The time finally has come to make something resembling selections. Getting past the mass state of confusion is the first step, and then trying to figure out a sloppy track is step No, 2. Just remember, there are no experts when it comes to the Kentucky Derby.
First off, I am proud to say, in my first Derby Dozen on Jan. 29. seven of the my top 12 horses have made it to the Derby, and all have a legitimate shot to win. They are: Itsmyluckyday (2), Normandy Invasion (4), Revolutionary (5), Oxbow (6), Goldencents (7), Overanalyze (11), and Palace Malice (12). My number 1, 3 and 8 horses, Violence, Shanghai Bobby, and Flashback, all dropped off the trail due to injuries.
There is no doubt Orb is the ‘now’ horse and has done everything so perfectly and has created so much buzz, he has replaced Verrazano as the Derby favorite.
Since Violence got hurt, the only two horses I have had number one are Itsmyluckyday and Revolutionary and I have seen nothing to make me change my mind. Itsmyluckydayday, in particular, has looked magnificent in his gallops and could not be doing any better. From the second he stepped off the van and immediately started grazing he has seemed right at home in his new surroundings. There is still a question about stamina, but he is doing as well as a horse can do, especially one who did not have a work over the track.
Revolutionary’s energy level has been high, his coat is shimmering, and I love the way he jogs briskly off the track every morning. He currently is my No. 1 ranked horse and I will stick with him,
WORKS -- Before we get down to the nitty gritty, let’s break all this down in categories. From a works standpoint, Orb and Revolutionary had the best works visually, with the latter extremely impressive in his gallop-out. I also loved the way Overanalyze and Palace Malice worked in company, with Overanalyze going a bit smoother of the two. Normandy Invasion, normally a stone closer, has been asked for more speed early by trainer Chad Brown, and he indicated how sharp he is when he ran off about three-eighths in his gallop Thursday. Brown decided to just jog him on Friday. No one has galloped stronger than the son of Tapit, who has been tearing around there each morning well out in the middle of the track.
The one sneaky-good work was by longshot Frac Daddy, who got the best of Java’s War when they worked in company. This work got lost among the parade of works we saw that day, but I loved the way the rider of Frac Daddy was doing everything possible to let Java’s War catch up to him, practically standing up and looking back for him, but Frac Daddy simply was too strong. And he has continued to gallop strongly. He’s 50-1 in the morning line, but his two best performances of his career have come at Churchill Downs and he is just now rounding back into form after several physical issues. He has a tough task, but based on works and gallops, he could surprise a lot of people and at least pick up a piece of it.
GALLOPS – I mentioned Normandy Invasion, Itsmyluckday, and Orb as standouts, and the last two had strong gallops on Friday. But the galloper that made the best impression Friday was Overanalyze, who glided over the surface with smooth, efficient strides, and was full of energy coming back. One horse who has gone virtually unnoticed because he comes out at 5:45 every morning is Mylute, who is the consummate professional and moves very well over the track. He is very light on his feet and changes leads on cue. Goldencents, like I’ll Have Another last year (well, not quite that strong) has been aggressive in his gallops and at times can get a bit headstrong. But all in all he’s been very relaxed.
THORO-GRAPH – It’s difficult to tell what it’s going to take to win this year’s Derby. I’m thinking anywhere from a zero to a negative 1. The only three horses to run a negative 2 or better this year have been Orb (-2) in the Florida Derby, Itsmyluckyday (-2) in the Holy Bull, and Verrazano (-2 1/4) in an allowance race three starts back. What was most impressive about Itsmyluckyday is that his negative 2 came the next race back after running a career-best negative 1 1/2. It takes a special horse to not “bounce” off a career-best figure like that, and an even more special horse to actually run faster off it. After a two-month layoff and running a “1” in the Florida Derby, while not fully cranked, he should be ready to return to a huge number.
I love the pattern of Overanalyze, who ran the fastest 2-year-old number in the field, a “1/2” in the Remsen. He came back off a layoff with a dull return in the Gotham on the Aqueduct inner track, in which he had a wide trip, but still ran a decent “3 3/4.” He then improved to a “1 1/2” in winning the Arkansas Derby easily. With that big 2-year-old number behind him, he should now move forward again and run a big number in the Derby. Normandy Invasion is another on a similar pattern who should be sitting on a career-best number.
SLOP – I dealt with this several days ago, and just quickly repeating, the longshot I would expect to improve the most on a sloppy track is Mylute, mainly due to his inbreeding to In Reality, especially through Valid Appeal, and his sire line, which traces to Fappiano and Dr. Fager. I also like the fact that Mylute is on an upward spiral and definitely is sitting on a career-best figure.
While the majority of the leading contenders should not be hampered by an off track, it is best to look for a live longshot who could improve dramatically over it. In addition to Mylute, the Irish-trained Lines of Battle has a very strong slop pedigree, especially through his tail-female line, which is all Darby Dan Farm and includes His Majesty. Also, horses with strong turf pedigrees should move up on it, and one in particular, Charming Kitten, is related to such top-class grass horses as Theatrical, Paradise Creek, and Arc de Triomphe winner Prince Royal. On his sire’s side, you will find European stars Sadler’s Wells (through El Prado, who has sired some top mudders), Roberto, and Sir Ivor, not to mention his inbreeding top and bottom to Hail to Reason. These are mega longshots, but they should improve on an off track. To what degree we obviously have no idea. But watch out for Mylute, especially.
PEDIGREE -- There are a number of horses who have excellent pedigrees for a mile and a quarter, including Orb, but assuming we're going to get an off track, it would be ideal to have a horse with speed who can stalk early and not get mud kicked in his face who can get the distance with no problem. Of all the speed and stalking horses, Oxbow fits that bill. He has the speed and the post position (2) to set the pace or get a good position early. And you know he will keep going. He's by stamina influence Awesome Again, out of Tizamazing, who is a full-sister to two-time Breeders' Cup Classic winner Tiznow, BC Classic runner-up Budroyale, and the dam of Paynter, who won the Haskell and was second, beaten a neck, in the Belmont Stakes. So, from a handicapping aspect, Oxbow would be the pick on pedigree.
SUMMATION – As I mentioned earlier, I have no reason whatsoever to abandon Revolutionary or Itsmyluckyday and will include both. But I am constantly looking for live overlays, which has often led to my downfall in the face of the obvious.
My two main live overlays are Overanalyze and Palace Malice. The former will be ignored because of the slow time of the Arkansas Derby, but that was only his second start of the year, the track was very deep, he was wide the entire way, his Thoro-Graph numbers point to a big effort, and he has looked great on the track. He also has enough slop influences to think an off track won’t hamper him that much. I also like the fact that he was precocious enough to win first time out at 2 at Saratoga going five furlongs, turned in a powerful stretch run to win the Futurity at six furlongs, and turned in one of the gutsiest performances of the year winning the Remsen. Whether he’s good enough against this group, who knows?
Palace Malice is intriguing because we really don’t know how good this horse is. He just hasn’t been given the opportunity to show his best. In his first stakes appearance, the Risen Star, he was the only horse in the field of 14 who did not have a two-turn race and was coming off one seven-furlong allowance sprint in almost seven months. He then had an absolutely disastrous trip in the Louisiana and had two potential winning moves stopped cold in the stretch. In order to get points for the Derby, he was wheeled right back in two weeks in the Blue Grass Stakes in his first ever start on a synthetic surface. After tracking the pace, he wound up doing the dirty work by being the first horse to go after a loose-on-the-lead Rydilluc. He put him away, and then got to goofing off, looking at tire tracks and switching back to his left lead. He still was beaten only a neck when Java’s War came flying from dead-last to nail him right on the wire.
He, too, has excellent slop breeding, and has already finished a strong second on a sloppy sealed track. The only slight concern is the addition of blinkers. Although he probably does need them, you really don’t want to start experimenting with equipment changes in the Derby. On the other hand, who knows how much it will move him up?
So, for live overlays, these are my two key horses. I also will have savers on Oxbow and Mylute at a big price. The former has been one of the unluckiest horses you’ll ever see when it comes to post positions and questionable rides. The only time he had a good post and a clean trip he won the LeComte by 11 1/2 lengths. Gary Stevens knows him now and you can bet he’ll give him a better ride than he did in the Arkansas Derby.
With mini-superfectas and trifectas, I would be looking to box longshots Overanalyze, Palace Malice, Oxbow, and Mylute with Orb in one bet, with Itsmyluckyday in another, with Normandy Invasion, and with Revolutionary for a total of four bets, just looking for some monster payoffs.
If I can afford it, I will also make a six-horse $1 trifecta box of Overanalyze, Palace Malice, Revolutionary, Itsmyluckyday, Orb, and Normandy Invasion in the trifectas. The horse I'm struggling with is Verrazano. He has been forgotten as the one-time potential superstar, as many feel distance is a question mark, but he is capable of breaking this race wide open if he puts it all together. Use him if you believe in him. I will decide what to do after I see his odds, which right now are a generous 11-1.
But all the exotics aside, If it comes up sloppy, which it looks like at the moment, I will be playing Mylute.
As for my actual overlay picks who I will focusing on at a price, they are Overanalyze and Palace Malice. both of whom I will be betting to win regardless of the track condition.
P.S. After meeting the four WWII veterans this morning, who are the guests of Rick Porter, and listening to their riveting and emotional stories of the D-Day invasion and other stories, it is going to be extremely difficult for the Derby gods not to work their magic on Normandy Invasion.