Yes, I'm still breathing.
The feather duster came in handy for yours truly, with my maiden NJ Horseplayer blog post of 2021!
In keeping with tradition, and despite still feeling the scars of the Maximum Security disqualification two renditions ago that cost me a handsome Pick 5 payout and cashing other wagers, here's my 2021 Kentucky Derby analysis.
Traditionally I keep to a $100-$150 bankroll and key most of my wagers around two horses, including my selection to win -- #15, Rock Your World (5-1). It was a coin flip between him and #14, Essential Quality, the probable favorite at a 2-1 morning line, which is saying something in a 20-horse field.
As I see it, Rock Your World may both be the fastest horse in the field and the most versatile, and with the best jockey in the race at rationing speed. Being on or near the lead is typically critical in the Derby, so as long as Joel Rosario breaks cleanly and can track the "cheap speed" horses -- particularly #8, Medina Spirit (15-1), I believe Rock Your World has the stamina to outlast Essential Quality.
Those two horses are my only "win" options. I've otherwise broken the field down into horses that can "hit the board" -- run second, third or fourth. I'll probably allocate 20-30% of my bankroll to a straight exacta (e.g., $20 exacta 15-14, $10 exacta 14-15) and some keys with the "underneath" horses I like.
I'll put another 30-40% toward trifectas, which tend to pay handsomely if you catch a price.
One bomber I believe can finish as high as second is #12, Helium (50-1). It's a horse I think also has some early kick and maybe had one of the "worst trip" wins in the field of 20.
Enough babbling. A little on each of the runners, grading them "A" (can win), "B" (could win if everything goes right), "C" (ceiling of third or fourth) and "PASS" (aka No Shirt, No Shoes, No Dice). In order of preference...(UPDATED SATURDAY MORNING FOR KING FURY SCRATCH)
#14, Essential Quality (2-1): This guy's 5-for-5 including two Grade 1 wins as a two-year-old. He's equally if not more versatile tactically (at least proven to be), having won from just off the front-runners and as far back as 8-9 lengths. There's nothing to dislike, other than (at least to me), Rock Your World looks a little faster from the gate based on race replay video. They call it gambling for a reason, and I anticipate a ding-dong battle in the stretch. Grade: A
#12, Helium (50-1): Hear me out. A lot of horseplayers will knock Tampa Bay Downs, the track where Helium scored at 15-1 to get into the entry gate on Saturday. It's the second-fiddle Florida facility to Gulfstream Park, but I scored with Helium in the Grade 2 Tampa Derby on March 6 and was subjected to an awful five-wide trip throughout before a bold move into the stretch, then rallying back to hold off a late comer to score a narrow victory. My two beefs are the jockey switch (connections ditched the winning rider Jose Ferrer in favor of Julien Leparoux) and lack of prep in between. Yet the two-month layoff shouldn't affect this horse's "form cycle," as he scored in the Tampa Derby after four-plus months of rest. I think Leparoux is one of the more patient jockeys in the race. Just hoping he doesn't get swallowed up in the vanguard into the first turn. I'll feel more confident about Helium hitting the board if he's sitting no worse than 10th into the backstretch. Grade: B
#1, Known Agenda (6-1): I've been beaten many times using horses from the dreaded rail draw, but I'm not sold there's a ton of speed inside of post 8 and think the best jockey in America (Irad Ortiz) will get this guy safely to a forward position and save ground along the rail. The latter's a tough proposition with so much outer flow from the other 19 post positions. The 6-1 morning line shows the respect this horse deserves, having won two straight impressively for top trainer Todd Pletcher since putting on the blinkers. Maybe that improves the horse's comfort with what he'll face in the cattle charge to the first turn. Grade: B
#3, Brooklyn Strong (50-1): This guy beat Known Agenda two back in the Grade 2 Remsen at Aqueduct in the slop on December 5. Granted, one could argue he got lucky or loved the off going, but his April 3 performance in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial after a four-month layoff was infinitely better than the racing program suggests. Frankly, jockey Manny Franco rose Brooklyn Strong horribly in that race, checking several times along the rail with a horse who was semi-keen but could never find an opening. Once he found a small seam in the stretch, Brooklyn Strong started to rally before again getting cut off and shifting several paths out into the track. Still almost rallied for second in a race won by a 73-1 shot. A cleaner trip that day and he'd have had a shot. Grade: C+
#19, Soup and Sandwich (30-1): I had this one on my "watch list" before his impressive second-place finish in the Grade 1 Florida Derby, a race where he carried the field from the front and semi-wide before relenting to Known Agenda in the stretch. I'm not sure he'll get the distance as sire Into Mischief was more of a sprint-type one-turn horse. But I'm fairly confident the second of trainer Mark Casse's runners (the first being Helium; see above) will be one of the pace-setters; maybe the track bias carries him to a third- or fourth-place finish as the others languish. Grace: C
#9, Hot Rod Charlie (8-1): This is another one I think may be distance-constrained and needs the best of trips. HRC's win in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby was on the lead, but it looked to me he inherited it and no one else wanted the front; sorta lulled his foes to sleep. The race I didn't like on replay was his one before that, in the Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita in January, where he was one of the top choices but outgutted for second place by an 11-1 shot and between foes. Grade: C
#17, Highly Motivated (10-1): Same deal as S&S and HRC. Think he's ultimately going to be great as a miler. Gave in to Essential Quality in the Grade 2 Bluegrass Stakes last month and am concerned he was a bit used up there. I can see jockey Javier Castellano having to use the horse hard to gain a forward position into the first turn -- a tough task from post 17. Grade: C
No Shirt, No Shoes, No Dice
#2, Like the King (50-1): Know the expression about having nothing good to say? Yeah...
#4, Keepmeinmind (50-1): Perfect example of why a 20-horse field is completely silly. Doesn't have a credit 3-year-old race to fit here.
#5, Sainthood (50-1): Cheap speed. Maybe you'll hear his name early. Could be the primary impediment to Known Agenda getting a safe position into the first turn along the rail.
#6, O Besos (20-1): Ran late for minor awards in two Derby preps at Churchill-owned Fairgrounds in New Orleans. Slow gate-breaker who may be last into the first turn. Can't see him factoring.
#7, Mandaloun (15-1): I don't think distance is an issue for this guy, and will keep my eye if he's entered in the Belmont Stakes in June, as in the Risen Star Stakes in February he won impressively at 9 furlongs and I thought was wrapped up late by his jockey. But the start wasn't particularly fast, and so I view him as a "grinder" more than a tactical horse with a quick burst of foot. Just not my cup of tea in a chaotic race where he may get crunched early. Respect, but adding to watch list for future races.
#8, Medina Spirit (15-1): Bob Baffert B-teamer after his top horse Life Is Good scratched. To me this guy's going to be forwardly placed, but not Derby caliber and one that can't rate. A need-the-lead type who'll probably wilt a mile and back up in the stretch.
#10, Midnight Bourbon (20-1): Had the lead in the aforementioned race won by Mandaloun and wonder if he's cut out for the dirt. Not a big fan in this spot despite world-class trainer and rider.
#11, Dynamic One (20-1): Really hated how he finished in the Wood, losing second to Bourbonic after putting away his other foes. Another Pletcher trainee, so he deserves respect. Just not sure he's meant for the distance.
#13, Hidden Stash (50-1): See write-up on Like the King
#18, Super Stock (30-1): Somehow won the Arkansas Derby on April 10 after two speed horses tired each other out, but that was a dream scenario in a short field of six where the other three contenders probably didn't have a winning chance. Writing that off as soft field. Tries, but not your winner.
#20, Bourbonic (30-1): If nothing else, I'm rooting for Kendrick Carmouche, a local jockey and class act who's living the dream here. It's really hard winning from post 20, but as he showed in the Wood, Bourbonic's a patient horse who'll probably duck pretty quickly to the rail, sit back and maybe hope tempo's extremely fast and conducive to closers. Another Pletcher trainee, so respect is deserved, but I'm passing for the Derby.
Out of the Race
#16, King Fury (
20-1): SCRATCHED; spiked a fever: A $950,000 purchase with three lifetime wins in six tries, including two at Churchill Downs. Connections haven't backed down from putting him in tough fields, including the Grade 1 Breeders Futurity and Breeders Cup Classic in a month's span last autumn, with an overnight stakes win sandwiched between. His 3-year-old debut on April 10 in the Grade 3 Lexington was a win, but a part-the-seas type of clean trip a jockey can only dream about. He'll have to work a lot harder today, but I think can run late for a minor award. Grade: C-/SCRATCHED