Saturday's Kentucky Derby has a pair of top contenders in Bodemeister and Union Rags, but I've never seen a Kentucky Derby field so deep with viable win options. A compelling case can probably be made for half the field.
I've identified eight logical win candidates (in alphabetical order) -- Bodemeister, Creative Cause, Dullahan, Gemologist, Hansen, I'll Have Another, Take Charge Indy and Union Rags -- and could've included Alpha and Daddy Nose Best in the mix as well.
With such a competitive field, the post position draw was critical and I felt Bodemeister (post 6) and Union Rags (post 4) were hurt by the draw.
Bodemeister excelled from post 11 against a soft field in the Arkansas Derby, earning the top last-race BRIS Speed rating (105), but he's an inexperienced colt who was late to develop and probably needed an outside post to have his best chance. That would've allowed jockey Mike Smith to ease him along while the action developed to his inside, but that isn't going to happen with speedballs Trinniberg and Hansen to his outside. Look for Bodemeister to be committed to the lead from the outset and he could wind up being softened up on the front end.
Union Rags is a big, long-striding colt who was caged in when stuck down on the inside in the Florida Derby and the No. 1 goal of jockey Julien Leparoux appears to be getting him to the outside for clear sailing. Just like with Bodemeister, Union Rags' connections were desperately hoping for an outside starting position and the inside draw could compromise his chances.
Gemologist is two for two at Churchill Downs and five for five overall. He courageously dug down and found more when facing a serious late challenge in his Wood Memorial victory, displaying the resiliency of sire Tiznow, and is well-bred for the 1 1/4-mile distance. But his soft path to this point is disconcerting, with one of his two starts this year in a one-turn allowance, and he didn't face a deep field in the Wood.
Take Charge Indy and Hansen are both intriguing, but the former has taken advantage of easy leads on speed-favoring tracks in South Florida while the latter is questionable for the distance. And Dullahan appears to be sitting on a big race, but he may be better suited for turf and synthetic tracks.
That leaves I'll Have Another and Creative Cause, the one-two finishers in the Santa Anita Derby, and I will pick them in the same order Saturday.
I'll Have Another owns a high cruising speed, winning the Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis with a forwardly-placed trip, but he rated beautifully in the Santa Anita Derby before displaying the push-button acceleration to nail Creative Cause in the final strides. He underwent "shock wave therapy" in Southern California a few weeks back, but appears healthy and ready to thrive in the Kentucky Derby, turning in a sharp six-furlong work last week at Hollywood before impressing onlookers in his morning gallops at Churchill Downs.
He is by a 1 1/4-mile Travers winner, Flower Alley, and I'll Have Another hails from one of the better female families in the Derby field, so distance will be no obstacle for the chestnut colt, and post 19 is an advantage -- Derby newcomer Mario Gutierrez will be able to let him settle into a perfect spot during the long run to the first turn and will patiently bide his time before starting to roll. I'll Have Another is a finisher, registering 109 BRIS Late Pace ratings in both starts this year, and received a quality Speed number (102) for his win in the Bob Lewis.
Don't be fooled by the low Speed rating in the Santa Anita Derby -- that was a tepid pace with a lone speed horse crawling up front. With a legitimate pace that afternoon, I'll Have Another and Creative Cause would've received a much bigger number.
Creative Cause is as hard-knocking as they come, making seven straight starts against graded rivals, and he's never been beaten more than a length in eight career starts. The Grade 1 winner has the class, Speed numbers and the ability to finish (112 Late Pace ratings in his last two starts), and I expect him to make a serious impact with Joel Rosario.
My strategy is simple: I'll Have Another is my top pick, but I will play both I'll Have Another and Creative Cause to win, keying each one on top in the exotics. In the trifecta, Union Rags will be included in second spot with 10 horses on the bottom.
$25 win 19 (I'll Have Another)
$25 win 8 (Creative Cause)
$1 Exacta part-wheel: 8,19 over 3,4,5,6,8,10,11,14,15,19 ($18)
$1 Trifecta part-wheel: 8,19 with 4,8,19 with 3,4,5,6,8,10,11,14,15,19 ($32)