Kentucky Derby highlights stellar weekend of racing

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Ted Black

May 4th, 2018

This coming Saturday afternoon novice and serious thoroughbred racing fans alike will focus their attention on Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky as the famed oval amid the twin spires will host the latest renewal of the Grade I, $2 million Kentucky Derby, the most coveted race in the sport and the first jewel of the Triple Crown for three-year-olds.

This Saturday's Kentucky Derby is the 12th race of a 14-race card comprised largely of stakes although at least one-half the races are little more than clutter and it includes a full field of 20 runners and no serious genuine standout. Granted, both Justify and Magnum Moon head into the Derby unbeaten, by neither of them raced last year at age two and it has been over 130 years since any horse, including Curlin, could win the Derby without having at least one start at age two.

Both Justify and Magnum Moom hail from two of the sport's more prominent trainers, Bob Baffert and Todd Pletcher and Baffert has not only enjoyed far more success in the run for the roses he also owns the distinction of saddling Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, ending a 37-year drought. Pletcher has won the Derby twice, including last year with Always Dreaming, but he has sent out over 50 runners to nondescript efforts and Magnum Moon, despite his perfect record, is hardly his best runner here.

Justify has won all three of his starts this year, including the Grade I, $750,000 Santa Anita Derby, but he was unraced at age two and literally unchallenged in the SA Derby. He will be the lukewarm favorite in this event, primarily due to his connections and his potential as a budding star, but he will have to work hard to make the front and his lack of seasoning and the fast early tempo will eventually be his undoing.

Pletcher will be well represented as usual in the Derby and four of the sophomores he will saddle on Saturday all won their preps for the run for the roses. Magnum Moon captured the Arkansas Derby to stay unbeaten in four starts, Audible won the Florida Derby for his fourth win in five starts, Vino Rosso took the Wood Memorial for his third win in five tries and Noble Indy captured the Louisiana Derby for his third win in four outings. But of that group only Audible looks like a genuine threat to win this event.

Defending two-year-old champion Good Magic won the Grade I, Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland in his last start and will be among the few horses below 10-1 in the Derby. Bolt D'Oro chased Justify in futility last out, but he is actually coming into this race on target for a big performance, as is Blue Grass runner-up Flameaway. The genuine mystery horse is Mendelssohn, a turf star who freaked in the UAE Derby at Meydan five weeks ago, winning that event by an eye-opening 18 lengths in 1:55.23, a stellar time for the one-mile and three-sixteenths distance with no run-up to the beam.

In a race with no true standout, the Derby offers value for any player on Saturday. When the dust settles, however, I expect Bolt D'Oro to be draped in the roses after winning the Derby in 2:02.17, edging Audible, Mendelssohn, Flameaway and longshot Promises Fulfilled. Justify and Magnum Moon arrive with perfect records, but the fact that neither raced at age two is a genuine red flag and I am more than willing to play against them at 4-1 and 7-1, respectively.

One race earlier on the card, Deauville, Kurilov, Camelot Kitten, Channel Maker, Synchrony and Beach Patrol will be the serious contenders in the Grade I, $500,000 Turf Classic. Beach Patrol has been idle since finishing second in the Grade I Breeders Cup Turf last fall. He has more than enough class to overcome the layoff to win this event, but is probably worth playing against at 8-5 or less.

One race earlier in the Grade III Pat Day Mile for three-year-old colts, National Flag, Madison's Luna, Mask, Sporting Chance and Restoring Hope loom the logical contenders. One race earlier it's the top sophomore grass runners in the Grade II American Turf and one race earlier a stellar field will enter the gate for the Grade II, $500,000 Churchill Downs Handicap. Whitmore arrives off a sharp win at Oaklawn Park - where he seems to never lose - while Imperial Hint, Limousine Liberal and Awesome Slew, the beaten favorite behind the freaky Army Mule in the Grade I Carter Handicap at Aqueduct, all appear logical threats.

One race earlier its the fillies on the lawn in the Grade II Churchill Downs Distaff Turf Mile and one race earlier it is the Grade I, $300,000 Humana Distaff for fillies and mares on the main track. That event came up tough with Finley'sluckycharm, Salty, Ivy Bell, Six Diamonds, Lewis Bay and American Gal all looking for a lucrative, graded stakes score. Finley'sluckycharm has won 10 of 15 starts and captured the Grade I Madison at Keeneland on the Blue Grass undercard and always merits a look.