Moments after champion Uncle Mo suffered a shocking first defeat in Saturday’s Resorts World New York Casino Wood Memorial (Grade I) at Aqueduct, track announcer Tom Durkin boldly declared, “The Kentucky Derby is up for grabs!”
Churchill Downs morning line oddsmaker Mike Battaglia concurs and, in turn, has taken a crack at a preliminary morning line for the 137th running of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands, which is scheduled for Saturday, May 7, at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.
Battaglia’s early morning line only includes horses currently ranked on the Top 20 of the Kentucky Derby 137 Graded Stakes Earnings List. That list will likely determine the field for the 1 ¼-mile classic and remains in a state of flux with five open graded stakes for 3-year-olds still to be run in advance of the race.
This weekend’s Kentucky Derby preps include the $1 million Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park and $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass over Polytrack at Keeneland. Both are Grade I events at 1 1/8 miles.
“We all realize that a lot can change between now and the first Saturday in May, but if they were drawing the field for the race today, I’d make The Factor the 7-2 morning line favorite,” Battaglia said.
Here’s Battaglia’s preliminary morning line: The Factor (7-2); Dialed In (4-1); Uncle Mo (4-1); Soldat (10-1); Toby’s Corner (10-1); Midnight Interlude (12-1); Mucho Macho Man (12-1); Animal Kingdom (15-1); Pants On Fire (15-1); Santiva (20-1); Shackleford (20-1); Comma to the Top (30-1); Jaycito (30-1); Stay Thirsty (30-1); Astrology (50-1); Decisive Moment (50-1); J P’s Gusto (50-1); Master of Hounds (50-1); Twice the Appeal (50-1); and Watch Me Go (50-1).
The Factor, owned by George Bolton and Fog City Stable, has won his last three starts by a combined 15 ¼ lengths, including a 6 ¼-length triumph in the March 19 Rebel Stakes (Grade II) over 1 1/16 miles at Oaklawn Park. That was the War Chant colt’s first attempt beyond seven furlongs and around two-turns. The flashy front-runner, trained by three-time Kentucky Derby winner Bob Baffert and named in honor of FOX News television host Bill O’Reilly, will be favored to win Saturday’s Arkansas Derby.
“This doesn’t take into consideration what we think The Factor might do Saturday in the Arkansas Derby or whether we think he can get the mile-and-a-quarter,” Battaglia said. “But at this point with his speed figures and the way he’s been running thus far, I’d have to put The Factor on top.
“Also, you have to like Dialed In’s race in the Florida Derby and you can’t completely throw out Uncle Mo after one bad race. I think the three of those are close right now. Then you start looking at the other contenders and, yes, they’ve jumped up and run some decent races but they still look kind of unproven. I kept coming back to the top three to battle for favoritism.
“A lot will change in coming weeks. There will be additions and defections that could impact the complexion of the race, plus we’ll have some setbacks and impressive workouts. This is simply an early glimpse at how the morning line might look if the race was run today.
“Like everyone, I was surprised Uncle Mo got beat. It’s not that I was sold on Uncle Mo, but I thought he was facing a weak group of horses in the Wood and that’s the reason I was extremely surprised he got beat. I didn’t think he’d have much problem winning. As a handicapper, I always have doubts about two-year-old form carrying over to the three-year-old season. The one-turn mile race at Gulfstream (The Timely Writer) against the field he ran against proved absolutely nothing to me as a horseplayer. He had something to prove Saturday in the Wood, but the race appeared to come up a little soft. In retrospect, the Wood result actually got pretty good (speed figure) numbers and the top two (Toby’s Corner and Arthur’s Tale, respectively) did step up and ran the best races of their careers. Regardless, I was extremely surprised that Uncle Mo got beat in that spot.”
Churchill Downs, the world’s most legendary racetrack, has conducted Thoroughbred racing and presented America’s greatest race, the Kentucky Derby, continuously since 1875. Located in Louisville, the flagship racetrack of Churchill Downs Incorporated (NASDAQ: CHDN) also operates Trackside at Churchill Downs, which offers year-round simulcast wagering at the historic track. Churchill Downs will conduct the 137th running of the Kentucky Derby on May 7, 2011. The track’s 2011 Spring Meet is scheduled for April 30-July 4, 2011. Churchill Downs has hosted the Breeders’ Cup World Championships a record seven times and the event will return to the track for its next renewal on Nov. 4-5, 2011. Information about Churchill Downs can be found on the Internet at www.churchilldowns.com.