Saturday, May 5, 2012


By now, everyone has analyzed, over analyzed and stared at the Kentucky Derby past performances until they are dazed and confused. Lists of contenders have been created, edited and tossed since January. Research has been performed on pedigrees, speed figures, running styles, trainers and jockeys. Every step of the morning works and gallops have been scrutinized. Tried and true “Derby Rules” of always/never/usually have been dug up and applied. Previous Kentucky Derby fields have been compared to a race yet to run.

Below Scores are based upon pedigree for the distance, current class and form, running style, and surface preference. Horses ranked with an “A” are those with a serious shot of winning, “B” or “C” chance to finish in the top three, and “D” poor chance to hit the board. With that in mind, let’s take a look at this year’s Derby hopefuls.

#1 DADDY LONG LEGS - Daddy Long Legs is this year's European entrant in the Kentucky Derby. Last year Aidan O'Brian trained Master of Hounds to a second place finish in the UAE Derby and the well-bred colt placed fifth in the Kentucky Derby. Daddy Long Legs has a miler pedigree with lots of speed through his distaff line. Although he did win at 1 3/16 miles, Daddy Long Legs benefited from a crawling pace in the UAE Derby, with fractions of :26.13, :50.54 and six furlongs in 1:15.19. He won't get that funeral pace in Kentucky. His pedigree screams miler and that, along with all of the traveling he's done this year indicates that he's up against it in Kentucky. Overall score: D

#2 OPTIMIZER - has finished in the money in one of six races over the dirt, but won and placed in both starts over the turf. He's unplaced in both starts at Churchill Downs. Optimizer's Second Crop Sire English Channel is a Turf Champion who excelled at route races. His offspring haven’t taken to the dirt. Out of 63 foals to start, only two have won and two have placed on the dirt. Optimizer’s distaff line is classy and stamina oriented, so the farther he goes the better, but his best race surface thus far has proven to be turf. His best chance may be if the track comes up muddy. Optimizer has a one run closing style, but his late pace speed figures are dull. Overall score: D

#3 TAKE CHARGE INDY – the Florida Derby hero is a son of Classic Chef-de-race A. P. Indy out of the Kentucky Oaks heroine Take Charge Lady. Take Charge Indy likes to be forwardly placed in his races, but he is versatile enough to sit where his jockey places him. He has the pedigree and class to do well at classic distances and superior mud attributes. He appears to be maturing at the right time. Additionally, he attracts Churchill's perennial leading rider Calvin Borel, who has partnered with three horses to win the Kentucky Derby in the last five years. Overall score: A

#4 UNION RAGS - has lost only twice. As a two year old, he came up a head short in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile after a wide trip. In the Florida Derby, the massive colt was trapped on the inside, checked a few times and was let with too much to do in the stretch after finding running room late. He was the only horse closing ground in the stretch of the Florida Derby. Union Rags’ pedigree is borderline at best for 1 ¼ miles. Out of over 400 foals, his sire Dixie Union has yet to get a stakes winner beyond nine furlongs. Union Rags’ immediate family is filled with sprinter/milers. While Union Rags' pedigree is borderline for 1 1/4 miles there are other factors to consider. He's shown proficiency over dirt and mud, plus he owns the mental maturity to overcome trouble in his races. He prefers to sit off of the pace in his races. Union Rags has been at the top of his class both as a two and three year old and he appears to have all the tools needed to do well in the Kentucky Derby. Overall Score: B

#5 DULLAHAN - swept past Two Year Old Champ Hansen with a strong off the pace move to win the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland. He's a large colt with proven affinity for Polytrack and turf. His sire Even The Score has produced one stakes winner at 1 1/14 miles and that victory came over the turf. Although he gets winners over dirt, the lion’s share of Even The Score’s offspring win over turf and synthetics. Dullahan’s half-brother Mine That Bird was the 2009 Kentucky Derby shocker. Should Dullahan win the Kentucky Derby, his dam will be the first in history to have sired two Kentucky Derby winners. There's no doubt that Dullahan is getting good at the right time and the way he won the Blue Grass Stakes bodes well for his ability to handle 1 1/4 miles. The big question mark is how he will fare over the Churchill dirt. In three starts over the surface, his closest finish was six lengths behind Hansen in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Since the Bluegrass Stakes was switched to Polytrack in 2006, none of the winners have hit the board in the Kentucky Derby. Like his older brother Mine that Bird, Dullahan's best shot of winning the Kentucky Derby may be if the track comes up muddy. Overall score: B

#6 BODEMEISTER - leapt to the top of many Kentucky Derby lists with his runaway performance in the Arkansas Derby. The colt's 9 1/2 length winning margin was the largest posted in any Derby prep race this year. The lightly raced colt is by the Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker and his female family is filled with quality. His first five dams have all won or placed in stakes races and his fourth dam, Bity Girl, was a champion juvenile in England. The major knock against Bodemeister is that he didn’t race as a juvenile and his lack of race experience. Out of the last eleven colts that were unraced at age two and competed in the Kentucky Derby, only Curlin finished in the money. He placed third in the Kentucky Derby, but won the Preakness and went on to become a world-class Champion. Bodemeister likes to run on the pace. He'll have plenty of company up front in the Derby. Bodemeister is bucking history here and despite his talent, he's facing a monumental task in Kentucky. Winning is a tall task, but finishing in the money is not. Overall score: B

#7 ROUSING SERMON - best finish this year was when he clunked up for third in the Louisiana Derby, beaten two lengths. Granted, he did race wide, but the Louisiana Derby is regarded as one of the weakest preps this year. Rousing Sermon’s pedigree is miler oriented. None of his sire Lucky Pulpit’s offspring have been successful past 1 1/6 miles, but two have placed at 1 1/8 miles. Rousing Sermon’s female family are mainly sprinters and have produced sprinter/milers, although his damsire Awesome Again is stamina oriented. Rousing Sermon owns the best mud pedigree in the field. He is a one-run closer and has posted triple digit late pace figures in five of nine starts. He could pass tired rivals at the end of the Derby. At this point, he appears a cut below the best runners in the Derby. If the track comes up sloppy, he may have an outsiders’ chance of grabbing a minor spot. Overall score: C

#8 CREATIVE CAUSE - As a juvenile, Creative Cause stamped himself as one of the top colts in California with victories in the Best Paland Norfolk Stakes and a third place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. At three, Creative Cause beat Bodemeister in the San Felipe Stakes but lost a heartbreaking photo finish to I'll Have Another. Her is by the top international sire Giant’s Causeway. California Champion Older Mare Dream of Summer, the dam of Creative Cause, was a multiple graded stakes winning mare up to 1 1/6 miles. She was second in two editions of the Santa Margarita Invitational at 1 1/8 miles. Creative Cause should handle 1 ¼ miles. He likes to run close to the pace and he's battle tested from facing the top colts in California all winter. Overall score: A

#9 TRINNIBERG - is a hardy colt who has been outrunning his pedigree. As a three year old Trinniberg led gate to wire in both graded stakes attempts, which were sprints. He hasn’t raced beyond seven furlongs. Trinniberg has a sprinter/miler pedigree. His sire Teuflesberg was a hardy sprinter. None of his offspring have won beyond seven furlongs. The female family of Trinniberg is very light on blacktype and filled with sprinters. He is the only horse with a graded stakes win in five generations. Trinniberg is all about speed. Gun to the front and run as fast as you can. He's never raced a mile and will be asked to run an additional three furlongs farther than he's ever attempted. His tactic of gunning to the lead and going as far as he can will likely compromise the chances of colts that like to sit on or just off of the pace, especially whomever is stuck behind him. Even if his jockey should change tactics, the colt’s chances to last much beyond a mile are slim. Overall Score: D

#10 DADDY NOSE BEST - has proven himself over three different surfaces. He has a solid foundation of eight starts as a juvenile and enters the Kentucky Derby as one of the more experienced runners. He is one of the few Derby contestants with two stakes victories at 1 1/8 miles and should be one of the fittest horses in the race. His hot young sire Scat Daddy is producing tenacious classy babies. We don't know how far his offspring will run, but Scat Daddy's progeny have been victorious up to 1 1/8 miles over dirt, 1 3/16 miles over synthetic and 1 1/4 miles over turf. There is little blacktype in the immediate distaff family of Daddy Nose Best, but his immediate family includes a couple of turf stakes winners. Daddy Nose Best likes to make one run from the back of the pack. He was unplaced in two starts over the Churchill dirt as a juvenile, but his dirt form seems to have improved since then. His running style and pedigree suggest that 1 1/4 miles is within his scope and his speed figures have improved in his last three races. Of more concern is the class of horses he's been defeating since he’s never won above the Grade 3 level. Overall score: B

#11 ALPHA - Alpha steadied at the start of the Wood Memorial and fanned three wide at the top of the stretch. Still, he finished only a neck behind a stubborn Gemologist. The diminutive Alpha has the pedigree and class to run all day. His young sire Bernardini is poised to become a successor to his sire A.P. Indy in getting stamina oriented offspring and already has sired a winner at 1 ¼ miles. Alpha’s dam Munnaya was a long-winded turf router who won at 1 7/16 miles (11 ½ furlongs). Alpha's distaff line is filled with classy champions, such as Fantastic Light, Kentucky Oaks heroine Seaside Attraction and a couple of Canadian Champs. He's overcome minor trouble and has schooled all year to overcome his gate problems. If he can keep his temperament in check on Derby day, Alpha has a legitimate shot to wear the roses. Overall score: A

#12 PROSPECTIVE – is a pretty consistent runner. He followed up his win in the Tampa Bay Derby with a clunker in the Bluegrass Stakes (G-1), but his sixth place finish was only the second off of the board finish in his career. Of concern is that his other off of the board placing came in another Grade 1 attempt in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. With Malibu Moon as his sire and Awesome Again as a damsire, Prospective has the pedigree to handle 1 ¼ miles and he has excellent mud attributes. Spirited Away, Prospective's dam, won half of her eight starts including the Truly Bound Handicap at 1 1/16 miles over a sloppy track. The immediate female family is light on blacktype; However, Prospective’s third dam North Sider was Champion Older Mare of 1982. Prospective is a mid-pack runner. He could improve his form over a muddy track, but currently he appears to be just a cut below the top horses. Overall score: C

#13 WENT THE DAY WELL – is a borderline colt. His sire Proud Citizen has produced only one stakes winner going 1 ¼ miles. Went The Day Well’s damsire Tiznow tosses some stamina into the mix. Other than his second dam placing in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, Went The Day Well’s distaff line is light on blacktype. The colt has adapted well to racing over dirt and Polytrack. He is improving at the right time and he has a superior pedigree for mud. Went The Day Well has a mid-pack running style. He gets an "A" for pedigree, but he falls into the "who did he beat" category. If the Derby is run over the off going, this colt's day could go well. Overall score: B

#14 HANSEN - Like Union Rags, last year’s Champion Juvenile Colt has lost only twice in his career. His pedigree for 1 ¼ miles is suspect and he is the first blacktype winner in his distaff line in five generations. He has average mud attributes. So far, Hansen has handled every surface with ease and there’s no reason to think that he can’t handle the slop too. Hansen is a free-running colt who likes to be on the lead. Other speed in the Derby and his borderline pedigree for the distance may hamper Hansen's efforts in the Kentucky Derby. Still, the pretty gray colt has out-run his pedigree thus far and shown class, heart and a will to win. Overall score: B

#15 GEMOLOGIST – enters the Kentucky Derby undefeated and basically untested. He’s lightly raced and has raced only once against graded stakes caliber horses this year. Gemologist beat Alpha by a neck in the Wood Memorial, but the colt appeared to wait on Alpha to engage, and then merely toyed with him, winning by a neck. Gemologist has a distance-oriented pedigree and superior mud attributes. He’s shown the determination of his sire, two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic hero Tiznow. Gemologist’s distaff family is quite classy. He is a half sibling to two stakes winners and a stakes placed runner, plus his dam is a half-sister to Kentucky Oaks runner-up Withallprobibility. Gemologist for all accounts is still pretty much untested and his speed figures are on the slow side, so we don't know how talented he really is. He's shown that he can sit off of the pace while showing some fight in the stretch. On the downside, Gemologist appears inexperienced and unfocused. Not what you want to see in the Derby. One thing's for sure. He has the pedigree to run all day, he's passed every test and is the only undefeated colt going into the Kentucky Derby. Overall score: A

#16 EL PADRINO - hit the top of many Derby lists with his scintillating nose victory in the Risen Star after a tough stretch battle. Sent off as one of the favorites in the Florida Derby, El Padrino was kept wide the whole way. Unable to make up ground in the stretch, El Padrino crossed the finish line a lackluster fourth. His sire Pulpit has produced only two stakes winners that have been successful at 1 ¼ miles over the dirt, but El Padrino’s damsire Giant’s Causeway makes up in the stamina department. El Padrino's distaff family is loaded with talented stars and the mares of this distaff line are excellent producers. El Padrino's dam is a half-sister to two Grade 2 stakes winners. El Padrino's second and third dams are Grade 1 winners and his fourth and fifth dams are blue hens (superior producing females). El Padrino is clearly talented and loves the slop. He’s mentally mature, will rate of off the pace for his jockey and has shown athleticism in overcoming minor trouble. Of concern is that he’s raced only four times in his life. El Padrino likes to race a few lengths off of the pace. He's battle tested and has the ability, but he may lack the bottom foundation to get the Derby distance. Overall score: B

#17 DONE TALKING - In winning the Illinois Derby, Done Talking posted one of the slowest final times ever recorded for the race. He flashed a brief promise of positive things to come when finishing fourth, beaten only a length in the Remsen over a speed favoring track. In his three year old debut, Done Talking was a lackluster 10th in the Gotham. He posted his best speed figure in the Illinois Derby. Done Talking's sire, was a solid Grade 2 level runner at 1 1/8 miles. Most emulate their sire and are good for sprints up to 1 1/8 miles, although he is represented by two stakes winners at 1 1/4 miles. The female family of Done Talking includes some solid stakes winners. His half-sister and dam are stakes winning sprinters. His second dam is a Grade 3 winner and Done Talking's fourth dam is the popular race veteran Vodka Talking. Done Talking has a decent pedigree for mud, but his only race over a "good" track resulted in the worse finish in his career. We don't know if it was the surface or some other factor that did him in. Done Talking's pedigree is borderline for 1 1/4 miles and he doesn't appear to be fast enough to keep up with this year's top Derby prospects. On the plus side, his stalking style in a race filled with speed could see him mowing down tired horses late. Overall score: C

#18 SABERCAT - Sabercat earned his way into the Kentucky Derby with a victory in the Delta Jackpot Stakes. In the last nine years, only one colt, Closing Argument, has finished in the top three in both the Delta Jackpot and Kentucky Derby. This year, Sabercat hasn't shown the same flash as he did as a two year old, as he's been trounced by over 16 lengths in his two starts this year. He’s the poster boy for why juvenile stakes earnings shouldn’t be a Kentucky Derby prerequisite. Sabercat has the pedigree of a miler. His sire Bluegrass Cat placed in the Kentucky Derby, Belmont and Travers Stakes, but so far, the third crop sire's offspring have been win early types that are distance challenged with maturity. Sabercat's half-sister Olivine is a stakes winner and his dam is a half sister to a multiple graded stakes placed runner, but overall, his immediate female family is modest. Sabercat has a back of the pack late running style, but he is distance challenged. He finished only a neck behind the determined Secret Circle in the Arkansas Derby, but Sabercat was drifting in the stretch, a sign of a tired horse. If his earnings from the Delta Jackpot didn't count, Sabercat wouldn't be in this year's Derby field. Overall score: D

#19 I’LL HAVE ANOTHER - showed class at age two finishing second in the Best Pal Stakes, a distance for which he wasn’t optimally suited. This year he is undefeated around two turns and nosed out Creative Cause for the victory in the Santa Anita Derby. I’ll Have Another has a stamina laden pedigree. His third crop sire Flower Alley was off to a slow start at stud and his late maturing offspring are best around two turns. I’ll Have Another’s damsire Arch is a young broodmare sire many of his daughters' offspring haven't raced at classic distances. As the sire of Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Blame and a number of other graded stakes winners at 1 ¼ miles, Arch should pass along his stamina genes to his daughters’ offspring. I'll Have Another is the first stakes winner in his distaff family in two generations, but his half-brothers have won past a mile. I’ll Have Another’s mud attributes are average. He prefers to run on or near the lead, but may sit farther back if asked. I’ll Have Another owns the pedigree to excel at classic distances, but he’s coming into the Derby with only two recent races under his girth and may wind up a little short on foundation. His Brisnet speed figure regressed slightly in his last race, but he should improve in his third start off the layoff. Overall score: A

#20 LIAISON – Like Sabercat, Liaison gets a spot in the Derby gate based upon his two year old form. He was a precocious baby and won three straight races, including the CashCall Futurity (G-1). This year is another story. After clipping heels in the Robert B. Lewis, Liaison failed to show any interest in the San Felipe and Santa Anita Derby. He has a borderline pedigree for 1 ¼ miles. There aren't many stakes winners in Liaison's female family. Other than the colt himself, Liaison’s dam Galloping Gal is the most accomplished runner in the family. She spent her racing career competing over the dirt and turf in middle distance stakes events and is Grade 2 Stakes placed. Liaison’s current form is poor and he appears to struggle over dirt. Perhaps a run on the turf is in his future, but his Kentucky Derby chances appear slim. Overall score: D


Track bias: Over the last four days, we’ve seen a definite bias towards speed. The winners in the majority of the races have won as pace setter/pressers. The second and third place finishers have been a mix of pace pressers/off the pace, although the track has been kind to the pace setters as some of them have held on for an in the money finish. Scattered thunderstorms, some severe, have been forecasted. The track will likely be sealed against this possibility. If so, that will likely make it faster.

There are five major factors to consider when weeding out legitimate contenders. In no particular order they are 1. Running Style; 2. Track Surface; 3. Late Pace Figures; 4. Morning works; 5. Pedigree and final prep race.

1. Running Style: Three contestants, Bodemeister, Hansen and Triniberg like to set the pace. Bodemeister and Hansen have the pedigree and foundation to be around at the finish. Hansen has successfully pressed the pace in the past, so he can sit off of the flank or behind whoever is bent on getting the lead.

Take Charge Indy, Gemologist, and I’ll Have Another may sit directly behind the front runners. All three are dangerous and can be there at the end. The latter two have outside posts and may need to be used a little early to get a good position. With Calvin Borel aboard, it’s practically a given that Take Charge Indy will zip to the rail from post 3. Hopefully Borel will use his patented move of skirting the corner around the final turn and not be caught behind a tiring horse.

The next group of mid-pack runners includes Alpha, El Padrino, Union Rags, Went The Day Well, and Creative Cause. Union Rags in the #4 post will have to be careful not to become stuck in traffic. He’s a large horse who has shown that he doesn’t like to be stuck on the inside. El Padrino, from the #16 post may wind up going wide. Toss Prospective, Sabercat and Liaison into the mix that will be sitting mid-pack. That leaves Daddy Nose Best, Dullahan, Done Talking, Rousing Sermon and Optimizer to do their best work from the back of the pack. When they hit the mile pole, these colts should be making their move. If the leaders go too fast early, one of these colts could pass tired rivals and find themselves in contention. Daddy Long Legs is the wildcard. He’s stuck in the unenviable post #1. That forces him to either shoot to the lead, which most Euros don’t do, or be stuck somewhere mid-pack. Often European horses break a step slower than their American counterparts. If this happens, Daddy Long Legs may find himself hanging out with the late running closers.

2. Track Surface: An off track could pay a part in the outcome of the Derby. Rousing Sermon has the best mud pedigree in the field, but he is distance challenged and his form isn’t that great. The colts with experience and strong mud attributes are Gemologist, Take Charge Indy, Union Rags, El Padrino and Hansen. Alpha, Bodemeister and Done Talking also have superior mud pedigrees. Done Talking, Prospective and Creative Cause should also be capable of handling an off track.

3. Late Pace: A horse’s ability to run swifter late fractions is a major factor in route races. Union Rags, Creative Cause and Take Charge Indy are all within three points of one-another. Others with a good late-pace speed figure are I’ll Have Another, El Padrino, Done Talking, Bodemeister, Daddy Nose Best and Went the Day Well. Overall, Dullahan’s speed figures have shown improvement in virtually every start of his career as has Went The Day Well. They are the only two horses in the field to hold this distinction.

4. Morning Works: Races aren’t won on paper, neither are they won during the morning breezes. Unlike paper clues, how a horse looks and acts in the morning can give crucial information on how the horse will perform at crunch time. All week, clockers and the media had the chance to scrutinize every ear twitch and tail swish of the Derby contenders. How relevant is the close attention? Eighteen of the last twenty Kentucky Derby victors breezed over the track prior to the race, so a horse’s physical appearance prior to Derby day is paramount. The consensus from various media was that the following horses looked particularly good all week: Take Charge Indy, Bodemeister, Gemologist, I’ll Have Another, Daddy Nose Best, Went The Day Well, Prospective and Union Rags. At the other end of the spectrum is Hanson, who was rank, Creative Cause appeared to be a little sore, Dullahan has very high leg action and has questionable dirt form. El Padrino appeared hot and lackluster.

5: Final Prep/Pedigree: A significant trend in the last eleven years has been that the Kentucky Derby hero is that it has won or placed in a Grade 1 contest in its final prep and that its damsire’s daughters have previously produced a stakes winner at 1 ¼ miles. In most instances, the Derby winner’s sire has also given us classic distance stakes winners. This year, the colts that fit both the final prep and sire/damsire profile are Alpha, Bodemeister, Dullahan, Gemologist, and Take Charge Indy. I’ll Have Another’s damsire has stakes winners at 1 ¼ miles, but his young sire doesn’t. On the other hand, Creative Cause’s sire gets plenty of winners at 1 ¼ miles, but his damsire, from a limited crop, hasn’t.

So, which names keep cropping up in our analysis?

Take Charge Indy ticks all of the boxes. He has the pedigree, late pace figures, running style, mud attributes and won his last start. Add a hot jock and we’ve got a recipe for success.

We won’t know the track condition until close to post time. So horses that fit three of the four profiles are: Bodemeister, I’ll Have Another, Gemologist, Alpha and Dullahan. Creative Cause gets an honorable mention. His sire has winners at 1 ¼ miles but his damsire doesn’t. How important is this? In the last eleven years, the only horse to win the Kentucky Derby with this profile was Funny Cide. The two share a similar trait, both of their damsires had a limited number of offspring and inadequate representation on the track.

It’s tough to pick just four out of twenty horses in a competitive field. Especially with uncontrollable factors that arise during the running of a race. Below are the horses that, should things go their way, have the best opportunity to win the Kentucky Derby:


#19 I’LL HAVE ANOTHER (12-1)


#15 GEMOLOGIST (6-1)

#11 ALPHA (15-1)

Contestants who don’t tick many of the boxes to win but have other factors, such as morning works in their favor include:

#4 UNION RAGS (9-2)

#10 DADDY NOSE BEST (15-1)

#13 WENT THE DAY WELL (20-1)

#12 PROSPECTIVE (30-1)

Colts that have most factors in their favor, but did not physically impress:

#16 EL PADRINO (20-1)


#5 DULLAHAN (8-1)

#14 HANSEN (10-1)