Who Will Win the Derby Trial?

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman")

This Saturday, racing returns to Churchill Downs with a ten-race program that is highlighted by the $150,000 Derby Trial Stakes (gr. III). In recent years, the Derby Trial has been little more than an enjoyable opening-day feature race, with little to no effect on the Derby itself. But thanks to the presence of a last-minute entry, this year’s Derby Trial will offer a great deal of intrigue during the next few days—even if the last-minute entry ends up scratching.

Derby Trial Stakes

Handicapping the Derby Trial Stakes this far in advance is made complicated by the last-minute entry of Bayern, a Bob Baffert-trained colt that may or may not run in the race. The story behind his entry is as follows: Baffert would like to run Bayern in the Derby, but fears that the colt will not make the field (he currently sits twenty-third on the points list.) If on Saturday it appears that Bayern won’t make the Derby, he will go ahead and run in the Derby Trial and use it as a prep for the Preakness Stakes. However, if it appears possible that Bayern could make the Derby, he will scratch from the Derby Trial. (Baffert has also entered Chitu in the Derby Trial, but it has been confirmed that Chitu will scratch and run in the Derby.)

Suffice to say, if Bayern actually starts in the Derby Trial, he will be heavily favored to defeat his mostly unproven rivals. But I believe that Myositis Dan is capable of pulling off an upset. The son of Istan caught my eye back in February, when he unleashed an eye-catching late rally to finish second in a six-furlong allowance race at Gulfstream Park. One month later, he stepped up to seven furlongs and flashed more tactical speed while finishing second in another allowance race, with subsequent Arkansas Derby (gr. I) winner Danza six lengths behind him. Most recently, Myositis Dan scored by 2 ½ lengths in an "about seven-furlong" Keeneland allowance race on April 5th, and tuned up for the Derby Trial with a solid five-furlong breeze at Churchill Downs. He seems to be flying under the radar coming into this race, but I think he has a really solid shot to win at a fair price.

Other colts to consider include Spot, winner of the Swale Stakes (gr. II) two starts back; Big Sugar Soda, who unleashed a strong finish when second in Oaklawn’s Gazebo Stakes on March 22nd; Laddie Boy, beaten double-digit lengths in his two starts this year, but runner-up behind Tapiture in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II) here at Churchill last fall; and Embellishing Bob, an impressive four-length winner of a six-furlong maiden special weight at Fair Grounds on March 29th.

Selection: Myositis Dan

Since I have a bit of extra space this week, I thought I would share my "Top Five" list of Kentucky Derby contenders, along with a few thoughts on each:

1. California Chrome

His spectacular victories in the Santa Anita Derby and San Felipe Stakes have made him the heaviest Derby favorite since Big Brown in 2008, and as long as everything goes well during the next ten days, the Derby must be considered his to lose. Since he has broken a bit slowly from the starting gate in the past, I would like to see him draw an outside post position, where he is less likely to find trouble if he does get away a step slowly. Also, an outside post should enable him to work out an in-the-clear stalking trip a few lengths behind the front-runners, similar to the trip Big Brown received in 2008.

2. Hoppertunity

If you like California Chrome, you have to like Hoppertunity, who finished a strong second behind ‘Chrome in the Santa Anita Derby. In that race, Hoppertunity made an eye-catching run coming off the far turn, blowing past the well-regarded Candy Boy to seize command of second place. While he was never a threat to California Chrome, it must be noted that Hoppertunity was never really urged down the homestretch, making the Santa Anita Derby a "prep" race in the truest sense. In winning the Rebel Stakes (gr. II) at Oaklawn, he also demonstrated that he can handle bumping and jostling, which he may very well encounter in the Derby.

3. Ride On Curlin

If the track is wet on Derby day, Ride On Curlin’s chances should improve immensely. Not only is he bred to relish a sloppy track, he will have three-time Derby-winning jockey Calvin Borel in the saddle, which almost guarantees him a ground-saving run along the rail. And when the track is wet at Churchill, the rail is often the best part of the track. We saw this last year when Golden Soul and Revolutionary rallied up the rail to finish second and third in the Derby, and we saw it in 2010 when Super Saver rode the fence to victory. If the track is wet, I think Ride On Curlin will crack the exacta. If it’s fast…then I’m not sure what to think of him.

4. Wicked Strong

Although he seemed to be running out of steam on the far turn of the Wood Memorial, Wicked Strong nevertheless found another gear in the homestretch to win going away by 3 ½ lengths. It’s a little concerning that his best performances by far have come at Aqueduct, but this late-running colt should be coming strongly late if the Derby pace is fast.

5. Danza

Granted, his dominating victory in the Arkansas Derby came completely out-of-the-blue, and it’s reasonable to question whether he can repeat it on Derby day. But it’s hard to ignore the fact that he ran nearly as fast as the good older horse Will Take Charge did one race earlier, and that Danza ran his final three-eighths in a strong :37.09 seconds. As long as he trains well during the next ten days, I think he could be a very live overlay in the Derby.

If you have a top five list of your own, please share it in the comments section!

47 Comments

Leave a Comment:

BadSaddle

your pick of Wicked S. to win the Wood was ace.on your list here , I would reverse 2,3 with 4 and 5.Danza at 12-1 would good value, and Wicked at 8-1 is pretty good, also. and it would be fun to see Wildcat Red or Vicar's in Trouble wire it at 15-1. C.C. most likely, but slight underlay.

23 Apr 2014 8:48 PM
Zinn

Anything can happen in a 20 horse field but if CC gets a decent post, a good break I don't see anything that can out gallop him the last quarter mile..

24 Apr 2014 9:57 AM
Rusty Weisner

Keelerman,

It's very possible we'll have slop for the Derby.  Cold, wet, slow-moving weather will be descending on Churchill Downs all next week.

Right now my picks are:

Keys:  Hoppertunity, CC

favored closers: Wicked Strong, Intense Holiday, Commanding Curve

other contenders to hit the board: Danza, Wildcat Red, A Rod, ROC, Medal Count

near tosses: VIT, Tapiture, Samraat

tosses: Harry's Holiday, Vinceremos, Ring Weekend, Uncle Sigh, Dance With Fate, Candy Boy, Chitu

24 Apr 2014 10:25 AM
Rusty Weisner

The presence of Wise Dan in the Woodford messes up the late horizontals for me.  It also messes up the Oaks/Woodford/Derby tri bet.  

But I like Hoppertunity and CC as a "single" in the Derby and if I like a winner in the Oaks the double bet is good.  I really don't like any more than the others once I'm past those two, so I don't see any tickets with any singles elsewhere and a lot of Derby horses.  So I'm going to probably go against Wise Dan in a P4 hoping for a lucky bounce and bad luck and a giant payoff if my Derby picks win, while the P5 may be playable with him as a single.  But the late, late P4 that ends the card (usually very playable, as it ends with formful allowance races) will be out of the question.

24 Apr 2014 10:32 AM
Rusty Weisner

Keelerman,

I really don't like Chitu and can't believe Baffert does either.  Is he holding a place for Bayern with him in the Derby?  Any further thoughts on what his intentions are for these two?

24 Apr 2014 11:31 AM
-Keelerman

Rusty Weisner;

Since Chitu and Bayern are owned by different people, I doubt that Baffert is entering Chitu in the Derby to try and hold a spot for Bayern. But there is another scenario that I have been pondering, and I'll be interested to see how it plays out: Suppose Bayern starts in the Derby Trial and wins impressively under little urging. While the victory wouldn't secure him any additional Derby qualification points, it would secure him additional stakes earnings. In fact, it would secure him enough stakes earnings to leap past Pablo Del Monte, Commanding Curve, Harry's Holiday, and Vinceremos on the Derby points list, moving him safely into the top twenty. At that point, I have to wonder if Baffert might consider wheeling Bayern back in the Derby on one week's rest, rather than waiting for the Preakness Stakes.

24 Apr 2014 12:11 PM
-Keelerman

Rusty Weisner;

My picks look very similar to yours! I also like the chances of Intense Holiday and Commanding Curve, and I'm starting to give Medal Count a closer look. Our list of tosses are similar as well, although I still like Candy Boy as a major Derby contender. I think he was too close to the pace in the Santa Anita Derby, especially coming off of a two-month rest, and I believe he can be much more effective coming from further back.

With Bright Thought and Little Mike in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic Stakes, beating Wise Dan might be possible. But I thought it was interesting that last year's Oaks/Derby double with Princess of Sylmar and Orb paid $621.40 for a $2 bet, while the Oaks/Woodford/Derby pick three -- adding in Wise Dan -- paid $1,044.40 for $2, a difference that I found surprisingly large.

24 Apr 2014 12:24 PM
Paul Revere

Top 5

1 CC - wonder how quick he will be late when urged

2 Ride on Curlin - not because of Borel, but this horse is always around at the finish. Maybe he doesn't know how to win, but with his breeding he may be still coming the last 16th.

3 Hoppertunity. Rebel win speaks volumes. No distance issues.

4 Danza- though not totally sold on last I think he still at least hits the board.  Pelt hers best 3YO.  

5 Tapiture - near lead at 1/8 pole, fades and just misses the board.

24 Apr 2014 12:33 PM
Rusty Weisner

Paul Revere,

Are you Fugue for Tinhorns?

24 Apr 2014 12:45 PM
Paul Revere

I have seen a fugue for tinhorns comment on here in the past, but that in not me, if your thinking there is a connection.

24 Apr 2014 12:55 PM
Rusty Weisner

Keelerman,

I "favor" Commanding Curve solely for the gigantic odds he'll have.  I'm tepid about Wicked Strong: he will be the second or third betting favorite, but he has been unable to export his form. El Kabong had some nice observations about Intense Holiday, who had to be taken back before starting his move on the turn.  That along with his more visible veering into the rail, looked like it cost him about three lengths.  

I hope it doesn't rain, because Hoppertunity's odds will plummet, and they already won't be good.

24 Apr 2014 12:56 PM
TnT

My Top 5 - Sorry but very similar . Also Keying 2. Assuming Commanding Curve doesn't get in.

The Win

1) CC - We know by far the best on paper, however anything can happen in a 20 horse field, esp. with his bad break history.

2) Hoppertuntiy - Really think this guy is sitting on a big one, BB is a master at tactics, and he's hoping to have 2 rabbits in the race to set this up, if Bayern wins on Saturday. Dist. and slop no problem, I like his light frame on a wet track. Mike Smith is the a perfect fit.

The 2nd and 3rd (work in Progress)

3) Intense Holiday - He will be there if the pace is hot up front, like how he is looking at CD.

4) Wicked Strong - Watch this one at the gate and paddock, race day choice, he could also spook the horse next to him at the gate.

5) Chitu (wet track) - He could stick around, was going to use wildcat red here, but wish he had raced outside of GP, but I have a feeling he's a GP Specialist.

6) Candy Boy - He needed that race, willing to forgive a bad performance. He is much better off the pace. Gary Stevens moves any horse up.

7) ROC - always around.

The 4th only - Note in the last 10 years 6  very average closers have finished 4th, simply passing tired horses, and 5 of them at over 30-1 Don’t get Mad, Jazil, CrazyGuy, Make Music to me, went the day well, and Normandy invasion.

7) Medal Count

8)Dancing with Fate

9)We miss Artie

Any thoughts on Ring Weekend ? I think Garcia shut him  right down after the bump at Calder.

Danza for the bounce, but he could be in the second and third group.

24 Apr 2014 3:27 PM
Rusty Weisner

The weather outlook for Louisville looks marginally better.

25 Apr 2014 12:11 PM
-Keelerman

TnT;

Great list! I'm not sure what to think of Ring Weekend. I'm willing to forgive his poor showing in the Calder Derby, since he was attempting a change in running style and may not have cared for the track. But at the same time, it's difficult to imagine him stealing the Derby gate-to-wire like he did in the Tampa Bay Derby. I'll wait to see how he trains at Churchill before making a definite decision, but I'm leaning against him at the moment.

25 Apr 2014 12:13 PM
-Keelerman

Rusty Weisner;

I'm curious what you think the post-time odds will be for California Chrome and Hoppertunity. If the track is fast, I think they'll be about 5-2 and 6-1, respectively. If the track is sloppy, I think the difference between them could be considerably less -- perhaps 5-2 and 9-2, or 3-1 and 9-2.

In any case, I'm getting the feeling that Hoppertunity is going to be the second choice in the Derby, which is not what I would have guessed a week or two ago. What do you think?

25 Apr 2014 12:18 PM
Rusty Weisner

Keelerman,

I thought TB form was bad already but Conquest Titan's no show really sealed it for me.  So I'm going to let Ring Weekend beat me.  I am not quaking.

I think you're right about CC at 5/2, same as Big Brown.  The second favorites in that race were 4.7 and 5.7-1, so Hoppertunity and Wicked Strong should be comparable.  Maybe 6-1 on Hoppertunity (I was gleefully imagining the 15-1 IHA got a few weeks ago).  I give Wicked Strong a chance to be second choice.  Danza is the fourth favorite, I think, but who knows, maybe he could edge out Hoppertunity.  I don't think I'm going to bet against Danza.  I haven't thought of a good reason why he's worth betting against, and the three weeks is a big plus for me.  When I think about it, I like those three better than Wicked Strong, just because I prefer their styles and exportability.  I think three out of these four could realistically make the super, add a dash of longshot.

25 Apr 2014 1:52 PM
Rusty Weisner

Keelerman,

How are they doing the draw?  Random lottery of posts, or lottery of selection order?

25 Apr 2014 2:02 PM
-Keelerman

Rusty Weisner;

As far as I know, the post position draw will be completely random this year.

25 Apr 2014 6:01 PM
TnT

Thanks for the ring weekend comments, I have him as a toss, but Motion is a sneak good trainer, whose record speaks for itself in the KD.

Boo, btw I am still hoping for slop and a chance to beat CC.

I would be careful picking 3 of the top 4 to hit the board, only year that happened was the year of street sense......i think once in the last 20 years.

I will have a ticket with Hopp, Intense Holiday, Danza Candy Boy And WS for the first 3, it it rains.

4th is a big gamble......check the records, and go brave.

25 Apr 2014 8:27 PM
Brontexx

Keelerman do you know of any new ADW site that is offering a monster bonus for betting on the KD? Last year I joined a new one and I got a 150 bonus for betting 50 bucks.

25 Apr 2014 10:30 PM
Rusty Weisner

I am seeing a lot of support for Medal Count on the various blogs here.  I'm going to resist the temptation to promote him to "prime closer" in my exotics slots.  There's just no evidence he can run on dirt and closing strong on the Keeneland synthetic and finishing behind Dance With Fate is not much of a recommendation.  I keep him as "eligible to hit the board" solely by virtue of odds and a fear of Romans horses.  Another "prime closer", the likely 50-1 Commanding Curve, may not run and I'm a little disappointed to see Ring Weekend's connections aren't trying to make room for him.  Danza has replaced Cairo Prince as my horse of intrigue -- it's not real scientific, but I don't feel like that was a performance he'll "bounce" off; they're striking while the iron's hot with him.

TnT: I agree putting three of the favorites in the super is unlikely to get the job done, but liking some legitimate favorites and hoping for a formful race might help me concoct a tri approach.  My thinking has been that I want to do a super with Hoppertunity singled on top and CC singled underneath, then vice-versa, which is still pricey.  I might go with odds and halve my bet with only Hoppertunity on top.  I'm more confident in just "singling" the two in horizontals, because I really feel one or the other will win.  

26 Apr 2014 7:43 AM
-Keelerman

Brontexx;

I'm not aware of any off the top of my head, but I'll keep my eyes open!

26 Apr 2014 9:57 AM
Brontexx

I think I have decided to stick with the same link that I have won a tri and three exactas with.I am leaning towards a contrarian bet if there is one, leaving the obvious out of the tri and his last race cohorts in the tri.

26 Apr 2014 11:40 AM
Brontexx

Im going back to the future and using the HOF as my key as in back in the day with the 3-4-7 tri and the humans that piloted those beasts to win the tri.The numbers wont line up or will they?

26 Apr 2014 11:45 AM
Brontexx

My bad not 3-4-7 4-3-8 but pilots were hof

26 Apr 2014 11:52 AM
-Keelerman

It has been confirmed that Bayern will start in the Derby Trial Stakes this evening: www.drf.com/.../bayern-stay-derby-trial-kentucky-derby-unlikely

Also, in case anyone missed the announcement, Corey Lanerie will be aboard Harry's Holiday in the Kentucky Derby.

26 Apr 2014 12:47 PM
-Keelerman

Looks like there are two scratches so far from the Derby Trial Stakes. One is Chitu, whose scratch was announced on Wednesday, and the other is Bitters 'n Bourbon.

26 Apr 2014 1:09 PM
-Keelerman

Departing, winner of the Illinois Derby (gr. III), West Virginia Derby (gr. II), and Super Derby (gr. II) last year, is scheduled to make his seasonal debut in a one-mile allowance race this Wednesday at Churchill Downs: www.equibase.com/.../CD043014USA-EQB.html

26 Apr 2014 1:15 PM
-Keelerman

Another notable name in the upcoming entries is Vyjack, winner of last year's Gotham Stakes (gr. III) and Jerome Stakes (gr. II). He will make his first start since a sixth-place finish in the Haskell Invitational when he starts in a seven-furlong allowance race at Aqueduct on Sunday.

Also, El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) winner Tamarando will make his turf debut later this afternoon in the nine-furlong Snow Chief Stakes at Santa Anita. It should be a good race!

26 Apr 2014 1:40 PM
Rusty Weisner

Keelerman,

Does bloodhorse send you on assignment to Louisville, Baltimore, New York?  

26 Apr 2014 2:58 PM
Rusty Weisner

Keelerman,

Departing is a horse I lost some money on in the Preakness last year.  I split most of my money between Orb and Oxbow, but I also had him in exactas with them.  I don't know what it was Preakness Day (they said the rail was unusually slow that day), but he had a fine campaign after that.

26 Apr 2014 3:06 PM
JayJay

Keelerman : I was intrigued by Myositis Dan but decided on the maiden winner Embellishing Bob for my trifecta.  I'm going to play him with Bayern and Spot.  I'll add MD and Laddie Boy on the bottom for the super.

26 Apr 2014 5:11 PM
-Keelerman

Rusty Weisner;

No, but that would be fun! :) Will you be at Pimlico for the Preakness?

JayJay;

Thanks for your thoughts! It's great to see you here. Good luck in the Derby Trial!

26 Apr 2014 6:32 PM
Little Bill

Just saw a Woodford Reserve commercial,looked new to me. Promoting their product and the sport. It was great. That's how you do it.

26 Apr 2014 8:24 PM
derbygal

Keelerman;

I'll take a shot with #6 Embellishing Bob in the Derby Trial.

26 Apr 2014 9:20 PM
Little Bill

I'm using Big Sugar Soda with the 1 and 10.

26 Apr 2014 9:36 PM
Mike from Michigan

It's about 22 minutes to post for the Derby Trial and I know Bayern will probably go off at even money, but I'm gonna take a shot with Big Sugar Soda here.  I've kind of had my eye on him since early this year and I think he was pretty green early on, but he seems to be maturing these past couple of months and could surprise Bayern here.  It will be a tall task, but I think he's got a shot.  We will see in about 20 minutes.

26 Apr 2014 9:40 PM
Little Bill

Except for the bumping, great race.

26 Apr 2014 10:17 PM
-Keelerman

Derbygal, great call with Embellishing Bob in the Derby Trial! That was quite a race!

26 Apr 2014 10:19 PM
-Keelerman

In case anyone is wondering, the disqualification of Bayern from first place in the Derby Trial has virtually eliminated any chance he might have had at securing a spot in the Derby, since the $32,400 he earned for second place puts him only 22nd on the Kentucky Derby points list at this time.

26 Apr 2014 10:24 PM
-Keelerman

JayJay;

Congratulations to you as well on selecting Embellishing Bob to win the Derby Trial! Great job!

26 Apr 2014 10:26 PM
JayJay

Thanks Keelerman!  I figured no one can keep up with Bayern except for speedy Bob.  I didn't think the bumping cost EB that much momentum although Rosie did carry them 2 paths.   The .50 super got me my Derby money :)

That was a nice run by Myositis Dan, I thought he actually caught the 2 at the wire...man, was that a tight photo finish or what.

Good luck with your Derby picks Keelerman!  Hope BH sends you to Churchill Downs!

26 Apr 2014 11:06 PM
derbygal

Thanks Keelerman; It looked to me that the race was between the #6 E.B. and #1 Bayern. If Chitu was going to run he would have been my pick.

26 Apr 2014 11:34 PM
Rusty Weisner

JayJay and derbygal,

Congratulations on the win.  It is nice to have that Derby money.  From what I see everyone around here has had some good picks/fortune lately.  Your pick was pretty nice, too, Keelerman.

I'm glad Bayern's not in the Derby; it would have just sown doubt in my mind.  

Keelerman,

If I win over $1000 on Derby day I get to go the Preakness.

27 Apr 2014 9:56 AM
-Keelerman

DRF.com has reported that Ring Weekend came down with a fever this morning and is out of the Derby. Thus, Commanding Curve has entered the twentieth position on the points list, and Pablo Del Monte is the new bubble horse.

27 Apr 2014 10:54 AM
JayJay

Vinceremos' workout was kind of on the slow side.  I've read Todd is still not 100% he'll go with him in the Derby and with this slow work, that might just be the case.

Did Ring Weekend really get sick or they opted to go with Commanding Curve ?  I just read the article here on BH and it sounds like it's all made up.  He spiked a fever and they were on it and nothing serious, he'll be in the hyperbaric chamber etc, etc, etc...so he won't make the Derby.   I really wanted Ring in there to set the pace because he's the real speed, now Wildcat Red will most likely have California Chrome and I hope they duel each other all the way until the far turn.

27 Apr 2014 5:33 PM
-Keelerman

The quest for live longshots has begun! Here are my thoughts on a three longshots that I think can finish in the Kentucky Derby superfecta: cs.bloodhorse.com/.../three-derby-longshots-to-consider.aspx

28 Apr 2014 5:45 PM

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