This Sunday morning, our time, Sky Racing 1 will broadcast the 142nd Kentucky Derby. It’s a race that embodies almost 150 years of roses, juleps, burgoo and ‘My Old Kentucky Home’. It’s history personified… but it’s also brand new. Kentucky Derby 142 is also Kentucky Derby 1, the first ‘Run for the Roses’ A.P. After Pharoah.
He was a horse of immense ability, labelled special long before he set foot on Churchill Downs main track for the first (and probably least impressive) leg of a four race tour de force that included a first Triple Crown since the seventies and a first Grand Slam (The Crown and Breeders Cup Classic) since, well, ever.
How do we follow that? How does a racing industry back up from a nag that transcended the increasingly ‘niche’ sport of kings in the land of the free?
We probably can’t. Not right away. Sure, Affirmed won the Triple Crown only a year after Seattle Slew, but the feat was far more commonplace in those days and he was a pretty special horse.
So let’s focus on what we can do. This year’s field is as intriguing as any in recent memory. Nyquist is the $4.40 favourite with TAB.com.au, he’s unbeaten, he’s won the most consistent guide to Kentucky Derby success, the Florida Derby. His trainer, jockey and owner have won a Derby before and he’s the reigning US champion two year old, like Affirmed, Seattle Slew, Secretariat and THAT horse, American Pharoah.
So why am I not convinced? Was it the erratic drifting in the straight, late in the Florida Derby? Is it the fact that only one horse has ever done the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile / Kentucky Derby double? Is it a pedigree that screams top class miler and not 2000 metre warrior? I don’t know, but in an open year, I have a feeling that the horse that hasn’t put a foot wrong may just choose to do so on Sunday.
Exaggerator ($9) should stay on pedigree and his racing style screams swooper, his Santa Anita Derby was dominant, albeit in the slop and against an overmatched field, but does he have the tactical speed to find a position in the furious charge to the first turn at Churchill Downs?
Brody’s Cause ($13), Outwork ($16) and Creator ($11) all won major prep races, but prior to that, had not set the world alight and improbable though it may seem for a trio of G1 winners, may be outclassed.
Lani ($31) hails from a country that loves to travel its horses, Japan, is bred to go on dirt and was impressive in the UAE Derby. But that race has an abysmal record as a lead up and Lani himself has had a bizarre work schedule that has furrowed more than a few brows among the ‘railbirds’ in the states.
Check the full TAB.com.au market for the Kentucky Derby here.
Now I’m not saying that none of these contenders can’t win the Derby. That’s the way this Derby is. The next two horses have a few black marks of their own, but they offer value and have undoubted ability.
Gun Runner ($13), well named, is a gun. Has won his last two comfortably, has abundant talent and a trainer who is being inducted into the Hall of Fame. His speed figures (which the Americans love) aren’t great and he won’t have had a race in six weeks, but there is just something about him.
The same can be said for my tip Mohaymen, ($9) this grey can run. He was the early favourite for the Derby in America and was unbeaten, unchallenged and unequivocally the one to beat… until he got beat, by Nyquist, in the Florida Derby.
Despite that lacklustre performance, in which he was caught wide after missing the start, Mohaymen has bounced back, is working like a locomotive (if that locomotive is prone to bucking displays and general exuberance on the way to the track) and is trained by a genuinely likeable man in Kiaran McLaughlin. He cost a ton of money at the yearling sales as a son of supersire Tapit and his mum has a suitably ‘Southern’ name, Justwhistledixie.
This Derby is as open as any in memory and there is potential value aplenty, there may not be an American Pharoah, but there is opportunity aplenty to line your pockets and spring for some roses of your own on mothers day.
G3 - The Majordomo Hospitality Handicap Steeple Chase
G2 - Prix Raoul Balliere
G2 - Prix Ariste Hemard
G3 - Victress Stakes
G2 - Premier Trophy