With the largest field most entrants will see during their racing careers, the Kentucky Derby is a tall task to take on. With so many horses and jockeys vying to establish good racing positions and avoid being hung wide into the first turn, conditions tend to get a bit hairy each year. Bumping, jostling, stumbling, checking and steadying is generally expected, and with the cavalry charge from the break to the clubhouse turn, not everyone can get the ideal trip. It seemed that this year was worse than usual, but perhaps that’s just because it is still fresh. So who got a good trip and who got beat by a bad trip? In order of finish, I analyze the trip of each contender in this year’s Derby.
California Chrome—You better believe that the flashy chestnut winner of the 140th G1 Kentucky Derby made a believer out of me. I had him as one of my Top 4 selections, but I was not truly convinced he could get the job done, mainly because I was expecting a faster pace, leaving the proverbial door open for the closers to swoop in and steal it on the wire. He was clearly the best on paper, but we as handicappers have a tendency to overanalyze things. My mom had California Chrome for goodness’ sakes, and she only tunes in for the Triple Crown, Breeders’ Cup, and whatever race Mucho Macho Man (she refers to him as Charlie’s horse) happens to be running in! Congrats again Mom for nailing the Kentucky Oaks/Kentucky Derby double. Away cleanly, California Chrome established good early position and stayed out of trouble. Couple his ideal trip with the reasonable pace, and conditions were ripe for the colt to make mincemeat out of his competition, which is exactly what he did. Now, I’m not ready to crown California Chrome just yet, but given his race pattern, he’s the one best equipped to handle the grueling Triple Crown schedule.
Commanding Curve—Simply put, Commanding Curve had the best trip out of any of the closers due to one fact: he was well clear of Danza. While that one cut a path of destruction on the inside of the track, Commanding Curve went around the field, losing valuable distance due to how wide he had to go. He did, however, benefit from not having to weave through traffic. Honestly, there was no getting to the winner, so I highly doubt a rail trip, traffic or no traffic, would have helped his case. Also stacking the deck against him were the fractions, which were relatively soft considering how much speed was in the field. Commanding Curve was just second best, and the final margin of victory for California Chrome is deceptively narrow due to the winner being geared down in the final yards. The runner-up will skip the Preakness and run in the Belmont.
Danza—Trainer Todd Pletcher and owner Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners must have sighed in relief when no inquiry sign went up because Danza got away with murder in the stretch. First he lugged out several paths, forcing Wicked Strong to alter course. Then he drifted back in, making Medal Count alter course. I’ve seen it said across various social media sites that with a better trip, Danza would have won. Maybe…he did get ping-ponged around in the early stages of the race, but again, California Chrome was much the best.
Wicked Strong—Shut off twice by Danza during the stretch run, Wicked Strong was cost at least 3rd place, if not 2nd by the third place finisher. After working his way closer to the rail from the widest post position of all, the colt named to honor the Boston Marathon victims appeared to be moving strongly down the lane before being severely cut off by Danza as that one lugged out. Shifting to the inside to continue his rally, Wicked Strong was once again cut off by Danza as that colt drifted back in. Even after being shut down, Wicked Strong continued on down the lane, re-gathering his momentum to nose out Samraat for 4th.
Samraat—Finishing off the board for the first time in a career highlighted by a rivalry with another New York-bred, Samraat had good position throughout the race. Sitting just off the winner’s flank through the early stages of the race, Samraat was only about 3-4 wide on the first turn. Like the winner, Samraat managed to avoid trouble with a clear to the outside and near the lead position. As they hit the top of the stretch, Samraat moved in tandem with California Chrome for the lead, getting up into second, but while California Chrome continued on strongly, Samraat was out-finished and just missed 4th. A nice race all in all, but he really had no excuses as the pace was reasonable throughout the entirety of the race.
Dance With Fate—After getting slammed coming out of the gate, Dance With Fate also fell victim to Maragh’s careless move toward the inside aboard Wicked Strong in the clubhouse turn (See Candy Boy below for more details). Turning for home, Dance With Fate was spun 7 wide and then squeezed back as Commanding Curve put him in tight quarters with Intense Holiday in the stretch. Not a bad run for a colt I had tossed on account of my belief that all-weather and turf were his preferred surfaces.
Ride On Curlin—I’m inclined to believe that Calvin “Bo-Rail” tried a little too hard to replicate his previous successful Derby trips aboard Ride On Curlin. At the break, he immediately took Ride On Curlin straight over to the rail, where they were dead last. In the backstretch and far turn, they moved up the rail, but as the field turned for home, Borel opted to swing back to the outside of the track since the rail was occupied by the severely fading Vicar’s In Trouble. After gaining a clear, straight path, Ride On Curlin came on willingly to greatly improve position. A sneaky good race if you ask me. The son of Curlin has been confirmed for the Preakness and will get a jockey change to Joel Rosario. The switch in riders and smaller field should translate into a better running for the colt.
Medal Count—Like Wicked Strong, Medal Count fell victim to Danza’s erratic stretch run. Unlike with Wicked Strong, however, I really don’t think he lost anything by being bumped by the 3rd place finisher. He ran a pretty even race, but along with Dance With Fate, Medal Count was one I had tossed due to preferred racing surface.
Chitu—Aside from dueling with Uncle Sigh on the lead, Chitu had a good trip. A bit awkward out of the gate, the colt was able to gather himself quickly and establish a front-running position with little trouble. Despite the reasonable fractions, a contested pace is harder to maintain, even with soft splits, than an easy lead. Chitu ran a brave race on the frontend, but when it came right down to it, he simply faded in the lane.
We Miss Artie—Another I tossed due to preferred racing surface, We Miss Artie raced evenly throughout. He did mount a rally with Commanding Curve but ended up widest of all and unable to sustain his bid for the front. He had some trouble during the first part of the race but nothing that would have eliminated his chances completely. This just wasn’t the ideal race for Spiral Stakes winner.
General a Rod—A speedy sort, General a Rod lost all chance when he was unable to get to the front of the field. I’m not sure if Rosario, who had previously ridden the colt twice, was given orders to rate or if Rosario just decided to not push his mount early after being out-broken by others, but regardless of the why, General a Rod was much further back then he likes to be. He is certainly better than his finish would suggest.
Intense Holiday—Though clear of trouble throughout, Intense Holiday was parked wide the entire circuit and lost valuable ground. The Starlight Racing colt had performed consistently well up until the Derby, but he was a toss for me due to speed figures and my belief that he was a cut below the best of the crop. He proved me right, fading down the lane after being wide and close to the reasonable pace. At shorter distances, I think he will revert back to his consistent in the money finishes.
Candy Boy—Jockey Gary Stevens summed up Candy Boy’s Derby experience nicely, making no bones about just who set off the chain reaction of bad racing luck. “I had a horrible trip. On the first turn Rajiv Maragh came over on Wicked Strong and shut me off. Then he shut [Corey] Nakatani off, causing me to steady again. We’re both lucky we didn’t fall. We need to take care of the horse and rider,” he said. Call Stevens classless for telling it how it was if you like, but it’s not like Maragh didn’t already have a history of reckless riding in big races. Go back and watch his ride aboard Isn’t He Perfect in the 2011 Belmont Stakes if you need proof. I honestly thought Candy Boy was one of the top contenders in this race, but after his trip, I don’t really blame him for losing interest.
Uncle Sigh—You have to give the colt credit, he shows up every time and tries his hardest. He got the trip he wanted and proudly led the cavalry charge while bearing the colors of Wounded Warrior Stables for as long as he could. Unfortunately, ten furlongs was just too far to ask the son of Indian Charlie to carry his speed.
Tapiture—While the top 3 finishers defied their pedigrees, Tapiture fell victim to his own…and maybe even had an excuse or two to go along with his pedigree. Like many of the others in here, Tapiture was roughed up from start to finish, eventually being eased. A photo floating around on Twitter shows the colt losing a shoe in the race, which is not a good recipe for winning. Asmussen does not plan to target the Preakness and intends to point toward shorter races with the G3 Matt Winn being a possible next placement.
Harry’s Holiday—Another pre-race toss for me, Harry’s Holiday ended up being his own worst enemy. Sure he ended up in some tight spots, but worse than that, he was rank and hard to control in the early stages of the race. Hopefully he gets shortened up distance wise moving forward.
Vinceremos—As long as we’re being honest here, Vinceremos really had no chance at winning and did not have much of an excuse for just how badly he ran. He did bump with Danza during the run to the clubhouse turn, but aside from that, he was really just overmatched. That pesky 7.00 Dosage Index was the first clue, but his loss to Ring Weekend, who then finished up the track in the Calder Derby, in the Tampa Bay Derby was the second clue. Like with Tapiture, middle distances appear to be more his forte.
Wildcat Red—Like archrival General a Rod, Wildcat Red did not get the trip he wanted. Rather than being on or very close to the lead, Wildcat Red bobbled out of the gate, costing him early position. Luis Saez then tried to get him up close to the lead but ended up using him much too soon. Wildcat Red wound up being shuffled back, hung wide and continued to lose placings before being eased. All that roughing up resulted in the colt exiting the race with a one inch cut near his right front cannon bone and bruises on both left legs.
Vicar’s In Trouble—Poor Vicar was in trouble from the moment post positions were drawn. While Post 1 has produced Derby winners, drawing that spot has been the kiss of death in recent years, and it was no different for Vicar’s In Trouble. Usually a speedy sort, jockey Rosie Napravnik would have had to have gunned him out of the gate to establish the lead. Vicar actually broke well and had good position coming up the rail, but Uncle Sigh squeezed him back. After being forced to check and steady, Vicar’s In Trouble became rank, and it was pretty much downhill from there.
The above chart illustrates the ultimate fate of those that drew the rail or inherited the spot, as was the case with Oxbow last year, since 2000. The last column denotes whether or not the inside gate(s) were left open after late scratches.
Aside from winning the race itself, California Chrome also gets the trophy for having the best trip in the field of 19. It’s a huge toss-up as to who had the worst trip considering so many received trips that were far from ideal and/or rife with trouble.