June 23, 2017

Southern California’s hopes in the 2017 Kentucky Derby

by Scott Shapiro

The 2017 Kentucky Derby is less than three weeks away and for the first time since Orb’s victory in 2013, a Southern California-based horse will not be the post-time favorite when a full field of three-year-olds break from the gate at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.

Between the injury of Cheyenne Stables’ Mastery and disappointing prep seasons from several of the other Triple Crown hopefuls that make the Golden State their home, only three, maybe four, sophomores will be amongst the 20 runners in this year’s “Run for the Roses.”

There are certainly no American Pharoah’s amongst the 2017 crop out West, but let’s take a look at the colts who will represent California in this year’s Kentucky Derby.

The John Shirreffs-trained GORMLEY finished third in the Kentucky Derby point standings race accumulating 125 points. His win in the Grade 1 FrontRunner at the age of two, as well as victories in the Grade 3 Sham and Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby this season, may make his past performances look strong, but his likelihood of hitting the board in a few weeks is quite unlikely.

In his most recent start in the Santa Anita Derby, Gormley was hard to relax early, but found a perfect tracking spot off a three-way duel on the backstretch before grinding out a half-length score in the meet’s premier event. His lack of explosion given the perfect voyage was alarming.

Not only am I concerned that Gormley is simply not fast enough to win the Kentucky Derby, but I am also worried with his inability to relax before a couple of his 2017 starts. Expecting him to behave well in that massive Churchill Downs crowd and run a career best in his first try away from home and at 10 furlongs seems way too much to ask for.

Reddam Racing has been fortunate enough to win two of the last five “Run for the Roses,” but winning a third one appears extremely unlikely in 2017 despite having the Grade 2 Blue Grass Stakes winner in their barn.

IRAP headed to Lexington, Kentucky, a maiden and left Keeneland a Grade 2 winner and fourth in the points race. The son of Tiznow has finished in the money in five of his eight career starts and earned more than $772,000, but appears overmatched and likely to regress on the first Saturday in May.

BATTLE OF MIDWAY is the third Southern California based runner that is guaranteed a spot in the starting gates on May 6. The Fox Hill Farms colt was part of the three-way battle upfront that set things up for Gormley in the Santa Anita Derby and still fought on to the wire to finish a game second.

Like Gormley and Irap, Battle of Midway will need to put forth a career-best effort to hit the board in the Derby, but he is a colt moving in the right direction for one of the hottest barns in the country. Veteran jockey Corey Nakatani has experience at Churchill Downs and I think this colt heads into the Triple Crown season as the region’s best option at making a run at things in Kentucky.

ROYAL MO only earned 30 points during the prep season, so he will need defections to get into the 2017 field, but he did run valiantly from his extreme outside post in the Santa Anita Derby. I do not think he has a great chance of performing well in Kentucky if he draws in, but I do prefer him to his stablemate Gormley if I had to choose between the two of them. Especially when you consider he will provide much greater value.

It will be interesting to see how the West Coast runners do this year as “outsiders” after having so many of the top contenders over the past several years.

Only 17 days until we find out!

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