Poll: Who is Your Preliminary Derby Pick?

Going into the final two major preps last weekend, there were arguably five top Kentucky Derby contenders (Creative Cause, Gemologist, Hansen, I’ll Have Another, and Union Rags) with similar credentials. Had nothing major happened in the Arkansas Derby or Blue Grass, the picture at the top was going to be fairly clear on May 5.

But, oh boy, did things take a major turn on Saturday. With Dullahan’s powerful come-from-behind performance over Hansen, and Bodemeister’s dominating, front-running romp in the Arkansas Derby, the landscape of the Derby became even fuzzier and more intriguing. What was shaping up to wide-open Derby has now become a roll of the dice.

Even though Hansen was defeated and disappointed his backers by going too quick early on I think his effort was solid enough that he can still be considered a major threat. If you put him in that category, there are now seven top horses that are going to be difficult to separate, and if you include Alpha, who was narrowly beaten by Gemologist, and Take Charge Indy, who beat Union Rags, you could argue that nearly half the field has a legitimate chance to win the race. And that doesn’t even include horses that could be live longshots like Daddy Nose Best and Went the Day Well.

As I said in a previous blog, the parity in this Derby is unlike that of recent years. Injuries to key horses have not defined this potential field, rather an impressive set of preps from what looks to be one of the deepest classes of 3-year-olds in a long time. We have a fun two and a half weeks ahead of us.

One quick observation before I put out a preliminary Derby poll. There is no doubt that Bodemeister looked like a monster in the Arkansas Derby and the sheer dominance of his victory automatically makes him a major contender. And with Baffert in his corner and his 108 Beyer being so much higher than any of the any other contenders, it looks as though he may actually be the morning-line favorite.

But with all those positives on his side, I think people may need to analyze the Arkansas Derby a little closer. It’s so easy to embrace a horse that wins as easily as he did and by as many lengths as he did, but I’m here to say, let’s not be so quick to hand him the roses just yet. Let’s be honest, the Arkansas Derby was not the strongest field. Take out stablemate Secret Circle, who everyone knows was going to be distance challenged, and there was only one other graded stakes winner in there. More importantly, there there was very little speed in it.

Bodemeister was allowed to run unpressured on the front end, with a second-tier horse like Stat pressing him very mildly. Everyone is talking about his final eighth in :11 4/5, but he had things so easy on the front end, especially during the third quarter, that by the time he reached the stretch nobody was within striking distance. In essence, he was the fastest horse in the race by far and even though he proved he is ultra-talented, I’m not so sure how much he learned in the race. Can his sheer talent overcome his lack of experience? That is the major question.

I know time-tested Derby rules are meant to be broken, as we saw with Animal Kingdom last year and Barbaro in 2006. These are new times we’re in. I get it. But let’s not forget that this colt didn’t make his debut until Jan. 16 and no horse has won the Derby without a start at 2 since Apollo in 1882; that’s a lot to overcome. There is no way he will get the kind of trip in the Kentucky Derby that he did in the Arkansas Derby. Not with Hansen, I’ll Have Another, and Take Charge Indy in there. With such a lightly-raced horse, how will he handle traffic, a bad post, a less than ideal start, quicker internal fractions? I’m just playing devil’s advocate here; as good as he looked last weekend, there are a lot of unanswered questions for the likely morning-line favorite.

With all that being said and with almost two weeks to go, who do you like right now?

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