After documenting the twists and turns of this year's Road to the Kentucky Derby, we'll take a break from writing about those events to answer the question on everyone's mind: Who do you like Saturday?
The Derby of recent years reminds me more of the initial editions of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1), where top horses with a few starts in different regions of the country--with few previous matchups against horses in the field--come together to race. With that being the case, horses most assuredly are still improving, and along those lines Vekoma stands out as a horse who could move forward Saturday in a group that on paper is difficult to separate.
R.A. Hill Stable and Gatsas Stables' Vekoma, trained by George Weaver, showed plenty of talent last year, putting together a pair of wins and closing the year with a clear victory in the Nashua Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct Racetrack. Off a nearly five-month layoff, Vekoma then returned with a third-place finish in the Xpressbet Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park--his first try at two turns.
He likely needed that start and followed with a dominating score in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G2) at Keeneland. It's a four-race campaign where Vekoma has done nothing wrong--I'm forgiving the third off the long layoff. He has the potential to take a big step forward.
Also, based on Equibase early pace numbers, the early running of Saturday's race figures to be in Vekoma's wheelhouse. Whether multiple Eclipse Award-winning jockey Javier Castellano chooses to be on or near the lead, Vekoma figures to be in his comfort zone. While there are no guarantees in a 20-horse field, his running style and post position give him a good chance to secure a quality position early.
Another four-start horse with room to improve Saturday is Roadster, who edged champion stablemate Game Winner to win the Santa Anita Derby (G1) and earn a Derby spot. Roadster, like all three of Derby maestro Bob Baffert's 2019 runners, appears to be going into the race strong. Even though Improbable and Game Winner didn't win their previous starts, they delivered strong efforts to signal their readiness.
With that in mind, Game Winner is my third pick. Although he has lost his two starts this year, those efforts were still impressive, especially when you consider the first race--a division of the Rebel Stakes (G2)--was Plan B after the San Felipe Stakes (G2) was canceled. Another plus for Game Winner is the strong run he put in on the Churchill Downs surface in winning last year's Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1).
Not to mention, Game Winner figures to be favored in a race the favorite has won six years in a row. I'm guessing that trend ends this year with Vekoma.
3. Game Winner