Horse racing relishes its moment in the spotlight on the first Saturday in May. This year’s renewal of the Kentucky Derby is a confounding riddle.
The favorite is looking to buck a trend that has stood the test of time to the tune of 135 years. History has a funny way of repeating itself in this race. Twenty 3-year-old thoroughbreds will be traveling a marathon distance in front of more than 150,000 screaming fans looking to grab their piece of the massive wagering pool.
Justify, No. 7, 3-1
Shockingly, Triple Crown-winning trainer Bob Baffert didn’t saddle a runner in last year’s Derby. But this year he has another young star in morning-line favorite Justify. The son of Scat Daddy has rolled to open-length victories in his three career starts at Santa Anita, posting triple-digit Beyer figures.
The only chink in Justify’s armor is that he didn’t race as a 2-year-old. He’s the latest runner looking to match Apollo’s feat in 1882, when he became the only horse to win the Derby after not racing as a 2-year-old. That’s a pretty significant sample size to try to derail. There’s no doubt Justify will be prominent, but can he take home the big prize?
Vino Rosso, No. 18, 15-1
Trainer Todd Pletcher has a mini army running in the Derby. So which one is sitting on the big race? Sometimes the answer is simple. Who did Pletcher’s go-to jockey, John Velazquez, choose to ride? Vino Rosso.
The son of Curlin, Vino Rosso had two pedestrian efforts at Tampa Bay before an electric performance in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. The message was clear that Vino Rosso didn’t like Tampa Bay. The hope here is Vino Rosso displayed his true ability in New York. If that’s the case, it’s not far-fetched to project a huge effort if he relishes another new surface in Louisville.
Audible, No. 5, 8-1
Pletcher also saddles Florida Derby winner Audible, who has a four-race win streak. His running profile suits the Derby beautifully. Audible has shown the ability to race in the middle of the pack, then pounce at the top of the stretch when the serious running begins. That’s where the majority of Derby winners come from, making a decisive move in the turn for home.
Magnum Moon, No. 16, 8-1
Pletcher’s head will be on a swivel watching this race, as Magnum Moon also has an opportunity to excel. He’s unbeaten in four races and handily won the Arkansas Derby. Magnum Moon also didn’t race as a 2-year-old.
Good Magic, No. 6, 8-1
Good Magic has some big wins, capturing the Breeders Cup Juvenile and Blue Grass Stakes. There’s not a doubt that trainer Chad Brown will win this prestigious race one day, but I’ll be using his charge Saturday underneath in exotics.
Bolt d’Oro, No. 11, 8-1
Bolt d’Oro is sent to post by trainer Mick Ruiz, who has the horse of a lifetime. He’s consistent, but tends to wilt and hang when stared in the eye. He can contend, but I don’t see him winning.
Enticed, No. 12, 40-1
This race is capable of producing outlandish results. If the toteboard were to be lit up, I’d take a look at Enticed. His connections are top shelf, and jockey Junior Alvarado is a crafty journeyman capable of riding a great trip.
Vino Rosso, No. 18, 15-1
Trainers point to have their horses primed to peak on this day. The biggest upside for that performance comes from the Pletcher stable and in particular Vino Rosso. It’s a leap of faith, but the price should be right.
Horse racing in many respects mirrors sports handicapping. You’re cautious not to overreact to what you last witnessed. In horse racing, we use past performances to predict future results. Sometimes the answer isn’t on a piece of paper, and you have to be willing to read between the lines.
Handicapper Brian Blessing is the host of Sportsbook Radio and Vegas Hockey Hotline from noon to 2 p.m. weekdays on KSHP-AM 1400.