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Breeders' Cup 2017

Kentucky Derby Field 139 - First Look

So here we are with the majority of the 139th Kentucky Derby field set. It’s taken years of optimism, months of hope, four last-gasp qualifiers (and maybe another next week) and more time, money and prayer than you or I will ever know. The makings of a Derby champ are founded in speculative markets mirroring the price of pork bellies and grounded in rudiments of animal husbandry. Take a flyer on a $225,000 Lion Heart colt at a spring sale or pair your mare with the just right crosshairs of ancestry, stamina and speed and who knows?


What we do know is the odds are against even the most well-bred equine athletes or those picked up a bargain-basement prices with less than perfect confirmation to make a May trip to Louisville. Given this year’s crop of freshly groomed (or doomed never to win) three-year-olds number just north of 27,000 (a down year by Thoroughbred breeding standards), having one of the 20 to enter Churchill’s Derby gate conjures up a just right recipe, equal parts management, magic and good health.


In stark difference to the recent history of graded stakes earnings during a horses’ two- and three-year-old seasons, either intended or not, Churchill Down’s newly anointed point system placed a stronger emphasis on three-year-old form and far less on precocious, juvenile winning. While a Grade I stakes win at Oaklawn or Keeneland guaranteed a Derby start in any year, a straightforward point system created a greater sense of drama in the Blues Grass Stakes and Arkansas Derby. There really should be no complaint in asking if all Derby entrants earned their way in this year.


One only has to look back a few years to Homeboykris and his much maligned, oft-suspended and Derby-winning trainer, Richard Dutrow to see the excesses in running a regressing three-year-old based upon a graded stakes win during his two-year-old season. Dutrow admitted to running Homeboykris simply because he could based up a big juvenile stakes winning score during the previous October. In the days before the Derby some speculated (or hoped) he might convince his owners or himself not to run the overmatched colt – one that would finish a distant 16th out of 20 and who now toils in the claiming and starter allowance ranks.


Since the actors in Derby 139 set are nearly cast, it’s time to take our first cursory look at the possibilities for the one colt that will be delivered his bouquet of roses on the late spring afternoon of May 4.


Orb– tied for leading point earner, closer/stalker and Florida Derby winner who inherits a new and stoking hot rider in Joel Rosario


Fun Fact – the last time his trainer, Shug McGaughey, came this way, he had the overwhelming Derby favorite in Easy Goer, who was upset at odds on in 1989.


Verrazano – like Orb, one of four, two-time graded stakes winners at three, but this Todd Pletcher trainee is also undefeated, so it’s somewhat of a surprise that his luster has worn off with only a decreasing 3/4-length win in the Wood.


Fun Fact – Pletcher won’t help his Derby-winning percentages, as Verrazano is one of four or five heading for Louisville for this lifetime 23 percent winning trainer, but who also has just 1 win from 31 Derby starters.


Goldencents – another of two-time stakes winners, his only 2013 blemish was a fading fourth place finish in the San Felipe after engaging in all out speed duel with Flashback going through sub-23, 46 and 1:10 fractions, but he was redeemed a few weeks later with an easy Santa Anita Derby win.


Fun Fact – sure NCAA basketball champ Rick Pitino owns only a percentage, but more importantly it seems trainer Doug O’Neill is following his breadcrumb trail back to Louisville looking for back-to-back Derby wins.


Revolutionary – the last of the two-time graded stakes winners, who cut his teeth with a late move behind tiring horses before splitting two foes in deep stretch in a Withers win followed by a determined final furlong through the Fair Grounds stretch.


Fun Fact – the last Louisiana Derby winner to create some noise 700 miles north and six weeks later later was Peace Rules, but the best he could do was a third-place finish in 2003.


Java’s War – closed stoutly in two consecutive starts, including a Grade I Blue Grass win and previously as a runner up to Verrazano in the Tampa Bay Derby – his dramatic last-to-first Keeneland finish is going garner him lots of attention and possibly co-favoritism on May 4.


Fun Fact – his sire, War Pass, is one of the 27 other Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winners that failed to take Derby glory the following year, with only Street Sense completing the impressive double.


Overanalyze – ran back to his two-year-old form beating a suspect Arkansas Derby field just as he won his Remsen last year against a similarly weak field.


Fun Fact – owner Mike Repole, he of Vitamin Water and Uncle Mo fame, is one of the few horse players on the planet that can single-handedly effect the Derby betting pool with his wagers – meaning Overanalyze is likely to be third choice at worst.


Lines of Battle - UAE Derby winners have struggled to break the top 10 coming from the Middle Eastern desert paradise to the Kentucky bluegrass, never mind win.


Fun Fact - Trainer Aiden O’Brien, a European contemporary to Pletcher who has won just about every thing across the pond has yet to smell Derby roses, of course he hasn’t sent that many to Churchill.


I’ll Take Charge – closed fast and furiously in catching stable mate Oxbow in the 8 ½ furlong, Rebel Stakes, but strangely for a Lukas Derby horse, he is training up to and not racing up to the First Saturday in May.


Vyjack – seemingly distance challenged and excuse laden after faltering to third in WoodMemorial – likely to go, but probably should stay home


Fun Fact – his trainer Rudy Rodriguez has made the difficult transition from journeyman jockey to leading NYRA circuit trainer, something Hall of Famer Angel Cordero had trouble managing.


Itsmyluckyday – appeared to be a monster-in-the-making when he easily dispatched last year’s two-year-old champ, Shanghai Bobby, whilst breaking Gulfstream Park’s track record time in the Holy Bull Stakes only to have some shine wear off in losing to Orb in the Florida Derby.


Fun Fact – like most trainers who reside outside the orbits of Bob Baffert, Lukas and Pletcher, Edward Pleasa Jr. gets just his second chance with a Derby starter, the first was a filly who finished last.


Governor Charlie – a decent sort who comes off his Sunland Derby win and faces tougher company and oh, by the way, the Derby will be his 4th lifetime start, ugh.


Fun Fact – last year’s Sunland Derby winner and 10th place Derby finisher, Daddy Nose Best, is still winless since his First Saturday of May start and the only Sunland Derby runner to affect the Kentucky Derby outcome was long shot winner Mine that Bird, the fourth place Sunland Derby finisher that year.


Frac Daddy – the second of trainer Kenny McPeek’s last-ditch qualifiers, this one due to a second place Arkansas Derby finish.


Fun Fact – McPeek who has had his hands on some fine equines branched out into the entrepreneurial world of Internet businessman, developing and marketing an on demand horse racing system called Horse Racing Now – check it out here...


Black Onyx – from allowance turf winner to Kentucky Derby qualifier with a Spiral Stakes victory – quick tell me two other runners from Turfway Park’s signature Derby prep.


Fun Fact – Jersey Joe Bravo – the across the river not ready for prime time jock is getting his chance in the Derby spotlight, cue soft music, slow motion and network puff piece – bet on it.


Palace Malice – from Dogwood Stables, one of the pioneers in the horse racing partnership world, comes with maybe their best chance for a Derby win in more than 20 years with a horse that showed he could run well when not in trouble in a Blue Grass runner up finish.


Fun Fact – Dogwood’s Summer Squall placed second in the 1990 Kentucky Derby behind Unbridled before turning the tables on the eventual three-year-old champ in the Preakness Stakes.


Normandy Invasion – comes out of the same Remsen as Overanalyze and same Wood Memorial as Verrazano – finishing second both times and a leading candidate for a Wise Guy Horse in Churchill.


Fun Fact – owner Fox Hill Farms has come close to earning the Derby trophy with second place finishes in 2007 with Hard Spun and 2008 with Eight Belles, who tragically broke down soon after the finish line.


Mylute – his Derby start with be the 10th of his career which makes him in an outlier in this day and age of limiting starts so an under raced and fragile animal faces 19 foes and 150,000 screaming fans with limited experience going 10 furlongs for the first time…sorry getting off soapbox now


Fun Fact – Fair Grounds-based trainer Tom Amoss knows his way around a race track, winning close to 3,000 times with more than $71 million in purses, in his 25 plus years. This is his first real Derby threat


Oxbow – a horse who owns remarkable bad luck in drawing the far outside post in his last three starts, occurring traffic trouble in all three, as well, and finally, getting caught at the Rebel Stakes finish line by I’ll Take Charge.


Fun Fact – his human connections are ridiculously successful – trainer D. Wayne Lukas, of winning just about every important race in America and rider Gary Stevens, who is a three-time Derby champ.


Other entrants could include, Falling Sky (not enough stamina) and Charming Kitten (recent third place Blue Grass finish) or some senses may rain down from the Derby gods and the Churchill gate may hold less than 20 starters.


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Older Comments about Kentucky Derby Field 139 - First Look...

a handicapping toll i like to use is the last 1/4 time in the final prep, does anyone have those times?
not saying he will win, he willmake up the most ground
not saying he will win, he willmake up the most ground
the best closer will be mylute
By-the-by Who is the Best Closer in Roses' 139? Java's War? Normandy Invasion who was 2nd + moving up?
Your lens cut short the truth that only Govenor Charlie ran 1 1/8 race in descent fractions/final time= All this field is slow, all need a 23-24 1st fraction, a 47-48 2nd leg; thus, either Best Closer Wins or Charlie gets a Wire2Wire
Nice analysis of this year's POINTs leaders. Too bad we can't talk about- Dreaming of Julia's chances. Genuine Risk, Winning Colors, & Eight Belles all were worthy of a chance. Sorry, Julia- not you.
Imagine the Derby handle if both Repole and Ramsey have a horse in the field. Three weeks out I pick Orb and Revolutionary.
Nice rundown on the contenders. I wouldn't be so critical of Pletcher's Dy Derby record, though. He's had 31 entries, true. But they were in 12 derbies. Barring the unlikely and unprecedented dead heat in the Derby, only one horse can win the race. So I'd say that Pletcher is 1 for 12, which isn't great, but it isn't bad compared to many other top trainers.
I have a good editor...
well written!

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