East or West, who holds the stronger Kentucky Derby hand?

Profile Picture: Scott Shapiro

February 21st, 2018

It’s a light week ahead on the Road to the presented by Woodford Reserve, so now’s a good time to take stock of the division following the first 50- points-to-the winner-prep race.

With less than seventy-five days until the first Saturday of May racing fans are continuing to formulate opinions on the crop of 2018. With that comes the discussion of whether an East or West Coast based horse is likeliest to find the winners’ circle at this year’s Derby.

West Coast based thoroughbreds had captured three consecutive “Run for the Roses” and 4 of the last 5 until last year when Always Dreaming took advantage of a wet, biased racetrack to earn trainer Todd Pletcher his second lifetime Derby win. However, horses making their home east of the Rockies have won 11 of 18 dating back to the start of the twenty-first century.

The “Road to the Kentucky Derby” leaderboard suggests that East Coast based runners hold an advantage in terms of qualifying points. However, that is misleading since the Risen Star last weekend rewarded the most points of any North American preps contested thus far. So, who really holds the stronger hand in 2018, East or West?

The East appears to have a greater number of horses “in the mix” at the moment led by Eclipse Award winning two-year-old Good Magic.

The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner has not raced since his Grade 1 victory at Del Mar, but makes his return a week from Saturday in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park.  A victory there will vault Good Magic to the top of the leaderboard and stamp him as the favorite a little more than two months out.

Even if Good Magic does not live up to expectations next weekend in Florida, the East still has a plethora of horses capable of winning at Churchill Downs on May 5th, including a number of Todd Pletcher conditioned colts.

Audible vaulted himself to the top of many handicappers list of contenders after a dominating performance in the Holy Bull and at this point is the likeliest of the Pletcher contingent to win the Derby. Lightly raced Magnum Moon, as well as Vino Rosso, Impact Player and Marconi are also hopeful they will make the gates in Louisville and peak at the right time for their Hall of Fame trainer.

Eighty-two-year-old D. Wayne Lukas hopes to win his first Kentucky Derby since Charismatic in 1999. He trains current points leader Bravazo, as well as the third place finisher in Monday’s Southwest Stakes, Sporting Chance. A fifth Derby win for “The Coach” is not impossible.

After an incredible run with Horse of the Year Gun Runner, trainer Steve Asmussen is hopeful that 2018 is the year for his first Kentucky Derby win. Risen Star runner-up Snapper Sinclair and Southwest Stakes runner-up Combatant are the likeliest to make the gates, but they will need to move forward in the next couple of months to be legitimate contenders on the first Saturday in May. Copper Bullet was impressive as a two-year-old, but has yet to race at the age of three.

Kiaran McLaughlin won the Belmont in 2006 with Jazil, but still has yet to win a Derby. He trains Grade 3 Withers Stakes winner Avery Island, as well as Godolphin Stable’s Enticed who finished a well beaten fourth in the Holy Bull. Both will need to improve in the coming weeks to have a shot on May 5th.

Catholic Boy for trainer Jonathan Thomas and Free Drop Billy for Dale Romans both merit serious consideration after second place runs in their first start off the bench earlier this month. Their efforts second off the layoff will tell us a lot, but both three-year-olds currently offer fair value in future wagers.

The West Coast has fewer horses in with a serious chance to hit the wire first in 2018, but as usual Bob Baffert has a number of colts talented enough to earn the Hall of Famer his fifth Kentucky Derby victory.

and Solomini are both in the top ten in qualifying points at the moment with at least one, if not both slated to race next in the San Felipe at Santa Anita.

Solomini crossed the wire first in their only meeting in the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Cash Call Futurity, but was disqualified and placed third. I prefer McKinzie’s chances of the two, but we will know a lot more soon.

Baffert also traines recent maiden breaking winner Justify. The son of Scat Daddy posted a 100 BRIS speed rating in his debut last Sunday and appears to have unlimited upside. However, there has not been a horse since Apollo in 1882 to win the Kentucky Derby without racing at the age of two.

was the early favorite for the Derby after a powerful start to his two-year-old campaign, but temporary setbacks have kept him sidelined since his disappointing third place effort in the Breeders’ Cup. The son of Medaglia d’Oro has the talent, but I need to see something special out of him in the San Felipe next month before endorsing him at a relatively short price.

Instilled Regard and My Boy Jack both shipped out of Southern California to post victories in Triple Crown prep races.

Instilled Regard notched his first graded stakes win in the Lecomte at Fair Grounds before a discouraging fourth place finish on Saturday in the Risen Star. He needs to rebound quickly to be considered a serious threat in Louisville.

My Boy Jack took advantage of a contentious early pace and an inside bias in Monday’s Southwest in Arkansas to capture his first victory over the off going. I need to see him do it over a fast surface before I get excited about his chances to win North America’s most prestigious race.

With less than two and a half months until the most exciting two minutes in sports, it is a struggle to predict which region is likeliest to win the 2018 “Run for the Roses.”

With Good Magic and Bolt d’Oro yet to make their three-year-old debut much is still up in the air. The East Coast certainly has several more that appear classy enough to get the job done, but counting Baffert out seems silly.

The next few weeks will be tell tale as things heat up on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby.” It should be extremely fun.