As always, there is plenty of room for longshots in the Derby, especially this year with the favorite likely going off at 7-2 or higher and nearly the entire field with morning-line odds of 10-1 or higher.
As of now, here are the four horses I am looking at hardest to pull an upset or at the very least fill out exotics.
Noble's Promise (12-1): There are certainly a few things not to like. There are pedigree limitation questions, he is recovering from a lung issue coming out of the Arkansas Derby, and he loses Robby Albarado for Willie Martinez. All legitimate issues. But there are also many things to like.
Though the recent Derby trend has been toward lightly-raced horses peaking right before the race, foundation and class still count for something. In the case of Noble's Promise, he has a very solid 2-year-old foundation that includes a grade I win in the Breeders' Futurity. He also fired a huge effort in his 3-year-old debut, beaten a whisker by the current Derby favorite in the Rebel while running a career best 98 Beyer. He has also lost narrowly to Lookin At Lucky on two other occasions. That should not be taken lightly.
The Arkansas Derby was a disaster in every way. Bad break, got stepped on, had an adverse reaction to the racetrack, which according to trainer Ken McPeek was heavy with pollen. But while others seem to have gotten excuses in their respective losing efforts, Noble's Promise doesn't seem to get the benefit of the doubt.
McPeek told me he sees the horse saving ground along the rail much of the way, especially since drawing post 3. He expects him to lay off the speed and make his move around the turn. He expects a big effort from Noble's Promise. So do I. The way I look at it, if you like Lookin At Lucky at 4-1, you have to like Noble's Promise at 12-1 or more. He has trained much of his career over this track and if it comes up wet, he moves up even more. He has a fighting chance.
Mission Impazible (20-1): As we all know, the Derby is all about the trip. If you don't get the right one, your chances go way down. This is a horse that needs the right trip if he is going to factor. His best efforts--an allowance in January and the Louisiana Derby--came when he raced three-wide while laying off the speed. His speed numbers were not off the charts in either one, suggesting he needs to move way up to challenge for the win. If he faces a lot of adversity early, I'm not sure he can overcome it.
That being said, he is tactical and really looks like he is coming into his own. The Louisiana Derby field was not loaded, but it was solid enough, and the way he closed on a tough Fair Grounds stretch, was very good. The fact that he actually passed horses in the stretch, something not many horses have done throughout the prep season, is a major plus. He had something left at the wire too.
To me, Mission Impazible has been one of the best looking horses in the mornings. He also took to the wet track, just as he did in his allowance race at Gulfstream Park. If he sits the right trip, he could be a major factor for underrated rider in Rajiv Maragh.
Devil May Care (10-1): There is no doubt that she is the wild card in here. There is always the possibility that her lack of seasoning and a big step up in class could be too much this early. But on talent alone, believe me, she belongs here. Pletcher has known for months that she is the most talented 3-year-old in his barn, and even when Eskendereya was stamping himself at the top of the class. She has outworked her male stablemates every time out.
If you use her on top, you are taking a chance. Nobody, not even Pletcher and Velazquez, know how she will react against a large field of colts. But if she sits a good trip and turns for home in contention, look out. Distance will not be the issue. And she is one of only a handful horses in the field to run a 100 Beyer or more.
Paddy O'Prado (20-1): I've wavered back and forth on this colt for a couple weeks now. I'm back aboard now. I loved how he broke his maiden on turf and he also ran a big race in the Blue Grass. Stately Victor was better that day, but I think Paddy is more likely to run well at Churchill.
This is a late-blooming colt who is training the lights out every time he steps foot on the track. Distance should not be an issue, as he has gone two turns in his last five starts and closed well in each of those races. Dale Romans told me before the Blue Grass the horse is peaking at the right time and he said the same thing at the Derby draw. He expects a big effort, especially if the tracks comes up a little wet and the pace is quick. Desormeaux should be able to tuck him in right off the leaders and have him in position for at least a small piece.
Finally, I will probably be the idiot who leaves Calvin Borel off most of my tickets and curse myself when Super Saver finishes fourth or better. The horse has been training very well and has a win over the track. We all know Borel is a master at Churchill. I may change my mind on Derby day, but as of now, I like Pletcher's others better. I know. I'm an idiot.
Back on Thursday or Friday with final picks. Who are you guys liking?