Kentucky Derby Report: Selections & Analysis

Profile Picture: James Scully

May 5th, 2016

When it comes to handicapping Saturday’s $2 million Kentucky Derby, no shortage of possible scenarios exists. Wednesday’s post draw threw a wrinkle into the equation, with the expected pacemaker receiving post 20, and the early fractions could be a little faster than initially expected.

It’s still risky to support any late runners. By my count, 11 horses figure to take back in the opening stages, creating a potential logjam at the tail of the 20-horse field, and a number of the confirmed closers figure to get stopped in traffic.

My top three choices in Kentucky Derby 142 all possess at least tactical speed.


Mor Spirit showed good speed at age 2, parlaying a forwardly-placed trip into a runner-up finish in his stakes debut, the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) at Churchill Downs. Connections worked to make him more push-button in 2016 preps, with Mor Spirit employing stalk-and-pounce tactics winning the Robert Lewis (G2) and finishing second in the San Felipe (G2) and Santa Anita Derby (G1), but they’ve drilled him for speed in a couple of local works at Churchill Downs and the dark bay won’t be too far back in the early stages Saturday, ideally in the second flight under three-time Derby winner Gary Stevens.

He performed admirably despite not handling the extremely sloppy track in the Santa Anita Derby and Mor’s Spirit’s 102 BRIS Speed rating two starts back is among the best in the field. Distance looks like no issue for the son of Eskendereya and he’s got the right trainer in four-time Derby winner Bob Baffert, who recently compared Mor Spirit to 1998 Derby winner Real Quiet. And the similarities are striking – both were juvenile Grade 1 winners who placed in graded stakes at Churchill Downs before finishing second in the final two preps.

Mor Spirit has been competing in the toughest prep races this year and appears ready to deliver a career-best. And he figures to receive the right trip.


The Rodney Dangerfield of the 2016 Kentucky Derby, Gun Runner has captured 4-of-5 starts but never been favored. It’s easy to appreciate the improvement the Churchill Downs maiden winner’s displayed in two appearances this year, posting a diminishing half-length victory in the Risen Star (G2) before a convincing 4 ½-length decision in the Louisiana Derby (G2), and I think the Candy Ride colt can continue to show more for Steve Asmussen. Out of a half-sister to 2005 Horse of the Year Saint Liam, Gun Runner should establish good positioning from post 5, just behind the early leaders, and I like the way the athletic colt has cornered in every start of his career. The Derby is often won on the far turn and Gun Runner can offer serious bid for the lead into the stretch.


Nyquist has shown a tremendous determination to win and brings serious talent into the Derby. If the race was at 1 1/8 miles, he would be the top choice but 10 furlongs is a potential stumbling block given his speed-oriented pedigree and light preparation with only a single two-turn prep this year. I expect him to sit a good trip during the early stages, up close or potentially challenging for the lead, and Nyquist could prove difficult to get by in the latter stages. But his two-turn BRIS Speed ratings are only average (96-97-97) and he looks vulnerable to me as a heavy favorite.


Exaggerator has registered four consecutive triple-digit BRIS Speed ratings – no other horse has reached the same threshold in the final two preps – and I like how he’s changed run styles to be more effective at longer distances. Exaggerator must avoid traffic issues from off the pace, but he’s offered sensational moves on the far turn of his last two starts and will attempt to employ similar tactics in the Derby. He’s the most dangerous late runner in my estimation.


Creator needed six starts to break his maiden but has made tremendous strides since breaking through in late February, recording a fast-closing third in the Rebel (G2) prior to a powerful 1 ¼-length tally in the Arkansas Derby (G1). He posted a 100 BRIS Speed rating -- one of only three horses to hit the century-mark last out along with Gun Runner and Exaggerator -- and the Tapit colt is bred to relish classic distances on the dam side. Creator may keep moving forward and will be saving ground from post 3; he’s eligible to make a significant impact in the final furlongs.


Suddenbreakingnews has trained forwardly at Churchill Downs, according to reports, and is one to consider for the bottom of the exotics. He didn’t make up much ground on the far turn in his preps, offering his best stride after straightening for home, but the gelding appears to be entering on the upswing for Donnie Von Hemel and looms as a legitimate threat for a minor award.


Outwork is inexperienced with only four starts to his credit but the up-and-coming colt merits respect for Todd Pletcher off a game win in the Wood Memorial (G1). I like his speed – the son of Uncle Mo will be forwardly-placed from post 15 – and he appears to be thriving since arriving at Churchill Downs. Outwork’s BRIS Speed ratings are a little low but I won’t be surprised to see him offer a strong showing on the front end.

8th -- MAJESTO

A maiden winner two back, Majesto finished up well for second while making his stakes debut in the Florida Derby (G1) and may not be too far back during the early stages. The improving colt has made a favorable impression in the mornings over the track, but the inexperienced Majesto still faces a tall task. However, he remains eligible to outperform his long odds with a placing.


A Grade 1 winner at age 2, Brody’s Cause showed little when opening 2016 in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) and didn’t face the strongest field when capturing the Blue Grass (G1) last out, registering only a 94 BRIS Speed rating. But the Churchill maiden winner likes the track and has shown the ability to corner extremely well, a favorable trait for a late runner. He’s another one I’ll be trying to work into some exotics underneath.


Shagaf didn’t fire over a sloppy track in the Wood Memorial but the lightly-raced colt continued to gain good seasoning. His grinding run style could be effective if he can work out the right trip, not too far behind in midpack, and I won’t completely dismiss his chances for a small share. But it’s probably best to look for more down the road from the Chad Brown trainee.

11thMO TOM

Mo Tom brings a formidable late kick to the equation, but I fear he’ll leave himself too much to do from off the pace and the 1 ¼-mile distance is a concern with his pedigree.


My Man Sam is a promising prospect who will try to get involved in the latter stages, and I love his potential for later this season, but he waited until the stretch drive to offer his best stride last time, rallying for second in the Blue Grass. He could be too far back to make a significant impact.


Destin exits a pair of nice stakes wins but is taking an unorthodox approach to the Kentucky Derby off an eight-week layoff. The well-bred colt is trying to become the first colt in modern times to win the Derby without racing at 1 1/8 miles and hasn’t proven that he can show the same form outside the friendly confines at Tampa Bay Downs. I’ll let him beat me.


Mohaymen distinguished himself when opening 2016 in a pair of 1 1/16-mile stakes at Gulfstream but faltered when stretching out to 1 1/8 miles in the Florida Derby. Believe he’ll have difficulty settling in the early stages and don’t like his chances at 10 furlongs.


Whitmore picks up the services of Victor Espinoza, who is trying to become the first jockey to win three straight Derbys. The late-running gelding has displayed a solid turn of foot, but his only wins have come at six furlongs and I didn’t like how he failed to finish strongly late after putting himself in position to win three straight stakes at Oaklawn.


Danzing Candy flashed excellent promise when capturing the San Felipe wire to wire two back, but he ran off in the early stages of the Santa Anita Derby and draws a tough post on the far outside. Will be shocked to see him carry his speed 10 furlongs from the far outside.


Tom’s Ready turned in a couple of decent showings at the Fair Grounds, but the late-running colt lost ground in the stretch both times and he could be in too deep against much tougher competition.


Lani can handle longer distances but exits a win over suspect company in the U.A.E. Derby. Expecting a one-paced effort toward the back of the pack.


Trojan Nation likes the slop but the maiden hasn’t performed at the same level on fast track and any chance he had appeared lost when he drew the rail.


Oscar Nominated has never raced on dirt and doesn’t look fast enough even if he takes to the new surface.

Wagers: I’ll play Mor Spirit to win and place and will key him the first two positions in vertical exotics. Gun Runner, Nyquist and Exaggerator will also be included in some multi-race wagers.

Good luck in the Kentucky Derby!