Derby Day Spot Plays and a 2000 Guineas pick

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

May 6th, 2017

For those who can't wait until early Saturday evening to get their classic fix in the Kentucky Derby (G1), Newmarket will stage the 2017 edition of the 2000 Guineas (G1) at 10:35 a.m. (EDT). A select field of 10 will line up on the Rowley Mile, with most eyes on last year's juvenile champion Churchill. The Aidan O'Brien-trained son of Galileo won five of six last term, including  the Vincent O'Brien National (G1) and Dewhurst (G1) in style.

However, I'm taking a shot against him replicating that form in his first start of the year. Barney Roy (#2, 7-2) won at first asking over a mile at Haydock last September, then returned with a visually impressive rally in the Greenham (G3) over seven furlongs at Newbury on April 22 in his debut for Godolphin. It's the same prep trainer Richard Hannon used for Night of Thunder, who pulled a 40-1 shocker over Greenham winner Kingman and eventual Derby (G1) winner Australia in the 2000 Guineas three years ago.

Kentucky Derby: As noted on various postings and video clips, I'm sticking with McCraken (#15, 5-1) for the big one. Undefeated in three attempts at Churchill Downs, he's been giving off highly positive vibes following his get-fit trip in the Blue Grass (G2) four weeks ago, a race he needed after being sidelined with a minor ankle issue that kept him out of the Tampa Bay Derby (G2). Trainer Ian Wilkes, who has been down this road before when working for two-time Derby winner Carl Nafzger, has been highly confident that we'll see this colt run the race of his life.

Irish War Cry (#17, 6-1) has also looked imposing since arriving in Kentucky this week, and his only hiccup thus far was in the Fountain of Youth (G2), a performance offset by a sterling win in the Wood Memorial (G2) last time. I've officially put champion Classic Empire (#14, 4-1) in my third slot, but I'm also throwing in Hence (#8, 15-1), J Boys Echo (#13, 20-1), and Tapwrit (#16, 20-1) into my vertical exotics.

Unsurprisingly as a general proposition, speed held quite well on the main track Friday in the sloppy conditions. Unfortunately, some participants were slow to recognize how powerful the bias was. That changed in the Kentucky Oaks (G1) when a speed duel set things up for closers. At this writing, one can only guess how the track will play, but hopefully there's a chance a drying process will take hold as we get later into the card and the rain and showers move on out.

Here are other horses of interest on the Derby undercard:

Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (Race 7) -- The late scratch of morning line favorite Miss Temple City will unfortunately hurt the price on Linda (#1, 5-1), who figures to be sharper following a comeback trip at Gulfstream vs. Celestine. She should relish the softish ground after solid runs last fall in the Valley View (G3) and Mrs. Revere (G2), the latter which she won going away over this course.

Pat Day Mile (Race 8) -- Horses like Local Hero, Uncontested, No Dozing, and Wild Shot have been battle-tested in classic preps and all are must-uses, but Bobby On Fleek (#12, 10-1) is an interesting entry from the Chad Brown barn. Although he drew a tough post, he might be flying under the radar exiting a New York-bred allowance win and has the tactical foot to be in the hunt from the start.

American Turf (Race 9) -- Good Samaritan (#10, 5-1) was an unlucky third after a rough trip as the favorite in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) when last seen. There's a chance he might be a tad short for this, but also think he might have been truly best in his division last season.

Churchill Downs (Race 10) -- This horse might be more of an exotics kicker, but Forevamo (#6, 30-1) has handled wet conditions before, likes this track (a solid second in the Pat Day Mile last year), and perhaps moves forward with blinkers added after settling for minor awards against Fair Grounds and Keeneland allowance foes.

Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (Race 11) -- Divisidero is an obvious threat to repeat in this race, but Beach Patrol (#8, 5-1) is an intriguing up-and-comer that's run only one bad one in 11 outings. Demoted from second to fourth in the Gulfstream Park Turf H. (G1) last time, he might fare better with a trip similar to the one he had in last year's American Turf, where he was out-gamed late by Camelot Kitten.

Good luck and Happy Derby!