A Super Duper Whopper of a Puzzler of a Derby

** Updating the column, the more I look at Bolt d'Oro the more I like everything about him, so my two win bets looking for value are Vino Rosso and Bolt d'Oro. If Vino Rosso can work out a trip from post 18 and Bolt d'Oro gets a clean trip and is in the clear, turning for home I feel they will both be very formidable down the stretch. And I still like Good Magic and Audible as back-ups in the exotics, along with Justify. I just feel the first two will be better prices for win bets.

 ** 9:30 a.m. Saturday update -- Bombs who move way up in the slop -- Enticed (55-1), Free Drop Billy (40-1), Lone Sailor (32-1), Flameaway (51-1), Combatant (77-1)

In order to tackle this year’s fascinating, but perplexing, Kentucky Derby, we have to start by envisioning how the race is going to be run and which horses might take the worst of the pace scenario and which horses might be in the best position to launch their attacks.


With PROMISES FULFILLED and FLAMEAWAY, two fast horses who want to be right up with the pace, drawing next to each other in posts 3 and 4, respectively, it means they both will have to go from the start and will have to lock horns right out of the gate. The favorite JUSTIFY, who has shown blazing early speed with half-mile splits in :44 1/5 and :45, will also have to break well and establish a good position going into the clubhouse turn, which is something that Bob Baffert always frets over. His horses always are aggressive early to establish their position and not get sucked back in the field. Baffert feels that is usually the key to the Derby -- getting a good position going into the turn.

Normally, that would put Justify in an excellent position, sitting right off the two speed horses. But by the time they cross the finish line the first time, four horses, possibly five, are going to be charging into the fray on his outside to avoid getting hung very wide from their extreme outside posts. They are MENDELSSOHN (Post 14), MAGNUM MOON (Post 16), SOLOMINI (Post 17), and NOBLE INDY (Post 19). Also, BRAVAZO, breaking from Post 13, should show speed. All these horses will have to break sharply and be asked to secure a decent position, which could result in a cavalry charge going into the first turn.

This will be the key to Justify’s success, as he has always had things his own way and has never been confronted with this kind of traffic jam and possible bumping and jostling. If he comes away unscathed and gets a good stalking position, and the pace is not brutal, then he will have a chance to display all his extraordinary talents. But we’ll see if he can put away horses like Mendelssohn, Magnum Moon, Noble Indy, and some of the others who will be in front, alongside, or right off his tail.

It was interesting that Todd Pletcher sent out Noble Indy for his gallop Wednesday in blinkers, while VINO ROSSO had a much easier gallop than in past mornings. Could it be that, because of the extreme outside post positions, Pletcher wants to get Noble Indy prepared to charge out of the gate and use his speed, and wants to get Vino Rosso more relaxed so Johnny Velzaquez can take him back and try to tuck in somewhere in mid-pack? Just a thought.


If you’re a speed handicapper, it should be noted, for whatever it’s worth, that not one of the four Todd Pletcher-trained horses has ever earned a triple-digit Beyer figure, while Justify has never not run a triple-digit figure (107, 101, and 104). The only other two horses in the field who have run triple-digit Beyers are BOLT D’ORO (102, 101, and 103) and GOOD MAGIC (100).

Speaking of Good Magic and speed figures, the case to be made him is staring you right in the face, as his pattern looks almost too good and logical to be true.

Last year, GOOD MAGIC started off with an 82 Beyer speed figure. He increased it by seven points to an 89 in his next start. He culminated his three-race pattern by increasing it 11 points to a 100 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. This year, he started off with an 89 Beyer, then increased it to an almost identical 6 points to a 95. If he continues the same pattern as last year, he is projected to increase it 10 or 11 points in the Derby, which would give him a 105 or 106 Beyer figure, certainly fast enough to win.

On the Brisnet speed figures, he started with a 92, increased it by four to a 96, then increased it nine points for a 105 speed figure. This year, he started with a 98, then ran another 98, which actually would be several points higher considering he ran 55 feet farther than runner-up Flameaway, which equates to about seven lengths. If he repeats that 9-point increase he is projected to run a 109, certainly fast enough to win.

And finally, his Thoro-Graph numbers last year were a 5 1/2, then a 3, culminating with a 1 1/2 in the BC Juvenile. Those were increases of 2 and 1 1/2 points. This year, he ran a 1 1/4, then a negative 1/2, again an increase of almost 2 points. If he follows that same pattern and shows an increase of 1 1/2 points, it will result in a negative 2 in the Derby, certainly fast enough to win.

So, assuming he is going to repeat the same pattern on all three speed figures, Good Magic is a must use on all my tickets.

Because JUSTIFY and BOLT D’ORO are so much faster consistently than all the others on Beyer, and their Santa Anita Derby figure is significantly faster than the others, they also have to be used, as does AUDIBLE, whose lofty Brisnet figures and fast middle and late pace figures, as well as his negative number on Thoro-Graph that equals Justify and VINO ROSSO as the fastest of any American 3-year-old this year, makes him extremely dangerous. And then there is MENDELSSOHN’S other-worldly Thoro-Graph number in the UAE Derby that far exceeds anything else we’ve seen. That number alone not only makes him many lengths faster than the others, but a potential superstar. You will have to figure him out yourself.

So there are six horses that stand out based on the various speed figures or patterns – JUSTIFY, MENDELSSOHN, GOOD MAGIC, AUDIBLE, BOLT D’ORO, and VINO ROSSO. Boxing six horses in the trifecta can get pretty expensive, so if you have the nerve to leave out Mendelssohn because of the intangibles that face a European shipper, then you can have a live $1 trifecta box with the other five for $60.


It is difficult to single out a few horses when they all have been working well and looking well. So I will give out a couple of longshots who have impressed me in the morning. They are LONE SAILOR and FREE DROP BILLY. Yes. Lone Sailor’s big work was that :57 3/5 race-simulated work with two pacesetters, but it was his next work that stood out to me the way he way closed and how he moved down the stretch. And to do it on the heels of that first work was very impressive. His Thoro-Graph numbers are improving with every race and another decent move forward could get him a piece of it. Free Drop Billy had a terrific work last week, but he always works well, so it is difficult to know how that will translate to his performance on Saturday.

The horse who has really stood out to me in his works and gallops, and his overall high energy is GOOD MAGIC. This is a horse who is thriving and looks to be sitting on a peak effort. I also loved BOLT D’ORO’S last work, the way he came home and galloped out. It was an improvement from his seven-furlong work, in which he went too fast early and too slow late. We all know that AUDIBLE is not a good work horse. But with entrymates VINO ROSSO, MAGNUM MOON, and NOBLE INDY all turning in big works (especially the first two), I thought Audible’s much slower work was the sneaky good one, as Pletcher had him working inside the very fast stakes winner National Flag, who will be one of the favorites in the Pat Day Mile. Audible went toe to toe with him down the stretch and wasn’t being asked; a far cry from some of his earlier works. Although he proved in the Florida Derby that no matter how badly he works it doesn’t affect his performance in the afternoon, his recent works nonetheless have improved, and you like to see that before the Derby. I also have to give high marks to HOFBURG, the way he has worked and galloped, and on overall looks. He is a horse you love to look at even when he’s standing still.


The weather reports have been all over the place, and it looks at this point that Friday will be the worst day, with a 40 percent of rain on Saturday. Some forecasts say earlier and then clearing, others say later. So who knows? It’s Kentucky, and Churchill dries quickly. It might not rain at all. I have wasted too many hours in the past handicapping for slop only for it to come up fast. Most of these horses should handle a wet track, and as long as it is a fair track the form should hold up well. Personally, I like to see names like Damascus, Dr. Fager, and sons of Ribot, such His Majesty, Graustark, and Tom Rolfe in a pedigree. Up close, we know Curlin loved the slop, as did Medaglia d’Oro, Mineshaft, Mr. Greeley, and Unbridled’s Song, all in the first two generations of many of the Derby horses. And, finally, Firenze Fire, Flameaway, My Boy Jack, Justify, Lone Sailor, Enticed, and Combatant have all run big over sloppy or muddy tracks.


So, where does that leave us? First and foremost, I have no idea what to do with MENDELSSOHN. I can easily see him winning, but there is still that little bit of doubt hovering overhead, and as of this writing, he is the only horse I have not seen train seriously, but I did like what I saw of him Thursday morning. He was full of energy and looking at the crowd, and did work up a little bit of neck lather, but quickly cooled out on his own and it soon disappeared. After an extensive jog, he broke off in a gallop and was moving very well over the track,

The horse I’m not sure yet what to do with is HOFBURG, who has done everything right and looks the part, but having only three career starts still is worrisome. That doesn’t mean, however, he can’t hit the board. This is a very talented horse who exudes class. With only three career starts I will have to let him beat me, which he may do.

I am going to try to make this as simple as possible, depending on how much you want to spend. Based on everything above, I have to box five horses in a $1 trifecta box – VINO ROSSO (can’t desert him now, despite his post), GOOD MAGIC, BOLT D’ORO, JUSTIFY, and AUDIBLE. That’s $60. You are more than welcome to throw in Mendelssohn if you have the money. He could very easily bust up that trifecta with anything even remotely resembling his UAE Derby win.

I am also going to play $2 exacta boxes with VINO ROSSO and MY BOY JACK; BOLT D’ORO and MY BOY JACK; GOOD MAGIC and MY BOY JACK; and AUDIBLE and MY BOY JACK and make $10 win bets on VINO ROSSO, BOLT D’ORO, and MY BOY JACK.

If the track is sloppy and you want to take a shot on a bomb, I would make win bets on MY BOY JACK, ENTICED, and LONE SAILOR, all of who have shown they love a wet track and will be huge odds.

Finally, if you’re looking to beat the two favorites in the Kentucky Oaks (as tough as that will be) with a decent price horse, I am going to play ESKIMO KISSES (especially if it comes up sloppy) in a $1 Oaks/Derby double with Vino Rosso, Justify, Good Magic, Audible, Bolt d’Oro, Mendelssohn, Enticed, Lone Sailor, My Boy Jack, Hofburg,  Combatant, Flameaway, Instilled Regard, Solomini, and Free Drop Billy for a mere $14.

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