Why I'm Keying the Favorites in the Hollywood Derby

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

November 29th, 2018

With relatively few opportunities remaining for horses to compete against Grade 1 company before the end of 2018, fourteen three-year-olds have turned out to contest Saturday’s $300,000 Hollywood Derby (gr. I) at Del Mar.

But while the huge field size suggests that the race should be wide-open in nature, I’m strongly drawn toward the two favorites #4 River Boyne and #6 Raging Bull, in part because I believe their most recent efforts were much stronger than they appear at first glance.

I’ve been a big fan of River Boyne since last winter, and he’s rewarded me on several occasions by winning four stakes race this year, including the nine-furlong Twilight Derby (gr. II) at Santa Anita one month ago. His margin of victory that day wasn’t eye-catching—just a neck—but River Boyne endured a very wide trip against a quality field and still managed to produce a strong finish to edge the talented East Coast shipper #1 Have At It, who was entering off a victory in the Hill Prince Stakes (gr. II) at Belmont Park.

Just how substantial was River Boyne’s ground loss? Well, according to data from Trakus, he ran nearly six lengths farther than Have At It, suggesting that with a better trip he could have scored a resounding victory. For the Hollywood Derby, River Boyne should be able to save ground early on while breaking from post position four, and if jockey Flavien Prat can avoid going too wide on the final turn, I think River Boyne will be tough to hold off in the homestretch.

As for Raging Bull, he brings high-class form from the East Coast, where he won the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Stakes (gr. II) and the Saranac Stakes (gr. III) at Saratoga with impressive rallies from off the pace. And while I suppose you could technically say he faltered when finishing fifth in the Hill Prince Stakes behind Have At It, he was only beaten 2 ¼ lengths despite a very wide trip—according to Trakus, he ran three or more lengths farther than every rival who finished ahead of him. On a day when the turf course was wet and slower than what he’s accustomed to, Raging Bull just didn’t get the right trip and couldn’t finish off his rally.

Suffice to say, I think he can rebound while returning to firmer turf at Del Mar, and you have to respect any turf horse that trainer Chad Brown ships out to Del Mar. After all, he swept the exacta in this race two years ago and also won the 2017 Matriarch Stakes (gr. I) and Cecil B. Demille Stakes (gr. III) from limited starters at Del Mar last season.

For these reasons, I’ll strongly support both River Boyne and Raging Bull in the exotics. Underneath, I’ll include Have At It plus #10 Way Early, a Grade 2-placed runner who has been competing well against older horses as of late, and #11 Carrick, winner of the Secretariat Stakes (gr. I) during the summer:

$6 exacta: 4,6 with 4,6 ($12) $3 exacta: 4,6 with 1 ($6) $1 trifecta: 4,6 with 4,6 with 1,10,11 ($6) $1 trifecta: 4,6 with 1,10,11 with 4,6 ($6)

Good luck!