The 141st running of the $2 million Kentucky Derby promises to be remembered for its quality, with a dynamite field assembled for the 1 ¼-mile classic.
The 20-horse cast features no shortage of legitimate win contenders and the crème of the crop belongs to Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. The three-time Kentucky Derby winner will send out the probable top two choices in the wagering, American Pharoah and Dortmund.
I like the chances of unbeaten Dortmund.
1st – DORTMUND
Dortmund is a son of Big Brown, the last undefeated Kentucky Derby winner in 2008, and the massive colt appears to be a chip off the old block – both are supremely fast and talented. Six-for-six overall, Dortmund has a number of things in his favor.
One of the key handicapping elements for me is identifying the strongest region of Kentucky Derby contenders and the California prep races this year were clearly best in my estimation. And Dortmund developed into a beast while defeating top competition all winter/spring.
He displayed the grit and tenacity desired from a Kentucky Derby contender when edging Firing Line in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes and continued to impress with convincing wire-to-wire tallies in the San Felipe Stakes and Santa Anita Derby, registering an outstanding 106 BRIS Speed rating in the latter.
Dortmund possesses tremendous athleticism and high speed. An inside post position would’ve been a concern due to his imposing size, but he drew perfectly in post 8 and figures to be sent from the start.
His affinity for the track is another attribute – he shipped to Churchill Downs last fall to record an impressive victory -- and Dortmund can lead wire to wire in the Kentucky Derby.
2nd – FROSTED
Frosted makes his second start since undergoing a corrective procedure to improve his breathing. He exits an eye-catching performance, registering a field-best 107 BRIS Speed rating for his victory in the TwinSpires.com Wood Memorial, and looms a serious threat to carry his form forward.
Conditioned by Kiaran McLaughlin, Frosted is by leading sire Tapit. The well-bred gray colt displayed a new dimension last time, closing from off the pace to win going away, and those tactics could serve him well in the Kentucky Derby. His outside post will provide jockey Joel Rosario with options as far as placement during the early stages.
I’ll look for a solid showing that nets runner-up honors.
3rd – AMERICAN PHAROAH
American Pharoah brings a lofty reputation and immense skills into the race. Last year’s champion two-year-old male will be ridden by Victor Espinoza, who earned is second Kentucky Derby win when guiding California Chrome to glory last year, and American Pharoah is very quick.
Despite his speed, American Pharoah figures to be rating just off the early lead – Baffert has practically committed Dortmund to the front end and the last thing he wants is his star pupils dueling head to head in the opening stages. I’m not concerned about the run style, but the 1 ¼-mile distance and his easy campaign could prove to be stumbling blocks.
American Pharoah is bred to excel at one-turn distances on the female side of his pedigree and has basically recorded a pair of paid workouts this season, easily dispatching overmatched rivals in two starts at Oaklawn Park. He will likely face adversity for the first time on Derby Day, not an ideal recipe given the quality and depth of the competition.
He could be special enough to overcome all obstacles, but American Pharoah offers little win appeal to me at expected short odds.
FIRING LINE pushed Dortmund to the limit in a pair of narrow setbacks before shipping to New Mexico to post a 14-length win in the Sunland Derby. He figures to be prominent from the start and will be included underneath in any exotic wagers.
BOLO finished third to Dortmund in his last two starts and has made a nice appearance since arriving at Churchill Downs. He’s considered to be better on turf, but the talented colt could prove versatile enough to grab a minor award at long odds.
DANZIG MOON will enter on the upswing, finishing a clear second in the Blue Grass last out, and has trained forwardly at Churchill Downs for his third stakes appearance. The Kentucky Derby could set up well for his late kick and the improving colt is one to consider for a small share.
MUBTAAHIJ picked the wrong year to make an assault on the Kentucky Derby. He’s run big in Dubai this year, recording a smashing eight-length victory in the U.A.E. Derby, but has never seen anything like he’ll face in this spot. He figures to drop back and make one run, and the classy colt can’t be dismissed completely.
CARPE DIEM and MATERIALITY could each win a lot of major races down the road, but they received awful inside posts (3 & 2 respectively) and it’s tough to envision a favorable trip for either.
Enjoy the Derby!