The Kentucky Derby will be run Saturday afternoon. A field of 20 is expected to compete. The horse with the solidest local connections is #15 Adriano, ridden by former Laurel jockey Edgar Prado, and trained by Marylander Graham Motion. Another jockey familiar to local horseplayers is Ramon Dominquez, who will be aboard #14 Monba.
Of the 20 horses starting, only eight have any realistic shot of winning. Here are my top picks:
10. Colonel John (Nakatani/Harty)
With the brilliant young stallion Tiznow as his sire, and a stamina-producing daughter of late-running Turkoman on the bottom side, Colonel John has all the pedigree ingredients to be a classic winner. His come from behind victory in the Santa Anita Derby was stunning and he scored a similar late charge in the Sham Stakes. Although not chicken, the Colonel has never run outside of California, but should find Kentucky to his liking. If there is one question mark, it is in the weak Beyer Speed Figures produced in his victories. However, Beyer numbers in California races are notably suspect and inaccurate. Col. John is the clear pick to mow down the frontrunners and bring home the roses.
4. Court Vision (Gomez/Mott)
A stunningly bred son of Weekend Storm, herself a full sister to Kentucky Derby winner Summer Squall, Court Vision is a pure and talented closer. His sire Gulch has already produced on Derby winner, Thunder Gulch in 1995. Court Vision's victory at Churchill Downs in the Iriquois Stakes last October was breathtaking. Court Vision will be closing at the end, and any trifecta ticket without his number on it will be dead. He will hit the board. Garrett Gomez is the hot national rider right now, taking over for retired legend Jerry Bailey. Bill Mott is, well, Bill Mott. Enough said. His two races as a three year old have found Court Vision finishing third both in the Fountain of Youth and in the Wood Memorial. But in both races he seemed to be finding his best stride late. Court Vision could well be sitting on a monster race.
15. Adriano (Prado/Motion)
A son of classic winner and top stallion AP Indy, Adriano is a pure blue blood, but one who has been sporadic and unpredictable in his seven career races. In his last race at Turfway Park, Adriano dominated a field of 11 in the Lane's End Stakes. But in the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park, he barely lifted a hoof. He has never run two good races in a row. Adriano is trained by a pair of former Marylanders gone big time- Edgar Prado and Graham Motion. Adriano should be advancing at the end of this race, but it's difficult to gauge if he can outrun Court Vision and Colonel John in a late charge. A real X-factor.
9. Pyro (Bridgmohan/Asmussen)
Pyro won the Louisiana Derby and was second in the Breeders Cup Juvenile last year behind War Pass. He has twice exceeded Beyer Speed Figures of 100, a key parameter in evaluating a Derby contender. A grandson of the great AP Indy on the sire side, his dam side qualifications are a little more dicey. When he moved up to a mile and an eighth in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, Pyro was nowhere to be seen. Did he not like the synthetic Keeneland track, or did he reach his distance limitations ? His come-from-behind running style however seems sound for this type of race and an improved effort off the Blue Grass might well be in the offing.
The sire here, Maria's Mon, has already produced one Kentucky Derby winner, Monarchos. This lightly raced gray colt came to life in the Blue Grass Stakes, running a career best and seems to be coming into the Derby with even more upward potential. The dam is out of the now-deceased classic winner Easy Goer who won the Belmont Stakes in 1989. Some may say that Monba benefitted from the Keeneland synthetic racing surface to win the Blue Grass, others may argue that he is a good horse finally coming to hand. The question is can he jump up and become a great horse, all so quickly. The connections of top trainer and 31-year-old Venezuelan jock Ramon Dominguez, a resident of Maryland, is top rate.
20. Big Brown (Desormeaux/Dutrow)
Undefeated in three career starts, Big Brown is awfully lightly raced and seems to have been rushed into the Derby against all odds. He suffers from a variety of foot and ankle problems for which he wears an unusual shoe. Incredibly talented, Big Brown has a front-running style that makes him almost certain to get caught in a speed duel from his far outside post position. Kent Desormeaux has matured over the years into one of the nation's leading riders, but keeping this horse together from such a disadvantaged post position will be his greatest challenge . Big Brown's pedigree is fine. However he is unlikely to overcome his inexperience, his limited running style, and the horrible post position he has drawn.
19. Gayego (Smith/Lobo)
With two recorded over-100 Beyer Speed Figures, a solid victory in the Arkansas Derby, and a consistent record of three wins and two seconds in five starts, there is a lot to like about Gayego. But there are a couple of other things, a weak pedigree and the #19 post position that aren't so great. Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith will have to carve out quite a trip to take this guy inside and steer him to the finish line. With a better post, one might have been able to look past the questionable pedigree. But with two strikes against him, I'm calling him out.
2. Tale of Ekati (Coa/Tagg)
The winner of the Wood Memorial passed a badly tiring War Pass in the Wood Memorial. Last September he won the Futurity at Belmont, so both of his two career victories have come in New York. The Derby is in Kentucky. His trainer, Barclay Tagg, won this race with Funny Cide in 2003. The jockey in his Wood Memorial win, Edgar Prado, leaves to ride the #15 Adriano. That is not a good sign. A repeat of Ekati's good Wood win is unlikely.
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