It’s Never Too Early to Think About the Kentucky Derby

We’re still four months out from the first Saturday in May, but for horseracing fans it’s never too early to start thinking about the Kentucky Derby. Yes, the Derby itself will last only about two minutes — it’s been called the Fastest Two Minutes in Sports — but that doesn’t mean we can’t have months of fun talking about it in advance. After all, the waiting is almost as much fun as the actual race.

So, for those of you who just can’t get enough Derby talk, here is some advance analysis of the soon-to-be-3-year-old class of 2018 Kentucky Derby hopefuls.

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Bolt d’Oro

The 2018 Kentucky Derby will be run on Saturday, May 5, at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. The early favorite for the Run for the Roses is Bolt d’Oro, despite his third-place finish at odds-on in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Del Mar. Leading up to the Juvenile, Bolt d’Oro had been undefeated in his first three career starts, including two Grade 1 wins in the Del Mar Futurity and the FrontRunner at Santa Anita. He had a bad start in the Breeders’ Cup, and there’s a school of handicappers that believe the Juvenile, historically, is a negative key race in terms of the Kentucky Derby anyway, so it’s difficult to take too negative a view of this talented horse based solely on that lone flop.

One good place to look for clues about possible Kentucky Derby contenders is in the official Kentucky Derby Future Wager (KDFW), which has already concluded its first incarnation, Pool 1, back in late November).

Not surprisingly, the “Mutuel Field” was the heavy favorite in that bet, meaning that the majority of horseplayers believe either that we have yet to see the next Kentucky Derby winner or that he (or she) has not yet distinguished himself/herself to the degree that the public has caught on yet, like a recent maiden winner.

It is hard to argue with this logic, mainly because it is egotistical for any racing fan to believe that they can actually pick the winner of the Kentucky Derby winner four or five months out from the race.

But horseplayers are an egotistical lot, so of course we will try. And for those who do, Bolt d’Oro is definitely talented and certainly is a good starting point. Bolt d’Oro, trained by less-than-household-name Mick Ruis, is the favorite at 4-1 odds on US Racing’s list of 2018 Kentucky Derby contenders, which contains 450 individual horses, instead of the 23 offered in the Kentucky Derby Future Wager.

But here’s the thing: if you are going to actually participate in future wagers and try to predict the Derby winner months in advance of the actual race, shouldn’t you try to shoot for odds of better than 4-1?  The answer is a definite yes!

Good Magic (photo by Jordan Sigmon).

Good Magic (photo by Jordan Sigmon).

One horse that certainly deserves as much or more respect than Bolt d’Oro is the winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Good Magic, who is currently the 5.8-1 second choice at US Racing. Sure, Good Magic broke his maiden in the Breeders’ Cup, but his 4 ¼-length victory was so dominant that it forces one to stand up and take notice. Plus, he’s trained by Chad Brown. Enough said.

The next category of top Kentucky Derby contenders is the group of horses that won in the last round of key 2-year-old prep races from Nov. 25 through Dec. 9. These Midwest-East-West preps were the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill, the Remsen at Aqueduct, and the Los Alamitos Futurity — and the winners of all three of these races gives us handicappers serious food for thought to chew on over the next several months.

The Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) at Churchill Downs is always an important race for would-be Derby handicappers to consider. Run on the Kentucky Derby’s home track at two-turns, it is regarded as a good harbinger of things to come. If that is true this year, then handicappers had best stand up and take notice of the winner of the race, Enticed.

Trained by Kiaran McLaughlin and owned by Godolphin, Enticed (16-1 at USR) passed the first two-turn test of his career with flying colors and appears to be on his way to bigger and better things next spring. His victory also flattered Good Magic, who beat him in his prior race in the Champagne (G1) at Belmont, along with the winner of the race, Firenze Fire. But unlike Firenze Fire (25-1), whose future might be in shorter one-turn races, Enticed will not have distance limitations moving forward and runs like a horse that must be respected.

Equally impressive in victory was Remsen (G2) winner at Aqueduct, Catholic Boy (11/1) crushed the field in the 1 1/8-mile prep and served notice that he will be a force to be reckoned with next spring. Trained by Jonathan Thomas and listed as a member of The Field in KDFW1, Catholic Boy had finished a close and troubled fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in his last start. Catholic Boy had been winless on the dirt and heading into the Remsen many questioned whether synthetic, or even turf, would be this horse’s best surface. Coming out of the Remsen, however, that question was answered resoundingly by Catholic Boy’s 4 ¾-length win and, yes, Catholic Boy will be just fine moving forward on the dirt, thank you very much.

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McKinzie

Also among this group was the winner of the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) via disqualification, McKinzie (10/1). Trained by Bob Baffert, McKinzie entered the Futurity following an impressive 5 ½-length maiden win with a fast speed figure at Santa Anita on Oct. 28 and became such a buzz horse that he was bet down to 1-2 odds at Los Alamitos in a five-horse field.

A win is a win and the fact that McKinzie needed a DQ of Solomini (15-1), also trained by Baffert, to win that race after bumping in deep stretch is not really the issue. More concerning, however, was that he barely outlasted 17-1 outsider Instilled Regard by a head to get put up for the victory. Instilled Regard was also bothered by Solomini in deep stretch and was only a head behind McKinzie from being the one who inherited the victory.

If you are looking deeper than the winners already mentioned for some horses with the kind of potential (and future odds) that are appealing to handicappers in search of legit Derby contenders as we head into the new year, here is a list of just a few of them:

Montauk was an ultra-impressive Todd Pletcher 11-length maiden winner at Belmont on Oct. 7 and is now in Florida prepping for his 3-year-old campaign that is expected to be similar to the path taken by Pletcher’s 2017 Derby winner Always Dreaming. Montauk is 7.5-1 at US Racing.

Nobody was looking at the aforementioned Instilled Regard (25-1) heading into the Los Al Futurity, but perhaps he should not be overlooked. Trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, he was a head away from being placed first in the Grade 1 race and may have actually taken the worst of the trouble that also affected McKinzie.

Mendelssohn crossed the pond to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf and has never raced on the dirt in five career outings so far. Medelssohn is back in Ireland with trainer Aiden O’Brien, and he is 20-1 at US Racing, but if the world’s most prominent horse trainer says he believes this turf horse is actually a dirt horse and he will be pointed for the Kentucky Derby, who are we to argue?

Don’t forget about Sporting Chance, who won the Hopeful (G1) back at Saratoga for living legend D. Wayne Lukas, who has forgotten more about training classic winners than most trainers will ever know. By Tiznow and listed at a whopping 35-1 at US Racing, it seems most horseplayers have forgotten about him. True, he had surgery to remove bone chips from his knee, but, on the plus side, he’s gotten that adversity out of the way early, hopefully, and can now move forward with plenty of time to catch up. Lukas is targeting the Southwest Stakes (G3) at Oaklawn Park on Feb. 19 for the colt’s return.

Lastly, if you are looking for a headline-grabbing, fairy-tale-ending, future-Hollywood-blockbuster kind of story that could take hold for next year’s Kentucky Derby, then look no further than Greyvitos.

Greyvitos won the Bob Hope (G3) at Del Mar on Nov. 11 and followed up that win with another in the ungraded Springboard Mile at Remington Park on Dec. 17. Greyvitos certainly looks good on the racetrack based on ability, but he might have another better factor in his corner as he moves forward toward the major Kentucky Derby prep races — destiny.

Trained by Adam Kitchingman and ridden by multiple-Derby-winning jockey Victor Espinoza, Greyvitos was trained at San Luis Rey Downs, which was tragically devastated by wildfires resulting in the deaths of dozens of racehorses on the afternoon of Dec. 7. Greyvitos, who is 25-1 at US Racing, had left San Luis Rey that morning to catch his flight to Remington Park and was not in the area when the fire took place. Can you say “it was meant to be?”

Follow this space regularly for plenty more information and handicapping leading up to the 2018 Kentucky Derby, and much more.

Noel Michaels’ Derby Top 5 

  • Good Magic
  • Catholic Boy
  • Enticed
  • Bolt d’Oro
  • Sporting Chance

(As of 12/20/17)

Noel Michaels
Noel Michaels has been involved in many aspects of thoroughbred racing for more than two decades, as a Breeders’ Cup-winning owner and as a writer, author, handicapper, editor, manager and promoter of the sport for a wide range of companies including Daily Racing Form and Nassau County Off-Track Betting.
He also is regarded as the leading source of news and information for handicapping tournaments and the author of the “Handicapping Contest Handbook: A Horseplayer’s Guide to Handicapping Tournaments”, which made his name virtually synonymous with the increasingly-popular tournament scene.
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