The 138th Derby: Pretenders, Maybes and Contenders

by Greg Melikov

posted on May 3, 2012 in Handicapping, Horse Racing, Kentucky Derby, | No Comments >>

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Handicapping the Kentucky Derby isn’t an easy task, especially this year when the 138th renewal is fairly wide open with quite a few contenders.

You must have a battle plan. I start by eliminating runners, based on credentials and recent form, plus some variables each year.

The Pretenders include runners that have not won a race at a mile or longer like Liaison and Trinniberg.

They include 3-year-olds that haven’t scored on dirt: Dullahan, the Blue Grass victor who won twice on synthetic surfaces; Daddy Long Legs, who hasn’t even raced in this country; and Liaison, who triumphed no further than seven furlongs on the surface similar to Churchill Downs.’.

Since only four 3-year-olds in the past 50 years or so smelled the roses after failing to finish in the money in their final prep, I’m eliminating Prospective, sixth in the Blue Grass; El Padrino, fourth in the Florida Derby; Optimizer, ninth in the Arkansas Derby; and My Adonis, seventh in the Wood Memorial.

I’m also eliminating horses that appear to be on the slow side: Went the Day Well, Rousing Sermon, Sabercat, Done Talking and Daddy Nose Best.

When it comes to the Maybes, who could hit the board if all goes their way, Hansen heads the list. Pace will be a deciding factor and the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champ may not get the 1 ¼ miles if runner-up finishes in the Holy Bull and Blue Grass are any indication,

Front-running Take Charge Indy might find it difficult to repeat his wire-to-wire victory in the Florida Derby. Jockey Calvin Borel took advantage of the track bias, which produced three previous route winners no less than second by the Gulfstream Park stretch on March 31. It remains to be seen how Churchill Downs will play on Saturday.

Alpha as endured a couple of bad trips, including the Wood Memorial that saw him end up second. The trip wasn’t the best after he broke from the rail, rubbed shoulders with a rival, steadied on the heels of another foe on the first turn and was forced to wait behind the leaders heading into the stretch. But a leg infection, even though reportedly cleared up, is not a good omen for Louisville.

Now for the Contenders: Bodemeister posted the biggest winning margin in the major Kentucky Derby preps, taking the Arkansas Derby by nearly 10 lengths. But the son of Empire Maker was unraced as a juvenile and has run only four times. Back in ’07, Curlin debuted as a 3-year-old and won all three races, including the Arkansas Derby, but finished third at Churchill Downs.

If you like I’ll Have Another, you must like Creative Cause, the one-two finishers in the Santa Anita Derby. Each has several graded stakes triumphs at 1 1/16 miles or 1 1/8 miles. Both are talented with tactical speed.

Gemologist aims to become the first unbeaten colt since Barbaro to win the Kentucky Derby. Barbaro went to Louisville with the same number of triumphs – five. The Todd Pletcher trainee also boasts two scores at Churchill Downs. The son of Tiznow shares the same connections as Super Saver who triumphed in the ’10 Kentucky Derby.

Union Rags has the look of a horse on the verge of a big victory. The Fountain of Youth winner experienced a very troubled outing in Florida Derby and less than a stellar ride. The son of Dixie Union was trapped behind a wall of runners late in the backstretch to the far turn. Julien Leparoux guided him inside turning for home, then outside in the stretch where once straightened out he closed fast to make up nearly 2 ½ lengths, finishing a length and a neck back in third. He’s dangerous with a better trip in the Kentucky Derby.