2011 Kentucky Derby Card PicksOur thoughts on the 2011 Kentucky Derby card
By The Editors
Happy Kentucky Derby day! We’ve asked our contributors to share their thoughts on the graded races on the Kentucky Derby card. We’ll add replays as they become available.
2011 Kentucky Derby Replay
G3 Twinspires Turf Sprint Stakes (5F)
Race 6 | 1:19 PM ET
By Adam Wiener
If you like speed, this is your race.
Obvious favorite Chamberlain Bridge (2-1) is just three races removed from his impressive BC Turf Sprint win last November. In a G3 prep last time out, he was taken to the lead, presumably as a test. That didn’t fare well, and I assume his connections will look for him to stay back here and press late, as he did in the BC. The 7-year-old has been training well and this distance is his sweet spot, earning him 15 of his 17 career wins. Get him into exotics or risk being shut out.
Bridgetown remains the biggest threat to the favorite, with the speed to sustain late chargers. Pletcher is looking to exact revenge for the BC Turf Sprint loss and should move him to the frontrunner here. His recent form in lower level preps, along with recent bullet works, makes him formidable.
Regally Ready will most likely stay around his ML of 3-1. Steve Asmussen should call on Corey Nakatani to move early, but this field represents a much stronger class than he’s faced before.
The short morning line of 3-1 for Custom for Carlos will most likely get better, but that’s only after smart money moves past his eye-popping Beyers (including a 109 in his most recent second place finish to Big Drama) and weighs his shallow turf record. Despite also having little turf experience, Early Return (ML 12-1) could bring significant value. His last turf start in December showed a strong, wide move with closing speed. Again, exotics call out for his inclusion.
Longshots Henry’s Time (30-1), Southern Region (30-1) and Spectacular Kid (30-1) round out the field. While all look outclassed here, Spectacular Kid could surprise with a late flourish.
Picks: Bridgetown, Early Return, Chamberlain Bridge
G1 Humana Distaff (7F)
Race 7 | 2:08 PM ET
By Valerie Grash
Off her victory in the Grade 2 Inside Information, Hilda’s Passion is in excellent form and her previous performance on a wet track gives her an advantage if that situation were to arise on Saturday. She’ll go to the lead and not look back. The question that arises is: Can anyone go with her? Both 2010 Kentucky Oaks runner-up Evening Jewel and third-place finisher Tidal Pool return here. From the far outside post eight, Calvin Borel will likely send Tidal Pool early, just like in last year’s Oaks, and she does have fitness on her side, having won twice in four outings this year routing. Cutting back to seven furlongs suits her, probably more so than it suits Evening Jewel, who ran a distant third in last November’s Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint. Not to discount her chances entirely, but Evening Jewel just doesn’t appear to be at the same level as last year.
Home track advantage goes to Sassy’s Image, as she’s posted three wins in four starts here, including the 2009 Grade 2 Golden Rod. After disappearing for nearly a year, she returned in January with a second-place finish in an optional claiming race before fading badly to finish last in the Grade 3 Sabin. Freshened up again, Sassy’s Image has posted three sharp works in advance of this start and, breaking from the rail, she could be an upset threat.
Although she was no match for Hilda’s Passion in their previous meeting, Amen Hallelujah gets blinkers here, which should get her more focused early, and her narrow loss to Shotgun Gulch in the Grade 1 Madison gives her a bit more fitness. Sentimentally, Shotgun Gulch is my favorite. Oklahoma-bred, she’s trained by her owner who, by gaining the services of Garrett Gomez, won the Grade 1 Madison last out. Like Evening Jewel, she’s been running late, but the 124 pound impost worries me.
The rank outsiders look to be allowance winner Stage Magic and Sunland Park stakes winner Twelve Twenty Two, the latter of whom is in the midst of a four-race win streak, but who hasn’t faced this level of competition since 2007 when, as a juvenile maiden, she finished a nose behind subsequent multiple Grade 1 winner Life at Ten. With Julien Leparoux returning on Twelve Twenty Two, she might be worth a longshot saver bet.
Picks: Hilda’s Passion, Shotgun Gulch, Amen Hallelujah
G2 Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (8F)
Race 8 | 2:59 PM ET
By Jen Jade
The Churchill Distaff Turf Mile features some rising stars as well as some familiar names.
The 2009 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf champion returned to the winners’ circle in her third race off a long layoff after that race. She appears to be returning to form and boasts regular rider Julien Leparoux, who has gotten off to a good start at the Churchill meet. The cutback in distance could also be to her advantage.
The daughter of Maria’s Mon sports a two-race win streak and retains jockey Rosie Napravnik. Her close-to-the-pace style fits here, but there is a question of class.
Vivo Per Lei
This is a longshot to watch if the race comes off the turf.
Graham Motion’s very talented daughter of Mr. Greeley is 3 for 3 in the U.S. and, with a bullet work on synthetic coming into the race, doesn’t look to be slowing down. She has a win over the Churchill turf track that was rated good. Pace scenario could include her closing fast on Tapitsfly.
The Jonathan Sheppard trainee gets Joel Rosario aboard for the first time and is worth watching, as she is on the improve.
Bill Mott’s filly was rallying late for a solid third in the Honey Fox. She looks talented, but might need more distance.
This daughter of Wildcat Heir has been posting runner-up finishes going 1 1/6 miles; the cutback in distance plus getting Garrett Gomez for the first time makes her a live longshot.
Chris Block’s daughter of Smart Strike is coming off an impressive win in the Jenny Wiley; she’s won two straight and almost always hits the board. The only drawback is she’s drawn well in her wins and for this race, the outside post is a detriment.
Picks: Wild Mia, Aruna, Tapitsfly
G2 Churchill Downs Stakes (7F)
Race 9 | 3:51 PM ET
By Dana Byerly
Slight morning line favorite Smiling Tiger (7-2) will try to improve on his first effort at Churchill Downs in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, where he came in a solid third. The California sprinter has been doing well since his last visit to Churchill and comes in on two consecutive wins.
His main obstacle looks to be Capt. Candyman Can (9-2), who is five for five at the distance and has eased into his 5-year-old season the right way. He’s working well and gets the jock for the course, plus Regal Ransom’s near miss in the Alysheba flatters the Capt. as he beat Regal Ransom last out.
Apriority (4-1) comes in off a second in the Carter, where he could not hold off the aptly named Morning Line as the morning line favorite. Aikenite (5-1) is proven at the distance but hasn’t won on the dirt in a while. Given how the rail played yesterday, his position plays against him a bit.
Captain Cherokee (6-1) has been knocking on the door, running a close second to the some big bad Cali sprinters and could easily step it up here, particularly given that he’s been in the money every time he’s run at Churchill. Mythical Power (10-1) ran a solid third in the San Carlos in February, and unlike first and second place finishers Smiling Tiger and Captain Cherokee, he’s trained up to this race. His works look great and his last two works are at CD. Oaks winning duo of Baffert/Garcia is a big plus.
Noble’s Promise (10-1) has been off since December and has done well off a freshening before. He has a nice last work but feels like a wild card. Ibboyee (10-1) was not far behind Capt. CandymanCan last out in the Sir Shackleton and was coming off a break since the fall. He had the fastest final quarter in the race but would have step up here, as he’s spent most of his time in state-bred company. Here Comes Ben (10-1) makes first start since Breeders’ Cup where be bombed in the Dirt Mile. He’s worth a long look given his habit of winning off a freshening. He’s also been training sensationally.
Chocolate Candy (30-1) came back off a long break in an ambitious spot and could certainly improve, but this is an even tougher spot. Even though he ran sixth last out, he ran the fastest final quarter. Le Grand Cru (50-1) last won about a year ago in the Westchester, and it seems as though his current connections are trying different placements to see what works. He gets blinkers for the first time. Delong Road (50-1) has worked his way through allowance conditions at Oaklawn and takes a big step up.
Picks: Mythical Power, Capt. Candyman Can, Captain Cherokee
G1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (9F)
Race 10 | 4:46 PM ET
By Kevin Martin
The Woodford Reserve Turf Classic – to be run one race prior to the Kentucky Derby – is why gamblers and race fans love turf racing. The race drew a large field of classy turf runners. All but one of the main entries have a graded stakes win on their resume, and the one exclusion (Moryba) has a Group 1 win in his native Brazil. It will be a great race to bet and exciting to watch.
The tepid morning line favorite at 4-1 is Court Vision. Few North American horses have run a tougher schedule than Court Vision. Since he turned four in 2009, 14 of his 15 starts have been in Grade 1 turf races. In that same period he has won twice, both at one mile, and has been the post time favorite in seven of those races (all races he lost). Court Vision is a game racehorse but a reliable bet against.
Doubles Partner showed great promise in 2010 in winning his first three races on turf, including the American Turf over the Churchill grass, but was sidelined after a disappointing fourth in the Colonial Turf Cup in June. He has been impressive in his first two starts this year and won the Grade 3 Tampa Bay Stakes in his most recent start. Jockey Julien Leparoux will be aboard for trainer Todd Pletcher and he is the one to beat.
Teaks North finished just a length and a quarter behind Doubles Partner in the Tampa Bay Stakes. He has already finished ahead of a few of today’s rivals during his 2011 campaign (Get Stormy, Smart Bid, Little Mike, and Battle of Hastings). At 20-1 on the morning line, he is the value play of the race. He has won three of seven on the turf in his career and won the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Handicap in his 2011 debut.
The last time Prince Will I Am raced at Churchill was in the Breeders’ Cup Marathon. He finished second but was disqualified to tenth after an overly aggressive ride from jockey Javier Castellano. He battled it out over the Gulfstream Park turf during the winter with the talented Rahy’s Attorney and appears to be in peak form for trainer Michelle Nihei. Today’s race will be a cutback in distance from his first two races in 2011. He looks to be primed for a peak performance in the third race on the form cycle.
Picks: Doubles Partner, Teak’s North, Prince Will I Am
G1 Kentucky Derby (10F)
Race 11 | 6:24 PM ET
By Chris Rossi
When starting to handicap any race, I usually try to envision the pace scenario. On my first run through of the past performances for this year’s Kentucky Derby, the one standout data point I took away was that there was no typical sprint speed attempting a desperation stretch out. Where’s the Spanish Chestnut or Keyed Entry type who is clearly just in the race as a pace presence? There is usually that kind of form for this race, and it’s just not here in this edition.
strong>Dialed In isn’t a particularly imposing morning line favorite against this evenly matched field. His Florida Derby seemed like a classic closer’s optical illusion;that is, it looked like a better performance than it actually was. So we’ve got a favorite that I believe can be beaten.
My feeling is that both Comma to the Top and Decisive Moment are the speed of the early speed, and I think neither is capable of winning the race in that fashion. I would imagine Shackleford would be among those like Soldat, Pants On Fire and Uncle Mo as being in the first vanguard behind the early speed. I liked Shackleford’s Florida Derby effort and think a similar effort could be dangerous here, but I have the feeling that the Florida Derby may not turn out to be the key race it was supposed to be. Though I like Shackleford better than either Pants On Fire or Soldat, all three rate legitimate threats just on their ability to sit stalking trips in what could be a slower early pace than is typical in the Derby.
Archarcharch’s win in the Arkansas Derby was the type of effort I like to see in a Derby contender. The Arkansas Derby was the closest prep to the prototypical Derby; the race was run in waves of pace that went fast early, had middle movers make moves too early, and then saw Archarcharch make a decisive move on the turn when getting the jump on the fast-closing Nehro. Nehro draws the better of the two, and while post position is typically overrated in the Derby, Archarcharch’s inside post could probably be a replay of his Rebel effort, where he had problems settling.
I’ve got many questions about Animal Kingdom’s ability to transfer his form onto dirt, but the bottom line is that he’s improved as a 3-year-old, has the pedigree for the distance and seems adaptable to any kind of pace based on his limited starts. If he’s anywhere as good on dirt as he’s been on synthetic, he’ll be a factor in the Derby and that’s a leap of faith I’m willing to make.
Picks: Animal Kingdom, Shackleford, Nehro