’s performed well on it. So, another factor will be necessary to narrow the field.
If you take the wet track/turf ability feature and add in a speed figure of over 100 in a race this year, the field narrows to four—Mylute, Revolutionary, Normandy Invasion, and Itsmyluckyday.
Itsmyluckyday will break from post 12 for trainer Eddie Plesa, Jr. and prefers to race on the lead. Although he finished second to Orb in the Florida Derby in his last start and only earned a 94 Brisnet speed figure, in his Holy Bull and Gulfstream Park Derby victories he earned figures of 106 and 111, respectively. The one time Itsmyluckyday ran on an off track, he finished first by over four lengths and earned a speed figure of 103. Elvis Trujillo, who’s been aboard for the last two starts, will be in the irons Saturday.
Mylute is trained by Tom Amoss and ridden by Rosie Napravnik. In his last start, Mylute, finished a neck behind Revolutionary in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby and earned a Brisnet speed figure of 105. Although Mylute has never raced on an off track or the turf, his sire, Midnight Lute, won the 2007 Breeders’ Cup Sprint on a very muddy track. Mylute prefers to run just off the pace and will break from post six. He’ll be in a perfect position to pounce on the leaders as the field turns for home.
Normandy Invasion had the early Derby buzz at the beginning of the year, but when he made his sophomore debut in the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds Racecourse in New Orleans, he was unable to overcome a bad start, got caught in traffic, and finished fifth. In his next (and last) start, he began to make me believe he was returning to his two-year-old form, finishing a strong second to Verrazano in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial and earning a Brisnet speed figure of 99. Normandy Invasion will break from post 5 with jockey Javier Castellano.
Revolutionary has everything I’m looking for in a Kentucky Derby winner. This son of War Pass has shown such maturity and guts at such an early stage in his career. In his three-year-old debut, Revolutionary split two horses to win the Grade 3 Withers Stakes. Most horses at this age would have seen the pair as a wall and tried to go around, but not Revolutionary. In his last start, the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby, Revolutionary fought back when challenged by Mylute in the stretch and won by a neck. The connections associated with Revolutionary teamed to win the 2010 Kentucky Derby with Super Saver in the slop: trainer Todd Pletcher, owner Winstar Farm, and jockey Calvin Borel. A fearless horse with a fearless jockey is a combination hard to resist.
For wagering purposes on a limited budget, I’ll take Orb, Revolutionary, Normandy Invasion, Itsmyluckyday, and Mylute in a five-horse $1 exacta box; cost $20. Longshot play $5 to win on Golden Soul. I’ll watch the tote board as the race draws near and will likely add some straight-money wagers. The Derby offers such great wagering value that you should take advantage of the prices and options.
From the rail out skipping the one hole, the field for the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby is Oxbow 30-1, Revolutionary 10-1, Golden Soul 50-1, Normandy Invasion 12-1, Mylute 15-1, Giant Finish 50-1, Goldencents 5-1, Overanalyze 15-1, Palace Malice 20-1, Lines of Battle 30-1, Itsmyluckyday 15-1, Falling Sky 50-1, Verrazano 4-1, Charming Kitten 20-1, Orb 7-2, Will Take Charge 20-1, Frac Daddy 50-1, Java’s War 19-1, and Vyjack 15-1. Black Onyx was scratched just before noon Friday. As the defection did not occur by 9 a.m. Friday morning, the also-eligible, Fear the Kitten, was scratched.
The race is set to run at 6:24 p.m. EDT and can be seen live on NBC.
Photo: Courtesy Churchill Downs/Kinetic