On Track With Johnny D: Kentucky Derby Horse-by-Horse Selections and Analysis

Last week, in this space, we outlined pros and cons for each probable Kentucky Derby starter. Some has changed since then. Horses have moved in and out of the lineup and we know post positions. We’ve also had additional time to further review races, workouts, gallops, past performances, speed figs and selections from fellow analysts.


The most critical change from last week is that Caddo River was withdrawn from the Derby. He was expected to be part of the early Derby pace. With him out of the lineup, it figures to promote the chances of frontrunners, especially Rock Your World, winner of the Santa Anita Derby. More on the pace picture later.


Favorite Essential Quality is versatile and will need to work out a trip without losing too much ground. Trainer Brad Cox, obviously, would some appreciate additional early speed up front. Such an early blast could come from the Bob Baffert trained Medina Spirit. He couldn’t keep pace with Rock Your World in Arcadia but presumably will be sent more aggressively from the gate this time.  Despite the fact that Medina Spirit isn’t the traditional Bob Baffert speedy Derby winner with a high cruising speed, the Hall of Fame trainer knows he and Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez know their best chance to defeat Rock Your World is to outrun him early, if possible.


Big picture, for yours truly, handicapping this 147th Kentucky Derby comes down to three decisions:

  1. How strong to bank on favorite Essential Quality?
  2. What to do with Rock Your World?
  3. Which longshots are liable to hit the exotics, if any?


Answers to those questions will be based on a variety of factors and governed by the weight of the almighty dollar. Each bankroll is different, but no player can use the entire field. When it comes to constructing Kentucky Derby exotic tickets, you gotta break some eggs! Toss some horses. Cut costs. And the only way for that to happen is for you to make some executive decisions regarding which horses you can live without.


Below is a complete Horse-by-Horse Analysis of the Kentucky Derby starters with Pro and Con comments followed by a Bottom Line assessment for each.


In conclusion, we wrapped things up with a neat bow for you in the Suggested Wager section. Hopefully, that bow is tightly wound around some valuable information. Otherwise, when the dust clears Saturday night after the 147th Kentucky Derby, we’ll have to settle for ‘losing intelligently.’ Not nearly as much fun as ‘foolishly winning.’


  1. Known Agenda Pletcher/I. Ortiz                     6-1

Pro: He upset Florida Derby favorite Greatest Honour and powered to a nearly three-length triumph at 9/2 odds for certain Hall-of-Fame trainer and two-time Kentucky Derby winner Todd Pletcher. That was his fourth one mile and one-eighth race with three wins. The Florida Derby is a sterling proving ground for KY Derby winners. In the last 15 years, six Florida Derby winners have triumphed in Louisville (including Maximum Security, who was disqualified). Three-time Eclipse Award winning jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. is 2-for-2 aboard Essential Quality. The colt woke up when blinkers were added in an 11-length Gulfstream allowance victory, the race before the Florida Derby. Both the allowance race and Florida Derby were one mile and one-eighth races.


Con: Florida Derby was colt’s first race with a Beyer Speed Figure over 90 at 94 and that’s a bit below what’s needed in here. Didn’t fire at all as favorite in the Gr. 3 Sam F. Davis. Has been training so-so at Churchill, but he’s known as an inferior work horse. Bore out a bit in the stretch of the Florida Derby. Expect him to race in the second flight and that’s not where most recent Derby winners have come from. The rail draw isn’t the best place to start but it may not be as bad as in previous years because of a new 20 stall starting gate that provides more room to maneuver along the rail.


Bottom Line: The Pletcher/Ortiz, Jr. combination is enough to make this one a strong exotics contender and a slight win threat. A Florida Derby win and an unbeaten record going one mile and one-eighth with blinkers headline plenty to like. The Sam Davis dud is a drawback. He’s another runner in the field that resides in the ‘can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em’ camp. If the rail isn’t as big a hindrance as in the past, this colt could ride it and save ground much of the way and, perhaps, turn the post into an advantage. No jock in the world rides better than Irad Ortiz, Jr.


  1. Like the King Ward/Van Dyke                     50-1

Pro: Overcame trouble to win the Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway last out. Has three wins from six starts. Beyer and Thoro-Graph figs have improved recently.


Con: Two dirt tries are not good. Best races are on synthetic surfaces and turf. While improved, overall figures are slow.


Bottom Line: Figures are improving but still far from what’s needed in here. Moving from a synthetic to dirt surface is often a challenge and no horse needs additional challenges in the Kentucky Derby. This guy already has two dirt races that are unimpressive with minor excuses. In a 20-horse field, from the two-hole, he should eat plenty of dirt and that won’t be fun. We’ll pass.


  1. Brooklyn Strong Velazquez/Rispoli                  50-1

Pro: He had a strong 2-year-old season with three wins in four races, including the Gr. 2 Remsen where he defeated Derby contender Known Agenda. Sick earlier this year, he got a late start and finished fifth in the Wood behind Bourbonic and Dynamic One.


Con: Gr. 2 Remsen was nice victory, but he hasn’t done anything at three and the Derby is a difficult place to move forward. He has one race (Remsen) out of five that fits well.

Bottom Line: He got a late start on his 3-year-old season with just one race. It’s asking way too much for him to be ready for his best going a mile and one-quarter against 19 foes in just his second start of 2021. Pass.


  1. Keepmeinmind Diodoro/Cohen                      50-1

Pro: At two, he finished less than four lengths behind Derby favorite Essential Quality twice—once in the Gr. 1 Breeders’ Futurity and then in the Gr. 1 BC Juvenile. Derby contender Hot Rod Charlie split Keepmeinmind and Essential Quality in the BC Juvenile and this horse out finished Derby foe Super Stock in the Futurity. Based on those company lines, he fits. He also won the Gr. 2 Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs to close out the year.


Con: His 3-year-old season was compromised by poor weather in Arkansas and he’s never fully recovered. He was well-beaten in his only two races this year, beaten double digit lengths in the Blue Grass by Derby foes Essential Quality and Highly Motivated.


Bottom Line: For him to turn his 3-year-old form around in the blink of an eye and in the Kentucky Derby would be a real surprise. Some horses are precocious at two and just don’t mature as much at three. Seems the case here.


  1. Sainthood Pletcher/Lanerie                    50-1

Pro: He’s run just three times and never been worse than second, including a runner-up effort last out at Turfway Park in the Gr. 3 Jeff Ruby Steaks behind Derby foe Like the King. He ran into plenty of trouble in that race that probably cost him the victory—was stopped cold in the stretch and then re-rallied.


Con: He’s just not fast enough on speed figures. Plus, he didn’t race at two and he’s no Justify (the only horse since 1915 to have won the Kentucky Derby without starting as a 2-year-old).


Bottom Line: He’s shown ability in just three career races over two surfaces at three different tracks. With any luck at all, he could have entered this race unbeaten. Did not make his first start until Jan. 8, so no race at two. He’s got talent, the right trainer and jockey Corey Lanerie knows his way around Churchill Downs. All considered, it’s a big ask to hit the board in here.


  1. O Besos Foley/Pedroza                        20-1

Pro: His Beyer Speed Figures and Thoro-Graph numbers have improved with each race, always a great sign, and his last-out figures fit in here. He finished third, just two lengths behind Hot Rod Charlie and a head behind Midnight Bourbon in the Gr. 2 Louisiana Derby. He comes from off the pace and ought to appreciate the added distance of the Derby. He hasn’t missed a beat since his first start November 22–raced at least once every month and has thrived. His father Orb won the Kentucky Derby.


Con: He hasn’t raced since March 20, a bit longer layoff than is ideal. His bloodlines have scattered: Sire Orb has been sold to South American interests and damsire Soto has been shipped to Saudi Arabia. He did not run well at Churchill first time out in a ‘sloppy’ sprint.


Bottom Line: He’s clearly sound, tries and is playing a ‘home game’ at Churchill Downs. He’s worked well for this race and trainer Greg Foley is a Louisville native, along with Brad Cox, trainer of Essential Quality and Mandaloun. This colt made a big leap forward in his last race when he rode the rail to be a fast-closing third, just a head behind Derby foe Midnight Bourbon. Was that too much of an effort for him? Doubt he can win this race but, if you’re looking for a price horse that’s going to try to hit the superfecta, you could do worse than O Besos.


  1. Mandaloun Cox/Geroux                            15-1

Pro: He’s always been highly regarded—favored in all five races–and won the Gr. 2 Risen Star at Fair Grounds two races back while first-time blinkers. He’s often just behind the leaders early and that will find him among a group of runners with a similar stalking style. He won a seven-furlong allowance race at Churchill Downs, so you know he likes the track. Trainer Brad Cox also has Derby favorite Essential Quality in the race.


Con: Ran a no-excuse, absolute stinker as favorite in the Louisiana Derby and horses entering the Derby off poor preps rarely win Louisville’s main event– since 1940, horses that finished fourth or worse in their final prep have won Derby just twice. Has been away from the races since March 20 and that’s a bit longer than is ideal. His pedigree is a bit ‘speed over stamina.’ If you like him, you almost have to like Midnight Bourbon and vice-versa.


Bottom Line: He’s been working well at Churchill and looks great. His Beyer and Thoro-Graph figs were forward moving nicely before he wet the bed in the Louisiana Derby. Trainer Brad Cox genuinely seems confused by the poor effort. If one is of a forgiving nature, and if the price is right, this guy easily could be used in exotics but not to win. No matter the excuse, the Kentucky Derby is not the place to attempt to ‘bounce back’ from a crushing defeat.


  1. Medina Spirit Baffert/Velazquez                  15-1

Pro: Hails from the Bob Baffert stable, as the trainer seeks his record-setting seventh Kentucky Derby triumph. This colt’s been a steady performer this season and never worse than second in five career starts on the tough SoCal circuit. Three defeats–two to the outstanding Life is Good and one to Kentucky Derby probable second choice Rock Your World in the SA Derby–are the only blemishes on his resume. He’s got speed and may use it to lead or force the Derby pace under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez.


Con: He was soundly defeated as favorite by Kentucky Derby foe Rock Your World last out in the Gr. 1 Santa Anita Derby. Medina Spirit has made 4 starts already this year and that’s not ideal, according to J. Keeler Johnson at AmericasBestRacing.net, “Between 2005 and 2018, every Kentucky Derby winner competed in just two or three races between January and April of their 3-year-old season.” Country House, 2019 Derby winner via disqualification had 4 starts in the timeframe, as did Authentic who won the COVID delayed 2020 Derby in September. While Medina Spirit’s speed figures haven’t gone backward, they haven’t improved, either. At this time of year, sophomore runners should be getting faster. Had minor throat surgery in 2021.


Bottom Line: Caddo River’s Derby defection helps this guy’s chances of being part of what seems like a reasonable early pace. That’s good news because Medina Spirit doesn’t quit. In five races, he’s never been passed by another horse when it counts. He ran a 99 Beyer figure in his second lifetime start in January and has broken the 90 mark in each race since. The drawback with him is that he hasn’t passed a horse when it counts, either. He looks like a solid exotics player with a tiny sliver of a ‘win’ chance.


  1. Hot Rod Charlie O’Neill/Prat             8-1

Pro: Went virtually wire-to-wire to win the Gr. 2 Louisiana Derby and earn the Kentucky Derby’s second highest Beyer Speed Figure at 99—his previous two races were 94s. Has not been off the board in his last four starts–all on dirt and around two turns with blinkers (third by a neck was the worst finish). Was just three-quarters of a length behind eventual 2-year-old champion and Kentucky Derby favorite Essential Quality in BC Juvenile at 94-1 in November, when he was still learning how to run. Was in a desperate photo finish with fellow Derby starter Medina Spirit in January’s Robert B. Lewis, his first start since November. Expect him to be just behind the early leaders in the Kentucky Derby. Will be ridden by SoCal top jock Flavien Prat. Worked splendidly at Santa Anita before shipping to Kentucky.


Con: Since 1956, only two KY Derby winners had layoffs of six weeks or more between their final prep races and the Kentucky Derby—Animal Kingdom 2011 and Authentic 2020. Jockey Joel Rosario, who rode this colt to win the Louisiana Derby and eventually ended up on Rock Your World, initially chose Baffert-trained Concert Tour over this colt. That might have been more out of allegiance to the powerful Baffert stable than anything else, but it’s worth noting.


Bottom Line: This colt’s improving and, if he fires like he did in the BC Juvenile, he’s got a real chance to win. His best was six weeks ago, a bit longer of a layoff than has been most successful, although the Louisiana Derby was at a mile and three-sixteenths this year instead of one mile and one-eighth. He’s worked very well at Santa Anita since. He’s fast enough overall to have a say in here and deserves much respect for two-time Kentucky Derby trainer Doug O’Neill.


  1. Midnight Bourbon Asmussen/Smith             20-1

Pro: Is very consistent—7 for 7 in the money, with two wins. His recent Beyer Speed Figures are steady and competitive—two 96s and a 93. All winter, he’s acted with the best sophs in Louisiana. Won the Gr. 3 Lecomte, was a close third in Gr. 2 Risen Star to Mandaloun and was a close second to Hot Rod Charlie in Gr. 2 Louisiana Derby. Has enough speed to be in contention from the start. He worked well at Churchill Downs the week before the Derby.


Con: Doesn’t have enough speed to make the lead and hasn’t shown that he can close with authority—he’s lost ground on the winner in the stretch of his last two races. He’s been away from the races since March 20 and that’s a bit longer than is ideal. After a bit rank and quick workout at Churchill, over a week before the Derby, he briefly got loose from handlers on the backside while bathing. The incident appears to have had no bearing on subsequent training. He’s looked great.


Bottom Line: He’s looked great at Churchill in pre-Derby gallops and drills. A saddle switch to Hall-of-Fame jockey Mike Smith is an interesting move. Jockey Joe Talamo had ridden him to in-the-money finishes in all three Louisiana soph starts. Why the change? Probably because connections feel the colt is progressing well and they want to take their best shot in the Kentucky Derby. He’s improved steadily as a 3-year-old but needs one more step forward to be considered a strong threat in here. Based on his lack of much late punch (one more jump in the Louisiana Derby and Derby longshot O Besos would have nailed him for second) the Derby distance is a question. A win would surpise; an in-the-money finish would not.


  1. Dynamic One Pletcher/J. Ortiz                     20-1

Pro: He’s one of four in this race trained by certain Hall of Fame resident Todd Pletcher, a two-time Derby winning conditioner. He just missed winning the Gr. 2 Wood Memorial when he was gunned down in the final strides by stablemate Bourbonic. He’s started three times this year, including twice at one mile and one-eighth. His last race Thoro-Graph figure fits fairly well in here. At two, in his second start, he finished a close second to Greatest Honour, the then top 2-year-old colt in the east.


Con: The 2021 Gr. 2 Wood was the slowest renewal ever. It took this colt four starts to break maiden. He hasn’t run a Beyer Speed Figure over 90 and no horse has gone from the Wood to success in the Derby since Funny Cide in 2003.


Bottom Line: It would be easy to react to the slow Wood result by summarily dismissing any runners advancing from there to the Kentucky Derby. We’ve followed that exact path for years and the move’s usually been advantageous. This year, however, several respected analysts, including Jerry Brown of Thoro-Graph, give this horse a serious chance to win the race. It would be difficult for us to reach that far, but this colt, to be ridden again by Jose Ortiz, has trained well at Churchill and has Thoro-Graph number power to be competitive at a huge number.


  1. Helium Casse/Leparoux                      50-1

Pro: He’s unbeaten in three starts and won the Gr. 2 Tampa Bay Derby last out. He’s won on both synthetic and dirt. Trainer Mark Casse has recruited one of his favorite jockeys Julien Leparoux to ride this colt for the first time in the Derby. Casse also has Soup and Sandwich in the race.


Con: This colt’s been away from the races for eight weeks and, historically, that’s too long. He’s also raced just once at three and the only Derby runner to do well off that pattern is Challendon who finished second in 1937. Helium has never raced longer than one mile and one-sixteenth.

Bottom Line: Unbeaten runners should always be respected. However, this guy’s tackling too many hills in one climb for our tastes. Inexperience, layoff, distance…too much.


  1. Hidden Stash Oliver/Bejarano                     50-1

Pro: He’s likely to be running on at the end of the Derby. In a race with a few speed horses and plenty of ‘pressers,’ this guy will come running late. He just missed winning the Gr. 2 Tampa Bay Derby and the Gr. 3 Sam F. Davis at Tampa, so he fits in graded stakes. Plus, his Beyer Speed Figures are steadily improving—from a pair of 64s in his first two starts to a 74 & 78 next, to a trio of figures in the low 80s. He also has a win and a third at Churchill Downs.


Con: In seven starts he hasn’t posted a Beyer or Thoro-Graph figure that makes him really competitive in here. True, he’s a closer. But he had dead-aim on Helium in the Tampa Bay Derby and couldn’t run him down. He sometimes doesn’t change leads in the stretch.


Bottom Line: He’s an improving sort that isn’t quite fast enough to be a major threat in here. He runs on late, so, if you want to use him in the bottom of a superfecta, OK, but even then he’s a bit of a reach. He will be a large price in here. For larger tickets only.


  1. Essential Quality Cox/Saez             2-1

Pro: Unbeaten in 5 starts and the 2-year-old Champ, his versatile running style is handy in a large field. He has a win over the Churchill Downs strip. Trainer Brad Cox won 2020 Eclipse Award as best in the nation. Jockey Luis Saez seeks redemption for disqualification of Derby first-across-the-finish mount Maximum Security in 2019. Beyer Speed Figures have increased with each race, a great sign in a 3-year-old. Has the two fastest Thoro-Graph figures of any horse in the field. 49 Champion 2-year-olds have raced in the Derby with 12 wins, 11 seconds and three thirds.


Con: Hasn’t ever posted a triple digit Beyer Speed figure. Took a slight backward step in the Blue Grass, according to Thoro-Graph figures, but it remains the fastest in the race. Blue Grass winning margin was his smallest ever. Last Blue Grass winner to win Derby was Strike the Gold 1991. Since 1984, just 2 BC Juvenile winners have won the Derby (Street Sense 2006 and Nyquist 2016). Wings his left front leg outward when he runs. Poor mechanics ultimately might affect performance, especially at longer distances. He’s posted unimpressive workouts at Churchill, but insiders say, ‘that’s just him.’ Most importantly (wink, wink), according to T. D. Thornton in TDN, grays (or roans) are 0-31 in the Derby since Giacomo in 2005 (and he was 50-1!).


Bottom Line: He’s the favorite and the one to beat…but he doesn’t appear unbeatable. While he doesn’t inspire visions of the all-time greats, he hasn’t tasted defeat. His versatile running style is an advantage and, coupled with his will to win, make him a formidable but not unbeatable Derby runner. There’s little reason to think that he won’t fire a solid effort Saturday, but he can’t afford to take too much of a backward step. His edge isn’t massive.


  1. Rock Your World Sadler/Rosario             5-1

Pro: Went wire-to-wire to win the Gr. 1 Santa Anita Derby–one of the top all-time producing Kentucky Derby prep races—and all seven of the most recent KY Derby winners set or tracked the pace from no farther back than third (that includes Maximum Security who was disqualified). The Gr. 1 Santa Anita Derby was this colt’s first start on dirt after two wins on turf. In the GR. 1 Santa Anita Derby he earned the highest Beyer Speed Figure of anyone in the KY Derby field—100. Six of last 10 Kentucky Derby winners wintered in CA.


Con: Since 1882, only two horses have won the Derby without starting at age two. The drought is called the ‘Apollo Jinx’ but since Justify did it in 2018 everyone’s pretty much forgotten about it. We haven’t. This colt began his career Jan. 1, so it’s really a matter of just 24-hours between 2-year-old and 3-year-old seasons. Still, the theory remains that a horse must be incredibly special to win the Kentucky Derby without first racing at two. Rock Your World has speed and should make the lead in the Derby. If he doesn’t make the lead, it will be a new experience for him taking kickback. He finished the final three-eighths of a mile in the SA Derby in more than :38 seconds. 18 of the last 23 KY Derby winners were at :38 or less coming home in final preps.


Bottom Line: When it was announced that Caddo River would pass the Kentucky Derby you could hear champagne corks popping from Arcadia to Louisville. Rock Your World’s connections have to be pleased that the early pace under the Spires figures to be quite less frenetic. The wire-to-wire winner of the Santa Anita Derby may try similar tactics Saturday. He’s bred to get the distance. The only fly in his ointment is his inexperience. Just three races lifetime and just one on the dirt. That previously has not been a recipe for Derby success, but times have changed. Have they changed that drastically? Probably not, but this guy’s too talented to completely ignore. On the other hand, if you’re believe that three lifetime races (and one on dirt) is not enough, hold your breath and leave him completely off your tickets.


  1. King Fury McPeek/Hernandez               20-1

Pro: Has a great 2-year-old base with five starts in 2020. He roared past all foes over a sloppy track to win the Lexington Stakes. He’s looked great on the track Derby week. Trainer Ken McPeek, known to upset a few apple carts over the years, has been outspoken about this one’s talent. He was fortunate to get into the race because of a few defections and it could be his lucky year. He loves Churchill Downs with two wins in three starts there.


Con: He may have used up all his luck drawing into the race. The 2-year-old base is solid, but just one race at three is not a traditionally successful approach to the Kentucky Derby. He comes back fairly quickly from an April 10 Lexington score at Keeneland. His two previous Grade 1 races turned were disasters.


Bottom Line: Great base with five races in three months at two and a powerful score in the Lexington slop. He’s looked great at Churchill Derby week and has two wins in three starts. He’s going to come from off the pace and his outside draw could force him to go wide. He’s not a win candidate here, but he’s a possible lower-end exotic player at a huge price.


  1. Highly Motivated Brown/Castellano             10-1

Pro: Nearly went wire-to-wire to defeat Kentucky Derby favorite Essential Quality in the Gr. 2 Blue Grass but came up a neck short. It was this colt’s first try around two turns and only his second race since early November, so he could improve in the Derby. His Beyer and Thoro-Graph figures are very competitive, and he’s had just five career starts, so there could be more in the tank for patient trainer Chad Brown.


Con: Late in the Gr. 2 Blue Grass he drifted out and jumped back over to his left lead. That shifting around may have cost him the race…or not. Either way, Essential Quality was pulling clear in the final strides. How is the Derby going to be any different going one mile and one-quarter without Highly Motivated on an easy early lead? Trainer Chad Brown suggests that this colt wants to stalk instead of lead and that that style will carry him the distance.


Bottom Line: Second a neck to the Derby favorite last time out, he fits on paper. Especially when you consider that that race was his first career two-turn race. A bit of improvement puts him in the picture. He ought to be able to stalk the early pace and be in a good position to fire. There is some concern about his ability to do his best at the distance. He’s a slight win contender and a definite in-the-money player.


  1. Super Stock Asmussen/Santana                30-1

Pro: Exploded to win the Arkansas Derby, a traditionally strong Derby prep race, at 12-1. Finished third, less than five lengths behind Derby favorite Essential Quality in Breeders Futurity. Has the most experience of any horse in the race with eight starts.


Con: Has just one Beyer Figure over 90 at 92. Has just one race that’s even remotely fast enough to compete in here, according to Thoro-Graph figures. Finished second to Lexington Stakes upset winner and probable Kentucky Derby also-eligible King Fury in the Street Sense at Churchill. Only other win came in a five and one-half furlong restricted race at Lone Star.


Bottom Line: Based on his previous races, we’re going to consider his Arkansas Derby triumph as a ‘king-for-a-day’ performance. It was nine Beyer points higher than anything else he’s produced in seven previous starts and four Thoro-Graph points better than his earlier work. Great story with this horse and Hall-of-Fame trainer Steve Asmussen’s family but don’t see a ‘Hollywood ending’ summoning tears in the Louisville winner’s circle.


  1. Soup and Sandwich Casse/Gaffalione             30-1

Pro: Great name for colt owned by Charlotte Webber, granddaughter of founder of Campbell’s Soup company. Colt has a big stride and has two wins out of three races—a state-bred maiden at Gulfstream and a first-level allowance race at Tampa. He finished second to Known Agenda in the Gr. 1 Florida Derby last out. Trainer Mark Casse has recruited favorite rider Tyler Gaffalione to pilot.


Con: His Florida Derby effort was OK but once favorite Greatest Honour failed to show up the race was fairly empty. He was green in his lowly-rated Tampa win and didn’t change leads in the Florida Derby. He races close to the pace and he will find the early Derby scrum a bit more challenging than anything he’s ever experienced.


Bottom Line: Reports from Louisville suggest that this guy isn’t the smoothest morning mover. He’s also been headstrong in the morning. His last race was a huge performance based on Thoro-Graph figures and that effort will be difficult to repeat. His early running style should add some pace to the race before he retires toward the back of the field.


  1. Bourbonic Pletcher/Carmouche              30-1

Pro: As a representative of the red-hot Todd Pletcher stable, he upended the Gr. 2 Wood Memorial at 72-1 over stablemate and fellow Kentucky Derby starter Dynamic One. It was easily the best race of his career and was his third win in just six starts.


Con: His Wood victory came in the slowest renewal ever and the only Wood winner to also win the Derby in 40 years is Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000. Those aren’t encouraging items. Bourbonic hasn’t cracked the 90 Beyer Speed Figure mark in six starts. He has no early speed and that’s not the best recent Derby-winning style. His Churchill Downs works haven’t been notable. He once raced for a $50k maiden claiming tag and the number 20 post position will be a challenge.


Bottom Line: Didn’t attend the Wood ‘wedding’ at 72-1 and don’t plan on making it to the funeral. Slowest Wood ever should not translate to Kentucky Derby success. We’ll pass on this one while rooting for fan-friendly jockey Kendrick Carmouche.


How the Race Will Be Run:

Early: #8 Medina Spirit is asked to show speed from the inside and #15 Rock Your World goes to the front from the outside. #19 Soup and Sandwich also has early speed and will use it to get over from the far outside but won’t be able to match the inside two. How much energy either #8 Medina Spirit or #15 Rock Your World uses to gain the lead could decide what happens later.


#1 Known Agenda should be able to leave the rail without much issue. He has no speed horses next to him for at least six spots until the trio of #7 Mandaloun, #9 Hot Rod Charlie and #10 Midnight Bourbon. #1 Known Agenda will get a comfortable spot inside and behind those second flight runners. From the outside, #17 Highly Motivated will look to find a spot alongside or just behind the second flight.


Down the Backside: How they sort out early…with either #8 Medina Spirit or #15 Rock Your World in front… will be the position they head down the backside. #19 Soup and Sandwich should be in third at this point, closely joined by #7 Mandaloun inside, #9 Hot Rod Charlie and #10 Midnight Bourbon. Riding the rail down the backside will be #1 Known Agenda. Favorite #17 Highly Motivated will either have gained position alongside or just behind the second flight trio. Jockey Saez is not known for waiting around for things to happen, so he may attempt to get a closer early position before this point. He will want to be outside of horses and in reasonable proximity to the leaders. Those racing behind the above-mentioned runners will be attempting to save as much ground as possible while hoping the boys up front are moving along at a rapid pace.


On the Turn: This is where Derby moves are made. As much as the mile and one-quarter distance and length of the Churchill stretch are discussed, jockeys and trainers know that it’s best, turning for home, to be on or near the lead. How much starch will #8 Medina Spirit and #15 Rock Your World take out of each other? Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez on the former and current superstar Joel Rosario aren’t fools. They’re also friends. They share an agent. They know not to go too fast, too early. It’s possible they could race 1-2 around the track. However, this is the Kentucky Derby and friends or no friends both riders will do their best to win. And #8 Medina Spirit’s best chance is to dog #15 Rock Your World early, force him to crack and then hold off all closers. Is #15 Rock Your World good enough to handle more early pressure than he got in the Santa Anita Derby?


The favorite will make his move toward contention on the turn, probably three or four paths wide. Expect #9 Hot Rod Charlie to be moving, too. #1 Known Agenda will be gaining on the inside under Irad Ortiz, Jr., trying to pick his way through the cavalry charge a la Calvin Borel. If they save ground on the turn to reach contention, look out in the lane.


Whatever has gone on mid-pack between #7 Mandaloun, #10 Midnight Bourbon and #17 Highly Motivated will leave some firing and some looking for a soft spot to land. Difficult to say which will be which but we’re guessing the latter pair might have more to say off the turn.


Closers will begin to move in and it will be apparent on the turn if anyone has enough kick to crack the exotics or upset the applecart. Our best guess is that the closers are not of high enough quality to upset the race, but the turn is where we will see if we are incorrect.


In the Stretch: #15 Rock Your World and #8 Medina Spirit will have given their best and will be tiring. #9 Hot Rod Charlie and #14 Essential Quality will be moving toward the lead with #17 Highly Motivated also there. #1 Known Agenda will be a threat down inside if he was able to have a clean trip. Longshot closers will be picking off tired foes through the stretch and may or may not hit the Tri or Super. Check out suggested plays for those opinions.


The Finish: #14 Essential Quality seems the most likely winner, but give legit chances to #1 Known Agenda, #9 Hot Rod Charlie and #17 Highly Motivated.


The One to Beat

#14 Essential Quality is unbeaten in five starts has run the fastest races. Those accomplishments count for something. Is he vulnerable? Yes, perhaps a bit. His last two wins were fast, and he hasn’t had much time to recover. He hasn’t wowed clockers since the Blue Grass either. We’ll lean on him in first and second place.


Ones That Might Do It

#1 Known Agenda is the Florida Derby winner and feels like a horse that trainer Todd Pletcher has figured out. The rail is a concern but jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. may find the new gate configuration less of a hindrance and might save ground throughout.


#9 Hot Rod Charlie ran a strong race at two, missing to Essential Quality by less than one length. He’s looked good since he won the Louisiana Derby, especially in two works at Santa Anita. If He needs to improve a bit but it could happen.


#17 Highly Motivated has developed beautifully for this Kentucky Derby try for multiple Eclipse Award winning trainer Chad Brown. He finished second to favored #14 Essential Quality in the Blue Grass Stakes and that was his first try around two turns. Improvement puts him in the win photo.


Also Could Run Well

#7 Mandaloun laid an egg in the Gr. 2 Louisiana Derby but trainer, jockey and horse—he’s been training well—are not concerned about it. History has had an issue with poor performances leading to Derby victories, but exotics may be fine.


#8 Medina Spirit couldn’t handle Rock Your World in California, let’s see how he fares in Kentucky. Like the rest in this section, this guy may not figure to win but he’s got a solid chance for the exotics.


#10 Midnight Bourbon has been sparkling at Churchill Downs and almost on the aggressive side. Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen handled the beast during a paddock schooling session and had his hands full keeping the boy on the ground. Keep an eye on him in the paddock Derby Day to make sure he doesn’t leave his race there.



#15 Rock Your World is 5-1 on the morning line and attempting to clear several hurdles in one gigantic leap. We’re going to take a stand against him winning because he’s had just three lifetime races, only one on dirt. Seems like he’s spotting talented foes too much seasoning. On the other hand, he has speed, is bred for the distance and looks the part.


Exotic Bombs

#6 O Besos is an improving sort that might be able to crack the superfecta at a big number. Both his Beyer and Thoro-Graph last race figs are much better than anything else he’s posted but, if he doesn’t react, he fits in here at a big price. He worked well at Churchill.


#11 Dynamic One comes out of the slowest Wood Memorial in history and was nailed on the money. After that effort why in the world would we like his chances in here? He showed ability at two and has worked well for this. He should be more than 20-1 at post time and could hit the superfecta.


#16 King Fury has a solid 2-year-old base and a stakes win over an ‘off’ track at three just three weeks ago. He’s a long striding colt that has trained forwardly in Louisville. Trainer Ken McPeek is good at sneaking bombs into exotics in big races. The colt also has two wins in three starts at Churchill Downs.


Wagering Strategy

Below are assorted Trifecta and Superfecta wagering strategies to fit various tastes and budgets.


$2 Trifecta ($90 Total)

First: #14

Second: #1, #8, #9, #10, #17

Third: #1, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10, #11, #15, #16, #17


$1 Trifecta ($135 Total)

First: #1, #9, #17

Second: #1, #8, #9, #10, #14, #17

Third: #1, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10, #11, #14 #15, #16, #17


$1 Superfecta ($144 Total)

First: #14

Second: #1, #9, #17

Third: #1, #7, #8, #9, #10, #15, #17

Fourth: #1, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10, #11, #15, #16, #17


$1 Superfecta ($144 Total)

First: #1, #9, #17

Second: #14

Third: #1, #7, #8, #9, #10, #15, #17

Fourth: #1, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10, #11, #15, #16, #17


Race On!













On Track With Johnny D: Kentucky Derby Horse-by-Horse Selections and Analysis

On Track with Johnny D |