Derby Day is upon us

It’s time for the 137th running of the Kentucky Derby and a huge afternoon at Churchill Downs awaits.  The weather forecast is iffy, but that’s hardly a surprise.  Here’s a look at my stakes analysis for the card:

Race 6, The Twin Spires Turf Sprint, Post Time: 1:19 EDT (5-7-2-8)

Defending Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner #5 CHAMBERLAIN BRIDGE is looking to rebound from a disappointing effort at Keeneland 3 weeks ago.  He was put right on the lead that afternoon on a boggy course and ultimately weakened in the final furlong.  At this stage of his career this veteran son of War Chant doesn’t have the speed to go coast to coast and trainer Bret Calhoun said shortly afterwards that he didn’t handle the yielding turf.  He’s now back on his favorite course and figures to get a phenomenal pace setup with two fleet-footed speedsters set to spar early.  You can easily spot this gelding in crunch time with his big white blinkers and he should be moving best of all late.  #7 EARLY RETURN ran a much better race in the Bonapaw back in December at Fair Grounds than it looks on paper.  He was shuffled back badly heading into the far turn and wound up wheeling out widest of all before commencing a rally.  There’s no shame in being outfinished by a horse like Due Date, who was this gelding’s entrymate that afternoon.  Like ‘Chamberlain, this old war horse is going to do his best running late and will benefit from the expected hot pace.  #2 REGALLY READY showed signs of being a serious turf sprinter last fall when he won his grass debut by over 7 lengths on this course.  He had a tremendous winter in Southern California as he rattled off consecutive stakes wins on the Hillside turf course.  He is going to be in the pressure cooker from the start with a serious speedster drawn on the outside, #8 BRIDGETOWN.  If those two can avoid a ridiculous speed duel then one or both could hang around for a major share. SELECTIONS: 5-7-2-8

Race 7, The Humana Distaff (G1), Post Time: 2:08 EDT (7-3-5-1)

It seems foolish to spend a great deal of money trying to beat #7 HILDA’S PASSION, who has rapidly become one of the best female sprinters in the country.  She manhandled five overmatched rivals in the Inside Information back in mid-March at Gulfstream and that win was preceded by a routinely easy score in the Hurricane Bertie one month earlier.  No horse in this race can match her early speed and that should lead to another frontrunning gambit under Javier Castellano.  Though trainer Todd Pletcher’s Florida shippers must always be handled with care, this gal has won on three different dirt tracks already and has handled adversity with devastating ease.  #3 EVENING JEWEL is moving back to dirt after a dull effort in the Madison last time out at Keeneland.  She has run two positive races on this track, including a heartbreaking nose defeat in the 2010 Kentucky Oaks.  The quicker the pace gets the better for this gal, but there’s no doubt that she has to improve in order to give the top pick a serious scare.  #5 SHOTGUN GULCH flew down the middle of the Polytrack to win the aforementioned Madison at Keeneland.  She is G1 placed on dirt already and should be moving well in the waning stages once again.  Jockey Garrett Gomez, who piloted her to the win in Lexington, is back aboard and he is the best rider in the country with off the pace types.  If ‘Hilda gets pushed at all early then this gal might find herself in position to reel them all in once again.  SELECTIONS: 7-3-5-1

Race 8, The Distaff Turf Mile (G2), Post Time: 2:59 EDT  (8-6-11-9)

#8 AVIATE is out to improve on a 3rd place finish in the Honey Fox at Gulfstream a couple of months ago.  Trainer Bill Mott entered her in the Jenny Wiley at Keeneland three weeks ago but scratched, presumably to avoid a heavy turf course that afternoon.  In her first North American outing she attempted to rally in a pace-dominated race on a course that was very fast.  Moving to a more lush course that figures to be playing fairly she rates a serious chance to rebound in a big way.  Mott has shown signs of breaking out of the winter doldrums which plagued him at Gulfstream as his top distaffer, Unrivaled Belle, narrowly missed in Friday’s La Troienne.  This Juddmonte homebred could help the rebound move along at a more rapid clip.  When #6 ARUNA won her North American debut last September at Saratoga she showed stakes caliber potential.  Trainer Graham Motion obviously felt that way as he entered her in the Pebbles, which she won easily, before trying a graded stakes event, the Mrs. Revere over this course.  She has been training like a lunatic in both South Florida and Maryland (going back to February) and should benefit from a positive pace setup this afternoon.  Jockey Ramon Dominguez won this race a year ago with Phola and seems to be on a very live mount once again.  When is the bubble going to burst for #11 NEVER RETREAT?  She just keeps putting up big efforts and has suddenly developed a great deal of tactical speed.  Jockey Shaun Bridgmohan should be able to keep her in a good stalking spot today, much like he did in her Jenny Wiley victory 21 days ago at Keeneland.  Any Pick 4 that’s missing this gal is one fraught with peril. SELECTIONS: 8-6-11-7

Race 9, The Churchill Downs (G2), Post Time: 3:41 PM EDT

After a lengthy trip to the sidelines, #6 CAPT. CANDYMAN CAN has come back with a vengeance.  After winning a soft stakes race at Tampa Bay Downs he came back in the Sir Shackleton on the Florida Derby undercard.  He is 5-5 at 7 panels and seems to have a remarkable amount of versatility.  It seems reasonable to think that a return to his prior running style of laying back to make one run will work well.  Trainer Ian Wilkes narrowly missed winning this race in 2010 with Warrior’s Reward and will be represented by a major player once again.  If you isolate the race #10 NOBLE’S PROMISE has run off of 80+ day layoffs you have to like what you see.  Those include his maiden win way back in Septembe 2009, a narrow miss in the Rebel last year and an impressive win in the JimmyV on Breeders’ Cup weekend.  His trainer, Ken McPeek, is on a tear right now as he’s hit at  37% clip over the last 30 days and his record with dirt starters returning off of 100-200 day breaks is tremendous (31%, $2.32 ROI).  This colt should be in a favorable spot from the outset.  #2 SMILING TIGER is one of the best sprinters in the country.  He has quickly restored the luster lost in a surprising defeat in the Palos Verdes earlier this year.  You have to be mildly concerned that he has somehow lost his gate speed in his last two with a couple of slow breaks but he finished quite strongly in the Count Fleet last time out and showed versatility in doing so.  The inside draw will be difficult as he is winless when breaking from the 1 or 2 post going back to his maiden win in 2009.  That being said, excluding him is quite dangerous.  SELECTIONS: 6-10-2-3

Race 10, The Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (G1), Post Time: 4:46 PM EDT

The scratch of #1 LITTLE MIKE had to thrill trainer Tom Bush as his charge, #7 GET STORMY, figures to be on the lead from the outset.  Whether he can stay 9 panels against such an accomplished field remains to be seen.  #5 PRINCE WILL I AM will deal with the opposite kind of distance issue as some are still unsure that 9 furlongs is enough for him.  He exits a poor effort in the Pan American (G3) where he was one-paced late after being given little help pace-wise.  His Jamaica victory last year at Belmont shows that 9 panels is enough for him as he unleashed a furious late kick that afternoon to blow by them all.  If jockey John Velazquez can keep him clear of trouble then he’ll be tough to hold off late at what should be a fair price.  #9 AL KHALI has been somewhat disappointing in his career but things could be on the verge of turning around.  He has run 3 of his best races in the last two years with Alan Garcia aboard, the pilot who will guide him today.  He also exits a narrow miss in a race where there was no pace whatsoever.  Those that see a defeat in an allowance race as an effort that keeps him from being a contender in a Grade I stake are ignoring the very strong effort he put forth that afternoon at Keeneland.  Even if Get Stormy procures an easy lead there’s going to be more pace in here then he got in Lexington and that’s enough to give him a big chance to win.  The aforementioned Get Stormy looked as if his best days were behind him but then Bush and jockey Javier Castellano gave him a chance to do what he has always done best.  In the Maker’s Mark Mile he made a clear early lead and kept on finding, pulling clear late to win by almost three lengths.  Castellano has landed elsewhere but Ramon Dominguez is on board and he is more than capable of nursing a frontrunner along through moderate fractions.  They’ll have to catch this guy to beat him.  SELECTIONS: 5-9-7-13

Race 11, The Kentucky Derby (G1), Post Time: 6:24 PM EDT

After losing two horses that were considered major contenders it’s difficult to find a horse to land on as a Derby pick.  However, #13 MUCHO MACHO MAN is a horse who I’ve gradually warmed up to in the time since he was last seen in New Orleans.  His 3rd place finish in the Louisiana Derby included a lost shoe and down the stretch it appeared as if he lacked that same punch we had grown to expect from him.  Trainer Kathy Ritvo immediately hatched a plan to have him fit off a 42 day break and it included long, steady workouts and consistent gallops.  It seems to have worked to perfection thus far as Mucho Macho Man was considered the picture of healthy by most on-track observers later in Derby week.  The question of running style is a legitimate one as he has never been able to rally from well off the pace and the early clip in here will be very strong.  While that is a concern, he also seems to be very handy and can be placed anywhere along the way.  If jockey Rajiv Maragh can rate with him and make one run he’ll be dangerous as a mid-range longshot.  #15 MIDNIGHT INTERLUDE would break one of the oldest Derby “rules” as the last horse to be blanketed in roses who didn’t run at two was Apollo in 1882.  This son of War Chant is from the top notch Bob Baffert barn, who has won three Derbies during his Hall of Fame career.  Whether the Santa Anita Derby was a particularly strong prep is up for debate but this guy showed some real gumption in that victory.  He rated comfortably after going to the lead in his prior start and continued to rally in the stretch drive after angling in while green at the eighth pole.  There are few horses in here who have moved forward in recent starts and if you’re going to gamble that a horse like this can move forward in this situation, Baffert’s the right guy to have in your corner.  #1 ARCHARCHARCH was on the verge of being the 3rd choice in here prior to drawing the inside post on Wednesday evening.  That really should not disqualify him from contention as the two rivals just to his outside have little early speed and that will help him get a good spot down the stretch for the first time.  The Arkansas Derby was the strongest prep on the Derby trail and this guy was very game in winning by a head.  He is plucky, versatile, and has push-button acceleration.  Those are the kinds of things you like in searching for a Derby horse.  SELECTIONS: 13-15-1-19

In the $0.50 Pick 4, let’s play: 6,7,8,11 with 2,3,6,10 with 5,7,9 with 1,3,8,13,15,19  TOTAL: 144

Best of luck with your wagers!

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