After a strong prep season, an outstanding edition of the Kentucky Derby lies ahead. The final qualifiers were offered last weekend and I’m excited by the quality and depth this year, with seven legitimate win options readying for the first leg of the American Triple Crown on May 5.
Here’s a quick analysis of seven key contenders (alphabetical order):
Audible: New York-bred colt thrived when shipping to South Florida during the winter, recording to a 5 ½-length victory in the Holy Bull (G2) and a three-length score in the Florida Derby (G1), and stalker netted excellent 105 and 107 BRIS Speed ratings. His turn of foot could prove effective in the final half-mile at Churchill Downs.
Bolt d’Oro: Juvenile star hasn’t finished first in either start this year, finishing a head back in the San Felipe (G2) (gained win via DQ) and a non-threatening second in Santa Anita Derby (G1), but those came against top-class rivals and may serve as building blocks for the main event. Kentucky Derby will set up better for his rally.
Good Magic: Two-year-old champ disappointed when returning this season with a third in the Fountain of Youth (G2) but rebounded with a 1 ½-length decision in Blue Grass (G2) at Keeneland. His recent BRIS Speed numbers look underwhelming but observers remember the significant improvement displayed in the third start last year, a scintillating maiden-breaking score in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) that netted a 105 Speed figure.
Justify: Unbeaten chestnut faces a 136-year drought as an unraced juvenile, but bettors will choose talent over experience with the clear favorite. Since making his debut in mid-February, he’s posted three straight brilliant wins at Santa Anita, registering triple-digit BRIS Speed ratings including a whopping 114 for his first stakes attempt in the Santa Anita Derby, and the possible superstar brings speed to the engagement for Bob Baffert, who is tied for second with four Kentucky Derby victories.
Magnum Moon: He’s logged four consecutive decisive wins since opening his career in mid-January, likely establishing himself as either the second or third choice in Kentucky Derby wagering after romping in the Arkansas Derby (G1). Todd Pletcher pupil has taken his track with him to three different venues so far and will be forwardly placed with Luis Saez, who is enjoying a career-best season after dominating the Gulfstream Park championship meet jockey standings.
Mendelssohn: A half-brother to legendary Beholder, Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) winner ran to his bloodlines when switching to dirt in the U.A.E. Derby (G2), leading throughout in an 18-length tour-de-force in which he ran fast throughout while mostly on cruise control and shattered the track record. Irish-based colt tries to become the first European-trained Kentucky Derby winner and Aidan O’Brien, who broke Bobby Frankel’s record last year when winning 28 Grade/Group 1 races, knows how to bring a horse back off a big effort.
Vino Rosso: An easy winner of his first two outings, well-regarded sophomore shrugged off a couple of setbacks at Tampa Bay Downs when capturing the Wood Memorial (G2) by three widening lengths and two-time Kentucky Derby winner John Velazquez opted to stick with the up-and-coming colt. A candidate to come charging into the frame during the latter stages.
When front-running Quip failed to seize the initiative, Magnum Moon wound up on the lead in last Saturday’s Arkansas Derby and established a slow pace on a short advantage. The bay colt began to edge away leaving the far turn and quickly eliminated any doubt entering the stretch, finishing powerfully despite drifting out and jumping tire tracks en route to the wire.
By Malibu Moon, sire of 2013 Kentucky Derby winner Orb, Magnum Moon raced up close before striking in his first three outings and will probably seek a similar trip at Churchill with his tactical speed. The slow pace contributed to a 99 BRIS Speed rating in the Arkansas Derby, but Magnum Moon registered a triple-digit figure (100) crushing foes in the Rebel (G2) two starts previously and appears poised to jump forward with a career-best if he keeps progressing on Derby Day.
With the four-length decision, Magnum Moon provided Todd Pletcher with his fourth victory from seven major qualifiers in 2018. The two-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer also has Audible, Noble Indy and Vino Rosso in the projected Kentucky Derby starting gate.
Drifting out can be a cause for concern but Magnum Moon appeared to shy from the starting gate in the infield in upper stretch and didn’t appear to be tiring late while racing about seven paths off the rail. I thought of 2016 Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist swerving in-and-out while jumping puddles through the stretch of an easy Florida Derby victory.
Quip received a beautiful trip tracking the 4-5 favorite in second and narrowly held second after being left behind in the stretch. The Tampa Bay Derby (G2) winner may not be fast enough to offer a serious challenge, but he’s shown the tendency to be in a favorable spot turning for home.
Solomini dropped off the pace in sixth and offered a mild bid into the stretch to finish a neck back in third, securing a Kentucky Derby berth with the 20-point prize. The Baffert-trained son of Curlin never quits trying, edging Combatant by a head, but Solomini ran faster in his final two juvenile appearances than he has in a pair of outings this year.
Combatant offered a nice move on the far turn but couldn’t make the necessary headway in the final furlong. After opening the year with seconds in the Smarty Jones and Southwest at Oaklawn, the Scat Daddy colt has failed to gain any momentum checking in third in the Rebel and fourth in the Arkansas Derby. The Steve Asmussen trainee requires a defection to make the 20-horse field (currently ranked 21st on the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard).
My Boy Jack needed a top two finish to qualify and didn’t abandon his deep-closing style in the 1 1/16-mile Lexington (G3) at Keeneland, rallying dramatically to nail Preakness prospect Telekinesis on the wire. After switching to the main track in January, the juvenile turf stakes winner captured the Southwest (G3) at Oaklawn a month later but lacked the necessary point total after a fast-closing third in the TwinSpires Louisiana Derby (G2) at Fair Grounds.
By Creative Cause, the dark bay colt received a woeful 94 BRIS Speed rating in the Lexington, but trainer Keith Desormeaux got what he needed in the final prep and My Boy Jack remains an intriguing longshot given the possible race shape in a speed-heavy Kentucky Derby field. Three-time Kentucky Derby winner Kent Desormeaux will be up and My Boy Jack rates as one to consider underneath in exotic wagers.
With an extreme test of class and stamina looming, morning training sessions play an important role in preparing horses for a Kentucky Derby bid. Beginning Saturday, Churchill Downs will designate a 15-minute window exclusively for Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks runners between 7:30-7:45 a.m. (ET).
Visit www.KentuckyDerby.com/works for live workout coverage, videos of past workouts and more.
Kentucky Derby Top 20
- MENDELSSOHN: Beholder’s half-brother exits smashing win in dirt debut
- JUSTIFY: Has makings of a great one but not battle-tested entering fourth start in 76 days
- VINO ROSSO: Wood Memorial winner poised to make presence felt on final turn?
- AUDIBLE: His late kick can’t be dismissed following big wins in Holy Bull and Florida Derby
- BOLT D’ORO: Must avoid gate issues but race could set up well
- MAGNUM MOON: May have unbeaten colt rated too low
- FLAMEAWAY: Hasn’t lost ground in the stretch of four starts this year; exotics contender
- GOOD MAGIC: Supporters believe he can put it all together in third start off the layoff
- MY BOY JACK: Late runner hails from sharp barn, not dismissing his chances for part
- SOLOMINI: Hasn’t displayed expected progress but his grit could prove beneficial
- HOFBURG: Plenty of upside but may be too inexperienced with only three starts
- ENTICED: Graded stakes winner at CD last fall but uninspiring 2-turn efforts this year
- NOBLE INDY: Proved game re-rallying in Louisiana Derby but didn’t settle with blinkers
- LONE SAILOR: Late runner must continue to elevate his form off Louisiana Derby second
- QUIP: Brings good tactical speed, not sure about distance
- FREE DROP BILLY: Eligible to show more on turf
- BRAVAZO: Tough to endorse off Louisiana Derby clunker
- PROMISES FULFILLED: Will be winging before retreating
- GRONKOWSKI: His namesake bought in but European invader may be in too tough
- FIRENZE FIRE: Has run better at one-turn distances