Keeler Johnson's Kentucky Derby Top 10 -- 4/18/18

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April 18th, 2018

It’s been a long and winding road, but the final prep races for the 2018 Kentucky Derby were run last Saturday, meaning that the field for the “Run for the Roses” is more or less established.

From now until the Derby, the main focus will be on the pre-race workouts, with handicappers watching the morning training sessions to get a glimpse of each contender and gauge how they’re progressing before the Derby. We’ll take a look at some of the workouts next week, but for now, here’s how I rank the top contenders….
  1. Justify

From a BRIS speed figure standpoint, his Santa Anita Derby was fantastic—he earned BRIS E1 and E2 pace figures of 100 and 105, plus a massive Late Pace rating of 117 and a final figure of 114. He’s also the only horse in the expected Derby field to have earned three triple-digit BRIS speed figures. If he is beaten at Churchill Downs, it won’t be due to a lack of speed—he’s probably the most gifted horse on the Derby trail.
  1. Bolt d’Oro

He’s seems to be flying under the radar a bit despite his impressive credentials and the fact that his 110 BRIS speed figure from the Santa Anita Derby is the second-highest number posted by any of the expected Derby starters. I think there’s a chance that we could see him go off at around 8-1 in the wagering, which could make him the best value in the race.
  1. Good Magic

Based strictly on what he has accomplished this year, it might be hard to view Good Magic as one of the top contenders to win the Kentucky Derby—his Blue Grass Stakes victory yielded only a 98 BRIS speed figure, and he didn’t finish particularly fast in that race. However, I feel strongly that both of his prep races this year were a means to an end—prep races in the truest sense, designed to get him ready for a peak effort on Derby Day. Don’t forget, he ran a 105 BRIS speed figure in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, which was the third start of his juvenile season.
  1. Audible

Pedigree might be the only knock on this versatile colt; being by Into Mischief out of a mare by Gilded Time, he’s certainly bred to excel going shorter. But there have certainly been many instances through history of horses outrunning their pedigrees, and Audible has posted triple-digit BRIS Late Pace ratings on four occasions—only Bolt d’Oro can boast the same.
  1. Mendelssohn

We’re still awaiting word on whether jockey Ryan Moore will retain the mount on Mendelssohn in the Kentucky Derby or whether he’ll forego the opportunity in favor of riding in the prestigious 2,000 Guineas (Eng-I) at Newmarket on the same day. While I generally don’t read too much into jockey decisions, having Moore in the saddle for the Derby would certainly be a positive, given that he’s familiar with Mendelssohn and is regarded as one of the best jockey in the world.
  1. Magnum Moon

His powerful :11.99-second final furlong in the Arkansas Derby was eye-catching and yielded a 115 BRIS Late Pace rating, but as I mentioned in my recap of the race, Magnum Moon did benefit from a perfect trip setting a slow pace while saving ground. Notably, his BRIS E1 and E2 pace figures were just 77 and 80, very low numbers for a horse setting the pace. I’m also a little concerned by the fact that he changed to his right lead prematurely, causing him to drift out sharply leaving the far turn.
  1. Vino Rosso

Vino Rosso’s Wood Memorial victory was a big step in the right direction, and he seems to be getting good at just the right time—no surprise given that he’s by Curlin out of mare by Street Cry. However, it’s worth noting that he received a very favorable setup in the Wood Memorial; RacingFlow.com assigned the race a Closer Favorability Ratio (CFR) of 99, signifying that the Wood Memorial fell within the top 2% of closer-favoring races.
  1. Noble Indy

He’s already posted a couple of workouts at Palm Beach Downs in preparation for the Derby, most recently going five furlongs in 1:01 flat on April 13th. Owned in partnership by WinStar Farm and Repole Stable, Noble Indy is one of four colts that could represent WinStar Farm in the Derby, with the others being Audible, Justify, Quip.
  1. My Boy Jack

In terms of speed figures, he’s not exactly the fastest horse in the Derby field—he’s never posted a triple-digit BRIS—but you have to admire the way he overcame a less-than-ideal trip to win the Lexington Stakes (gr. III) in determined fashion. In some ways, his form lines and running style remind me of the recent Kentucky Derby second-place finishers Golden Soul, Commanding Curve, and Lookin at Lee.
  1. Enticed

Considering that the Wood Memorial was a race that favored closers, it’s not hard to like Enticed’s runner-up effort, considering that he was much closer to the early pace than Vino Rosso. I do have the feeling that Enticed might wind up being at his best going shorter than ten furlongs, but he showed in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II) that he can handle the main track at Churchill Downs, which could theoretically give him an advantage over many of his Derby rivals.