How much money will I blow on this one? Dunno. It’s looking like maybe fifty bucks spread out on a few combo bets based on my overall picks for this year’s derby. But since you probably landed here looking for any sort of opinion and someone else’s painstakingly-perfect handicapping, here goes:
MORNING OF RACE UPDATE: And now favorite Forte has also been scratched. I guess for me that leaves Tapit Trice, Angel of Empire & Mandarin Hero as my top three. I’ll figure out my combos before post time since it feels like there’ll be another dozen scratches at this rate. Geesh.
I think the two best horses in the race are the early moneyline favorite #15 Forte at 3-1, with 6 lifetime victories out of 7 races. All the speed, class and works numbers look good for this year’s Florida Derby winner, and even though trainer Todd Pletcher has a lot more disappointment tan victory in this race historically, he might have a winner here. (In case you’re curious – Pletcher holds the record for entries all time with 62, and he’s only won twice. He’s got 3 horses in this year’s contest.)
UPDATE! My other pick for winner has been scratched. I left my original part of the post below, but I’ll have to reconfigure my preferred picks & choose a new backup to Forte. I first leaned towards #5 Tapit Trice, but the more I thought about it and with the recent scratch of #9 Skinner, my wildcard possibility #22 Mandarin Hero will be part of my in-the-money choices. Not sure he could win, though… between a history of strong second places and the far-outside post position, it’ll be a tough trip for him. But he likes to get out in front, and now he’s the only horse left standing from the Santa Anita Derby prep. Could he pull this off and surprise everyone? I think I’m throwing him into my win column!
I’d put #10 Practical Move (10-1) on an even keel with Forte, however. Practical Move has improved steadily since his debut, has won his last three races in a row, and has class/speed/works numbers at the top of this field. I have a bias towards Santa Anita Derby winners too, partially since that’s the track I follow and also since SA Derby winners have fared well in the last several years at Churchill Downs. So I’ll be betting both #10 and #15 in the win column.
Rounding out my field for exotic bets: The horses I like for possibly finishing 4th or better are as follows, in order of post position not preference:
#5 Tapit Trice (5-1): Another Pletcher entry. Winner of this year’s Bluegrass Derby and 4 out of his 5 lifetime. Really good speed numbers and looks to be in peak form.
#8 Mage (15-1) : Runner up in the Florida Derby. His stats aren’t as good as the best here, but he likes to run up front, and I figure that’s good enough for me to include him in exotics.
#9 Skinner (20-1): Third place in Santa Anita Derby after getting bumped. He’s lost to Practical Move twice, but loves running him down. And at those odds, I think he’s worth throwing into the exotics.
#14 Angel of Empire (8-1): Winner of the Arkansas Derby and his last two races with steadily improving speed numbers after a mediocre start to his career. He’s also got a great jockey in Flavian Prat, who won the Derby in 2019 and has finished third in the last three. Trainer Brad Cox won the Derby last year, I think this horse is his best bet out of his three entries. This one is a real horse/jockey/trainer combo angle for me, and I think he ought to finish in the money.
#17 Derma Sotogake (10-1): With the scraches of both Practical Move & Skinner, I moved this guy up a notch based solely on his times in numerous races in Japan and the UAE. He’s got no speed or class numbers to compare apples to apples with the other horses, but he’s won a G2 and other stakes and just gives me a gut feeling of a horse that could finish in the money.
And also #22 Mandarin Hero (20-1) now in this thing via scratches. In the immortal words of Alphaville, he’s big in Japan. Not sure how big he’d be in Kentucky, but he was a strong second in the Santa Anita Derby, and that’s got me thinking to slot him into where I had my Practical Move pick. After all, he lost by a nose in the Santa Anita and was gaining on Practical Move at the end – another furlong might have done the trick.
So there you have it and as always, your mileage may vary. Hopefully there’ll be some happenin’ hats amongst the ladies, maybe Tom Brady will show up looking like a cartoon villain again, NBC will milk the living crap out the race with more than an hour of human interest garbage, and I will not be having a mint julep. Sorry Kentucky – love your horses and your fried chicken, but I prefer Tennessee-style whiskey to bourbon and I don’t have fresh mint around. That’s right – I’m just a CRABBY OLD KILL-JOY.