By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
The biggest race taking
place in North America this week is the $750,000 Belmont Derby (G1) for
three-year-old racings 1 1/4 miles on turf. But there are also three other
Derbys on the weekend agenda, all slated to take place on dirt.
I don't have any strong
opinions in the Belmont Derby, but I'm confident in my selections for the
Indiana Derby (G3), Iowa Derby, and Los Alamitos Derby. Let's give these dirt
Derbys some attention and handicap all three races:
Indiana Derby (G3) at Horseshoe Indianapolis
Nine horses are set to race
1 1/16 miles in the Indiana Derby, but one looms as a possible standout.
Morning line favorite #5 Verifying (8-5)
appears to have found the perfect spot to secure his first stakes win.
Verifying has long shown
flashes of talent against quality competition. He won his debut at Saratoga
last summer and followed up with a second-place finish in the Champagne (G1).
But he's been even sharper in recent starts, sandwiching close runner-up
finishes in the Blue Grass (G1) and Matt Winn (G3) around a 16th-place effort
in the Kentucky Derby (G1).
I'll draw a line through
Verifying's Derby misfire since he got burned up setting a destructive pace.
His Blue Grass effort was rock-solid, as he lost by only a neck to Tampa Bay
Derby (G3) winner and future Belmont (G1) third-place finisher Tapit Trice
while pulling 5 3/4 lengths clear of Champagne winner and subsequent Preakness
(G1) runner-up Blazing Sevens.
Verifying ran similarly well
in the Matt Winn, leading in midstretch before fighting on to finish half a
length behind Disarm, the talented Louisiana Derby (G2) runner-up and Kentucky
Derby fourth-place finisher. Verifying's reward was a career-best 103 Brisnet
Speed rating, topping the 102 he posted in the Blue Grass.
Verifying does his best work
when tracking the pace, and since the Indiana Derby field includes a
tried-and-true pacesetter in the form of Hawthorne Derby winner #3 Act a Fool (6-1), Verifying figures
to receive his ideal trip. He'll be a short price no doubt, but Verifying looks
tough to beat in the Indiana Derby and is a viable single for bettors playing
Iowa Derby at Prairie Meadows
No fewer than 14 horses have
entered the 1 1/16-mile Iowa Derby, setting the stage for an action-packed
race. Working out a clean trip is going to be important in this large field,
which is packed with horses of every running style.
There are many viable
contenders, some at excellent prices, but I have to favor #6 Bo Cruz (9-2). The gray colt showed lots of promise during the
winter at Fair Grounds, wiring a one-mile and 70-yard maiden special weight by
12 1/4 lengths before employing identical tactics to win a 1 1/16-mile
allowance optional claimer by three lengths.
These flashy victories
yielded improving Brisnet Speed ratings of 91 and 97, and Bo Cruz stepped
forward again when jumping up in class for the 1 1/8-mile Matt Winn S. (G3) at
Ellis Park. After carving out the pace over a sloppy track, Bo Cruz weakened in
the final furlong to finish third behind Disarm and Verifying, earning a 98
Brisnet Speed rating.
None of the other Iowa Derby
entrants have posted a Brisnet Speed rating higher than 96, so Bo Cruz is the
field's fastest horse on paper. His pacesetting speed should ensure that he
works out a clean trip, and dropping into an ungraded stakes might be all he
needs to bounce back with a winning run.
Los Alamitos Derby at Los Alamitos
The Los Alamitos Derby
boasts an impressive roster of winners. Since taking on its current
configuration in 2014, the 1 1/8-mile race has been won by champions Shared
Belief, Accelerate, West Coast, and Game Winner.
The expected favorite for
the 2023 edition is #3 Skinner, a
stretch-running colt who finished third in the San Felipe S. (G2) and Santa
Anita Derby (G1) on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. In the latter race, Skinner
was only beaten half a length despite racing much wider than the ground-saving
But Skinner missed a
scheduled start in the Kentucky Derby due to an elevated temperature, and he
subsequently scratched from the June 4 Affirmed S. after failing to train
satisfactorily. Skinner has bounced back with sharp recent workouts, but now
he's entering the Los Alamitos Derby off an unexpectedly long layoff, and he's
meeting a field containing little in the way of pace on paper.
That's why I'm going to
oppose Skinner with #2 Reincarnate,
a Bob Baffert trainee who brings strong tactical speed to the table. Last time
out, Reincarnate pressed a destructive pace in the Kentucky Derby before fading
to finish 13th, the highest finishing position of the three pacesetters.
Both of Reincarnate's
victories have come in front-running fashion. He wired a one-mile maiden
special weight at Del Mar last fall, then led essentially all the way through
fast fractions to win Santa Anita's Sham S. (G3) over next-out Robert B. Lewis
S. (G3) winner Newgate and future Preakness S. (G1) winner National Treasure.
The lack of pace in the Los
Alamitos Derby field should allow Reincarnate to secure the early lead and run
one of his best races. The last six editions of the Los Alamitos Derby (and
seven of the last eight) have been won by Baffert, and Reincarnate enters off a
pair of fast six-furlong workouts, so the stage is set for victory under
red-hot jockey Juan Hernandez. It's worth noting Hernandez rode Reincarnate to
victory in the Sham and is reuniting with the gray colt for the first time
Now it's your turn! Who do
you like in the three dirt Derbys?
Want to test your handicapping skills against fellow Unlocking Winners readers? Check out the Unlocking Winners contest page—there's a new challenge every week! (Please note: older contest entries can be found here.)
J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, videographer, voice actor, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite.