By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman")
Fact: In each of the last ten renewals of the Kentucky Derby, at least one horse with odds of 20-1 or higher has finished in the superfecta. And in eight of the last ten Derbies, at least one horse with odds of 30-1 or higher has cracked the top four.
With this in mind, it’s clear that if one wants to make a major score in the Derby exotics, one has to find longshots with a chance to hit the board. Thus, here are some thoughts on three horses that I feel could crack the Derby superfecta at eye-catching prices…
Regular readers of this blog know that I have been fond of Candy Boy for a while, but my confidence in him has greatly increased during the last couple of days. Yes, he was soundly beaten by California Chrome and Hoppertunity in the Santa Anita Derby, but events conspired against him that day. The colt was asked to race much closer to the early lead than usual in an attempt to take advantage of a speed-favoring track, and the result was a wide trip and a tiring third-place finish in his first start since early February. Reports are that Candy’s Boy recent workout at Churchill Downs was exceptional, and trainer John Sadler has confirmed that Candy Boy will be rated further off-the-pace in the Derby. The results of this decision could prove dramatic—just watch the replay of Candy Boy’s runner-up finish in last year’s CashCall Futurity (gr. I). The best part of all is that Candy Boy may very well be 20-1 in the Derby, a spectacular price given his race record.
Going strictly off his last two races—an impressive victory in the Transylvania Stakes (gr. III) and a strong runner-up effort in the Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I)—Medal Count has to be considered a live longshot for the Derby. His finishing kick is strong, his pedigree suggests ten furlongs is within his range, and he demonstrated in the Transylvania that he can slip through tiny holes in traffic—a valuable ability that could prove critical in the Derby. His biggest weakness is probably the fact that he has only a maiden win at Ellis Park from three starts on dirt, and may prefer synthetic and turf. However, I’m willing to overlook his so-so dirt record for several reasons. One is that he has been training very well at Churchill Downs. Another is that synthetic/turf horses have had a great deal of success in recent Derbies, including the victory by Animal Kingdom in 2011. But perhaps the most important reason is that Medal Count’s trainer, Dale Romans, is very confident in the chances of his colt, and feels that Medal Count is his best shot to win the Derby thus far. This is coming from a trainer that secured three consecutive top-four finishes in the Derby from 2010 to 2012, including a third-place finish from turf horse Paddy O’Prado, who had been beaten 11 ½ lengths in his only start on dirt prior to the Derby. If you had asked me a week ago if I liked Medal Count's chances in the Derby, I would have said no. But everything seems to be going perfectly for this son of Dynaformer, and I now think he has a terrific shot to finish in the top four.
He seems to have been forgotten following his fourth-place finish in the Arkansas Derby (gr. I), but I actually thought he ran pretty well that day. An attempt to rate him off the pace seemed to backfire, and Tapiture was rank early on while racing wide. He remained wide throughout the race while chasing moderate fractions, yet still put in an eye-catching run on the far turn to challenge for the lead. He did flatten out somewhat in the homestretch, but his 7 ¼-length defeat looks worse on paper than it really was, thanks to the runaway 4 ¾-length victory by Danza. Considering Tapiture’s strong form prior to the Arkansas Derby, and the fact that he won the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II) at Churchill last fall, I feel that Tapiture is eligible to rebound sharply this Saturday.
Other longshots I’m strongly considering are Louisiana Derby (gr. II) runner-up Intense Holiday (who may not be much of a longshot, given how well he has been training at Churchill!), Ride On Curlin (whom I discussed as one of my "Top Five" Derby contenders in my last blog post), and Commanding Curve (who finished a rallying third in the Louisiana Derby despite a very poor start.)
Which longshots do you like?