Submitted by Noel Michaels on Thursday, April 16, 2015 at 12:00 AM
DERBY WINNER LIKELY TO COME FROM BAFFERT OR PLETCHER BARN
By Noel Michaels
There is still a couple of weeks to go before the 2015 Kentucky Derby, which will be run this year on Saturday, May 2. The prep race season is over and the field for the 141st running of the Kentucky Derby is taking shape, so it’s definitely not too early to start thinking about the Run for the Roses, and the horses that are shaping up to be the contenders and pretenders on the first Saturday in May.
The process of trying to weed-out the eventual Derby winner from a field of literally hundreds of hopefuls that tried to join the Triple Crown trail since last fall and all through the winter and spring usually tells handicappers just about everything they need to know when it comes to handicapping the Kentucky Derby. Standouts always emerge, and the rest of the slots in the 20-horse starting gate are filled by horses that have accumulated points in the Derby prep race process for close finishes in meaningful stakes races.
The 2015 field of Kentucky Derby contenders, in my opinion, is a very strong one compared to other recent years. To me there’s no doubt about it - this is an exceptionally strong crop of 3-year-olds.
When you look at the top of the list of contenders for the 141st running of the Kentucky Derby, one thing stands out: It is dominated by horses trained by either Bob Baffert or Todd Pletcher. Sure, crazy and unpredictable things happen in horse racing, particularly when you start talking about things like the trifectas and superfectas, etc. However, if you are looking for the winner (and perhaps the entire exacta) of the 2015 Kentucky Derby, the search basically begins and ends with horses hailing for these two top stables - Baffert and Pletcher - that seem to have a strangle-hold on the upcoming Run for the Roses.
We have at least three main Kentucky Derby contenders in 2015 who, in any other year, would be standout favorites. These horses are American Pharoah (Baffert), Carpe Diem (Pletcher), and Dortmund (Baffert). It’s difficult to predict who will be the actual post time betting favorite amongst that top group.
That is not to mention the strong second-tier of contenders that includes Florida Derby winner Materiality (also Pletcher) and runner-up Upstart, plus Wood Memorial winner Frosted, Louisiana Derby winner International Star, Fountain of Youth winner Itsaknockout (Pletcher), and the Santa Anita Derby and Louisiana Derby runners-up, One Lucky Dane (Baffert) and Stanford (Pletcher).
Read on for my own Kentucky Derby ratings for 2015, as of mid-to-late April, for a look at my list of contenders and pretenders in the projected field of 20 horses. My ratings are based on a 100-point system, where 100 is an absolute winner, on downward to major contenders in the 90s and scores in the 70s and 80s indicating horses with many more plusses than minuses in their favor.
Noel Michaels’ KENTUCKY DERBY RATINGS
|1||Dortmund||95||Freaky colt is 6-for-6 after running the table at SA|
|2||American Pharoah||94||Last year’s top 2YO may be this year’s top 3YO|
|3||Carpe Diem||90||Won Blue Grass for Pletcher and never runs a bad race|
|4||Materiality||85||Sky the limit for Pletcher lightly-raced Fla. Derby winner|
|5||Upstart||82||Don’t overlook the resume this horse has compiled|
|6||International Star||81||Rolled thru all three Fair Grounds Derby prep races|
|7||Itsaknockout||79||Todd Pletcher’s 3rd or 4th stringer wouldn’t be a shock|
|8||El Kabeir||76||Strong and steady but lacking one big "wow" effort|
|9||Danzig Moon||75||Continued improving trend when 2nd in Blue Grass|
|10||Bolo||72||Keeps losing to Dortmund and future may be on grass|
|11||Tencendur||71||Earned a 100 Beyer figure when 2nd in Wood Memorial|
|12||Frosted||70||I feel that the Wood Memorial win is as good as it gets|
|13||Stanford||60||KO’d by Materiality, then nearly won Louisiana Derby. Perhaps that doesn’t say much about the FG horses.|
|14||Firing Line||68||Took a Sunland Park detour. Derby distance is a concern|
|15||One Lucky Dane||66||Speedy and trained by Baffert. Didn’t handle Dortmund|
|16||Far Right||65||Good, but not good enough to get close to Pharoah|
|17||Mr. Z||64||Lukas horse runs continually. Perhaps an exotics chance|
|18||Mubtaahij||63||History has proven the Dubai route doesn’t work|
|19||Ocho Ocho Ocho||62||Returned from layoff. Playing catch-up but is out of time|
|20||War Story||61||Continually losing to International Star at Fair Grounds|
When taking a look at my chart of Kentucky Derby contenders, it becomes apparent that the 2015 Kentucky Derby is very likely to be won by either Bob Baffert or Todd Pletcher. Between the two of them, Baffert and Pletcher are likely to have a total of 7 of the 20 starters in the Kentucky Derby field, including all four of the top contenders and 7 of the top 15.
If a Las Vegas prop bet existed at anything close to even money, where you could take team Baffert (Dortmund, American Pharoah, One Lucky Dane) and team Pletcher (Carpe Diem, Materiality, Itsaknockout, Stanford) versus the field, I would tell you to bet the mortgage on it, because the winner of the 141st running of the Kentucky Derby is very likely to come from that group of seven horses. To narrow it down further, you could just take Dortmund, American Pharoah, Carpe Diem and Materiality on top, and probably have the whole race locked up to win as well as in exactas.
Let’s take a more detailed look at Team Pletcher and Team Baffert heading into the 2015 Kentucky Derby.
It would not be hyperbole to say that Bob Baffert is absolutely loaded heading into the 141st running of the Kentucky Derby, thanks to three big bullets in the race including the 1-2 favorites in the race, American Pharoah and Dortmund, plus a solid third contender with One Lucky Dane.
The likely Kentucky Derby post-time favorite has reeled off four straight graded stakes victories going back to last year, including 2-for-2 at Oaklawn as a 3-year-old with wins in the Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby. Baffert also trains Dortmund, and needed to keep his two contenders separated from each other on the Derby trail, so therefore it’s no surprise American Pharoah was Oaklawn-bound, especially considering Baffert has a long recent history of ruling the major Arkansas prep races.
American Pharoah crushed the field in the Arkansas Derby by eight lengths with a strong 105 Beyer speed figure. The impressive nature of that win was important, because it stamped American Pharoah as truly back from the injury that derailed him before he got a chance to run in last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. The Rebel Stakes was Pharoah’s first since September, 2014, and he won despite needing that race. The Arkansas Derby, therefore, was exactly what you’d want to see from this horse, as a tour-de-force improvement in his second off the layoff in what hopefully will be a useful enough final prep for the Kentucky Derby.
The horse is quickly achieving freaky monster status with an undefeated 6-for-6 record heading to Churchill Downs for extremely dangerous connections. Continually seems to get better and better, and just when you think you’ve seen his best, he uncorks another impressive win, just as he did again when dominating the Santa Anita Derby on the front-end en route to a four-length win with a 106 Beyer speed figure. In that SA Derby, Dortmund even lost a shoe, and ran much of the race down inside on a part of the track that was otherwise dead the entire afternoon.
On his road to Louisville, he has now knocked-off Firing Line, Mr. Z, Bolo, and One Lucky Dane, and one gets the feeling we really haven’t even seen his best yet. Bred to relish a classic distance, and even though he’s loaded with speed, he has already shown the handy ability to be able to rate and/or press the pace. Even has a coveted win over the track at Churchill Downs - a seven-length allowance win as a young 2YO with a 97 Beyer speed figure. Looms a serious threat as part of Team Baffert’s potent 1-2 punch along with American Pharoah, and many people would not be surprised if these two comprise an all-Baffert exacta on the First Saturday in May.
One Lucky Dane
The final one of the three projected Kentucky Derby starters will be One Lucky Dane, who is lightly-raced and still has the potential for much more improvement at this young stage of his career. Ran second, even though it was a distant second, behind stablemate Dortmund in the Santa Anita Derby, where he finished ahead of the hard-hitting Bolo for place honors. That race was the second start off a layoff for One Lucky Dane, so people in this horse’s corner could easily say he’s approaching best form just in time for the trip to Churchill Downs. The speed figure for the Santa Anita Derby runner-up finish was a solid 99, so perhaps he doesn’t have a giant amount of ground to make up on the other horses in this field to perhaps be able to snag a minor share in Derby exotics.
Before we just go ahead and hand the Kentucky Derby trophy to Bob Baffert mid-way through April, let’s first consider that this is an extremely strong 3-year-old crop and there are several other serious contenders to consider in the race, especially in exotics. Many of those other top contenders happen to be trained by Todd Pletcher, who will likely have four starters in the gate at Churchill Downs.
Todd Pletcher’s top first-string contender comes up to the Kentucky Derby with two successful 3-year-old prep races in his back pocket including easy wins in both the Tampa Bay Derby and Blue Grass Stakes. He seems to love Keeneland with big stakes wins there as both a 2YO and 3YO, but unfortunately they run the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs and not down the road in Lexington. Carpe Diem has yet to clock an amazing speed figure in his road to Louisville that can match the type of speed already shown by the likes of American Pharoah, Dortmund, and even his own stable-mate Materiality. However, what he lacks in that department he certainly could make up for with his running style advantage on the First Saturday in May. Carpe Diem has the ability to rally from off the pace, and he will be the stretch factor of all stretch factors at Churchill Downs because all of the previously-mentioned contenders want to show speed or least tactical speed in the Derby, thereby ensuring a fast pace for this horse to run at from further back in the pack.
He is the lightly-raced up-and-coming horse in this year’s Kentucky Derby field, having won the Florida Derby in flashy fashion with a big 110 Beyer speed figure. What he lacks in experience he makes up for in pure speed and ability, and that was a very nice horse indeed that he was defeating there in Upstart, no doubt about it. As far as raw talent and ability, he might be the best of these, or at least he stacks up with a shot. The real question is his level of experience, with the Kentucky Derby scheduled to be only his fourth career race. Every year, there seems to be a lightly-raced freak like Materiality in the Kentucky derby field, and every year, these types of horses seem to disappoint. Each horse is different, however, and Materiality may finally be the one that breaks through, but students of Derby-winning form will tell you it will be extremely difficult to win the Derby with no little experience that includes zero races as a 2-year-old.
His claim to fame is a controversial DQ victory in the Fountain of Youth Stakes when he was interfered with twice in the stretch run by Upstart. Those who want to totally discount the merits of this horse are missing the boat, because he has shown he can be a high-quality runner for high quality connections. However, he did have a chance to quiet his critics with a strong performance in his final prep race in the Florida Derby, but he came up short that day and missed an opportunity. Will need to improve off of his highly disappointing but too-bad-to-be-true fourth-place Florida Derby finish.
Many people believe that the Louisiana route to the Kentucky Derby came up light this year, and people of that opinion can point to this horse for their argument. Stanford got stomped by Materiality at Gulfstream before Pletcher sent him off to Fair Grounds for the Louisiana Derby, which he nearly ended-up winning if not for a late surge by International Star. As it was, Stanford settled for second and lost by only a neck, making the Florida crew look far superior to the horses that spent the prep season running in races like the Lecomte and the Risen Star at Fair Grounds. As for Stanford’s possibilities in the Kentucky Derby, he looks like more or a pace factor than anything else, and perhaps will be Pletcher’s rabbit against Baffert’s speedy contenders. Stanford set a lukewarm pace in the Louisiana Derby, and still could not get the 1 1/8 miles without tiring. He is likely to fall by the wayside as a pace casualty/rabbit in the Kentucky Derby.
Whoever you go with in the upcoming running of the Kentucky Derby - Team Baffert or Team Pletcher, or both or neither, I wish you best of luck. Enjoy the most exciting two minutes in sports, and don’t miss it!
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