And, just like that, the Kentucky Derby prep season is over.
I’ll admit, I don’t have my Derby Horse yet. I rarely do, before Derby week…then again, that’s normal for me. The only time I had my Derby Horse before the week of the race, before the last few works, before the draw, was when I zoomed in on Keen Ice the previous fall.
The strongest opinions I have just about three weeks out are over who I will use underneath.
Even if I don’t end up using Free Drop Billy on top (that will depend on my assessment of the pace once it draws!), I’m keen to use him under. Barring major defections the pace of the Derby should at least be honest, and Free Drop Billy is a closer who dependably fires. He has a win at Churchill Downs. And, the distance should suit him beautifully, as he is a Union Rags half to long-winded sorts like Hawkbill and Trensita.
Flameaway will also show up in my under-rungs. Unlike Free Drop Billy, who may show up on top in my tickets depending on how the race draws, Flameaway will almost certainly be used only under, as I still think he’s a cut below the top of the Derby-bound heap this year. But? What he lacks in raw talent he makes up for in grit. He’ll be up near the front, but he’ll fight on. He has proven that time and time again, and that consistency should get him a chance for piece on the first Saturday in May.
On top, the picture still looks muddled.
At this point, I still have Magnum Moon on top of my three-year-old poll, just because his work this year has impressed me the most. (That, and not top Derby prospect, is more in keeping with the poll guidelines as I read them.) I didn’t love the fact that Magnum Moon drifted out late in the Arkansas Derby, but the fact remains that he left some good horses flailing in his wake, and across his body of work, he has shown he can run in different styles. He also has one more race — and one more stakes race — underneath him than Justify, another unseasoned, unexposed, and clearly talented horse heading into the Derby. Justify deserves accolades, of course; he is fast, and even though he did have things his way in the Santa Anita Derby, he still left a very good horse in Bolt d’Oro chasing to no avail.
The aforementioned Bolt d’Oro? If someone took me to the Wynn, put some cash in my hand, and told me I had to play a Kentucky Derby future right now, I’d play him. Yes, he proved no match for Justify at Santa Anita, but he has what looks like the best balance of seasoning and talent leading into the Derby. I have questions about connections who haven’t been to the Derby before, but with more pace likely in the Derby and questions about Justify’s seasoning leading into the race, I know I’ll be giving Bolt a long look come the first week of May.
Good Magic, I’m also thinking positively about at this point. He has one of the better distance pedigrees in this field, with plenty of classic stamina. And, his final prep was solid. Even if Sporting Chance hadn’t veered right in front of Free Drop Billy? Billy probably would have run down Flameaway; Good Magic, however, was probably safe and clear. The Blue Grass wasn’t flashy, but I didn’t think it needed to be. He did what he needed to do: take a defined step forward from the Holy Bull, and prove that his maiden win in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile was not a fluke. Good Magic also has a certain appeal, because even though he won’t be right on the pace, he gets a jump on the real closers. There’s a lot to like about him.
Audible…I’m leaning toward not using at all, because nothing about his pedigree suggests that a mile and a quarter is going to suit him. The idea of not using him scares me a bit, because he has been the best of the Gulfstream set, and the Florida Derby has been such a live spur of the trail in recent years. But, you can’t use everyone, and the price on him won’t be good enough for me to set what I fear to be distance limitations aside.
And then, there’s Mendelssohn. The record of UAE Derby horses in the Derby has been dreadful. The record of Aidan O’Brien sending horses to compete on dirt in the States has been dreadful. I even have questions about his mile and a quarter pedigree. But, Mendelssohn won the UAE Derby the right way: specifically, by blowing the field out of the water. Even though that was his first start on dirt, he has enough other races at two and three on other surfaces to give him the seasoning I’d like to see. In both the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf and the UAE Derby, he has proven that he can ship internationally and bring his “A” game. He has the kind of tactical speed that proves dangerous time and time again in the Derby. In short, Mendelssohn has far more going from him than your average UAE Derby winner, even your average Aidan O’Brien “let’s try dirt” horse. I’ll be thinking a lot about him in the next couple weeks — as I have neither talked myself off him nor talked myself onto him yet.