My Kentucky Derby Picks

CD Admission 1929With all of the major pre-race workouts completed, the anticipation for the Kentucky Derby post position draw (Wednesday, 5:30 pm ET, NBC Sports Network) is all that’s left between handicappers and the wagering menu.

The field is all but set (not many defectors this year), meaning there will be a few horses that have to take their toys and go home, but are richer for just being a part of the “Derby experience.”

Here are my thoughts on each of the Derby horses (and alternate entries) in alphabetical order:

Adventist (AE)
He needs two horses to scratch in order to get in. And, then, there’s the problem of being the third-best in three of the least-inspiring Derby prep races this year. It would be trainer Leah Gyarmati’s first Derby horse, but it’s not looking like this is the year.

Brody’s Cause
I’ve done a little soul-searching on this one. I was quick to label him as a “toss,” but people I respect have turned me on to him a bit. I don’t think he can win it, but keeping him off your exotic tickets may not be a profitable decision. To those with a keen eye, he looks the part of a contender.

He obviously needed his Tampa Derby race, and you can put the proverbial line through it. Will he be the first to take advantage of the back-to-the-dirt Bluegrass Stakes as a Derby-winning stepping stone?

If he gets a favorable draw, I’ll play him underneath only.

Usually, each Kentucky Derby edition features a “wiseguy” horse that, somehow, everyone agrees is the wiseguy horse. This year, not so much, but I have a hunch, after the draw, this guy could be the one.

The problem with being the wiseguy pick is that it’s rarely right. Creator is a deep closer, or at least he played the part in his Arkansas Derby win. If the pace isn’t too hot, deep closers may be in trouble.

This Derby’s early pace is going to be very much post position-dependent, as there are few candidates to actually be on the engine. If those few horses get bad draws, it could be slow going, making deep closers obsolete in about six furlongs.

He’s going to need a brisk pace to run into late. Play depends on not only his post, but some others. Not what you want in a Derby horse.

Danzing Candy
If I were a wiseguy, this would be my horse if I felt he could get out and steal the race like Gary Stevens did on Oxbow in the 2013 Preakness.

Should he be the lone speed with a nice draw, Mike Smith’s pre-race instructions from trainer Clifford Sise Jr. should be “get out front, stay out front, don’t look back.”

If Outwork, Nyquist, Mohaymen or even Destin get favorable (not extreme left or right) draws, we could have a quick pace, making things much tougher for Danzing Candy.

There are very few certainties in any race, but I’ll bet that this horse has the lead at some point in the Derby. That point may very well be at first call.

If the other projected speed horses get hampered by post position and the wall of horses, this could be your winner.

If Destin was packaged eight weeks ago and sent to the Derby with the exact amount of energy and the exact amount of drive he showed in Tampa, he may be a contender.

I’m going to assume that Todd Pletcher knows more about this horse than I do, so I’m assuming his Tampa Derby was “good enough.” I just don’t know how you can shut a horse down from competition for two months and expect him to not be rusty. But, again, I defer to Todd.

But I won’t be playing him. If he beats me, he beats me.

Keith Desormeaux will saddle Exaggerator in the 142nd Kentucky Derby.

Keith Desormeaux will saddle Exaggerator in the 142nd Kentucky Derby.

The Rodney Dangerfield award of this Kentucky Derby could go to this guy.  He finished second, third and a convincing first in three California stakes races (all Grade II or better).

But his Santa Anita win was in the slop and, as a result, some are downgrading him. Not smart.

Although I think the Louisiana circuit had some very compelling prep races, I think California sports this year’s best talent. Although I like a different California horse on top, do not fall asleep on Exaggerator in the exotics.

I really want to use a witty pun here to show how much I mean this — you know, to prove I’m not exaggerating.

Fellowship (AE)
Fellowship is the first to get in should another Derby horse suffer an unfortunate setback. If he does get in, Mark Casse will have inherited a Derby runner that he has yet to personally race.

I hope that doesn’t happen. That’s not the way you want to run for the roses.

Gun Runner
This horse will be on all of my exacta and trifecta tickets. He did nothing but impress in Louisiana and I feel that he’s a top contender, worthy of making your multi-race bets.

He should be forwardly placed, but not asked to set the pace. I think a stalker’s style is the best for this Derby edition. Unfortunately, I like another stalker’s chances better — one from California.

If my top choice is compromised by post position draw, this may be my go-to.

Here’s exactly what I do know about Lani: I’m not playing him at all.

Until a foreign horse that wins the UAE Derby shows something on the first Saturday in May, I’m uninterested.

I know more about Majesto than I do Lani. For one, I know the “j” is silent. I also know that although his Florida Derby second-place finish looks impressive on paper, the race before was his fifth try against non-winners.

To go from a maiden race to Kentucky Derby contention in a three-race span is hard to get behind. He obviously benefitted from Mohaymen’s off day and made the best of his trip.

He’s just not enough horse for me. Toss.

Mo Tom
Want a legitimate longshot that you can play anywhere on your Derby ticket and have a chance at a huge payoff? Here’s your horse. And he’s won a stakes race at Churchill Downs.

He also won a graded stakes in Louisiana this year — the only other Derby contender other than Gun Runner to do so.

He seems to have learned the art of getting closer to the pace, as he’s a work in progress. This horse is lightly touted, but Tom Amoss will have him ready (don’t confuse him with Tom’s Ready).

I’m playing him vertically as my price horse and may throw a sawbuck in the win pool on Mo Tom.

Mohaymen winning the Fountain of Youth Stakes (photo via Twitter @GulfstreamPark)

Mohaymen winning the Fountain of Youth Stakes (photo via Twitter @GulfstreamPark)

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but do we live in a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world or what? Mohaymen was the second coming of American Pharoah in some people’s eyes earlier this spring.

He scared entries away from the Holy Bull and was an easy 1-5 winner.

He toyed with the field in the Fountain of Youth.

Then came the dream matchup against Nyquist in the Florida Derby. Only Nyquist showed up that Saturday. One bad day and Mohaymen becomes an also-ran in the Derby?

Not bloody likely. Play him in exotics and in multi-race bets. Don’t be surprised if he is right there to set the early pace.

Mor Spirit
If you haven’t figured it out by my clues (e.g. “stalking California horse”), he is my pick to win this year’s Kentucky Derby should he get a decent draw. An ideal one would be anywhere from gate 6 to 14.

He’ll get out in front of the “wall” and this horse has the endurance to get the Derby distance.

The odds will be juicy and I’ll take the just-off-the-pace stalking style against the deep closer in this spot every time. Nothing ruins a good horse’s chance of winning the Derby more than getting shuffled and bumped in the early stages of the cavalry charge. I think this horse gets in front of that charge, doesn’t expend too much energy behind the pacesetters and Gary Stevens has the horse passing tiring rivals on the way to the winner’s circle.

I bet him at 13-1. If I can get 10-1 on Derby day, I’ll play even more.

My Man Sam
Congratulations to Sheep Pond Partners for getting into the Derby and the second-place finish in the Bluegrass.

This horse, however, leaves plenty to be desired. He doesn’t have the pedigree nor the foundation to be a contender. Toss.

A very deserving favorite, Nyquist is feeling the effects of the “American Pharoah hangover” — he’s not getting the hype an undefeated clear-cut Derby favorite would normally receive. This may actually help bettors who back the favorite.

Yes, the field is deep. Yes, I prefer Mor Spirit due to his juicier odds. Yes, this horse is for real. But the best horse doesn’t always win twenty-horse field races.

As for the trip, he will most definitely be forwardly-placed. The question is whether he sets the early pace or lets the other speed contenders get out front. Odds are that he’ll sit second or third heading into the first turn.

Trainer Doug O’Neill and owners Reddam Racing know what they’re doing. Will Nyquist be a ho-hum 4-1 Kentucky Derby winner, simply because he tried to follow in American Pharoah’s hoofprints?

Most likely winner.

Oscar Nominated
The fact that the horse’s owner declined to pay this horse’s Kentucky Derby nomination fee (he had someone else foot the bill for a piece of the horse) tells you everything you need to know: the Ramseys are just happy to be there.

This horse has no shot.

One of the few true speed horses in this race. If he gets a favorable post and the other probable speedsters get bad ones, he still probably isn’t good enough to hang with the big boys.

I didn’t like any of the New York prep races, and I’m not sure this horse can be anything but a pace-spoiler in this spot. Toss.

When you’re trying to whittle your choices from twenty to a small handful, you have to take a stand against some horses. Destin is one of those for me this year, Shagaf is the other.

If he beats me, he beats me.

There is some talent here, but there are too many “what ifs” for me to back Shagaf. If you like Shagaf, go ahead and play him. I’m playing against him.

Suddenbreakingnews Workout 050116

Suddenbreakingnews working out at Churchill Downs on May 1, 2016.

Another contender for wiseguy horse, Suddenbreakingnews has a decent Derby resume.

Although the Arkansas Derby was a compelling race and this horse finished second, the rest of the Arkansas prep races were pedestrian and his win in the Southwest wasn’t impressive enough to make me think he’s a top-tier contender in this year’s Derby.

Play against.

Tom’s Ready
Dallas Stewart is known for getting longshots to hit the board in the big races. He most recently accomplished the feat with Commanding Curve in the 2014 Derby. To me, Tom’s Ready and Suddenbreakingnews fall into the same category — decent resumes, decent horses, questionable pedigrees.

I can’t play this horse on Saturday. There are other, more deserving horses to back.

Trojan Nation
The best thing I can share about this Derby entrant is the question that was posed on Twitter a few days ago:

“If Trojan Nation wins what’s the odds a certain prophylactic manufacturer jumps on as a sponsor?” @BeemieAwards

That’s a huge if for this horse, but can you imagine an American Pharoah-esque marketing tie-in between a horse and a condom manufacturer? I guess anything is possible, but the chances of this horse winning are very thin.

How thin?

See what I did there? Toss.

I’ve noticed Whitmore is starting to get it and is another work in progress. Look at his first call positioning. In his first three races, he was eleventh, ninth, and eleventh at first call.

In his last three races, he’s been fifth, third, and third — meaning this horse is learning how to ration his speed more effectively.

He may be one of those late-blooming 3-year-olds that has a super late summer/early autumn… but on the first Saturday in May, he is not ready.

I’m playing against.

MY TOP (“A”) HORSES: Gun Runner, Mor Spirit, Nyquist

MY UNDERNEATH (“B” & “C”) HORSES: Exaggerator, Mo Tom, Mohaymen; and Brody’s Cause, Danzing Candy.

Click HERE for the latest Kentucky Derby odds from US Racing.

Ryan Dickey
Ryan Dickey is a full-time firefighter in Dearborn, MI, and a life-long horse racing fan. He is a handicapper and contributor to prominent horse racing Websites as well as a freelance sportswriter/photojournalist. He covers local high school sports and community events for multiple outlets, including bi-weekly newspapers and has over 200 works published to date.

Once again the owner of a race horse, Ryan is president (and currently sole member!) of Firehouse Racing Stables, LLC. This year @FirehouseRacing plans to send its first thoroughbred, That Is So Right (a 4 year old chestnut gelding), to run at tracks in Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia and, possibly, Indiana.

Having lived in Las Vegas for six years and working in the sports gaming industry, Ryan knows sports handicapping from “both sides of the counter.” Feel free to contact him on Twitter (@rdickey249) for questions, comments, criticisms, or critiques.

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