Form, Pedigree, Speed, & Red Flag Analysis of Derby Contenders; Part 1 of 3

While we wait for more two-year-old racing to start, pedigree handicapper and blogger Doug Salvatore will profile each of the expected Kentucky Derby starters in terms of classic breeding and current form/speed.

The first installment looks at the top seven contenders as ranked by the Kentucky Derby points system. For FREE Ultimate Past Performances with comments of probable Derby entrants ranked by points, CLICK HERE.

  1. California Chrome:

California Chrome wins Santa Anita Derby (Benoit Photo)Form: The expected favorite for the Derby, California Chrome is a winner of four consecutive Southern California stakes races, each one coming by more than five lengths. This California-bred colt has absolutely destroyed open competition in his two most recent starts. Indeed, He was taken in hand late while winning both the Grade 2 San Felipe and Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby in his two most recent starts.

Pedigree: California Chrome is sired by Lucky Pulpit, who stands for just $2,500. His dam Love The Chase was a very moderate performer who competed for an $8,000 maiden claiming tag on three different occasions, and never succeeded in beating winners. California Chrome's second dam wasn't much race horse herself. Even while competing at Charles Town, she needed several tries to break her maiden. You have to love an underdog type horse like California Chrome.

Speed: He is the only horse who owns three different triple digit Speed Ratings, the best of which a 106 for his Santa Anita Derby romp.

Red Flags: Has had poor breaks in two of his last five starts. If he breaks like that in a 20-horse field loaded with early speed and tactical speed types, it will be devastating to his chances. The last time he was defeated, California Chrome hopped at the start and was away slowly, while breaking from an inside post. Chrome didn't appreciate the kickback that day, and his tactical speed couldn't get him a suitable position because horses were able to cross and clear on him. He was unable to mount a rally over a speed favoring track, and finished sixth, but beaten only three lengths against a moderate group of Cal Bred stakes horses.

While it's true that California Chrome usually breaks fine, and actually broke exceptionally well in the San Felipe, the start is especially important for him. This is not a horse who is used to eating a face full of dirt, but he might be fine with taking the kickback if he's able to get away cleanly and ease into it.

  1. Vicar's In Trouble:

Form: A wire-to-wire winner of the Louisiana Derby by three and a half lengths, Vicar's In Trouble did it while setting a fast early pace. Indeed, BRIS assigned the 'second call' E2 Pace Rating of +10 for the Louisiana Derby, indicating that it was a race run fast early and slow late. The good news? Early speed horses rarely perform well in races run that way. The bad news? The pace in the Kentucky Derby should be even faster, the distance will be a furlong longer, and he will need to carry more weight. If Vicar's In Trouble was tiring so much late in his brave Louisiana Derby win, he will be exhausted in the stretch at Churchill Downs.

Pedigree: Vicar's In Trouble is sired by Into Mischief, the same sire of Goldencents and Vyjack. He is out of a Vicar mare who was primarily a sprinter. This is a good miler pedigree -- but certainly not a distance pedigree.

Speed: Vicar's In Trouble was assigned a career best 104 Speed Rating last out. He broke his maiden with a dazzling 103 Rating while sprinting six furlongs over a wet track.

Red Flags: Tactical versatility is the biggest one. They tried to rate him in the Risen Star stakes, and he could only manage a third place finish beaten five and half lengths as the 2/1 favorite. This horse has a sprinter/miler pedigree and has been more successful as a free running speed horse.

  1. Dance With Fate:

Form: In his most recent start, Dance With Fate won the Blue Grass Stakes with a nice wide sweeping move. However, that was a race that was +13 at the first call. In other words, it was run fast early and slow late, a race shape that generally favors closers.

While it's true that the Kentucky Derby is generally run with the same type of race shape, the problem is that Dance With Fate has better form on synthetic tracks than dirt. Indeed, in Dance With Fate's only two career dirt tries, he had hot paces in both races, and gave ground through the stretch in both of them.

Pedigree: Dance With Fate is sired by Two Step Salsa, a horse who won six career races. Four of them on synthetic tracks in Southern California and two on dirt in Dubai. His dam Flirting With Fate was a Charles Town horse who needed a few tries to break her maiden there. This is also a humble, miler type pedigree.

Speed: Dance With Fate has never run a triple digit Speed Rating. His best was a 99 when winning the Blue Grass last out.

Red Flags: His dirt form. While he's only raced twice on dirt, both of those performances were uninspiring. He's demonstrated a much better closing punch on synthetic surfaces and turf. And even on his best surfaces, he's yet to run a fast speed figure.

  1. Wicked Strong:

Form: In his most recent start, Wicked Strong won the Wood Memorial by three and a half widening lengths. Indeed, the two best races of his life have come going nine furlongs on the Aqueduct main track. I defy anyone to go watch a replay of the Remsen and tell me that Wicked Strong was not the best horse that day. In a race run at an absolute crawl early, Wicked Strong finished best of all and almost ran down the celebrated favorites Honor Code and Cairo Prince. Intense Holiday, who has demonstrated good form in Louisiana this winter was fourth.

Pedigree: By Hard Spun out of a Charismatic mare, Wicked Strong has an excellent distance pedigree. Indeed, the sire of Wicked Strong was a game second in the Kentucky Derby and his damsire won it. What's more, his second dam is sired by Canadian Triple Crown winner With Approval.

Speed: Wicked Strong ran a career best 103 Speed Rating in the Wood Memorial last time out.

Red Flags: He didn't acclimate well in Florida. Bettors were left scratching their heads after he barely lifted a hoof in a 15 length drubbing at 4/1 odds in the Holy Bull. He returned in an entry level allowance race, and ran much improved, while finishing fourth. Next out Florida Derby winner Constitution set an easy and unpressured pace in that allowance race, and Wicked Strong ran better than given credit for. However, it is a little disconcerting that he turned in a non-effort the first time he shipped out of New York.

  1. Samraat:

Form: Brought an undefeated record into the Wood Memorial and ran a game race to outfinish Social Inclusion for second place. Three of his five career wins have come against New York bred competition, his two open wins came at the expense of fellow New York bred Uncle Sigh. This is a very nice, honest horse who has shown a little bit of tactical versatility against softer competition.

Pedigree: Samraat is by Noble's Causeway, out of an Indian Charlie mare who broke her maiden for a high-priced tag at Gulfstream. His second dam Brighter Than Gold was a hopeless racer, who was once trounced for a $2,500 claiming tag in an N3L race at Mountaineer Park. In fact, she was dismissed at over 100/1 odds on multiple occasions, in cheap claiming races at Thistle Downs. This is yet another humble pedigree, that has a miler look to it.

Speed: As consistent as they come. He's run four consecutive 99 Speed Ratings.

Red Flags: He's never run a triple digit BRIS speed figure, and he's never faced a whole lot of adversity from a trip standpoint. It's hard to imagine where the needed improvement will come from.

  1. Danza:

Form: The most shocking performance of this years Kentucky Derby prep season was unquestionably turned in by Danza in the Arkansas Derby. He rocketed up the rail and powered home to a sparkling win by almost five lengths at 41/1 odds. Indeed, Danza's final time of 1:49.68 was only 0.13 seconds slower than Will Take Charge needed to win a roughly run edition of the Oaklawn Park Handicap one race earlier. Lightly raced Danza has only routed once in his career, and the result was the best performance turned in by any horse in a Derby prep run east of the Rockies.

Pedigree: Danza is sired by the closing sprinter Street Boss. His dam Champagne Royale was a nice plodding router at Hastings Park throughout her racing career. This is a half sibling to Majestic Harbor, who just won the 12 furlong Grade 3 Tokyo City on dirt, at Santa Anita, a few weeks ago. Majestic Harbor is sired by Rockport Harbor.

This is another fairly humble pedigree, but there is big-time stamina through Danza's tail-female family.

Speed: He ran a 104 Speed Ratings in the Arkansas Derby.

Red Flags: His trainer Todd Pletcher is 1-for-56 lifetime in all races at Churchill Downs at distances of ten furlongs or further. That stat includes a 1-for-38 record in the Kentucky Derby and an 0-for-18 record in all other races. Other than that, I don't see any knock to him that has much merit. Yes, you only have one route race to go on, but it was a dynamite performance over an Oaklawn Park surface that plays for similar to Churchill Downs dirt surface.

  1. Hoppertunity:

Form: A winner of the Rebel two starts back, Hoppertunity was very soundly beaten by California Chrome in a good grinding effort in the Santa Anita Derby. This unraced juvenile is travel tested and has a very ideal running style for a race like the Derby, with its expected fast pace.

Pedigree: By Any Given Saturday, out of an Unaccounted For mare, this is one of my favorite pedigrees of any horse in the race. It's a very route oriented pedigree on both the top and bottom. Hoppertunity's a half sister Executiveprivilege, who was a great second to Beholder in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. Executiveprivilege is sired by First Samurai, who was more precocious and speedy than Any Given Saturday.

Speed: Hoppertunity ran a career best Speed Rating of 100 last time out when second to California Chrome in the Santa Anita Derby.

Red Flags: The so-called Apollo curse applies here since he was unraced as a juvenile, but Hoppertunity has already competed in four route races this year, three of which at the Graded Stakes level. This horse has become more professional with each start, and he has an ideal grinding running style. There's no 'reset' button to him. He's a great candidate to keep driving and see out the distance, and that makes at least a must-use on all exotic tickets. The most genuine knock on him I see is his ability. He doesn't have real impressive speed figures. He hasn't had any real tough trips. He's just a pretty good horse who happens to have the right type of running style.


Leave a Comment:

Rusty Weisner

Douglas Salvatore,

Good stuff, thanks.  I'm interested in the pedigrees of Cairo Prince and General A Rod.

16 Apr 2014 12:11 PM

Looking forward to profile on Wildcat Red!

16 Apr 2014 2:05 PM

Doug, nice article and comments on the listed horses pedigree. It sounds like the two that you thought the most of for handling the Ky. Derby distance is Hoppertunity and Wicked Strong, which is two I've considered using in some form. Your pedigree report on CC sounds like some others I've heard, not good at all. I suppose there is always the chance of a horse just out running his pedigree, but CC may just hit a brick wall down the stretch under the twin spires.

16 Apr 2014 3:42 PM
Rusty Weisner


There is no brick wall on the Kentucky Derby stretch.  CC can lose a length or two in the stretch because of supposed pedigree limitations and still win the Derby if all else goes right.

Nevertheless, I play close attention if there's a consensus about pedigree.  I'm rating horses more highly if there's a positive consensus about their pedigree and they:

1. are closers

2. need to improve to win

Intense Holiday fits the bill here as a closer.  Hoppertunity needs to improve, and Baffert will manage.  Wicked Strong just needs to run back to his last performance.  Cairo Prince needs to step forward and there doesn't seem to be a consensus about his pedigree, though I feel strongly he will improve.

I'm tossing horses that have suspect pedigrees if they need to improve to win.  Wildcat is one I hope to have the strength of will to go against.  Samraat is another.  Vicar's In Trouble's another.

16 Apr 2014 4:34 PM
Rusty Weisner

General question for all:  Who was the last Derby winner to "outrun his pedigree"?

Last I remember was Funny Cide.

16 Apr 2014 4:42 PM
Sail On

Vicar's In trouble had an abscess burst after the Risen, so I see that race as an outlier. He very well may be a miler, but I am not sure he has shown he cannot go the distance, especially against the competition that is neither faster nor proven at longer distances. It has been hard to have any of these horses rate, since there is no speedsters in the prep races, forcing stalkers to take the lead when the pace is so slow by the quarter pole.

16 Apr 2014 5:16 PM

From this I can say CC is samped by his Sire's pedigree(obviously) Pulpit out of a Cozzene mare should provide enough stamina to go 10 furlongs. I don't know how deep Churchill track is going to be come Derby day, but I know that CC has proven he has an incredible balance and ease of action that I have not seen in a long while. Will wait till all 3 parts are published before commenting on the other horses.

16 Apr 2014 7:04 PM

Tip of the handicapping hat to Rusty. The 3 horses you have identified are logical toss-outs, for the reasons you give and more. But, don't stop there. By your own  criteria you could (and should) drop Intense Holiday, We Miss Artie, Ring Weekend, General A Rod and Uncle Sigh. Then, you drop Tapiture, who sure looked over the top in the Rebel and subsequently proved it beyond any shadow of a doubt in the Arkansas Derby. This year's Run for the Roses is suddenly a little easier to figure.

17 Apr 2014 1:34 AM
Rusty Weisner


Interesting.  Most of those horses you list are tossouts or near tossouts for me, though more on the basis of form and competition than pedigree.  I like Intense Holiday, though.  Steve Haskin suggests General A Rod has a good pedigree and advocates taking the blinkers off.  I find him very astute and thoughtful, so if I see that sign I am going to give that horse a chance, especially as he'll get huge odds.  We all know how much that equipment change can matter, especially after last year.

17 Apr 2014 7:40 AM
Rusty Weisner

I've joked about karma coming for Tapiture, but I'd be interested in what people have to say about his form.  I took the Arkansas Derby as a bad sign; these horses were beaten by a good horse, but beaten too badly.  I think Ride On Curlin, a horse I was on in the Rebel, may just be mediocre.

17 Apr 2014 7:43 AM

Rusty . The hardest part of picking the underneath superfecta horse for me is the speed that sticks around......I can think of bodimister and shackleford of the top of my head .

17 Apr 2014 11:48 AM

Tapiture and Strong Mandate both showed signs of intimidation from the Rebel after getting slammed. I blame Rosario for strangling him early and letting him run his race. Santana gets back on him in the Derby and this horse has already won at Churchill. If I see strong workouts in the next two weeks I will use him in the top four at what I think will be very good odds.

17 Apr 2014 11:50 AM

Can't imagine why anyone would toss out Samraat

17 Apr 2014 5:36 PM
Rusty Weisner

What am I saying?  I stayed with ROC in the Arkansas Derby.  I took him with Conquest Titan in boxed tris with the other three big contenders in that race.  

17 Apr 2014 6:17 PM

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