Indiana Derby Day Handicapping Blog
Saturday night’s 24th running of the $500,000 Indiana Derby (G3) highlights a 10-race card including six stakes at Indiana Grand.
King Zachary is the horse to beat following his 4 ¾-length victory in the Matt Winn (G3) at Churchill Downs. By Curlin, the chestnut colt has captured three of his last four starts for Dale Romans but his BRIS Speed ratings remain a little light, registering a career-best 99 last time. He can’t be counted out but at 6-5 on the morning line, King Zachary offers little appeal from a wagering perspective.
I am tabbing #4 Dark Vader, who brings improving form into the 1 1/16-mile race for Peter Eurton. A $150,000 2yo purchase (top seller for sire Take of Ekati in 2017), the dark bay colt wasn’t much of a factor in his first two stakes attempts but moved forward significantly when returning from a freshening in a May 11 allowance at Santa Anita, gamely defeating the Bob Baffert-trained Longden and next-out turf stakes winner Take the One o One.
Dark Vader continued to display keen determination in the June 9 Easy Goer on the Belmont Stakes undercard, recording a neck third after dueling in-between horses most of the way, and I like how his BRIS Speed and Late Pace numbers have increased in the last two outings. The Easy Goer may continue to toughen him up and I’ll look for a strong showing.
All Stakes Pick 4 (races 5-8)
An all-stakes Pick 4 will be offered before the Indiana Derby. Here are my thoughts on the sequence:
Race 5, Michael G. Schaefer Memorial
Winner of the 2017 Clark H. (G1), Seeking the Soul has been installed as the 3-5 morning line favorite in his start since a fifth in the January 27 Pegasus World Cup (G1). The 5-year-old came on last fall for Dallas Stewart, registering his first triple-digit BRIS Speed rating (103) for a nine-length allowance tally prior to the Clark, but I will try to beat the confirmed closer in my straight bets. Seeking the Soul performs better with a recent race under his belt. Fitness hasn’t been a concern in all five career wins but when returning from a freshening of two months or more, Seeking the Soul is unplaced from four starts. Nine furlongs is probably his best distance as well and the heavy favorite will come back at a mile and 70 yards.
#3 Pioneer Spirit can steal the race. The 5-year-old defeated a nice field at Aqueduct two back, leading wire-to-wire over Sunny Ridge and Timeline, who exit a fine 1-2 finish in the recent State Dinner Stakes at Belmont Park and would both take plenty of action if entered here. Part of a deep Brad Cox stable, Pioneer Spirit came back to finish third to graded-caliber rivals Thirstforlife and Behavioral Bias in an allowance over a Churchill Downs track that wasn’t playing favorably to speed early in the afternoon.
The only other early type, turf specialist Siem Riep, appears likely to scratch out for the grassy Warrior Veterans two races later, and Pioneer Spirit looks poised to dictate the pace with Florent Geroux.
Race 6, Indiana General Assembly Distaff
#4 Lovely Bernadette will be singled. She likes the course, recording her first turf stakes victory at Indiana Grand last fall, and the three-time graded winner returns in sharp form following her score in the June 9 Mint Julep (G3). She’s 3-for-4 at the distance and will take some beating under Geroux.
Race 7, Warrior Veterans
A possible chaos race. Siem Riep, who is 2-for-2 on the Indiana Grand turf, has a fine chance off a confidence-building win and but “all” will be the play on the main ticket.
Race 8, Indiana Oaks (G3)
#5 Talk Veuve to Me has progressed nicely since returning this year with a convincing maiden tally in late March, finishing second in the Eight Belles (G2) on Kentucky Oaks Day before a runner-up to divisional leader Monomoy Girl in the June 9 Acorn (G1) at Belmont. She’s capable of recording her initial stakes tally for up-and-coming conditioner Rudolphe Brisset, but the Violence filly has never been two turns and brings an early run style into a speed-laden event.
#7 Skeptic will be included on both tickets. The Tiznow filly enters off a couple of encouraging efforts for Rusty Arnold, posting a convincing win over entry-level allowance rivals most recently at Churchill Downs, and her Speed figures are eligible to keep improving. She likes a route of ground and may be receive a favorable set-up.
#6 Kelly’s Humor and #8 Figarella’s Queen, a pair of stakes-winning fillies from the Brad Cox stable, are in with a chance here.
Pick 4 Tickets (races 5-8)
Pioneer Spirit and Lovely Bernadette will be singled on the main ticket.
On the back-up tickets, I will use the following horses: #2 Seeking the Soul and #6 Lookin at Lee (5th race); and #1 Fifth Title, #2 Siem Riep, #3 Swagger Jagger, #5 My Bariley; and #9 Dot Matrix (7th).
Ticket 1: 3 with 4 with All with 5,6,7,8 ($24)
Ticket 2: 2,3,6 with 4 with 1,2,3,5,9 with 5,7 ($15)
Ticket 3: 2,6 with 4 with 1,2,3,5,9 with 6,8 ($10)
Total = $49