The Kentucky Derby Field Preview
If we're being honest with ourselves, we know that 20 horses in one starting gate is pure lunacy.
But it's the Kentucky Derby, and on Derby day, lunacy is sublime. Absurd hats, copious amounts of breath freshening plant infused alcohol, aggressively white suits, twenty horses, and millions of dollars. It's magic.
This year, the Kentucky Derby seems an affair of one Californian colt and 19 others. California Chrome has been installed the 5/2 morning line favorite, and will certainly be the pick of most in the know. For the sake of argument, though, let's get to know them all.
1 - Vicar's in Trouble - 20/1: There's formidable speed in this impressive winner of the Louisiana Derby for Mike Maker and Rosie Napravnik, but, unfortunately, there's also formidable speed within the nineteen other horses in the starting gate - all lining up to his outside. I'd be a supporter of the colt's long-shot hopes with almost any other post, but breaking from the rail, I just don't see how he doesn't get swept up in the fray and shuffled out of contention.
2 - Harry's Holiday - 50/1: He'll run. Maybe.
3 - Uncle Sigh - 30/1: There's California Chrome, then there's a significant group of second class contenders, then there's Uncle Sigh. Five starts, one win, three places: there's some real ability there, but it's the type of class you expect to see raking in mid-level stakes - like a pro poker player crushing it on the local casino over-35 tournament circuit, but not winning the big money events with the pros. He'll have a long, solid career, but he's not a Derby winner.
4 - Danza - 8/1: His first three races don't show much, but his Arkansas Derby sure did. Stalking the leaders, this Todd Pletcher trainee exploded down the stretch - confident as you'd like - and walked off with an easy win. The question, then, is whether that performance was the outlier, or if those first three races are, and if the Arkansas is a sign of things to come. Talk around the track favors the latter.
5- California Chrome - 5/1: I tend to be wary of West coast horses in big races. Too often, there's a "big fish, small pond" effect that dooms my various gambling endeavors. It's as though they're the aforementioned poker pro chewing an unlit cigar, decimating the local gomers at his area casino, but then getting trounced when trying to step up against better, more tested competition. California Chrome, though, isn't some lesser pro. He's the better - even if not more tested - competition. In his last four races he's collected four wins, and won each by over five lengths. He's been dominant, and he has shown the ability to lead and rate. He's class. He's a Derby winner.
6 - Samraat - 15/1: Speaking of big fish small pond situations, Samraat is five for six in his career (big fish) with all but one of those races competed across the Aqueduct dirt (small pond). It's unclear, though, if he's a legitimate fish or if he's just swimming in a cold pond while the rest of the marine life has relocated to Gulfstream park. I think he may well become the big fish, but given that he'll be one of the many pushing the pace at the Derby's front, I don't think he'll become one on Saturday. I won't count him out, but there are better options.
7 - We Miss Artie - 50/1: Todd Pletcher doesn't want to run this horse. When has anyone said that about a Derby entrant before?
8 - General a Rod - 15/1: In five career starts, this Mike Maker horse has never finished worse than third - though he's lost both of his graded stakes. I'm skeptical, but I can't ignore that his worst finish is third by only a length and a half. He's live.
9 - Vinceremos - 30/1: On a synthetic surface for the first time, you can excuse his awful performance last time out, but even with that disaster thrown out, you're not left with much.
10 - Wildcat Red - 15/1: What went wrong at the post position draw for Vicar's in Trouble went right for Wildcat Red. Another speed colt, this Luis Saez mount got the perfect post in the center of the gate. He should have no trouble putting himself on or near the lead, where he's been in each of his seven races - racking up four wins and three losses in the process. Can he hold up with plenty of company pushing the pace? Maybe.