Kentucky Derby Predictions and Betting Advice
I've never had a mint julep. Hell, I don't even drink. But after previewing this race, I may need one.
And after it, if it all goes south - like it certainly can in the Derby and is, perhaps, likely in an edition as confusing as this the 140th - I may need several.
The class of the race isn't difficult to spot - it's California Chrome. A winner of four straight - each by at least five lengths - there's no arguing that he's the Derby favorite. Beyond that, though, the issue becomes considerably more murky - the rest of the field a cut below but impossible to separate.
And while you'd think that would make for easy handicapping, it doesn't. Because though California Chrome is the best, there's cause for significant concern given his inside post position, and the lightning quick pace that figures to develop with at least six horses in the field who either want the lead or want to push those on it.
Leaving you with a favorite with questions, and about a dozen indistinguishable others.
Or, in other words, a handicapping headache. For a brief look at each of the field's 19 horses, see yesterday's part I.
THE RACE: As the gates open and the cavalry charge is unleashed down the Churchill Downs front stretch, the question of race - how will California Chrome deal with the oppressive speed bearing down on him? - will quickly be answered. The pressure will come from all angles, with Vicar's in Trouble slipping up along the rail to challenge for the lead, and Wildcat Red and Chitu crushing down from the outside.
Early on, I think Victor Espinoza will lean on California Chrome to hustle him up with the leaders in an attempt to move him to the outside and into fresh air. It won't be easy, though, with Uncle Sigh, General a Rod, Samraat, and Tapiture there to push the pace, as well. Behind them will emerge a second group of mid-pack runners content to let the leaders fight it out, including Candy Boy, long-shot Harry's Holiday, Ride On Curlin, and Medal Count. A final group of deep closers - Vinceremos, Dance With Fate, We Miss Artie, Intense Holiday, Wicked Strong, and Commanding Curve will round out the field.
Through the turn and down the back stretch, much of that form will hold. Look, though, for California Chrome, having made it to the outside, to slide back in hopes of avoiding a radioactive pace set by Wildcat Red and Chitu, pushed along by the other aforementioned speed horses on their heels. Expect, also, Danza to open a hole along the rail and do what it takes to keep it open as he readies a far turn drive, and don't be surprised if Robby Albarado has Medal Count steadily making progress into that final turn.
Where it'll all go to chaos.
Around the far turn, California Chrome will make a dynamic run around the outside, with Danza matching the favorite up the rail. Samraat and Tapiture will move as well, though neither doing enough to stay in step with the former pair. Candy Boy will go too, with Chitu finally giving way and starting to lose ground. From deeper in the pack, real noise will be made by the now driving Medal Count, with Intense Holiday unwinding a run and looking to pick his way through traffic behind them all.
At the top of the stretch, Wildcat Red and Vicar's in Trouble - who will have been quietly rating behind the leaders for much of the race - will sit out front. The pair, though, will be on borrowed time. California Chrome and Danza will be attacking on either side, and the dynamic run of Medal Count will begin to look more and more menacing. Tapiture and Intense Holiday will be coming as well, with Wood Memorial winner Wicked Strong revving his engine from the back.