More than any single question involving racing, the one that I hear the most is, "Who are you betting in the Derby?" I get it. The Kentucky Derby is the big one. It is the one race of the year where even the most casual observer tunes in to see which young horse becomes toast of the town. As a lifetime lover of racing, and a turf writer, I am always more than happy to oblige, even those I only hear from once a year.
In reality, the Kentucky Derby is only part of the equation this week at Churchill Downs for handicappers. The big race is supported by many other very good races, including the Kentucky Oaks. I am a bettor who likes to go for big scores, and many of my plays this week will involve multiple races. I'll have more on my thoughts throughout the week, but for now, I wanted to pass along one ticket, which I know I will be playing, for those who only bet on the Derby.
I believe this to be one of the deepest fields of quality horses that have assembled on the first Saturday in May in decades. The top horses are really good. Because of this, I am not expecting many, or any, real bombs to threaten for the win. I do, however, still see great value in this year's Derby. While Justify, Magnum Moon, and Mendelssohn figure to be the favorites, I see enough question marks with them to try and beat them, at least for the top spot.
So, I will be playing the three horses with higher odds who I believe to have less questions in the top spot of my Derby trifecta. They are: Vino Rosso, Good Magic and Bolt d'Oro. All three should offer excellent value in the triples if one can indeed win. Below them I will use the other five horses I believe have the best shot to finish in the top three. It's a simple strategy, but in this year's field, it's one that I feel good about.
My play will be a $1 trifecta using Vino Rosso, Good Magic and Bolt d'Oro for first; with Vino Rosso, Good Magic, Bolt d'Oro, Mendelssohn, Magnum Moon, Justify, Audible and Hofburg for second; with Vino Rosso, Good Magic, Bolt d'Oro, Mendelssohn, Magnum Moon, Justify, Audible and Hofburg for third. The whole ticket will cost $126, and if I'm right about one of the top three winning, it should pay a whole lot more than that.
A couple of notes here: You'll notice that Hofburg has joined my top eight. After seeing him in person here at Churchill Downs, I have no choice to include the lightly raced colt. He has looked that good in the mornings. Also, the post position draw is not until tomorrow. If any of my top three draw the rail, I might alter this ticket. Look for post draw remarks within the comments section of this blog.
Caledonia Road wins in return
While all eyes will be on Churchill Downs this week, there will be no competing in the Kentucky Oaks for the 2-year-old champion filly from 2017. Unfortunately, Caledonia Road was beset by a minor injury that will preclude her from running in the most prestigious 3-year-old filly race of the year. The good news is that the daughter of Quality Road is now back and healthy.
Making her first appearance in the afternoon since rolling down the Del Mar lane to win the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies last November, she returned to the races Sunday at Belmont Park. In what amounted to only a tune up, Caledonia Road passed the first test of the new season with flying colors. Trained by Ralph Nicks, she looked to have the small allowance field at her mercy, and that is exactly how things turned out. Looking comfortable most of the trip, she turned it on when she needed to, ultimately crossing the wire an easy 3 1/2-length winner in a final time of 1:38.06. While not fast, it looks to be the perfect way for her to shake the rust and be next sharper as the competition gets tougher.
Nicks was happy with the performance afterward, saying that he believed she was only about 80% for this one. With a career record of 4-3-1-0, Caledonia Road has run well in each start. After surgery to remove bone chips, as she had, you worry about the same horse returning, but this was a promising return for a filly of obvious class. Having said that, things will get a whole lot tougher next time, as she is expected back in six weeks for the Acorn Stakes on Belmont Stakes day. Win or lose that one, it's good to see the champ back in action.Cracksman made a triumphant return to the races as well, with a powerful stretch kick that easily carried him to victory in the Group 1 Prix Ganay at Longchamp. The son of the great Frankel continues to look more like his daddy with each passing race. Owned by Anthony Oppenheimer, Cracksman had been away from racing action for just over six months, but hardly a spec of rust showed on the handsome 4-year-old from the barn of John Gosden.
Last seen thoroughly dominating Ascot's prestigious Champion Stakes, a race that clinched the honor as Europe's top sophomore male, Cracksman always looked like a winner Sunday in Paris. Sitting chilly under the capable hands of rider Frankie Dettori, he waited patiently for his cue to go, well into the stretch. When finally asked, the response was immediate and decisive. He hit the wire going away and hand ridden, the winner by four lengths. Behind him, the pacesetter Wren's Day held off the late challenge of the classy Cloth Of Stars.
Cracksman completed the approximately 1 5/16 miles affair over the good going in 2:09.44 on a turf course labeled as good. In winning his seasonal debut in grand style, he also raised his career mark to 8-6-1-1. The Ganay was his fourth consecutive impressive win in top company since losing a tough one in last summer's Irish Derby. The Prince of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot could be next for the colt, who looks very ready to prove himself as the best male turf horse on the planet. ZATT's Star of the Week, is ... Cracksman!