Churchill Downs Stakes
I think this race comes down to a battle between the former Asmussen sprint star and the current Asmussen sprint star. It's Kodiak Kowboy vs Sok Sok. Both horses have quality but I'm going to favor tactical speed as I usually do and go for Sok Sok. The distance is a bit of a question for Sok Sok. He has been very good at 6f but has not had much chance beyond that. I think it'll be the limit of his capability but he'll handle it. He has only lost one dirt sprint in his life and that came in his second lifetime start. Kodiak Kowboy by comparison has been inconsistent. He won his last race impressively so I figure now is a good time to oppose him. Late running sprinters have a hard time getting there time after time. These two horses actually met at the Fair Grounds in March and Sok Sok was an easy winner. It was even run on a sloppy track which may be similar to what they'll face here.
Churchill Distaff Turf Mile Stakes
It's very odd to have a race in the mid-west where all the main contenders are from California but that's what we've got in this race. The best of the locals is likely Ballymore Lady but the high probability of ease in the ground is leading me to play against her. If things are miraculously firm then Ballymore Lady would definitely move up a few notches but a day out it looks unlikely. Visit is the horse to beat and despite her lack of success in America she is not a horse to take lightly. Her three turf attempts were all very good, she was just facing some nice horses. In some cases she was facing some unbelievable horses. She'll love the class drop for this race. I think she has to be included on all tickets but given her failure to win thus far in America it might be worth taking a price against her. A horse I love for the upset is Lemon Chiffon. She has never really run a bad race but her races as a mile have been her best. There is good pace in here with Elusive Lady, Tizaqueena, Sugar Mint and even Zee Zee. Lemon Chiffon is the best closer in the race and I like Smith on a closer. Her figures are even slightly better than Visit's. She's the pick. Another horse I like as a longshot is Dawn After Dawn. She's a pretty well known horse but I think most people associate her with not getting the job done. Sadler has really revitalised her with a move back to the grass and a two turn mile is definitely her favorite distance. I'm a sucker for the specialist plays. She has more tactical speed than Lemon Chiffon and Visit and I'm thinking that she'll be the horse both of them will be trying to track down in the final furlong. I'll use both Lemon Chiffon and Dawn After Dawn against Visit in the win pools but all three in multi-race wagers. I give a small chance to Lemon Mint, Tizqueena and Zee Zee.
Dawn After Dawn
Humana Distaff Stakes
One of my favorite horses is Game Face, one of the reasons I like her so much is because she almost always runs her race. Since breaking her maiden she has lost just one sprint and she has gotten better with age. 7f just might be her best distance and she has always performed really well at Churchill even on off tracks. I know it seems rather myopic to focus solely on her with good horses like Secret Gypsy, Informed Decision and Royale Michele in the race but I really think she'll find a way to get it done no matter the competition. The only horse I'd use against her right now is Indian Blessing and she opted out. I like the outside draw as opposed to an inside one. I think she does better from that "favorite's perch" just outside the pace setter. Informed Decision will take some heavy money having just beaten Ventura but I think you use her defensively if at all. She has always been better on synthetics than the real dirt.
Woodford Reserve Turf Classic Stakes
This is a very tough race, as a G-1 event ought to be. In circumstances like this I often have to rely on even the slightest excuse to toss a horse. Otherwise I'd end up playing 7 of them to win. I'm going against Einstein because he is poor value. I think his turf ability is very similar to most of these so he's not worth 2/1. He could win I just don't like the risk:reward ratio. I personally think that Court Vision is every bit as good if not better on the grass. He has consistently run superb races on the grass and although I like him better in 10f races I think he's the horse to beat in this race. Despite a pair of ugly failures Zambezi Sun remains a horse to be feared. His European form is good enough to win this race. I like the way he has perked up in the mornings. His last two works have been his best with Frankel. Perhaps that means he's ready to put those terrible races behind him. He gets Gomez and 10/1 is a great price on a horse who many thought would dominate North America this year.
It's finally here, months of build up all boils down to this. The final Derby analysis and actual selections. I think I see this race setting up a little differently than many others but in the end I think the results will not be that shocking to most people. The only major contender I'm going to play against is Pioneerof the Nile. It's been coming for months, I simply think that he's not that fast even if you give him an allowance for his races having been on synthetics. I also hated the way he closed out the SA Derby. I think he's no better than Papa Clem but will be a much shorter price. There are only 6 horses that I'll use in any way for multi race wagers and those six will also dominate any exotics like exacta's or trifecta's. My six are I Want Revenge, Dunkirk, Friesan Fire, Hold Me Back, Papa Clem and Regal Ransom. I think the Derby will be pretty formful so I won't go very deep looking for bombs. I Want Revenge is the horse to beat and my primary selection. He has shown me as much as I need to see in all the vital categories and everyone is going to have their hands full with this guy. Dunkirk is the only horse I really fear in that I'm sure he has not reached the peak of his abilities yet. He could run huge and he seems to have been working well so I am expecting him to run huge. I think he is the only horse that can go with I Want Revenge if both run their best races. The fear with Dunkirk is that he, more than any of my other six seems vulnerable to an extremely bad race. Friesan Fire is a horse I have always struggled to get on board with but I can't deny the results he's achieved, how well he has looked and the acumen of his trainer. I suspect he is more likely to run second or third than win but I'd certainly cheer as loud as anyone for Larry Jones if this guy pulls it off. Hold Me Back is, in my opinion, the best one run closer in the race. It's very difficult for a horse like that to win the Derby but just in case things get crazy he might be worth having a saver on. Most likely he'll be that horse running late and looking good but failing to get up. He has transitioned to the dirt well in the morning and I think he's sitting on a big race. Papa Clem might be the toughest horse in the race. He is not brilliantly fast, he'd definitely be more from the Grindstone mold than the Big Brown mold. But he doesn't give up, he's had four races around two turns and he's never been worse than second in any of them. He has also faced some decent horses in those races. If this was the early 90's when the trend was with the solid but unheralded contenders he would be the play. It's hard for me to envision him running well enough to beat I Want Revenge but he did it on synthetic and he's a horse that seems to give more when asked. The last of my six is Regal Ransom. No horse has looked better or trained better at Churchill Downs other than Rachel Alexandra. I know the stable backing has long been with Desert Party but this horse was a faster two year old, he managed to get the better of Desert Party in his last race of the spring and now he's outworking him in the mornings. I disagree with those that suggest he'll be a rabbit. He does not need the lead and he'll only be on the pace if it's moderate. If the pace does end up being moderate he's the best speed presence in the race. I'm not going to select six horses for the win in this space. I'll stick with just one, I Want Revenge, but all my six have some merit to them and I hope they all run big races. I think Dunkirk is the second most likely winner and Papa Clem is the third most likely. Good luck to everyone on Derby day!
I Want Revenge
Just like I did for Oaks day I've also taken a more detailed look at the entire Derby card and published my race rankings, win selections and multi-race wagers at this spreadsheet: Pick 6