Our top selections for the 2016 Kentucky Derby
The team is all over the map when it comes to picking the 142nd runing of the Kentucky Derby (G1).
James Scully: Mor Spirit shipped to Churchill Downs to record a good second in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) last fall and following victories in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) and Robert Lewis (G3), he recorded runner-up finishes in the San Felipe (G2) and Santa Anita Derby (G1). I won’t count the latter against him – the dark bay didn’t handle the sloppy track well – and Mor Spirit’s 102 BRIS Speed rating over a fast track in the San Felipe is among the best in the field at two turns. Ten furlongs looks like no issue for the son of Eskendereya and trainer Bob Baffert (4) and jockey Gary Stevens (3) have captured 7 editions of the Derby. Connections taught the colt be more push-button over winter/early spring, but Mor Spirit possesses good tactical speed and has been drilled for quickness in a couple of recent works. I expect him to sit behind the early leaders, well ahead of the congestion behind him, and offer a bold rally on the far turn that carries him to victory.
Jennifer Caldwell: Nyquist may not seem like much of a pick considering he’s the favorite, but I’ve rooted for the little guy ever since he won the Del Mar Futurity (G1) last September. Like Rodney Dangerfield, he just never seemed to get any respect outside of California. He was sent off at 9-2 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) and produced a nice win to remain undefeated and wrap up Eclipse Award honors as the 2015 champion two-year-old male. Even that didn’t seem to garner Nyquist much regard two races later in the Florida Derby (G1). Everyone seemed to think Mohaymen was going to school the Doug O’Neill trainee, but Nyquist romped by 3 1/4 front-running lengths to remain undefeated and secure his spot as the morning-line favorite for the 142nd edition of the Kentucky Derby (G1). Now everyone is paying attention to the bay colt and he could continue to earn the accolades he deserves on Saturday.
Vance Hanson: After agonizing over this contentious Kentucky Derby (G1) renewal the past several days (a potentially futile exercise given my comical 20-year drought of top Derby selection not winning), I've landed on Arkansas Derby (G1) winner Creator. Slow to develop but really coming around the past several months, the deep-closing gray enters in peak form and has an excellent pedigree for 1 1/4 miles being a son of Tapit and the long-winded Peruvian mare Morena. Whether he can get an adequate pace up front and a path through traffic are the main concerns, but I'll take a chance he gets both and that he has the sufficient talent to take yet another step forward in the most important race of his life. For what it's worth, Creator emerged from a final list that included Nyquist, whose pedigree for 10 furlongs I ultimately wasn't too keen on; Exaggerator, who has a terrific turn of foot but might have been overly flattered by a sloppy track in his final prep; and Outwork, an impressive physical specimen who is expected to be close to the pace throughout but might not see out the trip.
Kellie Reilly: Unlike just about every Derby in my 35 years as a fan, I’ve had a tough time coming up with strong opinions over the course of this entire prep season. Normally there’s a top contender I’m totally against, or at least skeptical of and willing to oppose. This year, I have generally positive thoughts, or benevolent neutrality, on an embarrassing number of runners. So my top selection doesn’t reflect a vote against anyone – least of all Nyquist, whom I respect greatly – but rather a very subjective intuition about Gun Runner. Maybe it’s the pedigree (same cross as Shared Belief, and out of a Grade 2-winning half-sister to Saint Liam, a family I’m an abject fool for). Maybe it’s his handy athleticism, enabling him to secure good position relative to any pace, coupled with a fearlessness in maneuvering through on the inside. Maybe it’s his vibe of going into all-out attack mode down the stretch. Maybe it was his terrific drill in company April 25, evincing a beautiful stride along with the impression that his best is still to come. Maybe it’s the fact that jockey Florent Geroux is riding unbelievably well at the moment, and that trainer Steve Asmussen will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in August. Let’s call it a combination of all of the above.