Deep and Talented Derby Field Taking Shape

With ten days to go, the field for the Kentucky Derby has taken shape, and eight horses figure to receive strong support at the betting windows.   A full field of 20 is almost guaranteed, as this year the race will feature an “also eligible” list, meaning if one horse scratches from the race after entries are drawn, another horse will take his place.

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It is hard to predict a favorite this year, but after winning the Arkansas Derby by 9½ lengths, the favorite will most likely be Bodemeister.   For years handicappers used certain rules for the Kentucky Derby, and one by one they have fallen by the wayside.  From the dosage theory, to the need for a recent start a few weeks before the Derby, to the geldings can’t win theory, they have all been proven false except one.  The one remaining rule is that to win the Derby a horse must have had a least one start as a two year old.  Bodemeister did not, and no horse since Apollo in 1882 has won without having run at least one race as a two year old.  This includes Curlin in 2007, who would go on to win the Preakness, Breeders Cup Classic, and Dubai World Cup.  Bodemeister appears to have a great chance to break through on Derby day, as he is continually improving and has run the fastest races leading up to the Derby according to speed figures.

Gemologist will enter the Derby an undefeated 5 for 5, and he has shown an affinity for the Churchill Downs surface, having won two races under the twin spires last fall.  He is trained by Todd Pletcher, the nation’s leading trainer last year who won the race with Super Saver in 2010.

Union Rags will receive plenty of support on Derby day.  Amongst single betting entries, he was the favorite in all three Kentucky Derby Futures Pools.  In his last start he ran third in the Florida Derby, but he was closing at the end of the race on a speed favoring track and did not get the best of trips.  He is trained by Michael Matz, who won the Kentucky Derby in 2006 with the ill-fated Barbaro, and he will be ridden by Julien Leparoux, leading jockey at Churchill Downs the last several years.

Creative Cause may be the best horse shipping in from the West Coast, and he did narrowly defeat Bodemeister in the San Felipe at Santa Anita on March 10th.  Over the past several years horses coming to the Kentucky Derby from California have been a huge disappointment, but many attribute that fact to the synthetic surface the horses were racing on at Santa Anita.  Last year Santa Anita went back to a real dirt track, but there were no impressive horses coming from California in 2011.  This year three of the top horses raced at Santa Anita.

I’ll Have Another is the third of the horses to have raced at Santa Anita  this spring, and in his last race he defeated Creative Cause by a nose in a thrilling stretch duel in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby.   His jockey, Mario Guiterrez, is a great story, having started his career in Mexico City, then moving to Vancouver, British Columbia, and finally on to southern California recently.

Dullahan will get plenty of support, as he is a deep closer in a field full of horses with early speed, and he has a Louisville native as his trainer, Dale Romans.  He came from far back to win the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland in his last start; the only hole in his résumé is that he has never won a race on a dirt track.  All his wins have come on the synthetic surface at Keeneland and he is 0 for 3 at Churchill Downs with an average finish of 4th.

Hansen won the Breeders Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs last fall and ran second to Dullahan in the Blue Grass Stakes in his previous start after leading most of the race.  In six career races he has four wins and two second place finishes.  However he is a very speedy horse, and the combination of what is likely a hot pace and the added distance to 1¼  miles make him a question mark.

Take Charge Indy comes off a front running upset of the Grade 1 Florida Derby, and as in Florida, he will be ridden by Calvin Borel in the Kentucky Derby.  Coupling those two factors means he will receive plenty of support at the betting windows on the first Saturday in May.

Finally, there are two other horses who would not surprise with a win.  Alpha, who lost a close race to Gemologist by a neck in the Wood Memorial in his last start; this after being checked hard in the first turn, and Daddy Nose Best, who won the Sunland Derby in his last start coming from well off the pace.

Regardless of who you like in this years Derby, the large, contentious field means the prices will certainly be right.

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