Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, April 27, 2018 at 1:26 PM
Jim Hurley’s Derby Doings
Friday, April 27
Today I’m going to take a few minutes to produce the initial half of my ANNUAL DERBY TOP 10.
If you’ve been with me over the years you know that this “Top 10” is a bit different in that it consists actually of two separate TOP 5 LISTS.
First is the list of the 5 Derby Horses that are likely to draw the large percentage of the betting pool.
The second “Top 5” are the “outsiders” that I find reason to give a little love to.
Keep in mind, much will transpire over the course of the next 8 days and these lists are not in any way to be considered my “FINAL 4 DERBY HORSES.” But these lists will give you an idea of just how much there is to consider between now and around 6:45 PM on Saturday, May 5.
Today I give you my “LIKELY TOP 5” and tomorrow afternoon I will publish my “OUTSIDE TOP 5.”
(TOP CONTENDERS INDICATE A VERY DEEP 2018 FIELD)
Since I have no intention of listing the highly competitive Top 5 in preference order I am producing the commentary in alphabetical order.
AUDIBLE – Prior to the Florida Derby his works were the subject of negative speculation when trainer Todd Pletcher publicly stated that the colt had never been much of a morning glory and that he (the trainer) was more that satisfied that Audible was working as consistently as ever. Indeed, the colt went out and looked every part of a Kentucky Derby contender by winning his final prep in hand. So if the pedestrian nature of Audible’s works were a question and the colt nonetheless ran a monster race, what do we make of his sharp recent work (5 furlongs in hand in 1:01 2/5 in company with stablemate Patch) on April 20?
After closing for 3rd going 6 furlongs in his debut, the son of emerging sire Into Mischief has won 4 straight ranging from a pair of one turn mile races at Aqueduct to close out his juvenile season to triumphs going two turns at Gulfstream in the Grade 2 Holy Bull and Grade 1 Florida Derby. His development is uniquely interesting given that his breeding does not suggest he will be able to negotiate the mile and a quarter of the Kentucky Derby (neither his male or female sires had average winning distances well under 7 furlongs…an important factor in Kentucky Derby success) but his performance on the race track indicate he should easily handle the distance. Javier Castellano, who rode the colt in his first four races returns as John Velazquez, who was aboard in the Florida Derby will ride another Pletcher Derby colt, Vino Rosso.
BOLT D’ORO – First off, if Justify is indeed considered the front runner to be the Kentucky Derby favorite than Bolt d’Oro’s Santa Anita Derby performance puts him in good company. And it isn’t lost on me that his original second place finish in the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes, which was reversed to a win over McKinzie, a Baffert trained colt who was at the time considered a top 3 Derby prospect, is another race which flatters the son of Medaglia D’Oro.
The key to this choice is my “optimistic” projection that the colt will revert to his off-the-pace third place finish in the BC Juvenile last year as the 7-10 favorite. He ran a bang up race that day considering that he bobbled badly at the break and rallied wide behind the upset winner Good Magic.
In referencing Audible, I mentioned the 7 furlong average winning distance barometer. When it comes to hat factor, Bolt d’Oro has Kentucky Derby blood lines in spades. His sire Medaglia D’Oro had an average winning distance of 7.7 furlongs, while his dam’s (Globe Trot) sire A.P. Indy averaged 8.2 furlongs.
Some analysts are troubled a bit by his headstrong early fractions in the San Felipe and Santa Anita Derby and it is worth considering that such antics in the Kentucky Derby could have him used up by stretch time, but I also offer that the short fields (7 runners each) and not much projected pace in either of those races forced the rider Javier Castellano to push him earlier. If that was the case, and his sharp 7 furlong drill on Sunday, 4/22 (1:24 1/5) is any indication, the colt might have gotten all the tightening he needs. And if new jockey Victor Espinoza, who rode American Pharoah and California Chrome to Kentucky derby victory can settle this colt in mid-pack early he could be a major player in the final furlong.
GOOD MAGIC – Despite Good magic’s disappointing third place finish as the 7-10 favorite in the Grade 2 Fountain Of Youth Stakes, the public had little trouble making him the favorite once again in the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes. The son of Curlin redeemed himself with a well measured off the pace win which mirrored his performance when he was the longshot winner of the BC Juvenile.
The Chad Brown trainee has solid stamina breeding on both sides. In addition to Curlin, who won 7 Grade 1 races in his career, including the BC Classic, the Dubai World Cup and the Jockey Club Gold Cup twice, his dam sire Hard Spun, who was second to Curlin’s third in the 2007 Kentucky derby behind Street Sense, retired after completing his 3-year old season and has turned into a prolific sire who has consistently been in the Top Ten Sire’s List year in and year out since 2009.
Good Magic continues to train well and might not yet have reached his upside as sons and daughters of Curlin are known to get better with age and racing. And there is every reason to believe that the colt will get his usual good tracking trip under jockey Jose Ortiz who has been aboard for the last 4 races and has a solid 35% success rate riding for Brown.
On the plus side, if he duplicates his BC Juvenile run where he triumphed over the likes of Solomini, Bolt d’Oro, Firenze Fire and Free Drop Billy he might very well run to his billing. The only hurdle he will have to jump is that in the last 10 years there have been 36 Kentucky Derby runners who have exited the Blue Grass with only a pair of third place and one fourth place finish to show for it.
JUSTIFY – Let’s get the naysaying out of the way first. Yes, the son of Scat Daddy was unraced as a juvenile and no Kentucky Derby winner since Apollo in 1882 has won the Kentucky Derby.
In his three career races, it was only at first call in a mile allowance race in the mud on March 11 when he was not on the lead (off the pace by 1 ½ lengths. At every other call he has been on the lead and his winning margins, including his last out Santa Anita Derby triumph in which he measured both Bolt d’Oro and Instilled Regard. His average margin of victory has been 6.5 lengths and perhaps just as important is the fact that his Beyer and BRIS Speed Numbers from the Santa Anita Derby are the highest last out numbers in the Kentucky Derby field and that he has overall the fastest collective speed numbers of the field.
What also impresses is how he passes the eye test. Watch his machine-like striding. Everything from his quick extension for as big a colt as he is to his fluidity of changing leads belies his scant three race experience. And his last work (6 furlongs in 1:13 1/5 on 4/21) is an exact duplication of the 6 furlong drill he accomplished 5 days before the Santa Anita Derby. Baffert will work him one more time and then plane to Louisville a few days prior to the Kentucky Derby.
MAGNUM MOON – The second of the Todd Pletcher trainees to make the Top 5, this highly capable son of Malibu Moon has done everything right leading up to the Kentucky Derby. His favorite’s role “toying” with the field in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby left little doubt that he is a versatile, tactile runner who can be placed anywhere in the race by regular rider Luis Saez and have plenty left to distance himself from his opponents in the final stages.
Like the other of Pletcher’s Kentucky Derby runners (there are 4 at this point) he has been kept away from his stablemates on the prep trail as the trainer has done a masterful job of spotting them. This is why it is difficult to measure them against each other with all 4 winning their final preps. The aforementioned Audible won the Florida Derby, Magnum Moon the Arkansas derby, Vino Rosso the Wood Memorial and Noble Indy the Louisiana Derby.
There have been a number of analysts who point to his drifting out in the stretch in both the Rebel Stakes and the Arkansas Derby and speculate this could be problematic late in the Kentucky Derby. This might be so but with the margins that the colt had created in the lane were so pronounced that perhaps he just got a little immature. Certainly he straightened out well in the final 100 yards in the Arkansas Derby
We will also hear the same thing concerning him as we will about Justify, that no horse who was unraced as a two-year old, has won the Derby since Apollo in 1882. On the other hand, Magnum Moon has had a race each month since his debut win in mid-January, so foundation should not be an issue.
NOTE: And let me say one thing about the Apollo curse. Like so many of the other “haven’t done it so won’t do it” arguments, my answer is always the same. People who act on that premise should be aware that no horse will do it…until it does.