On Track With Johnny D: Derby Puzzle Missing Pieces

This season’s Kentucky Derby picture is as challenging to complete as a jigsaw puzzle missing a handful of pieces. Accurately predicting the outcome of the nation’s most famous horserace never is easy but, this season, the task seems nearly impossible. This first Saturday in May, horseplayers should anticipate confusion, frustration and a heck of a good show—win or lose.

What makes the current Derby edition so intriguing is that there are several runners with legitimate winning chances. Yogi Berra once famously said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it!” That’s great advice for horseplayers because while analyzing this Derby horseplayers will encounter more forks that in Wagner’s at breakfast.

Two entrants in this year’s race have designs on terminating the 136-year-old ‘Apollo Curse’ that demands a Derby winner must race at age 2. One of them, Justify, will be the Derby favorite. And that’s a problem. Five consecutive favorites have won the Derby. Six in a row hasn’t happened since between 1891 and 1896. Add that to the ‘Apollo Curse’ and those are some potent trends to buck!

If any horse can do it, it might be this one. He’s trained by four-time Derby winner Bob Baffert and Justify is unbeaten, untied and unscored upon in three starts. He didn’t debut until Feb. 18 at Santa Anita when he blitzed four rivals going seven furlongs by nine and one-half lengths. He then returned to shrug off four allowance foes by more than six lengths at a mile and one-sixteenth. The Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby at a mile and one-eighth was more of the same. There Justify repelled the challenge of an accomplished Grade 1 winner in Bolt d’Oro.

The other soph seeking to end the ‘Apollo Curse’ is Magnum Moon, an unbeaten son of Malibu Moon with four post-New Year’s Day triumphs on his resume. He broke maiden Jan. 13 at Gulfstream by four and one-half lengths going six furlongs. He then hurdled a mile and seventy-yard first-level allowance/optional claiming field at Tampa Bay Feb. 11. The Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park were his final pre-Derby triumphs, by roughly four lengths each. He has shown a tendency to drift out in the latter stages of his last two races, but no one’s quite sure what to make of it, including his trainer Todd Pletcher.

Purchased for $3 million as a yearling half-brother to the incredible Beholder, expectations for Mendelssohn always have been sky high. While connections of this son of Scat Daddy obviously savored victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, his stunning performance in Dubai was absolutely breathtaking. He led foes on a merry chase and won the UAE Derby by 18 ½ lengths in his first dirt try. However, the Kentucky Derby is a totally different kettle of fish. And this kettle of fish is located halfway around the world. Can you say, ‘jet-lag bounce?’ Maybe.

Trainer Todd Pletcher, a Hall-of-Fame inductee as soon as he’s eligible, has four runners in this year’s Derby. Incredibly, they’ve all won major Derby preps: Audible (Xpressbet Florida Derby); Noble Indy (Louisiana Derby); Vino Rosso (Wood Memorial) and Magnum Moon (Arkansas Derby). Pletcher’s already won two Louisville Derbies, including last year with Always Dreaming. Tied with mentor D. Wayne Lukas for most starters in the Kentucky Derby at 48, Pletcher recently was asked if this was his strongest Derby hand?

“Yes,” he replied wryly, “strongest since last year.”

Mix in last season’s 2-year-old champ and Blue Grass winner Good Magic, conditioned by last season’s top trainer Chad Brown and ridden by the 2017 champion jockey Jose Ortiz, and things get even more complicated. ‘Magic won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Del Mar in November as a maiden. His 3-year-old debut was disappointing, but trainer Brown wasn’t concerned and maintained that his charge had needed the race. Turns out he was right! Next out, Good Magic made a winning move around the Keeneland bend to catch Flameaway late in the Blue Grass.

One way to locate missing Derby puzzle pieces is to access a FREE copy of Xpressbet’s Kentucky Derby Wager Guide, available Friday at Xpressbet.com. The guide contains Race Analysis, Main Contenders, Price Plays and Suggested $100 Wagering Strategies from television, radio, print and online experts, including XBTV.com’s Jeff Siegel and Millie Ball; SiriusXM’s Steve Byk; Daily Racing Form columnist and Eclipse Award winning writer Dick Jerardi; Santa Anita Morning Linemaker Jon White and HorsePlayerNow.com’s Bob Neumeier.

The guide also includes oodles of Stats and Trends and Know This material required to help you to make a winning decision. Want to know the High, Low and Average payoffs for assorted Kentucky Derby bet types? It’s in the guide! How have Wood Memorial alums fared in the Derby since 2003 when Funny Cide and Empire Maker swept the exacta? It’s in the guide! Which prep race has produced the most Derby winners? It’s in there.

One unique guide handicapping gem instructs: Since 1920, Derby starters without an April prep race are 94: 5-6-5. The five winners are Orb, Animal Kingdom, Mine That Bird, Big Brown and Needles. Notably, a horse without an April prep has finished in the Derby top 3 in 9 of the last 11 years.

This year’s Kentucky Derby draw has been advanced 24 hours and will occur Tuesday, May 1 at 11 am. Following the draw, visit Xpressbet.com for daily guide updates and possibly altered wagering strategies based on post positions, workouts and defections. Thursday, May 3, Xpressbet will post a revised guide including NBC Sports analyst and handicapper Eddie Olcyzk’s opinions and analysis. Also, next Thursday, in this space, read a complete horse-by-horse Kentucky Derby analysis and suggested superfecta wager.

This year’s Kentucky Derby picture is a work in progress that’s sure to confuse and frustrate horseplayers. However, you don’t have to face the race empty-handed. Xpressbet’s Kentucky Derby Wager Guide is here to help. Get your copy at Xpressbet.com beginning Friday. And remember, as always, the guide’s FREE and worth twice the price!

Race On!

On Track With Johnny D: Derby Puzzle Missing Pieces

On Track with Johnny D |

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